KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So long, charcoal; hello, Chiefs. Organized team activities start Tuesday for Kansas City’s NFL beloved, the first chapter in a month of practices designed to whet your appetite before the sweat starts flying at St. Joe in July. And you might finally get some answers to those questions your buddies posed over Memorial Day weekend …
1. Is Justin Houston coming?
This week? No. Well, probably not. Over the next month? Hey, we’ll never say never, but that ain’t likely, either. It’s highly improbable that the stud outside linebacker signs his franchise tender until he absolutely has to be here, and that "absolutely" probably doesn’t include the mandatory June 16-18 minicamp that concludes the Chiefs’ spring phases, either.
General manager John Dorsey said late last month that he had been in discussions with Houston’s camp and doesn’t foresee him "going anywhere in the future." But publicly, things have been awfully, awfully quiet in the three weeks since.
2. Speaking of contracts, just how much cap room do the Chiefs have to play with, anyway?
According to our pals at OverTheCap.com, an estimated $2.7 million as of Memorial Day. And at least six players – quarterback Alex Smith ($40.4 million), wideout Jeremy Maclin ($22.5 million), left tackle Eric Fisher ($11.85 million), left guard Ben Grubbs ($8.5 million), outside linebacker Tamba Hali ($7.96 million) and defensive end Allen Bailey ($8.0 million) — would count as at least $7.9 million or more in projected "dead money" if cut. And the salaries that would open up the most immediate cap space, right now? Running back Jamaal Charles ($6.637 million), cornerback Sean Smith ($5.5 million) and safety Eric Berry ($5.455 million).
3. So how IS #BerryStrong, anyway?
Better, if reports out of Knoxville and Atlanta are to be believed. The Pro Bowl safety last month turned up at Family Day for his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, to hang with brothers Elliott and Evan, who both play for the Vols. The latter told the Nashville Tennessean recently that "to be honest, I really don’t see (Hodgkin lymphoma) affecting him."
That said, the Chiefs haven’t given a direct — or even subtle — hint as to when Berry might be cleared to resume football activities, if at all. How the secondary lines up with all the new (and moving) parts this week at OTAs might give us an indication of how they plan to roll without 29, at least in the short term.
4. Which position groups should I be caring about?
Besides the secondary, where starting cornerback Smith is also expected to be a disciplinary casualty at the start of the season, the most interesting single group over the next month might be the offensive line. Other than Fisher at left tackle and Grubbs at left guard, every other spot on the line figures to be up for grabs, and in veterans Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson and rookie Mitch Morse, you have viable candidates who could probably succeed at multiple positions. Which combination starts OTAs? Which combination works best? And if something wacky happens — such as Stephenson’s PED suspension last summer, the first domino that started to unravel the right side of the line in 2014 – is there a Plan B or Plan C that precludes Dorsey reaching for alternatives off the street?
5. Who will be this year’s Albert Wilson?
If rookie minicamp is any kind of barometer, the next undrafted rookie to crack the regular-season roster might be another wide receiver. Kenny Cook, a 6-foot-4 target out of Gardner-Webb, showed the kind of red-zone goods against his peers that the Andy Gang was in desperate – historically desperate, in fact — need of a year ago, when the wideouts went 17 regular-season weeks without catching a touchdown pass. If Cook has the hands and the hops, then De’Vante Bausby, a rookie cornerback out of Pittsburg (Kan.) State is the sentimental choice. A Kansas City kid who grew up not far from Arrowhead Stadium, Bausby has press-coverage experience and features the kind of size (6-2) and speed (4.35 in the 40) profile that Dorsey likes along the boundary. And with no Marcus Peters or Steven Nelson in the picture for at least three weeks because of academic schedules, Bausby ought to get plenty of looks. Of course, stars in shorts and shells in the spring sometimes don’t exactly translate in the late summer heat once real contact starts. There’s a long way to go on the twisty, windy road to Week 1 in Houston, but we’ll say this: On paper, it probably won’t be boring.