Thu Jan 16 5:22pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws under pressure from Houston Texans defensive end Charles Omenihu (94) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates with wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Houston Texans, in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes answers a question during a news conference for this weeks AFC conference championship NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates as he comes off the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Fans congratulate Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, right, as he comes off the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Kansas City Chiefs had just lost to the Tennessee Titans, their fourth defeat in the first 10 games of the season, and much of the optimism that surrounded the defending AFC champions had begun to evaporate amid the barbecue smoke that wafts over Arrowhead Stadium each autumn.
That's when team owner Clark Hunt chose to speak publicly for the first time since training camp.
''We have had some outstanding players here over the years,'' Hunt said with conviction, ''but I don't think we have had one like Patrick Mahomes in a very long time. Having him as the Chiefs quarterback really gives us an opportunity every year to be competitive and hopefully compete for an AFC championship, and ultimately a Super Bowl.''
It turned out to be a prescient statement.
The Chiefs haven't lost since that point in Week 10, rolling through the rest of the regular season and climbing out of a 24-0 hole to beat Houston 51-31 in the divisional round of the playoffs. And they'll aim to keep that roll going Sunday, when they get a rematch with the Titans at home with spot in the Super Bowl riding on the outcome.
Much of the credit belongs to Mahomes, who has quietly followed up his MVP season with another spectacular run. He eclipsed 4,000 yards passing despite missing two games with a serious knee injury, threw 26 touchdown passes against just five interceptions, and he was even better against the Texans last weekend.
Mahomes became the first player with at least 300 yards passing, 50 yards rushing and five TD throws in a playoff game, all while keeping the Chiefs in the right mindset as they embarked on the greatest comeback in franchise history.
''Best quarterback in the NFL,'' Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said afterward. ''He'll prove it again next week.''
Mahomes may not have been the best this season, of course. The ankle injury he sustained in the opener in Jacksonville and the knee injury he sustained in Denver slowed him down most of the way, and the records that Baltimore counterpart Lamar Jackson shattered could make him the heir for Mahomes' player of the year hardware.
But much to the chagrin of fantasy football diehards, statistics only tell part of the story, and the reality is Mahomes is a much better quarterback than he was as a first-time starter. The experience he gained while leading the Chiefs to the AFC title game last season was invaluable. His footwork and mechanics are further refined. The photographic memory that allows Mahomes to dissect defenses in the blink of an eye has been honed by hundreds of hours of film study.
He still makes every throw in the book, not to mention many that are nowhere to be found. But Mahomes has improved in just about everything else that comes with playing the most crucial position in the modern NFL.
''This guy can make every single play on the field,'' Titans safety Kevin Byard said. ''Playing those guys earlier in the year, I just remember at the end of the game and the next day my body was sore. I was mentally tired, and I feel like this is the same exact feeling I'm going to have at the end of this game, by being really mentally keyed in on every single snap, trying to really understand what they're trying to do to us to defeat us.''
It is all those things - the talent, the mentality, the winning persona - that have made Mahomes among the best values in professional sports. What he's accomplished in his young career has been done on his rookie contract, paying him a shade over $5 million this season, or less than what 10 players make on his very own team.
That is about to change in a record-setting way.
The Chiefs are able to negotiate a long-term deal with Mahomes for the first time this offseason, and some front office executives believe the going price will be a four- or five-year contract worth about $40 million annually. That would just about match the salary of the Warriors' Steph Curry, the highest-paid player in the NBA this season, and eclipse the roughly $38 million that the Angels' Mike Trout will make in 2020 as the best-paid player in baseball.
The Chiefs have been planning for it, too, structuring contracts the past couple of seasons with an eye on his future.
''We are certainly excited about the opportunity to extend Patrick's stay with the Chiefs and hope that it lasts his entire career,'' Hunt said. ''It's probably a little bit premature to be talking about a new contract. Everyone knows that the first opportunity that we'll have to re-sign him will come at the end of this season. But that is a decision that we will have to make with his representatives, whether this is the right time, or perhaps a year from now.''
