Chiefs mailbag: Money matters and practicing in shorts

Questions on what happens financially to outside linebacker Justin Houston if there is a regular-season holdout to players practicing in shorts during organized team activities, among other subjects, discussed in this edition of the mailbag.

The million-dollar question, literally.

Should All-Pro outside linebacker Justin Houston sign the one-year, $13.1 million franchise tender before Week 1 of the regular season, he would receive all of it.

But the $13.1 million becomes prorated for the weeks Houston is with the team after signing the tender in the event he misses regular-season games based on a holdout.

As the incomparable Joel Corry, a former NFL agent and current contracts/salary cap expert for, explained to me in a recent telephone conversation, think of the prorated portion as 1/17 of the $13.1 million for each week of the NFL season.

If Houston chooses, he can holdout into the regular season, and then sign the tender before Week 10, which would earn an accrued season with a view to free agency in 2016.

The prorated portion of the $13.1 million would apply to the remaining six weeks of the regular season.

The Chiefs and Houston can avoid the above scenarios if the two sides come to an agreement on a multiyear contract or extension no later than 4 p.m. ET on July 15, which is the league-wide deadline to accomplish either.

Anything after July 15, Houston can only sign the one-year tender for the 2015 season, which puts the earlier situations in play.

Rookie wide receiver Chris Conley looked good for the most part, but it comes with a caveat, which will be a recurring theme in this mailbag: The Chiefs are in shorts and helmets with no contact.

Still, that doesn’t mean the Chiefs don’t like what they have in Conley.

“He fits the M.O. of the type of receiver you want in this offense, big and strong, playing the position he’s playing,” assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley said on June 3. “He’s learning right now, again, he’s learning right now what Jeremy (Maclin) went through five years ago, he’s going through it right now.”

Conley is in good hands with Maclin and Jason Avant as he transitions from college to learning how to play the position in coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense, and that mentorship should help Conley’s learning curve.

Nevertheless, Reid’s scheme isn’t easy for rookie players to pick up and immediately make an impact.

I’ve written extensively about Reid’s offense over the past three years based on discussions with various former Philadelphia Eagles players, including the likes of former three-time Pro Bowl tight end Chad Lewis and wide receiver Todd Pinkston.

Pinkston, in particular, told in late March 2014 it usually takes a wide receiver two years to show a full understanding of the system.

Reid reinforced that point during his Friday post-practice media session.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have some young guys that came in as rookies and played for us in a big role,” Reid said. “I’d tell you generally it takes a wide receiver a year or two or three to learn.”

The No. 2 wide receiver position is wide open, and Conley can make a push if he shows a good grasp of the scheme in training camp.

In a perfect world, the Chiefs open the season with Maclin as the No. 1, second-year pro Albert Wilson as the No. 2 and Avant at the slot.

The Chiefs will also be creative in getting touches for dangerous second-year pro De’Anthony Thomas, who appears to be transitioning from the running back position to wide receiver.

There shouldn’t be an early-season rush to get Conley involved because of those options, and the Chiefs can afford to ease Conley into the offense.

The Chiefs rotated personnel on the offensive line throughout OTAs.

But the picture should clear in the coming days at mandatory minicamp, which offers a preview of sorts to training camp.

Still, it is difficult to find reasons – even with the absence of pads – to not like the first-team unit on the first day of OTAs: Eric Fisher at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Eric Kush at center, Jeff Allen at right guard and Donald Stephenson at right tackle.

That group offers a strong mix of veterans, with Fisher, Kush, Allen and Stephenson each entering a third year in the scheme.

Kush more than makes sense as the frontrunner at center over rookie Mitch Morse because of that familiarity. And more importantly, the 6-4, 313-pound Kush already has chemistry with quarterback Alex Smith, who pointed out that area on June 2.

“It’s been very, very seamless,” Smith said of working with Kush. “I haven’t really missed a beat. Kush has stepped in, he knows the offense, he knows what we’re doing, really good communicator up here. He and I already have a really good rapport together.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs certainly have viable options to consider at right guard among Allen, last year’s starter in Zach Fulton, Paul Fanaika and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

The 6-4, 306-pound Allen, however, should have plenty of incentive to win the job when considering he enters the final year of his contract.

