AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
Parkins later tweeted that Houston denied this, saying he was sick.
Nobody could blame Houston for skipping the game for contract reasons. As the NFL's sack leader, he will get a lucrative long-term contract from the Chiefs if the sides can work something out. An injury can only ruin the financial possibilities for him.
But Houston went through the week of practice. If he had no intention of playing in the game, he should have skipped the entire week and let another player take his place.
The other three Chiefs did participate for Team Cris Carter, which lost 32-28 to Team Michael Irvin. Running back Jamaal Charles had four carries for 25 yards, including a 17-yard run that set up a Team Carter touchdown.
Hali had a tackle and an assist. Nose tackle Dontari Poe had two tackles.
The Denver Broncos led the list with 11 selections, which is what you would expect from a team that finished 12-4 and won the AFC West by three games over the 9-7 Kansas City Chiefs and 9-7 San Diego Chargers.
The Chiefs, even though they weren’t close to Denver in the standings, were right behind the Broncos with 10 all-AFC West selections. The Chargers and Raiders were far behind with four and three all-division choices, respectively.
These numbers suggest, assuming they’re an accurate portrayal of the relative talent on the four teams, that the Chiefs were drastic underachievers. They have almost as many good players as the Broncos but finished three games behind. They have many more good players than the Chargers but finished tied with San Diego in the standings.
Let’s look at the 10 Chiefs selections: fullback Anthony Sherman, tight end Travis Kelce, right tackle Ryan Harris and center Rodney Hudson on offense, outside linebacker Justin Houston, nose tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Sean Smith on defense and punter Dustin Colquitt, kick returner De’Anthony Thomas and coverage player Josh Martin on special teams.
Other than Harris, who had an up-and-down season, the others were deserving of a spot on the all-division team. Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus’ choice at running back of Denver’s C.J. Anderson instead of the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles is puzzling. Charles had more rushing yards (1,033 to 849), a better per-carry average (5.0 yards to 4.7) and more rushing touchdowns (9 to 8).
But on balance, maybe PFF got things right. If so, the Chiefs wasted good seasons from a lot of good players by failing to win more than nine games and failing to reach the postseason.
Thomas also averaged 30.6 yards on 14 kickoff returns, which would have been good enough for second in the league had he returned enough kicks to qualify. He averaged 2 yards better than Knile Davis as a kickoff returner and the Chiefs should consider utilizing Thomas in this role more often in 2015.
Thomas should continue to improve as a return specialist. He had several errors in judgment, letting some kicks go when he should have fielded them and returning others when it would have been smarter to let them go.
His judgment will improve with experience. Playing for coach Andy Reid, who places an emphasis on the kicking game, and Dave Toub, an excellent special teams coordinator, will only help Thomas.
That leaves Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid as the longest-tenured coach in the division. OK, so Reid was hired only a few days before the San Diego Chargers brought on Mike McCoy as their coach. But it's still amazing that Reid with two seasons with the Chiefs is now the sage of the division.
We'll have to wait and see whether that stability, relatively speaking, will benefit the Chiefs and Chargers. But it can't hurt. Change is coming to both Oakland, if the Raiders don't retain interim coach Tony Sparano, and Denver and that usually means a transition period.
So, for the first time since the Broncos acquired quarterback Peyton Manning, the AFC West race in 2015 will be wide open. There's no beast hovering over the division, as Denver has done the past three seasons. That air that the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders were playing for second place is gone.
The shuffling of Denver's coaching staff is yet another indication that the right offseason moves could make the Chiefs the favorites for the AFC West title in 2015.
@adamteicher: Something far less than what the Chiefs are scheduled to pay Dwayne Bowe next season. He is due $11 million from the Chiefs in 2015. I would think something in the $5 million range would be reasonable for a player who is still the Chiefs' best wide receiver but no longer a star.
@adamteicher: It doesn't look like the Chiefs are going to be able to spend big money on any free agent, unless you're counting Justin Houston in that category. The Chiefs could clear some cap space by releasing players like Bowe, Tamba Hali and Chase Daniel. If they do, Maclin is a player who would make sense for the Chiefs if he's available.
@adamteicher: I think Hali would accept a reduced salary to stay with the Chiefs. Whether he and the Chiefs could agree on a number is another matter. But the Chiefs may release him anyway. They showed the blueprint for their thinking last year when they let a productive veteran (Branden Albert) walk to make room for an unproven yet talented younger player (Fisher). They may well do the same thing this year with Hali and Dee Ford, last year's first-round draft pick.
@adamteicher: Not their main priorities. Wide receiver and offensive line should be. But, yes, they need to start planning for life without Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson. That doesn't mean they have to draft those players this year. But it certainly wouldn't be a bad idea.
