Why Travis Kelce is poised for a huge season

When the Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Fasano over the offseason, it pained his younger position mate, Travis Kelce.
“When you see Fasano go, that’s a brother. That rips your heart out,” Kelce said. “It just lets you know that it is a business and everybody’s spot is vulnerable.”
It also meant that Kansas City had high expectations for Kelce to replace Fasano —who started 22 games for the Chiefs the last two years — and then some.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said the 25-year-old Kelce has the potential to be an elite player, and he’s at a crucial position in the K.C. offense.
Even with the free-agent signing of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs lack strong receiving options. And in their ball-control, short-passing offense — K.C. ranked 24th in the league in yards per attempt — the team often employed 3-TE-sets last season.
The Chiefs still have basketball player-turned-tight end Demetrius Harris and did draft James O’Shaughnessy in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but the onus will be on Kelce, who caught 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 during what basically was his rookie year.
A 2013 third-round pick, he played in just one game his rookie season because of a knee injury. He was placed on injured reserve in October of 2013 and underwent microfracture surgery, where holes are drilled in the knee to stimulate cartilage growth.
Kelce excitedly launched a comeback, returning to action last season when he burst on the scene with a 69-yard touchdown reception during the first preseason game, a 41-39 victory against the Bengals.
“I felt like I was in flames, just running around there with my head on fire,” Kelce told NFP. “It was a huge mile marker for me.”
Once the 6-6, 250-pounder passed that initial marker, he continued to flourish.
And now nearly two years removed from microfracture, he should see even better results this season. Patients who have undergone major knee surgeries typically report that it’s not until two years postoperatively that they begin feeling 100 percent.
“Without a doubt … the cartilage has got to regrow,” Kelce said. “I’m definitely feeling more and more comfortable.”
He’s also growing more accustomed to the offense that uses him in myriad roles, including in motion and chip blocking pass rushers.
“If you watch the film,” Kelce said, “you can see me everywhere on the field.”
Indeed he stands outs, exuberantly celebrating his touchdowns — and even first downs.
“He’s tremendously talented, loves to play the game,” Reid said. “He’s like a little kid out there.”
Kelce’s energy pumps up teammates during games and even mundane practices and meetings.
“When you’re having a bad day,” said Brandon Barden, a tight end on last year’s Chiefs practice squad, “just look at him, and he’ll kind of give you that little spark you need to get through.”
Kelce’s enthusiasm is best displayed during touchdown celebrations, including The Nae Nae, The Shmoney Dance, The Bow and Arrow and even one that honors WWE wrestler Ric Flair.
“I do have some fun when I do get in the end zone,” Kelce said. “That’s for sure.”
It’s a carryover from what he did growing up while “being a knucklehead in the backyard trying to get in the heads of the guys we were playing around with.”
“Everything that I come out here and show,” Kelce said, “is a product of who I am and where I’m from.”
He grew up in suburban Cleveland with his brother, Jason Kelce, who has started 46 games at center for the Eagles.
Reid drafted and coached Jason, who is two years older than Travis, when he was in Philadelphia. That bond likely factored into the Chiefs drafting Travis and knowing he could make an impact in the NFL.
“It might’ve helped out a little bit that they knew the kind of family that me and Jason came from,” Travis said. “We’re both hardworking guys and love what we do.”
Upon being selected by Kansas City, Travis picked his brother’s brain on Reid, and Jason emphasized the vigilance and attention to detail of Reid, a former offensive lineman at BYU and a tight ends coach for the Brett Favre-era Packers.
“He was going to hold you accountable. He wasn’t going to let anything slide,” Travis said his brother explained. “Every fundamental, even when you think he’s not watching, he’s watching every single second.”
Reid likely will be keeping a close eye on Kelce’s blocking, an area that he needs to improve to be on par with his stellar body control, route running and ability to gain yards after the catch.
As he continues to hone those skills, Kelce seems ready to use his breakout 2014 campaign as a springboard for 2015.
“Everybody is really excited about Travis,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “We all saw last year what he’s capable of.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

