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Dixon’s AP mailbag: Chase Litton, bum corners, best backs and Eric Berry

What kind of questions do we have from our readers this week?

NFL: Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Dixon’s Arrowhead Pride Mailbag, where I’ll do my best to answer your questions about the Kansas City Chiefs — and anything else that’s on your mind. If you have a question, you can hit my profile page to e-mail me, or ask me on Twitter.

While you’re at it, please follow me on Twitter, too.

On to your questions:

Has Mahomes shown enough to let us keep Chase Litton as backup and release Henne? If so, what do we do with the extra cap space?

— B.R.

Thanks for your question, B.R.

You’re not the only person thinking along these lines. On Tuesday, Joe Marino argued in an article published by The Draft Network that Chase Litton was the Chiefs player most likely to break out in 2019.

Don’t get carried away here - Patrick Mahomes is the guy in Kansas City. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity for Litton to beat out Chad Henne for the No. 2 job isn’t a possibility.

It was surprising to see Litton declare early for the 2018 NFL Draft, but his college tape revealed an intriguing skill set. He has a big arm and excels with rhythm throws but can also impressively hit throws on the move. He has an aggressive mentality, willing to test man coverage and give his targets chances to make plays on the ball. A UDFA, there’s no question that Litton has some rawness to his game, especially in terms of working progressions and mechanics. But I like his upside paired with Andy Reid and the promise he can show this preseason to earn the backup job in KC.

I agree entirely with Marino that Litton is an intriguing prospect in Andy Reid’s offense, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if in the coming preseason, he impresses us even more than he did last year.

But in the NFL, a backup quarterback is insurance. And if you own a car or a house, you know that insurance is expensive — don’t even get me started on health insurance! And in every season since he arrived in Kansas City, Andy Reid and Chiefs general managers have been willing to pay that price. Now that they have one of the league’s elite quarterbacks under center, they’re likely to be even more willing to pay that price.

Chad Henne will cost the Chiefs $4.1 million against the cap this season. If he is cut, he will leave behind $2.55 million in dead money and save just $1.55 million. Given the team’s history concerning its backup quarterbacks — and especially considering that Henne is backing up Patrick Mahomes instead of Alex Smith — I don’t see the Chiefs canceling this insurance policy. But the policy runs out after 2019. If he continues to improve, Litton could easily slide into the number two position in 2020.

Why is the narrative always how bad our cornerback play was last year — when by all metrics they were league average and by those same metrics our safety and linebacker coverage ability was the absolute worst in the league?

— Ryan

You’re preaching to the choir, Ryan — but thanks for asking anyway.

I think the answer is relatively simple: fans — that’s you, me and anyone reading these words — hate it when big plays are given up by the defense. Which defensive players tend to give up the biggest plays? Cornerbacks — that’s who. Whose penalties give up the most yards — especially in game-critical situations? Cornerbacks — that’s who. Whose job is it to blunt the effectiveness of the most important player on the opposing team — the quarterback? Cornerbacks — that’s who.

It’s just human nature for people to remember a cornerback’s worst moments — the touchdown play given up on the game’s final drive or the ticky-tack pass interference penalty that kept a key opposing drive alive — and forget (or even notice) all the times their name wasn’t called.

So it’s completely understandable for fans to think a particular cornerback is a bum — even when the numbers show that they might not actually be a bum. According to PFF, Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson ranked 16th in the league in passer rating allowed during his coverage snaps. Former Chiefs cornerback Orlando Scandrick was 21st.

Do you know who was 25th? Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.

That’s not to say that Nelson and Scandrick were (or are) better cornerbacks than Peterson. Per PFF, Peterson’s receivers were targeted just 52 times (seventh lowest in the league), which demonstrates that offenses avoided targeting him. Meanwhile, Nelson led the league in targets with 113. Three Chiefs corners — Nelson, Scandrick and Kendall Fuller — were among the nine most-targeted cornerbacks in the NFL. That’s a lot of opportunities for them to make mistakes people will remember — and yet, the numbers show they were pretty effective anyway.

But the point here isn’t to argue the relative merits of these cornerbacks. Instead, it is to remember that fans will tend to judge cornerbacks solely by their worst moments — and they probably shouldn’t.

