How the Chiefs were smart with Dontari Poe and the franchise tag
By Matt Conner
The Kansas City Chiefs did a masterful job reading the upcoming free agent market for defensive tackles and did right by the franchise tag.
To apply it or not to apply it. That was the question facing John Dorsey, general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, and the future of Dontari Poe. The defensive tackle was set to enter free agency at the young age of 26 with two Pro Bowls under his belt. He’d also played more snaps than any Chiefs defender over the last five years by a country mile. He was set to get paid.
Unfortunately, the timing was imperfect, or at least it seemed that way. Eric Berry, the team’s star safety, was also ready to hit the open market. As a player voted the team’s MVP by his fellow players two seasons in a row, and after another Pro Bowl season, it would be very hard to watch the heart and soul of the locker room walk for millions of dollars elsewhere.
Fortunately Dorsey had one recourse to keep at least one player from leaving: the NFL franchise tag. Dorsey had used it the year before on Berry, and he might be forced to use it again. Unfortunately, Berry had put public pressure on Dorsey to get an extension done, threatening him that he would sit out if Dorsey tried to use the tag again. In the days leading up to the start of free agency, Dorsey and Berry’s representatives finally worked out a new deal—a six-year, $78 million extension that freed up the franchise tag to be used on someone else.
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In the limited time after Berry’s signing and the start of free agency, the question quickly turned to whether or not Dontari Poe would be the recipient of the tag. It would force Poe to remain in house for at least the next season and it would give both sides time to potentially negotiate a brand new deal, a la Justin Houston two years ago.
In the end, as we know, Dorsey let Poe walk, which led to myriad visits in free agency. After time spent with the Colts, Falcons, Dolphins and Jaguars (along with interest from the Raiders), Poe finally landed his deal: a one-year, $8 million deal reportedly worth another $2 million in incentives. As it turns out, Poe will do this all over again next season.
In the meantime, Dorsey either got tired of waiting or got the man he wanted all along when he signed Bennie Logan, defensive tackle from the Philadelphia Eagles. Interestingly enough, Logan’s contract mirrors Poe’s without the incentives, coming in with an $8 million cap hit for a single season of play.
It’s impossible to say whether Dorsey knew Poe wouldn’t command that much, but he knew $13+ million was too high for a defensive tackle, even one as talented as Poe.
Whether or not Dorsey made the right move with Logan or Poe will remain to be seen based on the on-field results of each player (and defensive unit), but Dorsey clearly made the right move in terms of whether or not to apply the tag. Had Dorsey pinned the franchise tag on Poe, the Chiefs would be paying him $13.387 million for the 2017 season—over $5 million more than the player manning the middle of the defensive front.
That amount of money is double what the Chiefs had to clear up in order to sign Logan in the first place. Derrick Johnson and Anthony Sherman both reworked their contracts to allow the team to have the requisite cap space to sign Logan, to the combined tune of nearly $5 million. Imagine if the Chiefs had needed to free up another $5.3 million on top of that. It would likely mean Johnson or Sherman would have been released outright, along with players like Dustin Colquitt or Jah Reid (or others).
In other words, a simple miscalculation of the market, or a moment of panic about losing Poe, would have been very costly for the Chiefs and their current cap scenario. Some teams can absorb some margin of error (and the Browns can actually trade for some other team’s egregious errors) because they have the cap space to handle it. The Chiefs? Not at all. It’s impossible to say whether Dorsey knew Poe wouldn’t command that much, but he knew $13+ million was too high for a defensive tackle, even one as talented as Poe.
In the end, he set his price and knew he couldn’t move beyond it. Eight million was the number and that meant Logan was his man, rather than Poe. Whether the player was right remains to be seen, but the price was definitely spot-on. Poe wasn’t worth an extra $5 million to keep and the market didn’t think so either.