Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
But first, a look at how the Chiefs can maximize their returns during the Patrick Mahomes era ...
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Dynasty (noun): a powerful group that maintains its position for a considerable time.
When Patrick Mahomes tweeted out a video stating that the Chiefs were "chasing a dynasty" shortly after inking the richest contract in American sports history, Chiefs Kingdom rejoiced. The 10-year, $450 million extension -- worth up to $503 million with incentives -- not only rewards the Super Bowl MVP for bringing a title to Kansas City for the first time in 50 years, but it also cements the Chiefs as top-tier contenders for the foreseeable future.
Considering how K.C. has lit up scoreboards across the league since No. 15 stepped in as the team's QB1, it is reasonable to expect the Chiefs to vie for the Lombardi Trophy for as long as the generational quarterback is in the mix, right? And this contract, which was added onto the two remaining seasons on Mahomes' rookie deal, runs through the 2031 season. Remember: The guy is still just 24 years old. So, with the league's best player at the game's most important position, Kansas City has a chance to really seize control of the NFL. This is exactly why Andy Reid and Brett Veach were quick to slide a contract across the table with enough commas and zeros to make any accountant's head spin.
While some haters may point to failed 10-year contracts given to Brett Favre, Drew Bledsoe, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick as proof that handing an extremely long-term deal to a top-notch quarterback doesn't guarantee titles, Kansas City is in a great position to defy the odds due to the team-friendliness of the deal, which doesn't even begin until the 2022 season. This gives the Chiefs the kind of flexibility to make a series of runs at the ring.
Given some time to assess Kansas City's personnel, salary cap situation and overall roster makeup, I have some thoughts on how the Chiefs can keep things rolling for the next decade-plus:
1) Keep a five-star supporting cast around Mahomes on offense.
Mahomes is clearly the straw that stirs the drink in Kansas City, but the Chiefs have surrounded him with a cast of playmakers who perfectly complement his talents. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins are a lethal trio. As a potent deep-ball thrower with A-plus arm talent and range, Mahomes is able to push the ball down the field at every turn to the track team of pass catchers at his disposal. The individual and collective speed on the perimeter enhances the QB's rare playmaking ability and makes the unit nearly impossible to stop.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs' offensive line features a pair of rock-solid bookends in RT Mitchell Schwartz and LT Eric Fisher. In fact, Schwartz is one of the very best right tackles in the game, having earned All-Pro honors in each of the past four seasons (first-team in 2018, second-team in 2016, '17 and '19). Schwartz and Fisher are athletic blockers with the capacity to snuff out elite rushers while providing Mahomes with enough room to throw from deep in the pocket. As a tandem, they work well within the Chiefs' system and anchor an offensive line that routinely keeps the QB clean.
Looking at the composition of the Chiefs' supporting cast, it matches perfectly with the vision Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian outlined for me on a recent Move The Sticks podcast. The legendary personnel man told me that championship teams built around a big-money quarterback should have a No. 1 receiver, a couple of blue-chip offensive tackles and an additional playmaker in the offensive lineup. The Chiefs check off each of those boxes, which is why they're heading toward the 2020 season as the defending champs.
That said, the Chiefs core could begin to see attrition after the coming season, when Watkins' recently restructured deal expires. Then Kelce, Schwartz and Fisher are set to become free agents after the 2021 season. Although Hill is signed through 2022, the Chiefs will need to reset their roster around then, with Mahomes' 2023 cap number eclipsing $42 million, according to Spotrac.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the unit will be completely blown up in the coming years, but Reid and Veach will need to determine whether a group of 30-somethings can still make a push for the title or if a new-and-improved supporting cast is needed to sustain the championship hunt.
2) Invest in the pass rush.
The Chiefs' high-powered offense has become a scoring machine since Mahomes took over full-time starting duties in 2018. Over the past two years, Kansas City leads the NFL in points per game (31.8), yards per play (6.5) and third-down percentage (47.4). K.C.'s explosiveness puts pressure on opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks to match points with Mahomes and Co.
With that in mind, the Chiefs need to build their defense around pass rushers with the capacity to harass quarterbacks chasing points from the pocket. Whether it's a pair of edge terrors (like Justin Houston and Tamba Hali in years past) or an inside-outside combination (like Chris Jones and Frank Clark on the contemporary roster), the presence of multiple rushers has to be the No. 1 priority for a defense that's routinely playing with a lead.
