The 2018 Chiefs will feature the most intriguing offense in franchise history and, if you think someone who's younger than the franchise shouldn't say things like that, fine, I'll rephrase:
The 2018 Chiefs will feature the most intriguing offense since at least the 1980s.
Most of us remember the Dick Vermeil years, and I'm not here to tell you those offenses weren't terrific. Of course they were. Tony Gonzalez was the most dynamic tight end in football, the offense line was one of the best in the modern NFL, and Priest Holmes was a fantasy football monster.
But, guys. The Chiefs have never had a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes. Never had a guy who can throw it this far, from so many different angles, with so much dang confidence.
Never had a receiver to match that quarterback so well as Tyreek Hill, perhaps the fastest man in the NFL, an automatic go if he ever sees single coverage without help over the top.
Travis Kelce is among the best tight ends in football, absurd athleticism that requires more than one man to defend, and assuming health the Chiefs will have a fairly stacked backfield with Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, and Charcandrick West.
And, now, the Chiefs have never had a No. 2 receiver quite like Sammy Watkins, blessed with the explosion, acceleration, and ball tracking skills to be a problem downfield for defenses.
This group is diabolically put together, because you can't double both of the terrific deep threats without begging the terrific tight end to destroy you underneath and opening lots of room for the terrific running back to destroy you on the ground.
The Chiefs' front office has been absolutely giddy about Mahomes' talent and potential since the night they traded up to draft him, and they are now surrounding him with everything he will need to be successful.
Mahomes and Hunt are each 22. Watkins and Hill are 24. Chris Conley (remember him?) is 25. Ware is 26. Kelce is the graybeard at 28.
This group is going to score a lot of points, and create a lot of highlights.
Maybe even enough to make up for that defense.
What part of March Madness (if any) still gives you goosebumps this many years into your job?— Michael Riedl (@michaelriedl) March 12, 2018
Pretty much all of it, actually.
I've tried to explain here before about how this job changes the way you look at sports, and we don't need to go through that again, so here's the short version: doesn't make you love sports more, doesn't make you loves sports less, but it does change how you see it.
The basketball tournament has always been the glaring exception for me.
I'll geek out at spring training, and opening day, and the first weekend of real football. But nothing like this tournament, and that's why the selection show made me so angry.
The reveal feels like Christmas. The bracket is perfect, and I don't mean the teams in it, because the teams in it are always flawed and by definition put together with a flawed process. But I mean the actual bracket. Just look at it.
Symmetrical, drama building with each round, every line on that gorgeous piece of art is a unique story. Every line represents hopes and sweat and failures and successes. Every line represents someone's last chance in organized basketball, or the biggest game of their life. For a select few, it's their grandest stage on the way to grander stages.
Every line is a group of fans who will pack the car and pay too much for tickets and not care because they want to go on an adventure to watch their team. Every line is a kid's memory, and every year is the first time some dork little boy in Kansas falls in love with sports because his dad bought some posterboard and let him stay up too late with Sharpies and a ruler to make his first bracket.
Of course, I was that dork little boy 30 years or so ago. I hope my sons are those dork little boys soon.
I love everything about the tournament. For as long as I can remember, these weeks of the year have always been planned around the tournament. I'd race home after school (grade school), or try to find a TV at school (junior high and high school), or, sorry mom and dad, just skip school (college).
For the last eight years or so, my job has taken me to tournament sites around the Midwest and beyond, and I love that each city fills with college kids and families, all wearing the colors of their school, all in good moods*, all with nothing to do other than go find a burger and a beer and watch games.
* Until the first loss, anyway.
I love the act of covering the games, too. It becomes this insular world in which it can feel like nothing else is happening on the planet. The back rooms are filled with TVs showing games, and press row is filled with laptops or iPads showing other games while the one in front of you plays out.
