LB TAMBA HALI
Q: How much thought did you give to leaving?
HALI: "None. Yeah, none at all."
Q: Why was it important for you to remain a Chief?
HALI: "To put some spice on it, I was the last draft pick for Lamar Hunt. Lamar Hunt, obviously, was the founder of the AFL. But for me, staying here, it means everything. I started my career here. I've had ups and downs. Had several head coaches, and they've believed in me getting better as a player and as a leader on our team. As the years progressed, I've played good ball, I've played okay ball, but I think me as a person and what I bring to our team as a person, as a leader, as a player, I think all of those went into why I wanted to be here. I couldn't see myself going somewhere else and trying to establish me as a player again, especially being in the game this long. I wanted to end my career here. It's a family atmosphere here, and everything (John) Dorsey, Coach Reid and the Hunt Family stand for—everything they say, it's been right on point. When Clark paid me my second contract, he said, 'We're going to try to keep you here past this contract,' and I didn't know how serious that was. Obviously it was serious and I'm thankful. It doesn't happen in our league anymore for a player to be in one position where I've been, and finish his career where he got drafted. I'm thankful."
Q: Did you ever feel that this wasn't going to work out and you'd have to hit the road?
HALI: "No, not at all. I've gotten paid enough money to live the rest of my life without working, so it wasn't based on money. I love being here. I still want to contribute. I think my mindset as a football player, I'm always trying to play every play. I want to be in the game every play, and at this stage in my career, I need to rethink that and be effective where I can be most effective and play less snaps, but be more effective on those snaps instead of trying to be a young player, a young Tamba trying to be in the game the entire time. Those were the main concerns about coming back, but it wasn't, 'Oh, I want to go to another team.' I didn't have any interest in other teams. I believe in everything, Coach (Reid) came here and what we've done. I can't predict the future, but we're only going to get better."
Q: What do you see your role as being next year?
HALI: "The way I see it, I can't say, 'Well, I'm only going to play on third downs,' because I don't know what is going to happen. I know they want to limit my role as in how much I play to be able to sustain me over the 24-week period of playing a season, but I believe there will be times that I may have to play the entire game, and I believe there will be times I have to step back and there will be other guys that will play. I'll just be needed when they need me. It happened since Coach got here. There are games where we're winning and Coach basically says, 'We don't need you in this for the rest of the game,' and he'll pull me maybe in the third quarter, fourth quarter. I get upset, but then growing into the type of player that they see me becoming at the end of my career, it only makes sense. There's no reason to go up there and pad the stats. Our main goal here is to win the Lombardi Trophy and risking injury trying to do more than is needed, it's not going to help our team. Right now, it's my focus, and I'm sure Derrick (Johnson)'s focus, we're really focused on our team as a whole and not what we can do individually."
Q:Does that mean you're okay with a diminished role?
HALI: "Well I wouldn't say diminished, but I'd say yeah, I'll play less, sure. But I don't think my role diminishes what I present to our team."
Q:How's your knee doing?
HALI: "Good. I feel like I'm right on time with healing. I had the same process done last year, (and) around the two-month mark I was able to start running. I'm only a month out of surgery and the progress of rehab is I'm happy where I am right now."
Q:Do you feel like it won't be a problem like it's been the last couple of years?
HALI: "Well I hope not. I hope we don't have that problem. I do well when the season starts, through camp, all the workouts. It's the wear and tear and I feel with what Dr. (Frank) Cordasco was able to do to with the knee, I feel like I'll be able to bounce back and play one of my best seasons coming up. I don't foresee these things happening where my knee just swells up just because it chooses to."
Q:When your contract voided last week, was there any part of you that was worried? There could have been money saved if it was done before last week.
HALI: "I didn't have concerns at all. I don't know that language they speak upstairs, I just know my agent talked to Dorsey and he tells me what's going back-and-forth. And he's been doing it, (Brian Mackler) has been doing it for a while, so I'm sure he's trying to get something done. And he's run it past me and I said sure, if that makes enough sense, let's do it. I'm not saying we should have done it earlier or should have done it after – those things, that's not where I'm good at. I just sit back and listen to what my agent says and then we just move on from there. They're the ones doing the negotiating, I have no part in it."
Q:How much longer do you want to keep playing and how much juice do you think you have left in your tank?
