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How the Chiefs could keep Sammy Watkins

Let’s see if it’s possible to design a contract that would keep Watkins on the team for another few years — and give the Chiefs cap relief in 2020.

Divisional Round - Houston Texans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Is there a way for the Kansas City Chiefs to keep wide receiver Sammy Watkins?

Watkins’ contract carries a $21 million cap hit for 2020, including $7 million in dead money. So one option for the Chiefs has always been to simply release Watkins, make use of the $14 million in additional cap space and move on.

Over the last few months, many have assumed that’s exactly what the Chiefs intended to do. It wasn’t unreasonable for them to think so.

One year ago, the team was facing a similar situation with linebacker Justin Houston, who was carrying a $21.1 million cap hit and $7.1 million in dead money. Before the new league year even began, general manager Brett Veach’s solution was to simply release Houston.

While other parts of the circumstances surrounding the two players are substantially different, it wasn’t far-fetched to believe Watkins would suffer the same fate — especially since Watkins has been tweeting as if he won’t be playing for the Chiefs in 2020.

But so far, he remains a Chief.

The team might yet be able to find a trading partner who is willing to take on his $14 million salary (or perhaps the opportunity to work out another deal) in exchange for a draft pick. But even if that were to happen, the Chiefs would be stuck with that $7 million in dead money on the books for 2020. And while it remains possible for the team to simply cut Watkins, that $7 million will remain a hindrance.

On a team that currently has just $2.8 million in cap space, that $7 million needs to be put to use.

So for the moment, let’s put aside the idea that Watkins will play elsewhere. Let’s see if it’s possible to for him to stay.

In this exercise, let’s make two assumptions about the Chiefs:

  • They want to keep Watkins
  • They need to create some cap space for the coming year

Let’s also make some assumptions about what Watkins wants:

  • The same money he is currently set to receive in 2020
  • Similar cash payments in each year of the deal
  • The chance to stay in Kansas City

Let’s further assume that Watkins might be amenable to getting a little less money in 2021 and 2022.

I have worked out three different structures for a two-year contract extension for Watkins. Each of these tables shows what Watkins’ current deal looks like — along with what the new deal would provide from 2020 through 2022.

Largest 2020 cap savings

Description Curr 2020 New 2020 New 2021 New 2022
Bonus Pd $0 $13.1M $0 $0
Prorated Bonus $7.0M $11.4M $4.4M $4.4M
Salary $14.0M $.9M $14.0M $12.0M
Cash Paid $14.0M $14.0M $14.0M $12.0M
Cap Hit $21.0M $12.3M $18.4M $16.4M
Dead Money $7.0M $20.1M $8.7M $4.4M
Cut Savings $14.0M -$7.8M $9.6M $12.0M

This is the contract that would allow the Chiefs the largest amount of additional cap space in 2020, giving them $8.7 million more with which to work.

It does this by converting almost all of Watkins’ $14 million salary to signing bonus (leaving an NFL minimum salary of $910,000) and spreading that over the three years of the deal. Watkins would get $14 million in cash this season, plus $12 million in both 2021 and 2022.

$4.4 million in dead money would be left in 2022. The team could keep him on the field with a $16.4 million cap hit — which will probably be pretty reasonable by then — or part ways with $4.4 million left on the books.

Moderate 2020 cap savings

Description Curr 2020 New 2020 New 2021 New 2022
Bonus Pd $0 $10.0M $0 $0
Prorated Bonus $7.0M $10.3M $3.3M $3.3M
Salary $14.0M $4.0M $14.0M $12.0M
Cash Paid $14.0M $14.0M $14.0M $12.0M
Cap Hit $21.0M $14.3M $17.3M $15.3M
Dead Money $7.0M $17.0M $6.7M $3.3M
Cut Savings $14.0M -$2.7M $10.7M $12.0M

This deal would give the Chiefs $6.7 million more cap space this season by converting $10 million of Watkins’ current salary into signing bonus. Watkins would get $2 million more in salary in 2021 than he would in the first deal — with a 2021 cap hit only $600K higher — and would be significantly easier to release in 2021 if things don’t work out. A release before the 2022 season would be quite doable.

Keep Watkins for two years

Description Curr 2020 New 2020 New 2021 New 2022
Bonus Pd $0 $7.0M $0 $0
Prorated Bonus $7.0M $9.3M $2.3M $2.3M
Salary $14.0M $7.0M $14.0M $12.0M
Cash Paid $14.0M $14.0M $14.0M $12.0M
Cap Hit $21.0M $16.3M $16.3M $14.3M
Dead Money $7.0M $14.0M $4.7M $2.3M
Cut Savings $14.0M $2.3M $11.7M $12.0M

This deal is based on the premise the Chiefs want to get two more solid seasons from Watkins at a fairly reasonable price — with an option for a third that would be dirt cheap on the cap in 2022. It converts half of Watkins’ 2020 salary to signing bonus, providing just $4.7 million in additional cap space for the coming year.

This one has the most consistent cap hit over the life of the contract — and if the Chiefs want to move on in 2022, leaves just $2.3 in dead money.

We just don’t know what’s going to happen with Watkins. But this exercise shows that a contract extension might make it possible for him to stay with the Chiefs, giving the team some much-needed cap relief in the coming season and giving Watkins the money he deserves as a integral part of the Kansas City offense — especially in the postseason.

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