You know what I hate? Math. Math is the worst. It makes me feel bad about myself. It refuses to change no matter what I want it to say. And worst of all, it's all about numbers. Numbers are evil.
That said, with free agency looming, there has been a lot of talk about numbers. And it's high time I got in on the fun. Mostly because I was recently enlightened as to the Chiefs salary cap situation.
We've heard over and over that the Chiefs don't have a whole lot of room under the cap, even with it recently raised (in a move that should have surprised no one) to $133 million dollars. Various free agents are discussed in passing with a dismissive "we could never afford him anyway." The Chiefs own free agents (Dexter McCluster, Geoff Schwartz, and Tyson Jackson most frequently) are considered expendable because, hey, we're broke.
I accepted all of these thoughts because I generally stay away from cap discussion (remember, numbers are evil. As a good person, it is my duty to avoid evil things). We're mostly broke, and that's that. Booo!
... And then AP user JComp11 decided to sabotage my actual career and introduce me to the most magical and mystical place ever ... Over The Cap's Salary Cap Calculator.
(Warning, DO NOT go to that site unless you've got the afternoon free. If you've got a project due, or a class you need to actually try in, or kids that need watching, just wait. Trust me. I lost an hour of my time before blinking after going to that place. You've been warned)
Basically, that calculator takes every Chiefs contract and gauges where they're at against the cap (both offseason and in-season). It takes into account bonuses, salary, guaranteed money ... the whole nine yards. And it (you may want to sit down) lets you try various extensions, cuts, restructures, trades, and signings to see what would happen in various scenarios.
Seriously. This is why the internet was invented.
I'm not going to take the time to explain the ins and outs of the NFL salary cap (mostly because I'm not smart enough to do a good job of it), but the fellas at Over The Cap are kind enough to do it for me. Take a look as a primer if you (like me, before reading their stuff) aren't sure how all this works. I love it when smart people explain stuff in a way dumb people (waves) can understand it.
(Let me add a disclaimer before we even start ... contracts involving giant amounts of money are complicated. Workout bonuses, roster bonuses, and other such details are impossible to accurately predict, as are total amounts. So what we're going to be doing today involves more "That's about right" than "This is exactly how it will be".)
Anyway, now that we're all educated on the salary cap and have wasted three hours of our lives playing around with Over The Cap's calculator, allow me to repeat the (seemingly insane) statement in the title...
The Chiefs can afford Jairus Byrd
Yes, we can. Yuh huh. No YOU are! You wouldn't say that to my face I bet! Fine, I'll show you.
What kind of deal do we think Byrd is going to want? Word is that he wants to be the highest paid safety of all time, right? I'm not going to debate the merits of signing a safety to that kind of money. Today, the point is whether the Chiefs CAN do so without crippling themselves now and in the future.
The fact is, it's very easy to do so, even if Byrd wants to be the highest paid safety in NFL history. In order to do that, he needs to average $10 million dollars a year at least.
Let's say you heard that Byrd signed a 7-year, $70 million dollar deal with a $16 million dollar signing bonus and $27 million dollars guaranteed. You'd say, "Holy crap, there's no way the Chiefs could do that deal in a million, billion years. This sucks, we never get anything nice!" And that would, indeed, make him the highest paid safety in history.
What if I told you that if the Chiefs signed Byrd to that deal they would still be a little over $3.5 million dollars under the cap this year, and in position to be comfortably under the cap next year? Would you believe me?
Well, it wouldn't matter if you believed me. Because reality doesn't care if you believe it. That's right, WITHOUT giving Eric Berry or Alex Smith extensions (they are two of the Chiefs biggest cap eaters this season), the Chiefs still have room to sign Byrd.
"But Seth, if we do that we won't be able to sign anyone else and baby seals will be clubbed to death!"
Breathe. It's going to be OK. I'm not, in fact, advocating the idea that the Chiefssign Byrd to a record-breaking contract. In fact, I'd be opposed to the idea. Now, if he wanted to sign for a deal that was huge without being "biggest ever" (which I kinda / sorta doubt), I'd be more inclined to be on board. My point is that the Chiefs have a great deal more flexibility than people imagine under the cap. With that in mind, let's have a little fun with (formerly evil) numbers!
First off, we need to try and give the Chiefs a little operating room for this year without crippling themselves in the future...
Alex Smith's contract situation is a tricky one. On one hand, you have the recent Jay Cutler and Tony Romo deals, which are gigantic contracts for guys who aren't elite quarterbacks. On the other hand, those deals were pretty stupid and the Romo one is already making the Cowboys scramble. Throw in the fact that Alex Smith has publicly stated that he's in a "different place" than those guys career-wise and you've got multiple reasons to believe his contract isn't going to be as back-breaking.
That said, it's not going to be cheap, either. So let's try to come up with something expensive, but not stupid. Because if the Chiefs are going to be stupid with Smith's contract this whole exercise is moot.
Alex Smith Extension - 6 years, $90 million, $35 million guaranteed ($18 million signing bonus)
I can absolutely promise that some of you are saying, "That's insane! We can't pay Smith that much!!!" and others are saying, "That's insane! Smith will never sign for that little compared to Cutler / Romo!"
I'm not going to spend a ton of time arguing other than to say the fact that two sides are unhappy is a pretty good sign we've managed to find a decent guesstimate. This amount gives Smith a massive paycheck right away and guarantees him more than four times as much money as he's currently got. It's insurance against injury and a guarantee of "We're not going to replace you for at LEAST three years after signing this," and it's just as much as he'd get in an open market with rookie quarterbacks costing a third this amount.
