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Chiefs mailbag: Putting the offensive line in the spotlight

This installment of the mailbag addresses questions ranging from identifying the biggest offensive impact to why defensive nickel packages have become the league’s rage.

Don’t expect the mention of a skill player given the question, so step outside the box to a position or positions that are critical for all NFL offenses.

The Chiefs offensive line must come together or at least hold down the fort while right tackle Donald Stephenson serves a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances.

July 24, 2014; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher (72) works with right guard Zach Fulton (73) during drills at training camp. Credit: Matt Derrick, ChiefsSpin.com

July 24, 2014; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher (72) works with right guard Zach Fulton (73) during drills at training camp. Credit: Matt Derrick, ChiefsSpin.com

Jeff Allen, who normally starts at left guard, will move to Stephenson’s spot. Allen shouldn’t have a hard transition considering he played offensive tackle while at the University of Illinois.

The Chiefs also gave Allen first-team repetitions at right tackle during the latter stages of training camp in St. Joseph, Mo., and started him at the position in the third preseason game.

Allen’s presence on the right side should help rookie right guard Zach Fulton, who is sandwiched between Allen and veteran center Rodney Hudson.

A bigger concern is on the left side of the offensive line.

Left tackle Eric Fisher struggled during the preseason as he apparently still recovers from an offseason shoulder injury. He’ll draw the highest scrutiny given his status as the No. 1 pick overall of the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Chiefs will also lean on Mike McGlynn, whom the team signed a day before the preseason finale. McGlynn at least knows the offensive scheme and isn’t coming into the job blindly.

Then-Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid drafted McGlynn in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft where he spent three seasons.

The depth chart behind the starters offers tackle Ryan Harris, who can play right or left tackle, veteran Jeff Linkenbach, second-year backup center Eric Kush and rookie Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

How the starting five and the backups perform will without a doubt have the biggest impact on offense.

As I understand the Collective Bargaining Agreement – which at times can read like Klingon – an injury settlement occurs after the team and a player’s agent agree to a calculation during negotiations based on potential weeks played for a player on injured reserve, not necessarily a set price.

For example, the team pays the player X amount of weekly salary based on a calculation from the contract.

Let’s say a player playing under a one-year, $1 million deal is hurt, and then placed on injured reserve. His agent and the team negotiate a $600,000 for the injury settlement. That $600,000 then counts against the salary cap.

Now I’m no expert when it comes to fully understanding all 310 pages of the CBA or the negotiation process. But thankfully our industry has subject matter experts.

I reached out to Joel Corry, a former NFL agent and current contracts/salary cap expert with CBS Sports and the National Football Post, and bounced the above scenario off him.

Corry informed me the conclusion is correct, and said the remaining $400,000 is returned to the team.

In the meantime, here are some good articles stumbled upon while doing some research on injury settlements:

What exactly are injury settlements, via OverTheCap.com.

Negotiating an injury settlement, as written by NFL agent Jack Bechta.

On paper, the No. 2 wide receiver is Donnie Avery.

Keep in mind, however, the Chiefs’ version of the West Coast offense isn’t designed for a single wide receiver to dominate the receptions like what seen with other teams.

Reid spreads the ball around when it comes to wide receivers as the coach looks to exploit matchups. Bowe, Avery, Frankie Hammond Jr., A.J. Jenkins, Albert Wilson and Junior Hemingway should all be involved as the season progresses.

Reid’s system is historically extremely tight end friendly. That wasn’t the case in 2013 as the position was ravaged by injuries.

But as Reid’s tight ends go, so goes Reid’s scheme.

Expect a boost of production in the passing game from what appears to be a healthy trio with Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris. Their performances will go a long way in enhancing the wide receiver corps.

It’s not so much the current regime, it’s more so the salaries they inherited that stung, specifically the players listed second, third and fourth.

The below chart reflects March shortly after the start of free agency showing the Top 10 salaries on the Chiefs roster, according to spotrac.com. Obviously, cornerback Brandon Flowers was still on the team before his release on June 13 and Dwayne Bowe’s extension was accomplished under the current regime:

Dwayne Bowe WR $12,000,000
Eric Berry S $11,619,700
Tamba Hali OLB $11,464,706
Brandon Flowers CB $10,500,000
Alex Smith QB $8,000,000
Sean Smith CB $5,750,000
Jamaal Charles RB $5,233,333
Eric Fisher RT $5,043,295
Mike DeVito DE $4,900,000
Derrick Johnson ILB $4,550,000

If doing the math, the combined 10 contracts at the outset of free agency totaled $79 million and change. A lot of change.

The Chiefs entered the start of the league’s calendar year with an estimated $9.9 in cap space, a figure that ranked 24th in the league. Needless to say, the Chiefs weren’t going to be major players with big free-agent signings.

But the release of Flowers two months later freed up space, an estimated $7.25 million at the time, according to Joel Corry, a former NFL agent and contract/salary cap expert for CBS Sports and the National Football Post.

The additional cap was put to good use in recent months to get extensions done on running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith.

As of 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, the Chiefs have $7.9 million in current cap space, according to NFPLA records.

Fantastic question because a traditional base defense appears on the path to become a thing of the past.

Sure, a team’s depth chart may reflect a preferred 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme on paper. But coordinators must evolve in a pass-happy league where final scores often reflect what is found in a video game.

Note a record 11,985 points were scored in 2013, as games averaged 46.81 points, which marked the highest average in NFL history. The previous high was 46.48 points in 1948.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs run various nickel or dime defensive sub packages based on opponent. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton emphasized that point on Aug. 21 when asked about the starting cornerback rotation between Marcus Cooper, Sean Smith and Ron Parker.

“I am not really too concerned, quote, ‘Who is the starter and who isn’t,’ because I know the way the NFL is,” Sutton said. “All those guys are going to play a lot of plays for us.

“And the way we look at them and a lot of those packages, whatever personnel group goes out there, that’s the team that is quote, ‘The starters.’ But next week if a different offensive personnel group will be out there, there’ll be a different set of starters. So I’m not too concerned about that right now who is the first or second or whatever.”

Sutton’s defense has cornerbacks Cooper, Smith, Parker, Chris Owens and Phillip Gaines. Owens projects as the nickel corner, a spot he lined up throughout organized team activities (OTAs), minicamp, training camp and preseason.

The Chiefs also have strong safeties Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen, and free safeties Husain Abdullah, Kelcie McCray and Kurt Coleman.

In the meantime, SBNation.com’s Danny Kelly penned a remarkable piece detailing the evolution of the nickel and dime defenses.

And sometimes it’s best to step aside and let somebody else take the lead, especially when that person did an extraordinary job explaining why the packages are in en vogue.

Kelly certainly did it justice, so his article is highly recommended as hands down the most effective response to the question.

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Have a Chiefs-related question? Tweet them to @HerbieTeope. But note only my Twitter followers will get questions featured here.