Kansas City has Clark under contract through 2023, with annual cap hits that range from $19.3 million to $27.8 million, per Spotrac. The Chiefs could look to renegotiate the deal or opt out beginning in 2022. The more pressing issue right now is Jones. K.C. slapped a $16.1 million franchise tag on the Pro Bowl defensive tackle back in March, but Jones has yet to sign it, indicating that he wants a long-term deal with an annual salary in the $20 million range or he "won't play." The Chiefs have until next Wednesday's deadline for franchise-tagged players to reach a new agreement. Jones has been an absolute stud over the past few seasons, showing up big on a number of bright stages, including Super Bowl LIV. Not having No. 95 up front would be a major hit to Kansas City's defense.
3) Draft and develop role players AND starters.
To a great extent, sustaining Kansas City's championship ambitions will fall on the shoulders of the team's personnel department -- and specifically, on their ability to acquire blue-chip talent on the cheap through the draft. This has been the secret sauce to the team's success since Reid's arrival in 2013, with the crafty head coach and his cohorts adept at identifying and developing unheralded talents. Look no further than Kelce and Hill as prime examples of the staff's ability to spot and tutor talented young players.
Going forward, Kansas City's developmental plan will play a critical role in the team's success. As Mahomes' cap hit flies past $40 million and even nears $60 million in some years, per Spotrac, the Chiefs will not only need to fill out their roster with young, cheap talent -- they will need many of those players to become key contributors.
Last season, Kansas City saw immediate returns from a pair of second-round picks. Mecole Hardman emerged as a Pro Bowl kick returner and big-play receiver, while Juan Thornhill started 16 games at safety before tearing his ACL in the regular-season finale. This kind of rapid development must be consistently duplicated for the Chiefs to consistently contend for the title going forward. This year's first-round pick, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, is an exciting running back with immense ability as a runner and receiver. In Round 2, the Chiefs snatched up linebacker Willie Gay Jr., who enters the league with some baggage from his time at Mississippi State, but his sideline-to-sideline explosiveness is undeniable.
Reid and Co. not only need to identify and develop players in non-marquee positions like offensive line or off-ball linebacker, but they need to acquire enough potential successors to their blue-chip playmakers to ensure smooth personnel transitions in the Mahomes era.
BONUS: Identify and groom Andy Reid's eventual replacement.
Despite the 62-year-old recently intimating that he could coach into his 70s, the Chiefs would be wise to put together a succession plan that enables the team and quarterback to enjoy a seamless transition if Reid leaves the game before the end of Mahomes' deal.
Eric Bieniemy is the obvious choice as a potential head coach-in-waiting candidate, based on his success as the team's offensive coordinator and his natural leadership skills. He not only plays a key role in putting together the game plan and communicating with the quarterback, but he has also helped develop a creative ground game that's enabled a number of unheralded runners to explode as RB1s when given opportunities to carry the load. In addition, a gradual transition into the big chair would allow the former NFL running back to grow into the role and ensure he's fully prepared to run the entire operation when the time comes.
That said, it's not hard to imagine another team swooping in for Bieniemy in the next couple offseasons. Mike Kafka is another name to watch, based on his relationship with Mahomes and reputation as a bright offensive mind. Just 32 years old, the former NFL quarterback quickly ascended from offensive quality control coach to quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator in Kansas City, displaying excellent communication skills and tactical acumen. He could be in line as a potential successor if the 50-year-old Bieniemy isn't an option down the line.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS TODAY: Chandler Jones belongs!
Patrick Mahomes' aforementioned blockbuster deal reflects his value and standing as one of the best players in the league. He is a unique talent with an array of five-star skills that have already made him a record-breaking playmaker while also sparking an offense that went from good to great when he took over as the QB1.
Considering the jaw-dropping amount of money and years the Chiefs were willing to commit to their QB1 based on his immediate and long-term potential, I thought it was the perfect time to survey the league to determine which guys stand above their peers as the elite players in the game. After digging into the tape and studying the data that reflects overall impact, here's my ranking of the five best players in the league:
The $500 Million Man is the obvious choice after securing a Super Bowl title and MVP award in his first two seasons as a full-time starter. Mahomes is the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach 75 touchdown passes (30 games). He also ranks No. 1 among Super Bowl era QBs (min. 1,000 attempts) in pass yards per game (302.4), pass yards per attempt (8.5) and passer rating (108.6). Most impressive, he's posted big numbers and collected Ws along the way (.778 winning percentage) as an electric playmaker from the pocket. As a 24-year-old player with A+ traits across the board, it's hard to envision Mahomes giving up the crown any time soon.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is a coach's dream as a blue-chip player with a nonstop motor and an underdog's mentality. Donald overwhelms, overpowers and outworks blockers at the line of scrimmage utilizing a variety of power and finesse moves. The five-time All-Pro has collected 72 sacks and 15 forced fumbles in six seasons while emerging as the most destructive force in the league between the tackles. Given his consistency, dominance and overall impact, Donald certainly has a strong case to receive top billing on this list.
