Kansas City Chiefs Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
In the NFL—or any sport, really—players at the peak of their prime are exalted like athletic demigods.
They don't have followers, they have disciples. Their acquaintances are sycophants. They "use a walkie-talkie just to get a beverage." (Don't hold that against me—I loathe Drake as much as the next person.)
The second that Father Time enters the locker room, singles them out and approaches their place of worship? It becomes Chernobyl.
Beloved veterans who once thought they were going to be ceremoniously mummified at the end of their careers are now wrapped in "CAUTION" tape, and the general managers who sang their praises yesterday are now avoiding them like Pepe Le Pew (but less creepy).
Just like that, cloud nine poofs into thin air, and immortals free-fall back down to earth. Welcome to the real world, slugger.
The Kansas City Chiefs are no different (nor should they be). While the Reaper may not be knocking on the doors of their humble abodes this year, five favorites are bound to learn the reality of "business as usual."
5. Ryan Succop
OK, about that "five favorites" thing? Strike that to four.
Ryan Succop is a former "Mr. Irrelevant" whose uniform's first syllable is pronounced "suck."
He currently owns rights to the jersey number of the overwhelming fan favorite of this year's draft, who has already proclaimed that he isn't looking to switch.
His livelihood rests on an offseason kicking contest versus a Brazilian soccer player.
I don't know what football god he pranked in a past life, but Succop is going to be the first departing transaction officially listed as "destiny."
That isn't to say that the six-year vet won't anchor his longtime roster spot this year. While his downfall is imminent, his competition, Cairos Santos, has been wildly erratic himself.
Santos authored a flawless 2012 season, slicing the uprights in all of his 21 attempts. In the seasons (2011 and 2013) sandwiching that slice of perfection? Below 70 percent.
If you're a Chiefs fan, Succop might be relevant longer than you think.
4. Donald Stephenson
This offseason, John Dorsey vacationed in the land of the giants and came back a poacher.
For starters, while Jeff Linkenbach and Zach Fulton will likely be classified as guards, they share the frame and ability to play offensive tackle as well.
The sixth-round Canadian crippler, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who everyone has raved about? Also a tackle.
And the recent signee who (literally) had Shaq-sized shoes as a college freshman? You guessed it. (Tackle, if you didn't.)
Over the last handful of years, Jeff Allen was the relevant newcomer who absorbed most of the tongue lashings for his lackluster blocking. And when watching him on tape, the criticism was far from unwarranted.
But for whatever reason, Donald Stephenson, who was drafted a round after Allen, has been widely praised as a promising prospect. There were 76 tackles who partook in at least 25 percent of their team's offensive snaps last season—Pro Football Focus ranked Stephenson No. 64 (subscription required).
Both he and his aforementioned classmate finished strongly throughout the last quarter of 2013, and both made the wisest decision of their career by training with LeCharles Bentley this offseason.
Entering 2014, both are in the same boat, but even if they struggle to the same degree, Stephenson's side will potentially be the first to sink. Due to the recent wave of tackle enlistments, treading water will end in a one-way trip to the bench. (And the award for most oceanic puns in a paragraph goes to...)
3. Chase Daniel
Most Kansas Citians despise the Denver Broncos.
With that in mind, excuse me while I club this dead horse disguised as a slide title.
Bringing four quarterbacks to camp isn't a rarity—it's common practice. Bringing quarterbacks the caliber of Kansas City's foursome? Chalk that up as an anomaly.
Alex Smith's local debut was ultimately punctuated with a Pro Bowl booking. His extension is a question of "when," not "if."
Aaron Murray is a virtual lock to crack the active roster because...well, he looks like the second coming of (a more pro-ready) Smith. Obviously, no two passers are alike, and there are subtle variations in their respective skill sets, but both are cut from the same cloth.
So, it comes down to Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray.
The former is a six-year, 6'0" veteran who excels at scrambling and is fairly accurate if his initial read is green-lighted. The latter is a second-year, 6'6" developmental project who moves like Betty White but has a fire-breathing dragon for a right arm.
Purely based on their potential, it's basically like weighing the pros and cons between Doug Flutie and Jay Cutler. (And again, that's based on general temperament and tangible talent—not expectations.)
If Daniel remains, then either Bray or Murray will be demoted to the practice squad. Barring any unforeseen controversy, neither of them are leaving town, though.
If Daniel is traded or released, the Chiefs gain $1.4 million in cap room—plus $4.8 million next season, per Spotrac—and Kansas City's first- and second-year passers receive more practice reps and in-game opportunities.
Regardless of the outcome, the comparison is distinctly black and white. "Gray area" need not apply.
