Why the Chiefs should wait a year to extend Creed Humphrey and Nick Bolton

Although 2021 draft picks, such as Creed Humphrey and Nick Bolton, are eligible to sign long-term contract extensions, the Kansas City Chiefs should wait to extend them until next offseason.

Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) and
Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) and / Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

According to Article 7, Section 3(k) of the NFL CBA, players on rookie contracts are not allowed to sign contract extensions until after the conclusion of the third season. This means that as of the commencement of the 2024 NFL league year, 2021 draft picks are now eligible to be extended. The Kansas City Chiefs have several such players who now can sign extensions and are also scheduled to be free agents next March.

The Chiefs' 2021 draft class features several players who have contributed to two straight Super Bowl runs. These players include linebacker Nick Bolton, center Creed Humphrey, tight end Noah Gray, and guard Trey Smith.

All of them are eligible to sign a long-term deal with Kansas City today, but should the Chiefs extend any of them before next season? I would argue no.

The pros and cons of extending the 2021 class

To start, there are multiple benefits to getting contract extensions done early. These include lowering the current year's cap hits to provide the team additional short-term flexibility as well as more years to spread out the prorated signing bonus, among others.

Additionally, some teams prefer to extend elite quarterbacks (even cheap ones) as soon as possible to avoid the market from increasing the player's price tag as well as having more years to spread out money.

One reason the Chiefs should wait to sign extensions is that Creed Humphrey ($5.2M), Nick Bolton ($3.5M), and Trey Smith ($3.4M) all have well below market value cap hits. There are few benefits to extending them for the purpose of providing more flexibility to the Chiefs for 2024.

It makes more sense to extend the contracts of 2021 rookies who were drafted early in the first round, and thus have higher 2024 cap hits, such as Ja'Marr Chase ($9.8M).

Let's use Creed Humphrey as an example. His current cap hit is $5.2M. Assuming he signs a 4-year contract extension worth $14.5M/year with a $15M signing bonus (which is likely an underestimate), the Chiefs could only change his 2024 cap hit to as low as $4.45M. Is the ~$800K in 2024 savings worth it? As I'll explain later in this post, probably not.

The Chiefs' front office prefers to backload their big contracts. This means the bulk of the guaranteed base salary and bonus money (which isn't a signing bonus) is in Year 2 of the contract or later, while the first year has a low base salary and thus a minimal cap hit. Chris Jones, despite signing a contract worth $31.75M/year, his 2024 cap hit is only $7.35M. Since his contract is relatively backloaded, his cap hits in 2025 and 2026 are scheduled to jump to $34.85M and $41.1M, respectively.

This would mean that the 2025 cap hits for any contract signed this offseason would be much higher than the ones in 2024. The problem is that Chris Jones, as previously stated, is also going to get extremely expensive in 2025. The Chiefs would be wise to push out the expensive years for the 2021 draft picks for as long as possible.

Due to the structure of Jones' contract, the Chiefs likely won't be able to get out of it until after the 2026 season. If Bolton and Humphrey become expensive in 2025, that would mean that there are two seasons where Jones, Bolton, and Humphrey are all expensive, before they can potentially get out of the Jones contract. If the Chiefs waited to extend the latter two until after this season, there would only be one overlapping season of expensive cap hits.

Circling back to a few paragraphs ago, potentially saving $800K on Creed Humphrey's current cap hit may not be worth overlapping one additional year of his and Jones' contract than necessary. If the Chiefs could save a lot more money in 2024, then it could absolutely be worth it.

Which players are likely to be re-signed?

Aside from the cap ramifications alone, which players from the 2021 draft class even sign a second contract with the Chiefs at app, if any at all?

Starting with Nick Bolton, although it's pretty tough to tell with him, but I do think they will re-sign. Despite just letting Willie Gay walk, Bolton is a better player than him and is also more important. Steve Spagnuolo is also a huge fan.

Next is Creed Humphrey. I believe that Creed will also be re-signed. The problem is that the Chiefs have yet to re-sign a starting center (who's expensive) in the Andy Reid era. Rodney Hudson in 2015 and Mitch Morse in 2019 were both allowed to walk in free agency and ended up signing with other AFC teams. Hudson, like Humphrey, was one of the best players at his position at the time and the Chiefs let him leave. Letting Morse walk was more understandable as he wasn't elite, but was a very good pass protector.

After losing Mitch Morse, the Chiefs had a couple of transition years with Austin Reiter at center before landing Humphrey. Will they re-sign Humphrey or bet on their ability to land another starting center?

Trey Smith is a pretty easy one. Although he's a very good player, it just makes more sense to let him go after next season. The Chiefs can't re-sign everybody, and guards of his caliber have signed contracts worth $17M+ a season. With K.C. needing to re-sign a fair amount of core players in the next few years, it's likely the right decision to not re-sign him.

Noah Gray, though he is a very good depth tight end, will likely not a contract that is very expensive. Also, there is a slim chance the Chiefs choose to extend him before the next offseason.

Though waiting to extend any players in the 2021 rookie class is the right decision, in my opinion, Brett Veach may not agree. The Chiefs may prefer to sign any of them before they get more expensive. The team may also not want to risk losing any of them in free agency if negotiations next winter don't go well.

In conclusion, the Kansas City Chiefs would be better off waiting to extend the likes of Creed Humphrey and Nick Bolton, among other 2021 draft picks, until after next season. Their long-term cap situation would be better off and there's not much benefit to re-signing them early. L'Jarius Sneed (drafted in 2020) is still waiting for his long-term contract as he was franchise-tagged. Will the Chiefs choose to place the franchise tag on either Nick Bolton or Creed Humphrey if no long-term contract is signed by then? In the coming months, we will see how Kansas City approaches this situation, but recent history suggests they will wait until after this upcoming season.