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Dixon’s AP mailbag: Chiefs leaders on defense, Arrowhead Seats and Mahomes as MVP

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Dixon sifts through this week’s questions from AP readers.

Dallas Cowboys v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

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:

Who’s standing out as a leader on the defensive side?

— James

This is a great question, James — so thank you!

With two of the defense’s emotional leaders — Justin Houston and Eric Berry — no longer with the team, this is definitely something to wonder about. But if you listen to what the coaches are saying, they were not only thinking about this very issue during free agency, but they are also happy with the choices they made. Last week, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was asked about two new Chiefs: new defensive end Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu.

“The first thing that sticks out with those two guys is they’re elite competitors,” he said. “That’s what attracted us to them right from the beginning. On top of that, they’re pretty talented guys. They’re team guys, they’re leaders, they’ve got all the intangibles. Sometimes it’s really difficult in free agency in this league to find out the intangible things — the things you can’t see on film — [so] you have to dig deep. Brett Veach and his staff did a great job. We knew what we were getting, and these guys have been what we thought.”

Spagnuolo also gave specific examples of the leadership they’ve displayed thus far.

“I see them finish,” he explained. “I see them taking a lot of pride in what they do. I see them picking up other guys. Those are all examples of leaders.”

Should Chris Jones get his big contract extension — which I see as highly likely — I think he’ll step up as a defensive leader, too. In my experience, NFL players see those big contracts as an indicator the team expects them to be leaders — and most of the time, they rise to the occasion. Speaking of Jones...

When do we sign Chris Jones?

— Chris

Another excellent question, Chris. Thanks!

But unlike James’ question, I don’t have a recent quote from the team that gives much clarity.

A lot of people thought Jones would be signed within days of June 2 — when some of Berry’s dead money was moved into the 2020 cap — but I always thought that was unlikely. There’s not a huge rush to get this done, and there’s a lot at stake. I do believe that the Chiefs probably preferred to wait until they had the extra money with which to work, so it might be that serious negotiations are just now getting underway.

I think both sides have incentive to get a deal done before training camp begins in July. Obviously, the Chiefs want to make it happen, but I think Jones will not want to be behind the curve on the 4-3 scheme Spagnuolo is installing. No NFL player wants to look bad after signing a big deal. Missing training camp when a new scheme is being installed would make that more likely. I’ll guess that Jones (and his agent) think he can afford to skip OTAs, but he will not want him to be out of the mix in July.

Jones wants big money — and he’s earned the chance to ask for it. The Chiefs naturally want to save as much as they can, structuring a contract that will work for them in the years to come. We should probably consider it a good sign that neither side is leaking information about the negotiations to reporters. That suggests the two sides might not be too far apart.

When do the old Arrowhead seats go on sale?

— Teufel

We’re three-for-three on great questions today! Thanks.

Here’s the short answer: we don’t know yet.

Back in early April, Jackson County — Arrowhead Stadium’s owner — approved $43,000 to hire a moving company to transport and store the old upper deck seats now being replaced, so some of them could eventually be sold to the public.

But when that will take place is anyone’s guess. Jackson County has not yet announced a plan to make them available for sale.

Initial reports indicated that many of the 34,000 seats being replaced were just being ripped out and might not be in suitable condition for resale. And before the county approved the money to move and store the old ones, a feud developed between county executive (and former Kansas City Royals second baseman) Frank White — who believed the seats should be saved for resale — and county legislator Dan Tarwater, who thought the county would have been better off to allow the Chiefs to buy the seats from the county for a lump sum and then try to recoup their money from collectors.

I reached out to Frank White’s office to find out if there is a timetable for the seats to go on sale. They don’t yet know when the old seats will be available. When we learn more, you’ll be able to read about it in these pages.

We won’t be the only ones asking. After he had failed to block White’s plan to store the seats, Tarwater told the Kansas City Star he will be holding White’s feet to the fire.

“At least once a month, I’m going to ask how many have we sold,” he said.

What confidence do you have in our OL to protect our biggest asset?

— Justin

Well, I wouldn’t call Patrick Mahomes the Chiefs’ biggest asset — but I’d sure call him the most valuable one!

Thanks for asking, Justin.

For the first time in years, I have springtime confidence in the Chiefs offensive line. Going into Week 1 of last season, I felt I was going out on a limb to predict that by the end of the year, the offensive line would be stable from one end to the other — something that we hadn’t typically seen since Andy Reid’s arrival. The only big question mark was at left guard. Within days, that stabilized with the contract extension given to Cameron Erving.

But then the wheels came off. Injuries made a mess of the line. By season’s end, only Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz remained from the Week 1 starters.

The Chiefs proved that their basic plan — to depend on versatile lineman they can put anywhere as backups — can really work. That plan didn’t work well when those backups were medium-grade veteran free agents, but now that the team has had the time to develop their own players for those roles, it’s working.

For this season, there is again a question mark at left guard — and maybe one at center, too — but I am confident that the Chiefs have the players available to make it all work.

While there are those who think Erving is the answer at left guard, I think Andrew Wylie has the inside track. Austin Reiter could easily be the starter at center — he did well in 2018 — but the coaches seem high on new rookie Nick Allegretti, who could easily play both positions. Mitch Golditch could be a sleeper. And there’s still converted defensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie, whose story is yet untold as he enters his second year.

So yes... I have confidence.

You wrote a whole article about what other analysts think about Patrick Mahomes’ chances to become NFL MVP this year, and you didn’t say what YOU thought! What gives?

— Jason

You’re right, Jason: I didn’t. Thanks for bringing me out of my shell.

I didn’t like a lot of what Bill Barnwell said in his article on the subject — I’d be stunned if Jimmy Garoppolo has much of a chance at being NFL MVP this season — but I thought his approach was sound: to look at the kinds of players who have historically been selected as MVPs and then see which players fit those categories.

The last six MVPs have been quarterbacks. MVPs also tend to come from teams contending for championships. MVPs are supposed to be guys who are... you know... most valuable to their teams. If they also elevate their teammates through their own play, then so much the better.

This is where I have a problem with the national analysts’ predictions on this subject. Most of them appear to think that Kareem Hunt was released after the season; few apparently noticed how well Damien Williams played in Hunt’s absence — or if they did, considered how much Mahomes might have had to do with that. They’re also absolutely convinced Tyreek Hill will miss a big chunk — if not all — of the season. And who knows? They might be right about that part.

For those reasons, they’re all convinced the Chiefs offense — if not Mahomes himself — will substantially regress in 2019. And let’s be fair: that could happen.

But suppose Hill is suspended for... say... the first six weeks of the season — and Sammy Watkins remains healthy through that stretch. Regardless of how rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman fits in, that means the Chiefs offense should have pretty much the same number of offensive weapons as it did in 2018, and should hum along just fine — even if Watkins gets his usual bumps and bruises again after Hill’s return.

I promise you that if Hill misses substantial playing time from a suspension, none of the national analysts will think to look up the number of games Hill and Watkins played together in 2018.

Since the analysts themselves have already lowered expectations for Mahomes, even if he naturally regresses 10% — something like 4,500 yards and 45 touchdowns — he’ll still be among the top quarterbacks in the league. If that happens, the Chiefs will again be contending for a championship. And thanks to the lowered expectations, Mahomes will appear to have done it all by himself.

If that’s the way the season plays out, Mahomes is sure to once again be in the conversation for MVP.