When Allen Bailey signed his four-year, $25 million extension with the Chiefs in mid-November, one of the first calls he made was to his teammate, buddy and fellow defensive end Jaye Howard.
“I was going to pick up some (Air Jordans) when he told me he was going to get the deal,” Howard said. “And I was like ‘Congrats man, you deserve it.’”
Howard knew how much the contract meant to Bailey, a fourth-year pro who was set to hit free agency after the season. It meant financial security, both for him and his family, a notion that really hit home with Howard, who is raising twin newborns with his wife, Shashana.
See, Bailey and Howard aren’t much different. Both are 25 years old and former middle-round draft picks — Bailey was picked in the third round in 2011, and Howard was taken in the fourth round in 2012. Both also rely on quickness to get to job done as they hover around 300 pounds.
So to Howard, there was certainly a sense of, “If he can do it, so can I.”
“That’s somebody that’s like a brother to me, man,” Howard said. “We talk about things together. We talked about dreams and aspirations of having a big contract, and he got it. He motivated me. I’ve got two youngsters I’ve got to take care of. I’ve got to go out there and play for them.”
Howard vaulted from a reserve to a starter following the season-ending week-one injury to starter Mike DeVito in September, and his stats reflect that. Howard has recorded 33 tackles and a sack. What’s more, his nine quarterback hurries are only three fewer than Bailey’s in 256 fewer snaps.
However, it’s hard not to notice an uptick in Howard’s play since Bailey’s extension. In the five games since, Howard has compiled a Pro Football Focus grade of plus-6.1, compared with his grade of negative-4.4 in the nine previous games.
“Jaye has continued to improve,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of the third-year pro. “He’s kind of been in an area where he hasn’t been in this league — he’s been asked to play a lot. There’s a point where you’ve got to kind of push through that with the young guys.”
Howard has certainly done that, prior to his shoulder strain on Sunday against the Raiders, at least.
“Jaye has really pushed through kind of that wall that presents itself this time of the year and played good football,” Reid said. “He’s strong and very athletic.”
Howard, who played 53 snaps last season and 22 the year before as a rookie with the Seahawks, said the game is finally starting to slow down for him.
“I know what the offensive line is doing because I’m studying, and I’m just getting more comfortable,” Howard said. “From the preseason to the regular season, the speed is just totally different.
“Preseason I was going against second- and third-string (players), so it was a lot easier. It took me a while to get adjusted to playing against the ones.”
At 6 feet 3 and 305 pounds, he isn’t the biggest interior linemen, so he often tries to use his athleticism to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield.
“I have to use my quickness,” Howard said. “I’m going against guys that are 330, and way stronger than me. So if I can beat them off the ball, I can give myself a chance.”
However, his size also works against him at times. For instance, if he has a lack of focus, he can be moved against the run. That has happened on occasion, particularly in the first quarter against Denver a few weeks ago, when Howard was pancaked on a block by Denver’s 6-foot-7, 320-pound guard Orlando Franklin.
The next play, however, Howard did what he’s shown a tendency to do in this situation all season long — respond. This time, he split a double team on a running play in his direction and made the tackle.
“Since college, Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator in Seattle, he used to be like you don’t want to put out bad tape,” Howard said. “That’s my whole mentality — you can’t put out bad tape.”
Reid has also noticed Howard’s knack for bouncing back after the occasional bad play, which is essentially a matter of pride.
“(Defensive line) coach (Tommy) Brasher preaches that all the time — you forget the last play, you forget it, learn from it, move on and he does that,” Reid said. “He follows that, and normally does. If he does get beat up a little bit, then he comes right back with something good.
“You want to stay consistent, and that was one of the things that he worked hard on this year, and I’m proud of him for getting that straightened out where he didn’t have the highs and the lows. He took his game and smoothed it out a little bit.”
Howard said his spirit is a result of the fact he slipped to the fourth round of the draft in 2012 and had to watch two players he started ahead of at Florida become first-round picks — Minnesota’s Sharrif Floyd and New England’s Dominique Easley.
“I’ve got an underdog mentality,” Howard said. “It started with me slipping in the draft. I felt like I played well enough to go in the first two rounds, and I didn’t make it. So with that, I always had an edge like I had to prove people wrong.”
Howard’s edge was also sharpened prior to this season, when he says some didn’t give him a shot to make the roster, let alone play as much as he has. It’s served as motivation all year, and will continue to do so, even though in some ways, he has plenty to be excited about already.
He has another year left on his rookie deal, but he’s a young player who has become a consistent contributor on a good team. As Bailey demonstrated, that is typically a good formula for players hoping to become financially secure in this league.
“Looking back at it, reading articles online, people didn’t think I had a shot at making the team,” Howard said. “I mean, I didn’t play last year. Everybody’s got a right to say something. But nobody really gave me a chance, and here I am.”