Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Frank Clark, Chiefs draft, fake holidays and marriage advice

Chiefs offseason free agent signings and roster moves

The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to be active in free agency this offseason, and here are all of the moved they have made so far.
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The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to be active in free agency this offseason, and here are all of the moved they have made so far.

The Chiefs changed the path of the organization and especially their defense by using two high picks and more than $60 million guaranteed to trade and sign Frank Clark and, oh, hey, here’s a column about it.

Obviously I hope you read it. There’s a lot there, including how the Chiefs view Clark, how and why they made the move, and his arrest in college on a domestic violence charge.

These words here are about how the trade came together.

The process began with a standard evaluation of potential free agent pass rushers. The evaluations centered on their own Dee Ford, Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney, Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence and Seattle’s Clark.

It’s interesting that the Chiefs were connected to each of those players in various reports.

Clowney’s production didn’t match the others, and he’d have to adjust from Houston’s 3-4 to new Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3.

Lawrence is a terrific talent but more of a speed rusher than the power game Spagnuolo prefers, and was ultimately made unavailable by the Cowboys.

The Chiefs kept coming back to Clark, who is a year younger than Lawrence, and they evaluated him as better than every edge rusher in the NFL other than Khalil Mack. They saw him win snaps in every way — with speed, with power, with tenacity, with hands, and with his mind.

Clark was the overwhelming choice by club decision makers as their top offseason target, a stance that only solidified after they traded Ford to San Francisco.

That particular decision was made primarily because of fit, but also because of reliability. Ford has a history of back trouble. Clark has missed just two games in four years, and none over the last two.

In pursuing Clark the Chiefs found themselves essentially on the opposite side of the Ford deal. After signing quarterback Russell Wilson to a record-setting deal, the Seahawks were unsure whether they wanted to trade Clark for picks and cap space or keep him on what would’ve likely been two years of a franchise tag.

The same way the 49ers won the Chiefs over by offering a second-round pick, the Seahawks eventually went with the Chiefs’ package over offers from the Colts and Jets, among others.

The Chiefs believe they have an alpa pass rusher for at least the next three years. The model for his contract with the Chiefs was the one Lawrence signed with Dallas. They are nearly identical in broad terms: five years, $105.5 million with $63 million in guarantees for Clark; five years, $105 million with $65 million in guarantees for Lawrence.

The details on Clark’s deal have not yet leaked, but it’s logical to assume similarities with Lawrence, who could be cut after 2021 for a $14 million in cap savings with $10 million in dead money.

This move is critical not just in obvious ways, but also as a symbol of Veach’s work. He has prioritized youth and fixing a brutal cap situation. Clark is now the same age Justin Houston was when the Chiefs gave him a record-setting contract, though if the structure is similar to Lawrence’s the Chiefs will be able to move on a year earlier than they could with Houston.

This is it, you guys. The Chiefs enter the draft hoping someone from what Veach has described as a deep group of cornerbacks falls to their second-round pick, as well as eying help at tight end, receiver and all over the defense.

The makeover is essentially complete. And at least by the looks of it, it’s a massive improvement.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Jefe from Bay Boy and the reading recommendation is this book review of Robert Caro’s autobiography, which I now want to read.

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

The answer depends entirely on what you’re expecting and what you want.

This might sound backwards, but if you are a draft nerd and want to follow the picks closely you should stay at home and watch on TV. You’ll have more information, you’ll be able to hear what’s said much better, and you’ll be able to flip to different channels if they’re not covering the subject you want.

If you’re looking for more of a football celebration, a party, and just want to do something you probably will never do again, go for it.

I’ve only been once, the year the Chiefs took Eric Fisher first overall, and it’s quite the scene. It’s sort of like Comic-con for football fans. The JV version of Super Bowl week but without the game. It’s like-minded folks in jerseys obsessing over their teams and (almost always) keeping it fun.

I don’t know the setup in Nashville (and definitely don’t plan on finding out) but you should also make sure you have the stomach for the crowds. I don’t say this as a deterrent. Just as a reminder. There will be a ton of people there, crowds everywhere, so if you’re the type to get stressed or annoyed in that context just keep it in mind.

So, I don’t know. If you live a mile away you could walk and then get out of there if it’s annoying or not what you’re looking for.

I’d say go for it.

I mean this sincerely: all of the events.

All of them are overdone. Exceptions include most high school sports (but not most youth sports), spring training, city marathons and other running events, and, really, maybe I’m forgetting a few but that’s the list.

