The Kansas City Chiefs came one game short of their quest to “Run it Back” in 2020. The loss was definitely a letdown and, unfortunately, things only got harder from there. Now that those losses have had a little time to settle in for most fans, Chiefs Kingdom will naturally start turning the attention to what needs to be done for next season.
While the NFL Draft will soon become a primary focus for most fans, the team will first need to make some important decisions about their current roster and free agents in the coming months. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they have some serious work to do with their salary cap situation before they can re-sign or sign any significant free agents.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you know this was not a typical NFL season thanks to COVID-19. The lack of regular fan attendance and the parking and concessions revenue that comes with it had a massive economic impact on the league. Now, nobody is suggesting that the NFL is hurting for money, but the decrease in revenue during the 2020 season is set to have a significant impact on the salary cap for 2021.
During the last few decades of success for the NFL, the salary cap has seen a consistent increase year over year. As an example of this, over the 10 seasons from 2011 to 2020, the NFL saw an increase in the cap every single year with an overall increase from $120 million in 2011 to $198 million last season. That constant increase allowed teams to fit the also increasing player contracts under the cap without having to make massive cuts. However, because of the drop in revenue last season the 2021 season is expected to come with a salary cap of around $180 million. Not only is that not the normal increase, it’s a $18 million dollar decrease from last season. That’s huge and not great for a team like Kansas City that was going to be a little tight against the cap even if it had seen the average increase that we’ve grown to expect.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Chiefs. As we saw last season, general manager Brett Veach is a bit of a cap wizard. He was able to sign Patrick Mahomes to the largest contract in NFL history AND sign Chris Jones to a major new deal AND give Travis Kelce an extension and basically left their cap number for last season unaffected. I’m pretty sure Veach and his team have a plan for this offseason, and it won’t include cutting all of the Chiefs best talent and big money players. But he does have some serious work to do in the next month or so.
Whenever you talk about clearing salary cap space, the conversation usually starts with cutting players who have cap numbers that don’t match their on-field production. However, as you’ll see in a minute, that isn’t really much of an option for the Chiefs. They simply don’t have many examples of players to cut that will save them much money. In fact, my five top moves for them to make this offseason only includes one cut. The rest have to do with the contracts of players they may want to keep on the roster.
Here are some moves to help the Chiefs avoid salary cap concerns.
Now, you could make a list of guys that the Chiefs could cut that would save them about a million dollars each. Guys like Chad Henne, Armani Watts, Dorian O’Daniel, etc. could be released and replaced with slightly cheaper options. I’m sure a few moves like that will happen this offseason, but when you’re talking about a team that Over The Cap is currently estimating at $23 million over the salary cap for next season, those kind of penny pinching moves aren’t going to cut it.
If you look at Kelly Thompson’s excellent list of the team’s pending free agents they are most likely to want to bring back, you can see that the Chiefs probably need to clear at least $40 million in cap space to really be able to make moves this offseason and be any kind of player in free agency—even if that is just re-signing their own guys. That isn’t going to happen by saving a little bit here and there by cutting one relatively cheap player and replacing him with a slightly cheaper player.
So what can the Chiefs do to make that happen? Well, let’s start by talking about the moves that some will mention, but I don’t think make much sense.