We now know the Kansas City Chiefs will place the franchise tag on star defensive tackle Chris Jones. General manager Brett Veach has been adamant about giving Jones a long-term contract — and he also has to worry about signing quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a long-term deal. It’s likely that making those deals is possible only by trading or cutting some of the players now on the roster for 2020.
Let’s see which players could be cap casualties.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins
- 2020 cap number: $21 million
- Cap savings if cut or traded: $14 million
While one of the problems with having an elite quarterback like Mahomes is that they must be paid a large salary, one of the benefits is the effect he has on the players around him; even relatively inexpensive weapons can produce for him. A $21 million cap hit for the third-most targeted receiver just doesn’t fit.
Mahomes’ ability will help develop drafted receivers — even if they aren’t picked early. This year’s class of receivers is incredibly deep — and young receivers like Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle will continue to improve, too. Watkins should be shopped around to teams with a plethora of cap space. A team desperate for offensive skill players may take on Watkins’ $14 million salary for a late draft pick.
Verdict: Cut or trade for draft capital
Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
- 2020 cap number: $9 million
- Cap savings if cut or traded: $5 million
I firmly believe that continuity is a big factor in an offensive line’s performance. That being said, it may be time for a complete flip of the interior offensive linemen. Their play in 2019 didn’t provide justification for any of them to be solidified as starters. The group played its best when veteran guard Stefen Wisniewski was inserted into the starting lineup for the postseason run, but its overall body of work was worrisome.
It is very easy to root for Durvernay-Tardif, but his performance does not match his price tag. $5 million in cap savings would be a significant help in accommodating big contracts for Jones and Mahomes. The organization has proven that they can win with low levels of investment for guards and centers. They should rely on that.
It will be interesting to see if any team with an abundance of cap space is willing to send any draft capital for a 29-year old guard with Super Bowl experience.
Verdict: Cut or trade for draft capital
Linebacker Damien Wilson
- 2020 cap number: $5.4 million
- Cap savings if cut or traded: $4.5 million
In his first year with the Chiefs, Wilson stepped into an unfamiliar role in Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme. After a career spent as a SAM linebacker, he became a WILL linebacker out of necessity — and did do well in run support. But ideally, that position requires a more rangy, athletic player who has more coverage ability. While he could transition back to his more-familiar SAM role, I could see the team recognizing the cap savings and stocking the linebacker group with drafted players the defensive staff could develop.
Safety Daniel Sorensen
2020 cap number: $4.8 million
Cap savings if cut or traded: $3.8 million
Now that I am calling for Sorensen’s release for the second consecutive offseason, I’m afraid of being proven wrong again. But this time, I think it makes even more sense. The safety position is strong in terms of starters and depth — especially if the Chiefs decide to re-sign defensive back Kendall Fuller. I believe Fuller could be a more capable player as the third safety. Even if Fuller isn’t re-signed, I think a young player like safety Armani Watts could be given a shot to play more.
Center Austin Reiter
- 2020 cap number $3.8 million
- Cap savings if cut or traded: $3.4 million
As I mentioned with Duvernay-Tardif, I am ready to overhaul the interior offensive line. After being claimed from the waiver wire before the 2018 season, Reiter has exceeded all expectations. He started 23 games — including all 19 in the championship season. He held up well, but with one of their early draft picks, the team should be looking for the next Rodney Hudson or Mitch Morse.
If you’ve been listening to the AP Laboratory Podcast, you’ve heard draft analyst Matt Lane talk about Michigan center Cesar Ruiz as a potential first-round selection. I’m all in with Matt on that one —- and there are even more players in the draft who could start immediately.
Offensive lineman Cameron Erving
- 2020 cap number: $4.7 million
- Cap savings if cut or traded: $3.3 million
If football success was measured by the willingness to defend your teammates at literally any place or time, Erving would be an All-Pro. Unfortunately, he isn’t as good at blocking as he is at being Mahomes’ personal bodyguard. His current value to the team is as a versatile backup — but the Chiefs should be able to do enough to fill that role through the draft — and with other linemen currently on the roster.
Defensive end Alex Okafor
- 2020 cap number: $7.2 million
- Cap savings if cut or traded: $3.2 million
It’s easy to forget about Okafor after two injuries that forced him to miss six regular-season games and the entire postseason. According to Veach, his recovery from the pectoral muscle injury he suffered in Week 15 against the Denver Broncos is progressing well.
In 2019, the effectiveness of the defensive line was driven by the depth of the defensive front — and the team could already be losing key contributors like defensive linemen Emmanuel Ogbah, Mike Pennel and Terrell Suggs through free agency. There’s no sense in depleting the position even further by cutting Okafor, a starting-capable veteran who also tallied five sacks in 10 games.
Punter Dustin Colquitt
- 2020 cap number: $2.7 million
- Cap savings if cut or traded: $2 million
In 2020, the 38-year-old Colquitt is heading into the last year of his contract. The team did give him some competition by acquiring undrafted free agent Jack Fox last year — but Fox was released in November and is now with the Detroit Lions. It makes sense for the team to let Colquitt play out his deal and look to replace him next year.
If the Chiefs choose to make all these moves, the team would get about $34 million in additional cap space — which would give the Chiefs a total of roughly $47 million with which to work. With some cap maneuvering, that could be enough for both Mahomes and Jones to be signed by the start of the season.