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Patrick Mahomes dominoes – Barnwell on the Chiefs’ options, AFC playoff picture

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Thursday night saw just about every NFL fan’s worst nightmare come true. Patrick Mahomes dislocated his right kneecap on a first-half sneak during Kansas City’s win over Denver. The injury is expected to keep Mahomes out for at least three games after an MRI showed no additional damage, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday. Mahomes was replaced by backup quarterback Matt Moore on Thursday night.

It’s a crushing blow to a 5-2 Chiefs team expected to compete for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a trip to the Super Bowl. Their path to those goals is now murkier. Even if you’re a fan of a rival team, Mahomes is unadulterated football joy. It’s awful to see that taken away.

Everyone loses, at least on some level, with Mahomes sidelined. You don’t need me to tell you that the Chiefs are a drastically different team without their star passer. In taking a step back and trying to look at the big picture, I’d like to get a sense of what might happen next and how the 2019 season might shift after the Mahomes injury. Let’s start with the Chiefs and work our way out:


The Chiefs will move forward, at least at first, with Moore

If you’re a Chiefs fan looking for some vestige of hope, let me start with this: Moore has generally been an underrated quarterback during his time in the NFL. He was basically a league-average player on a middling Dolphins team in 2011, only for ownership to push for a more exciting option the following offseason to help sell tickets, which led the franchise to draft Ryan Tannehill. Moore then spent four years on the bench, but when he came back in for an injured Tannehill in 2016 and then Jay Cutler in 2017, he was again generally a competent quarterback, with one bad start against the Ravens as an exception. With better luck, Moore might have had a few seasons as a viable starter. That’s not Mahomes, but it’s better than most teams have waiting in the wings.

It’s fair to note that Moore is 35 and was starting to work as a scout for the Dolphins before the Chiefs signed him in August as a replacement for the injured Chad Henne. I’d also make the case that Moore didn’t get to spend his career playing under Andy Reid, who has made backups like A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb look like viable starters while coaxing career seasons out of Alex Smith and Michael Vick.

Moore looked bad for most of his debut Thursday night, which isn’t necessarily surprising. He likely hasn’t had any reps with the first-team offense. Research I’ve done in the past suggests that backups tend to play better when they start a game from the beginning (and presumably have had some practice time with the first team) as opposed to coming in off the bench, which usually results in about a 10% penalty in terms of effectiveness. Moore didn’t throw at all during the 2019 preseason and sat out the 2018 campaign, so he hadn’t thrown a competitive pass since November 2017.

If any quarterback was going to come off the bench and take over a job, it’s difficult to imagine a friendlier situation than the one Moore inherits. The Chiefs have arguably the most creative offensive mind in the league with Reid. I ranked Kansas City’s weapons as the second best in the NFL before the season, and that was before they acquired LeSean McCoy, who has added depth to their running back room. Sammy Watkins is dealing with a hamstring injury, but when you start your receiving corps with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, it’s going to make your quarterback’s life easier.

Of course, Moore might be toast. Losing your starting quarterback also doesn’t just mean that you’re down to your second-string passer; it means that you’re one hit away from relying on your third-string quarterback. While I recognize that the Steelers just won a game with Devlin Hodges, nobody hoping to compete for a playoff spot wants to rely on their third-stringer. The Chiefs can hope to get by with Moore for the weeks while Mahomes is missing, but that’s a dangerous game to play, to which the Steelers can attest.

The Chiefs have undrafted rookie Kyle Shurmur — yes, the son of Giants coach Pat Shurmur — on their practice squad. They probably don’t want to be one moment away from turning things over to Shurmur for any length of time. With that in mind …

They should look into adding a veteran quarterback

There are actually quite a few veteran options the Chiefs could plausibly consider acquiring via trade. They have a full complement of 2020 draft picks minus a fifth-round selection, which went to the Jets for Darron Lee. They’ll send the Seahawks a second-round pick for Frank Clark, but they’re due a second-rounder from the 49ers as part of the Dee Ford trade. Both picks appear likely to come in the bottom of the round.

