This is admittedly one of those things you do if you're a sports writer in a town where the baseball team stinks and it's not quite yet football season but it's close enough to start thinking so here's what ended up happening.
I started wondering how much precedent there is for a defense to be as bad as the Chiefs' was last year and then immediately good enough the next year to do what some Chiefs fans think is possible.
OK. The Chiefs — as you may have guessed or known — ranked DFL in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, which to me is the smartest and most complete measurement widely available.
Below is a list of the previous 10 teams to rank 32nd in defense, and how they fared the next year.
2016: Lions, ranked 28th in 2017.
2015: Saints, ranked 29th in 2016.
2014: Bears, ranked 29th in 2015.
2013: Cowboys, ranked 19th in 2014.
2012: Eagles, ranked 15th in 2013. New DC.
2011: Panthers, ranked 12th in 2012. Luke Kuechly rookie, Greg Hardy first-star year, Josh Norman rookie.
2010: Seahawks, ranked ninth in 2011. Same coordinator, but Richard Sherman's first year and the second for Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
2009: Lions, ranked 19th in 2010.
2008: Broncos, ranked 10th in 2009.
2007: Lions, ranked 31st in 2008.
So, mixed results. Four of the 10 remained in the bottom five the next year. Four climbed into the top half. Two were at least mediocre-ish.
But this has to be pointed out. The four that saw vast improvement made fundamental changes in the defense. The Eagles and Broncos each changed defensive coordinators.
The Panthers drafted Kuechly and Norman, and Hardy made the leap to star-level production. The Seahawks essentially saw the first year of Legion of Doom — that was Sherman's rookie season, and the second for Chancellor and Thomas.
The Chiefs kept coordinator Bob Sutton, and they expect production from a draft class heavy on defenders. But it would be a significant surprise if they have anyone as good as Sherman, Kuechly or Norman.
The single most significant personnel change is Eric Berry, who played just one game. He's a star, and particularly critical for Sutton's plan to work, so it might be reasonable to expect the Chiefs to be closer to the previous four seasons (no lower than seventh in points surrendered) than 2017.
But the most recent teams to be as bad as the Chiefs had to draft stars or change coordinators to climb back up. The Chiefs are putting a lot of faith in an old status quo.
This week's reading recommendation is "Killers of the Flower Moon" by David Grann, and the eating recommendation is another do-it-yourself* and I don't have a link because it's an adaption of a recipe from a friend, so here goes.
Get you a big ol' salmon — Costco will hook you up — and coat her with olive oil and fish seasoning. Squeeze a lime or two over it. Brown sugar never hurt anybody, but it's not essential. Put it on the smoker for an hour or so, pull it off when the temperature hits around 140, and then coat it with pesto.
* This is going to happen more, I think. Your boy doesn't go out to eat as much as he used to, and I really do love to cook. Please don't fire me.
Is there anything the Royals could have done differently over the past 2 years or so to have made this year/team more competitive? Should they have started the rebuild process immediately after 2015?— Aaron Diffenderfer (@atdiff) July 2, 2018
So, if we're going to talk about this honestly, we have to acknowledge that no front office would've broken up the 2015 Royals.
Dayton Moore has said several times that post-parade* would've been the best time to trade the stars, because there would've been maximum return, and technically and coldly and in a world where we all understand that never would've happened, sure, yes, absolutely. He's correct.
But, come on. That was the best team in the American League, pretty much from opening day through Wade Davis' strikeout at the end of game five. They were still relatively young. They loved each other, came up together, had years of club control, and it's easy to forget now, but 2017 was always looked at as The Process' drop-dead date.
You can make a logical case — I don't have the energy or desire, but you can — that the 2016 Royals were a playoff team if not for two All-Stars taking themselves out on one foul ball in Chicago.
So, no. I wholly reject the notion that the Royals should've sold off parts after 2015. That's nonsense. Nobody does that, and nobody should.
The mistake — this isn't hindsight, not at all — was no choosing a path after 2016. By then, it was obvious the team needed a boost and that the clock was ticking enough that falling back and fighting another day was also a sound strategy.
The Royals are now paying the price for that mistake. If they'd kept Wade Davis, signed Josh Reddick and tried to fill in some holes, they might've beaten the Twins last year. If they'd traded not just Davis but Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and anyone else, they'd be now operating on a much different organizational timeline.
They'd have top prospects to Class AA and beyond. They'd have more in the lower levels. They would have had a higher pick in this year's draft. The whole thing would look a lot better, in virtually every way.
That was the mistake.
