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Five questions: Kansas City Chiefs

Reid Getty Images

The Chiefs followed a disastrous 2-14 season with an unlikely trip to the playoffs, followed by an even less likely 38-10 lead at Indy, capped by an even less likely second-half collapse.

For Year Two of the Andy Reid/John Dorsey regime much higher than a year ago, the bar moves higher.  Possibly, too high.

Here are five questions we (or at least I) have about the 2014 edition of the Kansas City Chiefs.

1.  Did they take too many hits in free agency?

A whopping 60 percent of the team’s offensive line bolted for bigger dollars in free agency, led by left tackle Branden Albert.  The team now hopes that Eric Fisher, the first overall pick a year ago, will be able to play better on the left side of the line than the right, where he struggled as a rookie.

Also gone is Dexter McCluster, a versatile weapon who may or may not be replaced effectively by rookie De’Anthony Thomas.

On defense, lineman Tyson Jackson and safety Kendrick Lewis signed elsewhere, and cornerback Brandon Flowers was cut late in the offseason.

The departures, which weren’t offset by many free-agent arrivals, will make it harder to run the streak of playoff appearances to two.

2.  Can they put the playoff collapse behind them?

Maybe it’s good that so many of the old players are gone.  It’ll make it a little easier to get past the playoff collapse if guys who weren’t part of it aren’t still around.

But plenty are still there, and they’ll need to learn from what happened against the Colts without having a wedge arise between the offense and the defense.  Otherwise, whenever the offense builds a lead in 2014 and the defense starts to blow it, “Here we go again” will be the refrain (spoken or otherwise) up and down the Kansas City sideline.

The offense will likely follow the lead of quarterback Alex Smith on this point, especially since his stellar day (378 passing yards, 57 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns, no interceptions) was barely noticed in the aftermath of one of the most deflating losses in franchise history.  If he stays positive when the defense starts to show signs of falling apart, others will be inclined to do the same.

3.  Is Alex Smith the answer at quarterback?

There’s a chance Smith eventually won’t be the guy leading, or cutting off, resentment of defensive failures.  Andy Reid has shown over the last 15 years a knack for getting great performances out of any and every quarterback he coaches, and rookie Aaron Murray could easily become Big Red’s next star pupil.

Smith has one year left on his contract, with the two sides still far apart.  If Smith won’t do a deal on the team’s terms, the team could turn to Murray.

And if the 2014 season goes south quickly, Murray may get a chance at some point to show what he can do before the Chiefs have to essentially choose between Smith and Murray.

4.  How good will Dee Ford be right away?

Before the draft, Dee Ford declared he’s better than Jadeveon Clowney.  Chiefs owner Clark Hunt cautiously has compared Ford to the late Derrick Thomas.

If Ford lives up to either of those assessments, the Chiefs will be able to let Justin Houston walk in free agency and install Ford as the four-letter complement to Tamba Hali.

Or maybe it’s Hali who’ll become expandable after the 2014 season, with the Chiefs opting for the two youngest options at pass rusher.  If we’ve learned nothing else in the past few years, it’s that no high-priced veteran on any team is safe.

5.  Are they nearly done with Dwayne Bowe?

Speaking of high-priced veterans who may be in danger of not being with the team, receiver Dwayne Bowe could be on the outs.  With $11 million in cash due come 2015, Bowe may be on the verge of being a former Chief if he doesn’t increase the production in 2014.

His first season under a five-year, $56 million contract resulted in only 57 catches for 673 yards.  That’s 13 fewer catches and 20 yards less than running back Jamaal Charles, who also ran the ball for 1,287 yards.

Bowe knows that his time is running short if he can’t produce a better return on the investment the Chiefs made not long after Reid and Dorsey arrived.  Otherwise, that cash and cap space will go to someone else.

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DeMaurice Smith suggests Ray Rice is being blackballed

Ray Rice Press Conference Getty Images

NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith thinks it doesn’t speak well for the NFL that no team is willing to give Ray Rice another chance.

Smith told Sal Paolantonio of ESPN that Rice, who is not suspended and is eligible to play as soon as a team signs him, would be back in the NFL if teams were willing to give him a fair chance.

