Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: pondering Mahomes’ next contract, Royals, Game of Thrones (sort of)

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes talks training and his goal of getting to the Super Bowl

“We need to take that next step, we need to get to the Super Bowl, that’s the goal,” said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during a news conference Monday at the Chiefs' practice facility in Kansas City. Mahomes also discussed offseason training.
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“We need to take that next step, we need to get to the Super Bowl, that’s the goal,” said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during a news conference Monday at the Chiefs' practice facility in Kansas City. Mahomes also discussed offseason training.

Kansas City has never seen something like this, which isn’t much of a statement about Kansas City because if you think about it, nowhere else has seen something like this, either.

Patrick Mahomes won the NFL’s MVP award before his 24th birthday. That did not make history. Dan Marino did the same in 1984. Walter Payton in 1977. Heck, Jim Brown had two MVPs before he turned 24.

But it is quite possible that no player in NFL history has had more leverage in contract negotiations than Mahomes would have with another season even approaching his first as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback.

The league is more controlled by quarterbacks than ever before, and Mahomes is something like an NFL Weird Science experiment: ridiculous arm talent, tremendous athlete, brilliant on the white board, creative after the snap, a beloved teammate, respected leader, and dedicated athlete.

The Chiefs cannot sign or even negotiate an extension with Mahomes until after the 2019 season, at which point they’ve long been expected to begin record-setting negotiations.

Russell Wilson has won one Super Bowl and lost another. The Seahawks have averaged more than 10 wins in his seven seasons. He is durable, athletic, smart, and led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes in 2017.

He just became the NFL’s highest-paid player with a contract extension for four new years, a potential of $140 million, $107 million guaranteed, and a no-trade clause according to Ian Rapoport.

He is more accomplished than Mahomes, but also seven years older, with a tangibly lower ceiling than Mahomes.

Assuming Mahomes continues to play well, the price will only rise, and his leverage will only grow as the accomplishments stack and his potential free agency approaches.

Mahomes will have an interesting decision to make. He and his agent have said he’s happy with the Chiefs and wants to play his entire career here. That means options, and the following is fueled by 80 percent speculation and 20 percent casual conversations with league folks over the years.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes plans to share his draft experience with other players on tap to be drafted at this year's NFL Draft which begins on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Mahomes was drafted in the first round in 2017 by the Chiefs.

Mahomes could go for every possible dollar, which would be his right and something nobody should hold against him. He could prioritize being the highest paid player, by salary or total contract value or guarantees or all of it.

He could also take the Tom Brady approach, signing for well below market value with the knowledge that outside income will make up the difference and the team would be better equipped to build a winner around him.

He could also sort of split the middle, and sign for something like 10 years and $400 million. That would be (by FAR) the biggest contract in NFL history but as the salary cap continues to rise would likely make him a bargain in a few years. A structure like this could make sense for both sides.

Another option, assuming this is possible with the current CBA: Mahomes could sign a long-term deal to ensure he’s in Kansas City for (say ... ) the next decade with the salary tied to a fixed percentage of the salary cap.

This will be a personal decision by Mahomes, and a business decision by the Chiefs. There seems to be too much goodwill and mutual respect for something not to happen. Star quarterbacks simply don’t hit free agency, and Mahomes playing anywhere else is almost unimaginable.

As far as I can tell, Kansas City has never had the highest-paid player in a major professional sports league. Justin Houston’s extension was the biggest in Chiefs history, and made him the highest paid linebacker in league history. I can’t find anything that says George Brett was ever baseball’s highest paid player (shoutout lifetime contracts)*.

* There was a time, in Brett’s prime, that Dan Quisenberry was actually the Royals’ highest-paid player.

Mahomes will change all of that. He’s changed so much already. There are several paths to keep him in Kansas City long enough to change so much more.

This week’s eating recommendation is the steak taco at Bichelmeyer (Saturdays only as the real ones know) and the reading recommendation is Sarah Spain on the mixed emotions of Tiger Woods winning the Masters.

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

Listen, I’m here for the Tiger excitement. I love it. He wrecked the Masters as a cocky 21-year-old on the way to tangibly changing a sport and he just won as a balding 43-year-old dad with brains and safe shots and playing through the pain and stiffness and uncertainty of a back that’s already been operated on three times.

That’s a hell of a thing.

He had every reason to sort of slink away from golf and certainly public life. He was a golf god who embarrassed himself, and long ago achieved status as one of the all-time greats. He could have retired and blamed the back and anybody who’s ever had back pain would have understood.

But if the line is fuzzy between all of that and a redemption story the line is still important to me.