That's what the Royals are now trying to climb out from.
On the other hand ...
The Royals had no way of predicting the loss of Ventura. If he were still alive, they wouldn't have signed Hammel or Wood, and possibly not traded for Cahill last year. Maybe the players used to get Cahill would have been used to obtain offense.— John Brocato (@RdTrpsRtsRoyals) July 2, 2018
I'm sympathetic to this, but I don't buy it as an excuse. The first reason is that no team is guaranteed anything, especially with young starting pitchers. Yordano Ventura's accident was tragic, obviously, with consequences more important than the Royals' rotation.
But we're talking strictly about baseball here, so who can say he would've stayed healthy? Who can be sure that the stress he was under would not have harmed his on-field performance?
It's absolutely true that the Royals would not have signed Jason Hammel, and that's obviously been a rotten contract. The ripple effects on the Royals have been real, and that was nothing but bad luck, but I just don't buy this as an excuse.
Nobody forced the Royals to sign Hammel or Travis Wood.
Organizations, like people, aren't what happens to them. They're what they make of it.
The Royals haven't been nearly good enough for 2 1/2 years. Really, since the moment of the parade.*
Actual question. Moose is likely gone. Whit too. What's a legitimate return that should be expected for these two guys? Decent AA arm? Is that the ceiling? #MM— JT (@TarH2O23) July 2, 2018
I'd expect more for Whit Merrifield than Moustakas. They're the same age and, generally speaking, roughly as productive, but Merrifield is more versatile, a better fit for the modern game and under (cheap) club control through 2023.
Moustakas is a good player. I feel bad that the CBA negotiated by his union's rotten leadership put him in position to lose generational wealth after doing everything a ballplayer is supposed to do in order to be rewarded through free agency.
But many of the same issues that sent his free agency into the mud last winter are still in play. The number of contenders in need of a third baseman is limited. The game values his particular skill set less than in the past. More and smarter defensive shifts hurt him more than others. He'd be a short-term rental.
These are all serious obstacles to the Royals getting much in return.
With Merrifield, I'd expect a return similar to Kelvin Herrera — two projectable prospects with limited ceiling and a lottery ticket.
With Moustakas, I'd expect a return slightly better than Jon Jay — organizational depth and a lottery ticket.
But, really. These things are all about need and finding the right team with the right motivation.
I doubt it.
Nothing major has changed since this column, in which Ned Yost said he "absolutely" wants to manage next year. But that's different than sticking around for the rebuild, because the rebuild has barely — bbbaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrely — started.
In Process 1.0 terms, we're maybe into 2007. Maybe. Might still be stuck in 2006, though.
In that column — can you tell I hope you read it? — Ned mentioned that his wife's mom died of cancer around the time she planned to retire. Deborah Yost is, in Ned's words, "deathly afraid" the same will happen to them.
Yost lives a good life, even as the manager of an old and bad and boring baseball team. He's making more money than ever, he's respected by the people who work for and above him. But you don't get the sense that he needs this.
I visited Ned at his Georgia farm in December 2016, and one of the moments that sticks out is him mocking anyone who thinks baseball is his life.
"People will say, 'You going to be OK after you retire?'"
When he said this, he went in that high pitch that tells you he thinks the question is particularly stupid. He laughed.
"I'll be OK."
I was a little surprised he came back for this season. But the way free agency went, he didn't know Hosmer wasn't returning until after spring training. Moustakas signed back shortly before the season. A manager has to make his own decision well before all of that.
Ned is stubborn. He would not be happy going out with 100 losses. I believe him when he says he'd like to stay long enough that the bulk of the next championship roster is at least in the lower levels of the minor leagues.
But I also believe he'll retire into a good life on that farm, and I definitely believe in the pull of a loving wife, one who comes from a place of personal experience and wanting to relax and spend more time at home together.
He's in good company, but Sal Perez is having a bad year: .212/.253/.388. He is pacing for the worst offensive season of his career.
Particularly with no tangible reason to trade now, you probably wouldn't be receiving full value back.
I have a theory about this. Actually, I have a few theories. One of them is that Perez will age quickly, and that the Royals should trade him when they see a good return.
But another is that part of Perez's particular struggles this season involve playing on a bad team. He is an energy player, and energy is hard to come by on a hopeless team, so especially for a large human tasked with squatting 150 or so times every game behind the plate, the grind can take its toll.
Another theory is that Sal knows all of this, at least on some level, and would be energized by a fresh start in a new place with (more cameras and) a chance to win while he's still relatively young.
