Why the release of Rakeem Nunez-Roches was so surprising

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 01: Rakeem Nunez-Roches
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 01: Rakeem Nunez-Roches /

The release of defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches came as a fairly big surprise to Chiefs Kingdom on Tuesday. Here’s why.

Roster cuts are coming. There’s no way around it. Every offseason presents a slow drip of player news that includes the signing and then release of dozens of players. Teams begin with 53, swell to as many as 90, include even a few dozen extra minicamp invites and then finally shrink back to 53 once again.

Among those cuts, there are always a few real surprises that catch everyone off guard—players included. We all felt it when Jeremy Maclin was released. To a lesser degree, we were taken back when Jaye Howard was suddenly dropped. On Tuesday, we felt a tinge of that surprise again when the Chiefs leaked news that Rakeem Nunez-Roches had been let go.

The Timing

Earlier this offseason, the Chiefs offered an original round tender to Nunez-Roches, who was a restricted free agent this offseason. That means the Chiefs retained ultimate control over Nunez-Roches in that they could match any contract offered by another team. That team would also owe the Chiefs a sixth round contract, since that was the original round in which RNR was taken.

Less than two weeks ago, Nunez-Roches signed the contract having failed to receive any other offers (made public at least). He joined the Chiefs for voluntary offseason workouts and that was it. Nunez-Roches looked like he was ready to finish up another year with the Chiefs before hitting unrestricted free agency in the fall.

The Talent

From the eye test to the stat sheet, Nunez-Roches was a player on the rise. While he might not have the ceiling of a Chris Jones, it’s also clear that he was still growing as a player. From his rookie season in which he played in only 7 games with no starts to last year when he played in all 16 games and made 11 starts, Nunez-Roches was earning more time and trust from the coaches.

Nunez-Roches had earned the fourth most snaps along the defensive line in 2017, behind Chris Jones, Allen Bailey and Bennie Logan, rising from 25% of defensive snaps in 2016 to 36% last year. Perhaps Veach wanted to upgrade a position with a higher ceiling, and he certainly made such investments in the draft, but Nunez-Roches was still a strong rotational player under team control on the cheap.

The Money

According to Terez Paylor of Yahoo! Sports (that sounds odd), this move was legitimately all about the money.

This is still sad territory for Chiefs fans, who are used to moves having to be made because the team is oh-so-close to the salary cap threshold. Are the Chiefs really sacrificing having their best possible defensive line rotation—the trenches being the very place that showcased the strength of the Super Bowl champions in Philly—over $1.9 million?

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What’s sad about this even more is that the Chiefs aren’t really paying anyone on the line. Chris Jones is on the cheap. Breeland Speaks and Derrick Nnadi will never be this inexpensive again as fresh rookies out of the draft. Allen Bailey is now at $7.9 million in the final season of his contract, but the Chiefs paid Bennie Logan more last year.

The sum total of all of these parts is not much at all compared to other franchises. In fact, only the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins spend less on the defensive front, per Spotrac, than the Chiefs.

The cap hit of Demetrius Harris is $2.3 million. The cap hit for Charcandrick West is just over $2 million. No intended disrespect, but if I’m building a roster, I want my defensive line to be stacked and fresh over the course of a full game to battle at the line of scrimmage. Rather, a backfield where the Chiefs already have Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams, Kerwynn Williams and an impressive rookie like Darrel Williams, there’s more wiggle room to work with.


The Chiefs clearly believe they have the depth at defensive line to make these moves, to release Nunez-Roches and Stefan Charles and Josh Augusta. Breeland Speaks and Derrick Nnadi will both add beef to the line. Justin Hamilton and Jarvis Jenkins are likely next men up as rotational pieces as well. But RNR is still only 24-years-old, and if Paylor is right that this is only about finances, then that’s still a sad story.

Perhaps Nunez-Roches finds a softer market than he’d like or maybe the team still maintained a bridge and both sides can find a figure that works. If so, it’d be nice to see the Chiefs rework a deal to bring him back for less money. But if Nunez-Roches can earn a nice sum, I can’t blame him. He’s earned it whether the Chiefs can afford it or not.