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Dixon’s AP mailbag: cornerbacks, cap space and the ‘Legion of Zoom’

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Welcome to Dixon’s Arrowhead Pride Mailbag, where I’ll do my best to answer your questions about the Kansas City Chiefs — and anything else that’s on your mind. If you have a question, you can hit my profile page to e-mail me, or ask me on Twitter.

While you’re at it, please follow me on Twitter, too.

Do you think that on paper, the cornerbacks this year are better than they were last year?

— Zack

Thanks for asking, Zack — but no… not really.

The only change at the top of the group is switching out Steven Nelson for Bashaud Breeland. I think Breeland is going to be much like Nelson was: an average-to-above-average cornerback who can hold his own. I’m just glad that it worked out the Chiefs could get him at a bargain-basement price — instead of the big contract he wanted when he checked into the Chiefs Training Camp Hotel for a couple of days last summer.

But unlike some people, I don’t see that as a big problem. The numbers say the Chiefs cornerbacks were decent last year. Not great… but decent. That’s better than most of the defensive position groups. So I’m not bothered because the Chiefs didn’t invest a lot of capital in cornerbacks; there were other places where they needed help more desperately.

That won’t be true next year. As Kent Swanson noted on Tuesday, the contract situation with cornerbacks will be perilous next year, and the Chiefs will need to develop some young ones to avoid problems.

I do think the secondary will take a step forward this year. But I think that will be because of the safeties — not the cornerbacks.

After a couple of years where we didn’t see it — added to a lot of resentment about how his 2018 season played out — we have forgotten about the contribution Eric Berry brought to the back end of the Chiefs defense. In his prime, his leadership — and his ability to clean up the mistakes made in front of him — could make any cornerback group look better. I think we’ll see at least some of that with Tyrann Mathieu on the field — and with any luck, Juan Thornhill will be a honey badger-in-training.

Will the defense be better, the same, or worse (hopefully not) this year?

— Jordan

Hey Jordan — thanks for your question!

Just about every week, someone asks me for a prediction of where the Chiefs defense will rank in 2019. I’ve been reluctant to answer that question because I think answering it gives the impression that there’s some minimum level of improvement that’s needed for the Chiefs to take a step forward. Last season, the Chiefs — with a defense that was well below the level of performance we traditionally expect to see in a championship-caliber team — came so close to getting to the championship, I’m not even sure we know what that level even is.

I think the secondary will be better. I think the linebackers will be better in a simplified scheme that is more familiar to most of the players in it. I think the pass rush will be good enough — if not close to the level of performance we saw in 2018. I think the attitude the new defensive coaches are bringing to their jobs — and the leadership of players like Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark — is going to make a significant difference.

So I think the defense will be better. I think it’s fair to be worried about the defense in the opening weeks of the season, while the players adjust to running the scheme. It’s not 1967 anymore; coaches don’t have weeks of two-a-days to get a new scheme running perfectly. But given time, it’s hard for me to believe the defense won’t be a better unit.

What is the plan for all of the extra cap space?

— Todd

Thanks for your question, Todd.

Extra cap space? What extra cap space?

Per OverTheCap.com, the Chiefs have $25.2 million in salary-cap space right now. That’s a good-sized chunk, so I can’t blame anyone who feels the itch to go spend it on some guys.

But there’s always been a plan. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach didn’t get rid of Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Eric Berry’s contracts — along with various others — just to go window-shopping for some random guys. Before the 2018 season was even cold in the ground, the team made it clear that signing Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill to the big long-term deals they deserve was an offseason priority. That $25 million is meant to do exactly that.

Sure… both of their contracts are rookie deals. If they wanted to, the Chiefs could structure contract extensions for them that will use very little of that space. But I don’t think they want to, because after this season, the Chiefs have two starting cornerbacks who will not be under contract — and then the big problem: a quarterback who will deserve a history-making deal. The time for fooling around with contracts that “kick the can down the road” is over.

So while the Chiefs have cap space, I’m not really sure you’d call it extra cap space.

Do you think the Chiefs will make a trade or pick up a player before the season starts?

— Mark

Good question, Mark. Thank you.

I don’t think the Chiefs are done. But unless it’s a player-for-player deal, I’d be surprised if the Chiefs make a trade before the season; they’ve already expended a lot of future draft assets to make the moves they’ve already made, and I think Veach is the kind of guy who wants to dole those out carefully.

That leaves free-agent signings. Since I’ve already said the Chiefs don’t really have extra cap space, how would that be possible? Let me put it this way: barring a serious training camp injury to a significant player — the kind of thing that landed former Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey on the Atlanta Falcons — right now I don’t see the Chiefs signing a “name” free agent.

But I can certainly see the Chiefs picking up a player or two from the pool of young players who will be cut by other teams just as the season gets underway. General managers always have their eyes open for young players they might have drafted or signed themselves; the fact they didn’t make another roster isn’t likely to change their original evaluation of the player — and those guys are cheap. And there’s always the chance that releasing a veteran player of two as camp wraps up — think Xavier Williams, Daniel Sorensen, Charcandrick West and so on — could free up a little money to grab a vet with whom another team has parted ways.

Have the Super Bowl odds changed for the Chiefs since the Tyreek Hill announcement?

— William

Hey William! Thanks for the question.

Strangely enough… it doesn’t seem like they have. I’m sure there are people who are more tuned in to betting markets than I am, but after doing a little research, it looks like the Chiefs are listed at around 6-1 to win the Super Bowl. That’s about where they were before the whole thing blew up in March — and also at the end of April when the Chiefs suspended Hill.

It’s important to remember the usual disclaimer about betting odds: they aren’t intended to predict the future. They are a device intended to get an equal amount of money on both sides of a wager. (That way, the house always makes money). When odds change, it’s because more money has come in on one side of the bet than the other. As such, betting odds start out as an indication of what oddsmakers think but eventually become a reflection of what the betting public thinks.

So if the odds remained relatively unchanged, that suggests the public never thought Hill’s suspension would make much of a difference — or chose not to place money on the Chiefs one way or another until the situation was resolved.

Is calling our offense “The Legion of Zoom” creative or stupid?

— Austen

Great question, Austen. Thanks!

I’ve seen the argument that the nickname isn’t creative — that it owes too much to the one the Seattle Seahawks used. But The Greatest Show on Turf and The New York Sack Exchange were derivative, too — and I don’t see anybody complaining about either of those.

And yes… it’s a little stupid. So were The Purple People Eaters and The Hogs — or for that matter, The No-Name Defense. So what?

The Legion of Zoom is memorable, has a nice ring and totally describes what the Chiefs offense is all about. Isn’t that the whole point of a nickname?

If you don’t happen to like it… OK. It’s a free country. Different strokes. Your mileage may vary. But let’s not pretend there’s some kind of test nicknames have to pass. We don’t go to the polls and vote on them. They either stick… or they don’t.

Speaking for myself… I love it. But your mileage may vary.

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