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NFL morning after: A great time for great quarterbacks

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The NFL is, more than ever before, a quarterback league. And we’ve got some great ones playing in these playoffs.

If the wild card weekend taught us anything, it’s that the NFL in 2014 is dominated by quarterbacks. When quarterbacks are playing great football, like Andrew Luck and Alex Smith played in Indianapolis on Saturday, the results are spectacular. When quarterbacks are playing badly, like Andy Dalton played in Cincinnati on Sunday, the result is a team with no chance to win, even when its defense plays well.

The good news for fans who like offense is that next weekend’s four games have what may be the best quarterback matchups in NFL history. Just think about how good the quarterbacks are in the four divisional round games:

Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning: Manning will win the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his career for his record-breaking 2013 season, and he’s the best passer in football. But after Manning, the next-best passer in the NFL over the course of the 2013 season was Rivers. Rivers completed a league-leading 69.5 percent of his passes in the regular season, had 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and took a team that looked before the season like one of the worst in the NFL to the playoffs. This will be a great matchup of great passers.

Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady: Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns as he got the first postseason win of his career on Saturday, and now he’ll travel to New England and face Brady, who has 17 career postseason wins. If the Colts can pull the upset, this could be a changing of the guard: The quarterback who has three Super Bowl rings giving way to a much younger quarterback who’s probably going to win multiple Super Bowl rings before his career is over.

Drew Brees vs. Russell Wilson: Brees topped 5,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career this season; no one else has reached 5,000 yards more than once. Wilson, who grew up idolizing Brees, may be the most exciting player to enter the NFL in recent years: He scrambles like Fran Tarkenton and has a gun like John Elway.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Cam Newton: This is the one that has me the most excited because it’s the one that has the greatest potential to show us what the future of football will be. Running quarterbacks are here to stay, and in Kaepernick and Newton we have the two best running quarterbacks in football facing off. Kaepernick has two of the three best rushing performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history, with his 181-yard game against Green Bay last year and his 98-yard game against Green Bay on Sunday. Newton led all quarterbacks in rushing in the regular season, with 585 yards, and he’s the all-time quarterback record holder for rushing touchdowns in a season.

Quarterback matchups don’t get any better than that, and that’s what I’m most excited about heading into the divisional weekend. Here are my observations from wild card weekend:

There were no 100-yard rushers. The flip side of the NFL being a league of great quarterbacks is that the running game has been de-emphasized. There wasn’t a single 100-yard runner in the NFL this weekend. In fact, it was a quarterback, Kaepernick, who led all runners in the wild card round with his 98-yard game against the Packers. Running backs just aren’t the NFL’s marquee players anymore.

Smith had a game like no other. Until Saturday, no player in NFL history had ever passed for 350 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and added 50 yards on the ground in any game, regular season or postseason. But Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith became the first player to do it on Saturday when he passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and added 57 rushing yards. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses: When a quarterback plays the way Smith played on Saturday and leads his team to 44 points, he shouldn’t be judged harshly just because his team’s defense gave up 45 points. But the reality is that quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, and so a lot of people will choose to remember that Smith overthrew an open Cyrus Gray on what could have been a touchdown pass, that Smith lost a fumble and that Smith’s intentional grounding penalty took the Chiefs out of field goal range late in the game. Me, I’ll remember that Smith turned in the game of his life.

Hilton stepped up in a big way. T.Y. Hilton, who became the Colts’ No. 1 receiver by default after Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending injury, had the best game of his career and one of the best games anyone has ever had in the playoffs on Saturday. Hilton’s 13 catches were tied for the second most in NFL postseason history, and his 224 receiving yards were tied for the third most in NFL postseason history. The Colts were very wise to take Hilton in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, the same draft in which they selected Andrew Luck. Those two are going to be a great combination for many years to come.

Two big changes for the Saints panned out. After the Saints’ Week 15 loss to the Rams, New Orleans coach Sean Payton decided he had seen enough of struggling kicker Garrett Hartley and left tackle Charles Brown. And so the Saints cut Hartley and signed Shayne Graham to take his place, and benched Brown and promoted rookie left tackle Terron Armstead to the starting lineup. Both moves looked very good in Saturday’s playoff win over the Eagles. Graham went 4-for-4 on field goals, while Armstead held his own against the Eagles’ pass rush and helped keep Drew Brees upright. Give Payton credit for recognizing two spots on his team that needed to get better, and making the necessary changes.