Shane Ray and Randy Gregory: Same predicament, different outlook

CHICAGO—Shane Ray and Randy Gregory endured a similar fate.
The talented pass rushers plummeted in the 2015 NFL Draft because of marijuana issues.
“Shane is kind of like me. He made a bad choice.” Gregory told NFP. “I wish nothing but the best for him, hope he makes some smarter decisions in the future and I’m hoping he wishes the same upon me.”
But while the humbled Gregory said he deserved what happened to him, the overly confident Ray was defiant.
“I want to show those other teams that they made a huge mistake. … This does nothing but add fuel to the fire,” Ray said. “I will use this as motivation and I hope that I do see every one of those teams twice a year.”
Ray, who had 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last year, vowed to demonstrate his ability that had many pegging him as a Top 10 pick last month before his issues, including an April 27 citation for weed possession, caused him to slide to No. 23 overall.
“I will go over and beyond to show (the Broncos) that I am more than capable at dominating at whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “And when I say ‘dominating,’ I mean nothing less than that.”
While the Denver-bound Ray seemed vengeful, Gregory took a more apologetic tone, saying he needed to mature.
“I made a real dumb decision,” Gregory said, “that’s been the most embarrassing part of my life up to this point and I’m just ready to fix it.”
After testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine, Gregory fell out of the first round and was the last player remaining in the green room when the Cowboys selected him 60th overall.
Gregory’s Missed Appointments
Magnifying concerns over his character, the Nebraska product was truant from meetings with several NFL clubs.
“I know for a fact it hurt me with a few teams,” Gregory said. “I understood why I wasn’t picked high.”
One meeting Gregory did attend was with the Cowboys a couple of weeks ago. He spent 40 minutes with head coach Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and owner Jerry Jones.
Gregory compared his heart-to-heart with Jones to a stern father-son conversation. Dallas has taken chances on several players with a litany of off-the-field problems, including wide receiver Dez Bryant and defensive end Greg Hardy.
Gregory, who said he smoked weed to help cope with anxiety, told reporters he would be open to having a mentor/sponsor, which the Cowboys have used on players in the past.
Unintentionally wearing Cowboys colors — a silver suit and blue tie — on Friday night, he may prove to be a great fit in Dallas. Having recorded just 28 sacks in 2014, the Cowboys ranked 26th in pass defense and are in desperate need of a pass rusher.
“I feel like I could be a piece right there to get us to that next level, get us another championship,” Gregory said. “That’s what makes it exciting.”
Denver, on the other hand, does not have a hole at pass rusher. With DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, after whom Ray has modeled his game, the Broncos ranked in the top 10 in the NFL last year with 41 sacks.
Rumors, though, circulated that the Ravens were targeting Ray, and the Broncos traded their first-round pick, fifth-round pick, 2016 fifth-round pick, and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez to the Lions to move up five spots to select the explosive 6-3, 245-pound Missouri star.
Injury and Weight Issues
Trading up was somewhat of a surprising move by Denver, considering Ray not only had the marijuana incident but also a toe injury that prevented him from working out at the Combine and had some speculating he would miss much of his rookie NFL season.
Ray, though, said that his doctor told him he did not need surgery. The injury was only keeping him out because he did not have time to properly rehab it due to the hectic schedule of pro days, the Combine and flying to meet teams.
He promised to be healthy enough to play Week 1 against the Ravens.
“My toe’s fine,” Ray said. “I will be ready.”
Like Ray, Gregory had a physical concern that caused him to fall in the draft.
Though a gifted 6-5 pass rusher who had 17.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss the last two years, he was the lightest defensive lineman at the Combine at 235 pounds. Gregory said he currently weighed 239 to 240 pounds and that he needs to get up to 255.
“One of the big things is obviously putting a little bit more mass on me,” he said. “I’m definitely going to get there.”
Ray is going to get to play in Colorado, a state that legalized pot, something that made him the butt of social media jokes.
“Just because I was cited for marijuana possession doesn’t mean I’m this huge smoker or some huge drug addict,” Ray said. “That’s not a worry for me.”
Instead Ray is more concerned with proving himself to the other teams who passed on him before the Broncos selected him at No. 23.
“They’re all circled, you best believe,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with my situation that the Broncos decided to trade up to get me and give me a second opportunity. And I’m going to show them that this was the best decision they could’ve made.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

Draft: 3 biggest bargains of round one

Although there were very few curveballs in a rather vanilla round one of the 2015 NFL draft, we certainly weren’t void of a few value selections in the latter stages of the night.
Here are three in particular that stood out:
Bud Dupree to the Steelers at No. 22

Prior to Randy Gregory and Shane Ray’s off field indiscretions in the pre-draft, there may have been a limited number of scenarios where all five of the highly rated pass rushers were not all off the board by the time Pittsburgh was on the clock at No. 22. However, for the eternally defensive-minded Steelers, Kentucky conversion edge defender Bud Dupree fell fortuitously into their lap. Although the secondary absorbed multiple blows this offseason, with Jason Worilds’ shock retirement came the immediate requirement for a pass rushing reinforcement. Dupree (my 10th ranked player overall) was projected by some to go as high as seventh to Atlanta. A height, weight, speed specimen with significant upside, he will luckily not be thrust into a high leverage role prematurely as he — and his raw skill set — acclimatizes to the NFL game.
Shane Ray to the Broncos at No. 23

The 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year’s slide was not unforeseen after being cited for marijuana possession during the very week of the draft, but the Broncos were happy to capitalize. Ray (my 3rd ranked player overall) brings with him to Denver a pleasantly violent on-field demeanor and unmatched motor. Though I view him to be a better fit as a classic 4-3, hand in the dirt, defensive end, simply having him installed opposite Von Miller makes a good unit all the more dynamic. I’d expect him to contribute primarily as a spot rusher while he adjusts to the pro level and (hopefully) adds to his frame.
Malcom Brown to the Patriots at No. 32