Whom could the Chiefs target? The short list starts with a familiar face:

Nick Foles. Reid drafted Foles in Philadelphia, and the former Super Bowl MVP credited Reid with saving his career after his disastrous stint with the Rams. The 30-year-old never really got started in Jacksonville, as Foles went down with a broken collarbone after two drives in Week 1. Gardner Minshew has won hearts and minds since taking over the starting job, and it’s unclear whether the Jaguars will hand the job back to Foles when he returns from injured reserve. It’s easy to put two and two together here.

Foles is a great football fit, but the timeline doesn’t make sense here. If his initial timeline was accurate, he won’t be back until Week 11. The Chiefs likely expect to get Mahomes back at or around that time, at which point they could move forward with Mahomes as their starter and Moore as the backup. They realistically need a quarterback who can at least step in on an emergency basis for Moore now. Foles also doesn’t make financial sense, given that he has $20.1 million in practical guarantees coming due next season.

Marcus Mariota. Timing is everything! The Titans benched their longtime starter for Tannehill this week in the hopes of sparking an offense that has scored one touchdown in its past five halves of football. Mariota has produced a pair of impressive performances against the Browns and Falcons this season, and he has thrown only two interceptions on 159 pass attempts, but the hyperconservative Mariota has averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt in four Tennessee losses.

Mariota is in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, and as the former second overall pick, it’s a significant chunk of change. The Titans owe him $13.5 million in prorated guaranteed salary over the remainder of the season, all of which would come off the books if he were traded to another team. That’s too much to pay, given that Mahomes could be back in a month.

The Titans organization might not love the optics of trading a guy who had been considered a franchise cornerstone for a late-round pick. The good news, at least relative to Foles’ deal, is that Mariota is in the final year of his contract.

The Titans also likely still fancy themselves as contenders in the AFC South, and if they do, they probably don’t want to rule out the chances of Mariota playing again this season. Tannehill hasn’t completed a full 16-game season since 2015. He’s hardly a sure thing to start all 10 of Tennessee’s remaining games. Tennessee didn’t frame Mariota’s benching as a permanent decision, and if Tannehill struggles, I suspect the Titans would want the option of turning back to Mariota. If coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson have decided that they’re truly done with Mariota, it’s only then that I would figure a Mariota trade makes sense.

Andy Dalton. The Bengals are 0-6 and going nowhere. Playing behind a porous, injury-riddled offensive line and without star receiver A.J. Green, the 31-year-old Dalton is having his worst season since 2011 by both passer rating and adjusted yards per attempt. Dalton has $10.4 million in prorated base salary remaining in 2019 and $17.5 million in unguaranteed salary waiting in 2020, the final year of his extension.

The Bengals will presumably pursue a quarterback with their 2020 first-round pick, which would likely bring an end to Dalton’s tenure in Cincinnati. They also moved up in the fourth round this year to draft Ryan Finley, so it would make sense for the Bengals to move on from Dalton and evaluate Finley over the rest of the 2019 season, albeit behind a compromised offensive line.

I can’t see the Chiefs wanting to spend that much money for a quarterback who might not be that much better over the next few weeks than Moore, given that the latter already knows the playbook. The Bengals typically don’t sell veterans during losing seasons and have publicly disavowed any interest in trading Green, so I wonder if they would be inclined to move on from Dalton.



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Myles Garrett suspension for Steelers-Browns fight

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On Thursday night, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett committed the closest thing we’ve seen to an on-field crime in the modern era of pro football. Only one response will suffice. The NFL must issue the longest suspension for a single on-field act in its history, ending Garrett’s 2019 season with six games remaining on the Browns’ schedule and making clear to the world that what happened at FirstEnergy Stadium is one of the worst moments on the field in its history.

