Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Pay cuts, deep passes, free agents and burritos

Dave Steckel
Dave Steckel ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dave Steckel just did something very few of us would ever do, and the top part of whatever it is we do here every week is a tribute to him.

Steckel wants to coach football, pretty much every day he wakes up, and like anyone has dreamed of being at the top of his profession. For the last 14 years, he’s been at Mizzou, working his way up to defensive coordinator, helping Gary Pinkel turn a program that had lost its way into one of the best in the country.

Mizzou built much of its rise on quarterbacks and spread offenses, but in more recent years has become a reliable producer of top defensive talent. This season, Mizzou allowed the fewest yards in SEC play. Steckel is 57 years old, comfortable and very well-respected at a program that’s made two consecutive SEC championship games.

More to our point today, he just got a raise to $600,000, the latest in Pinkel’s admirable — and, it should be pointed out, smart for his own sake — priority of making sure his assistants are always well compensated.

Steckel, then, agreed to cut his salary in more than half, because he wanted to be a head coach, and Missouri State had an opening. He will earn $270,000 per year on a five-year contract. You can obviously get by in Springfield on that. Nobody’s throwing a telethon for Steckel, but how many of us would voluntarily take a — /gets calculator/ – 55 percent pay cut to stay in the same field?

“It’s not about the money,” Steckel said. “If I was worried about money, I’d still be at Mizzou. … It’s about the relationships with players. It’s about building lives and taking care of each other.”

Steckel, it’s worth noting, got Missouri State to commit an extra $50,000 into the pool for assistant coaches salaries and a promise of more to come. When people make career choices like this, it’s easy to hope the best for them.

This week’s reading recommendation is Greg Bishop on Tom Brady’s quest to defy the aging process, and the eating recommendation is the burger at Green Room.

Programming note: I’ve been thinking about making a slight change to this weekly exercise. I’m thinking of replacing the eating recommendation with something different, partly because I’m a dad now and don’t get out to eat as much as I’d like, and partly because we all know about Yelp.

So I’ve been thinking of replacing the eating recommendation with something like a weekly local hero. Doesn’t have to be anyone in sports. Can be a teacher, a parent, a friend, a waitress, a doctor, a clerk at the local grocery store, whatever. I just want to hear about people doing good, nice, selfless things. I’d like to try this out for a week or two, and if it works, we’ll make it permanent.

Please send nominations — I just need a name and what they did — to smellinger@kcstar.com. We hear enough about people screwing up. I’d like to recognize people doing good.

Anyway, I’d love to see that catch on, but either way, thanks for reading and thanks for the help.

I know that’s the thing, to get all excited about this new downfield passing attack, but I’m not sure that’s anything other than hope. The Chiefs had some big passing plays, but what are we talking about here?

Dwayne Bowe caught a ball 16 yards past the line of scrimmage, wide open, and ran enough that it was a 37-yard gain.

Knile Davis caught a quick angle route maybe four yards past the line of scrimmage, wide open, and ran enough that it was a 70-yard touchdown.

So, really, we’re talking about the long pass to Albert Wilson, right? I’ll want to look at the All-22 when it’s available to see the whole thing, but it looked like the right play call at the right time. After the game, Alex Smith talked about Travis Kelce pulling safety over on a cross route, and the Raiders jumping on Dwayne Bowe running a shorter route, which left Wilson one-on-one with a defensive back on the outside.

The other part of this is very good protection. I’m just doing it by hand, so whatever, but I had Smith with 3.7 seconds before throwing the ball. And he wasn’t hit as he was thrown. Also, this was second and 19, which, I don’t know, if you’re the Raiders you might could maybe not want to give up a play like that there.

I know Chiefs fans want this, for their team to throw deep, but I just don’t see this as some new philosophy or emphasis. The play in Arizona to Jason Avant, that was an ad lib, where Smith (again, with a lot of time) scrambled around toward the sideline, knew he had time, saw that Jason Avant was down the field with single coverage and took a chance. If anything, you might say Smith was willing to take a risk there, because that was third and one, and if you watch the play again, Anthony Fasano was open for a shorter, easier first down.

Smith either didn’t see him or liked the matchup with Avant better. If there’s an increased willingness to go deep, I see it more in that play than the one to Wilson — where the situation and defense made throwing it deep the better and more obvious option.

We spend a lot of time talking about Alex Smith, and that’s part of the deal with quarterbacks. I know I’m higher on Smith than a lot of Chiefs fans — or, perhaps more accurately, a lot of Chiefs fans on Twitter — but I do think the Chiefs can win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith.

Part of this is that Smith has been mostly very good in his playoff games. He’s thrown nine touchdowns, no interceptions, and has a 108.6 passer rating in three games. He beat Drew Brees in a shootout, lost the NFC Championship game when the backup punt returner fumbled twice, and was damn near perfect in the Chiefs’ collapse against the Colts in January.

Joe Flacco is always the answer when people make the case that someone other than Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning or some other Accepted Name Brand Quarterback can win a Super Bowl — this generation’s Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer — but…

Flacco, in 2012: 59.7 percent completions, 22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 7.2 yards per attempt, 87.7 passer rating, 46.3 QBR.

Smith, in 2014: 64.9 percent completions, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions, 7.1 yards per attempt, 93.9 passer rating, 49.8 QBR.

Now, if the question is can Smith win the Super Bowl with THIS group around him, as currently performing and constructed?

Oh, hell no.

Well, that’s because it is a terrible matchup for the Chiefs. You can make your case for Marshawn Lynch, but Le’Veon Bell is the best back the Chiefs will have faced this season. He’s probably been the best back in the league this year, actually.