Big bodies who can move and affect the passing game are a commodity. For New England, it was fortunate that Brown (my 14th ranked player overall) was able to get past a handful of defensive tackle-needy teams in the twenties — particularly the Detroit Lions at No. 28 who lost both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason. Malcom Brown improved significantly in 2014 and accumulated 13.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. A slippery pass rusher packed into a beefy frame, he boasts an abundance of athleticism for the position as well. Yes, Vince Wilfork is gone, but Brown is not his replacement. The latter is a different profile of player and, unlike Big Vince, won’t have to come off the field in obvious passing situations.
Honorable Mention…
The 49ers trade down two spots and still get their man
Despite the surprisingly sparse amount of trade movement, San Francisco was able to slide down just two spots and take the player they coveted all along. The 49ers went from No. 15 to No. 17, managing to acquire a fourth round pick (No. 117 overall) and a 2016 fifth round pick as well. Fair play to San Diego for getting its man, but quick and easy draft manipulation is always worthy of props.
Let me hear it on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

NFL Draft Day Two: The 11 Best Available

When the music stops at the cessation of any NFL draft’s first day, we’re left with a handful of talented players still standing, unselected.
Though the 2015 NFL draft isn’t as classically stockpiled with as much overall depth as we’ve been accustomed to in recent years, there is plenty to monitor heading into the top of the second round.
Of the remaining dancers without a partner, here are the eleven most enticing available:
Jake Fisher, OT. Oregon (6’6″ 306 lbs.)
Former tight end with superior athleticism and quickness off the snap. A potential left tackle in a zone blocking scheme, he gets by on good technique and above-average footwork. There is a Joe Staley element to his profile.
Randy Gregory, OLB. Nebraska (6’5″ 235 lbs.)
Quality movement skills and lower body explosion packaged into a long frame. Though his get-off is sub par as slowly unravels out of his stance, Gregory does well to use his hands to beat blockers. Chase linebacker who plays with effort. If he gets past his substance concerns and reinforces his semi-wiry frame, he could be a major day two bargain.
Landon Collins, S. Alabama (6’0″ 228 lbs.)
Aggressive and tough, Collins is a downhill hammer that finds the football in run and pass defense. Will add a certain attitude to a defense and comes physically ready for the NFL. A lack of ball skills or natural coverage ability prevented him from the first round, but he’s an impact run defender from day one at the strong safety position.
Eddie Goldman, DT. Florida State (6’4″ 336 lbs.)
A lot to be said about big men who can carry their weight well. Goldman is a wrecking ball at the point of attack and can affect the oppositions rhythm with his natural power. He lacks the ability to consistently affect the passing game on third-down, likely limiting him to 3-4 teams.
T.J. Clemmings, OT. Pittsburgh (6’5″ 309 lbs.)
Experienced leader who displays impressive quickness and lateral movement skills. The former defensive end is still constantly learning the nuances of playing on offense, but has long term potential to be a left tackle if he goes to a patient team.
Jaelen Strong, WR. Arizona State (6’2″ 217 lbs.)
Big body target who can prove to be a reliable safety valve due to his ability to adjust and shield defenders away from passes. Lacks explosion and doesn’t consistently make catches off hi frame with natural hands, but there’s an undeniable talent level that should intrigue teams early day two.
La’El Collins, OG/RT. LSU (6’4″ 305 lbs.)
Powerful, thickly-built dual guard or right tackle. A finisher in the run game who eliminates when engaged. Leader with three-years of starting experience. Though he is not a suspect, Collins has a scheduled meeting with police over an April shooting of a pregnant woman. If not for the uncertainty of the situation, he’d have likely been a first round selection.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR. Missouri (6’5″ 237 lbs.)
A laundry list of maturity and off-field concerns are difficult to overlook, but the physical makeup is tantalizing. Fluidity and smooth movement despite carrying a larger, taller frame. Strength and separation of areas of concern, but can extend and high-point over most defensive backs. Can he deal with physical NFL cornerbacks, though?
Jordan Phillips, NT. Oklahoma (6’5″ 329 lbs.)
Beefy 3-4 nose tackle only; decent movement skills. Anchors well and can push the pocket using his supreme length and strength. Won’t provide much of a pass rush, but should contribute from the outset for a team that needs help at the 0-tech. Two down player, but imposing dimensions.
Ronald Darby, CB. Florida State (5’11” 193 lbs.)
Track speed with smooth change or direction and obvious fluidity. Man-coverage capable boundary corner by gives up inside release quite often on film. Lacks top end ball skills, but could make for a very intriguing project to a team in day two. Rather significant upside.
Tevin Coleman, RB. Indiana (5’11” 206 lbs.)
Workhorse ‘back who produced heavily despite playing behind an unimpressive offensive line. Greatest strength is his refusal to go down, but can also be a weakness as he too often looks for the home run. Still, a smooth-cutting between the tackle rusher who can maintain speed off contact. Lacks open-field elusiveness of some others and relatively unproven as a pass catcher.
Honorable mentions…
Jalen Collins, CB. LSU (6’1″ 203 lbs.) – New school boundary corner; size/speed/length.
T.J. Yeldon, RB. Alabama (6’1″ 226 lbs.) – Decisive bruiser with instincts; keeps feet moving.
Eric Kendricks, ILB. UCLA (6’0″ 232 lbs.) – Stat freak with an aggressive downhill demeanor.
Donovan Smith, OT. Penn State (6’6″ 338 lbs.) – Day one starter at guard/right tackle.
Eli Harold, DE/OLB, UVA (6’3″ 247 lbs.) – Gets regular pressure; fluidity to play in space.
Let me hear it on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

Did the Jets get a steal in Leonard Williams?

