News of DeSean Jackson being released has sparked a lot of conversation about the Chiefs making a run at Jackson. Trying to sift through what is true and what is not true about Jackson’s reported connection to a gang in Los Angeles is complicated, but one thing that shouldn’t be is whether or not the Chiefs could actually afford Jackson given their limited cap room.
In short, they can.
Kansas City has a little over $4.6 million in cap space available according to Over the Cap. On the surface this number seems far too low to add a player like Jackson and still be able to keep room open for drafted players and any other small moves the Chiefs would like to make. But here’s the thing about the salary cap: it can be easily manipulated.
Consider the deal Dwayne Bowe signed last March. Bowe signed a five-year, $56 million deal the stay with the Chiefs, and will earn a guaranteed $26 million ($15 million came from a signing bonus). A glance at the deal and Bowe’s contract looks like a multi-year albatross for the Chiefs. Reality is it is not.
There are two things that matter about NFL contracts: contract structure and how is the guaranteed money distributed. This is really all that matters to an NFL team as it dictates how long the commitment to the player is and what the true cap number will be over time. Five-years, $56 million is the max value of Bowe’s contract, not the true value.
In terms of guaranteed money, the Chiefs will have paid $24.5 million of the $26 million guaranteed to Bowe. This means the Chiefs are only on the hook for $1.5 million in the final three years of his deal. In fact, the Chiefs can cut Bowe after the 2014 season and save money against the cap if they chose to do so. The likelihood is the Chiefs will keep Bowe for the 2015 season, but they can choose not to if they think it is time to move on.
The construction of Bowe’s contract is also key. Despite signing a $56 million deal, Bowe’s cap number for 2013 was $4 million. KC deferred his heavier cap costs to years when Bowe may end up being cut by the Chiefs anyway. In fact, the two cheapest cap years in Bowe’s contract happen to be the two years Bowe is virtually guaranteed to be on the team, 2013 and 2014.
Basically, the Chiefs signed Bowe to a two-year, $26 million deal with three option years. Yes, there is dead money to consider, but dead money is easy to navigate given the salary cap increases coming in the future and if you draft well.
What does this have to do with Jackson? Well, if the Chiefs can sign Bowe to a $56 million deal, have a $4 million cap number for his first season, and be able to get rid of him after only two seasons, then the Chiefs can easily sign Jackson to a deal.
Given the reports out about Jackson in addition to the feeling around the league that the draft is loaded with wide receivers, there is virtually no way Jackson approaches a $56 million deal. His previous deal with Philadelphia, which he signed in 2012, was for $48.5 million with $15 million guaranteed. He’s not going to get a raise on that contract.
Kansas City can easily structure a contract where Jackson gets paid well and still fits in the Chiefs’ cap. It is all in the way they choose to construct the contract and spread out the guaranteed money.
If the Chiefs really want Jackson, they can afford him.