KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two weeks before the start of the free-agent signing period, general manager Brett Veach said he thought the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs offensive line would be made up of a mix of new and returning players.
Two months later, it looks as if the Chiefs will have five new starters from last season and perhaps as few as one lineman returning from 2020.
In between, the Chiefs splurged on their line, an area that collapsed against relentless pressure from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl LV defeat. They attempted to fortify their glaring weakness by acquiring six new players — three as free agents, two in the NFL draft and one in a trade.
The Chiefs are also expecting the return of two linemen who opted out of playing last season because of COVID-19.
The Super Bowl debacle, which featured quarterback Patrick Mahomes running from pressure on most of his pass attempts, heightened the Chiefs’ urgency to fix the problem. But the plan to overhaul the line after the season had been in place long before.
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It was originally more modest in its intent. The Chiefs initially wanted a left tackle to replace the injured Eric Fisher and a premier player at either center or guard. They figured they could adequately fill in at the other positions with their returning players.
The project swelled for reasons beyond the Bucs’ domination in the Super Bowl. Injuries to Fisher and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz left their availability for the 2021 season unclear. Both were released before the start of free agency.
“We’ll just see how it all ends up,” coach Andy Reid said in April, when asked if the Chiefs were finished adding to their line after signing free agent guards Joe Thuney and Kyle Long and center Austin Blythe. “I wouldn’t tell you at any position that we’re done looking. We’re always going to keep our eyes open and try to make ourselves better, which we need to do. We’ve got to do that. When you’re sitting in our position you’re not just striving to stay the same. You’re trying to get yourself better.”
The Chiefs were overdue to invest resources into their offensive line. They had spent big at many other positions in recent seasons, but the last lineman the Chiefs signed in unrestricted free agency to be a starter was Schwartz in 2016.
Similarly, the Chiefs hadn’t added many linemen through the draft. Before taking Humphrey this year, the Chiefs hadn’t drafted a lineman above the third round since 2015.
The result from their neglect was a line that was solid at tackle with Fisher, the first pick in the draft back in 2013, and Schwartz. But it had been patched together with waiver claims and low-round draft picks in the interior. When Fisher and Schwartz were injured last season, everything collapsed.
The Chiefs started free agency by signing Thuney from the Patriots. He agreed to a five-year contract worth $80 million and was the premium interior addition that the Chiefs wanted.
“He’s one of the better interior offensive linemen in the National Football League,” Veach said. “His ability to play either guard position or the center position at a Pro Bowl level is something that was really enticing for us. Any box you have for an offensive lineman — you talk about intelligence, flexibility, production — he kind of checks all of those boxes off. He was kind of a no-brainer for us.”
The Chiefs then attempted to sign a top left tackle in free agent Trent Williams. The Chiefs made a strong pitch and at one time thought they were close to a deal before he eventually re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Chiefs weren’t as interested in any of the other free agent tackles available, but they were in contact with the Ravens about a trade for Brown, who had requested he be dealt.
A week before the draft Brown hadn’t been traded, to Kansas City or elsewhere. The Chiefs had the 31st pick in the first round but wanted a plug-and-play left tackle and they viewed the tackles who figured to be available to them at that point in the draft as developmental prospects.
The Chiefs discussed internally the prospect of moving up in the draft to select their tackle. Eventually, though, they felt there was better value in a trade for Brown, a two-time Pro Bowler. Brown wanted out of Baltimore because his path to playing left tackle, his preferred position, was blocked by Ronnie Stanley, who signed a five-year extension in October that pays him nearly $20 million per season.
“He has all those attributes you look for — the size, the length, the mental toughness, the durability, the leadership,” Veach said of Brown. “It’s hard to find that. These guys that you’re looking at [in the draft], a lot of these guys you like and they have developmental upside, but we’re certainly built to win and built to win now and to have a plug-and-play guy is very [important] and that’s why we couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
The Chiefs don’t view Brown, who played left tackle last season because of an injury to Stanley, as a finished product at the position. He doesn’t have the quickest of feet, which could be a problem in protecting Mahomes’ blind side.
But Brown is 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds with 36-inch arms. The Chiefs believe his size and arm length will make him difficult to get around.
“He’ll have to learn a few techniques and all that to make him better, and does he have room to continue to grow?” asked Reid of the 25-year-old Brown. “Absolutely, even though he’s been a two-time Pro Bowler here the last couple years.
