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The Chiefs have built one of the NFL's best defenses in part because they traded away Tyreek Hill

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It has taken two full years to accurately evaluate one of the most important deals that the Kansas City Chiefs have ever made, when they traded game-breaking wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for a package of draft picks.

The Chiefs knew that if they gave Hill a long-term contract, it would be in the neighborhood of the four-year, $120 million deal he later signed with the Dolphins. And while that would have ensured one of the league's most dynamic weapons for Patrick Mahomes for the near future, it would have saddled Kansas City with a mountain of long-term financial commitments.

Turns out the deal made by Chiefs general manager Brett Veach played out well beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

Two of the draft picks they acquired turned into All-Pro cornerback Trent McDuffie and rookie safety Chamarri Conner, who played big roles in shutting down Hill and the Dolphins along with the Bills and the Ravens in the postseason. Some of the other selections they received they used to move around the draft board and add other players to the mix.

The cash savings likewise allowed them to make a series of savvy free agent signings: safety Justin Reid to orchestrate the back end, and this past offseason, linebacker Drue Tranquill, safety Mike Edwards and defensive end Charles Omenihu.

That influx of talent helped Kansas City become the league's No. 2-ranked defense this season, and that in turn helped to keep Mahomes and Co. in games when the Chiefs offense was struggling to find its footing early on.

“I think it speaks to this organization and the quest they're on bringing in good players, whether it's through the draft or free agency,” said Tranquill, who arrived in Kansas City from the AFC West rival Chargers. “Veach is one of the best doing that, and you know, Charles and Mike and myself, and the other free agent acquisitions that were brought on, everybody kind of bought into the championship culture here, and that's what coach (Andy) Reid sets forth.”

The trade of Hill actually turned out to be a win-win. He led the NFL in yards receiving and tied for the most touchdown catches for Miami this past year, and he remains one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the game.

But it's hard to believe the Chiefs would not do it over.

After all, it helped them build one of the most dangerous defenses in the game.

OFFENSE

The Chiefs offense has been built around Mahomes since the moment he was drafted in 2017, and while his numbers this season took a dip — partly thanks to a league-leading 44 dropped passes — his postseason play has been superb.

While the Chiefs spent in free agency to add bookend tackles Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor, most of Mahomes' supporting cast arrived through the draft. That includes standout center Creed Humphrey and right tackle Trey Smith, who along with left guard Joe Thuney, have given Kansas City one of the best interior offensive lines in the league.

Isiah Pacheco, one of the league's bright young running backs, was a seventh-round pick two years ago.

The biggest reason for the late-season success of the Chiefs' offense, though, has been the emergence of Rashee Rice, the wide receiver they took in the second round last April. Veach largely whiffed using a second-round pick the previous year on Skyy Moore, who is on injured reserve, but he tried again with Rice and hit a home run. Rice had 79 catches for 938 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season, and he has 20 catches for 223 yards and a score in three playoff games.

“We're always trying to get Patrick offensive help, no matter what people think or say,” Veach said. “We tried to get a receiver earlier in the draft. It didn't work out. But we were patient and that's what you need to do.”

DEFENSE

The Chiefs tried to sign defensive tackle Chris Jones to an extension last offseason, but the sides never were close. He held out through Week 1 but returned on a revised one-year deal and remained an imposing presence on the defensive line.

The arrival of Tranquill, Edwards and Omenihu — who will miss the Super Bowl with a torn ACL — also were important.

“It was a unique free agency in that there wasn’t much to pick from, and we drafted last,” Veach explained, “so we took what we had and we invested in some veteran defensive players.”

The biggest improvement, though, has been in the secondary, where a group of wide-eyed youngsters began playing like veterans. McDuffie has become a bonafide No. 1 cornerback, L'Jarius Sneed may have been the biggest Pro Bowl snub in years, and former fourth-round pick Josh Williams and seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson made big plays at crucial moments. Conner has been excellent as a rookie when pressed into service due to injuries.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Harrison Butker is almost automatic, going 33 of 35 on field-goal attempts and hitting all 38 of his extra points this season, and he has impressive range. He hit a 62-yard field goal in 2022 and a 60-yarder earlier this season.

The Chiefs' punter, Tommy Townsend, has become more important as they leaned more heavily on their defense to play the field-position game. Townsend punted six times against the Ravens alone in the AFC championship.

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