For the last four years under Andy Reid, it seems like the Kansas City Chiefs have constantly been on the edge of being a Super Bowl contender. Not on the edge of being a Super Bowl champion mind you, but they have yet to look like a team that could realistically contend to win it all; there were many times in the last four years that I thought the Chiefs would actually win the Super Bowl, even though they were quite good, and much better than they were before Reid arrived.
Is 2017 going to be the year that Kansas City breaks through to the AFC Championship game and inserts themselves into the conversation for “Which teams have a legit shot to be playing in February?” To do that, Chiefs GM John Dorsey has some mastery of contract negotiations, cap space, and drafting to do. Because with just $4.7 million of cap space as of this writing, KC doesn’t have the luxury of playing it fast and loose like the 2016 New York Giants.
Even after releasing Nick Foles and saving $6.75 million (previous reports had it as $10 million but new reports say that was not the case) the Chiefs have not one, but two players worthy of the franchise tag. Is there any way they can keep them both? That’s going to be the biggest challenge of trying to keep the band together.
Impending Free Agents
Dontari Poe, DT
Eric Berry, FS*
*Berry has signed a huge contract extension, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL
I’m lumping these two players together because this is the conundrum Dorsey is facing with the franchise tag period opening on Wednesday. The projected figure for a franchise tag on a defensive tackle is $13.46 million, while a safety is guaranteed $10.96 million. Given the Chiefs cap challenges, that makes it more likely that Berry will get the tag, and not Poe. Of course, that’s not the only reason, since Berry is on a Hall of Fame path while Poe is a very good defensive tackle whose sack numbers have dipped considerably over the last two seasons.
Update (2/28/2017): The Chiefs have signed Eric Berry to a six-year, $78 million deal, with $40 million guaranteed, the richest for a safety in NFL history. The move doesn’t necessarily make it more likely that they will retain Poe, since they don’t have much cap room, but at least now they know where they stand financially.
I asked Joel Thorman of the SB Nation Chiefs blog Arrowhead Pride about this and he told me that Berry is almost certainly the priority over Poe:
It's hard for me to see the Chiefs not retaining Berry somehow so Poe would be the one most likely gone. Dorsey did say there's a chance they could keep both players. I wouldn't put it past them. The Chiefs rarely lose a player they really want to keep. They've also prepared for Poe's possible exit by drafting Chris Jones last year. Dorsey's MO has been to draft at a position where the Chiefs are on the verge of potentially losing a player to free agency the next year: Branden Albert-Eric Fisher, Dee Ford-Justin Houston, Marcus Peters-Sean Smith ... Dontari Poe-Chris Jones?
That statement tells me two things:
- Berry won’t be a free agent in 2017. Despite his resistance to playing on the franchise tag again, Kansas City isn’t just going to let him walk away.
- It’s going to be incredibly challenging for the Chiefs to retain Poe.
After KC releases Foles, they’ll be $10.9 million under the cap. That basically just gives them the room to keep Berry on at least the franchise tag, but doesn’t even give them enough space to sign their draft picks so more moves will have to be made. If you consider Poe a versatile DT who doesn’t just fit in a 3-4 scheme, and I believe he could make sense as pass-rushing interior lineman in the Seattle Seahawks defense, then Poe should command at least as much as Damon Harrison got with the Giants a year ago:
Five years, $46.25 million, $20 million guaranteed.
Despite optimism that the Chiefs could keep Poe, I just don’t see it as probable. God bless the effort to keep star players, Kansas City created a real problem for themselves when they gave Justin Houston a $101 million contract in 2015; his $22 million cap hit for next season is more than most quarterbacks and his 16 games missed since signing the deal is further evidence that the risk for mega-deals to non-QBs is honestly just bad business sense. Chiefs fans will probably roast me for saying that, but I am adamantly against deals like that and the evidence against them is simply too strong to dispute.
Consider the only non-QBs in the NFL to make more than $15 million next season:
Von Miller, Muhammad Wilkerson, Fletcher Cox, Olivier Vernon, Houston, J.J. Watt, and Marcell Dareus.