“This, unfortunately, is a league that has a history of blackballing players. I find it hard to believe that a player of Mr. Rice’s caliber hasn’t at least gotten one offer from a team to come work out,” Smith said.

The term “blackballing” suggests something underhanded, but the reality is that NFL teams aren’t hiding the fact that they simply don’t want to do business with the man who last year became the poster boy for domestic violence in America. That’s the prerogative of each team, and while the union is free to advocate on Rice’s behalf, there’s not much the union can do about it.

If all 32 NFL teams have decided that they’re never going to give Rice another chance, then Rice has only himself to blame for that.

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Dez Bryant does the smart thing by showing up

Dez Bryant AP

It’s become a given that a player saddled with the franchise tag won’t show up for any workouts or practices until he signs a long-term deal or accepts his one-year franchise tender. But it may not be the smart thing to do — especially if the tagged player plans to work out on his own.

As Broncos G.M. John Elway pointed out several weeks back when venting regarding the absence of receiver Demaryius Thomas, unsigned franchise players who get injured while working out on their own get nothing. Unsigned franchise players who show up pursuant to a letter agreement that guarantees their franchise tender if they tear an ACL or pop out an Achilles who get injured get full pay.

So unless staying away was going to squeeze more money out of the team’s coffers (it wasn’t), why not continue to get ready to have a big season while working out with the team? For Bryant, the best play would be to take the $12.8 million this year, do it again next year at a 20-percent raise ($15.36 million), and then hit the market in 2017 — because there’s no way the Cowboys would pay him $22.11 million under a third franchise tag.

More franchise-tagged players need to consider the wisdom of Bryant’s move. And more will do what Bryant did the minute that one of them suffers a serious injury while unsigned and while working out at the local YMCA.

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Adrian Peterson’s rant misses the mark

Volcano

Mt. Peterson finally erupted. And it went about as well as Peter Brady’s volcano. (Timely reference, I know.)

Arguably he last man who should be painting himself as a victim but who nevertheless tried to shift blame to the Vikings for a predicament created by his own behavior has gone to Twitter for a general rant regarding the system of paying players.

“Question for the people, is a contract two sided or one?” Adrian Peterson asked. “There’s never no talk about honoring a contract!”

But NFL contracts are indeed one-sided, unless they’re individually negotiated to be two-sided. If Peterson wanted in 2011 to ensure that his contract would be two-sided through its final year of 2017, he could have — by insisting on the contract being fully guaranteed for its full duration. When NFL contracts aren’t fully guaranteed, the team can insist on the player honoring every game of every season while in turn having the power to tear up the deal whenever the team wants.

That’s just the way it is, and that system was reiterated via the Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified by the players only weeks before Peterson signed his latest deal.

On one hand, it’s good that Peterson has dropped the passive-aggressive approach with the Vikings. On the other hand, it’s not good that he opted to take a shotgun to a system that won’t be changing — especially after that system (as enhanced by the Commissioner-Exempt list) resulted in Peterson making plenty of money last year from the Vikings despite playing in only one game.

But now that Peterson has decided to attack the situation the same way that he attacks a defense, it may be only a matter of time before Peterson is doing shirtless driveway situps and agent Ben Dogra is rattling off “next question” at a press conference held on Peterson’s front lawn.

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Dez Bryant shows up at Cowboys OTAs, does individual drills

Indianapolis Colts v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The Cowboys thought Dez Bryant was in “great shape,” despite his staying away from voluntary workouts and OTAs.

But Thursday, they saw for themselves.

According to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the franchise-tagged wide receiver showed up at OTAs Thursday and participated in individual drills.

That’s a bit of a surprise, considering he hasn’t signed his $12.823 million franchise tender.

But apparently, Bryant wanted to be around the team, and see his teammates. He apparently went through individual drills, but didn’t do any team drills. Considering what happened to Ryan Clady and Dante Fowler, it’s prudent to not push himself with so much money on the line.

Bryant’s not even required to attend mandatory minicamp since he hasn’t signed yet, but his showing up today is at least a sign of good faith.

