Despite drafting two linebackers in the second round in both of the two previous NFL drafts, the Kansas City Chiefs still value Anthony Hitchens as highly as ever.
Speaking to the media for the first time on Thursday, new Chiefs outside linebackers coach Ken Flajole was keen to sing Anthony Hitchens’ praises when given the opportunity to talk about the linebacker’s influence and experience.
“You can’t discount that enough,” he declared. “I mean, let me just tell you something: Hitchen’s ability to manage the defense — and again, if you sat in our meeting rooms and listen to the communication that the MIKE linebacker has to make to make this thing all come together and work — it’s a tall chore. Anthony is really good at it.”
The MIKE linebacker is obviously a position that both coaches and personnel staff value highly. Before drafting Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton, one of the first moves Brett Veach made when he was hired to be the Chiefs general manager in 2018 was to sign then-free agent Hitchens to a five-year, $45 million contract.
Flajole believes the Chiefs may be getting Hitchens on the cheap.
“I always kid him,” said the new defensive coach. “I said, ‘You know, you’ll always make a bunch of checks at the line of scrimmage, trying to get us in the right defense, to get the defense just the way we want it.’ I say, ‘You’ve got to go ask for a pay raise with all of these communications you’ve got going on.’”
Fijole knows that physical ability can only get you so far. To succeed in the NFL at any position, the speed at which players process the game can be more valuable than any individual physical trait.
“One of the most important aspects of playing middle linebacker in this league is not only to have the physical ability, but you’ve got to have high-speed Internet,” explained Flajole, who has been coaching for 41 years. “You’ve got be able to diagnose things fast and quick. You’re the eraser if the coordinator makes a call that maybe doesn’t really fit the formation and the situation. The MIKE linebacker — a lot of times — has the ability to amend or correct a call.”
Hitchens still has two years left on his five-year deal, which carries a $23 million cap hit over the next two seasons. Based on what we heard Thursday, the Chiefs would be smart to let Hitchens finish his deal.
“Hitchens is so valuable because he is such a sharp guy. He has a good feel for the scheme and I think he can really do that — and you need that,” said Flajole. “We are lucky to have him.”