In the meantime, the only thing Mahomes is focused on is the AFC title game.
He led the Chiefs within a coin toss and untimely a penalty of perhaps beating the Patriots in overtime last season, and Mahomes freely admits that near-miss drove him through the summer. Now, he has the Chiefs back on the cusp of their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years, and only the Titans are standing in the way.
''I mean, until you win that Super Bowl, I don't think you can be complacent with anything,'' Mahomes said. ''Being that close last year, you want to find a way to win, and until you're able to do that and do it multiple times, you're never going to get complacent with where you're at.''
Notes: DT Chris Jones (calf) missed practice Thursday for the second consecutive day. RB LeSean McCoy and QB Matt Moore remained out with an illness. ... Special teams coach Dave Toub asked Thursday what a long-awaited championship for Reid would mean to him, and he replied: ''Nobody deserves it more than Andy. He's such a great coach. To not have a Super Bowl win under his belt, this would be huge. I don't know if I'd stop crying. I'd probably hug him forever.''
There remains no timetable for a potential return for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) as he rehabs from spinal stabilization surgery. Shazier has not played for the last two seasons, and it remains to be seen if he'll ever play again. His contract from the 2019 season will not toll over to 2020, but the Steelers continue to support his comeback efforts. If Shazier's contract expires, he will become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 18. The 27-year-old was a force in the middle of the field for the Steelers in the four seasons before his injury. We wouldn't bet against Shazier making a comeback, but it might not be for the Steelers.
Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson won't be a guarantee to make the team's roster going into training camp, in the opinion of The Athletic's Chris Burke. Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2019, ended his rookie season with 63 carries for 273 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and no touchdowns on the ground. The Lions notably didn't give him a very big workload when Kerryon Johnson was hurt last year either, and he'll have to compete with Bo Scarbrough, J.D. McKissic, Tra Carson and Wes Hills for depth behind Kerryon Johnson this summer. Even if he makes the roster out of camp, Johnson won't be guaranteed many touches as the second or third running back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that the team remains undecided on whether to keep quarterback Jameis Winston or move on from the former first overall draft pick. Arians said they probably won't know what direction they are headed until the start of the three-day legal free-agent tampering period from March 16-18. If Tampa uses a franchise tag on Winston, he'll be guaranteed around $27 million on a one-year deal. The fact that the Buccaneers are waiting to see which quarterbacks become available doesn't really inspire much confidence that they want to retain him. Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and set a franchise record with 33 touchdown passes, but he also tossed a league-high 30 interceptions and lost five fumbles. With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver, Winston will have his highest fantasy value as a strong QB1 if he remains in Tampa, but that won't be up to him.
The New York Jets are highly unlikely to re-sign impending free-agent wide receiver Robby Anderson, according to league sources. Anderson is expected to receiver $13 to $15 million annually on a multi-year deal on the open market, but Gang Green would like to sign him for just $10 million annually. Because the 26-year-old will be one of the better receivers on the open market, his price will be driven up despite the fact that he had just 779 yards on 52 catches for five touchdowns. Anderson also has yet to produce a 1,000-yard season in four years in the NFL, but he will get paid, and it's unlikely to come from the Jets. The Temple alum could be a fantasy sleeper if he lands in the right situation next month.
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (knee), whose 2019 season ended in early December when he suffered a torn ACL, said he got back on an exercise bike earlier this week. The 24-year-old second-year back is ahead of schedule in his recovery, but he still might be a question mark to be ready for Week 1 in 2020. The former first-round pick could be a candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform list if he's not ready, which would keep him out the first six weeks. In 10 games for Seattle last year, Penny had 65 carries for 370 yards and three scores. If he can stay healthy for a full season, Penny has the skills to be relevant in all point-per-reception leagues. Monitor his progress this spring and through the summer.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye could be released this offseason to clear $11.4 million in salary cap space. Bouye has two interceptions the last two years, while Tre Herndon, who started opposite of Bouye when Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Rams, had three interceptions last season and will make $660,000 in 2020. Jacksonville could look to the draft in April to try and address their need for a new cornerback. Once one of the top secondaries in the NFL just several seasons ago, it has now become a weakness for the Jags.