CHICAGO—Before stepping to the podium, Leonard Williams audibly exhaled.
Such a reaction was understandable, considering he had slipped to the sixth overall pick, even though most had pegged the 6-5, 302-pounder as the best defensive player — and perhaps the best player overall — in the 2015 NFL Draft.
“It’s like a sigh of relief,” Williams said. “I had high expectations for myself, and seeing myself fall was kind of disappointing.”
The Jets didn’t expect him to be available at No. 6 either.
Williams had visited the Jets and was told he’d be one of their main targets if he was there, something they didn’t figure to be the case.
Rumor has it that a shoulder injury caused the defensive lineman, who had 21 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss during his three years at USC, to slide in the first round.
Williams had surgery following his sophomore season to repair a torn labrum and after workouts he still does extra stabilization exercises to keep his shoulder strong.
After missing spring workouts, however, he returned from injury to have seven sacks and 80 tackles during an impressive junior campaign where he started 13 games.
“I played the whole 2014 season with no problems,” Williams said. “I don’t know why that would have been a factor, so I don’t really believe in that rumor.”
Whether that shoulder rumor led to him falling to the Jets, it meant he landed on a team that had already possessed a strong defense. New York had the sixth-ranked defense last year and added cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, who both starred for the team previously, during the offseason.
“I’m glad to go into a defense that’s already well-seasoned up front,” Williams said. “They have a great D-line already.”
That line is led by stout defensive ends Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. In addition to stopping the run, the latter has 16.5 sacks the last two years, a very high total for a 3-4 end.
Following the Jets’ selection of Williams, Wilkerson welcomed him to the club via Instagram.
“That means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to working with those guys.”
Wilkerson, though, could be on his way out. Thee fifth-year player is in the final year of his deal and has skipped voluntary workouts. New York even reportedly listened to trade offers for him prior to the draft.
Williams, who looks very lean in person, is athletic, having run a 4.94 40, and versatile, which allows him play either the three- or five-technique under new head coach Todd Bowles. But he said the Jets told him he would play as a 3-4 defensive end, perhaps making Wilkerson the odd man out.
Bowles, a Bill Parcells disciple, orchestrated the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense last year and likely will not employ four defensive linemen in his base defense.
Williams instantly bonded with his new coach, who he described as a players’ coach, during their visit. Bowles kidded him, saying he would critique his draft attire.
“We were joking around,” Williams said. “I felt comfortable around him.”
The 20-year-old, who has outside interests including ceramics, should also be a good fit in New York as he crosses coasts to plays on the biggest stage.
“I kind of do well being in big cities,” Williams said.
The Big Apple will take to Williams if he can help the Jets bridge the gap in the division, which includes their longtime nemesis and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots led by Tom Brady.
“I know it’s a big rivalry,” he said. “I’m looking forward to tackling a great quarterback like that. I hope that’s the first sack of my career.”
The Jets could make the going tough for opposing offenses in the AFC East. They currently have three defensive lineman (Richardson, Wilkerson and Williams) who were first-round picks, and none is older than 25.
The issue is that by loading up on D-line, the Jets have neglected their offense, which currently looks like it will be quarterbacked by Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick and lacks many weapons beside Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
New general manager Mike Maccagnan must spend Friday and Saturday improving that part of his team.
He used his Thursday to phone Williams, a call that really surprised the All-Pac 12 player.
It was not only shock for the soon-to-be rookie, but it also provided motivation. He vowed to remember the five teams who passed on him.
“I’m looking forward to proving those people wrong,” Williams said, “and most of all proving the Jets right.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

Participation Is Voluntary

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and Demaryius Thomas, and restricted free agents, like Tashaun Gipson, are prohibited from participating in off-season team activities without signing an NFL player contract.
There is another way for these types of players to participate through an obscure provision (Article 21, Section 9) of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Players who received a tender but haven’t signed an NFL contract and unrestricted free agents whose contracts expired can engage in offseason workouts and minicamps with their previous team while retaining the free agency rights they already have. In order to participate, these players must sign an agreement that contains the standard language the NFL and NFLPA came up with in 2012, which has been incorporated into Article 21, Section 9 of the 2011 CBA as Appendix Q.
Appendix Q protects players in case they are injured while participating in team activities during the off-season. In the case of an injury, a player will receive as a one year salary the greater of his required tender, his applicable minimum salary or the amount negotiated by the player and the team. Participation by a player is voluntarily under this provision so he can withdraw at any time with impunity. In Gipson’s case, his 2015 salary would be $2.356 million with an injury, his restricted free agent tender, since it’s unlikely that the Cleveland Browns would agree to a greater amount in order to get him to participate.
A main benefit to signing a participation agreement instead of an NFL contract is that a player will preserve his option of holding out without subjecting himself to penalties. For example, if Gipson boycotted a mandatory three day minicamp because of a lack of progress on a long term deal after signing his restricted free agent tender, the Browns would have the right to fine him $12,155 for the first day he missed minicamp, $24,300 for a second missed day and $36,465 if he missed a third day ($72,920 total for missing minicamp). If Gipson continued his boycott into training camp, the Browns could fine him $30,000 for each day he missed. These fines can’t occur when players are operating under participation agreements and they can only partake in training camp if they have signed an NFL contract.
Participation agreements have been rarely utilized by players receiving a franchise tender. Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin signed one in 2012 so he could be a part of the off-season program. The Titans rewarded his approach by signing him a five-year, $35 million contract (with $15 million in guarantees) about a month before training camp started.
The player least likely to use this option as a gesture of good faith is Houston. The Chiefs shouldn’t expect to see Houston during the off-season unless he has signed a long term deal. The 2011 third round pick skipped off-season activities in 2014 and forfeited a $25,000 workout bonus in a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Houston reported to training camp despite his unhappiness with his salary because he lacked leverage to continue his holdout. He wouldn’t have gotten a year of service towards free agency without reporting to the Chiefs at least 30 days prior to their first regular season game. Missing the August 5 deadline in 2014 and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent this year.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Email me: jccorry@gmail.com
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