McCoy couldn’t get loose. During the regular season, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, averaged 5.1 yards a run and 10.4 yards a catch, and had 17 different plays of 20 yards or more. Against the Saints on Saturday, McCoy averaged just 3.7 yards a run and 3.8 yards a catch, and his longest play of the day was 11 yards. The ability of Rob Ryan’s New Orleans defense to keep McCoy in check was a huge part of the Eagles’ season ending on Saturday.

Lewis can build a defense, but he can’t build a quarterback. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has a well-earned reputation as a great defensive mind, and his defense was strong on Sunday, holding a good San Diego offense in check for most of the game. Unfortunately, Lewis has Andy Dalton as his quarterback, and Dalton was beyond terrible on Sunday, with three turnovers that pretty much handed the game to the Chargers. Lewis may need to sign or draft another quarterback this offseason because Dalton simply isn’t up to the task.

Keenan Allen plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. Allen, the rookie receiver who led the Chargers with 1,046 receiving yards, only had two catches for 21 yards on Sunday. So why am I singling Allen out for praise? Because I love the way this young man plays the game, even when he’s not getting the ball. Allen’s brutal but legal block to spring teammate Eddie Royal on a nine-yard run was my single favorite play of the weekend.

TV is better than being there. Three of the four teams that hosted games over the weekend had trouble selling out their stadiums, and no one should be surprised by that. The truth is, if you have an HD TV and a comfortable couch, sitting at home and watching the games for free is a lot better than paying a small fortune to sit in an uncomfortable stadium, often in terrible weather, surrounded by loudmouth drunks. I don’t blame the fans in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Green Bay who were slow to sell out their stadiums last week, and if anything surprises me, it’s that Philadelphia fans sold out their stadium within minutes of the Eagles putting playoff tickets for sale. If I lived in Philadelphia, I would have much rather been at home on Saturday afternoon, watching that great Chiefs-Colts second half, than in my car fighting traffic on my way to the game. And I would have rather been at home to watch my team lose to the Saints than sit in the cold on Saturday night. The best place to watch football is at home.

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Raiders, who have yet to announce Derek Carr deal, call Friday press conference

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The Raiders have yet to officially announce Derek Carr has a new deal, but they have called a press conference for 10:30 a.m. PT on Friday at the team facility. Although the team doesn’t specify the reason for the press conference, it will come as no surprise when they announce Carr’s signing.

Besides Carr’s tweet confirming the deal was done, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio tweeted his congratulations to Carr: “Congrats w extension!! Continue to be the great teammate and leader you R. God Bless you & your family! #RaiderNation #ReturnToGreatness”

Carr will become the highest-paid player in NFL history when he signs the five-year, $125 million deal, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed at signing. According to Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Carr was out of the country on vacation but is on his way home.

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Patriots announce David Harris signing, cut DeAndrew White

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Linebacker David Harris is officially a member of the Patriots.

Word of Harris’ agreement with the defending champions came on Wednesday, but the move was announced by the team on Thursday along with the roster move they made to clear space for Harris’ arrival. They have waived wide receiver DeAndrew White.

Harris, who was released by the Jets earlier this month after 10 seasons with the team, signed a two-year deal with New England with a reported base value of $5 million. He’s the latest acquisition in a busy offseason that has seen New England use their cap space to add veterans all over a roster that was already coming off of a Super Bowl title.

White made the 49ers as an undrafted rookie in 2015 and played in four games. He caught two passes and returned six kickoffs in those appearances and moved on to the Patriots practice squad after getting cut last year. He’ll now have the chance to catch on elsewhere before training camp and may face shorter odds than he did with a Patriots team well-stocked with wideouts.

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Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert competing to backup Carson Palmer

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The Cardinals will have an interesting training camp battle between two players they hope never see the field. Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert will compete for the job behind starting quarterback Carson Palmer.

Considering Carson is 38 and entering his 14th season, the Cardinals could choose to keep both backups on the 53-player roster. Coach Bruce Arians said the decision about how many quarterbacks to keep will depend on whether the third quarterback is better than another reserve at another position.

Who’s the best player, regardless of position?” Arians said, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN. “Obviously, he’s not going to help special teams, and if you think there’s one you really, really like for the future [you keep him].”

