Still on his first NFL contract, coming off a sterling second season at that bargain rate for Washington, Kendall Fuller had zero notion he was potential trade fodder.
So on the night of Jan. 30, he went bowling — not “very well, either,” he remembers — then to a restaurant with a friend.
That’s where he was when The Star broke the news that Alex Smith had been traded to Washington for a 2018 third-round draft pick and a player to be named later.
In group chats he began “kind of playing around, like, ‘What if it’s me?’ ” he said Tuesday during the Chiefs' final week of offseason team workouts. “Everybody’s, like, ‘Shut up, you’re not getting traded.’
“Yeah, you know how the rest of it went.”
Despite a sequence of playful riffs on Twitter, during which he went from saying, “Nahh, it’s not me … I don’t think” to “Mannnnn im safe! I ain’t get traded” to a GIF of Homer Simpson fading into bushes, the deal was a shock to the self-described “nonchalant guy.”
To many around the NFL, it was a fleecing of Washington. And it was an outrage to teammates of Fuller, who was suddenly gone in a move that the Chiefs virtually had to make for salary-cap relief and to make way for young Patrick Mahomes to take over for Smith.
“Was There Ever A Standard On How It Was Done!! When Is Elite Overlooked!?!” Washington’s D.J. Swearinger wrote on Twitter. “When Is Your Best Not Worth Fighting For?? This Is A Tough One!”
But that was only the first part of the surprises associated with Fuller — and maybe not the biggest.
The maneuver initially appeared to be a stockpiling of sorts for the Chiefs at cornerback, where Fuller figured to be an outstanding complement to the uniquely dynamic Marcus Peters.
Instead, in one form or another, he was a factor in making Peters seem expendable to the Chiefs, who along with a sixth-round pick was traded to Los Angeles for the meager sum of a second and fourth pick.
Much remains unclear about the impetus the Chiefs had to move the mercurial Peters, their most prolific defensive playmaker (19 interceptions in three seasons) but prone to polarizing antics.
But this much is clear in the aftermath: You can question the wisdom of getting rid of Peters, but not the reality of the void it leaves.
And thrilling as the anticipation of the Chiefs' offense is this season, with the arm of Mahomes and receiver Sammy Watkins added to the game-breaking likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, the erratic defense that was their undoing in 2017 — even with Peters — is the greatest unknown in their prospects.
That’s why the Chiefs used their first five draft picks on that side of the ball and why they brought in reinforcements like linebacker Anthony Hitchens, nose tackle Xavier Williams and cornerback David Amerson.
But even with safety Eric Berry’s expected return to full health after suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in the opener at New England, any improvement will hinge in part on someone else emerging as a Peters-ish presence.
Here’s why there’s a good chance that can be Fuller, who may not quite replicate Peters’ penchant for game-changing plays but could get closer to doing it than you might imagine ... without the squabbles with coaches or punting balls into the stands and the aversion to tackling that at times diminished Peters’ performances.
Fuller had four interceptions last season to Peters’ five (albeit a number minimized by opponents’ tendency to throw away from Peters) and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the sixth-best cornerback in the NFL. His grade of 90.0 was higher than any on the Chiefs last season.
While coach Andy Reid has suggested he might have been “the best inside defender in the league” last season, Fuller also is versatile and will be deployed outside and inside and who knows how else?
“Doing a little bit of everything” so far, Fuller said.
Then there’s the matter of his willingness to engage contact, which family lore has it goes as far back as when he was signed up for flag football around age 6 or 7.
“He didn’t want to play,” his father, Vincent Fuller Sr., told The New York Times in 2015. “He wanted to tackle, because he saw his older brothers doing that.”
His three older brothers, like him, played at Virginia Tech and went on to the NFL.
Asked during a March conference call about seeming to play “with an edge” and from where that might have come, Fuller said, “Probably just growing up in a house with three older brothers, pretty much the only thing we did was compete. Even to this day, any little thing we’ll find something to play, find something to compete on.”
“I think mainly just for us, especially growing up in Baltimore, I think football was just a way out for us,” he said then. “We’ve seen a lot of different people get into a lot of different stuff and deal with different stuff. But for us, my father, my parents, they kind of just always kept us in sports.
“It was just kind of a way to get away from everything and just a way for us to be able to do what we are doing now. When you are growing up and that’s all you are doing is living and breathing football or just any sport and stuff like that, you learn to appreciate it a lot.”
So, ultimately, he came to appreciate the trade, which couldn’t be made official until weeks later.
His only wish now is that it had happened later …
“So I could hurry up and get here,” he said, to start getting to know his new teammates, coaching staff and Kansas City.
And move on from one surprise to the next — to not be supplementing Peters but, in effect, trying to replace his production and help stabilize the side of the ball that looms as the X-factor for the 2018 Chiefs.
In his own way.
“Some people would say, ‘Oh, you have a lot of pressure’ and other stuff,” he said in March. “Any time people say you have a lot of pressure, it just means you have an opportunity.
“Really, just going in there and just being who I am and not trying to play like someone else or be someone else.”