If you call me hypocritical because I am gainfully employed based entirely on events being overdone I will keep quiet and feel a little guilty and exposed and hope to quickly change the subject.

But it’s something I think about all the time. The amount of money and time and intellectual resources we put into sports is pretty astounding. Again: I’m absolutely part of the problem, and I hope it never changes, but it’s a truth worth noting.

The point has been made in many different ways, but at the moment I’m thinking of this story on Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ use of analytics in which a prospective hire could not say much about his previous experience except that it was part of an effort to protect the United States from ballistic missiles.

The money quote from Will Kuntz, who used to work for the Yankees but is now in MLS:

“He was basically, ‘yeah, I can either make the country or the world more safe by being able to accurately shoot missiles out of the sky, or I can track the flight of a baseball 60 feet, 6 inches and maybe help us win a World Series.’”

In other words: we are literally taking brainpower that would help issues up to and including national security and instead putting them on measuring spin rates. So it’s all overdone.

The popularity and size of the NFL draft is understandable in the context that we’re all nuts. Football is (by far) the country’s most popular sport, and this is the intersection of the NFL and college — it’s every team’s hope and every college program’s pride and a bit of an oasis during a football desert of sorts.

So it comes by the size honestly, but if we’re all being totally honest, the most overdone events in America are award shows — Oscars, Emmys, ESPYs, Country Music, all of it.

These things are self-indulgence at epic levels, without really providing any product. Shoot them all into the sun and nobody is worse off.

I do want to be clear here about something. I’m here for the draft, and while I believe with all of my heart that 90 percent of mock drafts are complete b.s. I still respect the hell out of the work and insight that come from the other 10.

I have never done a mock draft because I do not have the time or space for the work required to do it well. The problem as I see it with most mock drafts is that they’re done without the time and work required to make them worthwhile.

The challenge for the rest of us, then, is to be smart about who we trust has done the work.

Here’s how cumbersome the process is: Terez damn Paylor did not do one this year.

So, anyway. Just wanted to get that out there. Mock drafts aren’t worthless. It’s just the worthless mock drafts that are worthless.

OK. You asked a question.

In broad terms, I believe Veach puts a higher priority on youth while Dorsey puts a higher value on experience.

The plainest example: I don’t think the world’s most powerful microscope could find the percent chance that Veach would’ve given Tamba Hali that last contract.

Now, I also don’t think Dorsey would’ve allowed the secondary to get so thin last season, so there are positives and negatives on both sides.

One other thing to keep in mind. It’s not as simple as Veach vs. Dorsey. No GM acts empirically* and no good GM can’t have his mind changed by the people who work for him.

* Technically, acting a little too empirically is part of why Dorsey is now the Chiefs’ former GM.

Well, obviously this answer is different than it was before the Clark trade.

Veach won’t be tunnel visioning a cornerback with those second-round picks but I do believe that’s his dream scenario. Maybe Jamel Dean is there, maybe they get lucky and DeAndre Baker’s poor combine pushes him this far down.

Corner is the biggest need, but I think the Chiefs view the roster as solid enough that they don’t have to reach. They’ve long wanted to add tight end depth, and swapping out Demetrius Harris for Blake Bell can’t be the answer. They’d like another receiver, no matter what happens with Tyreek Hill. They’ll also target the secondary and defensive line.

You would face the challenge of a lifetime to find someone outside of the Mahomes family who is more convinced that he is the real thing so please keep that in mind as I answer your question.

I would take the under on him matching 5,097 yards or 50 touchdowns and I might even take the over on 12 interceptions.

Statistically, I think it is unlikely that he will have the same impact.

Another way of saying that: it’s unlikely that Mahomes will have the greatest season in NFL history.

But here’s something that sounds absurd but I believe anyway: he left a significant number of plays on the field.

So, I do think he can get better as a quarterback, even if the fantasy numbers aren’t as gaudy. I think his accuracy on deep balls can improve, I think his pre-snap reads can improve, I think his footwork can improve.

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.

He’ll have some challenges. Defensive coordinators will have eight full months between the end of the 2018 regular season and the beginning of the 2019 season. That’s a lot of time to figure out a new way to attack a quarterback who essentially spent an entire season pantsing the NFL.

I don’t know what that new look will be. My plan would be to overload coverages and force the Chiefs to run. I’d also mix in some hyper aggressive blitzes, and try everything I could think of to confuse him — zones that look like man, showing a blitz you’ve used before but turning it into coverage, that kind of thing.

I’m also (barely) smart enough to know defenses tried variations of this and more, and Mahomes still dominated.