If it was me in charge, I'd have someone he trusts talk to him about all of this. See where his mind is. See if he'd be into a new start. If so, tell him he can't be traded until his production ticks up. If all of this falls into place, the team and player can help each other, in this way.
Because ideally, if Perez is playing the way he's capable, he's worth multiple top prospects.
Realistically, if Perez is hitting the way he is currently, he's not worth the local backlash.
What does Tim Melia need to stop to get in the All Star game? A bank robbery?— Tom Hoffmann (@countzerokc) July 2, 2018
I'll tell you what's worse than Melia not making the All-Star team (again): The fact that it's in the best interests of Sporting and their fans that he not make the All-Star team (again).
There are no great answers here. I like that MLS thinks outside the box with its All-Star game. The league has to constantly think about what's best in the big picture, in growing the tent, so speak, maximizing exposure, that kind of thing.
And in that way, pulling a team together for one game against a European power on a training tour — awkward and out of place as the action may be — is probably the best way.
But there's nothing in it for Sporting. No real benefit to a star player being away from the club in the heat of the summer and meat of the season.
That's less true for a goalkeeper than, say, an attacking midfielder. But it's still true.
Those are the kinds of things MLS needs to fix.
I'm not smart enough to know exactly what the answers are. If I was in charge, I'd continue to focus on cultivating the best possible in-game atmospheres, and double efforts to make those atmospheres pop on TV broadcasts. I also think MLS should do everything it can to capitalize on the legalization of gambling and slow its roll on anything that can make it look like a retirement league.*
*Yes, that's a Wayne Rooney reference.
For Sporting, I'd be much more interested in Melia representing the national team.
Which young guys do you want to get their shot?
Bubba Starling, who's been hurt more than not?
Khalil Lee, who just got promoted to Class AA and, while wildly talented, is also barely 20 years old and averaging 1.25 strikeouts per game?
You guys. That's the biggest problem with the Royals.
They don't have the young guys in place to play over the old guys.
They don't even have the young guys in place to keep the old guys from playing positions they've never played before.
I'm tired of talking about the Royals. Let's move on.
I change my mind on this every day. Nothing between 7-9 and 11-5 would be even a little surprising to me for the Chiefs. Normally you'd default to the team that won the last two, but a first-year starting quarterback — I know, I know — and a wet paper back defense make you hesitate.
But the Broncos appear caught in a transition, I feel like the Raiders are going to be a car wreck, and the Chargers haven't been better than 9-7 since 2009.
Feels like the Chiefs could win this thing at 9-7, and if Patrick Mahomes is 70 percent as good as I think he can be, 9-7 is entirely within reach. Even if the defense is bad.
One subtle problem the Chiefs could have is the schedule, and I say that as a firm believer that schedule talk is almost always overrated, but it's the beginning of July and the Royals stink, so what the heck.
Four of the first six games are on the road, at the Chargers, Steelers, Broncos and Patriots. Those are various combinations of good teams, good defenses and good coaches.
Mahomes is entirely capable of going 4,500-30-20, and if that happens, the Chiefs are going to have some wild highs and frustrating lows.
Average it out, and you might be at 9-7.
Which, again, could be enough to win the AFC West.
I'm so out of touch with sports lately ... but really thought Vick was going to transfer and sort of hoped he would. Just seemed bad for the culture. What am I missing?— rachEL (@rach4ku) July 2, 2018
I'm not sure. I always got the feeling that Lagerald Vick and Bill Self would be happy without each other. Vick certainly isn't the first player to frustrate Self, and he's not the first to frustrate Self and be expected — by Self, in some cases — to be on the way out only to come back for one more year.
Heck, he's not even the first wing player to do it in recent memory.
Vick is a shooter, and for all of the talent KU will have this season, Self could use some shooting. I suppose that's where he fits in with the basketball part, and if we're talking about the other stuff, here's a point to keep in mind.
Self is among the many coaches who worship at the altar of bench threats. Over and over and over again — unofficially, a thousand times just last season — Self has said the best part of having depth is that it keeps everyone on task because they know there's someone ready to play in front of them.
Well, if you look at it from that perspective, you can see how Self might expect he'll get only Vick's best and won't have to put up with any of Vick's worst.
The leverage is 100 percent on Self's side, in other words. He doesn't need Vick. Both sides know that. They know that if Vick isn't focused or isn't motivated, he doesn't play.
Vick doesn't have anywhere else to go other than a pro league that isn't the NBA, and the unstated motivator all season will be that Self's word and playing time decisions will have a lot to do with Vick's financial and basketball future.