The fourth-year pro, who has appeared in 32 career games (28 starts), faces an opportunity to perform with a view to a big payday either with the Chiefs or through free agency if he doesn’t re-sign in 2016.

The lack of pads, unfortunately, is arguably the biggest pitfall when it comes to evaluating offensive linemen.

Additionally, the no-contact rule during offseason workouts means there won’t be any physical-like pancake blocks from the offensive linemen.

But if asking how Sherrod looks on the practice field, the former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers showed good movement at the tackle position and is part of the offensive line rotation.

File that question away for training camp and we’ll revisit it.

That is a good point on cornerbacks not playing with all the tools at their disposal because wide receivers have a free release at the line of scrimmage without worrying about a defender jamming them.

The biggest takeaways from OTAs include how the players perform during the install portion of team-related drills, the player rotations to offer insight on the still undetermined depth chart and the development of chemistry.

From being out there to cover and observe practices, the latter area surrounding chemistry has looked good so far for quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, which is touched on here.

Additionally, the defensive secondary looks like it is ready to pick up where it left off last season as the league’s No. 2 unit against the pass. Cornerbacks Sean Smith and Phillip Gaines have been all over the field breaking up passes or pulling down interceptions despite the lack of contact. 

The top four wide receivers likely project as Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Albert Wilson and Chris Conley, meaning there should be fierce competition for that fifth spot.

And that doesn’t take into consideration how the Chiefs will officially list De’Anthony Thomas, who worked almost exclusively with the wide receivers during OTAs, on the depth chart. Veterans Junior Hemingway and Frankie Hammond Jr., also aren’t going away quietly.

Meanwhile, Da’Rick Rogers and rookies Da’Ron Brown, the team’s seventh-round pick, and Kenny Cook, an undrafted rookie, each had their moments throughout OTAs.

While Cook, in particular, has consistently made attention-grabbing plays down the field, see earlier numerous mentions of the shorts and helmet with no pads angle.

The fourth and fifth wide receivers – sometimes sixth or seventh depending if the Chiefs choose to carry that many on the active 53-man roster like in 2014 – are often called upon to contribute on special teams.

A wide receiver’s versatility on special teams as a returner or gunner will heavily contribute as a determining factor.

It is too early to tell who has the edge between Rogers, Cook and Brown, but training camp will help settle what will be a fun competition to monitor.

It wouldn’t surprise if the Chiefs leaned to veteran Richard Gordon if Demetrius Harris, who is recovering from an early May foot surgery, isn’t ready for the regular season.

But it was hard to ignore what rookie tight end James O’Shaughnessy accomplished in OTAs, especially if he carries that into training camp.

O’Shaughnessy took full advantage of Harris’ absence by joining Travis Kelce with the first-team offense whenever the Chiefs used a two-tight end set.

The Chiefs would like to return to the three-tight end set, which was effective early in the 2014 season before Harris went down with a fractured foot in Week 10. So a scenario with Kelce, Gordon and O’Shaughnessy isn’t a stretch if Harris is unavailable.

Shaughnessy is still learning, of course, but he received valuable repetitions and that will help his confidence.

He also has a good head on his shoulders to keep him grounded.

“I think I’ve got a lot to learn and we haven’t even put the pads on,” O’Shaughnessy said on June 11 after practice. “It’s not really clear what I’m going to be able to handle just yet but my main focus right now is to learn the offense to the best of my ability, try to find a role. I know that I will do my best on special teams and I will do whatever they ask me on offense, so I’m just trying to make sure I take everything day-by-day.”

The Chiefs also have tight ends Adam Schiltz and Ryan Taylor on the roster.

Ah, there’s been an awakening and Mike Allen has apparently felt it on the dark side and the light.

The Force is strong in the young Jedi Knight to pose a valid question, but there hasn’t been a disturbance to indicate rookie wide receiver Chris Conley’s intent.

This is definitely a future question worthy of asking Conley, who is a die-hard Star Wars fan, on his plans when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hits theaters in December.


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