After entering the league as the consummate game manager, Wilson has evolved into the ultimate playmaker at the quarterback position. He has the rare ability to produce spectacular plays while working on or off the script from the pocket. Wilson's spontaneity has prompted the Let Russ Cook movement from Seahawks fans urging the team to move away from the run-heavy approach that seemingly handcuffs one of the league's top players. That said, it's certainly hard to argue with the results considering he's tied with Tom Brady for the most QB wins (86) through eight seasons in the Super Bowl era. Wilson is also the only quarterback with at least 200 passing touchdowns and 15 rushing touchdowns during that same span. With the second-most fourth-quarter comebacks since 2012 (21) and the second-highest career passing rating (101.2) in NFL history, the Seahawks QB1 deserves to be in the conversation for best player in football.
The reigning MVP has revolutionized the quarterback position with elite traits and a non-traditional game. As an electric athlete with a flashy running style, Jackson carves up defenses on designed QB runs, option plays and impromptu scrambles. He deserves a 99 Madden rating based on his exceptional stop-start quickness, acceleration and elusiveness as a runner, but his outstanding arm talent sets him apart from some of the run-first quarterbacks of the past. As the only quarterback in NFL history with at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, Jackson is a true dual-threat who has the capacity to win games with his legs or arm.
If you're surprised to see Jones' name on this list, you probably haven't been paying close attention to the two-time All-Pro's work in the desert. Jones not only has 60 sacks and 17 forced fumbles since joining the Cardinals (64 games) but he leads the NFL in each of those categories (96 sacks, 27 forced fumbles) since entering the league in 2012. He's coming off a 19-sack season with eight forced fumbles (seven strip-sacks) that showcased his athleticism, violent hands and instincts as a pass rusher. Jones is underrated on the national scene, but plenty of football folks appreciate No. 55's impact as a dominant player off the edge.
RAHEEM MOSTERT: 49ers shouldn't pay up for RB
I'm not mad at San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert for requesting a trade this week after the team didn't oblige when he asked for a raise, but I understand why his request for higher compensation is falling on deaf ears. Despite his success as the team's leading rusher (722 rushing yards) in 2019 and his impressive play in the postseason, including a record-breaking performance in the NFC Championship Game, I believe the sixth-year veteran is the product of a Kyle Shanahan system that can make many runners look like All-Pros.
I respect Mostert's talents as a tough, hard-nosed, downhill runner, but I have to point out that we've seen a number of pedestrian runners (SEE: Alfred Morris and Steve Slaton) also produce at an exceptional level as RB1s in this scheme, which is designed to help straight-line runners with no-nonsense running styles succeed.
When I discussed the Shanahan offense with my NFL Network colleague and Pro Football of Fame running back Terrell Davis on an episode of the Move The Sticks podcast last summer, he mentioned that the system is designed to get you three or four yards per run. However, Davis -- who became a three-time All-Pro playing for Kyle's dad, Mike, in Denver -- pointed out that the special backs are able to turn those short runs into big gains in the open field.
Studying Mostert's game, I don't see a special runner with A+ skills. Although he averaged 5.6 yards per carry for the 49ers in 2019 (ranking second in the league to Lamar Jackson's 6.9), he certainly benefits from the synchronization of the offensive line and tight ends in a scheme that places a premium on covering up defenders at the point of attack. The zone-based scheme is designed to get a "hat on a hat" at the line of scrimmage with blockers instructed to take defenders where they want to go to create creases for the runners. If the running back stays on his assigned tracks without dancing or making unnecessary cuts, he is virtually guaranteed to pick up positive yards with a disciplined approach.
Mostert adheres to the principles as a straight-line runner with an attack-the-line-of-scrimmage approach. He has a knack for finding gaps and creases on off-tackle runs and his decisiveness leads to big plays when the front line takes care of business.
That said, Mostert has never effectively carried the load as a clear-cut RB1 over a full season. He has one career 100-yard regular-season game on his resume while suiting up for five different teams. Sure, he had an outstanding performance in the playoffs against the Green Bay Packers, but teams should not pay a premium for a potential one-game wonder, particularly one who's 28 years old and entering the second year of a three-year, $8.7 million extension he signed in 2019.
Mostert might believe he deserves a raise based on his expected ascension up the depth chart heading into the 2020 season, but the 49ers should hold firm and make the running back prove his value before adding some money to his deal or trading him away, barring an offer they can't refuse from another team.