Clearly, this is not where a team paying two defensive linemen north of $20 million would like to be ranked. Chris Jones has matched his contract with elite production. The only interior defensive linemen worth more wins above replacement than Jones last season were Aaron Donald and Cam Heyward.
Frank Clark, on the other hand, has not, earning PFF grades of 63.3 and 54.3 in his two seasons with the team. His inability to play up to the level he performed at in Seattle has left Kansas City thin along the defensive line beyond Jones, even after the team signed Jarran Reed this offseason.
Robby Anderson trade to the Kansas City Chiefs
It’s pretty crazy how Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has been able to pull off blockbuster trades despite their salary cap situation. Heck, the two-time defending champs were linked to the aforementioned Julio Jones in passing. Pretty set up and down the roster, an upgrade over Demarcus Robinson in the slot could be one final move the Chiefs make for Patrick Mahomes.
However, there’s some financial issues at play here. Kansas City finds itself a mere $8.29 million under the cap. Robby Anderson is slated to count $8 million for an acquiring team. The good news? The Chiefs could restructure his contract to lower said cap hit, extending Anderson in the process. On the field, it’s almost a perfect fit.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2020 Ranking: 1
The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t lose the Super Bowl because of their skill players. They also didn’t lose much this offseason, with Sammy Watkins the only notable departure from last year’s team. Damien Williams, who shined in Super Bowl LIV, is also gone after opting out of last season.
No team produced more offensive yardage in 2020 than Kansas City, and it wasn’t all because of Patrick Mahomes.
Kansas City still has arguably the league’s best deep threat in Tyreek Hill and its most dangerous tight end in Travis Kelce. Mecole Hardman has emerged as a viable weapon, while Demarcus Robinson remains one of the more underrated role players in football.
The only real question here is in the backfield. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was relatively average as a runner last season—he totaled just 803 rushing yards—and the depth duo of Darwin Thompson and Darrel Williams isn’t particularly impressive. As a team, Kansas City ranked 12th in yards per carry.
Mahomes will again have one of the best offensive position groups at his disposal in 2021. The Chiefs used a fifth-round pick on Cornell Powell to help reload the receiving corps following Watkins’ departure, and the trio of Hill, Kelce and Hardman is virtually uncoverable when Mahomes has time in the pocket.
Would a little more consistency on the ground help Kansas City? Sure, but barring injury, there’s no reason to think the Chiefs won’t have one of the top two or three offenses in the NFL this season.
1. Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes hasn’t yet replicated his MVP season from 2018 but he put together another great season in 2020, throwing for 4,740 yards with 38 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. He couldn’t win his second Super Bowl but still put on a show as he ran for his life in the big game.
6. Orlando Brown Jr., offensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
Orlando Brown is one pending star NFL free agent unlikely to hit the open market next March. The young 25-year-old two-time Pro Bowler will now protect Patrick Mahomes‘ blindside with the Kansas City Chiefs after a blockbuster trade during the spring.
It’s a role he performed well in last season with Baltimore after Ronnie Stanley went down with an injury. If the two-time Pro Bowler performs at the same level in front of Mahomes this season, he’s going to demand north of $20 million annually on the open market
Now, when the Washington Post reported Friday the NFL is likely to have closed locker rooms again this year, I thought that was wrong. Vaccinated reporters—even if the league mandated they be masked—should not be closed out of any locker room this year. Period. You might be reading this now and say, “Who cares?” Many of you don’t. But you can’t tell me the quality of the coverage didn’t suffer last year in the NFL, and the insight wasn’t as keen as in 2019. Example: Post-Super Bowl, KC-San Francisco, I’m in Andy Reid’s office after the game and he’s drawing 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp, the play that broke open the game in the fourth quarter, and he’s going step by step through it. When we’re done, I go to Patrick Mahomes and he walks me through his decision-making on the play. All that’s in this column five hours later. Fast forward to this past Super Bowl, KC-Tampa Bay, I get Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles and Ron Gronkowski on the phone after the game. Insight on the game, of course. But no real flavor.
