The Kansas City Chiefs have improved dramatically over the past two years, but much work remains to be done. Going into the home stretch of the 2014 season and eventually the 2015 offseason, the Chiefs will have the chance to make smart moves and position themselves for a Super Bowl run.
Of course, to get to a Super Bowl at some point, Kansas City will have to surpass the Denver Broncos. What will both teams look like in 2015 and beyond? To answer those questions, I reached out to former sports agent and current salary cap expert and writer Joel Corry of the National Football Post and CBS Sports.
Here is what Corry had to say about Denver and Kansas City moving forward.
Q: What do the Chiefs do with Dwayne Bowe this offseason?
A: For a guy that can't catch consistently at least 70 balls for 1,000 yards, you aren't going to pay him 11 million per year. I don't see that happening. When he got suspended, he lost the last of his guarantees, which makes it easier to get rid of him. His cap number is 14 million in 2015. One of the things you have to look at which could determine Bowe's fate is whether Chip Kelly thinks all receivers are replaceable, because Jeremy Maclin is on a one-year deal and there is a history between Andy Reid and Maclin.
You could have a viable replacement and let Bowe go. If you let Bowe go you can save five million on the cap. There is a way to make it a lot more, by giving him a post-June 1 designation. Teams can cut up to two players before June 2 and treat them like they were cut after June 1. You would have to carry the number until then but would save $11 million (with $3 million counting as dead money). If you don't take Maclin you have leverage to give him a pay cut.
If the role is as a number two receiver, then you are looking at six million per year. That also affects the other receiver, because getting rid of Donnie Avery will save you $3.55 million. Overall, the Chiefs don't have a great cap situation. They have 48 players under contract at $142.2 million. Let's say the cap goes up at the same percentage it did last year, putting it at $144 million. Once you get the top 51 players filled out, they would have only $2 million to work with and that doesn't include Justin Houston.
Q: Is it a done deal that Tamba Hali is headed out of town after this season?
A: Tamba is going into the last year of his deal. One thing that makes me have cause for concern is he has played 92.3 percent of snaps this year and Dee Ford has played 6.3 percent of the snaps. Do you really want to make that transition on such an unknown quantity? You have to make a decision sooner rather than later because Tamba has a $2 million roster bonus coming on the 10th day of the 2015 league year. Houston is going to be franchised and that will cost $13 million.
Depending how much they put into a signing bonus, they could get Houston for $4-6 million on the cap in 2015. That's a big break instead of carrying the franchise tag numbers. With Ford barely playing, and I don't think he's played any defensive snaps the last three games, that suggests Tamba is safer than most think.
Q: How do you see the Chiefs handling Rodney Hudson's impending free agency?
A: They let so many linemen walk last year; it's in their best interest to retain him. They let their guards go last year but Hudson is the key guy to retain and now Ron Parker as well because of the Eric Berry situation.
That brings up some interesting concerns where fans could get a real sense of how much football is a business, because if Berry can't play, he can be released and they save $5.5 million against the cap. If he stays on the non-football illness list they don't have to pay him. They could make him take a reduced salary. When Mike Patterson was on that list in Philadelphia a few years ago, they paid him half his salary.
With Hudson, I think he's a little under the radar. He could probably be had at around $4 million per year. Hopefully you could get it done at that.
Q: Thoughts on the Allen Bailey and Anthony Sherman extensions?
A: Anytime you have a guy who is risk-averse in Bailey, they got him at a better value than if there was competition. With Sherman, you are paying him because he's arguably the best blocking fullback and a great special teams player. Fullbacks are a dying breed and there is only one $3 million fullback in Marcel Reece, and it's because he is versatile. Salaries for fullbacks have gone off a cliff in the past couple of years. That's a position you don't have to commit significant resources. I think that deal that fine.
Q: How do you feel about the job John Dorsey has done thus far?
A: I don't like the Bowe deal now and I didn't like it then. When they franchised him the year before, they needed to get somebody done so either Branden Albert or Bowe didn't hit free agency. I would have let Bowe take his chances on the market. Albert was playing at a high level before he got hurt, and I know you took Eric Fisher but Albert is a left tackle at a premium position. I don't know about letting him go.
One thing to look at in terms of the cap, it won't surprise me if something is done to lower Alex Smith's number of $15.6 million in 2015. You can lower his $11.9 base salary by converting $10.9 million into a signing bonus, which lowers his cap hit to $7.425 million and saves $8.125 million.
When I was an agent, teams would come to you and ask you to help them out. When teams do larger contracts now they put it in the contract where they can convert base into signing bonus. That's something that is a phenomenon and practically goes in every big deal. Alex Smith doesn't really have the option of saying ‘I won't help you out'.
Q: This offseason, what should the Chiefs be looking to do first?
A: First thing you have to do is get dynamic playmakers on the outside. I mentioned Maclin and another guy is Randall Cobb, depending on what the Packers do. The run defense gets taken care of when Derrick Johnson comes back in a contract year, and also Mike DeVito when he gets healthy. I would keep DeVito and maybe explore a pay cut, and let him earn money back through incentives, because that run defense has been atrocious. You expect Seattle to run on you but not Denver. We knew how good Johnson was but DeVito has proven his worth without anybody replacing him.
Q: Looking across the division, can you assess the Broncos?
A: They are going to have close to $37 million in cap room. Their problem is retaining players because they have a bunch of free agents. The number one priority is Demaryius Thomas. According to Denver Post and Mike Klis, Thomas turned down the third-highest wide receiver contract, which would have been north of Percy Harvin's average, putting it between $12.8 million and somewhere below $16 million. I'd imagine part of his problem is structural because Denver usually gives modest signing bonuses under $10 million.
They create flexibility to get out after two or three years. He's making a case to be closer to the $16 million, because he's on pace for his third 90-catch, 1,400-yard and 10-touchdown season, something only done twice before in NFL history. The franchise tag would cost $12.887 million. Wes Welker, if he doesn't retire because of the concussion issues, is only going to come back at a very reduced rate.
Q: Chris Harris has been playing excellent football for Denver on the corner. Does he stay there in 2015?
A: Here's the problem with Harris. I know they've started negotiations with him, but why would he do a deal right now unless he's risk averse? He's the top corner on Pro Football Focus and he's positioned to be paid between eight and 10 million. Denver already has a guy like that in Aqib Talib. They structure themselves so that the first year is low, so they could sign both (Julius Thomas and Harris), but I think Harris prices himself out of Denver.
Q: Speaking of Julius Thomas, do you think he's a larger priority that Harris?
A: I did before the running game. According to Klis, he turned down a deal between 7.5 and 8.5 million which average-wise is where it should be. Blocking isn't his strong suit and if the Broncos are going to balanced maybe he doesn't have the same value as when they are pass-happy. We have rediscovered how good of a red-zone option Demaryius Thomas is when Julius Thomas is not there. ... You could pay him a market-rate deal, but you could also toy with bringing back Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme as opposed to brining Thomas back. The offense has performed fine without Thomas in the lineup, even though Thomas is a mismatch nightmare.
Q: Who gets more, Von Miller or Justin Houston?
A: With Miller, I'm waiting for Houston to get his contract done and then asking for more money. Whoever goes first will get paid less because contracts get built upon. There is no sense of urgency for him and after his problems they are going to want a favorable contract structure. One guy I would consider locking up early is Brandon Marshall, who is an exclusive rights guy because he only has two accrued seasons. I would take him through his restricted years and one unrestricted year. That would be more of a secondary priority.