Because, other than the back, Tiger created his own problems. He wrecked lives, selfishly, and that’s on him. He must own that. You don’t get credit for no longer hurting everyone around you.

Virginia basketball winning the national championship a year after being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 is one of college basketball’s greatest all-time stories.

I say that without hyperbole.

Virginia was everybody’s punchline a year ago. Maybe this is easy to forget now, but many were saying that Virginia’s style would never work in the NCAA Tournament. That if Tony Bennett wanted to keep from being a literal joke that he would have to fundamentally change the way he coached. It was all hogwash, and not just because their best player was injured.

The next year, Virginia won a tournament a lot of us had assumed was Duke’s with a run of late comebacks.

That’s incredible. Never say never is good policy, but you and I are unlikely to ever again see a team lose to a 16 as a 1 and then win the national championship the next year.

Anyway, one more Tiger point. I want to be clear that I’m not attacking him. None of us want to be judged by our worst, and his unfathomable level of fame meant the fall was always going to be harder for him than most.

Also, the determination and guts to come back from all of that — the self-inflicted stuff but also the injuries — is something a lot of us should aspire toward. It’s just, I don’t know, for me I can’t fully open my heart for a redemption story when so many of the problems were his own dumb fault.

But, more than any of that, selfishly, my biggest takeaway from the weekend is that I hope this is real. I hope Tiger really is back, and that he has many good tournaments left.

I mentioned this on the Border Patrol, but our 5-year-old Sammy fell on Sunday and hurt his foot. He’ll be fine, but it was bad enough that he couldn’t really get around. The upshot was that it gave us an excuse to sit on the couch and watch golf.

So I had a captive audience here, but still. He wanted to know where the tournament was, why there were no golf carts, and why that guy’s name was Tiger.

“That’s a silly name,” he said, but he was also drawn toward him. Got behind him. At one point, when Francesco Molinari was about to tee off, Sammy said, “Please hit a bad shot Francesco” and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Look, maybe this was a one-off. Maybe it’ll never happen again. But we sat there for four hours watching TV and he never asked to watch PAW Patrol.

I’m not much of a golfer. Once or twice a year. But I am big on stuff I can do with my kids, and if Tiger just turned Sammy into a golf fan then that’s going to be one of the best sports events of my life.

The boring answer is the real answer: the Royals aren’t as bad as a 10-game losing streak, and they’re not as good as a sweep of the Indians.

We can get into particulars here if you’d like. They weren’t getting blown out during the skid, weren’t playing what you’d call bad baseball. The most important players — namely Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, and Brad Keller — were generally performing well.

The Indians are without Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Mike Clevinger, and others. They had one day of Johnny Bullpen against the Royals.

But it was nice to see some of what we believed to be true show up in actual games, and it’s not just the headliners. Hunter Dozier is hitting the ball consistently hard. Ryan O’Hearn hits righties well but struggles against lefties*.

* Though that was a hell of a walk he took in the 9th inning on Sunday.

Alex Gordon has been spectacular. Martin Maldonado is helping the pitchers. Jorge Lopez has been promising. Homer Bailey was way better the other day than a lot of us expected. Ian Kennedy has been good in his new role.

The 10-game losing streak put the Royals far enough behind that they will spend the rest of the season chasing. It was bad enough that it probably should shift whatever win projection you had, but I’m stubborn enough to still believe it’s a 70-or-so win team.

This is, basically, 2011 again. The Royals aren’t good enough as a whole to be meaningfully judged by record. The important stuff will come from indicators like individual performances, including those by some who have yet to be in the big leagues.

The fact that many of those indicators were positive even through the losing streak is significant.

Think about it like this: the Royals’ record stinks largely because the bullpen has been atrocious, and the vast majority of the relievers who’ve stunk are either just beginning their careers or won’t be around long (or both).

We touched on this last week, and it’s not what’s going to happen, but I believe Duffy could best help the Royals in the bullpen.

Because if Kennedy is really this effective in the ninth, and Duffy could be as good as I imagine he’d be in the eighth, that makes a huge difference in the back.

Diekman has been solid, and the Royals have reason to believe in some others who’ve struggled — namely Kyle Zimmer, Richard Lovelady, and Glenn Sparkman.

You still need five starters, and the Royals can’t plan on Homer Bailey and Heath Fillmyer each making 30 solid starts, so it’s all fluid.

But the point is they have some things to work with.

You’re talking about .500, which is an admittedly low goal, but I’d take the under. Definitely the under on finishing at or within a few games of .500, and I’d take the under on them getting back to .500 at any point.

I just don’t think they have enough consistency.

