Now that we've slept that off and some of you (NOT me, it's just dusty in here) have had a good cry, let the offseason begin. I'll cover a few very obvious moves only because there are numbers involved and (WARNING!) much of this post is going to focus on numbers, i.e, the salary cap. Most of this post will examine whether the Chiefs need to make major personnel changes, and if some of them are even possible, given salary cap constraints.
But first, we need to cover four big moves John Dorsey made prior to this season, because they have major implications for what they can do starting shortly after the Super Bowl.
D-Bowe only counted $4 million against the cap this season thanks to a heavily backloaded contract (this will be a theme). Good job John Dorsey, right? Well, Bowe was actually roughly worth that cap number this year. The playoff game was the absolute best illustration ever of what D-Bowe is. He had only one drop, and on the last play of the game couldn't quite haul in a really tough catch meant to hit him in stride. He also had well over 100 receiving yards including a big play and a few first down catches. Here's the problem: Dwayne Bowe CANNOT catch the ball with his hands. No, I am not saying he doesn't like to. He CANNOT. Every single one of his completions last night were body catches on routes that allowed him to body catch the ball. On the Chiefs' last play, an elite receiver would adjust his route to go up and fight for the football, reaching back to catch it with his hands, and putting his body in better position to come down in bounds. Think this is unrealistic? Just watch the games today and focus on guys like Anquan Boldin, A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, hell even Marvin Jones. I cannot think of a single wide receiver who is a starter in the NFL, but who literally is incapable of hands-catching the football. Want further proof? You don't even need to watch game film. Just watch D-Bowe's Papa John's commercial, where he juggles a hands catch on a crossing route, on a perfect spiral right at his hands, a pass THROWN BY A CHILD!
I could go on but this is already into rant territory. The point is, Dwayne Bowe is not an elite WR in the NFL and never will be. If his 2013 cap number carried over to next year, fine. That's actually not a bad bargain for what he is. You just suck it up and go sign Anquan Boldin, right?
Um, no. For 2014, D-Bowe's cap number is $12 million, and that's with $16 million and change of dead money. Dwayne Bowe is going to be a Chief next year and he is going to be really expensive. Will John Dorsey try to massage the cap hit like he did with Flowers during this season, including pushing even more dead money onto later years? Good question. For me, I think given how quickly this sub-elite receiver is declining already, I'd rather take the cap hit next season so we can get rid of him and this albatross as soon as possible.
Unlike the Bowe contract, franchising Albert was a decision I strongly agreed with. However, I would have happily taken a third round pick for Albert, moved on with Stephenson and brought in a developmental LT like Terron Armstead or David Bakhtiari (but I'm no guru; I did not expect either to be available in rounds 3 and 4, respectively).
I also don't think Albert is a Pro-Bowler. But you know what, in 2013 he would have easily been worth a $5 million cap number on a backloaded deal. I also think he was good enough to be roughly worth the big, guaranteed money deal he sought. His cap number this season was just under $10 million on the franchise tag. Even after getting salary cap help from renegotiating Flowers, the Chiefs currently have just under $2 million in cap space. It is not a stretch to say that the decision to franchise Albert (AND keep him) limited John Dorsey's options for making upgrades elsewhere (FREE SAFETY!).
Whereas all season I assumed we'd move on from BA and free up that money, I think this may be one of if not THE biggest decision the Chiefs have to make heading into 2014.
The decision on Albert does not have everything, but a lot to do with Fisher. I thought they should have traded out of that pick even if they only got a pittance for it. I don't just dislike the pick and how he played this season, that first overall pick comes with a gigantic bonus. Can you believe that Eric Fisher, who arguably should not be counted on as a starter going into next season, will have a $5 million cap number in 2014? I know, I almost threw up when I first saw that.
Now, Fisher clearly improved as the season went on. After the game at Oakland, it looked like we could celebrate the departure of the injured Branden Albert and look forward to a nice pair of tackles to protect Alex Smith next season. And while Donald Stephenson has played quite well, even surprisingly holding up well in pass pro where he scared the hell out of me in the pre-season, I'm not sold on him as a starter just yet. Stephenson will count less than $1m against the cap next season. Given the big money they're locked into with Fisher, if they were to lock up Branden Albert, should the Chiefs trade Stephenson to a cap-troubled team with tackle issues? Not for me, not with Fisher's inability to stay even relatively healthy. Because of his contract, disappointing season, and inability to feel comfortable with his durability, the Fisher pick could be a major drag on the roster for 2014 and beyond.
Like him or not, Smith was worth two second round picks and $16 million over two years (Mike Mayock said so, so there). It is hard to imagine the Chiefs even making the playoffs with the other options available. As much as I love E.J. Manuel and thought the Bills' pick was brilliant, it is doubtful that with Manuel at the helm the Chiefs would have shown up to get embarrassed in Indy last night. And he has major durability concerns now as well. Geno Smith? Mike Glennon? Let's just not go there. Those might all be nice QBs for a few years, but I'm comfortable saying that the 2013 draft did not feature a true franchise QB.
