The 2018 NBA Draft Lottery is tonight. Lottery picks are a good thing in the NBA. They’re the first 14 selections of the draft, the order determined by a lottery drawing of the non-playoff teams.
For our purposes, Lottery Tickets are a good thing too, but they mean nearly the opposite. We’re spending time this offseason on Arrowhead Pride talking about the players at the bottom of the roster that have some talent that the Kansas City Chiefs hope they can mine and turn into a member of their 53-man roster. They have minimal cost, but the reward is potentially substantial.
Having as many legitimate lottery tickets on the 90-man gives you a better chance of hitting on one.
This year, it’s as important as ever that the Chiefs are able to hit on a few of these Lottery Tickets. We’ve talked about the cap issues that general manager Brett Veach inherited from John Dorsey. They’re real, and the team has done a good job navigating through them. They aren’t out of the woods just yet. While this year’s roster looks experienced and promising for 2018, some difficult decisions loom for the Chiefs.
The good news for the Chiefs is they don’t have any players on contract years in 2018 that will require large deals. The bad news is the list of players that will be potentially looking for small to mid-level deals is pretty long:
The contracts of Mitch Morse, Steven Nelson, Chris Conley, Spencer Ware, Allen Bailey, Cameron Erving, David Amerson, Anthony Sherman, Demetrius Harris, Charcandrick West, Damien Williams, Frank Zombo, Bryan Witzmann, Kerwynn Williams and Robert Golden all end after this season.
While a few of these players could command some decent deals, this looks more like nuking the depth of the roster. The Chiefs will be saying goodbye to a lot of experience and trusted depth pieces. That could be a problem, especially considering the Chiefs are only projected to have only a $35.8 million in cap space for next year, per Over the Cap.
Kareem Hunt is the only notable running back currently under contract in 2019. Cornerback? The list is Kendall Fuller and Tremon Smith. Defensive Line? Chris Jones, Xavier Williams and Derrick Nnadi. Interior Offensive Line of significance? Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Parker Ehinger and Kahlil McKenzie. Currently, Travis Kelce will be lonely in the tight end room in 2019.
What’s more, looking at the 2019 roster, there are not any contracts that the Chiefs can realistically move on from. The Chiefs could save $14 million letting go of Justin Houston, but they would also take a dead cap hit of $7 million, $5.6 million with a post-June 1 designation. Houston should be able to play at a high enough level to warrant his deal in 2019 as well.
Releasing Eric Fisher would save the Chiefs over $6 million, but also would require over $6 million in dead cap as well. The cost savings isn’t substantial and the cost to find his replacement would probably not be good business anyway, even if they post-June 1 cut him for an additional $3 million savings. The Chiefs could save an extra $3.75 million in 2019 by designating Daniel Sorensen as a post-June 1 cut. That’s the easiest place to save next year.
It’s worth remembering that Jones, Tyreek Hill, Fuller and Reggie Ragland can start negotiating extensions after the 2018 season. Having the cash to be able to extend one or two of them early would be helpful.
There a few things that the Chiefs can do in 2018 to help better position this cap and roster in 2019 and beyond. They could move on from Ware, West, Harris and Zombo a year early.
Moving on from these players this year could bring the Chiefs’ cap situation from $8.2 million to a little north of $12.5 million in cap space for this year, allowing for the Chiefs to carry over some of that cap space into next year. Making Sorensen a post-June 1 cut this year could push that number to over $16 million and nearly $38 million next year plus the carryover over from 2018.
Obviously, the Chiefs are likely not going to make all these moves this year. They could make a few of them though. To do that, the Chiefs need to hit on some of the Lottery Tickets to support the depth of the roster.
If running back Darrel Williams can make the roster this year, the Chiefs could look to save some money on Ware, West or both. That would ensure two running backs are on the roster for 2019. The Chiefs being confident enough to keep a couple cornerbacks like Will Redmond, Keith Reaser, Arrion Springs, Malik Reaves and D’Montre Wade could go a long way in providing quality depth for the future. Interior offensive lineman like Ryan Hunter and Jimmy Murray showing promise this training camp could help alleviate the depth and cap issues the Chiefs could be facing along the offensive line.
Hitting on some positions without much depth in the future would be ideal. The truth of the matter is though, being able to hit on any lottery ticket at any position is important. EDGE prospects Tyrone Holmes and Robert McCray could potentially push Zombo out the door. A cheap backup quarterback in Chase Litton would be helpful for the future. Being able to find cheap, controllable talent you’re confident in to provide depth will allow the Chiefs to invest assets elsewhere.
The 2019 estimated cap space of $35.8 million is pretty optimistic considering the fact that number contains 13 league-minimum contracts in the top 51. For contrast, there is currently one on the 2018 roster. If Reaser and linebacker Terrance Smith can make this year’s 53, the Chiefs will have restricted free agent rights. The Chiefs will have exclusive free agent rights on kicker Harrison Butker next year and defensive lineman Justin Hamilton should he make the roster as well. That’s additional depth that the Chiefs can count on moving to next year. It will be needed.
The attention general manager Brett Veach has paid to his 90-man roster should reward him with some valuable bottom-of-the-roster players in 2018. He’s created a solid, competitive mix of former top-100 selections like Redmond and Amaro and intriguing undrafted free agents.
I would expect Veach to continue trying to aggressively identify players that could be cheap options for the future. Roster turnover for the practice squad when they think they’ve found a player elsewhere who can help and thoughtfulness about how they manage the bottom of their 53 man roster in-season. I would bet on a few Lottery Tickets sticking.
If some UDFAs and reserve-future contracts can prove their worth and make the active roster, the Chiefs can save some money, carry the cap over into 2019, have more controllable talent on next year’s roster and make the turnover the Chiefs could experience next year more palatable.
We’ll be spending the offseason taking a look at the most intriguing prospects the Chiefs will take to St. Joseph.