Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: LDT’s extension, Chiefs and Eric Berry, Kansas hopes and fears, and more

Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (left) celebrated with tight end Travis Kelce during a game last year.
Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (left) celebrated with tight end Travis Kelce during a game last year. jsleezer@kcstar.com

So, yeah, I didn’t see this Laurent Duvernay-Tardif extension coming, either.

LDT has improved tremendously over his three years in the NFL. Safe to say he’s the team’s most improved player over that time, and I’d have a hard time thinking of anyone who’s made more progress in such a short period of time.

Terez Paylor notes here that the five-year, $41.25 million extension is more than the four-year, $28 million deal that Jeff Allen signed with the Texans after leaving the Chiefs last year. It’s also slightly more than Brandon Brooks got with the Eagles. Both were 26 when they signed those deals, same as LDT is now.

This is the Chiefs’ first major spending on the interior offensive line by John Dorsey and Andy Reid, and they’ve had a lot of chances — not just Allen, but Rodney Hudson and Jon Asamoah.

It seems like a big spend, and the Chiefs haven’t been great at managing their cap. But Dorsey and Reid fully believe in the importance of line continuity, and that the career trajectory of linemen tends to jump around this point in a guy’s career.

Physically, LDT has always profiled similarly to some of the league’s better linemen, and in the last year or two has seen hard work on technique and fundamentals pay off on film.

The deal is likely structured in a way that the Chiefs can get out of it after two years with minimal dead money. That means it’s not an enormous risk, but just a surprising one, considering it’s a contract they weren’t under pressure to get done.

This week’s eating recommendation is the scallop at Novel, and the reading recommendation is this stunning and terrifically reported piece by Matthew Stanmyer and Steve Politi on concerns including human trafficking around a New Jersey high school athletics program.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

See, this is what I’m talking about, you guys. Just some friendly people getting together to waste a little part of their work day — this is my job, though, so you have to find your own excuse — with nothing but positivity in the air and …

… DANGIT.

There you go, ruining it all. Hope you’re happy. Hope you sleep well at night.

We talked about this on the Border Patrol, but c’mon, that was really bad. Kellis Robinett was nice enough to not include the part where Weber said he and D. Scott Fritchen are the only people who criticize him, but this was a bad look on, just off the top of my head, at least five levels:

▪ The two reporters he called out are very, very, very, very, very far from unfair. Kellis and Scott live in Manhattan, attend virtually every game and news conference, and each do a good job reporting fairly and accurately and energetically. Nobody believes these are gotcha journalists trying to crush Weber at every opportunity.

▪ Speaking of things nobody believes, his stance is that Kellis and Scott are the ONLY people criticizing him? He’s heard people boo him. He even high-fived one. He is deeply aware of what’s said about him. He can say he doesn’t care, and nobody would believe that either, but he can’t say two beat writers are the only people criticizing him.

▪ This isn’t even a “Bruce Weber is struggling” thing. The most successful coaches in the sport take criticism, even when they’re winning.

▪ Weber is 60 years old, and in his 19th season as a Division I head basketball coach. He is making $1.85 million this season. He has to know that some criticism is part of the gig when things aren’t going well.

▪ It’s a terrible look when you let the cracks show. He said this after being blow’d out by 30 points against the worst team in the league. He has to know he’s coaching for his job at this point, and he’s not doing himself any favors. K-State’s players decided not to talk with reporters after the loss, another bad look, but I assume they’re following their coach’s lead on this. If this is a sort of Hail Mary move — the media hates us! Let’s rally and make the NCAA Tournament! — then I suppose it’s a strategy, but it’s a desperate strategy. Not sure what’s wrong with pointing out you’re disappointed in the result, saying some stuff like you have higher standards than anyone else, and that you’ll work hard to fix it.

I say all this as someone who likes Bruce Weber. I think he’s a good basketball coach, and in many ways, has legitimate reason to feel under-appreciated. But he makes it hard to get behind him sometimes.

Touched on this in a column a few weeks ago, but there are basically two answers here:

Yes, the Royals have shifted their strengths and specific strategy at the plate.

No, this is not a shift in philosophy or overall organizational strategy.

Dayton Moore has long believed that because of the Royals’ market and ballpark, they needed to be athletic and fast. He got the worse end of it, but the first trade he made was sending left-handed reliever J.P. Howell to Tampa for the speedy and car-jumping Joey Gathright.

Without many exceptions, their major moves have targeted athleticism. The Zack Greinke trade brought back Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Alex Gordon signed two long contracts. Eric Hosmer is a foundational piece. Mike Moustakas is a very good defender. Jarrod Dyson. On and on.

