LAST YEAR, WHEN the Kansas City Chiefs reached a tipping point with Tyreek Hill and decided his contract extension would be larger than they were comfortable in handling, general manager Brett Veach approached coach Andy Reid to begin discussions about what they would need in return if they were to trade Hill.
"At one point, I was like, 'You know, Coach, if we can get a [first-] and a [second-round pick], we have to at least think about it,'" Veach said.
The two talked about how a trade could infuse some speed and youth into an aging defense, and not just with the draft picks they would acquire. The Chiefs would also obtain the necessary salary cap space to allow them to be players in free agency.
If the Chiefs worked their assets right, Veach and Reid discussed, they could adequately cover for the loss of Hill in the short term, while also strengthening and lengthening their window to win championships with Patrick Mahomes as their quarterback.
The deal would get even sweeter before Veach and Reid made the decision to send Hill to the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins' offer evolved from a first-round pick to a first-, second- and fourth-rounder last year and a fourth- and sixth-rounder this year.
"The picks got a little more and the pieces started to fall together," Veach said. "It got to the point where we said we could see it now, see that it made sense."
The Chiefs won Super Bowl LVII last season, beating the Philadelphia Eagles for their second championship in four seasons using players they acquired from the Hill trade in the process. The trade could continue to provide for the Chiefs this season with the picks in the fourth and sixth rounds.
The Chiefs have found solid starters in each of those rounds in recent years: cornerback L'Jarius Sneed in the fourth in 2020 and guard Trey Smith in the sixth a year later.
The trade could still come back to hurt the Chiefs, who lost two of their other top wide receivers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, in free agency. But through one year, at least, the deal has worked out exactly as the Chiefs hoped.
"This trade was a way for us to make it work where we could still be aggressive and go after it [in 2022] but also protect our future," Veach said. "This amount of picks and this amount of cap space were something we felt could help us last year and down the line."
THE CHIEFS USED the three picks they obtained from the Dolphins last year to draft cornerback Trent McDuffie in the first round and wide receiver Skyy Moore in the second. They sent the fourth-round pick they acquired to the New England Patriots as part of the move up to get McDuffie.
McDuffie was an immediate starter, filling the hole created when Charvarius Ward signed a lucrative, long-term contract as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. Moore had less of an impact during the regular season, catching 22 passes, eighth on the team. But he had a long punt return to set up the game-winning field goal in the AFC Championship Game and scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
The Hill trade gave the Chiefs two picks in each of the first two rounds, a bounty for a team that had in recent years been picking at the end of each round. Until last year, the Chiefs had never made four picks in the first two rounds.
The Chiefs had 10 picks in all, turning them into a mostly defensive draft class that included six players who contributed on that side of the ball. Most notable were McDuffie; fellow first-round pick George Karlaftis, who had six sacks; and seventh-round cornerback Jaylen Watson, who had three interceptions, including one in the AFC Championship Game.
The Chiefs in the seventh round also found running back Isiah Pacheco, who scored five touchdowns and led the team in rushing with 830 yards.
Draft picks were only part of what the Chiefs obtained in the Hill trade. Had they signed him to a contract extension, they would have faced an ominous future with regard to their salary cap.
Their salary cap obligations for Mahomes ballooned from about $7.5 million in 2021 to almost $36 million last year and almost $40 million in 2023. Absorbing the contract Hill signed with the Dolphins -- it initially contained a cap number of about $31 million this year -- would have left the Chiefs with some difficult choices to make.
"Everyone knew the cap situation," Veach said. "Everyone knew what the next two or three years would look like and how many players we would have to cut and how hard that would be. Everyone understood why we had to do what we did and what the plan was.
"We always like to be players in free agency and then supplement that with a great draft. We were kind of looking at a period where we were going to be having to sit out in free agency and then maybe not be able to re-sign our own younger players who were going to need contracts."
The trade allowed the Chiefs last year to sign in free agency two wide receivers, Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and a young safety in Justin Reid. Their major additions this year have been offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor and pass-rusher Charles Omenihu.
MAHOMES WASN'T INITIALLY thrilled about the Chiefs' plans to trade Hill. The two combined on 343 passes, 4,854 yards and 43 touchdowns in Mahomes' four seasons as the starting quarterback. Hill was the receiver on one of the most storied plays in Chiefs history, the 44-yard pass reception known as Jet Chip Wasp that sparked a fourth-quarter comeback in the Super Bowl LIV win over the 49ers.
Mahomes came around after Veach explained the plan, one that included the additions of Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling and the drafting of a player like Moore.
"I wanted to keep [Hill], for sure," Mahomes said. "They had a plan for it, though. They told me the plan and we were going to get these draft picks. We were going to go out there and bring in some free agent receivers and I think they executed on that.
"We know that to keep having success in this league we have to keep evolving, keep getting better. I always want to be successful this year, but at the same time, I'm here for the long haul. If we're going to have a long time here, I want to have a chance to win Super Bowls every single year."
Tight end Travis Kelce was also initially skeptical of what the Hill trade might mean for the Chiefs and for him. Kelce and Hill had been the Chiefs' two top receivers for six seasons at the time of the trade.
"Yes, that was a question," Kelce said late in the season. "But once I saw how hard guys were working, paying attention to details, how Pat keeps progressing as a quarterback ... We're in a good routine that we just keep getting better. You could feel that from the day we started from May until now."
The Chiefs wound up leading the NFL in yards and scoring.
The Chiefs appear on good footing for 2023 and beyond. They could, like last year, cover a lot of ground in the draft. They have 10 picks, though just one in each of the first two rounds.
For that, they can thank the Hill trade. The Chiefs continue to succeed because of that deal, not in spite of it.
"Nobody wanted to lose Tyreek," Veach said. "He was a great player for us. But if you're going to do something, trust in the process and trust how you do things and don't be afraid to commit to change a year sooner, when you have more ability to make those changes work in regards to your long-term planning.
"You know that unequivocally it's the right thing to do for the organization, just from where we are in a short- and long-term perspective. But that doesn't mean it's easy. It doesn't mean you're not going to miss the kid and not miss having him on Sundays, especially. It's one of those difficult decisions where you know it's the right thing to do, but that doesn't make it any easier."