I love the moments when another game in another place is close and in the final seconds. Nobody you're with cares much about who wins, but we ALL want to see a moment. We all want to see Bryce Drew happen again, this spontaneous act of community that is just so dang hard to match.
Where does the first round of the NCAA Tournament rank in greatest sports events of the year?— Will (@willfdavis) March 12, 2018
First. I will not argue this.
The NCAA Tournament is the greatest sports event in the world, and the first two days are the best part. So many games, so many upsets, so many new stars, so much going on. The most fun I've ever had with my friends was the first weekend of the tournament in Vegas. I have no idea whether I won money or lost, which probably means I didn't do much of either, but a Vegas sports book feels like the epicenter of the galaxy on the first weekend of the tournament.
Matter of fact, I'm not sure the second weekend of the tournament isn't also a top five sports weekend of the year.
Here's what I do: fill out a bracket in 30 seconds, decide it sucks, go down a rabbit hole of KenPom rankings and common opponents and trends and talk myself into believing I'm expert on teams I had not even considered last week, fill out a new bracket with all this information and legitimately wonder if I'll miss even one game, then absolutely hate my bracket 30 minutes into Thursday's games.
Right now, more than half of you are nodding your heads because you do the exact same thing.
In your one-man committee, what would you have done differently? Pick Baylor over Arizona State? Be free to destroy the official bracket any way you want— Nozzy's hair color (@ColorNozzy) March 12, 2018
I'm actually not a big This Bracket Sux guy. My expectations for the selection committee are pretty low. The process is a mess, and college basketball teams are so hard to judge anyway. I don't have enough outrage in me to waste it on a team being overseeded, or to ride for some Power 5 school that had a dozen chances at making its case and got left on the lonely side of the bubble.
Now, all that said, I'm legitimately upset about two things.
First, of COURSE I wanted Kansas and Missouri to play a potential second round game. I would be unreasonably excited for that, and was unreasonably let down when it didn't happen. I want that game for a hundred reasons, both personal and professional, and the scars are still too raw for me to talk about here.
Second, what exactly would Oklahoma have had to do over the last few months to have missed the tournament? I get that the committee looks at November games the same as March, and winning in Wichita is no small thing, but if you've watched Oklahoma in the last few months does it seem like they want to keep playing? Does it feel like they deserve a spot?
Other than that, though, meh. All good.
Oh, I'll ride for K-State as a legitimate tournament team. Bruce Weber deserves to be mocked for the non-conference schedule, which as it turned out included just one NCAA Tournament team, a loss for K-State against Arizona State.
But, you know, get past that and realize that all teams are flawed and that 68 is a lot of teams and K-State matches up pretty well.
No bad losses, a 10-8 record in the — wait for it — the No. 1 RPI league in the country will get in the tournament every time.
The draw isn't great, but it never will be when you get in the 8-9 game. If Dean Wade and Barry Brown are healthy, K-State could be a tough out, even for Virginia if they get that far.
"The NCAA tournament will be a success for _______ (KU, KSU, Mizzou, and Big 12) if they..." Their Wichita State in there too if you'd like. #MellingerMinutes— Layne Richardson (@troopsKC) March 12, 2018
Mizzou: they could lose by 30 to Florida State and I don't think anyone could call the season a failure. Just getting this far is a success, and particularly with Jordan Barnett suspended and Michael Porter Jr. perhaps still working his way back it's impossible to know what to expect. But one win, that's a success, and even a first-round loss would be hard to criticize.
K-State: at least one win. Virginia is a bear, and looms in the second round, so that's rough but Weber still hasn't made it past the round of 64 at K-State. Even for those of us who like Weber, and think he's a good coach, that's hard to defend. Hopefully Wade and Brown are healthy so they have a full shot at it.
Kansas: the answer is always the Final Four. Always. If Udoka Azubuike is recovered, then you can see how it would happen: senior guards, good offense, shoot their way through a tough round, defend enough and continue to play better.
