1. Willie Gay Jr., LB, Kansas City Chiefs
As much as people touted all the things Kansas City’s first-round pick, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, will do in Andy Reid’s high-octane offense, Gay is the player who will determine how successful this Chiefs draft class really is. The first thing to know is that the former Mississippi State product can flat-out fly. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine (second-best time among linebackers) and he plays just as fast when he’s on the field. It’s no secret that Kansas City’s major weakness on defense was at linebacker, where it lacked athleticism and dynamic playmaking ability. Gay can offset those troubles because he’s known for his range, blitzing and coverage potential.
The major concern about Gay, and it’s a big one, is character. He served an eight-game suspension in 2019 because of an academic scandal and he was ejected from two games over his last two seasons for personal fouls. He also reportedly broke the orbital bone of a teammate during a fight after a practice late last year. The Chiefs say they weren’t daunted by those issues, as they obviously see more reward than risk here. The fact is that Kansas City won its first Super Bowl in 50 years because its defense turned into a strength instead of a weakness last season. If Gay is as good as advertised, he’ll be a major asset for a team hungry to repeat.
However, teams will be required to interview at least two minority candiate from outside their organization for a head coaching opening and at least one for an open defensive or special-teams coordinator job. One minority candidate must be interviewed for a vacant general manager’s job, too.
“Perhaps if the new rules work, they will become known as the ‘Bieniemy Amendments’ to the Rooney Rule,” columnist John Feinstein of the Washington Post wrote. “Eric Bieniemy, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, was considered a near-lock to get a head coaching job this past season. Instead, he was passed over.”
13. Kansas City Chiefs Yes, the Chiefs are led by Patrick Mahomes and the NFL’s most explosive offense, but Andy… Yes, the Chiefs are led by Patrick Mahomes and the NFL’s most explosive offense, but Andy Reid’s team wouldn’t have won Super Bowl LIV without the efforts of two new additions — defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who played at a Defensive Player of the Year pace through the entire season. Things could be even better in 2020 and beyond, as there appears to be a total belief in Spagnuolo and Mathieu as the defense’s schematic and emotional leaders, star defensive lineman Chris Jones got franchise-tagged, safety Juan Thornhill should be recovered from the torn ACL that cost him the postseason, and Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. adds much-needed athleticism to the position if he can stay out of trouble.
Cardboard cutouts of fans
The Chiefs could hold a contest on Twitter where fans send in full-body photos of themselves and the winners get to be turned into full-sized cardboard cutouts in Arrowhead. Fans DM-ing the Chiefs full-body photos of themselves is a plan with exactly zero holes in it.
Week 2 vs. Chiefs
Line: Chiefs -10
Opponent win total: O/U 11.5
Prediction: L.A. went 0-2 against the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs last season and their first matchup of 2020 is more of the same. Patrick Mahomes does Patrick Mahomes things and the defense — led by defensive tackle Chris Jones — forces multiple turnovers to secure the win and cover the double-digit spread. Chiefs win 26-10.
Projected record: 1-1
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs and Raiders were the first two representatives of the AFL in the Super Bowl, and every time they face off, there is a chance for fireworks.
Even though it dates back a while, the last few years the rivalry has taken a new turn with Patrick Mahomes under center for the Chiefs. If Derek Carr starts to become a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, or the Raiders find someone to lead them to a lot of success while Mahomes is still under center, this rivalry could become even more intense.
The Chiefs lead the all-time series 67-53-2.
The glaring eyesore for Hill here is that he’s not usually targeted at the level of some of the game’s other top receivers.
In 2019, Hill garnered just 6.4 targets per game, compared to marks of 11.6 and 10.5 for Thomas and Jones, respectively. In 2018, things were better as Hill saw 8.6 looks per game, but that was still nearly three targets per game fewer than what the league leaders got. That matters a great deal when looking at an accumulation stat like total receiving yards.
Hill somewhat makes up for it, though, with his big-play ability. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2018 and 14.3 this past season. For reference, Thomas has been at 11.4 and 11.5 the last two years while Julio has been at 14.1 and 14.8.
Also, the addition of Clyde Edwards-Helaire doesn’t help Hill’s volume outlook. The KC passing game has mostly been reliant on Travis Kelce and Hill the last two seasons, but CEH is going to eat into some of that. Edwards-Helaire was a pass-game monster in college and will likely play a signifcant role in the passing game right away in 2020.