HALI: "So long as I love the game, so long as I continue to have the will to play at a high level and enjoy being around the guys and there's no distraction that's leading to me exiting before I need to. I'll play as long as my body lets me. With anything, as soon as the love for the game leaves me – I'm not saying I don't love it anymore – but if I'm not serious about it anymore, if I don't want to work out anymore, I just kind of put those things on the back burner. And then (when) I'll have to make that decision, I believe that it's time to leave. I still love playing football, I still love proving to myself that I'm one of the best pass rushers out there – and (proving that) to the world. So those things still drive me to be in the game and the top of the list is to win a Super Bowl. That's the biggest drive, if we can get that done, it'd be nice to do it again and again."
Q:What do you see your role being for Dee Ford going forward, how do you guys see yourselves handling that battle for playing time?
HALI: "At this stage, if I had to speak for him, I would like for him to take the next step in being a professional and basically (the reason) why they drafted him here is to take over the role. The season's too long for me to focus on being a starter or a backup. I mean, we all have to contribute. But I think he's in the position where he can kind of take the torch and go forward. That's really mental, physically, the kid is gifted and he has it, but mentally we have to just make sure that he understands why we're in this building and what needs to be done while we're here."
Q:How important was it for you to solidify your legacy in Kansas City? Your name is going to go up in the Chiefs Ring of Honor some day, have you thought about that day when you're up there and you'll be a lifelong Chief?
HALI: "It does, but I'm living in the moment, so I can't really focus on what's going to happen five, 10, 15 years from now when I'm removed from the game. I have to enjoy right now. It means a lot to think that people think that highly of me, but for now, I'm just living in the moment, enjoying the time that I'm here and trying to get something done. When it's all said and done, we can look back and see what was accomplished. But for now, I don't like to play tricks on my mind that way."
DL JAYE HOWARD
Q:In the picture you took signing your contract, you had your sons with you. Why was it important for you to bring your boys with you for that moment?
HOWARD: "Throughout this whole process with me being in Seattle and coming here, getting picked up off of waivers, they've been my motivation. My sons and my wife, just having them present in that moment meant a lot to me."
Q:What are your thoughts on the structure of the deal overall?
HOWARD: "It's definitely a great opportunity for me to get back and renegotiate a deal – hopefully I'm able to get back sooner than two years. But it just puts me, I'll be 29, in my prime when I become a free agent again. It's a blessing."
Q:How many teams were interested in your services?
HOWARD: "It was a good bit. It worked out. We're building something special here in Kansas City and I just wanted to be a part of it. For me, being able to play along the line with Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe meant a lot to me. Those are great players and we work well together. We've seen it this past Super Bowl what Denver did on the defensive side of the ball. I feel like we can be just as good, if not better."
Q:When news broke about your contract, did you hear from Poe, Bailey or Nick Williams?
HOWARD: "Oh yeah, through the whole process, even before me signing, Dontari called me and Allen Bailey called me saying let's get back to work. Hearing from those guys and just being able to put my family in a secure place, financially. I had to take it. Like I said, it's just something special we're building. I appreciate the Hunt family, Mr. Dorsey, Coach Andy Reid for giving me this opportunity to go out there and continue playing in the Chiefs Kingdom."
Q:When Allen Bailey signed his contract extension, did that find some motivation for you to get a contract for yourself and did he push you along the way to help you?
HOWARD: "Oh yeah, definitely. We push each other, even Dontari Poe, offseason workouts, we're pushing each other just to get better. Just seeing him (Allen Bailey) have that opportunity for his family was great motivation for me in itself. That's a guy I see who was drafted in the third round, I was drafted in the fourth, and I'm like 'Shoot, if he can do it, I can do it.' So it definitely motivated me, it helped to push me to get to this point and I'm appreciative of that."
Q:Did other interested teams offer more than two years and if so, why did you decide on the Chiefs?
HOWARD: "There were other opportunities out there, but I'm comfortable in the system that Coach Bob Sutton has here. I've excelled in it. That was my main thing, I didn't want to go to another organization and have to learn a new system. I'm surrounded by great players here, and I can't say that for the other teams that were involved. I don't know those players, and I know what I have, I know that the players on the defensive side of the ball are going to stand up against anybody."
LB FRANK ZOMBO
Q: Welcome back, Frank. How are you?
ZOMBO: "I'm doing great now. Just excited to be back. That's just all I really cared about, was being back here."
Q: What is it about Kansas City that makes you want to be here? Were you entertaining other offers?
ZOMBO: "I kind of stayed out of it. I didn't want to stress myself out with it, between the whole agents and John Dorsey. I knew they wanted me back here, they knew I wanted to be here, so to me, I really would have taken anything. So, it was hard for my agents to really talk to me about it because they're like, 'Well, Frank, you want a fair deal, I know you want to be back in Kansas City but let us do our jobs,' so I kind of stayed out of it to be honest with you. Just kind of waited for the call, which came about 10 minutes before free agency opened up. I was a little stressed out before that point, but I'm just overwhelmed with happiness, and my family is, to be back here because we truly do love it here."
