As fans of the Kansas City Chiefs put their agonizing loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the rearview mirror, the focus shifts to next season and what KC needs to do to win in 2014. Popular topics include: who KC should draft, who KC should sign in free agency, who KC should re-sign, who KC should cut, etc. In the coming months there will be endless debates on these topics. Just this week the Chiefs Kingdom started debating if/when KC should sign quarterback Alex Smith to a long term deal. Before we get too far into these offseason debates I thought it might be a good idea to take a close look at the KC salary cap situation going into next season. AA’s Jason Seibel already gave you a “Salary Cap For Dummies” breakdown to help you understand the salary cap better. I recommend giving that piece a read before you read any further so that you better understand how the salary cap is made up. This piece will actually look at the numbers and assess where KC is at and what they could do this offseason.
As Jason recommended in his piece, the website overthecap.com is the best place I’ve found to see a full break down of each team’s salary cap situation. The numbers I’ll quote come directly from there.
To start off, what every single KC fan needs to realize is that the Chiefs are NOT currently in a good position salary cap wise to make many moves this offseason. As their roster currently stands, with NONE of their free agents re-signed, no other free agents signed, no draft picks signed, and no new contract for Alex Smith they estimate KC’s salary cap number with the players they currently have under contract for next season at about 125 million dollars. The 2014 salary cap is supposed to be about 129 million dollars. That gives KC only about 4 million dollars to work with. It’s debatable if that’s even enough to sign KC’s draft picks for next year, let alone re-sign players, sign free agents, or give their QB a big time deal.
The possibility of re-signing Alex Smith is a debate all of it’s own, but just for cap space purposes, think of it this way. If Smith did sign a deal anywhere in the area of Jay Cutler’s deal in terms of average salary per season it likely wouldn’t even come close to fitting under their current cap space. Let’s say Smith signed a deal for slightly less than that and it averaged $16 million per season. If his first season did in fact have a $16 million cap hit, that would be an increase of $8.5 million over his current figure for next season of $7.5 million. So if KC were to spend their current $4 million in available cap space on signing their draft picks, they would then need to cut $8.5 million in salary from their current roster (and that still doesn’t include re-signing anyone else or bringing in new free agents).
It’s very easy for fans to take a stance on signing or cutting a player, but the bottom line is that for the organization the salary cap situation overrides popular opinion 100% of the time. Many KC fans may feel that Smith is worthy of a long time deal (I’m actually among them), but it’s not just a question of if Smith is worth that money. The real question is can the Chiefs fill out a complete winning roster while paying him significantly more money.
Branden Albert is another good example. Many fans simply think: “Albert is our best tackle, so we should re-sign him.” Albert absolutely was KC’s best tackle last season, but the salary cap situation makes it more complicated. Albert’s 2013 salary was about $9.8 million. Meanwhile, Donald Stephenson is set to make only about $750K next season. So the Chiefs have to decide if they’d rather have Stephenson as a starter (or a draft pick) and 9 million more dollars to work with (or however much Albert is wanting) or pay Albert and have to make cuts elsewhere. That’s why many fans think Albert is gone, not because they don’t think he’s good, but because they think the money he wants could be better served elsewhere on the roster when the cap numbers are this tight.
Now let’s talk about possible cap casualties for next season. Fans often pick the guys that they think should be cut strictly off of their on field performance. I’m sure NFL GMs would love it if they were free to make those decisions that way, but again the salary cap must be considered. If you go to overthecap.com and look at the players under contract for 2014 and want to find possible cap cuts, the key is to look for guys who’s “cap savings” out weigh their “dead money”.
Case in point, let’s say you don’t think Sean Smith’s play was worth his contract this season and you think KC should cut him because he’s set to have a $5.75 million dollar number against the cap next season. The problem with that would be that $4.5 million of that $5.75 is dead money that KC is paying him regardless. In comparison, his cap savings would only be $1.25 million (which wouldn’t be enough to sign a replacement). So cutting him doesn’t make sense financially (plus, I think Smith was an adequate starter, but you get the idea).
So who does it make sense for KC to cut?
The clear cut answer to that question is Dunta Robinson. Robinson looked absolutely terrible last season and is set to have a cap number of $5.3 million next season. $2 million of that is “dead money”, but KC could still save themselves $3.3 million by cutting him.
See you later, Dunta.
After Robinson, it’s much harder to find guys who would save KC much money that aren’t good players or don’t have big “dead money” amounts. Let’s stick with the cornerbacks for another example, Brandon Flowers. Flowers made the Pro Bowl, but actually had a down season by his standards. He is set to have a $10.5 million cap hit next season. That may make some feel that he should be cut, but once again the “dead money” is an issue. $7 million of that $10.5 is “dead money”. So while KC could save $3.5 million by cutting Flowers, is he really SO bad that you want to pay him $7 million dollars to go away? I don’t think so.
