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If I Were Chiefs GM Brett Veach: Chiefs offseason cuts and trades that can lead to more cap space

At some point, I’ll do my annual “most fun moments of the year” article. For right now, the playoff loss is still just a tad too fresh for me to go that route.

So instead, I’ve decided to take a look at what I’d do if I were Chiefs GM Brett Veach. Last season, I found myself frighteningly predictive of what the Chiefs would do prior to the draft (my thought was to trade up and draft Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. Spooky). So I figured maybe I’ll try to shoot thoughts into their minds again. hey, it worked once! Well, technically kinda/sorta twice, when they signed Bennie Logan (though that one didn’t work out as well as I thought it would).

Anyways, there’s a lot going on with regards to team-building, so I want to focus on each aspect of it individually (otherwise this would be a 10,000 word article, extensive for even me).

If you click here, you can look at the Chiefs’ cap liabilities and what could be saved with cutting/trading various players (Over The Cap is an absolutely spectacular resource, and their cap calculator is mountains of fun).

The first thing that people must acknowledge about the Chiefs is the fact that they are indeed (on the surface) in salary cap hell. As of right now, their obligations are higher than the projected cap (if you go by Over The Cap’s numbers, which are generally low, but it’s always good to budget conservatively) by nearly 8.3 million dollars. That situation absolutely must be rectified before the Chiefs can consider doing literally ANYTHING to improve their roster.

Please note that with regards to cap-saving options, I’m not going to get into players that would save half a million dollars (given that their cap savings would be offset by their roster spot being filled). Now that we’ve laid that out, here’s a gif of one of the best five throws I saw all season.

I think it’s important to sometimes take a break from all this reading, relax your eyes, and gaze at a beautiful football play. This particular gif serves a dual purpose in that it is fun to watch AND it helps segue into our first topic.

Step One: Trade Alex Smith

Might as well start with the one that causes the most fighting, right? (well... maybe. I may cause some other fights today)

I could write about the football reasons for this endlessly, but in reality this decision boils down to a combination of football and money. For the football reasons, read this article and then this article, in order and note the differences in what occurs when things break down.

The reality with Alex is that he’s a pretty good quarterback who is mostly dependent on the players and system around him to consistently perform well. When things are not going well, he is not (usually) the tide that raises all boats. While his basic stats were very, very good this year, his consistency wasn’t there (game by game OR even quarter back quarter at times). And in the NFL consistency is what matters over peaks and valleys.

The simple truth is that Mahomes played a very, very good game despite having an offense that was consistently “losing” around him. He demonstrated an ability to work within the offense when it was possible, threw guys open, made good reads (his two biggest mistakes were not read issues, but poor throws), was overall accurate, and made stuff happen when things broke down. That’s all the information we have on him, and it’s almost totally positive.

While we have no certainty that Mahomes IS a guy who can carry a team when other parts of the offense are struggling, a fear of the unknown (when the available evidence points to positive things) is a bad reason to stand pat when the KNOWN falls short. The Chiefs need a quarterback who can both run the offense and manufacture yards when the offense is faltering. Alex can do the former but not consistently the latter. All available evidence tells me Mahomes can do both.

Again, that’s an oversimplification, but the football reasons are only part of the analysis, and right now we’re talking about cap. Quite simply, when I trade Alex Smith on Over The Cap, the Chiefs go from $8.3 million in the hole in 2018 to having $8.2 million in cap space.

Frankly, unless you’re talking about a large disparity in performance between quarterbacks, that’s an easy call. In Andy Reid’s system I’m perfectly comfortable saying that I believe Mahomes can be as productive as Alex Smith was in 2017. Nope, I’m not kidding. The success of the offense was often predicated on Hill/Kelce/Hunt/OL and scheme, not Alex. Those things will all stay in place, so this becomes an easy call. Take the picks and $17 million.

Cap space saved: $17 million

Updated 2018 cap space: $8.2 million

(note: Over The Cap’s numbers when you cut/trade guys don’t always add up exactly how you’d think. Not sure if that’s a rounding issue or what, but I’m sticking with their numbers for the purposes of this article)

Step Two: Cut Tamba Hali (if he does not retire)

This is an easy decision on the surface, but wildly difficult to type out.