Well, first, I don’t think you’ve characterized this accurately. Mike Moustakas was (technically) the Royals’ first pick under Dayton Moore’s leadership and broke the franchise home run record. Seuly Matias is one of the best power hitting prospects in baseball.

When it was time to trade Wade Davis (more on this soon!) the Royals targeted Jorge Soler, who has as much raw power as anyone.

So, it’s not that they ignore power.

But I would say they prioritize it differently, and rightfully so. They have always chased athletes more than strength. Some of that is the big outfield, because brother, I saw Billy Butler play left field at Kauffman and it wasn’t pretty.

It’s the right strategy, in my opinion. You probably remember that in 2015, when the Royals were the best team in baseball, they hit just 139 home runs — next to last in the American League.

I don’t think you can get by with just flatly ignoring power, but I don’t think the Royals are out of line here. They can’t chase the same stuff everyone else chases. They need to be faster, more athletic, more versatile.

I would add one more point, and you might be alluding to it when you specify “develop” a power hitter. The Royals can never plan on signing a true top power hitting free agent. Not necessarily the money, either, but those guys are not going to be pumped about Kauffman Stadium.

This is not a talking point by the front office. Guys who’ve played for the Royals talk about this consistently, of the difficulty of getting a ball out of there. Eric Hosmer might’ve been the most vocal. It’s just not a place for hitters.

Free agent pitchers, that’s different. They can compete there.

It already has. I wrote so much about this at the time that some of you told me to stop making the point, but the mistake in that trade wasn’t the micro but the macro in how they approached the 2017 season.

The Royals were saying they wanted to win, but traded their best relief pitcher for a power hitting prospect everyone thought was a year or two away. They created an impossible challenge.

If they really wanted to win, they should’ve kept Davis and won the negotiations for Josh Reddick.

If they really wanted to develop, they should’ve traded Davis and others — Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Kelvin Herrera. Mike Moustakas probably wasn’t going to generate much of a market then, but they could’ve listened.

The specifics of the Davis-Soler trade were always sound. It was sort of the reverse of the reason they shouldn’t have released Brian Goodwin to sign Lucas Duda. Wade Davis was scheduled for free agency after the 2017 season, so the trade was one year of Davis for five years of Soler

Particularly with what we talked about before with the Royals’ difficulty of signing free agent sluggers, that’s a good move for the long-term.

The mistake was the broader context. It’s not an exaggeration to say the Royals could be a year or two ahead right now if they’d have taken a true rebuild approach after 2016.

But if you criticized the Davis trade based on compensation, you shouldn’t be among those criticizing the Royals for dumping Goodwin for Duda.

This is complicated.

First, Gordon has 10-5 rights. Because he’s been in the big leagues 10 years and with the same team for five, he can veto any trade. That means the Royals would need to approach him and secure his approval. Gordon would have all the power. He could dismiss the idea outright, or give the Royals a list of a few teams he’d go to, or even make a financial demand.

So, right away, that’s a lot of logistical hurdles.

Second, the trading partner would probably require the Royals to pick up all or most of Gordon’s salary.

Those are big obstacles before we even get to the normal challenges that prevent most trades. Someone else’s needs have to line up with what the Royals would want in return, and be a better fit than what that club could get somewhere else.

Oh, also: Gordon would have to continue to perform at a high level.

I might even be burying the lede here: Dayton Moore has always operated a little, um, sentimentally, and he’d be trading one of his favorite players of all time.

Now, the bigger question is what a strong season might do for Gordon’s future. He’s been open about considering retirement this winter. I don’t see Gordon as the I’ll Play Until They Rip The Uniform Off My Back kind of guy, but what if he’s good enough to be the Royals’ best option in left field next year?

That’s one of the most interesting developments of these first few weeks, and something to keep in mind as the season goes on.

Let’s do it. I haven’t been to games in Seattle or Arlington (though I assume Seattle is awesome), and you’re talking about ballparks outside of Kansas City so let’s rank the other 12.

1. Fenway Park. I’m an old stadium guy, and this place is great. Obstructed views, rickety seats, tons of action around the ballpark, always a fun time.

2. Camden Yards. Damn near perfect. There’s a reason everyone else tried to copy.

3. Target Field. This is higher than most would rank it, but Minneapolis in the summer is gorgeous and the ballpark is worth the time. Clean design, good lines, right mix of feeling part of the city but also separate.

4. Yankee Stadium. It’s worth it for all the obvious reasons, but I miss the old place. The current stadium feels a bit like the bedazzled version of the old one. There was a lot lost in the translation.

