One more game to go …
• With the Patrick Mahomes hype set to shift into overdrive, allow me to kick things off with a story on how deep the Chiefs’ work on him ahead of the 2017 draft went. It was, in fact, right after the 2016 draft—12 months before Kansas City pulled its dramatic move up the board to land the Texas Tech star—that the groundwork was initially laid.
Then-co-director of player personnel Brett Veach was among a group of scouts who were doing early film work that May, and it started with the quarterbacks. Mahomes’s sophomore tape immediately caught his eye, to the point where he’d text Andy Reid clips and drop Mahomes’s name to assistant coaches Matt Nagy and Brad Childress enough to get everyone’s attention. That fall, then-director of football operations Chris Ballard got a live look at Mahomes and came away as smitten as Veach was. Ballard wound up leaving for the Colts in January 2017, but the momentum Mahomes had built in the Chiefs’ building sustained. Kansas City kept the circle tight on its affection for Mahomes—and having one of Reid’s most-trusted ex-lieutenants, Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, on the other end, running the show for a promising potential trade partner, helped to divert those on the outside from knowing where the Chiefs were planning on going. In the end, you could say it worked out.
• Chiefs QBs coach Mike Kafka bears watching over the next couple weeks. The Eagles have an offensive coordinator opening. And while Doug Pederson and Kafka missed each other in KC—Pederson left after 2015, Kafka got there in 2017—the ex-Philly quarterback’s knowledge of Pederson’s system, and the more recent innovations Reid’s brought to it with the Chiefs, would make him a sensible addition for the staff there. Timing, of course, would be complicated, with Kafka coaching in the Super Bowl in 13 days.
• I appreciated the honesty 49ers CEO Jed York showed in this morning’s column, flat out saying that he felt all of this was possible “when Arizona drafted Kyler Murray.” And obviously, saying that sort of thing was a great display of how the Niners felt about Nick Bosa back in March and April, and what they’ve gotten from him since. Which is why, after York said it, I decided to go run it by Bosa himself. “Obviously there's more to (winning the NFC title) than that, but, I mean, it's really cool to be a part of this team,” Bosa said. “So many good veterans, so many good young guys. I came to the right place. And for Jed to say that, it means the world to me. He's been through a lot this year, so just to bring this to this franchise is pretty awesome.”
• Wanna really go nuts with the season the Niners have? Just take a look at how close they were to heading for Miami at 18–0. They have three losses on the year—one in overtime to the Seahawks, another on a long last-second field goal in Baltimore, and the third on a review at the end of the game against Atlanta. “Even my Super Bowl year, I think there were three or four clunkers where we really just didn't come to play,” GM John Lynch said, in a quiet moment postgame. “This team, every game—maybe the Atlanta game the energy wasn't right, but even that game we were up 10 with eight minutes left. We screwed it up. But you won in such a variety of ways: shootout against Drew Brees, the game in the rain against the Redskins, the 9–0 game, running the ball, throwing the ball, defensively. When you can win in a variety of ways, you've got a chance every week and that gives you a ton of confidence.”
• Getting Vikings assistant GM George Paton to interview despite his concerns with the organization was a little like getting Patriots OC Josh McDaniels to show up for Cleveland—it’s a win, even if it doesn’t result in a hire. Paton’s as well-respected as they come and, like McDaniels, has been selective in the past. Obviously, his relationship with new Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski helps. And he’ll tell those with the Browns what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear. We’ll see where this goes. My feeling is the Browns probably still have some convincing to do. Getting Paton would help to heal a lot that’s gone wrong the last couple weeks.
• New Houston defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is certainly highly regarded—a former player, the promoted line coach is smart, respected and considered a good teacher who’s done well developing young guys. But obviously, there are larger questions with this being the second piece of turnover in the last couple days. Departing capologist Chris Olsen was one of the guys let go, and part of the layer of department chiefs that owner Cal McNair put atop his flat organizational structure (as are coach Bill O’Brien, EVP Jack Easterby, and scouting directors Matt Bazirgan and James Liipfert). Where will this all go? Many in NFL circles think that will remain up in the air until the fate of Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, whose contract is up in May, is determined.
• NFL scouts are out working the XFL circuit already, with scrimmages held over the last few days. I’d expect the level of talent out there to be similar to what you saw in the AAF last year. And there were guys that came out of those ranks last spring that became factors in the NFL in the fall. Eagles receiver Greg Ward was one. Niners tackle Daniel Brunskill, who was a valuable fill-in when San Francisco lost its tackles, is another.
• Since we didn’t address the Luke Kuechly retirement in the morning column—I always have something I forget to put in there, and we led last week’s mailbag with a piece on him—I figured this would be a good place to pass along more memories of his career, these from Bills GM Brandon Beane, who was director of football operations and assistant GM in Carolina during Kuechly’s first six years. “He’s the rare guy who had it all,” said Beane. “He’s super smart, his instincts are a 12 on a scale of 1–10 and his work ethic’s at the same level. And it’s very rare that someone with the instincts, smarts and athleticism he had still has drive like he did. On Thursday nights during the week, I’d walk down there and he’s got every linebacker still there with them, teaching them how to watch film, what to look for. The coaches would be gone, and I’d see them grabbing food that was set out for the coaches and going back to work. I don’t know many like him. Usually people that have the talent might not have the same drive. So he had the whole thing and he wanted to help others.”
To that end, Beane remembered a good example of that from the 2015 NFC title game. Kuechly picked the ball off and ran it all the way back—the game was pretty much done, the Panthers were going to the Super Bowl. And as he ran through the end zone, a fan who was, let’s say, overserved tumbled from the stands. Instead of celebrating, Kuechly stopped, went over, and helped the guy back to his seat. “That’s Luke Kuechly in a nutshell,” said Beane. And maybe the highest compliment Beane could give Kuechly—in 2018, as badly as he and Sean McDermott wanted find a quarterback for the offense, they just as much wanted one for their defense, because they saw the difference a good one could make. Which is part of why they traded up for Tremaine Edmunds.
• I mentioned in the All-32, how the Titans have some complex decisions to make on free agents this March—with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and tailback Derrick Henry topping the list. And I shouldn’t have forgotten right tackle Jack Conklin. The offensive line was a strength of that team down the stretch, and Conklin was GM Jon Robinson’s first draft pick in Nashville. They declined his fifth-year option last season, largely for health reasons. That decision, after a healthy year for Conklin, could cost them now.
• While we’re there, the Packers have a decision to make on a right tackle of their own—with 31-year-old bedrock Bryan Bulaga up. Given what linemen have made on the market the last couple years, and the shortage of good ones across the NFL, both guys would be wise to test the market before deciding whether or not to stay in their current locales (where they do happen to be good fits).
Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.