Again, I'm surprised.
But you can see why it makes sense for Vick and why it makes sense for Self.
I believe the following two things firmly and equally.
1. I do not have the energy or interest to think much about what's good or bad for the NBA, particularly as it relates to player movement.
2. I believe it's bad for the NBA if the gap between big and small markets continues to grow.
The NFL and major league baseball offer two separate perspectives here. Part of the NFL's appeal has always been that everyone is on (somewhat) equal footing, and part of baseball's struggles over the past two decades has been that certain markets are fundamentally more difficult than others.
Three years ago, the two best players in the league were in Cleveland and Oklahoma City.
Now the Warriors are so good they have essentially sucked the drama from the playoffs, and the best player in the world joined the Lakers.
I'm just not sure how good that is for growing the pie or growing the game.
The Lakers are a glamor franchise, I get it. They're the glamor franchise. But they were always going to be good again. If the league was able to manipulate player movement, it would've been better served with Kevin Durant staying in Oklahoma City, LeBron James staying in Cleveland, some other star (Kawhi Leonard?) boosting the Lakers into the playoffs and maintaining some element of parity.
But, again. I don't care all that much about any of this.
I'll watch LeBron wherever he goes, even as a not insignificant portion of the charm is undoubtedly gone with him going from Cleveland to the Lakers.
I learned there was a "Samuel Mellinger" who was a prominent Kansas legislator and GOP boss in the early 20th century. Any relation?— Max Rieper (@maxrieper) July 2, 2018
One of the joys of writing for the newspaper here is that every once in a while I hear from someone asking whether I'm related to Samuel Mellinger.
He is my grandfather. My dad's dad. I never met him. He died young, I believe at 52. Brain cancer. My dad was a freshman in college. My dad is amazingly apathetic about birthdays. He simply does not care. Age has never mattered. The only exception is when he turned 53, because it meant he reached an age his father didn't.
My dad's dad died more than 20 years before I was born, but in some strange ways, I do feel like I know him. A little. The name, obviously.* Stories from my dad, a really cool home movie that was recently digitized and stories from others who knew him.
*He was the fourth Samuel Mellinger, if you can believe that. I'm the sixth. When my wife was pregnant with our first, my dad pulled me aside. "I don't want you to feel any pressure if it's a boy. Name him whatever you want." Come on. That boy is going to be the seventh, and if his son isn't the eighth, we're going to square up.
I've heard a lot. I've heard that he had William Allen White's ear, which meant he indirectly had some presidents' ears. I've heard his influence is part of why I-35 goes through Emporia. I've heard he could've been governor.
I don't know how much of that is true, how much is guess, how much is exaggerated to make a grandson who never met him feel something positive. What matters to me is that nearly all of these stories are laced with a compliment of his character.
Kansas' law school named an award after him, given based on scholarship, leadership and service. Sort of the all-star award. I've attended the ceremony when I can, and it always makes me feel good.
I'm a grown man, with a remarkable wife and two healthy boys and a mortgage and everything else, but it's still somehow reassuring to feel like you came from good stock.
One of the greatest motivators I can imagine is wanting to do everything possible to make sure our sons feel the same.
I’m moving to KC. What are some things every new KC dweller should know? Things to do, places to visit, sports to take in ... anything and everything!— Ellen Tolsma (@ellen_tolsma) July 2, 2018
Hey, man, welcome! I'm biased, but I'd like to think it's because I live it, but I think you'll like it here. Kansas City has always been a great place to raise a family, less of a great place to be single, but I believe the former is continuing to be true and the latter is catching up.
Anyway, a partial list of things you should know.
If you don't know something, just ask. People here will trip over themselves trying to help you with something.
Being split by a state line is weird, but after a while you stop thinking about it. I cross State Line Road to go to the closest park to my house.
Gas is cheaper in Missouri. Grocery store taxes, too. Generally, laws are a little looser in Missouri, with the weird exception of motorcycle helmets.
There are a thousand good neighborhoods, depending on what you want, from single and active (downtown) to family life but young (Brookside) to full on suburban life (lots). Ask around, you'll find the right place, and it'll probably be cheaper than what you would've paid in your old city.
Nelson-Atkins, CBE, Negro Leagues Museum, Union Station, the zoo (this is probably true only if you have kids), Liberty Memorial and the Kauffman center. That will get you started.
Some of the best sports venues are here. Kauffman Stadium is gorgeous, Arrowhead is live and historic, Children's Mercy Park is a model, Allen Fieldhouse is a capital of college basketball, fall Saturdays in Manhattan and Columbia are great, and Kansas Speedway is a good time.
