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Chiefs turning to Spagnuolo to shore up sieve-like defensive

Wed Feb 20 2:09pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer

Players: Patrick Mahomes

In this Jan. 5, 2017, file photo, New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo talks to reporters in East Rutherford, N.J. The Kansas City Chiefs have turned to Spagnuolo to shore up their soft defense, and the former Rams and Giants head coach knows that it will be a process. But he also said Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, that there are pieces in place for a rapid turnaround. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Steve Spagnuolo spent much of his year out of coaching making the 45-minute drive from his home in Philadelphia to the headquarters of NFL Films in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

Spagnuolo had finished a tour as the interim coach of the New York Giants and missed out on the full-time job after the season. He turned down an assistant coaching offer and decided instead to spend the season recharging his proverbial batteries while getting a different perspective on the league.

No better place to do that than the repository for all NFL game film.

''I'm glad I did it. There might have been another year I should have done it,'' said Spagnuolo, who was hired a couple weeks go to be Andy Reid's defensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs.

''I found it to be both challenging and rewarding,'' he explained Wednesday. ''The challenge was missing football, missing the camaraderie of the players and coaches. The reward was to sit back and see a big picture of the NFL and the game of football, as opposed to being in these buildings during the season with blinders on. Just a big-picture view of the league, the game of football.''

While ensconced at NFL Films headquarters, the former St. Louis Rams head coach had plenty of time to check out the Chiefs, whose Super Bowl run came up short in the AFC title game.

One of the clearest reasons? Their defense, which ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every statistical category. In fact, it was the defense that failed to stop the New England Patriots in overtime of the championship game, preventing Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the rest of their dynamic offense from even getting onto the field in the extra session.

More than anything else it was that performance that sealed the fate of longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. He was fired within days of the season ending, and almost his entire staff was let go, found jobs elsewhere or, in the case of Emmitt Thomas, simply retired.

Now, it is up to Spagnuolo to turn around the Chiefs' weak spot.

''I don't really go backward. I'm not going to pass judgment,'' Spagnuolo said. ''I think the world of Bob Sutton. Bob and I have known each other a long time. A change was made - coach Reid made that decision - I'm just happy I was able to fall into what I think is a great position.''

There are certainly pieces in place for a quick turnaround. There are also some crucial decisions to be made in short order.

Top pass rusher Dee Ford is due to become a free agent, though the Chiefs are expected to place the franchise tag on him as they pursue a long-term deal. Defensive tackle Chris Jones is coming off a breakout season and is eligible to sign an extension, while the albatross contracts of safety Eric Berry and linebacker Justin Houston must be dealt with in some fashion. Perhaps they get restructured. Perhaps the two elder statesmen are released. Either way, the Chiefs could sorely use the salary cap relief to shore up other areas of the defense.

They also have the draft in April, and a first-round pick for the first time in two years, though they spent nearly all their picks on defense last season, with modest returns.

''This is a process. There are no quick fixes. There is no magic wand,'' Spagnuolo said. ''One person does not assure success, but we'll do everything to put something together.''

Spagnuolo acknowledged in an interview Wednesday the lure of the Chiefs, who are well-positioned to chase championships for years. They have one of the most stable ownerships in the NFL, a highly respected head coach in Reid, the reigning league MVP in the 23-year-old Mahomes, and plenty of high-powered talent on offense to keep pace with just about any other team.

The biggest piece missing is a defense that can get off the field when it matters most.

Like overtime of the AFC championship game.

''You won't touch a defensive coach in the NFL that wouldn't want to be on a team with, A, a really good head football coach and, B, a really good quarterback,'' Spagnuolo said. ''It goes without saying I'm really excited to be part of an organization that has an elite quarterback, and quite frankly to work with Andy Reid again, and what he's all about and what he's meant to this franchise and the league as a whole is really, really special.''

Player Notes
Trevor Siemian Mar 22 10:45am ET

The New York Jets agreed to terms with free-agent quarterback Trevor Siemian on a one-year, $2 million deal on Wednesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Siemian can make up to $3 million in incentives. The 27-year-old former Bronco didn't play at all with the Vikings last year while backing up Kirk Cousins. He was the starter in Denver in 2016 and 2017, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. New York's addition of Siemian likely means that veteran Josh McCown, a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback, will leave in free agency or retire. Siemian won't have any fantasy appeal in his new digs while backing up Sam Darnold.

Jared Cook Mar 22 10:44am ET

The New Orleans Saints are expected to sign free-agent tight end Jared Cook, sources told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Cook, who turns 32 next month, had a career year with the Raiders in 2018, catching 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns. The veteran can stretch opposing defenses down the seam and should open up more space for star receiver Michael Thomas on the outside. While it would be foolish to expect Cook to put up better numbers than he did in Oakland, he should remain a strong TE1 option in the high-flying offense of the Saints.