Tamba Hali is an all-time Chief. He is second in career sacks for Kansas City. He was one of the only bright spots on the defense for several tough years. He’s made some incredibly clutch plays in big games. His handfighting is a thing of beauty, and his unbelievable effort on every snap (and in every practice, and even in pregame warm-ups) is unrivaled.

But it’s time. Tamba couldn’t stay consistently healthy even on a wildly limited snap count in 2017, and the price tag for him is far too high for a guy who may only take 20 snaps in a given game. His knees just can’t do it any more. My hope is that he retires and rides off into the sunset. But if he does not, the move must be made.

Cap space saved: $8 million

Updated 2018 cap space: $15.6 million

Step Three: Cut Derrick Johnson

I hate this. I really, really, really, really hate this.

There’s a possibility that the Chiefs are able to do some contract magic with DJ that results in significantly decreasing his cap hit in 2018. And if so, they should absolutely explore it IF it doesn’t tie them up in 2019 and 2020. The problem with saying “they should just restructure” is that restructuring a contract to save cap room in one year pretty much always leads to decreased cap rooms down the road. It is, most of the time, being penny wise and pound foolish.

So I’m going to assume they can’t find a palatable way to resolve the contract situation, because I don’t think it’s very likely. I can’t picture DJ being willing to take a massive pay cut (I hope I’m wrong) and to be quite blunt, his on-field production is no longer worth even full time starting LB money. While DJ improved as the year went along, he finally slowed down significantly after years of seeming immortality, and he was no longer an impact player the vast majority of the time.

I want to remember better days for the Chiefs’ all time leading tackler, and every now and then he provided a flash of that. But it was all too brief. It may be fitting that a guy who often times couldn’t get a break despite being individually brilliant may have made his last great play as a Chief while simultaneously getting completely hosed in a way that led to a traumatic loss (but my goodness, what a hit it was).

Derrick Johnson ranks only behind Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry as my favorite Chiefs of all time (I was a bit young for DT to leave a lasting impression), so this is wildly painful. But it’s business, and the Chiefs often looked better with Reggie Ragland and Kevin Pierre-Louis manning the ILB spots, even in base.

I hope I’m wrong and I’m getting this thrown in my face in 9 months after a game in which DJ dominated. I hope that so much.

Cap space saved: $8 million

Updated 2018 cap space: $23.1 million

Step Four: Cut Allen Bailey (If No Restructure)

I turned this over and over in my head and I just couldn’t find a way around it.

The rough part is that the defense definitely needs help, and taking away a competent player (Bailey isn’t great, but he’s competent) is generally not the direction you want to go when you’re already struggling. He also presents with $2 million in dead money, which is less than ideal.

But I just can’t see it working at the price Bailey commands ($8 million). Yes, there’s the “we could restructure” thing, and in Bailey’s case that makes a lot more sense than DJ (since he’s significantly younger, cap hit can be spread over a number of years without hurting you in ‘19 or ‘20). But I already created my own rule, so I hesitate to break it.

The problem with cutting Bailey is that unlike our previous cuts, where the guys have replacements in place or weren’t significant contributors, Bailey needs a replacement. He was on the field for 626 snaps last season, and that amount of playing time along the line isn’t going to be easy to replace.

However, I don’t think Bailey was so good that he couldn’t be upgraded with a player who costs $6 million bucks against the cap in 2018. Keep in mind that Bailey is in the final year of his deal. Another player coming in would be in his first year, and a $6 million dollar hit in the first year of a deal is actually quite high, even on a larger-level deal. So because of the nature of NFL contracts, they could tread water cap-wise in ‘18 and sign a guy with can do more than what Bailey has shown he can do.

So my biggest hope is they can find a way to move forward at something like $4-5 million a year with Bailey over three years. However, for the purposes of this article we’re cutting him.