Q: What is it about playing on special teams that you enjoy the most?
ZOMBO: "Well, I love playing for my coach, Dave Toub. He and Brock (Olivo), we just have a good atmosphere in our group. I've said it before, guys that play with a lot of heart. I know around the league sometimes special teams is not looked at as something guys want to do, and our group and on our team it's just like we're part of the offense or defense, and we take it extremely to heart. Guys really try to do well and we don't want to let the guy next to us down. When we break down film, you don't want to be that guy that lets somebody tackle Knile Davis or something like that. Everyone takes extreme pride in what they do on special teams and that's why, year after year, we're so good at it."
Q:When you look at the signings the Chiefs have done thus far and you look at the locker room, what does that do for you since you're keeping everyone in tact?
ZOMBO: "Yeah, as I was even walking into this meeting, I saw Derrick Johnson walking out – big smile came over my face, both of our faces. I've been with these guys for so long now, three years – being on the same team for three years is a pretty remarkable thing, especially in my position, being a special teams kind of guy, we don't always have the most job security. To be here as long as I have and being with the same guys and the same locker room, I feel that's the reason why we are so successful because the locker room chemistry is so strong here. We're extremely close with our coaches just because we've been with them for so many years. That's why everyone's on the same page and why we do so well on Sundays."
OL MITCH SCHWARTZ
Q:What role did your bother play in convincing you that Kansas City was the right place? What did he tell you?
SCHWARTZ: "He just told me how awesome of a time he had here, he wishes it had been longer. But he had a great time with all the coaches, the coaching staff was great for him, had a great time in the city. Obviously I know about the barbecue and all the good food here – as a lineman, I definitely appreciate that. He had nothing but good things to say, I knew that a couple years ago. So when this opportunity came up, I was already maybe a little bit more informed than most other people would have been. I was lucky in that regard."
Q:Were you looking to leave Cleveland? Did they make an effort to keep you?
SCHWARTZ: "I'm just excited to be here, I don't really want to get into too much else right now. I'm just really excited for this opportunity to be here with these coaches and the organization. I look forward to giving the organization my best."
Q:What do you think helps you in pass protection – your technique, your feet? And the game you had against Von Miller, did you know that you probably made yourself some money that day?
SCHWARTZ: "To the first question, I've always been big on technique. That was engrained in me in college by my offensive line coach, Jim Michalczik at the time. He was huge on technique, and technique kind of overcomes all the other things. You need to be strong, you need to be athletic, you need to be fast. Having good technique makes you a solid player. And then if you add the speed and the strength on top of that, it can make you into a pretty good player. I've always been a perfectionist in terms of working technique. And going to Cleveland and having Joe Thomas there to kind of help me out with that transition as well, I couldn't have had a better player to go with, and then he turned out to be a great guy and a great friend to me, as well to help me out. I think really in pass or run blocking, your technique is what you can hang your hat on. In the heat of the moment, you're going against Von Miller, Khalil Mack. You're not thinking about too much, you just have to react to things – by that point, it's all muscle memory, you have to have a good foundation for what you're doing. That's how you get good at anything, you just have to practice it over and over and keep striving for perfection."
Q:What was it about the organization and the team that made you want to sign with the Chiefs?
SCHWARTZ: "I know that it's one of the founding organizations of the NFL. The Hunt family is as big of a name in the NFL as any other family. So I know the history of the organization is just rich, and it's always been a really good organization and had good people here. In the last few years, Coach Reid has come in and done a great job – my brother was here that first year where they rattled off whatever, 10, 11 victories to start the year, so he's come in and had immediate success. Watching the last couple of years, we've played some common opponents, so being able to watch the film and kind of study them as I'm studying my opponent. It's a really fun offense to play in, it does a little bit of everything, balanced, runs the ball, passes the ball. It seems like lately you've gone to using Alex Smith's legs a little more, kind of opening up more opportunities for everybody in the offense that way. It's really a great opportunity from top to bottom, starting with the organization, the history, all the way up. I think I fit very well in terms of what's going on offensively."
Q:How have you been able to stay so healthy throughout your career?
SCHWARTZ: "Obviously, a part of it is luck. My brother hasn't had as much injury luck as I have, but when three guys fall on your leg, there's not much to do. There's an element of luck and there's also an element of just working hard. I like to think I work hard in the offseason to keep myself in shape. The strength and conditioning, it's to get you stronger and faster and all that, but it's number one priority is for durability to keep you healthy and prevent injury. So I try to do a good job of maintaining that as much as possible throughout the year. And then every guy is going to have smaller injuries or tiny things throughout the season and I think as an offensive lineman, you definitely feel it's your duty to play pretty much regardless, unless there's something that the medical staff will tell you that you just can't do if you have a serious thing. But as an offensive lineman, we take a lot of pride on being there for the other four guys, being there for the rest of the team. It's just a pride thing as an offensive lineman."