People will tell you there's only one place for barbecue, or they'll try to tell you THEIR favorite is the only one you need. Those people are liars, and they suck. There are many amazing places to get your ribs and burnt ends. Try them all. Take your time.
Tank 7 (and Citrus Farmhouse!)
Peanut wings, Garozzo's spiedini, tacos on the boulevard, Joe's Z-Man, Prime sushi, Osteria cannelloni, Bella Napoli No. 1, The Bar cheese fries, Beer Kitchen short rib, Sailor Jack's lobster rolls, Le Fou Frog steak au poivre, Fluffy Fresh glazed, Betty Rae's anything, LC's sausage, Gates ribs (but your best odds are at the one off The Paseo), Q39 platter, Vietnam Cafe P1, Pigwich burger and too many others.
Traffic here is a joke. Spend six months, pay attention, and you'll be able to know within a two-minute window exactly how long it will take you to get anywhere.
The flip side is you will soon be so spoiled that you will say things like, "But there's no parking there," which is code for "you gotta walk like two and a half blocks after you park probably for free."
Local politics is a mess, muddied by counterproductive intra-state undercutting, but I think it's getting a little better?
No, seriously, they're not joking when they say the last quarterback before Patrick Mahomes that the Chiefs drafted in the first round was Todd Blackledge.
Much of the summers really are awful. The heat. This is not an aberration. But the falls make up for it.
Yes, people really do celebrate the first Friday of every summer month like that.
How do you feel about fans wearing jerseys as regular apparel? Is there a sport this is appropriate for?— J-D JR (@jimmyjay555) July 2, 2018
I'm in charge of me, and me only, and me don't wear jerseys as regular apparel. That's a decision I've made, but I'm all for you or anyone else wearing them. For me, I've always looked at them as something kids do. I'm not sure why that line is drawn in my head, but it is, and I say all this as someone who still has some of those jerseys from childhood in his closet.*
*My two favorites: Bo Jackson No. 16 Royals, and Chris Mullin No. 13 Dream Team. Yes, I agree it's weird that my two favorite athletes as a kid were on completely opposite ends of the athleticism spectrum.
Sometimes the jerseys become sad. There are John Buck jerseys out there, and Hosmer, and those are obviously a little sad for different reasons, but they both serve in some ways as a reminder that we all root for laundry.
One of the things I love about sports is it's such an easy and accessible way to learn about the bigger world. There are lessons, and not just in sportsmanship or teamwork or the value of both winning and losing.
Because somewhere in Kansas City there's a 10-year-old with a Lorenzo Cain T-shirt in his closet. Maybe he wears it still, maybe he doesn't, but at some point he had a talk with his parents about why Cain no longer wears a Royals uniform.
Disappointment, kid. Get used to it.
Top 10 iconic city/food combos. i.e. KC/BBQ...— J-D JR (@jimmyjay555) July 2, 2018
This is my list. Make your own.
10. Philly cheesesteaks. Actually a little overrated, if you want to know the truth.
9. Chicago pizza. Not my favorite kind of pizza, but I judge anyone who says it's not good.
8. New York bagel. There really is a difference. Meshuggah is the closest I've found in Kansas City.
7. Omaha steaks. You can get good steak anywhere, but the Drover is my favorite steakhouse in the country.
6. New Orleans Cajun, preferably shrimp gumbo, but I'm not picky.
5. New York pizza. Done right, it's a perfect food.
4. New England lobster roll. There are few better meals in the world than a well-prepared, chilled and fresh lobster roll within eyesight of the dock it came in on.
3. San Diego fish tacos. Fight me.
2. Texas brisket. My only criticism of Kansas City barbecue remains our inferior brisket.
1. Kansas City burnt ends. The king.
This week, I'm particularly grateful to be surrounded by and inspired by so many great journalists. This has always been true, but for me it comes into focus after the tragic and senseless shooting at the Annapolis Capital-Gazette. One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to call Laura Bauer, Vahe Gregorian, Blair Kerkhoff, Pete Grathoff, Mike Fannin, Jeff Rosen, Chris Fickett, Maria Torres, Jesse Newell, Gary Bedore, Steve Vockrodt and so many others co-workers. One of my favorite parts of my profession is that I get to call Gregg Doyel, Rustin Dodd, Andy McCullough, Adam Kilgore, Dan Wetzel, Kent Babb, Jeff Passan and so many others around the country friends and colleagues. It is a delicate privilege to be able to support your family doing something you love and believe in.