Clay Matthews Mar 22 10:23am ET

Updating previous reports, Los Angeles Rams LB Clay Matthews' two-year deal has a $9.25 million base value with $5.5 million guaranteed.

Morgan Burnett Mar 22 9:43am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers FS Morgan Burnett will be released by April 1, per the player's request, according to his agent, Kevin Conner.

Robert Griffin III Mar 22 8:23am ET

Free-agent QB Robert Griffin III (Ravens) re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens Friday, March 22, on a two-year deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed, and the deal is pending a physical.

Marcus Sherels Mar 21 10:20pm ET

The New Orleans Saints signed long-time Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. The 31-year-old was the Vikings primary punt returner for the last eight years and averaged 12.0 yards per punt return in 2018 to finish in the league's top five for the third time in the last six seasons. He was also used occasionally as a kickoff returner and was a backup cornerback. New Orleans ranked in the league's bottom 10 teams in punt return yardage the last two years. Sherels won't be an option in most fantasy leagues with his move to the Saints.

From RotoBaller

O.J. Howard Mar 21 10:13pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard (ankle) spent time running routes and catching passes from Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes Thursday, March 21.

Fantasy Spin: Howard was having a TE1 campaign in 2018 before an injury ended his season early, but he should be back at full strength well before the start of next season. He is a big-play weapon from the tight end spot and could finish as a top-five fantasy option at his position.

Robert Griffin III Mar 21 10:10pm ET

The Baltimore Ravens re-signed backup quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday to an undisclosed two-year deal. The 29-year-old will continue to back up starter Lamar Jackson in 2019. The former first-round pick can be an invaluable source for Jackson as he matures heading into his second season, but RG3 will continue to have no fantasy value.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Howard Mar 21 10:03pm ET

Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is unlikely to have a role in the offense if he remains with the team in 2019, in the opinion of Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

Fantasy Spin: Howard has always struggled to make an impact in the passing game, and after regressing as a between-the-tackles runner last year, the Bears don't have much incentive to feature him in the offense. Feel free to take a flier on him in the final rounds of drafts, but don't count on him to be a contributor for your fantasy squad.

Justin Houston Mar 21 10:00pm ET

The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent outside linebacker Justin Houston to a two-year deal worth $24 million on Thursday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Houston had nine sacks for the Chiefs last year, but he was cut with the team trying to get younger and defense while transitioning from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme. The Colts also run a 4-3, but they project to use him as a defensive end for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has dealt with a nagging knee injury in recent years but still has 18.5 sacks in the last two years. The veteran will certainly help boost a weak Indy pass rush from a season ago.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Reed Mar 21 9:33pm ET

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (toe) has been working out with teammates this offseason, according to RB Adrian Peterson.

Fantasy Spin: Reed managed to play in 13 games last season, but it didn't translate into much production on the field. Between constant health issues and slipping per-game numbers, Reed is no more than a late-round lottery ticket heading into 2019.

Cooper Kupp Mar 21 9:23pm ET

Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp (knee) said his recovery is where it is 'supposed to be' at this point in the process.

Fantasy Spin: Kupp is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 season. He was Jared Goff's go-to target on third downs and in the red zone prior to the injury, and Kupp should be able to deliver WR2 numbers, especially in PPR formats.

Hunter Henry Mar 21 9:23pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers TE Hunter Henry (knee) is expected to be ready for the start of OTAs, according to general manager Tom Telesco.

Fantasy Spin: Assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks, Henry should open the year as the starting tight end for the Chargers and a low-end TE1 candidate for fantasy owners.

Stephen Gostkowski Mar 21 7:03pm ET

Free-agent PK Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots) is making progress in contract talks with the New England Patriots. Gostkowski has also received interest from other teams.

Fantasy Spin: Gostkowski struggled at times this past season but still can be a weekly starting option in all fantasy leagues.

Mar 21 6:43pm ET

Free-agent DT Al Woods (Colts) met with the Detroit Lions Thursday, March 21.

Mar 21 6:33pm ET

Free-agent DE Brandon Copeland (Jets) met with the Detroit Lions Wednesday, March 20.

Marcus Sherels Mar 21 6:13pm ET

Free-agent CB Marcus Sherels (Vikings) agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints Thursday, March 21, according to a source. Financial terms were not disclosed.

George Iloka Mar 21 5:43pm ET

Free-agent S George Iloka (Vikings) is scheduled to meet with the Dallas Cowboys Friday, March 22, according to a source.

Kerry Wynn Mar 21 5:23pm ET

Free-agent DE Kerry Wynn (Giants) is meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday, March 21, according to a source.

Mike Hull Mar 21 5:13pm ET

Free-agent LB Mike Hull (Dolphins) re-signed with the Miami Dolphins Thursday, March 21. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.