Q:Do people understand the importance of right tackle? In pass protection, do you think you guys are just as important as the left side? A lot of great pass rushers come from that side.
SCHWARTZ: "Yeah, I think so and I think the league is starting to realize that in general. Especially before, I think the blindside thing was – back in the day, there's a lot more under center quarterback play, quarterback taking the drop from under center and he really can't see over to his left. Now everything, he starts behind the line of scrimmage. In terms of vision, he can see everything, feel everything. Like you said, a lot of the top rushers are rushing both sides – or just the right side now. This division has four of probably the best rushers in the NFL. On my side, just obviously here, Justin Houston and then Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Melvin (Ingram) in San Diego is a really good player as well – I faced him last year, we faced the division. You look throughout the league, J.J. Watt plays over the side, Cliff Avril, Carlos Dunlap twice a year, Elvis Dumervil twice a year in Cleveland. So you have quality guys week after week. I don't think it's a position where you can just stick a guy and hope you survive anymore. You have to have a good player at both tackle spots. And I think teams are realizing now, especially you have to have a balanced line across the board. If you have one or even two guys who are not pulling weight, then you can get exposed. So I think realizing balance is the key and having solid or really good players at all five spots is as good as you can get."
Q:Did you ever play left tackle with Cleveland?
SCHWARTZ: "With Cleveland, no. Joe has played nine years and not missed a snap, so there was never an opportunity to play over there."
Q:What did the Chiefs say about their expectations for you as far as position? You're a right tackle, is that right?
SCHWARTZ: "Yeah, that's kind of my position. Just coming here, keep doing what I've been doing. Try to be the best player I can for the team."
Q:Do I remember you coming to Kansas City on one of the pre-draft visits the year you were coming out?
SCHWARTZ: "Yes, that's correct."
Q:Did you get any feel for the town or the organization at that time?
SCHWARTZ: "Even then, I knew about the history with the organization. I really liked the area. You're only here for so long, there's a time limit on those visits. So you don't get to see the city too much. I remember really liking it, though. For us, they tend to show us the facilities and kind of the locker room, the equipment room, where you're going to spend the majority of your time. So they try to focus on those and those were cool back then. Obviously with my brother, being able to talk more about the city, living here, the quality of life, day-to-day, both in the building and outside of the building. He spoke volumes about the whole situation."
Q: You did play left tackle in college. How long did it take you to get comfortable with your techniques in moving from the left side to the right side? What was it that made this past year your best year so far in the NFL?
SCHWARTZ: "I think it's something that you're always evolving into it. Coming out in the draft I wasn't exactly sure what side I would play so I was practicing both. I had the familiarity with the left side. I played a season at right tackle as a sophomore, I believe, in college. So I have played it before. It's something that even week-to-week I'm always tinkering things with my stance, with my pass set. Like I said, I am kind of a perfectionist almost to a bad degree where I try to do too much and make sure everything is always working right. You want to get as comfortable as possible with your body, the way it moves and what you're doing and there's always a transition to switching sides or switching positions. In terms of the success last year, I think it's been a progression my whole four years. I think I've gotten better each season, I think that's kind of how you should go. You should learn from the season before – know what you did well, work on those to get those better. Figure out your weaknesses, try to work on that to turn those into strengths and just keep improving every year."
Q: Any temptation to get your brother to join you here in Kansas City?
SCHWARTZ: "I can't speak for him directly, but I know he had a great time here the year he was here. So maybe one of these days we'll get to play together."
LB DERRICK JOHNSON
Q: Was there a point where you were worried about coming back?
JOHNSON: "I don't know if I started to worry because my whole career I've been a Chief. That's all I know. Until I actually get on a plane and go somewhere else, it actually is not the reality to me. Even though it came down to the wire, I always believed the Chiefs would get it done. I love Andy (Reid) and John Dorsey and what they believe in. This is my third deal with a different GM, and this has been the best one yet. It's been great."
Q: Were there other teams trying to make a play?
JOHNSON: "I mean, my agent has to do his job by seeing where the market is, but that wasn't a concern for me to see what teams I would possibly be going to because I knew all along that John Dorsey was going to get it done. He told me that at the end of the year that we were going to make it happen, whatever we have to do to get me to stay and retire a Chief, so he was a man of his word."