The Jacksonville Jaguars must decide this offseason if they will pick up running back Leonard Fournette's $10.1 million fifth-year option for 2021. It's an interesting decision because they are limited for salary cap space, so they could decline the option and wait to see how he performs in 2020 before considering a contract extension. The 25-year-old had 265 carries for a career-high 1,152 yards, but he rushed for only three touchdowns in 15 games. It's Fournette's second 1,000-yard season in his three seasons. Despite the lack of TDs in 2019, he should be seen as an RB1 in a run-first offense next season. He has yet to play in a full season, though, so he's a bit risky as an RB1.
The Jacksonville Jaguars need to continue searching for a franchise quarterback. Rookie Gardner Minshew showed flashes in 2019, but he'll need to prove he's more than just a game manager in a larger sample size. The team could also seek to find a trade partner for Nick Foles, who flopped as a big free-agent acquisition in 2019. Because of the presence of Minshew on the roster, Foles likely doesn't have much of a future in Jacksonville, and his lack of mobility limits his production with Jacksonville's offensive line a work in progress. Foles broke his collarbone in the season opener and played in just four games while being benched after he returned from injury. Even if he wins the starting job heading into next season, he'll be a midrange QB2, at best.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander (biceps), who had surgery on his pectoral muscle last season, was also dealing with a biceps injury and is undergoing surgery on Friday, according to sources. Alexander should be fully recovered in time for the 2020 season. The 25-year-old played in just eight games in 2019 in his first season with San Fran because of his pectoral injury. In those eight contests, Alexander had 34 tackles (22 solo), half a sack, a forced fumble and an interception. He's played in just 14 games the last two seasons and will need to stay on the field if he wants to remain with the 49ers past the 2020 season.
The Washington Redskins released wide receiver Paul Richardson and cornerback Josh Norman on Friday. Richardson, 27, was due to make $6.5 million this year, but he caught just 48 passes in 17 games in his two seasons and made almost $17 million in that span. Norman, 32, played just 53 percent of the defensive snaps last season and fell down the depth chart late in the year for his poor play. He was scheduled to make $12 million in 2020. Norman didn't make one Pro Bowl in his four seasons in D.C. and had seven interceptions. Richardson could latch on elsewhere as a deep threat and bounce back, but he will need to stay healthy.
The Arizona Cardinals want to retain running back Kenyan Drake, who will be a free agent in March, and placing the franchise tag on him is a possibility if they don't sign him to a long-term deal. Drake took over the starting gig from the injured David Johnson after the trade from Miami, and Johnson would likely play second fiddle to Drake in the backfield if the Cardinals don't trade him. In eight games last year, Drake ran the ball 123 times for 643 yards (5.2 yards per carry) with a career-high eight touchdowns. He fits the Cardinals much better from a fantasy perspective than he did in Miami, despite Arizona's shaky offensive line. If Johnson is on another team come next season, Drake will have RB1 upside.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said that the team has had initial contract-extension talks with cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is heading into the final year of his contract. Peterson, a fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been one of the best cover corners in his nine seasons in the NFL. He missed the first six games of last season due to suspension and finished 2019 with 53 total tackles (46 solo), one sack, one forced fumble and two interceptions. He had a falling out with Arizona recently, but he has gone back on trade demands and is willing to remain in the desert.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said that cutting running back David Johnson "is not an option." Keim also added that "you can't just have one back," and Kenyan Drake, who took over the starting role in the second half last year, is scheduled to be a free agent in March. Johnson ran the ball just 94 times for 345 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two rushing touchdowns in 13 games last season. He battled nagging injuries that slowed him down and caused him to lose the starting job to Drake. The 28-year-old looked like a shell of his former self, one that ran for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016. Even if DJ returns in 2020, it seems unlikely that he'll be a bell-cow back with all of his injury concerns.
