The AFC West is the best division this century. The league went to eight divisions in 2002, and none can touch the depth of the 2022 wild West.
The AFC, overall, is insanely better. Six of the top-rated 10 Pro Football Focus free agents when the market opened have signed, all with AFC teams. Lamar Hunt is smiling down at the AFC dominance.
I pick my five favorite signings. Clue: One’s a hyphenated space-eater from Rutgers.
Davis Mills intrigues me. And multiple ones in 2023 and ’24 give Nick Caserio the chance to see if Mills, coached by Pep Hamilton, can be the long-term guy in Houston.
Bobby Wagner still free? Not smart.
Mahomes to JuJu. That combo could be absolute gold for Andy Reid.
Other risky contracts
Frank Clark re-signing with the Chiefs: I expected the Chiefs to cut Clark after a disastrous season, but his previous contract was so onerous that they almost had no choice but to restructure his deal. He’s now set to make $29 million over the next two years. The Chiefs’ front office is right to point out he would have been nearly as expensive to cut as release and that’s true. But that’s the fault of the old contract … which they signed. If Clark was a free agent, no team would have given him anything close to this deal after his previous two seasons.
Recently, Hali appeared as a guest on the “Upon Further Review” podcast with Zach Brook. The two discussed a number of topics, but one of the most intriguing was when Brook asked Hali about Andy Reid’s impact once he took over as head coach in Kansas City in 2013.
“Andy (Reid) is a whole different way of — the way he approached the game is way different than a lot of coaches. It’s not a lot of screaming and hooting and hollering,” said Hali.” We do that as players. He allowed us to lead, he allows personality to flare. But he just changed the culture— the entire culture. The way things should be ran.”
Hali was a 30-year-old veteran by the time Reid came to the team. He’d go on to earn three consecutive Pro Bowl selections under the coaching and tutelage of Reid.
Boye Mafe DL
Mafe had 7 sacks, 9 hits and 26 hurries in ‘21, and his mix of speed, bend and power was often overwhelming for opposing offensive tackles. That extended to the Senior Bowl where he dominated 1v1 and team drills, and then Mafe busted out a 4.53 40 at the combine. He may ultimately end up in Round 2 but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s among the first 32 picks.
“Who knows if it was actually Cleveland’s words saying they want “an adult” at QB. They sure haven’t pushed back on that if not, have they? My imagery of an adult at QB doesn’t include someone getting sued by 22 women for sexual assault or sexual misconduct.
“My hope is that if the NFL suspends him, the team is able to void the contract. In the NFL it seems like unless there’s video evidence, the league doesn’t react very strongly. It’s like we don’t trust something happened unless we see it, and that’s how the NFL bases punishment.
“We’ll see on that, the NFL clearly been slow playing it. They might determine this is all true and suspend him for a year or who knows how long. The 22 lawsuits Watson faces aren’t gone. He’s not absolved. But teams/fans/whoever are treating him as innocent. It just seems wrong.
Around the NFL
The longtime Atlanta signal-caller is leaving Georgia for Indianapolis after the Colts agreed to trade a third-round pick (No. 82 overall) in April’s draft to the Falcons, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo reported Monday. The teams later announced the deal.
Until Monday, Ryan’s standing within the Falcons franchise remained unchanged since he arrived as the third-overall pick in 2008. He was drafted to be Atlanta’s franchise quarterback and became just that, earning four Pro Bowl nods, a first-team All-Pro selection, and winning NFL Most Valuable Player honors in 2016, a season in which he led the Falcons to the Super Bowl. As faces have changed, Ryan has remained the constant for over 10 years.
Winston, 28, went 5-2 in his first year as a starter with the Saints last season, but he tore the ACL in his left knee and suffered MCL damage on Oct. 31.
The former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner posted a career-high passer rating of 102.8 with the Saints last season, completing 95 of 161 passes (59%) for 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions. He also ran for 166 yards and one touchdown and lost one fumble.
Although Winston averaged just 186 passing yards in his six full games, he still flashed his big-play ability with four completions of 49-plus yards. And he proved that he could overcome the turnover issues that plagued him during his first five NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
10. Von Miller signs monster deal with Bills
Miller clearly has some football left in him. In eight regular-season games with the Los Angeles Rams, Miller recorded 31 combined tackles and five sacks. In the Super Bowl win over the Cincinnati Bengals, he recorded two sacks and one pass defended. While he turns 33 this month, Miller still landed a monster six-year deal worth $120 million that includes $51.345 million guaranteed, per CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson.
The Rams went out and got Miller to help them win a Super Bowl. Now, the Bills are doing the same thing.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
On Saturday, the full contract details became available. Smith-Schuster is again playing for an NFL-minimum salary of $1.035 million — and was paid a signing bonus of $1.455 million. His incentives include a workout bonus of $250,000 and a per-game bonus of $30,000 for every game he is on the active roster. That could add up to as much as $510,000 ($30,000 times 17 games).
But here’s where it gets interesting.
Under salary-cap rules, not-likely-to-be-earned (NLTBE) incentives are based only on the player’s previous season. Since Smith-Schuster played in just five regular-season games in 2021, only $150,000 of that bonus can count against this season’s cap; if earned, NLTBE incentives are charged against the following season’s salary cap. While the precise details of the remaining NLTBE incentives are unknown, they are likely to be easily attainable as long as Smith-Schuster plays a full season — and exceeds the kind of production that a player like Byron Pringle did in 2021.
It all adds up to a 2021 cap hit even lower than Garafolo reported: only $2.89 million — with the rest of the incentives (if earned) counted in 2023. Should Smith-Schuster earn all of them, he’ll likely become the threat that Sammy Watkins represented in 2018 — and the Chiefs’ offense should be significantly more effective. In such a case, the $7.86 million in potential 2023 cap dollars will seem cheap at the price.