For those who are freaking out about the cap implications, please know that this extension actually buys the Chiefs cap room and we're now sitting a $10 million in cap space as opposed to $8 million, and has the Chiefs sitting just fine in 2015 as well. It also is set up to where Smith's cap hit doesn't go above $10 million until 2017, when the cap is going to be higher and the Chiefs have made it through the massive dead money amounts.
Again, it's all about the guaranteed money and the dead money. This scenario presents us with one year where Smith's cap hit is $15 million and he can't realistically be cut ($11 million in dead money): 2017. Beyond that, if he isn't living up to a big deal, he could be cut with only a little over $3 million in dead money. So you've got four years where you're "stuck" with Smith and this contract
This isn't about whether you think Smith is a franchise QB. It seems the organization does, so we're having them act accordingly in a way that helps us now and doesn't hurt us much later.
So now we're at $10 million in cap space
Eric Berry Extension - 6 years, $49.5 million, $28 million guaranteed ($15 million signing bonus)
Everyone knows I heart Eric Berry, but the man is an $11.5 mil cap hit this season (before "dipping" to $8.3 million next season). Let's fix that. This is one where the Chiefs can REALLY help themselves this year and next.
The contract is pricey, I get that. It compares with what the Buccaneers had to cough up for Dashon Goldson (I'm attempting to be realistic hear so as to not be accused of stacking the deck in the Chiefs favor). Berry gets himself a gigantic raise in guaranteed money and long-term security, as well as a small raise over a former-CBA rookie contract.
The same stuff said with Smith applies to Berry. There's risk here through 2017, at which point the risk sharply drops as the dead money melts away (for the most part). However, this contract (through the bonuses and with the heavy salaries on the non-guaranteed back end) frees up quite a bit of space for the Chiefs cap-wise, putting them at roughly $118 million without hurting us in 2015.
Which, if you're counting, puts us at around $15 mi in cap space here and now.
Cutting Donnie Avery
I like Avery (kinda) as a receiver. The problem is consistency. Avery has none. It drives me up the wall. Now you can see this or that about Dwayne Bowe having a similar problem, but he's not an option to cut / extend / restructure at this point. He's just not. And if the Chiefs are going WR in the first round (in this hypothetical we are), Avery becomes more expendable.
Additionally, Avery's cap hit NEXT season is $4 million dollars, with only half a million of that being dead money. That's enough to give a person pause.
With that in mind (and because it's my fake scenario, yo), we're now at $16.5 million dollars in cap space.
There are other things that could be done to save money (Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers both have huge cap hits that are troublesome), but in the interest of word count and not getting too out there we'll stop here. So what could the Chiefs do now with this amount of cap space without destroying their chances of competing in the future? I think you'll all be pleasantly surprised.
This has gotten longer than I intended, and the various possibilities with free agents are endless, so I'm not going to spend time justifying why I chose what guys to sign or anything like that. Nor am I going to quibble about "so-and-so isn't worth that much" and all of that. Specific value of Lamarr Houston isn't the point. The point is to show that the Chiefs CAN make moves. With that in mind, imagine if the Chiefs did this...
Lamarr Houston - 6 years, $42 million ($20 million guaranteed, $12 million signing bonus)
Chris Clemons - 4 years, $20 million ($10.5 million guaranteed, $7 million signing bonus)
Geoff Schwartz - 5 years, $27 million ($11.5 million guaranteed, $8 million signing bonus)
... you'd probably think the Chiefs getting way too close to the cap for comfort and a little something called Justin Houston is going to come back and bite us. Nope. After these three good-sized deals, the Chiefs are still sitting at $6.5 million dollars in cap space this year without having forced themselves into a corner in future years.
Oh, and if (instead of the three guys above) the Chiefs signed Byrd to the previously mentioned contract? They'd be sitting just fine, thanks, with around $11 mil on the cap to tinker around with other signings. It's worth at least pondering for a moment, no?
What to take away from all these numbers
Basically, the idea that the Chiefs are completely strapped for cash, or even the idea that they've got just a little bit of wiggle room, is inaccurate. The Chiefs have room to address multiple holes in the roster and do so with very solid players, or even go big with a splash signing like Byrd if they chose to do so.
Does this mean I believe the Chiefs should go crazy with spending? No. You always want to be careful not to put yourself where the Cowboys are at right now. However, I DO know a few things...
1) The salary cap rose more than expected this year, and odds are that's going to happen again over the course of the next few years (for a variety of reasons. Google is your friend). Which means that if you're smart in a contract structure, you can have it go up along with the cap so that the cap PERCENTAGE (the actually important number) remains somewhat static.
2) This team has a few very specific glaring weaknesses (pass rusher on the defensive line, free safety, wide receiver) that can be addressed here and now. With those weaknesses addressed, it is my belief that this team absolutely can compete for a Super Bowl.
4) The Chiefs have the cap room and flexibility to address several of those weaknesses in a VERY aggressive manner and turn them into strengths.
You never know when a window is going to slam shut. While one eye should always be kept on the future, the Chiefs can be aggressive in the hear and now as well. Hopefully our fun with evil (numbers) has shown you some of the ways this is possible.
Just to clarify regarding the @ArrowheadPride article... I'm not saying we should spend like crazy. Just saying we have options.
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 5, 2014