The Corporate Mailbag is long overdue. I know that. So let’s just jump right into it, shall we?
The Corporate Champ displeased many with the headline for this story. The headline — “Doug Pederson’s Super Bowl victory is a win for Chiefs’ Andy Reid, too” — caused a number of jabronis to tweet their anger at the Corporate Champ, and to be honest, he wasn’t even mad. Because the truth is, I get the anger, Chiefs fans. I do.
Many of you have been watching this team your whole lives. You’ve had your heart ripped more times than you count, in a variety of devastating, gut-punch losses. So yeah, I imagine seeing former Chiefs assistant Doug Pederson win the Super Bowl in Philly in two years was difficult to stomach for some of you, especially considering, you know, Pederson instituted many of Reid’s processes as head coach in Philadelphia.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
But here’s the thing: The premise of the story was solid, your anger aside. Between John Harbaugh and Pederson, that’s now two coaches who used to be apprentices under Reid who are now Super Bowl champions. I know Reid couldn’t have been happier for Doug, and Pederson was more than graceful when it came to my multitude of questions about Reid. Pederson’s victory was proof that Reid’s system of football management is sound, and it works.
But I promised you a reason some good can come out of this, so how about two?
First: Reid is more competitive than you guys will ever know. If you think he’s happy about the way the season ended, if you think he’s good with that embarrassing loss … you’re just wrong. Think about this. Reid is a millionaire many times over. He’s already won a Super Bowl ring as an assistant with the Packers. So even if he never wins the Super Bowl as a head coach, he’ll go down as one of the better coaches of his era, albeit one who came up short in the playoffs more than anyone is comfortable with.
What’s more, Reid is arguably a Super Bowl title away from having a really good Hall of Fame case. Think about it. Mike Holmgren, his mentor, only won one Super Bowl (though he went to three), and Reid’s coaching tree (seven former assistants have gone on to become head coaches) — is enormous, just like Holmgren’s (nine). I believe Holmgren is a Hall of Fame coach; even though he didn’t make it to the semifinals of this year’s voting, when the list is pared down from 108 to 25, I do think he’ll get in one day. There’s just a backlog of great coaches waiting to be enshrined, including Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores and Jimmy Johnson.
So, Reid still has his Hall of Fame legacy to coach for, which is substantial. Take it from somebody who is a proud Hall of Fame voter: This matters more to these guys than you might think. Pederson’s win, despite the fact Reid is happy for his friend, should serve as a jolt to the system of the old coach, a stark reminder that there needs to be some urgency to win in a bigger, more meaningful way, right now. Given how prideful Reid is, I’m confident that’s the case.
The second reason I think some good can come out of this is simple. Everyone is praising Pederson right now, particularly for his aggressive play-calling in the Super Bowl. But … um, isn’t that what everyone was crushing Reid about in the second half of the Titans loss? The fact the Chiefs kept throwing with an 18-point lead? The play-calling could have been better in spurts, sure — and Lord knows, I HATED that third-down sprint option — but for the most part, if you watch the All-22 tape, the play-calls were sound. It was the execution that caused the breakdown. A drop here. A missed read there. A missed block here. A blown assignment there. That, plus a toothless pass rush and subpar run defense, was all the Titans needed to mount their comeback.
The point is, Reid is plenty aggressive offensively, just like Pederson, and Pederson’s win was huge because he proved you can win in the playoffs that way. But what actually needs to change for the Chiefs is the on-field performance of their players. Philadelphia’s offensive line is superior to the Chiefs, and their quarterback, Nick Foles, made so many big-time throws Sunday I practically lost count.
The hope for Chiefs fans has to be that a still-youngish offensive line finally matures in 2018, and Patrick Mahomes proves to be the playmaking, gunslinging quarterback the Chiefs hope he is. If those two things happen, given the outstanding high-level skill players they already have on offense, this group can still ascend a couple notches, perhaps to a championship level.
The people are not happy with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton! The defense was difficult to watch this year, and that 18-point second-half lead they blew against the Titans certainly left a horrific taste in everybody’s mouths.
