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Brett Veach continues to demonstrate skill with contracts and the cap

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Thus far, the Chiefs GM has a record at making good deals for his team

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Since the Kansas City Chiefs hired Brett Veach as their new general manager two years ago this July, we have had reason to expect he would be a strong talent evaluator; Veach had been a subordinate of previous GM John Dorsey since Dorsey joined the Chiefs in 2013.

Just after Veach got the job, friend-of-the-site Terez Paylor put it this way:

“The first thing I hear about when I ask people around the league about Brett Veach is he’s a strong evaluator of talent. He’s well-informed. If you enjoyed the way the Chiefs have drafted under John Dorsey, good news: I believe Brett is going to continue a lot of those methodologies and a lot of those ways of drafting players. I believe there will be a continued focus on athleticism, along with the other intangibles. Keep that in mind: I think that John has taught Brett well, and I do think he will continue a lot of things.”

But whether Veach learned some bad habits from Dorsey was open to question; Dorsey took a lot of criticism for his contract negotiation and cap management skills before the Chiefs declined to extend his contract in 2017.

So let’s take a look at the active contracts Veach has negotiated, and see if we can see an improvement over the Dorsey years — starting with two of the most controversial: the free agent contracts for linebacker Anthony Hitchens and wide receiver Sammy Watkins as they are laid out by OverTheCap.com:

Anthony Hitchens

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $790K $2.80M $10K $790K $3.60M $21.29M -$7.60M
2019 $6.50M $2.80M $200K $6.50M $9.50M $17.70M -$8.20M
2020 $7.80M $2.80M $700K $0 $11.30M $8.40M $2.90M
2021 $5.80M $2.80M $700K $0 $9.30M $5.60M $3.70M
2022 $7.80M $2.80M $700K $0 $11.30M $2.80M $8.50M
TOTALS $28.69M $14.00M $2.31M $7.29M $45.00M

Sammy Watkins

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $790K $7.00M $10K $790K $7.80M $30.00M -$22.20M
2019 $11.95M $7.00M $250K $8.21M $19.20M $22.21M -$3.01M
2020 $13.75M $7.00M $250K $0 $21.00M $7.00M $14.00M
TOTALS $26.49M $21.00M $510K $9.00M $48.00M

To be sure, if these two players had lived up to their billing in 2018, these deals would be less controversial. Unfortunately, neither did. If either (or both) can improve on their 2018 production this year, these contracts are going to look a lot better.

But as always... the devil is in the details.

As fans, we tend to remember the basic information we first get about a player’s new contract — the total amount of money and the length of the contract. In the case of both of these deals, those numbers were big. For Hitchens, it was $45 million (with almost $22 million guaranteed) over five years, which is $9 million per year. For Watkins, it was $48 million (with $30 million guaranteed) over three years, which is $16 million per year.

But notice what Veach did with these contracts: if things still don’t work out, both of these players can be cut after this coming season. All that will be left to account against the cap will the dead money remaining on their signing bonuses; neither player has been guaranteed any money (the all-important fifth column of the table) after the second year.

Veach has done the same thing with all three of the free agents he signed to multi-year deals in March.

Tyrann Mathieu

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2019 $850K $4.93M $150K $850K $5.93M $26.80M -$20.87M
2020 $11.15M $4.93M $250K $11.15M $16.33M $21.02M -$4.68M
2021 $14.55M $4.93M $250K $0 $19.73M $4.93M $14.80M
TOTALS $26.55M $14.80M $650K $12.00M $42.00M

Alex Okafor

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2019 $805K $2.00M $195K $805K $3.00M $6.81M -$3.81M
2020 $4.70M $2.00M $350K $0 $7.05M $4.00M $3.05M
2021 $5.60M $2.00M $350K $0 $7.95M $2.00M $5.95M
TOTALS $11.11M $6.00M $895K $805K $18.00M

Damien Wilson

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2019 $805K $875K $280K $805K $1.88M $2.56M -$680K
2020 $2.70M $875K $300K $0 $3.88M $875K $3.00M
TOTALS $3.51M $1.75M $580K $805K $5.75M

Tyrann Mathieu’s contract sounded big when it was announced — $42 million over three years ($14 million APY), with almost $27 million guaranteed — and it is big. But the Chiefs will be able to walk away after the second year, leaving just under $5 million in dead money. Alex Okafor’s three-year, $18 million deal allows the Chiefs to cut him loose after only one season, leaving only $4 million behind. More of the same with Damien Wilson, whose two-year, $5.75 million contract has a measly $875K in dead money after just one season.

