The Chiefs are officially on the home stretch. Two winnable games remain in the season, but their outcomes are likely meaningless as the team can’t get knocked out of the playoffs nor can it improve it’s seeding without an unlikely Denver loss.
Therefore, I think it’s a good time to look ahead, not just to the meaningful games in the playoffs, but to the continuing building project that is this team. For both winning and losing teams, the meaningless stretch of the season is a time the GM can use to take stock, and begin planning who he wants to bring back, who he wants to cut, and who he should extend.
Although they are the least sexy and attention-getting moves among these three, extensions are an important part of building a competitive roster. Letting a player hit free agency is always a bit of a gamble – even if you’re confident the player will come back to the team, there’s no guarantee of what the final price tag will be if some other franchises start calling. Furthermore, virtually every player’s stock improves during a successful season. We don’t yet know where the Chiefs’ journey will end this year, but you can bet that a playoff run is only going to make these guys more expensive to re-sign, especially if the team makes a Super Bowl run.
Early extensions are also a good way of keeping a player happy and committed to the team long-term if they have outplayed their current contract. Here are the players who fit these criteria and whom I think the Chiefs could get at a bargain if they extend now rather than wait for the postseason or the current contracts to play out. (Salary figures from Sports City)
OLB Justin Houston, Current salary – 2013: $747,812, 2014: $837,812
This is the biggest no-brainer of the group. PAY THIS MAN. An elite pass-rushing talent that is good at everything else, there isn’t a team in the league that would not be interested in his services. We currently have him on his rookie contract through the 2014 season, but are paying him pocket change by NFL standards. This is the sort of guy that could easily get $10-15 million per year or more on the open market (Tamba’s making $15.5 million this year), we need to extend him before his stock gets that high, although that may be impossible after his early 2013 domination. If we can extend him to something in the $6-8 million per year range, half of that guaranteed, it’ll be a good deal for both sides. The Chiefs get a premium player under contract for years to come, and Houston will be getting several times more money next year than he would have under his current contract. The fact that he is currently coming off of an injury and has yet to tear it up in the playoffs as I expect him to do makes this an even more opportune time to get negotiations going.
G Geoff Schwartz, Current salary – 2013: $700,000, 2014: unrestricted free agent
Schwartz has proven to be arguably the best guard on the Chiefs roster. Although he initially only appeared as an injury replacement, he’s outplayed the starters every time he’s taken the field. He’s the sort of guy you probably don’t have to worry about getting into a bank-busting bidding war with another team over, but we’re paying him peanuts this year and may be able to save a buck and win some good favor by offering him double his money before we even move into the offseason.
DB/KR Quintin Demps, Current salary – 2013: $555,000, 2014: unrestricted free agent
Say what you want about his coverage skills, Demps provides valuable depth while being one of the very best special teams players in the league. He is currently 3rd in the league for kick return average yardage with 30.5, and 4th in return yardage with 846 yards. That’s more yardage than any Chiefs receiver has. Plus, while he may let up a few big passes in man-to-man coverage, he’s also come up with four interceptions this year, tied for 7th most in the league. Not saying we have to break the bank on this guy, but he will definitely attract attention as an unrestricted free agent, so give him a raise and lock him up for a couple more years before the rest of the league gets a chance to do the same.
QB Alex Smith, Current salary – 2013: $8.5 million, 2014: $9 million
This is most likely my most controversial addition to this list, but also the most important. I know Chiefs fans are once bitten twice shy on giving good-but-not-great quarterbacks early extensions, but the fact is that the Chiefs only have Smith under contract through 2014 and he is about to get more expensive. What is a very good quarterback worth? Well, that’s a difficult question. Criminally underpaid Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is making $681,085 this year and Broncos QB emeritus Peyton Manning is making $17.5 million the next two years, and $21 million for the two years after that if he hasn’t succumbed to Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and gout by then. Meanwhile, Patriots QB Tom Brady is making $13.8 million this year and Saints QB Drew Brees is making $17.4 million with a contract that jumps to over $26 million in 2015.
In my mind, the Chiefs are currently paying Smith a good number for his services. He may not wow national commentators with a rocket arm, but his most important statline for the season is 23 TD’s, 6 INT’s and an 11-3 record. The last time he played a full season, his team was a kickoff error away from a Super Bowl appearance. Perhaps less importantly, he’s won me over as a fan. I was very skeptical of the Smith trade earlier in the year, but I have been very impressed with the guy’s modest and professional attitude coupled with his ability to get it done on the field. I had already gotten on the Alex Smith bandwagon, but his comments this week strapped me in.
Coming off of a career day with a perfect passer rating and 5 TD’s, Smith was asked by the media what allowed him to pull it off. “Teammates make me look good,” he said. “I didn’t do much. Three screens for touchdowns. I’ve never been a part of anything like that or seen that.”
He’s right, of course, but come on man! It was the best game of your career! But, no ridiculous statline is going to give this guy an ego and I don’t think he’s the sort of guy that will fight the Chiefs for a big contract at this point of the year. But, taking the Chiefs to the Super Bowl might change that. The Chiefs need to get ahead of that and keep this guy for another couple years at $8 million. At worst, his limitations start to show and he becomes a high-end caretaker for the Chiefs next young gun QB. The important thing from a financial management point of view is that the team not get Flacco’d.