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said that quarterback Tyrod Taylor, last year's backup to Philip Rivers, could have an opportunity to win the starting job in 2020. "Tyrod Taylor is a heck of a quarterback," Lynn told AM 570 LA Sports. "We couldn't have a better backup right now, and now he has an opportunity to maybe step up into a starting role." Taking care of the football is a top priority for Lynn after Philip Rivers turned the ball over 23 times in 2019. In his last full season as a starter, Taylor turned the ball over just six times in 2017 while leading the Bills to the playoffs. Taylor can also add an element with his legs on the ground as a mobile quarterback. With the weapons around him if he's the starter, Taylor will have QB1 upside, but he'll be better off taken as a QB2 with upside in fantasy.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (hernia) recently underwent sports hernia surgery. A third-round pick in 2019, Johnson caught 59 passes on 92 targets for 680 yards and five touchdowns in a full season in his rookie year with Pittsburgh. He saw more opportunities during the year with JuJu Smith-Schuster banged up, but he was also hurt by poor quarterback play from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. If Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) returns healthy in 2020, Johnson could make quite the leap in his second season as the potential No. 2 receiver behind Smith-Schuster. He should be recovered in plenty of time to be ready for training camp this summer.
The Los Angeles Chargers agreed to a one-year contract extension with head coach Anthony Lynn that puts him with the team through the 2021 season. The Chargers are entering a transition now that they have officially moved on from veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, and they're expected to let running back Melvin Gordon walk in free agency as well. Tyrod Taylor could be under center for the Bolts, at least to start the 2020 season, but the Chargers could also upgrade the position through free agency, the draft or a trade. Lynn, 51, led the Chargers to a disappointing 5-11 last-place finish in the AFC West. He's 26-22 in his three years with LA.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said that "all signs are good to this point" with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (elbow), who will have a medical checkup on Feb. 21. The team's medical staff has constantly been working with Big Ben, and Colbert said Roethlisberger could be better than he was a year ago. The 37-year-old (38 in March) played in just two games in 2019 before requiring right elbow surgery. It will be tough for him to be better than he was in 2018 (5,129 yards, 34 touchdowns), but Big Ben could still have QB1 upside in 2020. The smart play is to take him as a QB2 with some upside in fantasy drafts, though. A healthy Big Ben will be great news for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was a huge bust in 2019.
The Tennessee Titans agreed on a one-year contract extension with tight end Anthony Firkser on Thursday. Firkser was on track to become an exclusive-rights free agent in March. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. The Harvard alum had two big touchdown catches in the playoffs and hauled in 14 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown in 15 games during the regular season. Firkser caught three passes for 45 yards and the two scores in the postseason. Tennessee might be moving on from veteran Delanie Walker this offseason, but even so, Firkser will likely back up Jonnu Smith in 2020, making him a fantasy afterthought.
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn refuted a Wednesday night report that the team is in talks to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford. "100% False!!" Quinn wrote in a text message to the Free Press. Stafford is entering his 12th season in the NFL and threw for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions while setting a career-high passer rating in just eight games before suffering a back injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season. Detroit has the No. 3 pick in the draft, prompting speculation that they could move on from Stafford and select another QB. Stafford gives the Lions the best chance to win in 2020, and the team would incur a $32 million salary cap hit if they trade him.
Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford is the subject of trade rumors, but general manager Bob Quinn stated the rumors are '100 percent false.'
Fantasy Spin: Stafford was third in fantasy points per game at the position, but he missed half of the season. He'll be a midrange QB1 with some injury risk next season.