For once the Chiefs are relevant in December, which means there has not been a lot of talk about who the Chiefs should draft or sign in free agency. Taking a quick glance forward, the Chiefs may need to capitalize on their opportunity this season because improving the roster for next year may be difficult.
Here’s the basics of the Chiefs situation right now. KC is projected to have a salary cap number of $123.492m for 2014 right now without signing any free agents. That number includes 45 signed players. Early projections have the NFL’s salary cap number at $126.3 million.
This means the Chiefs have a little less than $3 million in cap space to re-sign the following players:
Starting to get the picture here?
Kansas City does have a few guys they could cut or renegotiate with to open up some cap space. The cut list includes Dunta Robinson (saves $3.3 million), Chase Daniel (saves $1.4 million), and Donnie Avery (saves $1.35 million). Cutting Robinson almost seems like a given at this point given what he is making and his role on the team.
Daniel’s fate is tied to what the Chiefs think of Tyler Bray‘s development over the last season. If KC thinks Bray can be a solid backup option then paying Daniel would be silly given the financial and team needs heading into the offseason.
Avery may be kept, but KC could do a lot with his $1.35 million cap space. And finding someone to fill Avery’s role for less than $1.35 million is fairly likely. A.J. Jenkins, for example, may be that guy.
Three players – Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, and Alex Smith – could all be in line to help the Chiefs out with cap room, too. Berry’s cap number is the second highest on the team, and he has just one more guaranteed season with the team (Chiefs have a club option on him for 2015). This offseason may be a good time to work out an extension that will also lower Berry’s 2014 cap number. Remember, Berry is still under the old collective bargaining’s rookie cap structure, so the Chiefs could lower that number significantly.
Smith is a free agent after 2014 so an extension is going to be talked about with him no matter what. Otherwise the Chiefs will be on the market for another starting quarterback again after 2014. Smith’s $7.5 million cap number isn’t terrible, but it could be lowered by a little with an extension. He may be even more willing to do it if John Dorsey tells him he plans on using the savings to re-sign Asamoah or find another wide receiver.
Tamba Hali has two years left on his deal and probably is not in line for an extension given his age. However, the Chiefs may work something out with him to lower his cap number. KC could save nearly $5.5 million if they cut him after the season, which would be huge if they want to re-sign Asamoah and Albert. Working something out with Hali to keep him and lower his cap number could end up working for both sides if Hali wants to stay in Kansas City.
If Kansas City does not re-sign any free agents and cuts Robinson, Daniel, and Avery, they’ll have about $9 million in cap space to work with during the 2014 offseason. Much of that cap will be spent on the draft, which is likely where the Chiefs will fill most of their holes, so there room to make a big offseason splash isn’t there right now unless they make some other major moves.
The key here may ultimately be what the Chiefs can do to renegotiate contracts with Berry and Hali. Simply cutting Berry and Hali would save Kansas City an estimate $11.3 million in cap space. Clearly the Chiefs don’t want to cut them, but those are the two players where the Chiefs could save the most money with salary re-negotiations. If Dorsey could convince Berry to defer some of his money down the road by signing him to an extension and restructure Hali’s contract (maybe add a year to his deal?) then the Chiefs could free up $20 million (open space + cuts + Berry/Hali contracts) to improve the team over the winter.
But if Kansas City cannot get those deals done then the Chiefs are going to be in a tough spot when it comes to trying to improve the team without having to let some good players go.