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Judgements: Reid's transformation has Chiefs ready to challenge

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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When the Kansas City hired Andy Reid, former Chiefs' head coach Marty Schottenheimer hailed the move as "spectacular." I can see why. In little more than two weeks, Reid has Chiefs' fans wondering if they really must wait a couple of years before closing in on Denver in the AFC West.

Two years is what it took for Reid to put Philadelphia in the playoffs, but these Chiefs aren't those Eagles. They're more talented, especially after a raft of smart moves that addressed the team's shortcomings.

First, they didn't just find a new quarterback; they found two -- Alex Smith and Chase Daniel. Smith is the starter; Daniel the backup. Second, in Smith they have a quarterback who can clean up the turnovers (a league-high 37 last season) that sabotaged the club. Third, they found a wide receiver (Donnie Avery) to help take the heat off Dwayne Bowe. And now ... well, now they shored up a pass defense that produced an NFL-low seven interceptions (not to mention an NFL-low 13 takeaways) by adding a couple of experienced cornerbacks.

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Dunta Robinson is one of them. Sean Smith is the other, and Smith is the big get here. He was one of the top-free agent corners on the market, with Kansas City beating out a parade of suitors -- including New England, Miami and Philadelphia -- with a three-year, $18 million contract.

I know, I know, the last time Reid went to the free-agent market in search of a cornerback it didn't turn out so well. That was 2011 when Philadelphia hired Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha, but that wasn't Reid's idea. It was the organization's, and it was a bad one.

But that was then, and this is now -- and now Reid has a cornerback who is big (he's 6-3, 220) and physical and the ideal complement to Brandon Flowers. Moreover, he's Kansas City's response to Denver's hiring of Wes Welker. Welker is supposed to make Peyton Manning more effective, but tell that to Chiefs' fans. Manning last season torched their club without Welker. Not only did he win both starts; he was 45 of 66 for 589 yards, with five touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 115.02.

If you're going to catch Denver, you better be able to defend Manning and his receivers -- and Kansas City has a chance now. That doesn't mean they catch the Broncos; I don't expect that. What it means is that the foundation is down for a run no later than 2014.

2. The Steven Jackson move makes sense for Atlanta, and here's why: Because the Falcons believe they're a player or two away from the Super Bowl, with running back one of those players. So this is all about this season. Period. Jackson turns 30 before the season and isn't the difference maker he once was. Nevertheless, he's better than what Atlanta had. "They're desperate to get over the top," one pro personnel director said, "so they'll do anything to get there. Jackson is a hard runner who's tough and committed, and that's their style of football." I know, he has absorbed a zillion hits in his career and is what one GM described as "a collision runner," which means he's probably going to miss time -- except he missed only two games the past four years. The Falcons must balance their attack, and, now, more than ever, they appreciate the value of a running game. San Francisco beat them with it in the conference championship game, and two of the league's top 11 rushing offenses met in Super Bowl XLVII. The Falcons were 29th. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure this one out.

3. Here's how I read the Matt Cassel deal: Christian Ponder, pick up your game. The Vikings could have brought in a veteran backup who wasn't a threat to Ponder, but, instead, settled on Cassel. The problem: He is a threat to Ponder. It tells me someone there wants to push the incumbent and, come to think of it, that's smart.

4. So now it's Michael Bennett to the Seahawks. That only confirms what people trying to beat USC all those years knew -- namely, that there's no better recruiter than Pete Carroll. First he picks up wide receiver Percy Harvin; then it's free-agent pass rusher Cliff Avril; now this. Pity the poor quarterbacks who face these guys. Atlanta's Matt Ryan dodged them in the divisional playoff game because Seattle couldn't pressure the pocket -- not without top pass rusher Chris Clemons it couldn't. So Carroll just guaranteed the pass rush will be a problem no more. Moreover, he all but guaranteed his team as the trendy Super Bowl pick.

5. Just a guess, but the competition committee's idea to end the Tuck Rule won't mollify Raiders' fans.

6. If the Eagles can keep safety Kenny Phillips healthy -- something the Giants could not -- they have themselves a steal. And if they can't? No big deal. It's a one-year contract, so there's no risk. All I know is they may have found themselves a top-shelf safety to pair with Patrick Chung, and it's about time. They've been looking for one ever since Brian Dawkins left town in 2009.

7. The case against Phillips is this: He hasn't been the same since undergoing microfracture surgery in 2009. The Giants have Stevie Brown behind him, but they see him as a backup. Look for them to look for Phillips' replacement either in free agency (Ryan Mundy?) or the draft -- with the draft deep at the position.

8. With the loss of cornerback Cary Williams, Baltimore subtracted its fifth starter from the defense that opened the AFC title game. And with Ed Reed's future in the balance, that number could jump to six -- or over half the lineup. No wonder Las Vegas makes their odds of reaching this year's Super Bowl longer than New Orleans.

9. I'm sorry, but I don't get the interest in Asomugha. People tell me as many as five teams are interested in the guy, with San Francisco hot on the trail, but why? He was a bust in Philadelphia, and he can't run. My colleague, Pete Prisco, thinks he's OK if used in press coverage, but I didn't see him OK at anything in Philadelphia. "You have to cover him up with a safety," one scout told me. "He doesn't like to be 'soloed' out there so you've got to help him." Rewind the videotape of the Eagles' last game, and you'll see why.