While I approve of the Smith trade, I thought the 49ers were in a tough spot, and did not think the Chiefs needed to give up TWO draft picks. If you think the Chiefs can easily move on from the Indy debacle by drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, good luck on him falling to them in the mid-twenties of round 1. Are you comfortable with them trading completely out of Day 2 of the draft to move up to, say pick 17, in order to get Dix or whoever the next best FS is? Clinton-Dix probably will be gone by then, and without a second round pick, the Chiefs do not have the ability to move up enough to get him. The loss of that picks hurts.
Then again, Alex only counts $7.5 million against the cap next year, in the final year of his deal. Like 2013, there is no dead money. The Chiefs gave up a lot to get Alex Smith, and he should be their guy for at least a few more seasons. Extending Alex Smith on a backloaded deal could save a few million dollars next season. Given some of the bad contracts they have to deal with, extending Alex is not just a move for the future, but one that will help them upgrade next season. After seeing their list of opponents in 2014, simply drafting the best available free safety only gives them a puncher's chance at the playoffs, in what would be Smith's last season under his current deal.
Whew. Now, let's move on to the 2014 offseason.
Free Agents, We Bid You Adieu! (with 2013 cap numbers*)
* All contract info in this article is from Spotrac.com
Tyson Jackson - DE $7.2m
Jon Asamoah - RG $1.5m
Dexter McCluster - WR $1.4m
Kendrick Lewis - FS $1.4m
Frank Zombo - OLB
Akeem Jordan - ILB
Quintin Demps - FS
I like Tyson Jackson and would like to bring him back. But after watching that 3-4 defense get carved up for the past several weeks, I'm ready for a switch to a base 4-3. I just don't think they have any choice if they want to win the division, which will require beating Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers-led passing attacks. He would be okay in a 4-3, but for what we'd have to pay him, there are better options out there.
Asamoah was mercifully replaced with Geoff Schwartz when he got hurt, and presto! the line played much better. For the life of me I don't know why Schwartz was not starting in place of Jeff Allen since Game 1, but I digress. Asamoah is a ZBS only guard who is a liability in pass pro. So long, Jon.
McCluster is an okay slot receiver and excellent punter returner, who is barely worth his 2013 cap number much less the $6-7 million in guaranteed money somebody will give him. We might receive a compensation pick as high as round 4 in 2015 due to his Pro Bowl and All Pro selections.
Kendrick Lewis. He is our Tyler Polumbus. In other words, if he was not STARTING for us, he would be watching games on Sunday from his couch. This is not an exaggeration. I have been consistent on him all season and I have no idea what some of you Lewis apologists were watching. Hard to believe a top 5 defense started an unrosterable FS all season.
Free Agents, Wilkommen Zuruck! (with estimated 2014 cap number)
Branden Albert - LT $4.5m
Geoff Schwartz - RG $1.5m
Hussain Abdullah - FS
OK, I am firmly in the re-sign BA camp. Was not until last night. Here's the thing: Players are going to get injured. It's too bad that they had to play Cyrus Gray last night. But the Saints won with undrafted rookie Khiry Robinson filling in for Pierre Thomas. Outside of Charles and Smith, they have zero reliable and proven players on offense. Knowing that injuries will happen, if you want to compete on offense at all, you must have guys like Branden Albert around. Next year he'll cost half of what he did against the cap on a backloaded deal. Pucker up John Dorsey!
Schwartz is not great, but he's much better than Asamoah and will still be cheap in 2014 (he made less than half Asamoah's salary in 2013). I actually think they could be better off starting Kush (who was very, very impressive in the SD road game) and moving Hudson over to RG, but I'm okay with giving Kush another development season before letting the average-ish Hudson walk.
Abdullah is not being penciled in here as the replacement for Lewis. He is not a starting NFL free safety, and despite the INTs last night, he is not a nickel corner either. He is worth a roster spot as a veteran who gets 10-15 snaps a game playing specific matchups plus special teams, is not playing for the money, and likes it here.
The Salary Cap
Surprised they have so few free agents, or guys that are really worth worrying about losing? Thank John Dorsey and all those backloaded deals. Ah, but there's a catch. In 2014 some of those deals don't look so great.
Current salary cap space for 2014 not including my wish list of three returning free agents, or any outside free agents: $3 million, which is roughly enough to sign draft picks. Let's see why.
The 2013 Free Agent Class (with 2014 dead money and cap numbers)
Sean Smith - CB $4.5m $5.8m
Dunta Robinson - DB $2m $5.3m
Mike DeVito - DE $2.8m $4.9m
Anthony Fasano - TE $3.4m $4.9m
Chase Daniel - QB $2m $3.4m
Donnie Avery - WR $1.5m $2.9m
I'm okay with Sean Smith even though in 2014 he will be overpaid. With safeties who actually pick up the receivers he is supposed to release when in zone looks, he's fine. Frankly, with that much dead money and little salary cap savings, you'd better be okay with him too. He will be a Chief in 2014.