In retrospect, there’s certainly an internal belief with the Chiefs that the defense wasn’t as talented as anyone thought it was, and a number of key injuries — specifically to safety Eric Berry and yes, linebacker Dee Ford — were just devastating. Reid decided that shouldn’t cost Sutton his job, and given the amount of winning both men have done here — 53-27, four playoff appearances — Hunt gave Reid the benefit of the doubt and ample opportunity to fix the problem.
That’s why the most important man of the Chiefs’ offseason is newish general manager Brett Veach. Veach has only been on the job seven months or so, but he’s made some impressive moves already, including the trade for linebacker Reggie Ragland, the acquisition of kicker Harrison Butker and the Alex Smith deal, which netted an outstanding young corner in Kendall Fuller. That’s big because cornerback is a position they would’ve been forced to address in the first three rounds of the draft — and they also got an additional third round pick in the trade.
I expect Veach to use his draft picks to infuse an increasingly creaky defense with young talent, and I expect Sutton — once he gets comfortable with that talent — to start becoming the Sutton of old: creative and aggressive. (I honestly don’t think he has a choice. I just don’t think they can go through another season with this bend-but-don’t-break stuff; I’m not sure the most intense competitors in that locker room — ie: Deuce-Deuce, Marcus Peters — would handle that well.)
I was only a tad surprised to see Brad Childress end his retirement and join Matt Nagy’s staff in Chicago so quickly following the Chiefs’ initial announcement. But to be honest, anyone who has seen those two interact know how close they are, and while Reid and Childress have been together a long time, that doesn’t mean a fresh start won’t be good for both sides, especially since Childress can now be closer to his hometown of Aurora, Ill.
So yeah, I’d hold off on sounding the alarm bells on this one. Outside of Nagy, all the coaches the Chiefs parted ways with — Childress, linebacker coach Gary Gibbs and special projects coach Tommy Brasher — were 60 or older, and Reid replaced them by promoting younger coaches from within who have lots to prove. This could give the coaching staff a shot of much-needed youthful enthusiasm.
Oh, some people were held accountable alright. Clark Hunt basically told me in this interview that the Chiefs’ cap troubles, and the way those kept them from fortifying the roster defensively last offseason, played a role in the firing of Dorsey. Throw in the recent staff shakeup, and things are changing … albeit not to the degree many fans would like.
No. Understand, if you fire Reid, he’d have a line of suitors from here to California despite their 1-4 playoff record. Why? He wins. Consistently. Winning equals money. Hunt values his money, so he values Reid’s ability to consistently win anywhere from nine to 11 games and at least give his team a shot in the playoffs.
But that’s not the main reason I say no to that deal. The biggest reason? Mahomes. You do NOT want to mess up a young quarterback like this by making him learn another system. The hopes and dreams of the Chiefs’ entire franchise rest of Mahomes strong right arm. If he becomes an All-Pro, it’s easy to see multiple Super Bowl appearances in his future.
And I wouldn’t count him out. You guys know I grew up in Detroit, rooting for the Lions. And I honestly think that if I was the Chiefs’ general manager and the Lions called me up and offered Matthew Stafford for Mahomes, straight up, I would say no. Mahomes is younger, cheaper and his upside is immense. He’s the kind of guy who, if he pans out, could be so fun to watch that fans would come to the stadium just to see him play, and that’s something you can’t take for granted in the era of 1 million-inch, super high-def televisions.
Nick Korte at OverTheCap.com tentatively projected the Chiefs to get a sixth-round pick for Foles, but he recently pondered whether it could improve to a fifth-round pick, given Foles’ postseason exploits. That would be a boon for the Chiefs, who don’t have their fifth this year because they traded it to Cleveland for Cam Erving (and yeah, the jury is still out on that one, folks).
The Chiefs absolutely need to do a better job of hitting on undrafted free agents. After netting the likes of Charcandrick West early in Dorsey’s tenure, the only undrafted free agent to contribute much in recent seasons was special teamer Terrance Smith. I do think Veach will continue to focus on athleticism, like Dorsey did, but I think the Chiefs are banking on his relentless work ethic netting a few more undrafted gems.
