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Dixon’s AP mailbag: the panic button, Hitchens, Hyde and Kremlinologists

Let’s see what’s on the minds of our readers as the NFL doldrums continue

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-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:

Which panic button are you hitting first — Tyreek Hill or Chris Jones

— Todd

Thanks for your question, Todd.

Neither. It’s not yet time for a panic button for either player.

There’s no cause for panic with Chris Jones. As we learned last week, Jones has plenty of incentive to report to training camp on or before August 6. If he fails to report by that deadline, it drastically changes his leverage at the end of the coming season.

If Jones doesn’t report by the deadline — 30 days before the first NFL game of the season — he can’t get credit for an accrued season in 2019. Without that third accrued season, he can’t become an unrestricted free agent — free to sign with any team — next spring. Instead, Jones would be a restricted free agent, which would allow the Chiefs to try to retain his rights with the much cheaper RFA contract tender, rather than a franchise tag.

Short version: Jones doesn’t want that to happen.

Bottom line: if he hasn’t yet made a new deal with the Chiefs before camp opens, he might miss some training camp time to prove a point, but rest assured, he’ll be there before camp breaks — and he’ll do everything in his power to have a great (contract) season.

As for Hill... it’s been a while since there was serious concern he won’t play for the Chiefs in 2019; it’s only been a bit more than 90 days since this whole thing brewed up, but it still seems like it’s been years since some pundits were breathlessly intoning Hill would never play another down in the NFL.

The only issue now is whether he’ll serve a league suspension — and if so, for how long. Only the most pessimistic observers think it could be as many as eight games. Most think it will be six or fewer, and some are even wondering if Hill will be suspended at all.

Anyone who makes a confident prediction about what the NFL will do in this situation has little basis for that confidence. There’s no direct precedent for a case like Hill’s — and even if there were, the NFL’s decisions in these matters are inconsistent at best. There’s nothing the NFL could do here that should surprise us.

Even in the worst-case scenario, there’s no cause for panic. I remind you: Sammy Watkins only started nine games last season — almost all of them before Week 9. If Watkins can remain healthy for the season — which I will grant could be a big if — it’s likely that the Chiefs will have their primary wide receivers available for at least as many games as they did last season. And as you’ll recall, in that one, Patrick Mahomes threw 50 touchdown passes.

Do you think Carlos Hyde makes the team?

— Steven

Thanks for asking, Steven.

Earlier in the offseason, I said that it wasn’t likely; to me, he looked like an offseason signing for depth insurance.

But now, I’m not so sure.

For one thing, running back James Williams has already been released. That’s one less guy Hyde has to beat out to make the team, so his chances have improved there. For another, our Pete Sweeney — who has been our eyes at the open sessions of OTAs and minicamp — listed Hyde third behind Damien Williams and Darwin Thompson in his first 53-man roster prediction.

But at the risk of sounding like one of those bleary-eyed Cold War CIA analysts who spent their waking hours using their magnifying glasses to examine grainy photographs of the Kremlin leadership reviewing Moscow’s annual May Day parade — trying to figure out the power structure of the Soviet leadership on the basis of who was standing next to whom — I’ll also have to add that Hyde being made available to the media after the second day of Chiefs minicamp is evidence he could make the team.

The Chiefs wouldn’t have put him out there if they felt he has no chance — although it should also be noted his appearance June 12 doesn’t mean he absolutely will make the team. In their final roster deliberations, none of the coaches around the table are going to say, “But we have to keep Hyde on the roster. He talked to the press in June!” But Hyde’s appearance is a piece of evidence that right now, the people in the building see him as a guy who could be on the roster this fall.

After all... those Cold War Kremlinologists didn’t always predict who the next General Secretary of the Communist Party would be. But sometimes... they did.

How much improvement should we expect to see out of the play of Anthony Hitchens in something closer to his old scheme — our new 4-3?

— Ryan

Appreciate the question, Ryan.

Here’s your short answer: he’d better show a lot of improvement.

As Matt Stagner pointed out in his most-recent Stagner Things column in these pages, there really isn’t a player on the roster to provide strong competition to either Hitchens or Reggie Ragland. If the Chiefs defense is going to thrive, those two guys are going to have to play well. It’s just that simple.

Hitchens, of course, was effective in the 4-3 scheme when he played for the Dallas Cowboys. Ragland played in a 3-4 at Alabama, and the NFL team that drafted him — the Buffalo Bills — also played a 3-4, so we have little information on how Ragland might transition to the 4-3 scheme employed by new Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

But as we have often cautioned while writing about the change in the defensive scheme, it’s probably a mistake to get too wrapped up in the structural differences between a 3-4 base defense and a 4-3 base defense; modern NFL defenses can (and do) “show” multiple alignments in different situations.

What might be more important is how the scheme is implemented — that is, the responsibilities players have within it. Playing in Bob Sutton’s 3-4, Hitchens seemed tentative and unsure of himself. That may have been because Sutton’s scheme was too complicated, and Hitchens never fully grasped it. If that’s the case, there’s good news: Hitchens is clearly more comfortable in Spagnuolo’s scheme, where he has a single gap assigned to him.

“It’s not difficult at all, actually,” he told the press after the first day of minicamp. “Very slim [playbook] — not much. But once you get it down, everyone can play fast. It’s simplified.”

I see that as an encouraging sign that it 2019, we will see the Hitchens we thought we were getting from the Cowboys — and that Ragland will finally be the player Veach thought he would be, too.

But like Matt said... they’d better be.

Is Patrick Mahomes the clear cut favorite to win the starting quarterback job?

— A.B.

I know you’re just messing with me, A.B. But thanks anyway.

Your question does, however, give me an opportunity to reflect on how much things have changed for the Chiefs in the past year. At this time last June, we thought Patrick Mahomes might be the real deal. Oh, sure... I remember that Andy Reid was giving us every indication that Mahomes was going to be fantastic, and there were plenty of fans who were completely convinced. That’s fine.

But I’m an old dog. I’ve seen ‘em come and go. You just never know how a player is going to pan out in the NFL — even if every indicator lights up like it should. There have been way too many examples of players who should have been successful in the NFL — and weren’t — for me to ever get too excited about one prospect or another until I can see them play in meaningful games.

That said, I was convinced on Mahomes pretty early in the process — at least by my own standards. By the time the season began last September, I was all-in on the Chiefs’ young quarterback.

What a ride it has been — and will continue to be.

How many people do you anticipate at the parade in Kansas City this February?

— Britt

Whether it’s this February or another one doesn’t matter, Britt. I expect all of them. Every. Single. One.

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