@adamteicher: Other teams are aware of the Chiefs' tight salary-cap situation and that they have acquired other quarterbacks to replace Daniel as the main backup. So it would be an unusual (and dumb) move for some team to trade a productive wide receiver to the Chiefs for a career backup quarterback who's probably going to be released anyway.
@adamteicher when is the deadline to release Daniel? Could it happen soon?— Daniel Weixeldorfer (@dan_wex) January 8, 2015
@adamteicher: I believe the date is Feb. 2, the day after the Super Bowl.
@adamteicher: Though he doesn't carry the title of offensive coordinator, Andy Reid is basically that. He calls plays and designs the playbook and game plans. He has no plans to give up any of those duties.
Both moves are interesting. At quarterback, the Chiefs now have a crowded field of five: Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray and Pryor.
Still, logic says the Chiefs will trim a quarterback long before then. It won’t be Smith, whom they just signed to a long-term contract extension as the starter. It doesn’t appear the Chiefs are ready to give up on either of the developmental prospects, Bray or Murray, without seeing them in one more cycle of offseason practices, training camp and the preseason.
That leaves Daniel or Pryor. Daniel is expensive as a backup. The Chiefs would save his salary of $3.75 million by releasing him from his contract. That’s a big savings for a team that figures to need all of the salary-cap space it can find.
Even if they release Daniel, Pryor’s roster spot is hardly a sure thing. He’ll have some things to prove to the Chiefs when they begin practice. He was, briefly, a starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders in 2013 but they gave up on him quickly.
That, plus the fact he couldn’t get a job in 2014 despite working out for multiple teams, would indicate the Chiefs are taking a huge leap of faith by merely handing him their No. 2 quarterback job.
As for Rogers, he’s talented. He’s 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds and fast for a big receiver. While playing for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013, he had a game against the Cincinnati Bengals in which he caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, a performance that would have qualified as a good season for a Chiefs wide receiver in 2014.
But Rogers has had many off-field problems. He acknowledged failing three drug tests in college at Tennessee. He was arrested in September for DUI.
Rogers is a gamble but one with limited risk. If he has turned himself around the Chiefs might have a find in Rogers.
Smith last year signed a contract extension, so the Chiefs are committed to him as their starter and he's not going anywhere. The Chiefs won't be able to keep both Murray and Bray forever but they like the potential of both players, and it's unlikely they would part with either player before seeing them for at least one more offseason, training camp and preseason.
That leaves Daniel, who is headed into the final year of his contract. He could be expendable if the Chiefs determine that Murray, Bray or even Pryor is ready to be Smith's leading backup.
But if the Chiefs were already at that point, they would have made the move already.
So the Chiefs are most likely just looking, at least for now. They have CFL wide receiver Duron Carter working out as well and needed an arm to throw to him. Pryor, who started some games in 2013 for the Oakland Raiders, can handle that.
The exceptions would be Albert Wilson and, depending on how he’s classified, De'Anthony Thomas. He might be valuable as a kick returner and even on offense, but Thomas will never be an every-down presence because of his diminutive size.
Wilson became a regular with four games left in the regular season and over that span had 12 catches for 209 yards. That projects to 48 for 836 over a full season. While those wouldn’t be great numbers, they would be a start for a team desperate to develop a pass catching threat.
“You began to see what we saw, a guy who knows how to play the game of football,’’ general manager John Dorsey said. “It’s not too big for him. He can catch the ball. He can run after the catch.”
The Chiefs had a fifth-round draft grade on Wilson last year but instead picked quarterback Aaron Murray in that round. They had two shots at Wilson in the sixth round but given their lack of depth on the offensive line used those selections on Zach Fulton and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
They had no selection in the seventh round, so they had to wait until the draft was over to sign Wilson, but they made him a priority once it was.
Wilson might never be a No. 1 receiver, but if he can develop into a No. 2, the Chiefs are off to a good start in rebuilding a long-neglected position group.
“I think what you do is you wait to get into training camp to make that determination,’’ Dorsey said. “He’s got a chance to be a pretty good player. I think what you do is you watch him grow in the offseason. Watch him in training camp. In my heart of hearts, I know what I think he can be and I think he’s a pretty good player. I think he has a chance to grow and get better and with David Culley as his (position) coach I feel very strongly that he can develop into that.”
“I think he’s everything we thought he’d be,’’ Dorsey said at his season-ending news conference. “We have to put some more pieces around him. I think he’s lived up to what he thought he would be.”
The Chiefs needed a new starting quarterback two years ago when they moved from Scott Pioli and Crennel to Dorsey and Andy Reid. Smith is a nice fit for what Reid likes to do offensively, so he was probably the best option the Chiefs had, particularly given he came at a painful yet not devastating price.
