Preparing for life without Houston, Flowers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The issues regarding cornerback Brandon Flowers and outside linebacker Justin Houston are very different, but the two were joined by one factor as the Kansas City Chiefs began full-squad offseason practice Tuesday. The players, both Pro Bowlers last season, were missing.

The practices are voluntary, and technically they can’t be disciplined for being absent. But only three others among the team's 90 players were missing from the practice field. Two were injured and one, draft pick De'Anthony Thomas, isn't allowed to be here under NFL rules because classes at his college, Oregon, are ongoing.

A couple of factors are evidence the absences of Flowers and Houston aren’t casual or innocent. First, the Chiefs ignored the issue publicly. Coach Andy Reid didn't answer media questions after practice, and players issued bland and repetitive answers to questions about their missing teammates as if they were coached on their responses.

Second, and perhaps more telling, the first two players drafted by the Chiefs this year were an outside linebacker, Auburn’s Dee Ford, and a cornerback, Rice’s Phillip Gaines.

So the Chiefs appear to be preparing for life without Houston and Flowers, one the team's choice and the other not. Flowers has no reason to otherwise avoid the Chiefs at this point. He is slated to make a healthy $5.25 million in base salary this season.

But he’s been a bit of a misfit in the Chiefs’ new world since they hired Reid and general manager John Dorsey last year. Flowers excelled under the previous Chiefs administration and coaching staff, playing well enough to earn a five-year, $48.75 million contract in 2011.

Reid and Dorsey, though, have otherwise been collecting bigger cornerbacks. Last year, they signed 6-foot-3 Sean Smith, the other starter, and claimed off waivers 6-2 Marcus Cooper, who replaced Flowers as a starter in practice on Tuesday. This year, the Chiefs drafted Gaines, who is 6-0 but has long arms. The staff believes he plays bigger than his size.

Flowers is 5-9. Throw in the fact that he had a rotten season last year, perhaps the worst of his six-year NFL career despite making the Pro Bowl. That honor, by the way, was a shock to the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have taken an odd public stance with Flowers this offseason. Their answers to questions about him have been short and slightly awkward. Asked during the draft whether Flowers was a good fit for the Chiefs’ press man-to-man coverage, Dorsey said, "Brandon Flowers is a good football player. He’s a good fit for what we do."

Flowers costs the Chiefs $10.5 million against their salary cap. They would reduce that number to $7 million by cutting or trading him before June 1; after June 1, the cap number would reduce to $3 million.

Houston, meanwhile, is in the final year of the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. A two-time Pro Bowler with 26.5 career sacks, including 11 in 11 games last season, Houston has outplayed that contract. He is due a salary of $1.406 million this season.

He could walk through the Chiefs’ door any day and return to practice. The Chiefs obviously don’t think he will.