Q: Have you thought about your legacy here and does it matter to you?
JOHNSON: "Well, I think about it a little bit. Not as much as when it's all said and done. When I retire, I'll think about it even more. I'm to an age that I know I can't play another 10 years, but at the same time, my goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy. It's to have that ring on my finger. Signing this three-year deal, it just assures that I can help this team win. That's all I want to do, is be a part of this great legacy that's about to go on now. It's moving in the right direction. Andy has been here for three years and his record shows for itself what he's trying to build here, and I want to be a part of it. At the end of the day, I'm a Chief, like I said at the end of the playoff game this past year."
Q: What does it mean to you for you to be back with Tamba Hali and Dustin Colquitt as the three longest-tenured Chiefs? What does it mean to you that you and Tamba could potentially retire together?
JOHNSON: "That means a lot. That means a lot. Tamba, after I congratulated him on his deal as soon as I heard about it, I called him and I was like, 'Man, congratulations, man.' I was probably happier than he was. As soon as I said that, he said, 'DJ, you've got to get it done, buddy. You got to. You can't leave me.' It was one of those old friend moments, and I told him, 'Hey, whatever I have to do, we'll work together to get this done.' At first he was a little worried because it was getting down to the wire, but the old man hadn't left him yet."
Q: How close do you think the Chiefs are to being a Super Bowl team?
JOHNSON: "Man, I've been in the NFL 11 years, and don't get me wrong, every year is optimistic because that's the way you go into the year, but from what we've been building here since Andy's been here, it's clear as day that we're close. We're really close. You win a game here and win a game there, or make a play here, make a couple plays here and there and you're in the Super Bowl. You have a chance to win it all. We're right there. Maybe a couple players off here and there, and a couple plays off here and there. We'll be there. We're close. We're really close."
Q: What do you guys lose in Sean Smith now?
JOHNSON: "Well personally, I think Sean Smith was a great player. Big, strong guy. Cornerback that was a shutdown type of guy. This is the NFL, so you're never surprised when certain things happen or certain guys move on. He'll have a great career, but what we believe here on the Chiefs defense is we have guys we can plug in, and we still have to go through the draft and all that other business. But at the same time, we do have guys that we believe in here and that can fill voids."
Q: How much did you play at early on in your career and where do you want to be at this year? You used to be a lot bigger back when you started out.
JOHNSON: "Yeah, you could see it all in my cheeks, too, back in the day, man. I was actually about 250, 250 to 252 then because I went to the combine and weighed in at 242 and people were saying, oh, he's a small linebacker, so I just bumped it up even more. I was a little bit over 250 and I stayed there for about two or three years. Man, as the years went on, I lost about two or three pounds here and there. This past year, I played at 234, I'm probably going to play at about 232. I mean, the lighter is better for me. The older you get, the less weight you have to have because it's just how life is. When you get older, you've got to lose some weight."
Q: On getting Jaye Howard back:
JOHNSON: "That was big time for me. That was really big time for me. The plays I make on the field have to do with a lot of things the interior guys in front of me do. With (Dontari) Poe, Jaye Howard and (Allen) Bailey, I couldn't ask for a better group of defensive linemen. The best group of defensive linemen since I've been here. For the last couple years, it's been great since I've been here for 11 years. I'm happy behind those guys because linemen have to pay attention to them. If they don't, those guys are going to make the play in the backfield."
Q: When news broke about your new deal, how many teammates did you hear from?
JOHNSON: "Man. A lot of teammates. A lot of teammates, and a lot of them are still texting me now, actually. Sometimes, everybody doesn't text you right at that time because they know everybody is hitting you up. But I mean, from Longhorn football, former teammates from college, everybody was texting me. Of course, all the Chiefs guys were texting me, but they were happy. I've been a Chief for a while and they know how much I want to stay a Chief."
Q: What was your defensive takeaway from the playoff game versus the Patriots, and did you watch Denver the next week? JOHNSON: "After that game, that was hard. That was hard, you know, when you have a chance to play in the AFC Championship game and you have a chance to beat a really, really good team like the Patriots, and you left a few plays out there, that stings. That stings hard. It was hard for us to take because we had this great run, and we got in the hole early in the year and came out of this bigger hole in a historic type of winning atmosphere for 10 weeks straight. It was tough to take, but at the same time we're still going to keep our confidence. We know what we have in this locker room. Watching Denver do their deal lets you know the Chiefs can do the same thing because the last two years, we've beaten the Super Bowl champions. I guess at the end of the day, you've still got to beat them at the right time, but at the end of the day, we'll be right in the thick of it."