Stanton has served as the team’s backup the past four seasons, while Gabbert signed with the Cardinals on May 11.

The Cardinals started four quarterbacks in 2012 and three in 2014, but Palmer has started all but one game the past two seasons.

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Report: Amazon to charge $2.8 million for TNF ad packages

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Those who hope to advertise their goods and services during Thursday night games streamed by Amazon now know what it will cost. It’s still not clear to the rest of us what they will get.

According to Reuters, Amazon will charge $2.8 million for ad packages.

Amazon reportedly can sell 10 30-second spots per game. It’s unclear what an advertiser precisely will receive in exchange for the $2.8 million. Per the report, the $2.8 million package consists of 30-second ads throughout the 10-game slate that will be streamed by Amazon. Reuters notes that published reports indicated Twitter sold packages a year ago at prices ranging from $2 million to $8 million. Without more details are to everything that each package provided to advertisers, it’s impossible to compare Twitter’s deal to Amazon’s.

Twitter reportedly paid $10 million to stream 10 games last year. Amazon reportedly will be paying $50 million for the 10 games, along with (again, reportedly) $30 million in free marketing.

Sources familiar with the deal separately have insisted PFT that the $50 million and $30 million figures are inaccurate, raising the question of whether someone is pumping up the perceived price to be paid by Amazon in order to create the impression that the right to carry the games carries greater value than it actually does. With the current broadcast deals expiring across the board in five years and with real questions lingering about where the multiple billions will come from the next time around, it makes plenty of sense to create the impression that companies continue to pay way too much for the ability to show NFL games. Even if, you know, they aren’t.

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What’s next for John Dorsey?

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Despite today’s news of his ouster in Kansas City, there’s a chance John Dorsey will be landing on his feet, sooner than later.

In January, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dubbed Dorsey, a former Packers executive, as the “best bet” to succeed Ted Thompson as the General Manager in Green Bay. The more immediate question is whether the Packers will be inclined to bring Dorsey back into the fold before such a move is made.

For his part, Dorsey subsequently called his time with the Chiefs the “greatest four years of my life,” and he expressed a desire to stay with the team long enough for his six-year-old son to graduate high school.

Dorsey, who has a year left on his Chiefs deal, can take the year off with pay, stay put in Kansas City, and plan his next move. A respected figure in league circles, he’ll surely find something, somewhere.

He may end up finding the G.M. job that arguably has more job security than any other, since there’s no one person in Titletown who can get up on the wrong side of the bed or catch a wild hair and fire the head of the football operation.

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Tyrunn Walker under investigation for sexual assault

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The Rams’ decision to cut defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker today came just moments before news broke that he is under investigation in a sexual assault case in Louisiana, where he grew up and previously played for the Saints.

The New Orleans Advocate reports that two women told police they were drinking with Walker and another man at a Mardi Gras celebration on February 28 when they began to feel disoriented, and that all four people ended up in a hotel room where the two women can remember little more than waking up and finding Walker and the other man sexually assaulting one of the women.

The local prosecutor confirmed that his office has received the police investigation and is reviewing whether to present the case to a grand jury.

The two women, an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old who are both college students, have filed for a restraining order against Walker and the other man, Justin Williams. Both women spoke to the New Orleans Advocate and indicated they think they were drugged.

Although he is no longer under contract to an NFL team, Walker could be subject to NFL discipline even if he is not charged in connection with this case.

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Chiefs hope to replace John Dorsey by the start of training camp

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When the Chiefs hired coach Andy Reid and then hired G.M. John Dorsey, many assumed that Reid had the same setup he enjoyed in Philadelphia, where he ran the show. In Kansas City, that wasn’t — and isn’t — the case.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Reid and Dorsey separately reported directly to owner Clark Hunt. According to the source, it was Hunt who made the call based on a full review of the all factors to make the move now.

Of course, that won’t keep people from speculating that Reid found a way to make it known in conjunction with his willingness to sign an extension that he wanted to see a change made. The bang-bang timing of the Reid news and the Dorsey news invites that.

A search will commence immediately for a G.M. who will have the same role and authority that Dorsey possessed, reporting directly to Hunt. Internal and external candidates will be considered, with a loose goal of getting the job filled by the start of training camp.