10. Alabama running back Eddie Lacy still hasn't worked out for scouts, but one of them told me the school will hold two more pro days on April 2 and April 11, with the expectation that Lacy runs on the 11th. He's been bothered by a sore hamstring.

11. I like the odds of Indianapolis finding a veteran backup at quarterback before training camp. Somehow, having Chandler Harnish as the only option outside of Andrew Luck can't make coaches comfortable. 12. Next time, bank on what Vontae Davis says.

13. The Jets should bring in Kevin Kolb after Arizona releases him -- mostly because he and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg worked together in Philadelphia, where Kolb built a short but impressive resume, and partly because he's legitimate competition for Mark Sanchez. If there's a knock on the guy, it's durability. He missed more games (17) in Arizona than he played (15), and lost his starting job in Philadelphia to Michael Vick after one start. One player with the Cards told me last year that while he and others thought Kolb was more talented than backup John Skelton they questioned his toughness. It won't take long for that to be tested in New York.

14. Those people who can't believe New England let Wes Welker walk must have forgotten this is the same team that in 2006 traded away Brady's favorite receiver, Deion Branch, who, it just so happened, was also a Super Bowl MVP. They must have forgotten about banishing Randy Moss in 2010 to Minnesota, too. All he did was catch an NFL-record 23 TDs from Brady. As I said here before, coach Bill Belichick is as unsentimental at he is consistent, and when Welker turned down a fully guaranteed two-year, $16 million deal his days with the club were numbered.

15. Danny Amendola is Wes Welker, only younger -- except -- except there's one thing that does separate the two: Durability. Amendola missed 20 of his last 32 games; Welker missed three games in six years.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Steven Jackson in Atlanta. I don't know what he has left. I just know he's an upgrade for a team that couldn't run the ball. Nevertheless, the Falcons were this close to reaching Super Bowl XLVII, so maybe, just maybe, he pushes them over the top. That's the idea, anyway. Tony Gonzalez is back for one season, and maybe the Falcons squeeze one or two more out of Jackson. All I know is Atlanta has the passing game to get to the Super Bowl. What they don't have is a rushing attack ... until now. Jackson makes them stronger in the run AND the pass because, for a change, defenses must respect Atlanta's ground game.

2. John Elway's offseason moves. A year ago, he won the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes, and Denver had the AFC's best record. Now, he's gone to New England to take away Tom Brady's security blanket, Wes Welker, and score another for Elway the Exec. Not only did Denver get better; it got better at the expense of one of the strongest, toughest and most consistent teams in the AFC -- an opponent it figures it must go through to get to the top of the conference.

3. San Diego's addition of Chad Rinehart. The Chargers need offensive guards, and Rinehart is a perfect fit with former Buffalo offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris. Rinehart was a two-year starter in Buffalo and underrated. The Chargers didn't get former Bills' guard Andy Levitre, but they did gain a decent second option at a much lower cost.

4. The NFL addressing the red-flag rule. The competition committee will recommend an overhaul of the rule that last year prevented a review of Justin Forsett's Thanksgiving Day TD because Lions' coach Jim Schwartz first threw the challenge flag. Hallelujah. It's been a long time coming. The rule is stupid. Just get the call right.

5. Geno Smith's stock. When you complete 60 of 64 at your pro day workout, the stock goes up. Smith's did, though most clubs aren't concerned about what he does in workouts; they're concerned about what he does in games -- namely, hold the ball too long and throw with no consistency. Nevertheless, I have no doubt someone (Buffalo? Philadelphia?) makes him a top-10 pick.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. Mike Wallace's contract. It's a five-year, $60 million deal, but read the fine print. It's more like a two-year, $30 million contract, with $3 million guaranteed if Wallace is on the roster the fifth day of the 2014 fiscal calendar -- which, of course, he will be. If I'm GM Jeff Ireland I pray this guy's a premier player ... or else. "That's a lot of cash for a streaker," said one GM.

2. The hits on Houston. Everyone's talking about Baltimore and the damage the Ravens suffered, but what about these guys? James Casey is gone. Glover Quin is gone. Kevin Walter is gone. Connor Barwin is gone. Nobody in 2011 was better overcoming adversity than Houston, but that was two years ago. Since then, the Texans have lost a slew of key players, including pass rusher Mario Williams, and that's not how you get better.

3. Philadelphia's free-agent blizzard. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn't. But didn't the Eagles try this approach a couple of years ago? And look what happened.

4. San Diego's gamble on Derek Cox. The guy's a decent cornerback if, that is, he's healthy. Hamstrings bothered him in Jacksonville, with Cox missing 14 games the past two seasons. He's big (6-1) and physical, and those are traits you're going to need playing in the same division with Denver. The Chargers gave him a four-year deal worth $20 million, and, considering his recent history, I'd call that risky.

5. The thought of Brian Urlacher playing anywhere but Chicago. I know Urlacher turns 35 before this season. I know he's a descending player. I know he's missed at least four games in two of the past four seasons. But, to quote Tom Brady, I also know he's "the heart and soul" of the Chicago defense. GM Phil Emery said negotiations with Urlacher are "an ongoing process," and that doesn't sound encouraging -- especially when the Bears are up against the cap. But nobody's rushed to sign him yet, an encouraging sign for Bears' fans not eager to see Urlacher in, say, a Vikings' uniform.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 Where next for Aqib Talib?

 Miami: Smart or foolish?

 San Francisco or Seattle?

 What's going on with the Rams and Jake Long?

 Which Connor Barwin is Philadelphia getting?

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