But as much fun as it is to watch that athleticism play — Moose’s dive into the dugout suite, Cain scoring from first on a single, Gordon crashing into the wall for a catch — there was always a bottom line logic to it all for the Royals, too.

They could not afford traditional clean-up hitters on the open market. They’ve tried to add it in other ways — power in the draft, and don’t forget Moore wanted to move the fences in when he took the job.

Well, baseball is changing. A guy who led his league in homers was just non-tendered and signed by a second club for one year and $3 million. Power is now affordable for the Royals. The pendulum has shifted, so they can afford to trade for Jorge Soler, can sign Brandon Moss to two years and $12 million, and can make a no-risk trade for Peter O’Brien who has so much power Alex Gordon told the coaches he wouldn’t hit in the same group.

“He makes me feel like a high school kid,” Gordon said, smiling.

So, I don’t know. I like most of their moves, in a vacuum, even if I think the bigger goal — build for the future, win now, and reduce or freeze payroll — is unrealistic.

But I do think they have a legitimate chance to win with this roster. The last Vegas number I saw was 80  1/2 wins, which, maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid here, but seems low.

I don’t think they’ll win or lose based entirely on how many home runs they hit or don’t. Health is the most important thing, followed by pitching, I believe. But they absolutely need to score more runs. They’ll still be faster than many teams they play, so they’ll have moments of small ball. But, yes, they will need to mix in more home runs, too.

Particularly on the road.

This is part of why I don’t think a deal will get done: there is a wide gap between what the Royals are likely willing to pay or see as fair value, and what Hosmer and his agent are likely willing to take or see as fair value.

Especially before the season.

I like Hosmer. A lot. I think he’s the Royals’ best hitter, and the one most likely to have a top-five-in-MVP-voting type of 2017 season. I like that he has diverse talents, good athleticism, and basically a spotless record as a leader, teammate, and citizen.

But if agent Scott Boras is looking for more than five years, and more than $20 million per year, that’s a hard price for the Royals to meet and possibly even to justify.

Hosmer hasn’t had a superstar season yet. Actually, hasn’t really had a star season yet. He’s had superstar moments, particularly in the postseason, and he was a crucial part of two pennants and a World Series championship.

But his career year, so far, was batting .297 with a .363 on-base and .459 slugging percentage. Those 25 homers and 104 RBIs last year were nice, but came in an otherwise ordinary season — .266/.328/.433 for a .761 OPS that ranked 14th among 18 qualified first basemen.

Boras and Hosmer won’t see it like that, and they shouldn’t. Hosmer is a terrifically talented player, and still just 27 years old. You would expect his best seasons to be in front of him.

Maybe that season will be 2017, in which case he’d hit the open market with the Yankees and Red Sox and other big spenders presumably in need of a first baseman. if that happens, the Royals will look foolish by many to not signed Hosmer to an extension.

But there’s nothing that suggests Hosmer is willing to take less now for the security, and committing enormous money to one player has been a struggle for teams in similar markets like the Reds, Brewers and Twins.

I guess I always end up looking at it like this: if I was the Royals, I wouldn’t pay what I think Boras and Hosmer will be looking for, and if I was Boras or Hosmer, I wouldn’t sign what I think the Royals will be offering.

But, to answer your question, six years and $110 million seems like a fair deal. I’m guessing Boras will be aiming for something more like eight years and $160 million.

Eric Hosmer says his representatives are in extension talks with Royals 

I’ve been to 25 — all but Washington, Miami, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Cleveland (I know).

They’re all great, by the way. The worst ballpark in the world still features major-league baseball, beautiful grass and great players and, actually, since the worst ballpark in the world is the Oakland Coliseum and it’s not even close*, the worst ballpark in the world is five minutes from an In-N-Out**.

* Heck of a thing when the worst stadium in two different leagues is the same place.

** It’s 2017, so I can’t believe I still have to say this, but DO NOT GET THE FRIES. Just get an extra burger. Trust me.

So let’s keep this fairly short — the six ballparks I’ve been to that you absolutely should get to if you haven’t already:

Fenway: Absolutely unique, both in history and setting. The place feels remarkably small when you’re there, and in a good way. Always a fun atmosphere. Always energetic.

Wrigley: Pretty much the same description as Fenway, with the added bonus that you’re in Chicago, and can each all the pizza (I know this is sacrilege there, but I believe the best pizza in Chicago is as good as the best pizza in New York, and is not deep dish).

Camden: Thought this was going to be a disappointment when I went because of the hype, but it’s gorgeous. Wish they’d move the fences back to major-league distance, and wish there were a few more places nearby, but it’s an iconic place for a game.