Wichita State: Sweet 16. They've only lost twice since Feb. 1, and both were terrific games against strong opponents. This is the first look at Wichita as an AAC team, and the hope is that even with a worse record they're better for the wear. I'd love to watch the second round game, if they get West Virginia. That would be a fun game for basketball people: well coached teams, defending hard, experience all over the court.
Lost all self control and put Mizzou in my final 4. On a scale of 1 to 10 how foolish am I?— Chandler Wilson (@cjdub11) March 12, 2018
I mean, it COULD happen.
Friday will be rough. Florida State is talented, and if they get on a roll can be a lot to deal with, even for teams that won't be missing Jordan Barnett and working one of their six remaining scholarship players back to full strength.
But, still. This is basically a coin flip game.
And after that? Barnett is back, you have to assume MPJ gets a little stronger every day, and at some point in his recovery Mizzou will have the best player on the floor in any game it would play until at least the Final Four.
That's a workable path. They defend, they believe in each other, they have a good coach, a top three pick, and three other guys capable of getting 20 or more without it being a huge surprise.
The holes are obvious. There's a big gap in cohesion that needs to be closed, and a big gap between where MPJ's legs were in the SEC Tournament and where they need to be going forward.
But, still. Crazier things have happened.
A five percent chance? Ten?
What's the biggest event KC will ever host?Super Bowl? Final 4? Will we have to settle for the Republican National Convention?— Denis Schmidt (@Aluminomics) March 12, 2018
Yikes. The NFL Draft?
I know this isn't something anybody says, but I wonder if a Super Bowl will be here someday. There are people who knew Lamar Hunt well who say he took the rolling roof vote loss harder than any single Chiefs loss, because he wanted a Super Bowl here so bad.
I just wonder if some combination of the NFL wanting to spread the Super Bowl to more cold weather cities, and even some outdoor cold weather stadiums, along with the Chiefs' historical standing with the league will land a game at some point.
I want to be clear: this is total speculation. I don't even know if Clark Hunt would say he has much hope for a game.
But if Kansas City is going to host a major, major, major event, that would seem to be the best bet.
We don't have a golf course for the U.S. Open. Don't have an NBA or NHL team. Hard to imagine the Final Four coming to the Sprint Center.
Plaza Art Fair is fun, though!
@mellinger Too late to do a list of top Chiefs needs now that they've signed Hitchens and Watkins in MM?— JT (@TarH2O23) March 13, 2018
1. Cornerback. Fuller is a very good player. But he's not Peters, and this was one of the team's worst positions a year ago with Peters.
2. Defensive line. They need more push. More gang rush, tougher against the run. Bennie Logan was their most consistent guy here, and he's a free agent.
3. Edge rush. This may be too high, but you can't have enough of them. The Chiefs' top two pass rushers have injury histories, and their No. 3 pass rusher is essentially coming off a redshirt season with no track record.
4. Safety. Ron Parker was on the wrong side of 30, and no longer worth the cap hit, but he was a good player. Chiefs need a value find here.
5. Backup quarterback. Ideally, this should be a guy with experience, someone who's seen a lot of coverages and comes in accepting of a role in support of a first year starter.
6. Interior offensive line. This would help, but only with the right fit at the right cost.
7. Tight end. Feel like this is toward the bottom of the list every year. It'd be nice, but not essential.
8. The ability to protect a playoff lead. Whoops.
I have a fundamental disagreement with the people who run the Royals. I believe they absolutely need to commit to winning or rebuilding, that trying to do both means being able to do neither, and I'll always wonder whether the Royals could've made up the five games difference between them and the second wild card last year by keeping Wade Davis and signing Josh Reddick.
That said, I will say two things in the front office's defense.
First, and this should be obvious, but they are smarter than me. They have more brainpower, more information, and live this in a way I just don't. Doesn't mean they're right, but it does mean it's worth remembering, and considering.
