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Chiefs mailbag: CB situation headlines the week

The week started with the arrest of cornerback Sean Smith, who was cited for an alleged DUI early Monday morning, and then four straight days of organized team activities (OTAs) ahead of next week’s mandatory minicamp.

November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

But even with football in the air, the biggest splash came arrived Friday afternoon less than an hour after Chiefs coach Andy Reid held his post-OTA media session.

The release of Brandon Flowers leaves question marks at the cornerback position with training camp on the horizon.

Shocking move? Perhaps, but it really says a lot of the decision makers at the Chiefs headquarters.

Releasing Flowers is a sign they have faith in the 10 cornerbacks currently on the roster.

Well, they better believe in them or use the vacated roster spot to bring in another cornerback.

Smith ran with the second-team defense following his run-in with the law, and the Chiefs had cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker working with the first team.

Also working with the first-team defense at the slot is free safety Malcolm Bronson in place of Chris Owens, who missed the final three days of OTAs with a hamstring injury.

While the Chiefs drafted cornerback Phillip Gaines, the position will be under the microscope when the team reports to St. Joseph, Mo.

So with Flowers, the cornerback situation and the end of voluntary OTAs in mind, here are questions for this week’s mailbag:

It’s reasonable to believe the Chiefs explored options, but the likely problem was finding a partner willing to take on Brandon Flowers’ contract in any trade scenario.

Flowers counted $10.5 against the salary cap in 2014 and $11.5 million in 2015. The final year of his deal was 2016 where he would’ve counted $9.75 million. In the business world of the NFL, a team likely figured it made no sense to trade for Flowers if they knew the Chiefs were going to eventually unload him.

From the Chiefs perspective, does it makes sense incurring that cap hit for a player that was moved from outside to defend the slot last season?

That’s the big question, especially when considering Flowers wasn’t an ideal fit for the team’s defensive scheme under coordinator Bob Sutton.

What the Chiefs received in cutting ties with Flowers is an estimated $7.25 million in cap space, according to former NFL agent and cap expert Joel Corry of CBS Sports.

And having that extra money could come in handy as the team looks to extend quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston, both of whom enter the final year of their respective contracts.

It wouldn’t surprise to see one of the two extended before the regular season starts. The remaining player is a potential candidate for the franchise tag.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid didn’t commit to returning Sean Smith to the first-team defensive during Friday’s media session.

“We’ll see,” Reid said. “The other guys are performing well so we will see.”

But in light of Brandon Flowers’ release, I’d be stunned if Smith isn’t back to his normal starting spot on the right side despite Reid’s vote of confidence for the players.

Smith started working with the second-team unit a day after his arrest for an alleged DUI, so that points to the team sending a message. While Ron Parker had moments in OTAs and has size and speed, I don’t believe he’s ready for a starting role at this point.

No live contact is permitted during the 10 voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) in accordance with Article 21 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

To the second question, this is an opportunity for offensive linemen to work on technique and communication before donning full pads and contact ensues in training camp.

And given the shuffling on the right side of offensive line with left tackle Eric Fisher (shoulder) limited, the Chiefs get an early look at what combinations work best or potentially identify the swing tackle.

“That’s the thing about offensive line,” right tackle Donald Stephenson said earlier in the week week. “It takes a while to find that perfect group. Even last year, it took us a while. We shuffled some guys around. It takes time and (offensive line) coach (Andy) Heck and coach (Andy) Reid are trying to figure out that right combination.”

Stephenson, who started seven games in 2013 (four at left tackle, three at right tackle) in 2013, has been working on the left side in place of Fisher.

The Chiefs have used various combinations with the first-team unit on the right side during 11-on-11 drills through 10 days of OTAs, including Rishaw Johnson and rookie Zach Fulton at right guards, and J’Marcus Webb and Jeff Linkenbach at right tackle.

Rookie offensive tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, one of two sixth-round picks, has worked mostly at left guard. Fulton was the team’s other sixth-round pick.

Not only did I hear about wide receiver Weston Dressler’s injury, I observed it.

The bad thing about hamstrings is they can linger, but the good news is there’s time for Dressler to heal before the team reports to training camp in July.

Dressler has shown throughout OTAs why the Chiefs signed him. With quickness, crisp route running and an ability to work underneath, the former CFL star is what a slot receiver should be. He was also in line to compete for a punt returner or kickoff returner position.

Unfortunately, Dressler’s injury comes at a bad spot should he miss extended time.  He missed the final day of OTAs and won’t be able to carry the momentum established before the injury into the battle against rookie running back/specialist De’Anthony Thomas, who returns for the mandatory minicamp.

Thomas, the team’s electrifying fourth-round draft pick, is an immediate threat to any player competing for a roster spot at returner and slot wide receiver.

Anthony Fasano has been solid throughout OTAs and had a nice catch on the final day of OTAs running a seam route during 9-on-7 drills. But that’s been the norm for Fasano, who started the OTAs with a bang after hauling in a deep pass from quarterback Alex Smith during an 11-on-11 drill. By the way, I’ve also touched on how Fasano looked in OTA observations here and a recap of the tight ends here

It’s too early to predict that before training camp, as each backup quarterback has strengths.

Chase Daniel is better with short and intermediate passes where he can get the ball out of quickly. But he’s not somebody you want under center. He’s better in shotgun or when he’s rolling out so he’s not behind towering offensive or defensive linemen.

From observing 10 days of OTAs, Tyler Bray’s biggest asset is his arm strength and willingness to throw deep. That said, it’s easy to fall in love with the deep ball when it connects, but easy to hate when it’s forced or when the better decision is to dump it off if a receiver is covered deep.

While Aaron Murray arrives with a reputation for being accurate, he’s still developing and learning the team’s version of the West Coast offense. It’s best to take a wait-and-see approach with him. The good news for Murray is he hasn’t been limited by his surgically repaired knee.

Let’s revisit this question when the team puts on pads in St. Joseph.

This is literally the million-dollar question that will eventually be answered in training camp, preseason games and when roster cuts begin in late August with a view to the 53-man regular season roster.

The Chiefs could elect to keep four quarterbacks, but that’s a stretch and the only player safe out of the quartet is starter Alex Smith.

If money plays a role in the decision, last year’s backup Chase Daniel is due $2.35 million this season, according to the NFLPA database.

Also according to the NFLPA database, Tyler Bray, last year’s No. 3 quarterback, will make $495,000 in 2014, while rookie Aaron Murray will make $420,000.

Some teams around the league, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints, have already announced their training camp schedules, so I’d expect the Chiefs to follow suit within the next week either before or after the mandatory minicamp.

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