And while it’s very late on the offseason calendar to be making such an important change (it’s the first June firing of a G.M. in a very long time), the quiet spot between the end of the offseason program and the opening of training camp is really the only time of the year when a G.M. isn’t actively working to make the roster better.

Speculation surely will center on people who have experience working with Reid or for Reid. Whether and to what extent there’s familiarity between Reid and the new G.M. will shape the impression as to whether the G.M. has true independence when it comes to shaping the roster.

One name to watch, as one league source has suggested, is co-directly or player personnel Brett Veach. (If Chris Ballard hadn’t left for the Colts, he likely would have been the leading candidate.) But there surely will be plenty of candidates for the chance to put the finishing touches on a franchise that has been knocking on the door for the last four years.

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Kenny Vaccaro not satisfied with career so far

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Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro has been versatile and productive in his four seasons. But it’s not what he wanted or expected.

Vaccaro has yet to make All-Pro or even the Pro Bowl, goals for this season.

I was a top-15 pick,” Vaccaro said, via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I should be a Pro Bowler. That’s just the way it goes.”

The Saints selected Vaccaro 15th overall in 2013. They have played him at several positions, and Vaccaro has 235 tackles, six sacks, 22 pass breakups and five interceptions. But it has left him wanting.

“I haven’t met any of my goals, and it pisses me off, really,” Vaccaro said. “I want to really, really, really work hard this summer and prepare for the season that I need to have because I feel like a lot of people know it’s in me. A lot of people know I’m good, but I haven’t earned the respect that I need and I want that.”

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Rams, Chargers to hold joint practices

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Los Angeles has two teams now and they will start to get to know each other this summer while waiting for construction on the stadium they plan to share to be completed.

The Rams and Chargers announced their training camp schedules on Thursday and they include joint practices at each team’s training facility. The teams will have a workout on Wednesday, August 9 at the Rams’ training ground in Irvine and they will also work out together at the Chargesrs’ Costa Mesa facility on a date to be determined.

The two teams will also square off in a preseason game on August 26 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Rams are playing until the Inglewood stadium is up and running.

The Chargers will also hold joint practices with the Saints before they play a preseason game on August 20 at the StubHub Center in Carson, which will be their temporary L.A. digs.

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Rams waive defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker

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The Rams released defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker on Thursday. They signed Walker in March to serve as a backup to Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers.

Walker signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa in 2012. He made the roster but did not take the field as a rookie. Walker played in seven games in 2013 with four tackles and a sack and became a regular in the Saints defensive line rotation the following season, making 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Walker signed with the Lions before the 2015 season but broke his fibula after only four games that season, and he underperformed last season, going from starter to a reserve player and was even benched for a midseason game.

Walker, 27, played 353 defensive snaps in 2016. He appeared in 15 games, finishing the season with 26 tackles and no sacks.

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More negative leaks emerge about Colin Kaepernick

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The big wheels of the anti-Kaepernick machine keep rolling.

In an item that sounds a little like our recent PFT item but that in many ways is fundamentally different, Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com shares under the cloak of anonymity more criticism of Kaepernick’s football habits. And, at a time when the 49ers have recently apologized to Kaepernick for a leak to Peter King of TheMMQB.com regarding Kaepernick’s desire to play, these latest leaks come from, yes, the 49ers.

“As one Niners employee explained it, Kaepernick wouldn’t stay late at the facility during the season like many quarterbacks routinely do, saying he’d take work home,” Breer writes. “And there were examples where coaches saw what looked like shoddy prep surfacing in inexplicable mental errors in games. Another staffer, asked if he thinks Kaepernick wants to keep playing, answered, ‘I do think he wants to play — to stay relevant.'”

It’s not clear on the surface of the article whether the leaks come from current or former 49ers employees. Breer has clarified that the person who expressed the belief that Kaepernick wants to play “to stay relevant” was employed by the team a year ago, but Breer has not clarified whether the Niners employee who chided Kaepernick for taking work home is still employed, or whether the leak came before or after G.M. John Lynch told PFT Live that he apologized to Kaepernick for the leaks to King about Kaepernick.

The irony of Breer’s article is that his broader point — Kaepernick needs to speak on his own behalf — comes in an article containing more examples of people speaking about him under the cloak of anonymity. Multiple members of the media have been trafficking in these anonymous opinions, passing them along without scrutiny and thus necessarily presenting them as true.