Second, I don't know anyone in the front office who doesn't believe they are rebuilding, and this is the critical point.
They believe they can do both at the same time or, perhaps more accurately, they believe maintaining a certain level of competitiveness at the big league level is critical for rebuilding.
I'll probably write more about this at some point, but basically the Royals believe their edge has to come from developing talent better than others. All teams have scouts, all teams have analytics, so if all teams are able to acquire roughly the same level of talent through the draft and internationally than the difference will be made by who is able to get that talent closest to the ceiling.
Part of that, they believe, is maintaining an everyday urgency and focus in the big leagues. Sort of a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats philosophy, where staying competitive is the best way to get the best efforts and production out of veterans like Danny Duffy and also more unproven talents like Adalberto Mondesi and Jorge Soler.
It's an interesting debate to have, but again, the most important part is that the front office doesn't believe it's no longer rebuilding.
They went 80-82 last year with Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain having very good years. I don't believe anyone with the front office, or even coaching staff, thinks they have more than a puncher's chance at the postseason and that would be true with or without Moose.
Yeah, I think that's probably true.
But, well, the holes elsewhere should not be undersold. The Royals were 13th out of 15 American League teams in runs last year and will be without two of their three most productive hitters from last year.
The Duda signing is good value, but he's not a replacement for Hosmer. Jay is a fine big leaguer, but that signing (I assume) only happened because they knew the Jorge Bonifacio suspension was coming. Moose is a very good player, but are you expecting him to match 38 homers?
Anyway, the pitching. Yes. Depending on how much you knock Duffy for missing eight or so starts, the Royals will be replacing their most productive or second-most productive starting pitcher with Nate Karns, who has gone 149 2/3 innings combined the last two seasons.
But the biggest weakness on the roster is the bullpen. Kelvin Herrera is back, and even if you agree with me that he'll be much better in 2018 than 2017, they're still without Scott Alexander, Mike Minor, Peter Moylan, Ryan Buchter, and more. And the bullpen was rather mediocre last year.
That's a lot to make up.
This is probably a 70-or-so win team. Baseball is funky, and there's a scenario out there in which this group is good enough to compete into the late summer, but yeah. The pitching needs to be better, for sure.
Eric Fuentes-Ruiz Even in free agency, seemed like our boys in blue didn’t get much interest. Hos was a bigger deal than any of other ones but market was flat? Moose came back with tail between his legs (love to have him back)? Collusion? No one seemed overpaid. Head scratcher. Thoughts?
I don't agree with the notion that it was about the Royals, specifically. Hosmer signed a terrific contract — three years and $105 million guaranteed, with a three-year, $39 million parachute if he doesn't opt out. Lorenzo Cain got $80 million over five years, which certainly seems fair if you balance his talent with age and position.
Alcides Escobar didn't get much interest and, let's be honest, that was deserved. He's a fine enough shortstop, but he's also 31 and one of the least productive hitters in baseball.
Mike Moustakas got a raw deal, and I assume we're all adults here so we can keep perspective while talking about a man whose new contract guarantees him $6.5 million to play baseball.
But in a typical year, according to people who live in this world, he would've been worth a contract of four or five years and $60 million or more. When the Royals made the qualifying offer of $17.4 million, they did it with the full expectation that he would turn them down, and provide a higher comp pick by signing a contract worth $50 million or more.
The problems are varied, and complicated.
The market was screwy for nearly everyone. That has to do with the players getting worked over in the current CBA, which means more teams than ever are incentivized not to spend, and additionally are valuing players differently.
This was especially true for Moose, because homers are being devalued, there weren't a lot of spenders in need of third basemen, and those who did took different routes.
The Angels opted for positional versatility and athleticism with Zack Cozart. The Giants traded for Evan Longoria, at least in part to protect their draft picks. The Yankees would've made the most sense, but they wanted to stay under the luxury tax.
