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How the Chiefs can fix the cap and position themselves for the future

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The Brett Veach Experience has been fascinating, unique and refreshing. He hasn’t reinvented the wheel by any stretch of the word, but he has made some tweaks to the norms that we see in organizations.

The small insights to his plan that we’ve got so far are revealed in the player acquisitions he’s made to this point. Veach cited their in-house draft grades after trading for Reggie Ragland and Cameron Erving before final cuts. He called (future Hall of Fame) kicker Harrison Butker the highest graded kicker on their board coming out of the draft when signing him off the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad.

The next three months are going to be an interesting watch for a variety of reasons. Most of it surrounds the uncertainty of the new regime. We’re embarking on the first full off season under Veach’s watch. Which direction will they go? How do they build this roster? That’s where some of these small hints help.

From what I’ve picked up on, I do think Veach still wants to lean on the draft. The Chiefs were opportunistic as it relates to value with Erving and Ragland. I found this quote from Adam Teicher’s piece about the Alex Smith trade referring back to the Ragland move:

“We’re always going to value draft picks and we’re always going to build through the draft,” Veach said last year after trading for Ragland and Erving. “They’re just unique situations where if you can acquire younger players on their rookie [contracts] that you like, you have to look at [them]. You’ll have opportunities to recoup some picks in regards to those compensatory picks. We’ll get some of those back.”

There won’t always be opportunities to acquire players at what they believed to be a bargain. They won’t have an Alex Smith to trade every year for an outstanding, young cornerback like Kendall Fuller and an extra top 100 pick.

The cap situation has forced them to be creative, navigating through winning now and preparing for the future. They’ve done a good job so far. Now the work starts.

The contracts for Tyreek Hill, Marcus Peters, Chris Jones, Ragland and Fuller all end after the 2019 season. All look on the way to significant paydays. That is, to put it mildly, an astonishing amount of talent up for new contracts. The Chiefs need to take into consideration some significant negotiations on the horizon now.

What if the Chiefs take measures in 2018 to better situate themselves in 2019 and beyond? What if they could still be better than they were last year while doing all that? It may not be a splashy strategy for the immediate, but there’s a way the Chiefs can be better this year and in excellent shape to handle some looming negotiations.

This article is more about an overall strategy rather than specifically who I’d sign or who I’d draft. It’s more about a philosophy to create salary cap and draft capital health without ignoring the 2018 team.

Release some players

These are all names talked about a lot, but the Chiefs could move on from Tamba Hali, Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Darrelle Revis.

Where’s Derrick Johnson? He won’t be retained at the $10 million figure he’s due, if you read between some lines, it seems as though Johnson may be willing to come back at a low figure to end his career. Who knows though. Let’s say he stays at his guaranteed rate of $2.25 million in 2018.

I’m leaving Dee Ford on the team for now. As I’ve heard Terez Paylor say a few times recently, a contract year isn’t a bad thing to have a player on. Whether his health gives the Chiefs that option remains to be seen anyway. If he plays well on that contract year, it gives the Chiefs the chance at a pretty good compensatory pick in 2020.

Making these moves, after the Alex Smith trade, would leave the Chiefs with about $29 million for 2018, with $94 million available in 2019.

Let some guys walk

If Veach and co. are creative enough, there’s a way they can gain significant draft capital via compensatory picks and still be in good shape for a run in 2018. It starts by maximizing their compensatory pick opportunities in 2019.

To do this, the Chiefs need to move on from Bennie Logan, Albert Wilson, Zach Fulton and Dustin Colquitt. Those four are their best bets to get high enough annual value to be part of the compensatory formula. Between those four, it would not be unrealistic to have multiple compensatory picks come their way in 2019.

I would assume the Chiefs make one big move and lose their best compensatory pick, leaving them with the possibility of a couple to a few extra picks in the later rounds.

Selective free agency

If they were to try and to keep as much of that draft capital in their pocket, the Chiefs would need to avoid bringing in big free agents that would offset those picks. Players of similar annual per year contract values cancel each other out. However, any player released by another team doesn’t count against the compensatory formula.

Muhammad Wilkerson and Aqib Talib are two players rumored to be on the chopping block. If that happens, neither would count toward the compensatory formula because they aren’t true free agents (they would be released).