Still, that might strike you as a pretty casual description of millions upon millions of dollars that could be wasted under these contracts — money that could be used for other players. But consider the alternative: look at the deal the Washington Redskins made with safety Landon Collins — a player that was considered to be (and might have been) one the Chiefs were targeting.

Landon Collins

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2019 $1.00M $3.00M $0 $1.00M $4.00M $37.00M -$33.00M
2020 $10.00M $4.20M $0 $10.00M $14.20M $33.00M -$18.80M
2021 $12.50M $4.20M $500K $5.00M $17.20M $18.80M -$1.60M
2022 $11.50M $4.20M $500K $0 $16.20M $9.60M $6.60M
2023 $12.50M $4.20M $500K $0 $17.20M $5.40M $11.80M
2024 $13.50M $1.20M $500K $0 $15.20M $1.20M $14.00M
Total $61.00M $21.00M $2.00M $16.00M $84.00M

Redskins fans reportedly love this deal, because the team — which is in a tight position against the salary cap — has structured Collins’ contract with a cap hit of only $4 million in 2019. But as you can see, the Redskins are locked into this deal for three years — and even then, will have $9.6 million in dead money on the books if they then choose to part ways with Collins.

And it gets worse. Here’s how OverTheCap explains some additional details of Collins’ contract:

2021 base salary is guaranteed for injury only and converts to a full guarantee on the 5th day of the 2021 league year. The contact includes an option bonus for 2024, which is due between the 1st and 5th day of the 2020 league year and is worth $6 million. If the team does not exercise it, Collins will earn a $6 million non-exercise fee.

In the third year, Collins’ contract becomes fully guaranteed in late March. And after the second year, the Redskins must decide if they want to exercise their option on the sixth year. If they do, they’ll owe Collins a $6 million bonus. Otherwise, they still have to pay Coliins that $6 miliion bonus, which will — if I’m reading this right — push his 2020 cap number to $20.2 million.

Yeah... that’s going to leave a mark.

And there’s one more thing you can’t see in these tables: workout bonuses. To avoid overwhelming you with data, I’ve combined yearly roster bonuses, per-game roster bonuses and workout bonuses into a single figure in the Other Bonus columns of these tables.

This matters only because Collins’ Redskins contract has no workout bonuses — but virtually every Chiefs contract Veach has signed includes them. For example: Mathieu’s contract includes a $150K workout bonus in 2019, and $250K workout bonuses in both 2020 and 2021.

In effect, the Redskins said, “Yes sir, Mr. Collins. We understand you don’t want to work out in the offseason. We’ll pay you what you want anyway.” But the Chiefs said, “No sir, Mr. Collins. We’re willing to pay you, but we expect you to work hard year round.”

When Mathieu was signed, there was some grumbling about it. Why was the team willing to pay Mathieu — who was seen as a lesser player — the same $14 million per year the Redskins gave Collins?

But again, the devil is in the details. With this information, it’s pretty easy to see why the Chiefs chose to pass on Collins, and make a deal with Mathieu instead.

In a perfect world, NFL teams wouldn’t have to worry about this stuff. After being signed to big free agent deals, players would always perform to expectations, and would never be injured. But we know it isn’t a perfect world. Players — sometimes for reasons beyond their control — don’t always work out on a given team. Players get injured.

You can’t blame players for getting as much as they can when they finally become free agents, and can be rewarded for the years they have given to the game — not to mention the risks they take to play it. They’re always one play away from never being able to play again.

But at the same time, teams have to be smart. The potential for dead money from signing bonuses — and players’ demands for other guaranteed money — are simply a fact of life. It may seem cavalier to dismiss a dead cap charge of $4 or $5 million, but it’s still substantially less than $10 million. And if the worst should happen, being able to get out of a contract after two years is better than getting out after three.

Cameron Erving

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $705K $1.43M $0 $705K $2.14M $5.00M -$2.86M
2019 $1.45M $1.43M $300K $0 $3.17M $2.86M $303K
2020 $2.70M $1.43M $550K $0 $4.68M $1.43M $3.25M
TOTALS $4.86M $4.30M $850K $705K $9.98M

Xavier Williams

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $705K $875K $45K $705K $1.63M $3.46M -$1.83M
2019 $2.26M $875K $550K $1.00M $3.68M $1.88M $1.81M
TOTALS $2.96M $1.75M $595K $1.71M $5.31M

Damien Williams

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $790K $593K $350K $0 $1.73M $2.16M -$427K
2019 $1.05M $533K $150K $500K $1.73M $1.57M $167K
2020 $1.85M $533K $450K $0 $2.83M $533K $2.30M
Total $3.69M $1.66M $950K $500K $6.30M

Austin Reiter

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $630K $333K $0 $0 $963K $1.00M -$37K
2019 $975K $333K $150K $0 $1.43M $667K $760K
2020 $1.88M $333K $550K $0 $2.76M $333K $2.43M
TOTALS $3.48M $1.00M $700K $0 $5.15M

These second-level contracts Veach negotiated are all good to very good — with the possible exception of Cameron Erving’s contract. Erving was (somewhat surprisingly) signed to an extension at the beginning of last season, and while he performed well in the early games, he became one of the weak spots on the offensive line as the season progressed. That’s a deal we might eventually have to classify as a swing and a miss.