Possible Super Bowl: Chiefs-Eagles Andy Reid against former assistant Doug Pederson would be a great professor-pupil game to watch.
Around the NFL
The quarterback underwent a neck procedure in April that will sideline him beyond what Flacco referred to as “Day 1” on Tuesday, but that didn’t stop the Jets from signing him to a one-year deal last week. He’s focused on getting healthy enough to play, which isn’t exactly in anyone’s plans when talking about a backup quarterback, but is always a possibility when occupying the No. 2 role on the depth chart. More importantly for the Jets, he’s out to lend his veteran wisdom to franchise quarterback Sam Darnold as the youngster enters his third professional season.
“I want to first and foremost help the team in any way possible, but also be a guy that Sam can lean on and that [he] can learn from,” Flacco said, via Newsday. “Those are the two most important things: Help out the guys on the team and help out Sam to do all they can.”
Watson is not the most high-profile quarterback negotiating a contract extension in his own state. Dak Prescott’s negotiations with the Dallas Cowboys have gotten more buzz, but the Cowboys are unlikely to make inroads with Prescott before the July 15 franchise-tag deadline. If that day comes and goes without a deal, Prescott will play on the franchise tag for 2020 and the Cowboys will have to wait to sign him to a long-term extension in 2021. Next year may also be the timing for Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs may alter the dynamics of the quarterback market with a potentially record-setting extension for Mahomes that may breach $40 million per year, but the Chiefs have no timetable for Mahomes’s negotiations. The Texans, however, reportedly want to extend Watson before the season begins, and several league executives believe Watson is next in line for a deal. All of Houston’s wild moves have been building to this moment. A new deal may make Watson the highest-paid player in league history.
During my time working for the Packers, although Brett Favre was obviously our best player and face of our franchise, I sensed the perception of our team as “Brett Favre and the rest” did not sit well inside our building (there were other similarities between Jordan and Favre’s lives as Brett also hung out with our security guys and—unable to go outside—was trapped in his hotel room on the road). Our public relations staff would chide the media to do stories on players beyond Brett; our scouts wanted more recognition about uncovered gems; our coaches wanted more appreciation for our success rather than relying on Brett’s magic.
3) Terrell Suggs, OLB, free agent
Suggs was Smith’s teammate from 2014 to ‘16 with the Baltimore Ravens.
Suggs was my locker-mate when I went to Baltimore, and one of the things I learned about him was how dedicated he was to his passions, whether that’s football or the film industry. He always had a movie set up in his locker, and those films played throughout the day. He studied those films the way he studied the game: very detail-oriented and tirelessly. Suggs is a talented football player — you don’t make seven Pro Bowls if you’re not — but his playbook of quarterback tendencies put him at a whole other level. That playbook had everything, including how each QB audibles, so T-Sizzle was always one step ahead of his opponents. I mean, you don’t get to eighth all-time in sacks (139.0) by just guessing what guys are going to do.
Suggs also had a way of throwing people off, especially the media. He’d be loud and obnoxious on purpose to give a reporter a certain perspective of him, but the thing was, it wasn’t necessarily him. He wanted people to think a certain way about him, and you would leave thinking it. That’s the way he was on the field, too. Suggs always made quarterbacks think twice — sometimes three times — about what he might do on a play.
“I don’t know why that’s out there, making me out to be the bad guy, [that] I’m going to buy the XFL back for pennies on the dollar, basically,” McMahon said in the deposition. “That helped me move into the direction of, ‘I’m not going to be a bidder, not going to have anything to do with it.’ I do hope that someone will pay a lot of money for it, and I do hope that it will survive.”
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
John: Linebacker Willie Gay Jr.
I’ve said all along that linebacker is where the Chiefs need the most help on defense, so I’m excited to see what this talented player — on whom the Chiefs were able to get a good deal because of the circumstances of the draft — can really do. You’ll remember that even as last season began, Steve Spagnuolo was saying that he was still figuring out what his defensive players were capable of doing — so with these abbreviated practices, it will be tough for Spagnuolo to see what he has in Gay. But that’s why I’m excited to see what he can do.
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