Same goes for Fasano. Even when healthy, I think he's done. He might be the slowest TE in the league. That was such an awful signing in hindsight. Releasing him saves little money, so he'll be a Chief. Pray he retires, which I believe would give them some flexibility on moving his bonus money around.
The same goes obviously for Daniel, whose contract I hated until the SD game. I was shocked at how good he looked. Maybe they ask him to be loyal and trim the cap number a bit, but his contract is not a problem.
Donnie Avery is probably not worth his cap number, especially considering that A.J. Jenkins will make almost 1/3 of it. But when you give a zillion dollars to a 3rd receiver, putting yourself up against the cap, you don't have much choice but to overpay a guy like Avery. You can find that $1.4 million elsewhere.
Cutting Dunta Robinson and Mike DeVito would save $5.4 million. In my perfect world they are moving to a 4-3 and I'm pretty sure we've had enough of Weekend at Dunta's. Done and done.
Core Player Contracts (2014 dead money and cap numbers)
Dwayne Bowe - WR $16.2m $12m
Eric Berry - SS $5.8m $11.6m
Tamba Hali - OLB $6mm $11.5m
Brandon Flowers - CB $7m $10.5m
Alex Smith - QB $0 $7.5m
Eric Fisher - T $18.1m $5m
Jamaal Charles - RB $2.7m $4.8m
Derrick Johnson - ILB $0 $4.2m
Dustin Colquitt - P $6.1m $3.8m
Dontari Poe - NT $6.7m $3m
Ryan Succop - K $1.7m $2.7m
Jeff Allen - G $900k $1.3m
Rodney Hudson - C $265k $1.1m
A.J. Jenkins - WR $1m $1m
The rest are very cheap and will not affect the salary cap next season. For example, Justin Houston needs to be extended, but that would most likely add about $2 million to the cap on a backloaded deal. Keep in mind that that move probably needs to be made.
First, two pretty obvious moves that will save cap space. Extending Alex Smith on a backloaded deal with a $4-5 million 2014 bonus will save about $3m in cap space. Either extending Derrick Johnson (which I do not support), or just converting salary to bonus and/or moving some dead money to 2015, they can save at least $2m.
All-Pro Eric Berry is overpaid at that cap number. He has a player option for 2015. Frankly, given his problems in coverage, if he is not willing to renegotiate to save them cap space, they should consider releasing him. His 2015 cap number is even bigger. His deal needs a dramatic restructure like they did with Tyson Jackson this past offseason. However, Jackson had every incentive to make that deal, and Berry can hold out for an extension instead. I don't support a big extension for him, but he has them by the balls due to that pre-2012 rookie contract. Any way you look at it, they should be able to save at least $5m here.
Why is Tamba Hali "held" so much? We've seen a player who actually defeats blocks instead of taking them up and getting blocked in ugly fashion (and occasionally truly getting held), in Jared Allen. I think Hali is one of the most over-rated players in the league, and in 2013 he had the 7th highest cap number in the entire NFL. Cutting him saves you $5.5m. They can bring in a top 4-3 free agent DE for less than that in 2014 on a backloaded deal. At minimum they need to restructure. Either way they need to save $5m here.
Brandon Flowers is a warrior, and because of it he could very well be next year's version of Dunta Robinson. It's a risk they'll have to take, because in 2015, when he will be 29 and you definitely plan to move on from him, he has no dead money left.
The rest of the deals can be renegotiated, but do you really want to move more of Fisher's bonus to later years as bad as he looks now? Maybe Colquitt can help them out. I guess there's a guy you're fine with ending his career here, so you don't have dead money issues down the line. They can realistically hope to save around $5m by renegotiating a few of the remaining deals, which may include trading or releasing Hudson and starting Kush.
Salary Cap Heaven or Hell?
By making several fairly low intensity moves, John Dorsey could free up around $25 million for free agents. However, one of those under my scenario would be Branden Albert. Grabbing a reliable veteran pass-catching WR like Anquan Boldin would cost about $5 million next season. Andre Johnson has no more dead money left on his deal after this season, and would be easily worth a 4th round pick in my opinion, with a renegotiated ~ $8m cap number. The Texans and new head coach Bill O'Brien would love to make that deal.
Unfortunately, the Bills have plenty of cap space and will certainly franchise Jairus Byrd if they don't extend him. Currently the rest of the free agent FS class is not awe-inspring. Neither is the currently-graded draft class, although that could change dramatically beginning after the all-star games. Carolina's Mike Mitchell or maybe Seahawks RFA Jeron Johnson could be options at FS and not break the bank. Either would be huge upgrades.
If John Dorsey can sign Alex Smith, Branden Albert and Justin Houston long-term, bring in Boldin or Johnson, and still have around $10 million to spread around, I think we would have to be pleased. (Oh, and hiring a Director of Common Sense to help Andy Reid manage the game clock wouldn't hurt). That may not be Salary Cap Heaven, but it's not hell either.
Let the offseason begin!