Flowers is one of three Chiefs that I think John Dorsey will try very hard to restructure this offseason. The other two are fellow defenders Eric Berry and Tamba Hali. Those three players are set to make a combined $33.5 million against the cap. That’s about 26% of KC’s total salary cap on those three players. Hali and Berry’s numbers make them slightly more “cuttable” than Flowers, but I don’t think either are ideal. Hali’s $11.4 million cap number breaks down to $5.9 million in “dead money” and $5.5 million in cap savings if cut. Berry’s $11.6 million cap number breaks down to $5.8 million in “dead money” and $5.8 million in cap savings. Since Berry is the younger player with more possible upside, if one of these big salary defensive players were to be a surprise cut, it could possibly be Hali. However, if Dorsey could get all three of these players to restructure their deals, it could save KC about $12 million in salary cap space for next season. The problem with that is that it takes that savings and turns it into guaranteed salary for the remaining years on their contract. That means that next year their cap numbers AND their “dead money” figures would go up even higher.
If you’re looking for a possible salary cap cut that could hit Chiefs fans like a ton of bricks, it would be Derrick Johnson. While I certainly don’t think KC should cut Johnson, he has no “dead money” for next season so his entire $4.25 million salary would be cap savings. If KC is really having cap problems this offseason, DJ could be their last resort cut. Let’s hope not.
Finally, one thing I found interesting was that AJ Jenkins entire contract amount for next season is guaranteed. So if they cut him they save nothing. So if KC does sign or draft a new WR to start opposite Dwayne Bowe it may likely be Donnie Avery that gets sent packing. Avery is set to have a $2.85 million cap number, with $1.5 million in “dead money” and $1.35 million in possible cap savings. While I don’t like the idea of paying Avery $1.5 million to go away, at least it saves us $1.35 million, compared to cutting Jenkins and paying him $1 million dollars to go away and not saving anything.
I understand that this post was probably a little “dry” and number heavy, but I thought it would be good for KC fans to understand what KC is working with financially. It’s easy to say that KC should cut “Player A”, re-sign “Player B”, and then sign every big name free agent on the market. While that sounds good, the salary cap numbers this offseason make things difficult. So before you rant and rave about who KC signs, cuts, and let’s walk, make sure you take a look at the salary cap numbers because like everything else in the world, money usually trumps everything else.
If I was running the Chiefs I would cut Dunta Robinson and Donnie Avery, restructure Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, and Eric Berry, and sit Alex Smith down and tell him that we are committed to him long term at QB, but unless he’s willing to sign a team friendly deal now we won’t be able to do a new deal until after next season. While I’m sure Alex wants the long term deal now, I think he’s smart enough to understand that if KC is in a situation where his deal would cause them to cut a key starter or not be able to sign a free agent they need, he’ll understand. The cuts and contract restructures that I just listed could create about $16-17 million in additional cap space. That should be enough for KC to make the moves they need to sure up their roster for next season.
What do you think Addicts? Who should go? Who should stay? How much cap space do you think KC needs? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.
As some of you already know, I am participating in Verizon’s Fan Voices program. Basically, Verizon gives me free stuff and I write and tweet about it from a sports fan perspective. This last week I got a new gadget to try out: the Fitbit Force. The Fitbit Force is a wireless wristband that tracks your activity and sleep every day.
At first I was a little sceptic that I would be able to tolerate wearing a wristband 24/7. In the cell phone age I rarely wear my wrist watch and when I do I find myself constantly messing with it. The Force is different. It’s so lightweight that most of the time I don’t notice it, even when I’m sleeping. The band tracks things like steps taken, calories burned, distance walked, flights of stairs climbed, etc. It has a small digital display that only comes on when you push the button to check it. Then you can wirelessly sync it with your computer or phone to get a good look at your results.
One of the features I really like is that it tracks your quality of sleep. Not only does it tell you how much sleep you got, but during the night how many minutes you were restless or awake.
You can also log your calorie intake during the day to help you with a weight loss goal (and this time of year many of us are trying to lose an extra couple pounds). Like I said, I was a little sceptic about this one when I got it, but as someone who is trying to get in better shape I’ve found this to be a really easy way to keep track of how I’m doing. If you have any questions about the Fitbit Force or the Droid Maxx phone that I’ve been using, please feel free to ask in the comments below and make sure to follow me on Twitter where I often give more thoughts on these devices.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Follow me on Twitter: @LyleGraversen
Topics: Kansas City Chiefs