Chiefs owner Clark Hunt leads ‘the chop’ before AFC Championship Game
Like every other Chiefs devotee, Clark Hunt was crushed by the Chiefs’ loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
His team was this close — perhaps an offsides call or a coin toss away — from bringing home, for the first time in nearly 50 years, the trophy named for his father and founder of the Chiefs, Lamar Hunt.
Instead, the Patriots used overtime to delay that dream for at least another year.
“Obviously the loss in the AFC Championship Game was heartbreaking for all of us, particularly given how close we were,” Hunt, the team’s CEO and owner, told the Star on Friday. “There were any one of a few things that could’ve happened and we would’ve won that game and we’d be playing this weekend. And your mindset both during the season and in the playoffs is always, we’re going to be playing next week. That really has to be your mindset.
“We, I think, fairly believed we had a good shot. It was not some hope, ‘OK, we’ve got to play the Patriots and they’ve been so dominant.’ We felt like we could play with them and beat them at home and end up playing in the Super Bowl. So that’s been very tough.”
In a wide-ranging interview in Atlanta, Hunt spoke with The Star about some of the biggest storylines of the season in a year-end interview.
Up first: the overtime rules.
After watching quarterback Patrick Mahomes sit on the bench in overtime of the AFC Championship Game without a chance to touch the ball, Hunt advocated for a potential change in the NFL’s rules, at least, perhaps, during the playoffs.
“The league made a change a couple years ago where we went away from letting teams win with a field goal on the first possession,” Hunt said. “I think that was a really good change — until you have an experience like we did in the AFC Championship Game where we didn’t get a chance to possess the ball, it wasn’t something I’d really thought about.
“But I would be open to at least a discussion about changing the rules in the playoffs where maybe you play a full quarter and let the game be settled just like it would be at the end of the fourth quarter in a normal game. And if it’s still tied, then you could go to some kind of sudden death after that. I think that might be a more equitable way to approach it.
“And certainly a game like ours has a chance for being a catalyst to that discussion, which is a positive.”
While that decision is in the hands of the league, the Chiefs will have their own internal conundrums to solve in the offseason.
The team will have Mahomes on his rookie deal for a couple more years, but they’ll have to start looking at solutions to free up cap space when he’s up for an extension after the 2019 season. To do that, the Chiefs will have to look at how they’re allocating resources. In addition to paying Mahomes in the future, they’ll also likely seek to extend the rookie contracts of wide receiver Tyreek Hill and defensive lineman Chris Jones before they hit free agency in 2020.
Spotrac currently estimates the Chief having $25.5 million in cap space next year.
“We’ve been in situations the last half dozen years plus where we have more talented football players than we have salary cap space,” Hunt said. “We’ll have to make some tough decisions. That’s what Brett Veach and his staff have the pleasure of doing in the offseason. There’s a lot of hard decisions they have to make.
“The great thing about Brett is that as a GM, he is always very optimistic in his ability to replace guys we might lose to the draft or potentially through free agency. … And certainly, at some point down the road, we know we’ll want to extend Patrick, and that’ll have to factor into it. And you do have to be thinking about the contracts you do today, how does that impact where we are two, three years down the road.”
One of the biggest contracts on the Chiefs’ books right now is that of safety Eric Berry.
Berry, who missed the majority of the 2018 season, signed a six-year, $78 million deal before the 2017 season. The cap takes a $16.5 million hit with his contract next season.
Berry’s lingering undefined injury was a source of frustration throughout the season for everyone involved with the situation. Officially termed as a heel injury that began midway through training camp, the Chiefs never provided more specifics beyond that.
Berry, 30, made his season debut Week 15 against the Chargers and played in only two regular-season games. After missing the divisional-round playoff game, Berry returned for the AFC Championship Game and played the entire game.
“I think everybody involved with the situation, including Eric, was frustrated with it,” Hunt said of Berry’s season. “Because Eric’s a competitor. He’s a football player. He’s one of those guys that loves playing the game. And I knew how much he wanted to be out there. And so I knew he was frustrated and then the coaching staff and every Chiefs fan was frustrated, just not knowing week to week whether he was going to feel like he could play. Hopefully he’ll be able to get the injury taken care of in the offseason and come back next year better than ever.”
It’s been speculated that Berry will have surgery to correct his heel problem, reportedly a bone spur issue, but Hunt said that wasn’t set in stone.
“I do know that he has some upcoming doctors appointments and will probably make some decisions based on what he learns there,” Hunt said.
Another source of frustration and pain this season came from the midseason dismissal of Kareem Hunt following the publication of a video from a Cleveland hotel hallway that showed the running back shoving and kicking a woman.
The Chiefs released Hunt hours after the video’s release.
“I’m not sure there was really any information that we could have gotten before that tape was released that would have changed how we handled it,” Hunt said. “Certainly if we had known about it, we would have made a decision to part ways sooner.”
In the November statement, the Chiefs cited the running back’s inability to be truthful about the incident in discussions earlier that year as the primary reason for Hunt’s release. Asked if he wished he had included a statement about condemning violence against women, Hunt made it clear that he doesn’t condone any part of Hunt’s actions.
“I thought it went without saying that the conduct, we just don’t condone the conduct,” Hunt said. “It’s not something that we think is appropriate at all, and it really has no place and we don’t want people that are associated with the franchise doing those type of things. So I won’t go back and second-guess the statement, but I do want our fans to know that that conduct is not OK.”
With the 2018 season and everything that went with it behind him, Hunt is already looking to the future.
The Chiefs have two goals every year: Win the Lamar Hunt Trophy and win the Lombardi Trophy.
So by that measure, it wasn’t a fully successful season.
But, Hunt said, the next opportunity to chase those dreams starts pretty soon.
“We came very close to at least achieving one of those goals, but we didn’t get it done,” he said. “So the great news is that the 2019 season starts in three days and we’ll be back at it and looking forward to opening day next September.”