“He’ll get in here and work his tail off and get better, but some of those intangible things I sure like and then again we’ve had a chance to play against him here a couple different times and he’s a physical guy, so we like that too.”
Of the trade to the Chiefs, Brown said, “I was really surprised. I didn’t see it coming. If you would have asked me when I requested my trade where I would have been, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you then but I was very surprised to be here and I’m just glad that they made the move.
“I definitely think I’m the guy that they want, the guy that they need.”
Other linemen joined along the way. Long, a former Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears, signed after sitting out last season to heal his battered body. Blythe was a starter the last three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams.
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The Chiefs weren’t intent on drafting an offensive lineman after free agency, but when it was their pick late in the second round, Humphrey was the only player left on their board with a second-round grade.
They also drafted Tennessee guard Trey Smith in the sixth round. Considered to have talent worthy of a higher selection, Smith dropped in the draft because of concerns over blood clots he’s experienced.
All of this maneuvering has the approval of Mahomes, who had to run for his life in the Super Bowl. He scrambled 497 yards before his sacks and throws against the Bucs, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s the highest total for any quarterback last season.
“I think we have a lot of great guys in the offensive line room,” Mahomes said. “Guys that are ready to compete, guys that played last year and guys that have a lot of experience coming in and that breeds competition and you love that.”
Joe Burrow puts injury out of his mind as Bengals try to be cautious – Cincinnati Bengals Blog
CINCINNATI — Of all the things that happened during the Cincinnati Bengals‘ first practice of training camp on Wednesday, one development mattered more than anything.
Joe Burrow felt great.
A black brace supporting Burrow’s surgically-repaired left knee was the only indicator that the quarterback was a little more than eight months removed from a season-ending injury. Aside from that, Burrow went through all the usual motions that indicate the regular season is a few weeks away.
He lined up under center. He participated in 11-on-11 drills. He rolled out of the pocket with no issues. Burrow gave every indicator that he was close to full strength, which he indicated before Wednesday’s practice.
“It feels almost 100%,” Burrow said. “At this point, I’m not even really thinking about it.”
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Throughout the offseason, the 2020 top overall draft pick said he was on track to start on Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. He participated in every organized team activity and in a one-day minicamp while he waited to get full clearance from his medical team. That came earlier in July, when he was authorized to resume all football activities.
Earlier this week, team owner and president Mike Brown indicated that Burrow would not participate in the three-game preseason. Third-year coach Zac Taylor echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.
“We’ll look at everything, every scenario about what would we gain out of it,” Taylor said. “If we’re going to put him out there, what exactly is that going to look like? Can we control it or not control it? We don’t have to make that decision today.”
Burrow, however, has a different idea. He said he wants to get a few snaps to feel the rush and even get hit a couple of times. And as beneficial as it might be for his rehab progress, feeling the contact has always been an indicator that football season was on the horizon.
“It doesn’t really feel like football until you get hit a little bit,” Burrow said. “That’s how it’s been for me since eighth grade. In scrimmages, I was always lobbying to be live. That’s how it’s always been. It’s just what I need to feel ready for Week 1.”
Fortunately for all the members of Bengals ownership who were watching practice, Burrow never came close to getting hit. He was perfect in 7-on-7 drills, the highlight a completion to rookie Ja’Marr Chase down the sideline with Chase dragging his feet before he went out of bounds.
The low point was on a type of movement Burrow said he lacked confidence in during OTAs. Toward the end of Wednesday’s practice, Burrow started right before he rolled back to his left to look for an open receiver. Linebacker Jordan Evans batted Burrow’s pass into the air in what could have been an interception.
Aside from that throw, Burrow showed all the progress of someone gearing up for a big second season in the NFL. Burrow completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions before he was injured.
He said he’s a better all-around player than he was a year ago, and he’s excited to show everyone the improvements.
On Wednesday, Burrow exuded confidence — in his knee, his rehab process and his abilities. He still needs to prove to himself he can make some of the plays he made as a rookie. But at the start of training camp, there was no apprehension.
“I’m just ready to go out and play some football,” Burrow said.
Arizona Cardinals put J.J. Watt on PUP list with sore hamstring
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher J.J. Watt was put on the physically unable to perform list Wednesday after experiencing soreness in his hamstring after Tuesday’s conditioning test that kicked off his first training camp.