2. Brandon Flowers
Prior to the draft, a rumor permeated throughout Kansas City like wildfire, suggesting that Brandon Flowers was actively being shopped around by the Chiefs.
As the event crept closer, the speculation slowly but surely died off. That is, until John Dorsey selected a cornerback, Phillip Gaines, in the third round.
And the roller coaster loops around for a second pass.
Before last season, Flowers was revered as one of the league's best cornerbacks. In fact, from 2009 through 2012 (subscription required), he was the only player who Pro Football Focus annually graded as a top-seven corner.
However, the defense predominantly changed from a Cover 2 to a Cover 1, and Flowers' most distinctive asset—his instincts—was all but entirely stripped from his arsenal.
Make no mistake: Anyone who has watched No. 24 over the years would be dimwitted to double down on him floundering throughout two consecutive seasons.
His mediocre (by his standards, at least) 2013 campaign stemmed from three variables: an undersized frame, frequent injuries and the fact Kansas City's deep-safety play—particularly that of Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps—was arguably the worst in the NFL.
Were it not 4 some of the worst safety-play in the history of organized football, Alex Smith leads the #Chiefs to a playoff victory in '13.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) May 12, 2014
Remember, while T.Y. Hilton charred Kansas City's secondary for 13 receptions, 224 yards and two touchdowns last postseason, Flowers blanketed the fleet-footed wideout, allowing just two receptions for 15 yards and thwarting a threatening drive with an interception.
But if you assign a partially injured, 5'9", 187-pound corner to play press-man (with nonexistent safety help) versus 6'2", 222-pound Dez Bryant, nothing short of a minor miracle will sway the outcome in the defense's favor. (For the record, once Bob Sutton swallowed his pride and deployed bracket coverage against Bryant, the playmaker's hot streak fizzled out.)
Gaines was drafted because he's a lengthy, physical corner with above-average athleticism and impressive speed. He's a prototypical fit for Kansas City's defense, and while his pro career will likely kick off with sub-package duties, he hosts the potential to climb the ladder and start within a year or two.
For now, that allows Flowers to slide inside as the slot corner (when the situation calls for it) and provides outside-the-numbers insurance if the inconsistencies of Marcus Cooper and/or Sean Smith continue trending.
If the Pro Bowler returns to vintage form this season, Smith will likely be the corner whose seat begins to smoke, as his track record doesn't hold a candle to Flowers', and the team can gain $5.5 million by cutting ties with him prior to 2015.
1. Tamba Hali
If, say, a month ago, you told me that Tamba Hali felt threatened by a pianist, I would've assumed that—since he raps—it pertained to an iTunes chart.
Or, some suave jazz musician was serenading his date. Or, said key master was part of some Cirque du Soleil set. (If you've seen It and trust people who fraternize with clowns, you're allergic to sense and obviously have a death wish.)
Then, the Chiefs drafted Dee Ford, and 15 minutes later, I'm watching a nightmarish on-field predator moonlight as a part-time piano prodigy.
Football stereotypes, meet extinction.
If one decrypts the writing on the wall, it appears that Ford was drafted to succeed Hali after (A) this season draws to a close, or (B) the Pro Bowler's swollen contract expires (2016 offseason). In the meantime, it seems that the rookie will primarily suffice as a situational pass-rusher.
The tricky part? Hali's production isn't dipping in the slightest. Last year, he tallied two touchdowns and posted double-digit sacks (11) for the third time in his career. Furthermore, just six players forced more fumbles (4) and only one netted more quarterback hurries with 58 (subscription required).
That kind of stat line, along with his reputation, should muzzle any concerns over reports that he showed up to team facilities overweight.
One reason KC took Auburn DE Dee Ford: Tamba Hali weighed in at 284 pounds last Friday, 20 pounds over his optimal playing weight.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 9, 2014
The man escaped from war-torn Liberia—not knowing how to read or write when arriving in America—and practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the Gracie brothers. The above video shows him strapped into a harness and pulling a skateboarder uphill, then rolling with former UFC champ Lyoto Machida and practicing handwork while balancing atop a stability ball as a 270-plus-pound human.
EARLY MORNING ROLL WITH RYRON GRACIE AND JOSH MARTIN pic.twitter.com/WHEdujIgeD— Tamba Hali (@TambaHali91) May 11, 2014
Since 2006, through the crowd-deafening highs and plane-protesting lows, Hali's performance and work ethic have remained one of the few constants cemented inside of Arrowhead.
He isn't ageless. His departure could creep up as soon as next offseason, with Ford stepping out from the veteran's shadow and into his former spotlight. Hali knows that.
However, he also knows that inevitability doesn't take rain checks. So, instead of fueling animosity and shunning the future, he welcomed it with open arms and faced the music.
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