Breer’s item becomes the latest example of King’s website being all over the map when it comes to Kaepernick. King has consistently and repeatedly argued that Kaepernick should be employed, reiterating the view most recently in King’s weekly mailbag and sharing eye-opening data on Monday from Cian Fahey suggesting that Kaepernick threw only seven “interceptable” passes in 2016, the least in the league. (Kaepernick threw 16 touchdown passes against four interceptions for a 90.2 passer rating last season; imagine how well he would have played if he wasn’t lazy, as Breer’s latest reporting clearly implies.)

Others, like Breer and Andy Benoit, have made their views on Kaepernick clear. Benoit received sharp criticism from Drew Magary of Deadspin.com for making a football-based argument that all 32 starters and 15 backup quarterbacks are better than Kaepernick. While it’s admirable that King allows his people the freedom to write what they want, the issues raised by Kaepernick’s unemployment are too sensitive and too nuanced for a publication to be skittering all over the place regarding whether Kaepernick can or can’t play, regarding whether he does or doesn’t want to play, and regarding whether his unemployment is or isn’t a result of his activism.

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Chiefs fire G.M. John Dorsey

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In a surprise announcement at what is ordinarily the slowest time of the year in the NFL, the Chiefs have fired General Manager John Dorsey.

The Chiefs issued a statement saying Dorsey is out.

“I notified John that we would not be extending his contract beyond the 2017 season, and after consideration, we felt it was in his best interests and the best interests of the team to part ways now,” owner Clark Hunt said in a statement.

That announcement came about half an hour after the Chiefs announced that head coach Andy Reid has signed a contract extension. That will obviously lead to speculation that perhaps Dorsey and Reid weren’t on the same page, and that Reid won a power struggle within the organization. Dorsey recently made the surprising decision to cut an old favorite of Reid’s, Jeremy Maclin.

Dorsey is the third G.M. to be fired since the start of the new league year in March, following Washington’s Scot McCloughan and Buffalo’s Doug Whaley.

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Saints sign Ryan Ramczyk

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Add the Saints to the list of teams with all of their draft picks signed.

The Saints moved into that column on Thursday by announcing that first-round tackle Ryan Ramczyk has signed with the team. Ramczyk, the 32nd overall pick of the draft, signed a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth year.

Ramczyk appeared headed for a backup role as a rookie, but left tackle Terron Armstead’s shoulder surgery could lead to a spot in the starting lineup right off the bat. Armstead is expected to miss 4-6 months and Ramczyk is seen as a favorite to take over his role while he’s recovering.

With Ramczyk under contract, there are now 11 unsigned draft picks in the entire league. Seven of those players are first-round picks, including second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky.

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John Mara says Eli Manning has “a lot of years left”

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In 2014, Giants co-owner John Mara said Eli Manning was still “in his prime and still has a lot of good years left.” Three years later, Mara has repeated the same.

“We think he’s got a lot of years left in him,” Mara told WFAN on Thursday, via Dan Duggan of the Newark Star-Ledger.

The difference from three years ago is Manning now is 36 and is entering his 14th NFL season. Manning, who has made 211 consecutive starts, has three years left on his contract.

The Giants started planning for a future without Manning, though, by drafting Davis Webb in the third round. Giants coach Ben McAdoo has said the team intends to give Webb time to develop as the No. 3 quarterback behind Manning and either Josh Johnson or Geno Smith, who are competing for the backup job.

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Andy Reid signs extension with Chiefs

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The Raiders signed their quarterback to a contract extension on Thursday and one of their AFC rivals has done the same with their head coach.

The Chiefs announced that they have reached agreement on a new deal with Andy Reid, who was in the fifth and final year of his current contract. There were no terms announced.

“I’d like to thank Clark and the entire Hunt family for the opportunity to continue my coaching career here in Kansas City,” Reid said in a statement. “We’ve made quite a bit of progress over the last four seasons, but we are not done yet. We are going to continue to work towards our ultimate goal of winning championships. I’ve been blessed by the support of the community, our fans, the Hunt family and the entire Chiefs staff. I’m looking forward to the years ahead as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.”

Reid has gone 43-21 in four seasons with the Chiefs and has taken the team to the playoffs in three of those years. The extension will give him a chance to improve on those totals while overseeing the expected transition from Alex Smith to 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.

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