Tyreek Hill becoming valuable asset for Chiefs’ playoff hopes

The complaints and concerns about Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill suddenly have been replaced by chants and cheers. The same fans who once despised his mere presence are now fighting to be heard over those who swoon over every move he makes. Basically, Hill is yet one more example of how quickly life can change in the NFL if you produce. He’s done his part to prove he can be a good citizen off the field and his team is now in first place because of what he’s done on it.

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The Chiefs’ 21-13 win over the Oakland Raiders will be remembered as the game that put Kansas City in the driver’s seat to win the AFC West. Both teams now hold 10-3 records but the Chiefs own all tiebreakers after having beaten the Raiders twice this season. What the contest also did was serve as a national coming-out party for one of the most dynamic rookies in the league. If Hill hadn’t been playing, the Chiefs probably don’t win this game.

Hill scored the game’s first touchdown by catching a 36-yard pass from quarterback Alex Smith in the second quarter. He also gave the Chiefs a 21-3 lead a few minutes later with a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown. None of this, by the way, is anything new to people who’ve followed this team or even a surprise to Hill. As he said after Thursdays game, “I put the work in during the offseason. I guess it’s all falling into place.”

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Most of the work Hill put in before this season involved rehabilitating his tainted image. He was easily the most controversial player drafted by the Chiefs during the tenure of coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey, largely because of a domestic violence conviction that resulted in his dismissal from Oklahoma State. When Kansas City selected Hill in the fifth round of this year’s draft (he finished his career at West Alabama), there were plenty of people who bashed the pick as insensitive for one main reason: This was the same franchise that watched former linebacker Jovan Belcher kill his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then himself during the 2012 season.

The criticism then was that Reid and Dorsey cared too much about physical ability instead of ethics. The reality is they felt comfortable enough with Hill to give him a second chance, and he’s made good on their faith so far. The Chiefs knew Hill could impact their return game because he ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. What’s been more startling is how quickly he’s changed the complexion of their offense.

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This unit used to be known mainly as one built around conservatism: Reid called games with an eye toward controlling tempo while Smith managed the action with a reluctance to take chances. Now the 5-foot-10, 185-pound athlete is being asked to out-jump defensive backs for acrobatic catches. He’s also becoming a fearless runner on reverses and a dangerous deep threat that puts even more pressure on opposing secondaries. Let’s also not forget about his success as a return man, as Thursday’s score marked the second time in the last three games that he produced a return for a touchdown (he had an 86-yard kick return against Denver in a win that also saw him add a receiving and rushing touchdown).

When Derek Carr’s MVP campaign ultimately falls short, he can point to his two back-breaking performances versus his division rival. The prediction in Kansas City this week, per NFL Network’s James Palmer, was that Carr’s fractured pinky finger would be stiff and painful in the elements. That certainly seemed to be the case, even if Carr downplayed the notion after the game. He took all of his snaps from the shotgun formation, misfired on basic throws, failed to generate his usual velocity on a few deeper passes and showed a disturbing penchant for dumping off short of the sticks on third downs. Carr finished the night averaging a minuscule 2.85 yards on 41 attempts, the second-lowest figure in the Super Bowl era by a quarterback with 40 or more throws.

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Speaking of playmakers, it took Jeremy Maclin’s groin injury for the Chiefs to feature Travis Kelce as the centerpiece of their passing game. Essentially Rob Gronkowski-lite as the NFL’s premier run-after-catch threat at tight end, Kelce joined Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham as the only players at the position to reach the 100-yard mark in four consecutive games.

Kansas City’s defense is developing a reputation as an MVP killer. After safety Eric Berry turned two Matt Ryan interceptions into a game-changing nine points last week, he and his cohorts comprehensively stifled Carr’s aerial attack. The Raiders had a prime opportunity to steal the victory with three takeaways in their opponent’s territory, only to manage just six points and a scant 14 yards on those possessions. It’s worth noting that Kansas City’s defense and special teams entered the night accounting for 49.5 percent of the team’s points this season. That’s a higher mark than the 1985 Bears (42.1), 2000 Ravens (46.5), 2002 Buccaneers (48.6) and 2015 Broncos (45.9) — regarded as the greatest defenses of the past four decades.

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Nike Texans #90 Jadeveon Clowney Black Men's Stitched NFL Impact Limited JerseyOn a more disappointing note, leading tackler Derrick Johnson ruptured his Achilles tendon for the second time in three years. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Johnson has been one of the league’s premier inside linebackers for the past half-decade.

Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack’s strip of Smith gave him a sack for an eighth consecutive game — the longest active streak in the league and tied for longest in Raiders history. Over the last six games, Mack has terrorized opposing offensive lines for eight sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, a touchdown and an interception. As transcendent as Mack has been of late, the rest of the defense looms as a stumbling block in the postseason. The Raiders entered the game allowing 6.2 yards per play, not just the most generous figure in the league but also the highest in franchise history. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a system quarterback like Smith sliced and diced this secondary in his most aggressive performance of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs likely will pass on Nick Foles’ option

Put the key in the ignition. It’s time for some offseason quarterback news.

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According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Chiefs are “likely to pass on Nick Foles’ option for 2017.” This would make the former Eagles standout and Rams bust a free agent. Garafolo added that he was due $6.4 million and not $10.4 million, which was a number previously associated with the option.

While this could theoretically spring Foles into the open market and allow him to flirt with the Jets, Bills, Bears, 49ers and Texans, it is uncertain whether or not he represents a marked upgrade. Following his miraculous Pro Bowl season in 2013, Foles has appeared in 22 games, completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 4,625 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He would be a difficult sell (right now) for any franchise promising their fans an upgrade. Of course, injuries and other outside circumstances tend to change situations quickly.

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“He’s working like the dickens to get himself ready for ’17. We’ll see what happens in March, but right now I see him as a Chief,” Dorsey said, per the Kansas City Star’s Terez Paylor.

It’s a fairly non-committal answer from Dorsey, which is understandable since he doesn’t have to make a decision in the short-term.

Charles played only eight games in the past two seasons due to knee injuries and had just 12 carries in 2016. The 30-year-old back has said he wants to remain in Kansas City, but that decision will likely come down to money.

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Nike Texans #87 C.J. Fiedorowicz White Men's Stitched NFL Elite JerseyThe Chiefs can save more than $6 million in salary-cap space by cutting the veteran. That’s a significant amount for a franchise in the bottom three in terms of cap space heading into 2017. There is a chance, if Charles is healthy, the Chiefs could keep their all-time leading rusher in-house on a restructured deal.

“I hope so,” Berry said, via the Kansas City Star. “I think my agent had a conversation yesterday … It’s early.”

The Chiefs franchise tagged Berry last season, paying him $10.8 million, but never locked down a long-term deal. K.C. could franchise the 28-year-old again, which would cost around $13 million.

The exorbitant salary-cap hit by tagging Berry isn’t the only factor for the Chiefs to consider when making that decision. Dontari Poe is also set to be a free agent, leaving the team with a potential dilemma if they can’t get one signed before free agency.

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The Chiefs also currently only have $4.7 million in cap space for 2017, per OverTheCap.com, which could lead to some tough decisions for the K.C. brass to make — the money issues are one reason many believe Jamaal Charles won’t be back next season, certainly not at his current salary.

Potentially losing Berry would be a devastating blow for a Chiefs defense that can be a stingy, dangerous group when healthy. Berry, a playmaker versus the run and the pass, keys the entire unit. The back-to-back first-team All-Pro safety displayed his difference-making ability with a ridiculously good game in a win over the Super Bowl-bound Atlanta Falcons in Week 13.

Berry leaving would create a Vredefort Crater-sized hole in the Chiefs’ secondary.

Eric Berry, Chiefs agree to six-year, $78 million deal

This time around, the Chiefs made Eric Berry their top priority.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that the Pro Bowl backstop has agreed to a new deal with Kansas City worth $78 million over six years with $40 million in guarantees, per sources.

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The contract will make Berry the highest-paid safety in the NFL ahead of Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu and Minnesota’s Harrison Smith.

It’s a well-deserved deal for a player the Chiefs failed to reach a long-term agreement with last July after the sides were “miles apart” in contract talks.

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That left Berry, 28, to play under the franchise tag, something the seven-year safety had no plans of repeating in 2017, saying earlier this month: “I want to end my career in Kansas City. I want to play there. I love the city, I love the vibe, I love my teammates. I really look at them more than teammates. We’ve been through a lot and they supported me a lot. And the organization. But I don’t feel comfortable playing under the franchise tag this year.”

As recently as Sunday, Berry told The Kansas City Star about wholesale NFL jerseys he was “going to keep being patient” for a new pact, an approach that paid off in time for the Chiefs to seal up their star safety before likely using the tag on defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

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It’s a win for the Chiefs, a team now in position to keep two of their finest players on defense. Berry was phenomenal last season, nabbing All-Pro honors and finishing the year as the league’s eighth-ranked safety, per Pro Football Focus.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday the Chiefs are negotiating a deal with Berry to make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. The sides are working hard at a deal, Rapoport added, which could be reached before Wednesday’s deadline to franchise tag players.