5. Comerica. Again, probably higher than most would put it, but it’s easy to get around, good views, good fans, and if you haven’t been then there is a 100 percent chance the stadium and downtown are better than you think.

6. Rogers Centre. Gotta be honest with you, nothing from here on down is all that great. Rogers Centre is actually pretty awful, but Toronto is great.

7. Guaranteed Rate Field. This was perhaps the only “new” stadium that missed. They did a major renovation that improved it in a lot of ways, but it’s not a destination. Chicago in the summer is lights out, though, so extra points.

8. Progressive Field. Nothing wrong with it, and Cleveland is better than you probably think if you haven’t been there. But at some point a lot of the “new” stadiums start to feel the same.

9. Minute Maid Park. I actually kind of hate this stadium. They took out the stupid hill and flag pole in center field, which is good, but it still feels like the idea of an 8 year old high on too much cotton candy.

10. Angel Stadium. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. But there’s nothing really right with it either, except that Mike Trout plays there.

11. Tropicana Field. Playoff games are a head banging riot, and the stadium is better than most people would have you think. But if you go there now it’s going to be empty, not a lot of energy, and feel a bit like a sad cruise ship.

12. Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. The city is cool, the weather great, and San Francisco is across the bay. But this is the last true dump in major professional sports. It’s really awful. I actually enjoy the place for Raiders games, but for baseball, it’s the only stadium in the league I would tell a friend not to bother with.

Neither.

Vahe wrote about this, and you should read it because I agree with everything he said.

But, basically, this won’t be good for Hill until and unless the investigation ends with no charges. This won’t be bad for Hill until and unless he is charged. That’s it. That’s the simplest possible analysis of a spectacularly complicated issue.

It’s been more than a month now since police confirmed the investigation. There is, naturally, a push from some to want him cleared immediately and a push from others to want charges yesterday and a desire from a lot of us to simply have a resolution.

One thing to keep in mind is that the lack of no public announcements or new reports does not mean no progress. If anything, the pressure on law enforcement and state agencies here is to get through this as fast as possible.

If taking more time means a more thorough and complete investigation, I think we’re all in favor of that.

I am not angered or offended by much, but my goodness, Kaku deserves a long suspension and just so we’re all clear about what happened here it is at the 4 second mark:

I can’t imagine Kaku meant to do that. He was ticked off, lost his judgment, and I assume meant to kick the ball off the signage. I know some saw something else, but I was watching this live and as he walked off the field my interpretation is that he slowly began to grasp what just happened and started to feel bad about it.

That’s what I believe.

This is also what I believe: he should be suspended at least five games and probably more.

You just can’t have this. If someone gets hit because they’re not paying attention, or it’s in the run of play, fine, we all get that. But you can’t have fans wondering if they’re going to take one off the nose because some player can’t handle his emotions.

What if that was a kid?

What if there was an injury?

This has to be punished, and severely.

And, yes, I’ve taken a soccer ball straight to the face. I actually remember it well. We were in Bartlesville, Okla., for a tournament and in my memory it was no cooler than 158 degrees without a crumb of shade anywhere in sight. Ball came in, I knew I wasn’t going to get there in time, so I sort of jumped and meant to spin away but for whatever reason didn’t really spin.

My hands were protecting low, which left me exposed up high.

Not what you want.

My nephew is 12 and would play Fortnite 25 hours per day if he could. If he’s not playing, he’s watching YouTube clips of famous gamers which, I have to be honest, I did not know was an actual thing until a few years ago.

My sister has the reservations you’d expect the mom to have, but a conversation with her about it won’t leave my mind.

She was saying that the biggest gap between our generation and our kids is that Steph Curry could walk into her house and her kids would be like, “Cool, Steph Curry,” but if one of these famous gamers walked in their heads might actually explode from excitement.

I said something about how it’s so weird to me to sit and watch people play games, because what’s the point, and then she hit me with a hammer.

“Your job is to watch people play games,” she said, and, well, she was absolutely right.

So, I don’t know where this is headed. Other than it’s growing. It’s broadcast on regular TV, gamers are on college scholarships, and Populous is now designing and opening gamer arenas.

It would make sense that as that audience grows sports journalists need to follow, similar to the markets and jobs that have been created around fantasy sports.

When and if that day comes I will do my best to embrace it. Adapt or become a dinosaur. That’s life.

But realizing I need to start that process will make me feel more out of touch than anything I’ve ever done professionally.

Is it obnoxious if I answer this question honestly and tell you I’ve done both? Because I’ve done both.

Once, I was in the middle of a thing with my wife and kids. I can’t even remember the specifics now, but I remember it was important, and the phone rang and I hesitated for a second but just couldn’t get to it. I called back shortly after, and we never connected.