I’m curious as heck to know how it all works out, but in general terms I don’t have many worries about Mahomes. He’ll need to manage stardom in a new way now, and at some point he’ll (presumably) play with a new head coach.

But my goodness. He’s a rocket ship. I don’t think anything we saw was a fluke.

If you’re curious about this and haven’t read Newell’s story on Gordon you should.

All of the small sample size warnings apply here but the biggest difference is strikeout rate. Gordon has struck out more than twice as often as he’s walked in his career, but four weeks in and he’s at 11 strikeouts with eight walks.

Put another way: he struck out in 24.8 percent of his plate appearances the last four years, and only 11.3 percent in 2019.

This is remarkable and, probably, unsustainable. He’s also hitting more home runs without a better hard contact rate, so the slugging percentage will almost certainly drop.

But, for our purposes here the strikeout rate is more telling. I do hope you read Newell’s story, because it’s smart and includes more information that we can here, but he found that Gordon had not swung at any pitches 3.3 inches or more out of the strike zone — Statcast calls these “chase” or “waste” pitches.

Maybe it seems like a small thing, that stuff piles up quickly. It not only turns a ball into a strike, but it sets up the next pitch and puts the pitcher at an advantage.

Think about it like this. He’s already struck out 13 fewer times compared to his pace of the last four seasons. If we just use his (and baseball’s) typical rate of batting average on balls in play it would drop his average exactly 50 points.

That’s a big deal.

Jontay Porter and I’m not sure it’s close, though I will include two caveats here.

First, obviously I don’t have Porter’s medical reports. This is two torn ACLs in a year, and this may or may not be fair, but teams will notice that injuries run in the family. If there are legitimate doctor-supported reasons to fear this will be a chronic thing then that changes the evaluation.

Second, I haven’t seen Silvio De Sousa play in more than a year. He said he’s a completely different player, particularly with skill improvement. I would assume that’s what anyone in his situation would say, but college basketball players improve quickly. If he now has a face-up game and has enhanced his already significant athleticism and aggression then that’s a hell of a prospect.

But the skills are already there with Porter. He’s taller, longer, and on the most basic level a better obvious fit in the NBA. He’s a stretch-4 who can defend the position and has enough skill to make teammates better.

The difference is enough (at least to me) that Porter is worth a high second round pick while De Sousa would probably need to play in the G League or overseas.

Here’s a take of which I’m unsure the temperature: if the medical report determines Porter’s injury risk isn’t higher than an average player then he’s a better NBA prospect than Dedric Lawson, who just had one of the best statistical seasons of Bill Self’s time at Kansas.

I adore Sporting’s ambition with this. I love that they went for it, and believe with everything I have that the only way for MLS to gain more international respect is for the entire league to do the same every year.

But in the short-term, yeah, it’s hard to argue it hasn’t had a negative impact — a home draw and road shellacking in two games since the second leg of the Monterrey emasculation.

When Sporting plays New England on Saturday it will have been exactly four weeks since the last win.

I assume the Champions League run has something to do with this. It’s hard to believe this is just a total coincidence, but it’s also true that Sporting is injured, missing Ike Opara, and that the club has a history that fits this pattern: a run of poor form that leads to some existential questions, only for the club to be in the postseason and often as a legitimate championship contender.

The nightmare in San Jose is particularly troubling. Sporting had a full week to prepare, and if anything, the struggles against Monterrey should have been extra motivation to embarrass someone else.

San Jose is not a particularly imposing opponent. Those are points that a good team picks up.

Peter Vermes referenced a lack of energy, and referenced the Champions League run. Matt Besler was injured in the game. There’s little doubt that Sporting is worse off at the moment than if it had never played Monterrey.

But Vermes would also agree with this: that can’t be an excuse. The club had a week, and part of professional soccer is managing various competitions. Sporting prides itself on building depth.

The main point I want to make here is that I hope Sporting or any other MLS team good enough for the opportunity approaches a Champions League semifinal the exact same way.

Because there’s a bigger competition going on here than the Supporters Shield or Champions League or even the MLS Cup.

MLS is vastly superior to where it was even five years ago, but it is also vastly behind where it needs to be. It’s the third most popular soccer league in the United States, for instance, behind not just the Premiere League but Liga MX.

MLS teams have to continue to push, then, for the greater good. The gap is significant, and a lot of it is money, but the only way to close that gap is to try.

First of all, shoutout US government. I appreciate the support.

