A closer look at expectations for KC Chiefs rookie contracts

COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 07: Linebacker Nick Bolton #32 of the Missouri Tigers in action against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Memorial Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 07: Linebacker Nick Bolton #32 of the Missouri Tigers in action against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Memorial Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The 2021 NFL Draft is still fresh on our minds after the marathon activity and roster additions from the three-day event, but some franchises have already started to lock up their newest draftees, including the Indianapolis Colts who were the first to sign their first-round pick, Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye.

For the K.C. Chiefs, there are six new players to sign and fit within the present salary cap. None of this should be a problem given that every single rookie deal these days is a slotted amount based on the collective bargaining agreement. It also helps that the Chiefs dealt their first-round choice in the Orlando Brown, Jr. trade, which means that any rookie addition is going to be fairly cheap overall and a minimal salary cap hit year by year for the next four seasons for any of this year’s first-year players.

Let’s take a quick look at the expected figures for each of the Chiefs new rookies and what they mean for the team as a whole. (All estimations from Spotrac.)

Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri

Expected Contract: 4-years, $5.834 million
2021 Cap Hit: $1.061M

The fourth-biggest cap hit for the coming season on this top-loaded team belongs to linebacker Anthony Hitchens, a player who took considerable time to live up to the lucrative deal given to him by Brett Veach back in 2018. While Hitchens looks solid in the heart of the Chiefs defense these, days, his $10+M hit is going to turn into $12M+ next season, and that’s as Joe Thuney also hits the expense sheet with another major bill.

The Chiefs have offered up consecutive second round picks in order to significantly upgrade the linebacker spot, and Bolton coming in at 10 percent of the cost it takes to pay Hitchens is going to look really good on the books. Together with the rookie deal for Willie Gay, Jr., the Chiefs should have an effective young second level to the defense for pennies on the dollar that will allow them to keep paying such an expensive front line.

Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma

Expected Contract: 4-years, $5.565 million
2021 Cap Hit: $1.011M

The Chiefs have gone cheap at center for some time now, ever since they refused to give Mitch Morse the extension he deserved two years ago. The Buffalo Bills stepped in and made him, at that time, the highest paid center in the league. Meanwhile, the Chiefs went with Austin Reiter and Daniel Kilgore for a couple seasons of clearly downgraded (yet far less expensive) play.

Even this season, it looked as if the Chiefs were going to go the same route with another Austin (Blythe), a player who could still admittedly start at center, but the addition of Creed Humphrey now gives the team an impact player to upgrade the interior—albeit one on a cost-controlled deal. The Chiefs start backing up the truck for Thuney next year, and Orlando Brown Jr. is going to get a sweetheart deal as well. Having another impact lineman with a minimal cap hit for the next four seasons is going to help the line from getting too pricey.f

Joshua Kaindoh, DE, Florida State

Expected Contract: 4-years, $3.979 million
2021 Cap Hit: $785K

The Chiefs are crossing their fingers on this one. At this point, the Chiefs are counting on a number of long shots in order to find their answer for a starter opposite Frank Clark on the defensive front. If they hit, that’ll be a significant win on the salary cap given that every contestant on the roster is making very little compared to the likes of fellow pass rushers like Clark and Chris Jones.

Joshua Kaindoh is the latest entrant, a player who could never put it all together in college due to injuries and coaching turnover. The Chiefs can only hope he takes well to Brendan Daly’s coaching and stays healthy as he grows into a pro-ready frame and skill set. In the meantime, former first round pick Taco Charlton, emerging third-year player Tim Ward, and second-year player Mike Danna are all in the mix as well. None of them are obvious as fits but then again, they’re not expensive either.

Noah Gray, TE, Duke

Expected Contract: 4-years, $3.794 million
2021 Cap Hit: $738

The Chiefs have never spent big money at tight ends behind Travis Kelce for obvious reasons. (Does any team really invest in their second tight end besides New England?) However, the Chiefs also haven’t invested a draft pick in the position since 2015 when they selected James O’Shaughnessy in the fifth round. Six years later, the Chiefs are hoping the Duke product can mature into a useful offensive weapon to give Andy Reid options and security if anything happens to Kelce.

If Kelce were to somehow hit the wall or suffer an injury, Gray’s deal would make him a bargain as a starting tight end, but no one wants this, nor should they expect it. Gray is about as expensive as any other backup tight end the Chiefs have employed in recent seasons.

Cornell Powell, WR, Clemson

Expected Contract: 4-years, $3.720 million
2021 Cap Hit: $720K

The Chiefs allowed Sammy Watkins to leave in free agency (1 year, $5M deal with the Baltimore Ravens) and were spurned by bigger-ticket items in free agency (a la JuJu Smith-Schuster). They brought back Demarcus Robinson on a minimum deal and awarded Byron Pringle a modest bump in pay ($2.133M), but this position is mostly Tyreek Hill’s massive deal and then relative bargains. If Powell can provide even a decent percentage of what (a healthy) Watkins brought, that’s going to go a long way toward helping the Chiefs financially well into the future.

Trey Smith, OL, Tennessee

Expected Contract: 4-years, $3.611 million
2021 Cap Hit: $693K

We’ve already covered the cost of the left side of the offensive line, but from Creed Humphrey all the way outside to the right (Lucas Niang), the Chiefs have a real chance at not only showcasing a dynamic young right side but doing so for pennies on the dollar. Trey Smith was a Day 2 talent who fell to the heart of Day 3 thanks to some concerning medical charts for teams wary of his history with blood clots in his lungs. As for the Chiefs, they feel good about Smith’s health going forward, but they will likely also feel good about a salary cap hit south of $700K here as well.

If Smith is ready for real reps at the pro level, whether sooner or later, the Chiefs can save some real money here. If somehow he were to win the job outright at right guard in 2020, the Chiefs can save nearly $5 million if they traded or released Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Andrew Wylie is another $2 million player who could also be expendable. Remember that the Chiefs also have the likes of Kyle Long, Mike Remmers, Martinas Rankin, Nick Allegretti, Bryan Witzmann and more.

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