Whether it’s a sign of progress toward a long-term deal, or whether Bryant just wanted to get out of the house remains to be seen.

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Adrian Peterson: Players need “same power” NFL clubs hold in contracts

Adrian Peterson AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, in the midst of a dispute with Minnesota, used his verified Twitter account Thursday to vent about teams being able to void contracts while players are bound to those same deals.

Here are Peterson’s thoughts on the subject, which were published one day after he told ESPN his absence from Minnesota’s offseason program was “about securing my future” in Minnesota:

“I love people who think they know it all! Smh, Research how many NFL teams hasn’t honored a player’s contract & learn something.

“Question for the people, is a contract two sided or one?

“Ok great two sided! Well why when one party decides . . . Mr. ? we wan’t you to take a pay cut now or better yet flat out release you!

“There’s never no talk about honoring a contract!

“I know hundreds of player’s that wished their team would’ve HONORED the contract! But instead got threw to the side like like trash.

“A lill crazy how one side has so much power that they can do as they please when it come to the contract! But when the other-side (player’s)  . . . Feels for whatever reason! Family, Change of scenery or simply – what they feels just might work best for them! Those same laws don’t apply!

“It’s all about honoring you’re contract! Sounds like free will is being a lil challenged to me!

“All I’m saying as a Minnesota Viking player! WE need the same power to do as all 32 teams do we they feel, under contract or not!

“It’s time for a change! Then again I’m grateful because at the end of the day, I know some of those same guys that wish a team held on!”

Peterson has three years left on his current contract. He is set to make $12.75 million in salary in 2015, $14.75 million in 2016 and $17.75 million in 2017. However, the salaries are not guaranteed.

The Vikings have insisted they will not trade Peterson. On Wednesday, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said the 30-year-old tailback would play for Minnesota or not at all.

Peterson spent most of last season on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list after being charged with felony child abuse. He eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.

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DeMarco Murray hopes Joseph Randle “can taste some of that meat this year”

Philadelphia Eagles OTA's Getty Images

Cowboys running back Joseph Randle shared his opinion about how much the Cowboys might miss running back DeMarco Murray this week by saying that he thought Murray “left a lot of meat on the bone” on his way to a league-leading 1,845 rushing yards in 2014.

That comment made its way to Murray on Thursday, but Murray didn’t fire back at Randle or try to make the case that he gnawed all the way down to the bone while carrying the ball the seventh-most times in league history last year. Instead, Murray wished Randle well in his opportunity to do a little feasting of his own behind the Cowboys offensive line.

“Hopefully he can taste some of that meat this year,” Murray said, via CSNPhilly.com. “They’re a good team. Hopefully he can get a chance to run behind that line and do some good things. But I’m not worried about it. I didn’t hear about it until now. It’s not a big deal.”

It’s a good response to Randle since Murray has no need to defend himself for his 2014 performance. His chief concern now should be making sure that he wasn’t worn down to the bone after being used so heavily last season because the Eagles will need Murray to play well to vault themselves above the Cowboys and the rest of the NFC East in 2015.

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Jets release Matt Simms

Matt Simms, Josh Mauga AP

Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms recently shared his opinion that his younger brother Matt hasn’t gotten a serious shot to be a starting quarterback in the NFL because he’s the son of Phil Simms and, therefore, a victim of “the politics of the NFL.”

Simms got some more fodder for his feeling on Thursday. The Jets announced that they have released Matt Simms from their roster.

The decision isn’t a great surprise with the Jets adding Bryce Petty in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick are going to hold down the top two spots on the depth chart and Petty will be developed behind them, which doesn’t leave many reps for the latest member of the Simms family to play quarterback in the NFL.

Getting released now will give him a chance to catch on with another team in time to make his case for a roster spot in the fall, assuming, of course, that the anti-Simms bias doesn’t rear its head once again. Simms played in four games for the Jets over the last two seasons and completed 19-of-39 passes for 195 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

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Bills open training camp on July 31

EJ Manuel AP

The Bills, who made multiple high-profile moves in the offseason, will commence training camp on Friday, July 31 at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York, the club said Thursday.

