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Dixon’s AP mailbag: Jamal Custis, Tyreek Hill’s contract and long snappers

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As the Chiefs get ready for their first preseason game, we have answers for some of your questions

Syracuse v Boston College Photo by Omar Rawlings/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.

What’s been going on with Jamal Custis? He was the one that received the high signing bonus as an UDFA, right? But we are hearing hardly anything about him, and it looks like he is not projected to make the team.

— Stan

Correct on all counts, Stan. Thanks for your question.

It’s true. The Chiefs handed out more than $100K in a signing bonus to secure the 6-foot-4, 215-pound undrafted wide receiver from Syracuse.

So why haven’t we heard more about Custis?

Some of the answers might be found in Kent Swanson’s Lottery Tickets article on Custis from early June. To be sure, there’s a lot to like about him.

Good release off the ball, the long strides, the ability to track the ball over his shoulder and forcing the defensive back to play through his large frame. If the downfield ability translates to the next level, Mahomes would be a perfect quarterback to get Custis the ball in places to succeed.

But the big wideout didn’t come without potential downsides.

His skill set as a receiver is obvious (size, body control, ball tracking), but he’ll need to improve his release, his tendency to body catch, his route tree and blocking if he wants to be one of the final 53 standing.

To Kent’s thoughts, I will add one more.

When the Chiefs traded up to the 56th pick in the draft to grab Mecole Hardman, the instant analysis (from virtually every source) was that the Chiefs had drafted him to replace Tyreek Hill in case he wouldn’t be available this season.

But with the benefit of hindsight — as we have seen Hardman make big, unexpected strides in Andy Reid’s offense — we can ask this question: what if the Chiefs wanted Hardman all along? What if he was always meant to replace Sammy Watkins next year — or the year after?

In that scenario, Custis would have been the player the Chiefs brought in as insurance in case Hill wasn’t available — not to replace Hill, mind you, but to provide more depth because Hardman was going to have to start earlier than planned. That would explain not only Custis’ large signing bonus, but also why he is now having trouble getting any attention in a crowded receiver room that includes Hill.

But there’s one thing that is certain: undrafted rookies don’t get those kinds of signing bonuses unless there is competition to sign them. If Custis is cut before the season begins, he’ll very likely be signed to another team.

If (and when) the Chiefs look to ink an extension for Tyreek, what type of non-performance related requirements would he likely be looking at in the contract? Things to help protect the organization. Is there any precedent we can examine?

— Mark

That’s a great question, Mark. Thanks for asking.

A couple of weeks ago on CBSSports.com, former agent Joel Corry wrote an interesting article on this very subject.

He pointed out that a typical NFL contract already contains clauses that void salary guarantees when players receive suspensions for violating league policies (personal conduct, substance abuse, performance-enhancing drugs, etc.) and failing to play or report to practice. The specific language varies from team to team, and a sharp agent with leverage on their side can negotiate some of that language out of the deal.

In Hill’s specific situation, though, his agent Drew Rosenhaus probably wouldn’t have the leverage needed to bat that kind of language away. Corry thinks the Chiefs could choose to go even further with those kinds of contract protections — even though it isn’t their usual practice.

The Chiefs would likely insist upon broad language where Hill’s guarantees would also void for engaging in personal conduct that adversely affected or reflected poorly on the franchise. In some cases, fines can trigger the voiding on guarantees. Kansas City contracts typically don’t contain such language.

Corry also noted that for the Chiefs, the usual contract for a high-value player has a fairly substantial signing bonus and a fully-guaranteed base salary in the first year — and that most (if not all) of the second-year base salary is also fully guaranteed.

But Corry believes that in Hill’s case, the Chiefs would be smart to negotiate a contract more like the ones given out by the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers have the most team-friendly structure, especially with their most lucrative contracts, in the NFL. Signing bonuses are fairly modest. For example, edge rusher Dee Ford, who was traded by the Chiefs in March as a franchise player, signed a $17-million-per-year deal containing just an $8 million signing bonus.

The guarantees after the first contract year are injury guarantees which typically become fully guaranteed on April 1 of each specific contract year. San Francisco’s guarantee vesting date is the latest in the NFL. Since Hill’s second-year salary wouldn’t be fully guaranteed when signed and any third year guarantee wouldn’t be vesting in the second year, Kansas City’s usual March date would be sufficient. A Hill contract with these features would allow Kansas City to exit of the deal with significantly less cap consequences than with their typical structure and at an earlier stage, if necessary.

Corry also suggested that the Chiefs could use per-game roster bonuses — which the team doesn’t utilize very often — to lessen their risk.

Finally, Corry noted that if the team isn’t able to make a deal with Hill before his rookie contract expires next spring, they would still have some options — even though they could potentially have the same problem with Chris Jones. Because 2020 is the last year of the current collective bargaining agreement, teams will be able to use both a franchise tag and a transition tag next year — rather than having to choose between them.

As the controversy over Hill continued over the last few months, the Chiefs wisely made as few public comments about it as they could. But if the structure of Hill’s eventual contract contains the kinds of provisions Corry has laid out, it would speak volumes about the risk the Chiefs perceive in keeping Hill on the team.

I guess it’s probably apples and oranges, but why is it that a center that snaps at least 50% of the time from the shotgun can’t double as a long snapper? Is it really that much of a stretch?

— Danny

Thanks for the question, Danny — although you didn’t actually pitch it to me. I saw it in a comment thread, and thought it was excellent.

Yes... it is a bit of a stretch.

First, there’s more of a difference between a long snap and a shotgun snap than just the longer distance. A shotgun snap is merely flipped back to the quarterback, who is in a position where he can take a step (or move his hands) in order to take it; there’s some room for error.

That’s not the case on a punt or field goal play. Punters and placekickers are beginning their kicking motions as the ball is snapped — and in the case of field goals, the holder has very little range of movement to grab an errant snap; he’s kneeling on the field.

Unlike shotgun snaps, long snaps are fired back very fast in a tight spiral to that the punter (or holder) has to do as little as possible to get the ball aligned properly. The high speed of the snap is necessary so that the kicker has as much time as possible to get the ball off before they have blockers in their face.

Centers and long snappers also have entirely different jobs once the ball is snapped, too. Centers block — either to protect the quarterback or open running lanes at (or near) the line of scrimmage — while long snappers (on punts, at least) have to make a quick block and then get downfield as quickly as possible to help in coverage.

Finally... there’s a pragmatic issue: practice time. Since kickers are beginning their motions as the ball is snapped, timing is very important — just as it is between a quarterback and a wide receiver on certain plays. If the long snapper has other responsibilities during practice, they can’t get enough reps to be really good at it. But if you have a dedicated long snapper — and your punter is the field goal holder — the three of them can get enough reps together to make it perfect every time.

And it has to be perfect every time. A missed field goal attempt not only fails to put points on the scoreboard, but also gives the opponent the ball at the point of the kick. A long snap that sails over the punter’s head — or causes a punt to be blocked because a bad snap forced the punter to mess up their motion trying to field the ball — loses at least 20 yards, and represents a field position swing of at least 60 yards.

That’s why NFL teams use valuable roster spots on long snappers — and are happy to do it. And it’s also why few injuries should scare you more than one to the long snapper. Teams always have a player — for the Chiefs, it’s typically Travis Kelce — who have taken enough reps to serve as an emergency long snapper.

But as I think I’ve shown here... the key word is emergency.