The other time, I just said I had to go and she understood.

I regret nothing, either time.

I know this isn’t what you’re getting at, and I’m about to go way too deep, but in a lot of ways the last seven years (my wife and I married in February 2012) have been largely about finding the right work-life balance.

I can feel some of this getting preachy, and that’s really not my intent, so if you want to skip to the next question I totally get it. But I know I screwed up the balance in my 20s, focusing way too much on work and pushing everything else to the back.

I made excuses about it at the time, but can now see that I lost some important relationships and wasn’t good enough to others because of it. I skipped the weddings of two good friends and won’t ever forgive myself. Thankfully, those friends have, but either way it was just an awful, wrongheaded, selfish and jerk thing to do.

I don’t think I have this thing whipped now, by any stretch. Some of it is a good problem. I love my job, and am well aware I’m not out here digging ditches.

But we all need balance, and I’m a lot better than I used to be. I’ve sort of allowed myself to say no to certain things, which in turn has allowed myself to be better to those around me and better and more focused when it’s time to work.

I also know I’ve been lucky with an amazingly understanding wife, supportive boss, and incredible partner to help with all of this.

Anyway, I know I’ve sidetracked your question and probably ruined the fun from the hypothetical but I just go where this dumb brain takes me.

I don’t know what’s logistically possible. I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I’m just not sure what the university wants to be. I don’t know what the university is willing to do.

I don’t think pushing to be Kansas City’s second favorite team would work. To me, that would feel phony, artificial, and unsustainable. Alums care about their schools.

I just don’t know that it’s realistic to build a program around people so passionate about basketball and with enough disposable income that they want to buy tickets and go to games during a busy time of year ... but also not so passionate about their own school or not with the disposable income to go to their school’s games.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

The most awesome path would be to build an on-campus arena, maybe 6,000 seats or so, and do everything possible to pack it with students. Give away t-shirts, or pizza, or create some sort of social media campaign to promote the team and experience. Make sure the building has technology. Video boards, good sound, that kind of thing.

A new building and engaged fans would fix a lot of problems. Then you’d have a situation where you can have more alums buy tickets and donate, and create more of a market.

The coaching hire is the most important part of this, and it’s not enough for the guy to know the game. He has to be a salesman, too, with a plan to expand UMKC beyond its current cycle of apathy and afterthought.

I don’t know if Billy Donlon is that guy or not. Time will tell. But I’m not sure how much it matters if UMKC doesn’t have a broader idea of what it wants to be.

We have now reached the television portion of our program.

My impression is that GoT is Hunger Games crossed with Survivor and with lots of incest and blood.

Am I close?

Yes.

The NFL.

I want to be clear about something. I have nothing against Game of Thrones or any other show people enjoy. There’s nothing more obnoxious than someone who makes fun of something you like for no good reason, and I hope I’m never that guy.

More to the point here, there is an 80 percent chance I pick up GoT someday. This is how it usually goes for me. I finally committed to the Wire about eight years after it came out, for instance. Similar thing with Mad Men.

And, actually, you’re asking my favorite show I’m currently watching and the answer is Ray Donovan which (pauses to Google it) puts me about five years behind. Billions is brilliant, but my wife and I tend to be on one show at a time, so we’ll get back to that later. Ozark. Love Ozark. Is Bloodline still a thing? Loved that show but it seemed to go away.

I can only think of two shows I picked up from the beginning and watched in real time as an adult. The first is Boardwalk Empire, because holy crap, and the second might be the answer to your second question.

I believe Breaking Bad is the best show I’ve ever watched.

(steps away from the Minutes for a few hours)

OK, now that I’m back and reading through all of this again, I want to add one more thing. I know I take these questions too literally sometimes but I don’t think I’ll ever tell my kids about a show that’s on right now.

Because it seems to me that shows keep getting better. Better technology, for one, but more creativity and chances as we continue to get away from network TV.

The Wire would probably be the only show I’ve seen worth telling my kids about in a few decades, just because of how much it says about the world we live in.

But I guess my point is there will probably be another Wire in the next 30 years.

Come on, buddy.

You’re talking to a Hot Dog Derby Champion. Undefeated: 1-0. Relish.

I can’t remember the year, but I do believe it was in August or so and here’s a tip: you want to do the derby early in the season, before it gets hot and everyone’s sweaty and those costumes start to smell like death mixed with manure and gym towels.

This week I’m particularly grateful for the weather. I am a proud and fierce member of Team Winter, but I also love the seasons changing, and it feels nice to get outside and mow and grill and play baseball with the kids.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.

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