A Chiefs draft lesson: Why GM Scott Pioli was better than you think

Scott Pioli, the former Chiefs general manager, was skewered for his moves while running the team, which went 23-41 during his four years.
Among his biggest gaffes:

  • Hiring one head coach, Todd Haley, he could not get along with and another, Romeo Crennel, who struggled to control the team.
  • Signing Matt Cassel, who is better suited as a backup than a starter, to a franchise quarterback worthy deal of six years, $60 million, including $28 million guaranteed.
  • Trading future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for a second-round pick that would be used on Javier Arenas, an average defensive back.
  • Drafting Tyson Jackson third overall — over players like Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews — in the 2009 NFL Draft.

As time has gone on, however, Pioli’s 2009-12 tenure looks much better.
Three of his draft picks, in particular, have proven to be the backbone for a Chiefs defense that allowed the second fewest points in the league last year.
It starts with the 2011 NFL Draft, where his third-round selections accounted for 27 sacks last season.
With the 70th overall pick, Pioli selected outside linebacker Justin Houston, a move that was considered a gamble at the time. Houston starred at Georgia, but his character was questioned for, among other things, testing positive at the NFL Combine for marijuana.
Houston, though, lost weight and has become a hard worker, providing Kansas City its best edge rusher since Derrick Thomas.
Just 26, Houston already has made three Pro Bowls, including his exemplary 2014 season when he had 22 sacks — a half-sack behind Michael Strahan’s all-time single-season NFL record — and four forced fumbles.
Sixteen picks after Houston, Pioli selected Allen Bailey out of Miami (Fla.) The 3-4 defensive end came into his own last year, starting 14 games and recording five sacks.
“He’s continued to improve,” head coach Andy Reid said. “He was good before, but I think he’s really developed into a pretty fine football player.”
Bailey’s speed, range and quickness made him effective on third down from the get-go, but the 6-3, 288 pounder has added weight and honed his technique to make him a more stout, well-rounded 3-4 end.
As a result the Chiefs, who signed Bailey to a four-year, $25 million contract last season, expect the 26-year-old to anchor the edge of their defensive line for years to come.
“The more he’s played, the better he’s got,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “The arrow’s really pointing up on him.”
Bailey’s acquisition also offsets missing on Jackson, who was drafted to play the same position as Bailey, two years earlier. (Jackson now plays for the Falcons, where Pioli is the assistant GM.)
Pioli’s best move may have been his final first-round pick as a Chiefs executive when he drafted nose tackle Dontari Poe with the 11th overall choice in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Poe may be the best nose in the NFL. He’s that good.
Poe crushed it at the 2012 Combine, running the 40 in 4.98 seconds despite being the fifth heaviest defensive lineman to weigh in at the Combine since 2000. He also bench pressed 44 reps of 225 pounds.
Despite those eye-popping numbers, Poe was considered a workout wonder, and the pick was deemed a question mark. His play on the field at Memphis came nowhere close to reflecting those physical gifts. He had just five sacks over three years, including one as a senior, while playing against weak competition in Conference USA.
Pundits thought that indicated a lack of motor and of real football talent.
Pioli, however, rolled the dice and ended up with a player that not only has a motor, but it’s revved for nearly every play.
Heading into Week 14 of the 2013 season, for example, Poe was in the lineup for 95 percent of Kansas City’s defensive plays, which amounted to 804 snaps and was 85 more than any other NFL defensive tackle.
“It’s a great luxury because very seldom do you have a man as big as he that doesn’t come out,” Sutton said. “He’s a very talented guy.”
Indeed Poe plays so many downs because of his versatility — not just because of his stamina. The mammoth space eater is stout against interior running plays but has chased down screen passes near the sideline.
On obvious passing downs, the 346-pounder can collapse the pocket. The three-time Pro Bowler has 10.5 sacks the last two seasons.
The acquisitions of Poe, Bailey and Houston show that while the Chiefs organization may be in better shape with Reid and John Dorsey running the show, some of Pioli’s moves helped mold the Chiefs defense into one of the league’s best.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

Is 2015 the best running back draft in years?