He is fast, powerful, shifty, and patient behind his offensive line. He’s been particularly effective running behind right guard David DeCastro. This is a particularly difficult challenge because Antonio Brown is the league’s most prolific pass catcher, and is excellent at stretching the field and taking advantage of Ben Roethlisberger’s big arm.

The Chiefs’ run defense has been fairly terrible this year, maybe later in the week we’ll get into just why this is such a bad matchup. The only point of optimism I’d give you is that we all thought Lynch would rip through the Chiefs, too, and even with 124 yards on 24 carries it felt like the Chiefs limited his impact.

The Chiefs have done as much as they can to hide it, but Josh Mauga has been beat a lot. He has a tendency to over pursue some snaps, and make the wrong reads on others. Sort of like what happened with Latavius Murray’s 90-yard touchdown run in Oakland, all the makings are there for Bell to break this open.

Winning games means the Royals no longer have to put on an extra year, or an extra two million per year, to win a negotiation. They no longer have to promise a guy he’ll play everyday or start, instead of go be a utility guy or reliever somewhere else. But this is still a world where money is important. That’s not going to change.

I assume that if the offers were the same, Ervin Santana would rather pitch in Kansas City, with a big ballpark and a great outfield defense and teammates he knows, than Minnesota. I’m less sure about Melky Cabrera, and not just because the White Sox play in a stadium with high school dimensions, but I would think he has good vibes from his time in Kansas City.

But I don’t know where all the examples are of guys taking less money to play somewhere. At times, people want to point to these long-term extensions that have been done so many times. And it’s true that players know they’re agreeing to take less than open market value, but they’re doing it in exchange for the security of having that money NOW, when their opportunity to hit the open market is still a year or more away.

So, really, both of these things are true: the Royals are a MUCH more attractive place for free agents than, say, four years ago. And: nine times out of 10, guys are going to sign the biggest contract.

All of that said, the Royals should have some money available. I was surprised they didn’t sign either Santana or Cabrera, but I also know these things are complicated, and I’m saving any outrage to see how the offseason plays out.

Like I said when they did that deal, I think the Royals misread the market there. If given the choice and certainty that it would either be Morales for two years and $17 million, or Butler for one year and $12.5 million — in effect, $1 million, if you calculate the buyout — I assume they’d pay Billy.

But I also think they were ready to walk away from Butler long before the last month or so.

The Royals, as currently constructed, project to be around $87 million or so in payroll. I haven’t heard this directly, but I think the most they could spend on next year’s team would be $110 million. I would think the range is $100 million to $110 million, which would leave $13 million to $23 million, if my estimates are right.

I think Morales has some real bounce back potential, particularly on a short contract that includes incentives. But by signing him, you’re cutting off your ability to make multiple big signings.

The Royals want to keep their contracts as short as possible, which is part of why they didn’t match what Santana signed with the Twins, and is a motivation that comes as Morales, Wade Davis, Alcides Escobar, and Luke Hochevar will make around $8.5 million more in 2016 than 2015. That doesn’t include significant raises in arbitration for Greg Holland, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy, and Kelvin Herrera.

I’d be open to trading a reliever — Vahe and I disagree here — but more likely you’re looking at guys who would come on short-term contracts, like Alex Rios or perhaps Colby Rasmus for the outfield or maybe — and I’m really spitballing here — someone like Aaron Harang or Chris Young in the rotation.

He shoots deer, mostly. And I vaguely remember him telling me once that he built a ramp for one of his sons, who is a professional motocross … jumper?

I don’t know, this kind of crazy, uh-uh, I’m-way-too-much-of-a-wuss stuff:

Perry Ellis on a face-up today, and I think Bill Self would like it to be Kelly Oubre in March. But it might end up being Wayne Selden.

Well, I do hate the offsides trap in soccer, and flopping in soccer and basketball. I’d let batters turn down walks, eliminate the timeout-when-you’re-falling-out-of-bounds^, I’d make pass interference reviewable, and I’d never, ever, not even once, penalize an athlete for celebrating, unless it was deemed by the officials on the field and a review committee of people with common sense that the celebration was especially lame or unoriginal.

^ Or trapped, avoiding a five-second call.

I’m sure I could come up with more.

I like Bruce Weber. I think he’s a good coach, a funny man, a hard worker and I respect the path he took to get where he is. I think K-State is FAR better off with him than Frank Martin.

And, let’s say this from the top: talking about firing him is just ridiculous. He won a share of the conference title in his first year, the first time anyone at K-State had done that in a generation, and that was not even close to the most talented team K-State had in a generation.

But this season, at least so far, is not helping my case. They can’t score, and Weber can’t be wasting years with a player like Marcus Foster.

They got blown out by Pittsburgh in an afterthought consolation game in Maui, but there’s no shame losing by one at Tennessee, or by four against Arizona. I’m not going to defend the Long Beach State loss, even on the road.

Weber will always have a bit of a public perception problem. That’s because of how it ended at Illinois, and he’s more of a traditional basketball coach than the kinds of guys who work on TV after they’ve been fired. In the profession he’s chosen, that can work against him.

But I’d like more than 10 uninspiring games before we start crushing a guy.

I’m not totally sure about what you mean by the message to female fans, if it would be better to let Adrian Peterson back and not Ray Rice? There are differences in the cases, including the judges who heard the appeals. But, perhaps most notably, Rice was suspended for two games, then told he would not be punished retroactively based on the NFL’s new personal conduct policy … and then was, basically, retroactively punished. That policy was instituted after Rice’s incident, and before Peterson’s.

I’m also not sure how apples-to-apples this is, just because the NFL screwed up Rice’s situation at every opportunity.

But, it’s also worth noting that the union is suing the league based on a might’ve-been promise from a league executive that the suspension would be only two games.

I’m one of these people who think everything applies to an old Seinfeld episode, so apologies in advance, but I think you’re getting close to this:

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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