The injury kept Watt out of Wednesday’s practice, the Cardinals’ first of camp, and he said he didn’t expect to practice Thursday, as well. He later said he didn’t know when he’d be back on the field.
“We’re gonna take it very slow and be very smart about it,” Watt said. “I mean, it’s a hamstring, obviously, so you want to be very smart. Take your time.”
Watt said his goal is to be healthy for the Cardinals’ Week 1 game at the Tennessee Titans.
“Being in the league 10 years and the biggest thing that I know is that it’s all about Week 1, so it’s all about being ready for Sept. 12 and just making sure that we’re taking a smart, smooth approach to that day,” he said.
Watt, 32, signed with the Cardinals in early March after playing the first 10 years of his career with the Houston Texans.
Receiver Kelvin Benjamin critical of New York Giants coach Joe Judge after his release
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Kelvin Benjamin was released Wednesday by the New York Giants and didn’t appreciate how it all went down for everybody to see. He was especially critical of coach Joe Judge, who he thought was doing everything to “kind of sabotage the situation.”
Benjamin explained his side of the story in a phone conversation Wednesday night with ESPN. He was in good spirits despite the spirited on-field confrontation earlier in the day.
“I’m good,” Benjamin said. “A little disappointment.”
Mostly about how the situation unfolded. It all began with Judge calling Benjamin over on the field prior to the first practice of training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. It was then that he told the converted wide receiver there would be a fine incurred for reporting to camp overweight.
Benjamin, who was trying to resuscitate his career as a tight end, said the Giants wanted him to report to camp at 251 pounds. He was 265 pounds in the spring and came in at 268 pounds for camp.
A Giants source confirmed Benjamin was going to be fined for reporting overweight, despite passing the conditioning test on Tuesday.
“First thing [Judge] said is I came in 15 pounds overweight,” Benjamin said. “So I’m like ‘How did I come in 15 pounds overweight when I was 265 for minicamp?’ And he said you left at 265 and came back at 268. Of course. I lift weights. I got more muscle.
“I’m basically smaller than I was as a wide receiver. I was like how is that possible? I’m a tight end now. How does that make sense?”
From there the situation continued to downward spiral, according to Benjamin. He claimed to be cursed out by Judge, who also brought up incidents that occurred during the spring.
But most of all, Benjamin was confounded by being confronted on the field prior to the start of the first summer practice rather than the situation being handled before practice behind closed doors.
“It was awkward,” Benjamin said. “It didn’t even make sense.”
At that point, general manager Dave Gettleman intervened. Gettleman had drafted in 2014 with the Carolina Panthers.
Benjamin walked off the field and into the locker room. He was followed by Gettleman.
“My mental state was thrown. I didn’t know what to do,” Benjamin said. “I just went to the locker room to calm down. Gettleman came in there and I could here in his voice that they were going to release me.”
The Giants ultimately released Benjamin on Wednesday afternoon. It ended his potential comeback bid.
Benjamin, 30, last played in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2018 season. The Florida State product was originally a first-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2014 when Gettleman was the general manager.
Benjamin has spent time in his career with the Panthers, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. He has 209 career receptions for 3,021 yards and 20 touchdowns.
His biggest gripe with the Giants was undoubtedly Judge. Benjamin didn’t like the way Judge handled the situation and how he was treated.
“I think he was doing everything to kind of sabotage the situation,” Benjamin said. “I don’t know why.”
The Giants had Benjamin in for a workout during rookie minicamp in May. They signed him afterwards.
Judge and his staff coached Benjamin hard throughout the spring, much like they do all players. They were seen working with him constantly on finishing plays and protecting the football. It didn’t seem to be any different than the way they coach the rest of the team.
Somewhere, however, before the first practice of the summer, it all went wrong. Benjamin didn’t think it needed to go down this way.
“If anything they shouldn’t of had me come back to training camp,” he said. “It’s personal vendettas. That is what it is more than anything. They didn’t want to give me the opportunity to get on the field. [Judge] could’ve been a man about it.
“Of course they’re going to make it seem like I walked away. Where I quit. Anybody who went through a situation like that, I mean how can I practice at that point. At the end of the day right is right, wrong is wrong.”
And Benjamin is no longer a Giant, perhaps for the betterment of both sides.
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