Which of those players willed their team to the playoffs in 2016? Not Miller, Wilkerson, Cox, Houston, Watt, or Dareus, that’s for sure. Vernon made the playoffs and got a quick first round exit but not even as one of the best two players on his own defense. Miller won a Super Bowl in 2015, that’s indisputable -- but he did so on a reasonable contract. The mega-deal reward that hinders the Broncos ability to add a franchise quarterback was honestly something they could have gotten away from. Yes, Miller is a star player, Houston is a star player, but neither are star quarterbacks and neither team has a star quarterback. Funny how that works.
I’ve gotten off track, but this is the problem I see with signing non-QBs to $80 million+ contracts. Kansas City has Justin Houston, good for them, but what’s there to learn from a team like the New England Patriots that doesn’t even pay their quarterback more than $14 million and lets star players leave literally every year? The Chiefs may retain Berry, but Poe seems like a goner. Can the Seahawks afford him?
I think that they can and interior defensive pressure will be a priority for Pete Carroll during the offseason. Seattle had a much better defense not just when Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were healthy but when their defensive tackles were creating pressure on the quarterback. That hasn’t happened since early in 2014 and they’ve suffered for it. Poe doesn’t turn 27 until August and he had 10.5 sacks from 2013-2014 when he made the Pro Bowl in both seasons. The Seahawks could fit a reasonable $9 million salary into their budget. Kansas City can’t. It’s just a matter of how much competition they have for Poe in March.
Mike Person, G
Person was a member of the Seahawks in 2012-2013, so a reunion for the 28-year-old offensive lineman is certainly plausible. It’s just not a move that fixes any of their problems, really.
Others: LB Josh Mauga, DE Jarvis Jenkins, DE/DT Kendall Reyes, RB/KR Knile Davis
Potential cap casualties
Nick Foles, QB
This is all but certain. Foles should still be an intriguing option for some teams out there and could get a chance to compete for a starting job in the right situation.
Jamaal Charles, RB (since released)
In trying to find that extra money in the budget, some tough cuts and hard negotiations will have to be made. That must include Charles, who is now 30 and has played in just eight games over the last two years. He’s due $6.1 million, none of which is guaranteed. Here’s what Thorman had to say:
This is a tough one because there are so many factors here. Jamaal's previous injury history, his age, his contract and the fact that he's an all-time Chief. I have no idea at this point. I could see them keeping him this summer to see how he comes back from his knee surgeries last season. On paper, it looks like the Chiefs should move on but again this is the Chiefs all-time leading rusher we're talking about.
I think the best case scenario is they talk him down to $3 million. But what my gut really says is that it’s time for Kansas City to say goodbye and allow Charles to have his final one or two seasons with some random team that nobody will remember he ever played on.
Update (2/28/2017): The Chiefs have released Charles, the same day that the Vikings released Adrian Peterson. I think Charles could still have some good, perhaps great, games ahead of him. He makes more sense for Seattle than Peterson would, but I don’t think that’s the direction Carroll will go in for the running back position. I could be wrong.
I’ll say it’s the Charles on the Baltimore Ravens next year.
Jah Reid, OT
I asked Thorman if there were any potential tackles to leave the Chiefs and he mentioned backup swing-man Reid, but that is still pretty unlikely.
Other potential cuts? Back to Joel:
I wonder about the Chiefs defensive linemen like Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard. It wouldn't be huge cap savings (and the Chiefs need to get better, not worse at stopping the run) but they have depth there. De'Anthony Thomas and Charcandrick West are two others that are cheap right now but the Chiefs could look to upgrade.
To get breathing room, Kansas City will need to trim the fat from where there may not be a lot of meat on the bone, but they don’t have much choice. Howard, the former Seattle defensive lineman, had a very strong 2015 but missed half of 2016. Bailey missed 11 games. If movement is made there, I imagine the Seahawks think about how that might work, if there’s any chance to bring one of them in.
The Chiefs just need to find out how to not let all of these guys out.
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