Seventeen practices are open to the public, with six requiring fans to have tickets.

The Bills’ preseason opener is August 14 vs. Carolina. The last practice open to fans is Tuesday, August 25.

In an attempt to jump-start their offense, the Bills acquired tailback LeSean McCoy and signed wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Charles Clay. The club also added Matt Cassel at quarterback. The Bills’ defense, formidable a season ago, could be all the more imposing with new head coach Rex Ryan at the helm.

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Broncos sign Ryan Harris

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Broncos may not be ready to rule Ryan Clady out for the 2015 season, but they didn’t wait long to add to their tackle options in the wake of his torn ACL.

Jeff Legwold and Adam Schefter of ESPN report that the team has added veteran Ryan Harris to the roster. It will be Harris’s third tour of duty in Denver after he began his career with the team as a third-round pick in 2007 and spent the 2012 offseason and preseason with the team.

Harris also has history with head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison after spending the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Texans when both men were on Houston’s staff. He started 15 games for the Chiefs at right tackle last season and has also played on the left side of the line during his time in the NFL.

Harris joins Chris Clark, Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield as options at tackle as the Broncos try to sort out their offensive line with Clady out of the picture.

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NFL got free use of Grant Park for the draft

GrantPark Getty Images

So what did it cost the NFL to use Grant Park in Chicago for the 2015 draft? How about nothing?

According to Jared S. Hopkins of the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Park District waived a $937,500 rental fee, along with the security deposit.

Hopkins explains that the Chicago Park District will give discounts to nonprofit and charitable organizations that are using Park District properties. The application for the use of Park District facilities doesn’t contemplate a full waiver. Likewise, the NFL didn’t request a not-for-profit discount when submitting the application.

(Sure, the league office was a non-profit organization when making arrangements for the 2015 draft, but the NFL is and always has been a for-profit operation.)

In response to the suggestion that the three-letter football league is getting the kind of treatment typically enjoyed by a currently-embattled four-letter fútbol federation, NFL points out that it spent “millions” on the draft, via the placement of tents and exhibits in and around a 900,000-square-foot area they called “Draft Town.”

“We also hosted free football clinics for more than 1,500 area schoolchildren in the park,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Tribune. “ESPN and NFL Network went live for the week of the draft from sets on site inside the theater and also out in the park. Our hotel needs alone in Chicago were 1,000 rooms for draft week.”

Those are fair points, similar to the arguments raised when a city does a bad financial deal to host a Super Bowl. But the reality remains that local governments will continue to do bad financial deals in order to do business with the NFL. As long as local governments will keep competing with each other to do those bad deals, the NFL will continue to get great deals for the Super Bowl, the draft, stadiums, or anything else the league wants.

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Kubiak on Ryan Clady’s 2015 status: No decisions will be made quickly

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals AP

The Broncos Offense suffered a serious blow on Wednesday when left tackle Ryan Clady tore his ACL, but coach Gary Kubiak isn’t ready to rule Clady out for the season yet.

Kubiak met with the media on Thursday and said that the team wasn’t ready to make a decision about whether or not Clady will be able to return at some point in 2015. Even in the best-case scenario they are going to need to replace Clady for a large chunk of the year, however, and the team isn’t ready to make any final calls on that front either.

Kubiak said, via Troy Renck of the Denver Post, that the team will move players around to figure out the best mix in front of quarterback Peyton Manning. The coach added that the initial thought is to leave Chris Clark, who replaced Clady after a 2013 foot injury, on the right side and second-round pick Ty Sambrailo on the left side. Sambrailo, who Kubiak said isn’t “a rookie anymore,” played left tackle at Colorado State.

Michael Schofield is another option at both tackles and the Broncos will likely keep a close eye on players who become available before the start of the regular season. However they line up come September, though, the team will be scrambling to fill a spot they weren’t expecting to be an issue during an offseason that’s already seen a lot of change in Denver.

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Bengals sign Tyler Kroft

Tyler Kroft AP

The Bengals are down to one unsigned 2015 draft pick with agent Mike McCartney announcing that his client Tyler Kroft has signed a four-year deal with the team.