1. Super Bowl Monday. The obvious choice, so we’re going to get it out of the way quick, but it’s obvious for a reason. The Super Bowl is our last legitimate in-real-time communal experience. Sometimes, that means the next day drags a little bit but even for the more responsible among us it would be a day to relive what happened. I’m also in favor of manipulating the NFL schedule so that the Super Bowl happens the day before Presidents Day.

Then maybe people would take Presidents Day as a more legitimate holiday, which means we wouldn’t really have to add another one.

2. Jackie Robinson Day. Baseball has turned this into a bit of an unofficial holiday, using every April 15 to recognize Robinson’s contributions to baseball and American life. I believe there is a logical case to be made that his breaking baseball’s color barrier had a bigger impact on American culture than any action by any other private citizen.

But now that I’m thinking on it, I’m not sure a traditional holiday is right here. Because schools are closed on traditional holidays. So what if every April 15 schools spent the entire day with lessons on what Robinson did, what changes that created, and how the country responded — both in becoming more open and in resisting?

3. Be Nice Solstice Day. OK. Admittedly, this is a bit goofy, and encourages the mispronunciation of Solstice. But hear me out. We take Summer Solstice and turn it into a day for everyone to do something nice for someone else, with bonus points if you do it for someone you disagree with politically, or are arguing with.

Again. Goofy. But we are so dang divided now, and we’re encouraged everyday to retreat further and further into our corners. Liberals huddle together and end up group thinking all conservatives into racists. Conservatives close the circle and next thing you know all liberals want to end air travel and take rich people’s money.

It’s all nonsense, and the more time that passes the more thankful I am for having grown up with parents on different sides of the political center. Then I think about that and realize there are almost certainly vastly fewer kids growing up now with the same privilege.

I don’t know why I picked Solstice for this holiday, by the way. I think I wanted to force the rhyme, and there was something about the longest day that could work symbolically. But either way, if you have a better day I’m all in.

I want you to know that my soul is shaking as I type these words. My emotions include sadness, horror, and anger.

The rest of you should know that I followed up with Brett, and he said this happens at the downtown Overland Park location. I have been to and enjoyed my time there, but have always been partial to the one downtown and especially on Main.

I am proud to report to you that on Monday afternoon I confirmed with the Main location that they do not — let me repeat, do not — serve Jamaican jerk wings.

“Just the same ones we’ve been doing forever,” said the hero who answered the phone there.

The way I’ve always understood it is the location on Main and downtown are separate from the others, which operate more as franchises. Downtown Overland Park has a bigger beer menu, for instance. I’ve been told that they actually get their chicken from different suppliers, and I hope that’s true because I’ve always thought Main and downtown are on a different level.

But, anyway. Those words have just helped me steady myself. Now I’m ready to answer your question, and I might surprise you.

Because I will not judge your roommate. Wings are to be enjoyed, and if getting them Jamaican jerk’d makes your roommate happy then I want him to be able to enjoy the gift of chicken wings.

But if I could say anything to your roommate it would be this:

Son, who hurt you?

No, no, no. That’s not it. This is what I would say:

Brother, I understand you are lost. And I want to help you.

I’d have questions. Have you tried “the same ones we’ve been doing forever?” If so, what sent you away? Too much spice? Too much sauce? Do you order Jamaican jerk in other places? Do you cook it at home? Are you an actual Jamaican?

The answers could help. And, again, I’m not here to judge. We should all be happy when we eat wings and if that makes your roommate happy I guess it’s the job of those who love him to support his lifestyle.

But, I hope he’s at least tried the traditional.

And I hope that’s all they ever serve on Main.

Congrats!

Obviously, if you’re coming here for advice you’re on the right track.

(pauses)

OK, anyway, some points:

- by far the most important point is whether you chose correctly. Whatever advice anyone tells you, this is really the only one that matters. If you chose correctly, you’re all good. If you didn’t, hoo boy.

- take advantage of it. I don’t know what your plans are about starting a family, but take advantage of the time when it’s just you. Kids are the best thing in the world for a lot of us, but they do come with responsibility. Before all that comes make sure you travel, go out, sleep in, read, whatever. Imagine your life with kids, and think specifically of what you won’t be able to do, and do as much of that as possible.

- cook. If you enjoy cooking, then try new stuff. If you don’t know how, learn. This is the point in your life where you have time to screw up and to try new things. It’s a skill you’ll need the rest of your life.

- make sure you have some stuff you like doing together, but it’s also OK to have some stuff you like doing alone.

Look, you’ve been together seven years, so you’re obviously not rushing it. Assuming you’ve been living together your lives will probably be mostly the same except with tons of Tupperware and kitchen appliances people bought you as wedding gifts.