If the Chiefs lose Zach Fulton to free agency — and I think they might, even though they want him back — that will be a big loss on the O-line. Fulton’s ability to step in and play any of the three interior line positions will be missed. That said, I think it’s safe to assume center Mitch Morse will bounce back after an injury-plagued season, and the same goes for right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Left guard Bryan Witzmann — another Veach find — will be better as well with a year of seasoning, but I’d be really surprised if the Chiefs didn’t find him some competition via the draft or free agency. They also need to groom a young talent to play center this season in case Morse — a free agent after 2018 — gets hurt or bolts in free agency.
It’s important, especially since Veach got to see how the Justin Houston-Eric Berry situations compounded themselves into massive deals that led to their 2017 cap troubles, which ultimately contributed to Dorsey’s demise in Kansas City. My money is on the Chiefs exercising Marcus Peters’ option — internally, I still think he’s viewed as a good dude and will get a long-term deal in Kansas City ... barring anymore suspensions, of course.
Mahomes has a really good public demeanor about him; I remember when I interviewed him at the Super Bowl a year ago, long before he ever became a Chief, I couldn’t believe how patient and energetic he was after basically spending five hours on radio row, being asked all sorts of horrific questions. (Seriously, I would have turned into Jack Torrance from “The Shining” by hour two. You wouldn’t believe how bad some of those questions are. But I digress.)
I think Alex Smith did a great job of walking the line between saying nothing of substance — which the team prefers — and giving writers enough to do their jobs. Alex was helpful, especially if he trusted you, and he wasn’t big on lying, which isn’t a given at this level. I think Mahomes has some of that in him. But the true test will be how he is with the media when he isn’t playing well, or the team is mired in a losing streak. One thing about Smith; he was always the same guy, no matter how brutal or stupid the question, or how many losses had stacked up. Alex was always a man about it, and he was appreciated for that by the Kansas City media more than he’ll ever know.
They’re similar quarterbacks, right? Problem is, Kirk Cousins is four years younger, so most would probably prefer him to Smith. Still, there are worse situations for Smith than Washington, which has an intriguing offensive line, a pair of young backs I really like (Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine) and a very quarterback-friendly system. But the key for him will be developing a quick and early rapport with his receivers, because as Smith showed in Kansas City, if he doesn’t trust you fully, you’re not getting the ball. Washington could really help itself by signing receivers Alex already knows and likes, like Albert Wilson, a free agent coming off a career season. And if Baltimore releases Jeremy Maclin — the Ravens can clear $5 million by doing so — signing him would be a good move, too.
Timing, timing, timing. In my opinion, Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub got screwed by the success the Rams had under Sean McVay this season, as he managed to turn around a moribund franchise and fashion Jared Goff — who looked like a potential bust after one year — into a Pro Bowl quarterback. Both franchises that could’ve been nice fits for Toub, Indy and Chicago, have young or youngish quarterbacks who would benefit from working with a head coach who’s also a quarterback guru. Toub will get his opportunity one day.
The Spencer Ware-Kareem Hunt duo is absolutely something to look forward to in 2018. I believe Ware’s hard-charging running style and on-field intensity was missed this season, and I could see him teaming up with Hunt and third-down back Charcandrick West to form a really nice trio. There’s a role for all three, though this will surely annoy fantasy owners to no end. I could imagine a scenario where Hunt gets something like 57 percent of the snaps, Ware gets 28 percent and West 15 nabs percent.
It’s not worth a story, but I can answer that here. Listen, it’s no secret that newspapers are looking to maximize revenue. The best way to do that is by writing compelling stories, breaking news and selling advertisers on the idea that a lot of eyes with see and associate their product with this very compelling content. Clicks, in effect, are the way reporters are judged for their output in today’s world. I’m not saying that’s right, necessarily, but this isn’t 1955, and as the great Sgt. Bob Barnes from “Platoon” once said, “There’s the way things oughta be … and then there’s the way things are.”
Hence the reason I continue to remind you all that if you like a certain reporter who works at a newspaper — and it doesn’t even have to be the Corporate Champ — you need to make sure you check out his or her stories regularly and reward them with the click. For better or worse, it matters.