But was he worth that price? It’s premature to make a final determination on that. Let’s see where Smith’s career goes from here. Can, as Dorsey said, the Chiefs surround him with better players and finally win some playoff games and at least challenge for a Super Bowl?
The 49ers wound up trading both picks they received from the Chiefs. But they turned one of the picks they received in those trades into linebacker Chris Borland, who as a rookie this season was rated among the best 3-4 linebackers in the league by Pro Football Focus. So the 49ers certainly received some value in the Smith trade, too.
Interestingly, both players drafted with the picks sent to the 49ers were wide receivers, where the Chiefs could have used the help. In 2013, the Tennessee Titans drafted Kendall Hunter and last year the Denver Broncos selected Cody Latimer.
Hunter has only 46 catches for the Titans in two seasons, but seven have gone for touchdowns. He also has a healthy 18.5-yards per catch average, so he probably would have been able to help the Chiefs.
Latimer played little as a rookie, catching two passes for 23 yards.
As much as the Chiefs are deficient at wide receiver, they needed a quarterback more. They had to have someone at the game’s most important position, so for now at least it appears that Dorsey was right and the Smith trade has worked out for the Chiefs.
Fisher’s biggest deficiency when he joined the Chiefs as the first overall draft pick in 2013 was his strength. As a rookie he tended to get pushed around by the stronger opponents he faced.
He couldn’t address that deficiency last offseason because he had surgery to repair a balky shoulder. Fisher was unable to spend the necessary time in the weight room and it showed this season. He had trouble dealing with stronger opponents again in 2014.
“He didn’t have an offseason this year,’’ general manager John Dorsey said. “He was doing rehabilitation with his shoulder. I think he grew exponentially as the year went on. He’ll need a whole year of strength and conditioning to get bigger and stronger, but I’m happy with where he’s projected he should be.’’
The Chiefs have a lot invested in seeing that Fisher becomes the player they projected him to be. If he does, they won’t have to spend free-agent money or a premium draft pick on a new left tackle.
Fisher was better in 2014 than he was as a rookie but still not good enough. Not even close. Fisher was rated 72nd by Pro Football Focus among 84 offensive tackles who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps this year.
As Dorsey said, he was better in the second half of the season than the first. He still had his awful moments down the stretch, most notably a pitiful performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.
Fisher has the qualities the Chiefs saw in him when they made him the No. 1 overall pick. He is a superb athlete and he’s willing to put in the time to improve.
But Fisher has to get better and the time is now.
“I thought Fisher made big strides this year,’’ coach Andy Reid said. “He played every game and (held) down the left tackle position. He did all that without having really any offseason. I think he’s looking forward to an offseason where he’s not rehabbing an injury. It will be important that he gets in and continues to increase his strength, which he’ll do.’’
The Kansas City Chiefs appeared to have reason to prepare for a long and prosperous stay in the playoffs on Nov. 16 after beating the Seattle Seahawks 24-20 at Arrowhead Stadium for their fifth straight victory. The 7-3 Chiefs moved into a tie for first place in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos.
But then the Chiefs lost four of their last six games to finish 9-7. That record wasn’t good enough to put them in the playoffs. The Chiefs lost close games against Oakland, Arizona and Pittsburgh down the stretch. A victory in any of them would have made the difference.
Team MVP: Linebacker Justin Houston led the NFL in sacks with 22, breaking the franchise's single-season record, which was previously owned by Derrick Thomas (20 in 1990). Houston was remarkably consistent. There were only three games in which he was held without a sack. He also had a superb all-around season, including his play against the run and in pass coverage, and the Chiefs used him in a variety of roles. He played them all well. A compelling argument can be made that Houston was the NFL’s best linebacker.
Best moment: The Chiefs rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Seahawks, giving them a physical and emotional victory over the defending Super Bowl champions. At that point, all things seemed possible for the Chiefs. After losing their first two games of the season, they had rallied to win seven of eight games, and because they were tied with Denver for first place, their chances for winning the AFC West had to be taken seriously. Jamaal Charles had his best game of the season that day, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns. It was the only time Charles topped 100 yards all season.
Worst moment: The Chiefs learned in the days after their Nov. 20 loss to the Oakland Raiders that safety Eric Berry had lymphoma. Berry was one of the Chiefs’ leaders, and his absence in the locker room has made an impact. The news caught everybody off guard because Berry had played against the Raiders. But he complained of tightness in his chest afterward and testing revealed a mass and the subsequent diagnosis. The Chiefs started their next game, on Nov. 30 against the Denver Broncos, as if in a daze. They fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 17-0 in the second before snapping out of it.