After becoming devalued in the new pass-happy NFL era, the running back position has become a premium asset this offseason.
DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy both signed five-year deals for $40 million or more, and the 2015 draft is loaded at running back.
Most prognosticators believe that this NFL draft will have at least one running back selected in the first round for the first time in two years.
Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, T.J. Yeldon and Jeremy Langford head a deep group that could contribute from Day One. Before a knee injury sidelined Gurley, many thought the Georgia runner was the most talented back since Adrian Peterson.
Only time will tell if the experts are correct in predicting the quality of this year’s crop, but here’s a look at what the 2015-ers are up against from the last five RB drafts:
2010 — 13 RBs drafted
1st round
C.J. Spiller, drafted 9th overall by the Bills, rushed for 1,244 yards in 2012, but a broken collarbone shortened the explosive player’s 2014 campaign.
Ryan Mathews, drafted 12th overall by the Chargers, has started 53 games and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but he can’t shake the injury bug.
Jahvid Best, drafted 30th overall by the Lions, played in just 22 games before concussions ended his career.
2nd round
Dexter McCluster, drafted 36th overall by the Chiefs, was a running back/receiver and never exemplary at either, though he did make the Pro Bowl as special teamer in 2013.
Toby Gerhart, drafted 51st overall by the Vikings, served as Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota and then struggled when given an opportunity for more with Jacksonville.
Ben Tate, drafted 58th overall by the Texans, broke his ankle as a rookie, allowing Arian Foster to take his spot. He ran for 942 yards the next year for Houston but has been on three different teams since.
Montario Hardesty, drafted 59th overall by the Browns, was plagued by injuries and last played in a regular season contest in 2012.
Drafted by the Packers (193rd overall, 6th round), James Starks rushed for 316 yards in the 2010 postseason during Green Bay’s Super Bowl run.
D: This class not only lacked depth, but the first seven backs selected are no longer with their original team.
2011 — 24 RBs drafted
1st round
Mark Ingram, drafted 28th overall by the Saints, had his best year in 2014, rushing for 964 yards and nine touchdowns after battling myriad injuries.
2nd round
Ryan Williams, drafted 38th overall by the Cardinals, has been plagued by injuries, including rupturing a patella tendon before taking a regular season snap and a shoulder injury that ended his second season.
Shane Vereen, drafted 56th overall by the Patriots, emerged as an effective runner, receiver and blocker especially on third downs.
Mikel Leshoure, drafted 57th overall by the Lions, tore his Achilles tendon before playing a regular season down for Detroit and did not play for a team during the 2014 regular season.
Daniel Thomas, drafted 62nd overall by the Dolphins, has averaged under 3.9 yards per carry in each of his four seasons.
Drafted by the Cowboys (71st overall, 3rd round), DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards in 2014.
Drafted by the Patriots (73rd overall, 3rd round), Stevan Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012 before fumbling issues put him in Bill Belichick’s doghouse.
Drafted by the Redskins (105th overall, 4th round), Roy Helu surpassed 100 rushing yards in three consecutive weeks as a rookie.
Drafted by the 49ers (115th overall, 4th round), Kendall Hunter averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career before tearing his ACL in last year’s training camp.
Drafted by the Jets (126th overall, 4th round), Bilal Powell started 11 games while rushing for 697 yards in 2013.
Drafted by the Falcons (145th overall, 5th round), Jacquizz Rodgers, a shifty third-down back, has scored 10 career touchdowns.
C+: Murray can’t redeem a class whose early-round picks had their careers hampered by injuries and that lacks many full-time starters.
2012 — 19 RBs drafted
1st round
Trent Richardson, drafted 3rd overall by the Browns, has become one of the NFL’s biggest draft busts of late.
Doug Martin, drafted 31st overall by the Buccaneers, rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie before suffering a shoulder injury and then falling out of favor with the Tampa Bay coaching staff.
David Wilson, drafted 32nd overall by the Giants, retired prior to the 2014 season because of neck injuries.
2nd round
Isaiah Pead, drafted 50th overall by the Rams, carried the ball a total of just 17 times during his three years in St. Louis.
LaMichael James, drafted 61st overall by the 49ers, was relegated to the Dolphins’ practice squad before joining their active roster late in the 2014 season.
Drafted by the Broncos (67th overall, 3rd round), Ronnie Hillman started four games for Denver last year before the emergence of C.J. Anderson.
Drafted by the Ravens (84th overall, 3rd round), Bernard Pierce rushed for 1,334 yards in three years with Baltimore before a recent DUI arrest led to his release.
Drafted by the Redskins (173rd overall, 6th round), Alfred Morris has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,613 during his rookie season, and 4.0 yards per carry each year.
Drafted by the Bengals (191st overall, 6th round), Dan Herron started all three playoff games for the Indianapolis Colts last season.
Drafted by the Rams (252nd overall, 7th round), Daryl Richardson rushed for 475 yards as a rookie.
D+: A 6th rounder — Morris — is the best of a lot that included major busts in the early rounds.
2013 — 23 RBs drafted
1st round
None Selected
2nd round
Giovani Bernard, drafted 37th overall by the Bengals, amassed 1,209 yards from scrimmage during his rookie year while making a slew of highlight plays.
Le’Veon Bell, drafted 48th overall by the Steelers, was initially slowed by knee and foot injuries as a rookie before emerging as one of the NFL’s best weapons in his second season.
Montee Ball, drafted 58th overall by the Broncos, never developed into more than a part-time player as he struggled with injuries and fumbling issues.
Eddie Lacy, drafted 61st overall by the Packers, has become the best back Aaron Rodgers ever played with.
Christine Michael, drafted 62nd overall by the Seahawks, has averaged 4.9 yards per carry during his career, though Marshawn Lynch’s backup only has 52 career rushes.
Drafted by the Chiefs (96th overall, 3rd round), Knile Davis has proven to be a nice complement to the smaller, speedier Jamaal Charles.
Drafted by the Jaguars (135th overall, 5th round), Denard Robinson, the former college quarterback, twice surpassed 100 rushing yards as he grew into his new position during his second season.
Drafted by the Rams (160th overall, 5th round), Zac Stacy started 12 games his rookie year before falling out of favor in his second season.
Drafted by the Raiders (181st overall, 6th round), Latavius Murray surpassed 75 rushing yards three times during the last five games of the 2014 season.
Drafted by the Cardinals (187th overall, 6th round), Andre Ellington has produced 2,078 yards from scrimmage during his two-year career.
Drafted by the Lions (199th overall, 7th round), Theo Riddick caught four touchdowns last year and likely will take on a bigger role after Detroit lost Reggie Bush.
A-: The second round featured a star back in Bell and two very good ones in Lacy and Bernard. The later rounds unearthed several part-time or full-time starters, which could’ve been even better had 4th rounders Johnathan Franklin and Marcus Lattimore not retired early.
2014 — 20 RBs drafted
1st round
None selected
2nd round
Bishop Sankey, drafted 54th overall by the Titans, disappointed as rookie, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry and never registering more than 61 yards in a game. He had as many touchdowns as fumbles.
Jeremy Hill, drafted 55th overall by the Bengals, shined as the star of the class, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and stealing the starting job from Giovani Bernard.
Carlos Hyde, drafted 57th overall by the 49ers, averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year and is poised to assume the starting role in 2015 with Frank Gore off to Philadelphia.
Drafted by the Rams (75th overall, 3rd round), Tre Mason came on strong in the latter part of the season as St. Louis’ main back after not playing in the first four games.
Drafted by the Browns (94th overall, 3rd round), Terrance West started six games for Cleveland.
Drafted by the Vikings (96th overall, 3rd round), Jerick McKinnon averaged 4.8 yards per carry and could become Minnesota’s main back if it parts ways with Adrian Peterson.
B: This class could produce as many as six starters on 2015 rosters, but Hill is the only Pro Bowl-level talent.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