AT&T: Breathtaking views. Perfectly and uniquely placed on the water, and expertly designed. Maybe the best selection of food of any ballpark in the country, too, though San Francisco is a ridiculous eating town anyway — Casa Flores, Foreign Cinema, Rosie’s, Flour + Water, Hogwash, Slanted Door, on and on and freaking on.

Petco: It’s in San Diego!

PNC Park: Best skyline view in baseball. This stadium was so well designed and built. Such a clean, fun, terrific place. Fries on sandwiches are weird, but there’s a lot of great places to eat in Pittsburgh — Butcher and the Rye, Proper Brick, and Burgatory to start.

Yeah, pretty much.

They use a shifting criteria at Kansas, which basically means the criteria is whether Bill Self thinks the jersey should go into the rafters, and I cannot imagine him not putting Mason up there soon.

He’s a lock for first-team All-America, and people who watch a lot more national basketball than I do say he’s the favorite to beat out Josh Hart and Caleb Swanigan and others for national player of the year.

Just based on the All-America selection, he’d be up there, so he doesn’t need this extra part but it’s there anyway:

Mason’s story is every coach’s dream story to be able to tell.

He was headed to Towson State, KU’s coaches only recruited him as a backup plan, and signed him as depth. He has fought every ounce of production out of his body, essentially through hard work maxing out his physical talents, and harder work sharpening his skills.

Mason was a very good player last season. But, look:

As a junior: 12.9 points, 43 percent shooting, 38 percent three-pointers.

As a senior: 20.2 points, 49 percent shooting, 50 percent three-pointers.

I was mildly surprised that Self introduced Mason as the best guard he’s ever coached at Senior Night. Deron Williams and Dee Brown were great at Illinois, though their best seasons came after Self took the job at Kansas. Sherron Collins was also a stud.

But I do agree with him. I can’t speak so well about the version of Williams and Brown that Self got at Illinois — the team that eventually lost the national championship to North Carolina two years after he left was one of my all-time favorite college basketball teams — but I do think Mason is better than Collins.

Better at staying under control, a better shooter, and a smarter player. Much better senior year, too.

It’s an interesting list.

I’d have Le’Veon Bell higher, even as I know he’s knocked for his position, and I know Dont’a Hightower is a stud but I can’t help but think he’s propped up a bit — a bit — by coaching and system.

But, anyway, that’s not what you asked.

I do think there’s a significant difference. I don’t follow the 27 teams outside the AFC West close enough to make my own list — two Lions offensive linemen are between Berry and Poe, so, shrug — but I do think Berry is way better and more valuable.

I like Poe. Actually, I love Poe.

But he’s still a 350-pound man with back problems who will be paid lots of money to push and be pushed by other enormous men. His production seems to come more often when he uses his quickness, rather than strength, but either way it’s hard to know how long this will hold up.

Berry plays a less traditionally important position, but he’s transcended the typical levels with his play, mostly, but also his example and work and brain.

Terez makes this point occasionally: in addition to all the obvious ways Eric Berry helps the Chiefs win games and would help any professional football team win games, he is also specifically valuable to the Chiefs as a sort of Marcus Peters Whisperer.

The Chiefs have good coaches, and Emmitt Thomas is absolutely one of them, but it’s different when a player has the direct respect and juice to help get the best out of Peters.

It is not Peters’ nature to defer to anyone, and I’m not sure it’s accurate to say he defers to Berry. But he sure as heck respects him, and Berry sure as heck is part of the Chiefs getting the best of Peters.

There are reports that both sides are optimistic about a deal, which jives with what a lot of us in Kansas City have expected.

There are just too many reasons for a deal to get done. There were a lot of reasons for this deal to get done last year, of course, but those reasons are even stronger now — particularly on the Chiefs’ side.

They’ll likely have to pay a sort of tax or penalty compared with what kind of deal could’ve been done last year — they did this with Justin Houston, too — but letting Berry walk or creating another drama where he ends up sitting out at least some games in 2017 would be a disaster for the Chiefs’ football, locker room, and image.

I’d be shocked if his new deal doesn’t make him the highest paid safety in the NFL. Berry has the leverage here. If he wants to play in Kansas City as badly as he says, he’ll use that leverage to get a great deal, penalize the Chiefs a bit for mishandling the situation last year, but sign that great deal before training camp.

These things typically are consumed along party lines. Many KU fans will see this as overblown, and many rival fans will see this as a program gone out of control.

So I like your question. To me, nationally, the perception is that KU has a problem. This is four out of their top seven players who’ve been arrested, suspended, charged, or in Lagerald Vick’s case, found to have likely committed domestic violence by a university investigation.