The tight end was a third-round pick this month and his agreement leaves first-round tackle Cedric Ogbuehi as the only member of the draft class without a deal. He is one of 11 first-round picks still waiting to sign deals with their teams.

Kroft is expected to help fill the role vacated by the still-unsigned free agent Jermaine Gresham during the 2015 season. That should mean a heavy dose of blocking duties alongside Tyler Eifert. Eifert hasn’t been fully participating in offseason work after having a torn labrum in his shoulder and dislocated elbow surgically repaired after last season.

“We’re just kind of taking it day to day, just easing back into things,” Eifert said, via ESPN.com. “My shoulder and elbow are cleared 100 percent, but I’m just getting back into things gradually. I’ll be out there soon enough.”

The Bengals also took tight end C.J. Uzomah in the fifth round to fill out their depth chart at the position.

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Jaguars hire former Jets G.M. John Idzik to full-time position

Idzik Getty Images

Maybe now all the people who went to the Tim Tebow rally in Jacksonville can divert their attention to buying airplane banners.

Because the Jaguars have hired a man who created far more of a grassroots effort among his former fanbase.

According to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars have hired former Jets General Manager John Idzik to a full-time position with the team.

Idzik was hired by the Jaguars as an consultant prior to free agency. His new title is special assistant to the G.M. (apparently assistant to the traveling secretary was taken).

“He’ll do a little bit of everything,” Jags G.M. Dave Caldwell said. “He’s a great cultural fit for us. He has a great understanding of the salary cap and the different ways to do a contract.”

Idzik was fired by the Jets after the 2014 season, but not before he became a lightning rod for fans, complete with planes bearing “Fire John Idzik” banners flying over practices there.

The Jaguars also promoted Chris Polian from director of pro personnel to director of player personnel and Chris Driggers from pro scout to director of pro personnel.

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Mike Wallace: Vikings offense “more what I’m accustomed to”

Minnesota Vikings v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Wide receiver Mike Wallace caught just 12 passes of 20 or more yards over two season with the Dolphins, which wasn’t what most people expected after he averaged 11 such plays a season in his four years with the Steelers.

That inability to make plays down the field made for a sour relationship between Wallace and the team at various points during his stay in Miami and it helped make Wallace a Viking earlier this offseason. On Thursday, Wallace said that he’s finding things more to his liking in Norv Turner’s offense.

“I think it’s more so [like] my first four years,” Wallace said, via ESPN.com. “It’s a vertical offense, [rather] than a short, West Coast offense. You go down the field a lot more here, more what I’m accustomed to.”

Wallace and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater have been spending extra time together at practice to sharpen their chemistry, something that never developed with Ryan Tannehill the way the Dolphins hoped it would. All of that paints a promising picture for Wallace in 2015, but we’ll have to wait until the fall to see if it is any more grounded in reality than the optimism that accompanied Wallace to Miami in the first place.

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Ryan Clady suffers torn ACL

Arizona Cardinals v Denver Broncos Getty Images

One of the NFL’s top left tackles has suffered an injury likely to end his 2015 season.

Denver’s Ryan Clady sustained a torn left ACL in Wednesday’s organized team practice activities, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday. PFT’s Mike Florio has confirmed the injury to Clady, a four-time Pro Bowler who protects Peyton Manning’s blind side.

The Broncos have since announced Clady’s injury and have said it is likely to keep him off the field in 2015.

With the 28-year-old Clady out indefinitely, the Broncos will have to adjust at a vital position. Veteran right tackle Chris Clark could be an option on the left side; he filled in for Clady in 2013 when Clady missed most of the campaign with a foot injury.

Rookie Ty Sambrailo and second-year pro Michael Schofield are other potential replacements for Clady, whose loss is a tremendous blow to a Denver club that lost tight end Julius Thomas, offensive lineman Orlando Franklin, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Rahim Moore in free agency.

Clady suffered a patellar tendon tear in his left knee in 2010, but he played the preseason finale and all 16 regular season contests that year.

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