The Chiefs would have a smaller pool of players to work with, but they could still bring talented players on while reaping the rewards of this approach. Instead of a big move this year (or limiting it to just one), they could put themselves in excellent shape in 2019 and beyond. If they Chiefs aimed to keep three of the four picks, they could still bring on a solid piece and keep three compensatory picks.

Any significant free agent money spent in 2018 takes away from your flexibility to re-sign some of your best players in 2019 though. They could use up large portions of that space in 2019 to make the deals more team friendly later in the contracts.

Keep some of your own

The Chiefs would need to retain some of their lower priced free agents. Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Terrance Mitchell and Ramik Wilson are all restricted free agents. You could justify bringing all those players back as depth pieces.

Unrestricted free agents like Anthony Sherman, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Jordan Devey, Jarvis Jenkins and Kenneth Acker are also worth considering bringing back as well.

Trade back in the draft at least once

The Chiefs could maneuver around the board to get an extra pick back. Trading from Washington’s third round pick to later in the third round could net the Chiefs an extra fourth round pick.

Adding another chance for a solid contributor by trading back gives Veach one more shot this year to work his magic in the draft.

Take a risk in the draft

The Chiefs could take a calculated risk on a prospect that, for a variety of potential reasons, has more talent than his draft slot. The Chiefs have had success with similar opportunities in the past.

Be aggressive with undrafted free agents

Undrafted rookies make an impact all across the league every year. The Chiefs need to be aggressive about their approach to UDFA. Not having a 7th round pick lets them get a head start on that.

The Chiefs should be aggressive in identifying prospects that go undrafted that they want in camp. If they can get one to land, that’d be a big help. It’s not easy to bank on UDFA strategy, but maybe they ignore running back this off season until the undrafted rookies come through.

Bet on your young guys

Players like Tanoh Kpassagnon, Ukeme Eligwe, Jehu Chesson and Leon McQuay need to step up. That will be true regardless of how they approach this off season. If they trust their staff, the Chiefs could put more expectations on them.

Diligence with practice squad players and reserve/future contracts

It seems like Veach has been using the same philosophy he used to acquire Erving and Ragland with his practice squad/free agents as well.

Some of the prospects the Chiefs have brought in on reserve/future and practice squad contracts have been interesting. They’ve signed former top 100 picks like cornerback Will Redmond and tight end Jace Amaro. They’ve brought in a young, athletic edge rusher in Tyrone Holmes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these were players that the had solid draft grades on coming out. They might believe they are the ones to be able to get the most out of them. That would help solve some problems if they did.

How do they get better?

A lot of whether they’re better or not will depend on Mahomes’ ability to replace Alex Smith.

Here’s who else they’ve lost:

  • Ron Parker - Significantly underperformed his contract last year, will be 31 next season.
  • Daniel Sorensen - Arguably a replacement level player last season.
  • Darelle Revis - Was un-good last season.
  • Tamba Hali - Limited snaps, little impact.
  • Albert Wilson - The future Chicago Bear had a great season, would still be fourth option in the offense at best.
  • Bennie Logan - Probably the most difficult player to replace.
  • Zach Fulton - He should get a nice contract next season.
  • Dustin Colquitt - Sad to see him go.

You need to replace the value of these players with:

  • Kendall Fuller
  • One free agent from a released team
  • One compensatory qualifying free agent (cancelling out one compensatory pick)
  • Low cost players you re-sign from the 2017 team
  • 7 Draft picks (2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, compensatory pick (likely a 5th or 6th) + one trade back for an extra selection)
  • Hopefully (more icing on the cake than something you bank on) one undrafted free agent that can contribute

They would have $29 million to make it work. They would have way more cap space flexibility in 2019 and three extra day three picks that year to play with. I believe the Chiefs can be better in 2018 within those constraints and be well positioned for 2019 and beyond to keep their best players and make a splash in free agency should they choose to. Any cap space not spent in 2018 goes towards the cap in 2019.

The Chiefs can’t talk extensions with their 2020 free agents until the end of the 2018 season. Any flexibility they create now can help them in those negotiations in the future.

The cap could very quickly become a strength if the Chiefs play their cards right this year. They could retain the next core from the likes of Peters, Jones, Hill, Fuller and Ragland.

I think the assets above are plenty to improve the roster for this season and create flexibility for 2019 with more cap space and more draft picks. It wouldn’t be the sexiest off season, but they could a better feel for their younger players, position themselves for the future and still be a better football team than they were the year before.