At some point Wednesday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey were speaking at the NFL Combine when the topic of Jamaal Charles came up.
The day before, of course, the Chiefs released their star running back and career leading rusher, whose playing time was limited the last year and a half because of knee issues. In the wake of that decision, the Chiefs’ primary decision-makers agreed on two things:
One, while the decision to cut Charles saved the Chiefs $6.1 million in cap room after safety Eric Berry signed a six-year, $78 million extension, it wasn’t easy because of what Charles gave the club over the last nine years.
And two, they believe Charles might end up in Canton one day as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“You know what? He may be,” Dorsey said on Thursday. “He has some stats here to back that stuff up.”
Charles leaves the Chiefs with 7,260 yards, nearly 1,200 more than the franchise’s No. 2 rusher, Priest Holmes. Charles’ career yards-per-carry average of 5.5 ranks first among NFL running backs, ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Brown’s 5.2, Gale Sayers’ 5.0 and Barry Sanders’ 5.0.
But Charles ranks only 59th on the NFL career rushing list, and for modern backs 12,000 yards would appear to be the barrier for Hall of Fame entry. All the eligible retired backs who have rushed for that many are in.
That means Charles needs at least four more 1,000-yard seasons, which might be tricky considering he underwent minor surgeries on both knees in November.
The Chiefs, in fact, released Charles with a failed physical designation Tuesday, even though a source told The Star that day that Charles expects to be 100 percent ready for offseason workouts. Dorsey said the Chiefs had to list Charles’ failed physical prior to his exit “due to revenue mechanisms that are in place down the road.”
It was just the latest disconnect between the franchise and the team icon about his health. Charles pushed back in January against the Chiefs’ ongoing characterization that there was swelling in his knee and also against any assumptions that the knee issues he had at the time were unprompted in a blog post on his website, jamaalcharles25.com.
“The story out in the world was that there was swelling in my knee that held me back, but that’s not what happened,” Charles wrote at the time. “The knee didn’t swell or anything like that. I didn’t get hurt in a game, either. I got hurt on the practice field.
“There’s been speculation that I tried to come back too quick, or that I wasn’t ready, but I honestly don’t think me coming back to play is what caused this to happen. I think, if anything, I was doing too much extra work on top of what I was doing with the team and the trainers.”
Still, it’s important to remember that the Chiefs could have hammered out a contract to lower the 30-year-old’s cap number for 2017 and retain his services, but that might have been difficult for a proud player such as Charles to consider.
“It was going to be one way or another,” Dorsey said. “I don’t think you nickel and dime a guy like that.”
The Chiefs still could conceivably re-sign Charles, though it appears a reunion is unlikely. This week, both Reid and Dorsey spoke of Charles as a man who was destined to play elsewhere, despite expounding upon how much they liked him as a player.
“It gives him … the opportunity to hook on with somebody else,” Reid said Wednesday of Charles’ release. “It’s today’s football … it’s probably the toughest thing you have to go through as a head coach. The kid is a future Hall of Famer … he did everything for us, from inside — not a very big guy, but fearless — and he had the speed to run it outside. He had world-class speed to turn the corner. He had great hands. On top of that, he’s a great kid — just dirty tough.”
Said Dorsey: “Moving forward, I love the guy. He’ll be one of those iconic players to ever put on a Chiefs uniform.”
But the NFL is still the NFL, which means time — and business — moves on.
“What I have to do is look down the road to the next two or three years and just do what is best for the organization,” Dorsey said.
It appears the Chiefs are taking a hard look at several rookie running backs in this year’s draft class. Three of them — Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire, North Carolina State’s Matt Dayes and Wyoming’s Brian Hill — told The Star on Thursday they have formal interviews with the Chiefs this week. Those are an indicator of the Chiefs’ interest in a player because each team only gets 60 of the 15-minute sitdowns per combine.
Each of those three backs had at least one run of 85 yards or more in their college careers, an element the Chiefs have missed since Charles’ knee issues started. The longest run of the 2016 season by their two lead backs, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, was only 46 yards, and in 2015, their longest run was 52 yards.
Long runs used to be Charles’ specialty, and there should be teams interested in seeing if he has any juice left. Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson, who coached Charles for three years as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2013-15, mentioned Wednesday that the Eagles would entertain the notion of signing him.
But no matter where Charles goes in 2017, he will have to stay healthy to make an impact and reach his goals. When asked Thursday if he thinks Charles can do that, Dorsey softly shrugged.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Time will tell.”