KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Beginning Thursday against the Houston Texans, the Kansas City Chiefs are “running it back,” as they like to say, trying to win a second consecutive Super Bowl championship with largely the same roster.
It’s easier said than done, but the Chiefs have secured the core of their roster for 2020 and beyond thanks to the work done this offseason. Potentially more than $600 million over the next several years will go to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones, and at one point during this offseason the Chiefs had less than $200 left to spend under the NFL’s salary cap.
“Nothing is impossible” to 42-year-old Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, a former college wide receiver who has been grooming himself for the challenges of his job since the day he took off his own set of shoulder pads 20 years ago.
“That relentless personality,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said in describing Veach, whom he hired as an intern with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 and has been with Reid ever since, mostly as a scout until being promoted by the Chiefs to general manager in 2017.
“Nothing is impossible [to Veach]. It’s positive: ‘Let’s explore. Let’s not be afraid to go there. Let’s not say that it can’t be done. Let’s find a way that it can be done.’ All of those things are how he operates. That ends up being something that’s contagious with people that are around him. Everybody feeds off of that, that energy. That’s what really made this whole thing possible. If you look around the league, people were going to say, how in the world did they get this done?”
The Chiefs won last season’s Super Bowl by moving boldly. The final piece of their 2019 championship roster came days before the draft, when Veach finished a trade he had been working on for months by agreeing to send first- and second-round draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks for defensive end Frank Clark. Clark had five sacks in the playoffs, including one on fourth down in the final moments of the Super Bowl.
Veach’s signature move since joining the Chiefs was to bring Reid and others in the front office on board about a 2017 draft-eligible quarterback he thought could be the greatest to ever play. The Chiefs wound up making a big move up in the first round to draft Mahomes.
“Any time you got into a discussion with Veach about players, you knew he had done the work,” said Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who was the Chiefs’ personnel director during Reid’s early seasons in Kansas City. Ballard said he would get a “barrage of clips” from Veach anytime he liked a player.
“He was relentless when it came to watching tape and knowing what he was looking at. You noticed that right away. When he liked a player, there was no hiding it.”
‘I knew football was going to be my life forever’
To hear Veach tell it, he couldn’t have turned out any other way, not after growing up in the football-mad town of Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. About 100 miles outside of Philadelphia, football became everything in Mount Carmel once the coal mines in the area shut down.
“It’s a town that loves football,” said Veach, whose two brothers also went on to play college football. “Football meant everything. If there was 5,000 people in the town, 5,000 people were at the football game on Friday night. All I wanted to do growing up was to go with my dad to the high school football games. That to me was like the NFL. That was the biggest thing. We didn’t have soccer, we didn’t have lacrosse. Football was just something everybody played.
“If you grow up somewhere else where football isn’t that important, do you still have this path in life? Since I was young, this is always what’s driven me. I knew football was going to be my life forever.”
A high school running back, Veach finished with 5,261 rushing yards, which almost 25 years later still ranks among Pennsylvania’s all-time leaders. He’s only a few spots on the list behind LeSean McCoy, whom he would years later successfully urge the Eagles to draft.
“He was quick,” said Veach’s high school coach, Dave Williams. “He had the quick feet. He’s looking for feet in running backs now like the feet he once had.”
Veach wanted to play in college at Notre Dame but didn’t receive a scholarship offer and settled for Delaware, where he was moved to wide receiver and his quarterback was Matt Nagy, now the head coach of the Chicago Bears.
“The one thing with Veach was — and he might not look like it now — he had some sweet moves on the football field,” Nagy said. “He was not easy to bring down and he was fast, too.”
Veach finished his career eighth on Delaware’s all-time list for receiving yards, but that wasn’t enough to get him a look in professional football
“Football was very important to Brett,” said Jerry Oravitz, a Delaware athletics operations associate when Veach played there. “He was very passionate about it. I remember consoling him after his last game at Delaware. He was just very emotional thinking that was not only his last time wearing the [Delaware] blue and gold but to wear a football uniform of any kind.”
An internship with Andy Reid
Veach planned to head into coaching after two years spent getting his master’s degree in education at Delaware. That plan was interrupted when he received an internship with Reid and the Eagles.
“All of the people that worked under coach Reid as an intern ended up being coaches,” Veach said. “There was a long line of guys who ended up in coaching. I just assumed once I got done I would potentially pursue the college football coaching life.
“I came in at the right time when coach had a lot of personnel responsibilities in Philadelphia. He was like a coach/GM. I was his assistant when he had a dual role and he would often give me a lot of scouting jobs to work on. It was really [Reid] who after a year or two was like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go into the player personnel side because you have such a passion for scouting players and putting rosters together?’ He kind of bumped me into that.
