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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
Jeremy Maclin Mar 24 9:31pm ET

Former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin announced on Sunday that he is retiring from the NFL after 10 years. Maclin was drafted in the first round in 2009 and spent six seasons with the Eagles alongside DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. He is the 10th leading receiver in Philly franchise history after compiling 343 catches, 4,771 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns. Maclin spent the last three years struggling with the Chiefs and Ravens.

Rob Gronkowski Mar 24 6:13pm ET

New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL Sunday, March 24.

Fantasy Spin: The Patriots have lost Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen this offseason, so they probably will be looking for a tight end early in the 2019 NFL Draft. None of the other tight ends on the Patriots roster have a lot of fantasy value.

Rob Gronkowski Mar 24 6:10pm ET

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced on Sunday that he is retiring. The 29-year-old Gronk finished on a high note in the postseason and goes out on top with another Super Bowl ring, but he struggled to gain separation from defenders in the regular season and finished with 47 catches for 682 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season in 13 games. Gronkowski had four 1,000-yard receiving seasons and amassed a whopping 79 regular season scores in his nine-year career. He'll go down as one of the most dominant tight ends in NFL history. With Gronk no longer around, Stephen Anderson will be the top tight end on the depth chart, although he won't be much of a fantasy consideration. Losing Gronk as a safety blanket will surely affect quarterback Tom Brady negatively moving forward.

From RotoBaller

Jeremy Maclin Mar 24 5:43pm ET

Free-agent WR Jeremy Maclin (Ravens) announced his retirement Sunday, March 24.

Michael Johnson Mar 24 4:03pm ET

Free-agent DE Michael Johnson (Bengals) is not expected to re-sign with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason.

George Iloka Mar 24 4:00pm ET

The Dallas Cowboys signed free-agent safety George Iloka to an undisclosed one-year deal on Saturday, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. The seven-year safety played the first six seasons of his career with the Bengals but disappointed with only 16 tackles in 16 games (three starts) for the Vikings in 2018. It's looking like Iloka will have a starting role with his new team in Dallas.

From RotoBaller

Bryce Callahan Mar 24 12:33pm ET

Denver Broncos CB Bryce Callahan (foot) is unlikely to participate in the team's draft-week minicamp as he recovers from a foot injury, head coach Vic Fangio said Sunday, March 24.

Clay Harbor Mar 24 11:43am ET

Free-agent TE Clay Harbor (Saints) is attempting an NFL comeback and also appears to be open to changing his position to fullback. He has resumed training in the hopes of earning a workout with a team this offseason. Harbor plans to move on if he has not been signed by the time training camps open.

Jameis Winston Mar 24 2:13am ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds, intends to add muscle during the offseason and wants to play at 250 pounds in 2019. 'I'm getting it. I'm going to play bigger this year. I'm about 250. Yeah. A solid 250. It's just about hydration and being at the peak body, too,'' Winston said.

Fantasy Spin: It's unclear why Winston feels the need to put on weight, although fantasy owners will probably take it if it allows him to stay on the field and improve on his deep passing. The arrival of head coach Bruce Arians figures to be a boon to his career, and there is little question he has a capable supporting cast with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard as his primary targets. If he doesn't thrive this season, he'll likely have no one but himself to blame.

Adrian Peterson Mar 23 11:13pm ET

Washington Redskins RB Adrian Peterson called his 2018 season 'decent' and believes he is capable of more in 2019.

Fantasy Spin: Peterson rushed for 1,042 yards last year, but with Derrius Guice expected to be fully recovered from a knee injury, Peterson looks like more of a handcuff than a fantasy starter.

George Iloka Mar 23 9:33pm ET

Updating a previous report, Dallas Cowboys SS George Iloka has agreed to a one-year deal, according to a source.

George Iloka Mar 23 9:23pm ET

Free-agent SS George Iloka (Vikings) has agreed to sign with the Dallas Cowboys Saturday, March 23, according to a source.

George Iloka Mar 23 5:03pm ET

Free-agent SS George Iloka (Vikings) talked to the Minnesota Vikings at the NFL Scouting Combine about a possible return, but it appears like he will sign with another team this offseason.

Neiko Thorpe Mar 23 2:33pm ET

Free-agent CB Neiko Thorpe (Seahawks) re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks Saturday, March 23. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Malcolm Mitchell Mar 23 1:43pm ET

Free-agent WR Malcolm Mitchell (Patriots) said he plans to retire from professional football.

Rashaan Melvin Mar 23 1:00am ET

The Detroit Lions signed free-agent cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a one-year, $3.5 million deal on Friday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Melvin played for the Patriots in 2015 when head coach Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator. The 29-year-old has been mostly a starter the last three seasons with the Colts and Raiders and had a career-high three interceptions with the Colts in 2017. He could be the replacement for Nevin Lawson, who signed with the Raiders earlier this week.

From RotoBaller

Mike Glennon Mar 23 12:50am ET

The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent quarterback Mike Glennon to a one-year, $2 million deal on Friday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The 29-year-old will be with his fourth different team in the last four seasons and will serve as Derek Carr's backup in silver and black. Glennon has played in 27 games (22 starts) and is 6-16 as a starter in his five seasons in the NFL. He has 35 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions and an 84.0 quarterback rating. Glennon won't be fantasy relevant.

From RotoBaller

Russell Wilson Mar 22 10:43pm ET

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson could make as much as $40 million per year on his next contract, according to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com.

C.J. Anderson Mar 22 9:53pm ET

Free-agent RB C.J. Anderson (Rams) said on his Twitter feed that his time with the Los Angeles Rams 'was fun' and that he enjoyed the opportunity.

Fantasy Spin: Anderson was speaking like a player who doesn't expect to be back with the Rams in 2019. However, he did show that he has a little gas left in the tank in the right offense, and depending on where he signs, he could have some appeal as a depth option for fantasy owners.

Allen Hurns Mar 22 9:43pm ET

Dallas Cowboys WR Allen Hurns will likely see fewer opportunities next season after the signing of WR Randall Cobb, in the opinion of Kate Hairopoulos of The Dallas Morning News.