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Figuring out how much cap space the Chiefs actually have

There’s always an argument about how much cap space each NFL team has. Let’s figure out why this number is so hard to pin down.

Baltimore Ravens vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

There’s a lot of confusion about where the Kansas City Chiefs stand with regard to the NFL’s salary cap. Like all other NFL teams, when the new league year begins at 3 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) on Wednesday, their top 51 salaries must be under the ceiling of $198.2 million that was established over the weekend.

So here’s the first question: as things stand at this writing, are the Chiefs now over or under the cap?

That depends on who you ask.

The two main sources for this information are two websites that are not affiliated with the NFL: Spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com. Spotrac says the Chiefs have $409,000 in cap space. OverTheCap says the Chiefs have cap space of negative $6.4 million — that is, the Chiefs must make a significant move in order to get below the total cap figure by the beginning of the league year.

But as often happens when there is a flurry of activity around the league, both of these figures are incomplete.

Neither site includes the cap hit of backup quarterback Chad Henne — which will be at least $1.05 million in 2020 — in their calculations. Spotrac’s figure also does not include the cap hits for Deon Yelder and Andrew Wylie, each of whom is likely to be getting NFL minimum contracts that will carry a $750,000 cap hit this season.

The rest of the difference between the two numbers — very close to exactly $6 million — mostly comes down to how they display their information.

Both sites include a table that lists each player under contract with the team, breaking down their cap hit into its component parts. But Spotrac goes one step further, providing another table that breaks down total cap figure in detail. In contrast, OverTheCap only gives you some big numbers — with little detail on how they arrived at them.

But there are enough clues we can discover where the difference between the two numbers lies.

One is how much dead cap there is — that is, bonuses already paid to players who have been released, but still must be accounted for under the salary cap. OverTheCap says the Chiefs have $8.2 million in total dead money, while Spotrac lists this figure as $9.6 million.

Why the difference? Since Spotrac lists every contract that impacts the dead cap figure — even in trivial amounts of a few thousand dollars — the answer stands out like a beacon: the contract of former Chiefs offensive lineman Cameron Erving, which left $1.4 million behind when the Chiefs declined to renew his option for 2020.

But that still leaves a $4.6 million gap between the cap space reported by each site. Since Spotrac provides a summary of what is — and is not — included, the difference again shines like a beacon: the cap space needed to sign the players the Chiefs will draft in April, which Spotrac calculates to be $4.8 million.

Those two numbers are too close together not to be the cause of the problem.

So we’re talking about a difference of philosophy between the two sites. Spotrac believes in publishing the figure that matters right now, while OverTheCap prefers to give the total figure the Chiefs will have to worry about. But the plain fact is that the Chiefs don’t have to worry about accounting for those draft choices until they have been selected. Therefore, Spotrac’s figure is closer to the reality the Chiefs are facing.

So how much cap space do the Chiefs actually have?

Starting with Spotrac’s figure of $409K — which we’ll choose because their numbers are more transparent (and apparently more accurate) — we’ll add in the three contracts for Wylie, Yelder and Henne.

But it’s not a matter of simply subtracting their caps hits from the known salary cap space. Since the figure that counts is the top 51 players under contract, you have to figure out which contracts will fall beneath that threshold when those three are added — that is, the lowest three contracts. As it happens, all three carry a cap hit of $610,000. So to get the current cap space, you add up the three new contracts ($750,000, $750,000 and $1,050,000) and then subtract the three contracts they are replacing ($610,000 times three).

That gives you a net reduction of $720,000, meaning the Chiefs now stand about $310,000 (or more, depending on whether Henne received a signing bonus) over the salary cap. (Also see update below)

But here’s the thing: every single number that goes into these calculations — and we’re talking about hundreds of different numbers — has been painted with very broad strokes that are based on publicly available information. Rounding errors alone could easily add up to more than $310,000.

In other words, it’s entirely possible that right now, the Chiefs are 10 bucks under the cap, and have to do nothing further to get under it before 3 p.m.

So always remember to take salary cap calculations with a grain of salt. Only the NFL — and each team involved — know the precise numbers. At a moment like this, that could be important.


UPDATE: Apparently the Chiefs weren’t 10 bucks under the cap. They have reportedly restructured the contract of defensive end Frank Clark, reducing his 2020 cap hit by $3.75 million and putting the Chiefs approximately $2.8 million below the salary cap.


Did this article make your head hurt? No problem. You don’t have to understand all of this. Arrowhead Pride is now keeping a Kansas City Chiefs roster that includes all the players currently under contract, their basic salary information and a running total of the estimated salary cap. Click here to see it — and be sure to bookmark it for future reference.