2015 outlook: The Chiefs should be a playoff contender again if they adequately address some glaring weaknesses on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Ultimately, it was their shortcomings at those spots that dragged down their passing game and ruined their season. The Chiefs are expecting several compensatory draft picks because of their losses in free agency last year. That would allow them to cover a lot of ground. The Chiefs might not be contenders for the AFC West championship as long as Peyton Manning is the quarterback of the Broncos, but it will be a disappointment if the Chiefs are not a part of the wild-card race.
“At the time, we thought we had some players that could help us," he said. “But then as you go into the free agency process, you missed on a couple of guys. And then as the draft unfolded there were certain guys that you had pegged in certain situations and they may have been peeled off a step or two before you so then you still have got to go with the best player and we kind of stayed true to that."
OK, the Chiefs were guilty of some major miscalculations at wide receiver. It happens.
But the Chiefs can’t make these mistakes again. The failure to sign a free agent such as Emmanuel Sanders, who caught 101 passes for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns, can't happen again. The refusal to draft a productive player such as Jarvis Landry (84 catches as a rookie for Miami), Kelvin Benjamin (73 for Carolina) or Jordan Matthews (67 for Philadelphia) can't happen again.
They can't because there is absolutely no reason for the Chiefs to think with their current group of receivers, rookies Albert Wilson and De'Anthony Thomas aside, that things will get better for these players next season.
It’s time for the Chiefs to acknowledge that after three straight uninspiring seasons Dwayne Bowe is no longer the player he was early in his career. It’s time for the Chiefs to recognize that Donnie Avery, who will be 31 in June, isn’t as fast as he was earlier in his career. It’s time for the Chiefs to admit that A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway can’t be counted on for much in the way of help.
It’s time for the Chiefs to overhaul the position. Fortunately for Chiefs fans, Dorsey sounded like he gets all of it.
“I think that the stats speak for themselves," he said. “We’re going to have to do some work there.”
Looking ahead to the draft, Reid said, “[The Chiefs] have 11-plus picks there to work with to bring in people. We actually have a second-round pick this year. We’re sitting 18th in the draft. Not that you want to be there but we’re there. That’s a positive.’’
Eleven would be an interesting number of picks for the Chiefs. Eleven-plus would be more interesting. But the Chiefs are clearly expecting a big load of compensatory picks because of their net losses in free agency last year.
After Reid talked, general manager John Dorsey was asked what the Chiefs could reasonably expect in terms of comp picks but he was vague.
"You can kind of arbitrarily work a formula,'' Dorsey said. "Who knows what the true formula is but hopefully your analytics guy comes up with an equation that they think what the league is doing. And really I won’t count on that number until we come back and the league officially gives us actually how many picks we do acquire in that regard.”
Dorsey is right about this: The formula the NFL uses for awarding comp picks is mysterious. It has something to do with the number of unrestricted free agents a team signs and loses and the money involved in those contracts. Keep in mind players who have been released don't count in this formula. So the Chiefs won't get anything extra for losing cornerback Brandon Flowers, who was cut last June.
But even without Flowers, the Chiefs lost more than they gained last year. Offensive linemen Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz; receiver Dexter McCluster; and defensive lineman Tyson Jackson all departed for good money. Linebacker Akeem Jordan and defensive backs Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps walked as well.
The Chiefs signed four unrestricted free agents: defensive lineman Vance Walker, linebacker Joe Mays, cornerback Chris Owens and offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach. Only Walker received what could be considered a lucrative contract, relatively speaking.
So it looks as though the Chiefs can expect a good haul of extra draft picks. And, judging from Reid's remarks, it looks like they are.
Here are some of their important dates:
- April 20: Start of offseason conditioning program
- May 16-18: Rookie minicamp
- May 26-28: Offseason practices
- June 2-4: Offseason practices
- June 9-12: Offseason practices
- June 16-18: Full-squad minicamp
Training camp will begin in July. We're still waiting to see whether it's again at Missouri Western State University in St. Joesph or elsewhere.
Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Jason Avant, S Kurt Coleman, LS Thomas Gafford, TE Richard Gordon, OT Ryan Harris, LB Justin Houston, C Rodney Hudson, OL Jeff Linkenbach,LB Josh Mauga, OL Mike McGlynn, RB Joe McKnight, CB Chris Owens, DB Ron Parker, DL Kevin Vickerson.
Potential restricted free agents: LB Dezman Moses, S Kelcie McCray.
The free-agent signing period begins in March.
I'll have some specific advice for the Chiefs as we move along as to which way they should go with all of these players. But for now, they're certainly not making themselves a better team by letting Houston and Hudson walk. Parker is another player who was valuable to the Chiefs in 2014 and would be difficult to replace.