How many running backs will the Chiefs keep? Who do you think they will be?

— Danen

Thanks for your question, Danen.

Last season, the Chiefs kept five running backs on the 53-man roster. I don’t see a reason they’d keep fewer than that in 2019.

Fullback Anthony Sherman has no competition. He may be getting long in the tooth, but he’s still an effective player and a special teams ace. He can even fill in at tight end when the chips are down — and he’s cheap, too. In the running back room, he’s the closest thing to a lock.

Right behind him is Damien Williams. When the job fell to him last season, he proved he could shoulder the load as the lead running back in Reid’s offense. I believe he’ll make the team and be the main man.

Three weeks ago, I was asked a similar question that focused on Carlos Hyde. I said then — and still believe — that the Chiefs acquired Hyde as a (relatively) inexpensive insurance policy in case they couldn’t get the rookie running backs they wanted. I think Darwin Thompson — with his RPO experience at Utah State — was one of those running backs. I also think the Chiefs are willing to give Darrel Williams another year in the system to see how he develops.

Three weeks ago, J.D. Moore was still part of the picture. He’s now gone. That leaves James Williams — whose film Kent Swanson reviewed this week — and Marcus Marshall, who is a long-shot undrafted prospect from James Madison. Of these two, Williams definitely has a better chance to make the team.

So it’s going to come down to whether the Chiefs would rather keep Hyde — a veteran (if somewhat average) player — to keep the insurance in force, or trust running backs coach Deland McCullough (and Andy Reid’s system) to develop another young player. Until we see what these players all do in Chiefs uniforms, I’ll guess they’ll go with the latter option, and say that the room will have Sherman, Thompson and the three Williami.

Besides... I already told you back in April that according to a... uhhh... professional mathematician I know, you’d be smart to take the over at 3.5 Williamses on the 2019 roster.

What if it’s July and Eric Berry has no deal? Is there ever a point where you bring him back in for a physical? If KC could literally pay him with the cap savings they’d get from cutting Dan Sorensen, would you do it?

— Scott

That’s three questions, Scott — and I thank you for all of them.

In order, the answers are:

  • So what?
  • No.
  • No.

Eric Berry gave us a few great seasons and a story we’ll never forget. But it just doesn’t make sense for the Chiefs to bring him back. For starters, I don’t think Berry would even consider it. You just don’t see many NFL players be unceremoniously jettisoned from big-money contracts and then return to those teams for substantially less money. Berry might sign a prove-it deal in order to keep playing, but I don’t think it will be with the Chiefs.

I do think, though, that whatever happens with Berry in 2019 and beyond, he will once again sign with the Chiefs — but it will be a one-day deal that allows him to retire wearing the red and gold. When that happens, I hope we’ll forget all the bad vibes we accumulated about Berry in 2018, and remember him for what he is: a once-great player (and leader) who taught us an incredible lesson about courage. He’s earned that much.

What’s your favorite Kevin Costner movie?

— Sandy

Thanks for asking, Sandy.

If I have to choose my favorite movie Costner is in, it’s a tie: Dances With Wolves and Silverado. Sure... Dances With Wolves is overly long and self-indulgent, but it is beautifully made and a wonderful story that long needed to be told. Silverado is something else entirely — both a homage to (and parody of) all classic Westerns. It’s just fun. Costner is terrific as a rambunctious cowboy, too. Although his performance in it is just ordinary, I also love Tin Cup; it’s a charming movie.

But if I’m choosing his best performance, I’d have to go with Mr. Brooks — which I only recently saw for the first time. Costner does a terrific job painting a complex portrait of a twisted, brutal and perverse killer — one who recognizes himself for what he is but still shows humanity we can recognize. Also noteworthy is a very brief appearance in Molly’s Game. Although Costner spends only a few minutes on screen, when his scene was over, I not only suddenly felt as if he had been in every frame of the film, but also that I had just seen one of his best performances to date.

Costner is one of those polarizing actors: you either love him or hate him. I’m more on the side of the former, but I understand why people might see The Big Chill — in which all of the scenes in which he portrayed the dead college classmate Alex were left on the cutting-room floor — as his best movie.

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