Free Agency’s Losers

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so well on the open market.
Michael Crabtree (WR): Crabtree took a backseat to 34 year old Anquan Boldin in the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game last season. The 2009 tenth overall pick finished 2014 with 68 receptions, 698 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. The 49ers went in a different direction at wide receiver by signing speedster Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract (with $22 million in guarantees). It only took Dwayne Bowe a week to find a new home with the Cleveland Browns once the Kansas City Chiefs released him. Bowe got a two-year, $12.5 million containing $9 million fully guaranteed despite three straight disappointing seasons in Kansas City. Crabtree is willing to be patient to find the right situation. He made $4 million in 2014 during the final year of his six year rookie contract. The odds are against him finding a one year deal for more than his 2014 salary.
Terrance Knighton (DT)-Washington Redskins: It was widely assumed Knighton’s affinity for head coach Jack Del Rio would lead him to the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio had Knighton for three years when he was coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent the last two seasons as his defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. Continuing to play for Del Rio went out the window after Knighton eliminated the Raiders from consideration because of a “low ball” offer. Knighton was reportedly seeking a multi-year contract averaging $8 million per year. The Raiders signed defensive tackle Dan Williams to a four-year, $25 million deal with $15.2 million fully guaranteed instead. Knighton took a one year deal worth $4 million from the Redskins, which includes $450,000 in weight clauses.
Rolando McClain (ILB): McClain was one of the NFL’s best bargains in 2014 while making $700,000. He was retired and hadn’t played in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders released him in the middle of the 2012 season when the Dallas Cowboys acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens last off-season. McClain was the Cowboys’ best linebacker in 2014 and finished tied for second in the voting for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Other 2014 Cowboys linebackers quickly found deals on the open market. Bruce Carter signed a four-year, $17 million contract (worth up to $20.5 million with salary escalators and incentives) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Justin Durant received a three-year, $10 million deal (worth a maximum of $13.8 million through incentives) from the Atlanta Falcons. McClain didn’t do himself any favors by running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy. He is subject to a fine of four week’s salary for failing three drug tests. His next violation will result in a four game suspension.
The Cowboys are interested in bringing him back but have already signed Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar for middle linebacker depth. Brinkely received a one year deal worth $2.25 million with the Cowboys having an option for a second year at the same amount. Gachkar signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract (worth up to $5.5 million through incentives.).
Ahtyba Rubin-(DT)-Seattle Seahawks: Rubin’s one-year, $2.6 million deal (worth up to $3.1 million with incentives) is a big departure from his last contract. He entered free agency after completing a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension (with $18 million in guarantees) he signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Rubin, who was slowed by a nagging ankle injury in 2014, will provide depth as a part of Seattle’s interior defensive line rotation.
Rahim Moore (S)-Houston Texans: Moore signed a three-year, $12 million deal ($4.5 million fully guaranteed) to fill a void at free safety that’s existed ever since Glover Quin left via free agency two years ago. It’s interesting that the Texans made a bigger commitment to an aging Ed Reed in 2013 than to the 25 year old Moore. Reed received a three-year, $15 million contract containing $5 million fully guaranteed when he was approaching 35 years of age. The future Hall of Famer made $5,050,966 from the Texans for appearing in seven games before being released nine games into the 2013 season. Moore is making $5 million in 2015.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Email me: jccorry@gmail.com
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