Do you need to see the drawing of 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp? Of course not. Is seeing the play outlined and dissected good for you, the reader? Good for the Kansas City fans celebrating their first Super Bowl in a half-century? Good for football lore? Good for football? Yes, yes, yes, yes. And if locker rooms are closed (I’m told that decision hasn’t been made with finality), so much of that is lost.
Around the NFL
James is signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. The deal includes an additional $5 million in incentives, but only $500,000 of it is guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus. James will also receive an additional $500,000 via a roster bonus in March if he’s still on the team.
When healthy, James was productive enough to fetch a four-year, $51 million deal from the Denver Broncos in 2019. He played in just three games with Denver, though, due to a knee injury in his first season and his decision to opt out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A torn Achilles suffered away from the Broncos’ facility spelled an end to his time with Denver and led to a grievance filed by James seeking approximately $15 million in lost wages, Rapoport reported earlier Monday.
1 Najee Harris
Draft pick: Round 1, No. 24 overall
According to Next Gen Stats, Steelers running backs ranked 31st in expected yards per rush last season (3.9). That’s not an indictment on the RBs themselves, but rather the circumstances they faced. As of right now, the Steelers’ offensive line forecasts to grade out in the 20s by the time everyone establishes their 53-man rosters, meaning Harris faces a tough task. The good news is that his volume forecasts to be high, as does his ability to keep earning positive yardage. Pro Football Focus credited Harris with earning 821 rushing yards after contact in 2020, which was the second-most in FBS (trailing only Iowa State’s Breece Hall). Harris also forced 93 missed tackles on touches last season, the most in FBS, with 71 coming off rushes and 22 on receptions. My computer vision shows that his off-ball metric on short passing downs (meaning how he blocked and/or ran a route when not targeted) was the most efficient amongst all backs in the Power Five conferences last season.
Now the franchise seems to be suffering the consequences of their offseason blunders. The Texans have reportedly been struggling to sell 2021 regular season tickets.
Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle shared in a column that he recently vaulted up the wait list for season tickets. Just a few weeks ago, he was 12,734th in line to purchase home game tickets. He became eligible to buy at the end of the last week.
But even his move to the top of the list couldn’t entice him to pull the trigger.
Kinley is being required by the Navy to commission as an ensign and is not permitted to appeal the decision, which was not explained, Divine Sports and Entertainment said in a statement.
Kinley, a team captain at Navy and class president, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers and participated in the team’s rookie minicamp, with the Navy’s permission.
“As a Naval Academy graduate, football player, and decorated combat veteran I understand Cameron’s commitment,” Divine Sports and Entertainment co-founder Ryan Williams-Jenkins said in the statement. “I also understand there are ways he can fulfill his commitment while representing the Navy and playing professional sports. I played with three-time Super Bowl Champion Joe Cardona, who still serves our country as a Navy reservist. If there is a directive and precedent allowing other service academy athletes to pursue this opportunity, what makes Cameron different? It is important to note that this could have a long-term impact on his mental health going forward. He wants to fulfill both of his childhood dreams, playing in the NFL and honorably serving his country.”
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
It’s interesting that PFF would rank the Chiefs’ offensive line so highly — even though they haven’t played a single snap together. Part of that is likely because Palazzolo is (mostly) assuming that the team’s veteran lineman will start the season — that is, Remmers over Niang, Blythe over Humphrey and Duvernay-Tardif in “a battle” with Kyle Long. Like almost everyone, Palazzolo seems to be figuring there’s no question that Brown and Thuney will start on the left side of the line.
And Palazzolo could be exactly right. Still... among Chiefs observers, Humphrey seems to be looking more and more like he’ll have the edge over Blythe. I’ve picked Remmers to start in both of my offensive line projections, but I’m becoming less and less sure he’s the favorite; with a good showing in camp, Niang could easily become the Week 1 starter — or at the very least, take over that role later in the season. If offensive line coach Andy Heck’s statements on Thursday are to be believed, there even seems to be at least an outside chance that Smith could find his way into the starting lineup at right guard this season.
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