Cap Space Saved: $6 million

Updated 2018 Cap Space: $28.5 million

Let’s break this up with another gif, shall we?

Step Five: Cut Demetrius Harris

This is a harder decision than you think. Harris had a big role in the offense, meaning he’ll need a replacement who (if he’s competent) is likely more expensive. He’s also a decent blocker and (for some reason) has the trust of the QB’s and Andy Reid.

However, I’ve just seen too many drops from Harris, at times in critical situations, to be comfortable with him as the guy at TE2 when that role in Reid’s offense is so extensive. This is one of those situations where cutting will ultimately lead to (probably) losing a little money, but I believe the offense overall would be better for it.

Cap Space Saved: $2 million

Updated 2018 Cap Space: $30 million

Step Six: That’s it. Keep Dee Ford, Darrelle Revis and Ron Parker

This is probably going to be my most unpopular step, because this time of the year people LOVE cap room and hate guys who have warts in their game (which is quite true of all three of these guys).

However, I’m having a tough time removing three guys who can fulfill certain roles when the defense is already (in my opinion) hurting for talent.

Dee Ford is on the shortest leash of all three because of the potential in-house replacement already existing in Tanoh Kpassagnon. Tanoh flashed in spots and was significantly better than Ford ever was as a rookie, but clearly has a ways to go in his development. Because of that, I’d like for them to hang on to Ford until they see how things look with Tanoh early next year.

However, regardless of how Tanoh looks it may make sense to keep Ford. The Chiefs are starving for pass rushers, and that was clearly apparent at times this season (Bob Sutton has not, in my opinion, helped matters, but that’s a different article). Ford is a liability against the run, but he can contribute to the pass rush. In the NFL, it’s incredibly difficult to add genuinely good pass rushers in free agency, as they are nearly always franchised or command insane money.

In a perfect world, the Chiefs would be able to find a pass rusher capable of helping on the edge, but I just don’t see it. While Ford isn’t a great pass rusher, he’s capable in that area (you can see him making a quiet, if unspectacular impact early in the season if you go back and watch). Outside of Justin Houston and Chris Jones, the Chiefs don’t have anyone who can consistently get pressure on the quarterback, so letting a guy like Ford walk just doesn’t work for me, even at the savings he brings.

It’s a similar analysis for Revis. Quite simply, at this point the Chiefs don’t have anyone else I trust to fill in at corner. Terrance Mitchell didn’t take a step forward in 2017, Steven Nelson isn’t much more than OK, and the rest of the roster has yet to show anything opposite Marcus Peters.

Yes, I’ve seen the gifs/videos of Revis not putting forth effort on a couple of the final plays against the Titans. I completely understand it leaving a sour taste in fans’ mouths having him back next year. But for me, the question is simple: did you see what happened with the passing defense early last year? And did you see the improvement when Revis entered? Because I saw both.

Again, this is more a matter of not weakening the defense too much. For now, without a viable replacement, I can’t get on board with leaving Revis out of next year’s plans.

Ron Parker has yet again the same analysis. His tackling was poor in 2017, but he remains a guy who is generally reliable in coverage and was often asked to do too much while Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray struggled. Given the issues depth at safety, I can’t be all right parting ways with a guy who has useful skills. I know people are hopeful for Leon McQuay, but I’ve seen the “hope a young developmental guy finally stays healthy and looks great” play before. I don’t want to rely on that.

The reality is that the Chiefs have plenty of holes to fill on defense, and getting rid of those three guys makes it even more complicated (though with a good argument I could be talked into it with Ford or perhaps Revis.

$30 million in cap space provides plenty of room for the Chiefs to find upgrades at weak spots along the roster (defensive line, pass rusher and corner being the places I’d look hardest, as well as perhaps tight end and wide receiver) as well as extend some contracts. IF they are able to upgrade at certain spots, then it may make sense to part ways with any of the three guys listed above (which in turn would allow them to further upgrade the roster, and on it goes).

But for now, these moves will allow Kansas City to move out of “no way to sign anyone” territory and be aggressive to upgrade what is already a talented roster.