“It was an obvious thing staring me right in the face but it took Coach Reid to open my eyes to it.”
Veach quickly succeeded in a scouting role but with an eye on his future wanted to expand his area of expertise. Considering the NFL’s financial side to be a hole in his game, he would ask Joe Banner, then the Eagles president, for tutorials on the salary cap and how it worked.
“He was not a guy that just wanted to stay in his lane,” Banner said. “He wanted to do more than grading tape. He wanted to understand all the different parts that led to success in team-building.
“There are people that may have narrow or limited ambition. It was obvious in terms of understanding things and all the different elements that go into success, he was definitely in the group that really wanted to understand that and learn that. I always assumed he would one day have the chance to run his own show and wouldn’t have to just rely on others but had his own insight and knowledge.”
Veach attracted attention within the Eagles’ front office for his impassioned pleas for his favorite players. Reid said DeSean Jackson and Fletcher Cox were among the players eventually drafted by the Eagles who Veach initially collected support for.
Another was a running back from the University of Pittsburgh in 2009, LeSean McCoy.
“We had a pretty strong consensus that he was a good player and that he could contribute,” Banner said. “The elevation to him being thought of as a difference-maker — remember he weighed only about 205 pounds and some people wondered whether he was just a third-down back — was done by Brett. He had strong feelings about that, that Shady was going to be a very good player.
“When I listen to people in Kansas City describe how the Chiefs decided on Mahomes, I could really picture the way Brett plays a role like that when he has somebody he really believes in. I can picture him sending the tape to Andy and really trying to set the stage for somebody he really believed in. He was doing that way back. That’s who he is. He’s not afraid to be wrong. All good general managers are not afraid of being wrong. Brett is fearless.”
McCoy, now playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is 22nd on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.
“When he was really on somebody, he would always say, ‘You’ve got to watch him. You’ve got to watch him,'” Reid said. “He wasn’t wrong with that.
“He’s kind of done the same thing here. He wore [former general manager John Dorsey] and I out on [Mahomes]. He was relentless with different stats, videos. He constantly banged on us. As time went on he just said, ‘This is the best quarterback I’ve ever seen.’ He was definitely the first one [to make a case within the Chiefs for Mahomes].”
As Veach’s time in Philadelphia went on, Banner saw similarities to Reid in an important regard.
“When we hired Andy Reid [in 1999], no one really knew him,” Banner said. “But when we got to talking to him and interviewing him it was obvious that in his mind he was preparing most of his life to be a head coach, regardless of what anyone else thought about him. That was clear from the notes he was keeping and the knowledge he was gaining and the questions he was asking.
“From a personnel and general manager perspective, Brett was very much the same. He was clearly thinking about it, thinking ahead, thinking about what he needed to know, who he could learn it from, who was good at what and preparing for the day that he was going to be in the position that he’s in now.”
Taking over in Kansas City
Veach became Chiefs general manager in June 2017, a couple of months after they drafted Mahomes. He put his touches on the Chiefs almost immediately following that season, when he made room for Mahomes in the starting lineup by trading Alex Smith to Washington.
The next year, after defensive failures kept the Chiefs from the Super Bowl in an AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots, he turned over the team on that side of the ball. The Chiefs released longtime stars Justin Houston and Eric Berry and replaced them with Clark and Tyrann Mathieu.
Those moves worked out so well that the Chiefs, after a slow start, led the league in scoring defense over the final six games of the 2019 season. More importantly, the defense was a key part and Clark and Mathieu key players as the Chiefs won their first Super Bowl championship in 50 years.
Time will tell whether Veach won this offseason, like he did last year’s. But one move he won’t regret is signing Mahomes to a 10-year contract extension that combined with the two seasons left on his existing deal will keep him in Kansas City through 2031.
That’s a long extension for Mahomes, who couldn’t be faulted for wanting to see in, say, five or six years what the quarterback market looked like and who the Chiefs had in place in decision-making capacities.
Reid and Veach recently agreed to contract extensions, but with the coach at 62, it’s difficult to see how he’s still with the Chiefs in 2031. Veach, who is only getting started in fulfilling what seems to be his life’s destiny, is another matter.
Mahomes indicated recently one reason he felt comfortable signing for such a long term is he’s comfortable Veach will continue to win offseasons.
“First off is his work ethic,” Mahomes said. “I mean, he’s a guy that’s in the facility almost as much as Coach Reid. I mean, he’s here all the time. He’s watching a ton of film and then I think he’s someone that you can trust, someone that would tell you exactly how he feels and to have people like that that you can go to — he’s going to tell you the negative, he’s going to tell you the positive, whatever it is, no matter who you are. That’s someone you can really trust. You know that they’re going to give you whatever they have every single day.”