Nike Chiefs #56 Derrick Johnson White Men's NFL Pro Line Fashion Game JerseyThis is a positive development for Berry, who was hit with the franchise tag last season and didn’t sound particulary optimistic that a deal was close this past weekend. “I’m going to keep being patient because you never know,” Berry said Sunday, via the Kansas City Star. “Last year I thought one thing and it didn’t happen. So I’m not getting my hopes up; I’m looking at it logically.”

With the deadline for teams to use the tag approaching on Wednesday, Berry isn’t holding his breath that he’ll get the chance to sign a multi-year deal with jerseys wholesale in the coming days.

“I’m going to keep being patient because you never know,” Berry said Sunday, via the Kansas City Star. “Last year I thought one thing and it didn’t happen. So I’m not getting my hopes up; I’m looking at cheap jerseys logically.”

Berry said his agent and the team have been discussing a potential new deal. The All-Pro safety also reiterated that he would sit out rather than play under the franchise tag again — a one-year deal that would pay him almost $13 million this time around.

The Chiefs have two tag candidates in Berry and defensive tackle Dontari Poe jersey, but have yet to utilize the option on either.

If the Chiefs decide tagging Berry is the only way to keep him from walking in free agency, it could lead to a lengthy, contentious holdout that has the potential to last into the fall.

Derrick Thomas’ son gets Kansas City Chiefs tryout

The son of Derrick Thomas, arguably the greatest Kansas City Chiefs player in history, got a tryout with his late father’s team.

Running back Donnell Alexander jersey was one of several tryout players who participated in the Chiefs’ three-day rookie minicamp, which ended Monday. Alexander’s connection with the Chiefs runs deep.

“I have memories (of Thomas), but I was quite young (when he played), so a lot of the memories mostly come from film,” he said, via the team’s official website. “When I was in Colorado, I did a camp, and a lot of people came up and spoke to me, and just the way they said that they idolize my father, to me that was amazing because they have no idea really who he is, but for them to just be die-hard fans like that, that shows me a lot.”

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Thomas was one of the most devastating pass rushers in NFL history. The Hall of Famer set the record for sacks in a game, taking down Seattle’s Dave Krieg seven times in 1990. If, like Alexander, you’re too young to recall Thomas, spend your day watching his highlights on YouTube, you will not be disappointed. Thomas’ “A Football Life” is also one of the best I’ve seen.

Thomas died after a speeding accident in 2000. Alexander would love to play for the same team his famous father played for during his 11 NFL seasons.

“It’s a surreal experience,” Alexander said. “No matter what, I think I would have come here regardless and at least tried out, because this is where I would love to be — a Chief.”

With a stacked backfield, Alexander — who attended college at Colorado State and University of Akron — is a longshot to make the Chiefs’ roster, but coach Andy Reid is impressed with Thomas’ progeny.

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“I thought he did a real nice job,” Reid said of Alexander. “He’s actually got a tattoo on the back of his neck that’s pretty neat with an arrowhead and the whole deal. How many guys have an arrowhead tattoo at all? But he’s got that, and I know he’s proud of his dad.”

While teams are steering away from on-field work during rookie minicamps, these longshot tryouts are the best byproduct of three-day events. You never know what diamond a team might uncover or story that will be unearthed.

The son of a legend got a chance to wear the logo of his father, at least once. That alone seems worth the work.

Kansas City Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles was a non-factor in his 2016 debut, gaining just 7 yards on two rushing attempts in last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Kansas City Chiefs Nike Game JerseyThe four-time Pro Bowler expects to have a bigger role this week versus the Raiders, telling reporters Wednesday that the “training wheels” are off.

“I’m here, I’m 100 percent, you could say 110 percent,” Charles said, via The Kansas City Star. “I’m on the field, I’m playing.”

Returning from the second torn ACL of his career, Charles was originally expected to debut at Oakland in Week 6. He was pushed into a third-string capacity last week when Charcandrick West came down with an ankle injury.

Coach Andy Reid confirmed that Charles will “probably do a little bit more” this week “as long as there are no setbacks.”

Although Spencer Ware has filled in adequately as the starter, the Chiefs are averaging just 90.3 rushing yards per game — 21st in the league. They can certainly use the playmaking ability of Charles, the NFL’s career record holder with 5.47 yards per carry.

“I feel like I’m fast, my speed never left,” Charles added. “My gift is speed. And I still have it. I just thank God for allowing me to keep my speed.”