Dec 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry (29) scores on a 47-yard interception return in the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Smith and Eric Berry Hold the Key to the Off-Season

We’ve talked a lot about the salary cap and restructuring contracts, but the game has changed a little bit over the last month. Three weeks ago we thought the salary cap would be at $126 million; We thought Jairus Byrd would likely remain in Buffalo one way or another; We thought there could be a need to let one or maybe both of Tamba Hali or Brandon Flowers go because of cap issues. Now none of those things are true.

With a the cap now at $133 million there is no need to think about cutting anyone from the roster for cap purposes. And with Byrd now a free agent – along with some other intriguing players – it makes some sense for the Chiefs to be active in free agency. However, the necessary cap room does not exist right now for the Chiefs to add a player like Byrd.

Using CBS Sports’ numbers, the Chiefs have $125,755,074 committed against the cap. This would give the Chiefs about $7,244,926 in cap space heading free agency. There are four things, however, to note about that cap number.

First, the Chiefs can go above the cap number after March 11. The new league year begins the same day as free agency, so it acts as a convenient date for the league to make sure everyone is under the salary cap. The next time a team is required to be under the salary cap is when rosters have to be cut down to 53 players. At that point, a team must be under the cap for the remainder of the season. But between March 11 and the cut down day, the Chiefs could sneak over $133 million with the idea of either cutting or trading someone in June to clear cap room and lessen their dead money penalty.

Second, the total monies counting against the cap now include 68 contracts. By September, only the 53 men on the roster and the practice squad counts against the salary cap. The practice squad basically costs nothing against the cap. This means what really matters here is what the Chiefs cap situation looks like with a 53-man roster. Take away the 15 lowest contracts the Chiefs have on the roster and the cap space jumps to a little over $10 million.

Third is the Chiefs rollover cap dollars from 2013. Kansas City was about $2.3 million under the cap at the end of last season. Under the new collective bargaining agreement the Chiefs are allowed to take that unused space and add it to their 2014 cap number. This is according to Adam Teicher. Adding in the rollover cap room, the Chiefs’ salary cap space jumps to $12,458,267.

Something to consider with the rollover space is it is not a permanent increase in the salary cap. It is there mostly to serve as an “in case of an emergency” type of thing. The Chiefs don’t want to spend too much only to find themselves in the same predicament next season, so it is probably best for them to operate as if they only have $10 million to spend.

Finally, the Chiefs have to leave space open for the NFL draft. Every team is given a pool of money to spend on draft picks based on where said team’s picks were in the draft. For example, a team picking first in each round is going to have more money to spend than a team picking last in each round because each draft slot decreases in value. Basically, the financial details of each draft pick is already determined based on where the player is selected. The only thing that has to be determined is the language of the contract. Kansas City’s draft pool is expected to be around $5.5 million. This means the Chiefs have to have at least $5.5 million open in cap space if they want to sign all of their draft picks.

Working off of the $10 million cap space number, the Chiefs only have about $4.5 million to spend on free agents. That is not enough room to sign Byrd or most any significant free agent.

If the Chiefs are going to be able to do anything in free agency then they’ll need to get something worked out with Eric Berry and Alex Smith before March 11. We know the Chiefs are talking to Smith about a long-term deal, so there is an obvious path there to open up some cap room for 2014. Smith’s cap number is currently $8 million. Taking that number down to $5 million could get them into an area where they could sign a creative deal with Byrd but do very little else in free agency.

Getting Berry on-board, too, would give the Chiefs the most help. Berry’s contract is strange in that he will take a $3.5 million pay cut for the 2015 season, a contract that was signed under the old collective bargaining agreement. Knowing that the salary cap will be over $140 million next season, the extra room Berry’s contract was going to provide is 2015 is not quite as needed. Finding a way to flip the $3.5 million (if not more) to next season may be in the Chiefs’ best interest.

Should the Chiefs be able to save $6.5 million between Berry and Smith for 2014, they’ll be able to use their $16.5 million in cap space ($11 million in free agency room) to go after a guy like Byrd and still have enough room to fill other needs. All of this, and Kansas City would still be able to keep their options open with Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers next off-season if they want to get cut or trade them. Yes, Berry and Smith would be a little more expensive next year, but the cap flexibility for 2015 will still exist and the Chiefs will have a fewer serious holes to fill.

None of this has to happen in the next week because the Chiefs are already under the salary cap heading into the deadline. So the urgency isn’t there for it to happen immediately. But if the Chiefs are active in free agency that likely means Smith and Berry are doing their part to help create a better roster.

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