Such discipline, as harsh as it might seem, won’t be particularly controversial to anyone who saw Garrett rip off Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph‘s helmet and then use it to pummel his unprotected head. If Garrett hit someone with a helmet on the streets of Cleveland, he would face arrest. The outburst left grizzled football veterans gasping at its sheer violence, a throwback matched by only a handful — if any — of intentional acts in 100 years of league play.

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Myles Garrett hits Mason Rudolph in the head with a helmet as a fight breaks out at the end of the Steelers-Browns game.

The length of Garrett’s absence shouldn’t be too tough for the NFL to figure out. It suspended Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict indefinitely earlier this season for an accumulation of on-field acts, culminating with a helmet-to-helmet hit, but the longest suspension it has issued for a single on-field incident is five games. That happened in 2006 when then-Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth ripped the helmet off Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode and then kicked and stomped on his face. Gurode needed 30 stitches to close the wounds.

Rudolph was lucky to avoid a similar fate, or worse. The stunned expression on the face of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, speaking moments later in an interview on Fox, depicted the weight of the scene. Mayfield couldn’t summon an ounce of defense for his teammate.

“It’s inexcusable,” he said. “That’s just endangering the other team. … The reality is he is going to get suspended. We don’t know how long, and that hurts our team.”

Don’t forget that Rudolph was knocked unconscious last month by a hit to his helmet and missed one game. The contact from that blow, initiated by Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas, was so severe that Rudolph’s eyes were closed before he hit the ground. If you knew that context, you were surely cringing as you saw Garrett bash Rudolph’s head, topped off by Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi pushing Rudolph to the ground from behind. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey then entered the fray, kicking and punching Garrett and escalating the scene to a point where it wouldn’t have been surprising to see police officers on the field. (Rudolph did pull at Garrett’s helmet while both were on the ground, but that bit of aggressiveness hardly merited the response.)



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‘Craziest thing I have ever seen on a football field’

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The Cleveland Browns were seconds away from wrapping up their second straight win when bedlam ensued.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped the helmet off Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hit him over the head with it. Garrett was then taken down by Steelers linemen David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey, who kicked Garrett when he was on the ground. Benches cleared before order was restored. Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi and Pouncey were ejected, and suspensions are expected.

Here’s how the NFL world reacted across social media on Thursday night:



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Quincy Enunwa blasts Jets on social media after $27,900 fine

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New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 1, blasted the organization Thursday after he was fined for missing medical treatments.

In a series of tweets, Enunwa said he missed two treatments (Nov. 8 and 11) and was fined $27,900, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. He called it “excessive.”

“Given everything that’s going on around the team I thought this could’ve been handled so many different ways,” he tweeted. “I’ve spent my time with the team trying to build myself up to be dependable and hardworking so this s— hurts.”

Enunwa, who is on injured reserve, became the second player to publicly express frustration with a medical-related issue. Earlier in the season, guard Kelechi Osemele was fined for conduct detrimental to the team because of a dispute over a shoulder injury. He wound up undergoing surgery, unauthorized by the team, and was released.

In his Twitter rant, Enunwa acknowledged that he missed the treatments and should have alerted the team beforehand. He explained that he missed Monday’s treatment because he took his wife, a veteran, out to lunch on Veterans Day. On Nov. 8, he “had to handle an emergency in my house.” The Jets declined to comment.

“The biggest reason is hurts is that I’m on IR for the second time in my career and the doctor told me I have a 50/50 chance of coming back to play,” Enunwa said. “I shouldn’t even have to be in that building being reminded every day of what I can’t do.

“This s— feels like punishment already and then they FINE me the max. And then want me to continue to do my rehab there and IF I get healthy they want me to play for them after.

“I’m not writing this for sympathy and never wanted to even say anything, but when multiple teammates are coming up to me saying it’s f—– up I don’t care to sit on it anymore.”

Enunwa, 27, missed the 2017 season because of neck surgery. He played well enough in 2018 to land a four-year, $33.4 million contract extension. He has received $10 million of the contract. His $6 million salary for 2020 was guaranteed for injury only at signing; it becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year.

Enunwa has 119 career receptions for 1,617 yards and five touchdowns.

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