Look, fans aren't going to feel sorry for Moustakas. He's an adult, paid handsomely to play baseball, and we should all be so good at our jobs that the system screws us and we still have a chance to make $8.7 million if we hit our performance bonuses.
But his agent Scott Boras — who, yes, absolutely, 100 percent misread the market like pretty much everyone else — was dead right when he said the system failed Moose.
Owners are going to make tens of millions of dollars more in profits this year because the system of paying players their market worth has broken down.
After this season, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper and others are going to sign massive contracts and people are going to clap back at the idea of salaries being diminished, but the current CBA is awful for players and it's going to cause one heck of a fight when it's time to negotiate the next one.
Is Kansas City a Farm System for the rest of the country for Sports Writers/Radio Talent?(Please don't go when they come calling)— Joshua (@Joshoshbgosh) March 12, 2018
In my time at the Star I've worked with Jeff Passan, Wright Thompson, Liz Merrill, Andy McCullough, Bob Dutton, Joe Posnanski, Jason Whitlock, Kent Babb, Jason King, Candace Buckner, Mechelle Voepel, Bill Reiter, and other writers who've left for other jobs.
Rustin Dodd is the latest, and I sincerely hope you all continue to read him at The Athletic.
So, sure, I can see why you'd say this.
Two things going on here, at least. First, the Star's track record on hires is freaking incredible. They don't miss, except for that bozo they hired to cover high school sports 17 years ago. Talented people come here, they show their talent, and others notice and offer more money or a bigger market or whatever. That's the way the world is supposed to work.
The second thing is that Kansas City, let's be honest, is not a destination for most. None of the people listed above grew up here, or within a short drive. Eight of them left for national publications. Andy went to LA. Kent went to DC, and even if the people there have regretted that decision since the very beginning, they're sort of stuck with him now.
All of us have decisions to make, right? I once heard someone say employment only exists as long as both sides agree.
The employee has to believe it's the best place — the combination of money, location, personal, and professional considerations we all have. The employer has to believe he or she is the best person for the job — not only justifying the salary, but also doing a better job than a potential replacement.
Those are a lot of factors to balance, which is why a lot of people change jobs fairly often. I've been close a few times, and I don't expect to work at the Star the rest of my life. But I also know I like my job, the people I do it with, and the people I do it for. That isn't always the case.
So, until that balance changes, or the Star realizes the accounting glitch that's deposited in my bank account every two weeks, you guys are stuck with me.
Just one? I could say an NBA or NHL team, or the Chiefs being better with access or playoff leads, or the elimination of the civic inferiority complex that seeps into sports and means too many fans spend too much time worried about what national media outlets are saying, but I suppose I should stay at least a little realistic:
A downtown ballpark for the Royals.
I love Kauffman Stadium. It's where I saw my first major league game, and have had some of my favorite professional moments. It's beautiful and comfortable and familiar and terrific but it's also isolated from everything but Taco Bell.
Some of the world's best sports architecture firms are based in Kansas City, so there is a 100 percent chance that a new ballpark here would be amazing. Downtown has improved so much just in the last 10 years or so, and putting a ballpark there would only put that on overdrive.
I have at least a faint hope of this happening when the current lease is up, actually. Keep Arrowhead where it is. Makes sense for football, and if the ballpark came down you'd have even more parking.
But baseball would be more fun downtown. Kansas City would be better with baseball downtown.
This week, I'm particularly grateful for FaceTime. I'm going to be away from home or otherwise working too late to tuck my kids in around 15 nights this month. I'm well aware that many others have it much worse, and that I've chosen this job and love this job, so this is not a complaint. At all. Just a thing that we have to deal with as a family, part of the deal, and the deal is so much better for me when I can talk to them and see their faces every day. Sammy is 4 now, so he's starting to get curious, and it was so fun taking him on a video tour of the ballpark last week. It's not the same as being home, not even close, but it's the best thing available and I'm so thankful we're in the first generation of parents where this is possible.