JUSTIN HOUSTON’S CONTRACT
I’m with Adam Teicher of ESPN and Terez Paylor of the KC Star on this one. Why antagonize a stud 25-year-old pass rusher who has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL? Pay the young man his money. But at the same time, it’s understandable why the Chiefs are hesitant to make that logical move right away. John Dorsey has been burned once already on a major deal with Dwayne Bowe. He’d rather not go through that again with another player. Also, the nature of the position leaves a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding Houston’s health and ability to produce long term. Finally, if Houston is put under contract, that then puts added uncertainty on Alex Smith’s future with the team and whether or not the Chiefs will ultimately franchise tag him in lieu of committing dollars to Smith long term.
It’s not a good situation to be in for the Chiefs. Houston wants a rumored contract that is somewhere between $11.5 million (Tamba Hali) and $13.5 million (Clay Matthews) and his production to this point (26.5 sacks through 32 games) would suggest he’s worth the investment. But, as we said before, how getting that deal done affects Alex Smith is a relative unknown; one that could potentially derail the season if Smith feels as though the Chiefs aren’t as committed to him as he is to the team.
THE YEAR OF JAMAAL
In 2013, Jamaal Charles was 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards, first in both rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns, and 2nd in yards from scrimmage. He did everything for a Chiefs offense that for most of the season was pedestrian but sound. He accounted for 33% of the offense’s total production and did so while getting “Priest-Holmesian” touches of the football. He WAS the offense. That’s the way Andy Reid wants it, so don’t expect it to change.
Charles is also only 247 yards shy of becoming the all-time career rushing leader in Chiefs franchise history. He may surpass that mark week 2 against the Denver Broncos, in Denver. He’s also only 278 attempts shy of becoming the all-time carries leader in franchise history as well. He had 259 carries (though significantly more touches) in his first year under coach Reid.
As much potential as Knile Davis and DeAnthony Thomas seem to possess, don’t expect touches to be taken away from Charles to give to Davis or Thomas, those touches will have to come from somewhere else. Charles is too good. This offense was tailor-made for Jamaal Charles who is entering into what will likely be his peak year of production based upon age.
In Andy Reid’s system, which while being mostly based around the West Coast, the running back position is heavily featured because protecting the football is paramount. Check down’s are a large bulk of the offense. That means Jamaal Charles is a huge part of the passing game as well as the running game. That makes getting on the ground with minimal contact easier; it makes going out of bounds easier. Perhaps the best thing about Charles is his ability to make the right decision at the right time on the field. He knows when to make a cut, he knows when to go out of bounds and he knows when to go to the ground. Not all touches are created equal, sometimes you can deem a touch “free” because the amount of contact on the tackle was minimal or non-existent, thus saving the body. Charles gets a lot of free touches which will keep him healthier longer. Other than staying healthy though, how does his decision-making help him this coming season?
There is perhaps not another running back in the NFL currently who is as good as Jamaal Charles when it comes to finding space or creating space where there didn’t seem to be any to pick up yards. The way he weaves in and out of tackles is unique. His vision is second to none. It makes him an asset to the Chiefs because he’s an outlier. No one else has his intuition at that position in the league. He isn’t Adrian Peterson, who is a perfect blend of size and speed, or LeSean McCoy who like Charles has great vision, but is more physical than he sometimes needs to be on the field. He’s faster, smarter and more agile, but the emphasis should be on smart. His football IQ and natural intuition are excellent tools, tools that separate him from most of the NFL.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning aren’t great because of their physical domination, they’re great because of their focus and intelligence. The same can be said for every great player in the NFL. It takes a physical prerequisite to play in the NFL, as long as you meet it you’re good enough to play, it’s the rest of the equation - the focus, intelligence, work ethic - that will set truly great players apart, and Charles possesses all those qualities.
Coming into this season, Charles is in the best physical condition he’s ever been in or may ever be again, he plays in a system and for a coach who highlights things he is naturally good at and wants to rely on him, he’s not only well-established but now excelling in an offense he now has a background in and he’s confident, focused, football-intelligent and has impeccable work ethic. I wouldn’t bet against him. In fact, I’m going all in on Jamaal Charles this season.
In 2012 I saw a player who had been torn down and forced to rebuild himself, and he regained the confidence to be great in the process. In 2014, I’m ready for the year of Jamaal.
THE WEST COAST OFFENSE YEAR TWO
Bob Glauber of New York’s Newsday said something that changed my perception of how good Alex Smith still has the potential to be this offseason. He said Steve Young acknowledged he didn’t fully understand, or have the capacity to understand, the West Coast offense until after age 30. Smith is now beyond that threshold, which leads me to believe the possibility for greater production is still there. Smith can not only be better, but significantly better this season because of where he is in his career and where he is in terms of his own development as a West Coast quarterback.
Smith will still need help however, and where its going to come from is anyone’s guess past Jamaal Charles on the list of playmakers. Here’s what we know: Jamaal Charles is incredible and will carry the load this season. AND… that’s it. We DON’T know is this: We don’t know whether or not Dwayne Bowe will rebound from an unproductive 2013. We don’t know if Travis Kelce or Demetrius Harris can play at the NFL level. We don’t know if Junior Hemingway will impress the coaches enough to garner more playing time than he did last season. We don’t know if really anyone else can produce on a regular basis.
Trusting the system? Everything we saw in OTAs and minicamp was positive. The offense looks crisp and the players seem to have an excellent understanding of what Reid and the coaches want them to do. Whether we see that in the season is still an unknown. But seeing things to make us optimistic about the season is better than the alternative.