What can you do? It happens.

But the contracts given to Xavier Williams, Damien Williams and Austin Reiter look really good right now. All three of these players have performed at (or above) their pay grade.

Chad Henne

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $1.02M $1.55M $35K $1.02M $2.60M $5.12M -$2.52M
2019 $2.50M $1.55M $50K $1.00M $4.10M $2.55M $1.55M
TOTALS $3.52M $3.10M $85K $2.02M $6.70M

Dustin Colquitt

Year Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
2018 $1.02M $650K $35K $1.02M $1.70M $4.02M -$2.32M
2019 $2.45M $650K $50K $1.05M $3.15M $2.35M $800K
2020 $1.95M $650K $50K $0 $2.00M $650K $1.35M
TOTALS $5.42M $1.95M $135K $2.07M $6.85M

Quarterbacks and punters are always special cases, aren’t they?

In his limited opportunities, longtime NFL veteran Chad Henne has run the Chiefs offense efficiently, and has well-earned his salary — which can best be described as an insurance policy.

Dustin Colquitt continues to earn his money in the twilight of a long career — even though most of his snaps are now coming as a holder for placekicker Harrison Butker. Like Henne, Colquitt is insurance. With Patrick Mahomes as your quarterback, you may not need a punter very often — but when you do, it’s better to have a good one.

One Year Contracts

Player Base
Slry
Sgn
Bonus
Othr
Bonus
Gtd
Slry
Cap
Num
Dead
Mny
Cap
Svgs
Carlos Hyde $1.40M $800K $600K $700K $2.74M $1.50M $1.24M
Bashaud Breeland $805K $1.15M $45K $0 $2.00M $1.15M $850K
Anthony Sherman $930K $90K $0 $645K $735K $735K $0

The three players the Chiefs have (so far) signed to one-year deals for 2019 look good against the cap, too.

The one-year deal given to Carlos Hyde raised a few eyebrows, but Hyde has certainly shown the ability to be an effective running back in the NFL. If he gets significant snaps in 2019 — and performs something like he has been capable in the past — his contract will be cheap at the price.

Bashaud Breeland’s deal is just fine — although it’s ironic to see Breeland on the roster with such a cheap deal after the drama of his free agent visit to Chiefs training camp last year. If Breeland performs well on this deal, Veach is going to look like a genius for passing on him last summer.

And finally... Anthony Sherman. As I explained on Friday, Sherman’s deal is noteworthy for its use of the NFL veteran minimum salary benefit, a little-known wrinkle in the NFL’s agreement with the NFLPA. Sherman is being paid at the level of the ninth-year player he is, but is carrying the salary cap charge of a player with just two years’ experience.

While in Sherman’s case, it only adds about $200K in cap space, it’s a pretty nifty move that demonstrates Veach’s command of the options available to him.

We have a ways to go before we can make a complete evaluation of Brett Veach’s ability to negotiate contracts and manage the cap. While his contracts have been quite good — leaving the Chiefs plenty of flexibility and minimal cap charges if things should go badly — one big test remains for Veach: negotiating a team-friendly contract extension for a mission-critical veteran already under contract.

Since this appeared to be the area where Veach’s predecessor had the most difficulty, this will be something Chiefs fans will watch closely — and with Chris Jones this year and Patrick Mahomes the next, there are at least two such tests on the horizon.

We should also note that Veach has had a one specific advantage: in 2019, he’s had the cap room to write these contracts. The release of Justin Houston and Eric Berry — and the trade of Dee Ford — were difficult for Chiefs fans to bear, and could negatively impact the team’s fortunes in 2019.

But like weightlifters say... no pain, no gain.

In the long term, these moves were necessary to get the team on a more solid financial footing against the cap. As long as Veach remains disciplined in his approach — avoiding deals like the one the Redskins made with Collins, and the ones the Chiefs made with Houston and Berry — this will bode well for the future of the franchise.

If Veach can continue to do what he has done so far, he will have gone a long way to satisfy Chiefs fans that he is indeed the man for the job.