But it is a mile marker of sorts, and I’ll just say one more thing and this isn’t specific to the early years. Take intentional inventory of who you are and how you treat your soon-to-be spouse. Life moves fast, and stuff piles up, and it’s easy to get lazy and take the people you love the most for granted.

It’s messed up, but it’s also human nature, and we all do it to varying degrees. The key is to get on top of that, and be aware of it. Remember how you feel right now and why. Don’t ever let that go, because in a lot of ways, the key to the early years might be to extend them into all of the years.

Oh God. This list is different than if I did it yesterday and different than if I did it tomorrow but whatever let’s go.

Dan Wetzel is the best. There’s just nothing he doesn’t do well. That’s a really hard job to do well — national sports columnist. It’s easy to get lazy, easy to write off your couch, as we sometimes say. But he is fantastic at not only identifying which stories he should write, but then at reporting the hell out of them and bringing something smart so you don’t feel like you wasted your time.

Sally Jenkins does smart takedowns better than anyone in the country. And it’s not just the takedowns, either. She has a next level brain — “she’s not going to run out of gigabytes,” as Andy Reid would say — and can wreck a topic from bottom to top.

Gregg Doyel. Sometimes I say he’s the best in the country at my job: metro sports columnist. He’s great with opinion, but also as good as anyone at finding the stories you didn’t know you cared about.

Seth Wickersham is better than anyone I know at telling stories people don’t want told. The stuff that he and Don Van Natta have done on the NFL is breathtaking.

Wright Thompson at his best might be better than anyone else at their best.

Greg Bishop is nails on deadline but will also break your heart if he has time.

Jeff Passan knows baseball from the inside but also knows how to find out the stuff he doesn’t, if that makes sense. He’s wickedly talented as a writer, too.

Terez Paylor was born to write about football. He connects with people, and works as hard as anyone, not just reporting stories but thinking about how to make them land.

Andy McCullough was the best baseball beat writer I’m aware of, and now he’s in what’s probably a better fit for his skills and likes as a national guy.

Mina Kimes throws every pitch and throws it well.

Now, look. Disclaimers. I’m friends with some of these people, so maybe that changes how I see it. But that was just off the top of my head, something like the first 10 names that came to mind, and now I’m thinking about the fact that I could make another top 10 and it would be just as good: Kent Babb, Liz Merrill, Bill Plaschke, Mike Rosenberg, Howard Bryant, Chris Ballard, Benjamin Hochman, Berry Tramel, Trent Rosecrans, Jerry Brewer, Mike Vaccaro, Dave Sheinin, and hell I’ve already gone over 10 and somehow haven’t mentioned Joe Posnanski.

I’m done with this.

Point being, there are so many talented people out there.

Well, first, if you’re unaware of the “spat” congratulations. Your life is probably better. Several people asked about this, though, so we’ll talk about it here and we can name him.

Kevin Kietzman, host of Between the Lines on 810 AM, said something on twitter I found to be stupid. I said as much. If you care enough about the details the thread is easy enough to find. Basically, it centered on Silvio De Sousa, the appeal filed on his behalf by KU, and whether he’s been treated fairly.

I don’t have a lot to say about the specifics of the back-and-forth. You can look it all up if you want. Kevin and I see this particular situation — and a lot of things, if we’re being honest — very differently. We are never going to agree on this, or many things regarding college athletics.

He spent a few minutes near the top of his show on Monday talking about this. Some of what he said I disagree with, primarily that a) I’m an asset to the Star, and b) that I took personal shots at him.

Which is fine!

He can say something I find to be dumb without me thinking he’s dumb, and the same is true in reverse. We’re all good there. I have only one main takeaway here.

I generally don’t comment much on how other people in town do their jobs and I’d like to keep it that way. It’s cheap, usually a waste of time, and adds nothing other than a bit of a twitter sideshow.

This might sound arrogant, but I also believe it to be true: I have the great privilege of the biggest sports platform in town and I try hard to use it responsibly.

I don’t regret the broad strokes of the conversation because the first thing he said really did strike me as a dumb thing to say, but I don’t want this to be a habit.

This week, I’m particularly grateful that my mower started again. I believe this is year No. 8 for it, which isn’t too bad, but I really haven’t taken care of it much. I put gas in it, use it for 45 minutes every five days or so, and then jam it back in the garage. I just add oil, I don’t change it, and the service they tell you to do every year I’ve done once. But, stubborn as she goes, there she is for me every spring. Thanks old girl.

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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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