Each of the incidents can be softened with an explanation, but taken as a whole, this is a problem. Already, the drama is affecting KU in recruiting. These are real and serious questions being asked by recruits and their families.

But I think we have a good example of a program truly out of control with Baylor, with widespread problems and staff cover-up.

If all you care about is the basketball, Kansas has done a remarkable job of playing through the self-inflicted troubles. This group has had many excuses to lose focus, and lose games, not just with the off-court drama but a depleted front court and lack of depth that’s begging these guys to be tired.

This team, just from a strategic point of view, will be more matchup dependent than most and, well, let’s talk about that here ...

… so, it’s going to be a physical team. Teams like North Carolina, or Kentucky, or UCLA or Duke — terrific teams, by the way — should be good matchups for KU. Teams that want to run, score, and take the ball out of the net on defense are going to wear down against Kansas.

The Jayhawks can score with folks, and have consistently shown the ability to get the important stops. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I believe this would be a much better defensive team with more depth, but they are being forced to conserve their energy a bit and focus at certain moments.

Now, a team like West Virginia, or Virginia, or maybe Louisville might be a bigger challenge. If a team can smother KU defensively, and wear them down that way — push them around a bit — I believe that’s the way to beat this team.

But KU will have the best player on the floor in virtually any game, and the best two players on the floor in most games. That’s a pretty good place to start.

Can’t remember who the story was about. This was a long time ago, back when I was covering high schools.

But I do remember I was proud of the story. I liked the person I was writing about, had good access, and wanted to make sure I described their personality the right way. One of the things I liked about this person was they were quick to laugh at themselves, and told jokes where they were the butt. That’s one of my favorite character traits in anyone, so I was going to put that fairly high in the story.

So I filed, and I’m sitting in the office waiting for the editors to come back and tell me how great the story was, and that I was immediately getting a raise and promotion and parade thrown in my honor, but instead the copy editor comes back with a printout, doing a rotten job of hiding his laughter, and announces to everyone:

Hey Sam, does this guy really have a self-defecating sense of humor?

Dangit.

I tried fantasy baseball once, and it just overwhelmed me. There’s such a difference in the amount of time people are willing and able to spend on a fantasy league, and I was just getting buried by guys who were changing their lineups every day based on pitching and ballpark matchups.

Honestly, I hated it.

I’m in a fantasy football league, and that works much better for me. You can do a decent job setting a lineup in 10 minutes per week, and if you want to get nerdy, you still probably don’t need more than a half hour. The draft and waiver pickups are different, and that’s where I cede ground.

But the point is, my team doesn’t suck, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the process, and the best part is it’s an easy excuse and way to keep in touch with friends. The league is mostly a bunch of old high school buddies. Three of them live overseas, and even the ones who live within an hour or so drive I don’t see or talk to as often as I’d like.

This is a good way to keep the text chains going, make fun of each other, invite one over for a cigar and whiskey to talk trades. That’s the best part.

People talk a lot about having reasons to watch games, and that’s true too — it’s even truer for people who have real jobs. But to me, any time you can do something that guarantees you and your friends will make fun of each other, you have to take that opportunity.

We actually went to Char Bar last night, for The Kid’s third birthday — he chose “french fry restaurant” over “pizza restaurant.”

I meant to get a pork corn dog, just to try it, but as soon as I opened the menu I got distracted by cheesy hush puppies, burnt ends, and the smoked jackfruit.

I know I sound like an ad for that place, but I really do think it’s the best place in the city for a certain kind of experience. It’s hard to have a restaurant that’s great for a date, great for a big group of friends, and great for kids. They have a good beer list, the food is nails, and when the weather’s nice that back patio is one of Kansas City’s best hangouts.

But a pork corn dog. OK. Next time.

You’re a hero!

I’ve always thought one of the best terms in sports is when someone calls a certain kind of basketball player “a volume shooter.” That’s amazing. We used to call those guys “ball hogs” or “chuckers.”

But volume shooter makes it sound like that’s just his role, that you have guys who need to play defense or set screens or pass or listen to the coach, but this other guy over here, his role is get his shots up. God bless that guy over here.

One of my favorite games from high school was against a smaller school that we knew we’d beat, and somehow the coach basically let me shoot as much as I wanted. Of course, I thought I was going for 50, but I ended up shooting something like 3 for 18.

After the seventh or eighth miss, everyone in the gym could see where this was going, but I kept firing anyway. I remember my friends feeling bad for me, my teammates probably hating me at least a little, but I felt so dang free. Get those shots up, man.

That’s good policy. Not just for basketball, but for life.

But, seriously. Your friends probably hate you now.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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