Free Agency’s Big Winners

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.
Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages $16,666,667 per year) J.J. Watt received from the Houston Texans last September. Suh’s $59.955 million also sets a new standard for guaranteed money with non-quarterbacks. It eclipses the $53.25 million of guaranteed money in the seven-year, $113.45 million contract extension Calvin Johnson received from the Detroit Lions in 2012.
Darrelle Revis (CB)-New York Jets: Revis getting a deal to place him at the top of the cornerback salary hierarchy was expected. His five-year contract worth $70,121,060 is clearly superior to other top cornerback deals in key contract metrics. $39 million is fully guaranteed at signing. That’s a little over $8.5 million more than the $30.481 million Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, the NFL’s second and third highest paid cornerbacks (by average yearly salary) have fully guaranteed at signing collectively.
Julius Thomas (TE)-Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars didn’t make Thomas the NFL’s second highest paid tight end because of his blocking prowess. He is expected to remain arguably the NFL’s best red zone threat at the position after receiving a five-year, $46 million deal containing $24 million in guarantees. Thomas sets a new standard for guarantees in tight end deals with the $24 million. $21 million of the $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
Byron Maxwell-(CB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Maxwell hit the open market at the right time. This year’s group of free agent cornerbacks wasn’t nearly as impressive as last year’s group, which included Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Sam Shields, Aqib Talib and Alterraun Verner. He received a six-year, $63 million contract with $25 million fully guaranteed. $32 million is in the first three years.
Devin McCourty (S)-New England Patriots: McCourty became the NFL’s second highest paid safety despite rejecting bigger offers from other teams. His five-year, $47.5 million contract contains $28.5 million in guarantees, which is the most ever in guarantees for a veteran safety deal. McCourty also has the best three-year cash flow for safeties with $30 million in the first three years.
Rodney Hudson (C)-Oakland Raiders: Hudson reached his goal of becoming the NFL’s highest paid center with a five-year, $44.5 million contract. The Raiders were smart in using a pay as you go structure with Hudson’s deal. His cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus. Since Hudson’s $7.35 million 2016 base salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2016 league year (mid-March), the Raiders have a window to get out of the deal after the 2015 season without any cap consequences if he doesn’t pan out.
DeMarco Murray (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Murray didn’t capitalize on a dominant season in a contract year as much as he would have at other positions because of the devaluing of running backs. Nonetheless, his five-year, $40 million contract (with $21 million in guarantees and worth a maximum of $42 million through salary escalators) makes him the first running back to switch teams in free agency with a deal over $5 million per year since Michael Turner left the San Diego Chargers for the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.
Dwayne Harris (WR)-New York Giants: The Giants made Harris the NFL’s highest paid player whose primary role is returning kicks by giving him a five-year, $17.5 million contract (with $7.1 million fully guaranteed). Harris was second in the NFL in kickoff return average with 30.6 yards per return and third in punt return average (12.8 yards) during the 2013 season. It’s conceivable that Harris will be New York’s fifth wide receiver behind Preston Parker, who caught 36 passes in an expanded role because of Victor Cruz’s torn patellar tendon in his right knee. To put Harris’ deal in better perspective, Cole Beasley, who was ahead of Harris on the depth chart with the Dallas Cowboys last season as the team’s third wide receiver, recently re-upped on a four-year, $13.606 million contract with $5 million fully guaranteed.
Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: The Packers maintain offensive continuity with offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and wide receiver Randall Cobb taking hometown discounts to remain in Green Bay. Bulaga signed a five-year, $33.75 million deal. Cobb’s four-year, $40 million contract containing a $13 million signing bonus, which is the deal’s only guaranteed money, is in line with the four-year, $39.05 million contract extension Jordy Nelson signed during the initial days of training camp last season.
Jeremy Parnell (OT)-Jacksonville Jaguars: Parnell signed a five-year, $32 million deal with $14.5 million fully guaranteed after serving as a backup during his five years with the Dallas Cowboys. He got his most extensive playtime in 2014 by starting five regular season games and both of the team’s playoff games because of ankle and foot injuries to starting right tackle Doug Free. Parnell received a much more lucrative contract than Free, who is two and half years older. Free re-signed with the Cowboys for $15 million over three years. The guaranteed money in Parnell’s deal is almost as much as Free’s entire contract.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Email me: jccorry@gmail.com
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.