When the Kansas City Chiefs signed wide receiver Demarcus Robinson to a one-year contract on Saturday, they made use of a new wrinkle of the just-adopted Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).
Prior to its adoption, the headline-grabbing features of the new CBA were an expansion to a 17-game season and what was presumed to be a substantial increase in the NFL salary cap.
But if it happens at all, the expanded season won’t begin until 2021 — and in fact, after the NFLPA approved the new deal, the salary cap decreased slightly from the previously-projected amount.
As always, the devil is in the details — and the Chiefs are proving to be as adept as any team in taking full advantage of them.
#Chiefs make a really smart signing here. Only $1M against the cap for a WR who knows Andy Reid's offensive system under Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs presumably won’t have OTAs this year to teach up a newcomer. KC doesn’t have much room but being smart with what it has. https://t.co/9lSjUwDTZl— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) March 28, 2020
Robinson’s contract utilized a new expansion of the old CBA’s minimum salary benefit. Now called the veteran salary benefit (VSB), it has a wrinkle that is designed specifically for players like Robinson: free agents who have been on a team’s active/inactive roster for four complete, uninterrupted and consecutive seasons. This variation of the VSB even requires such players be on the roster for all preseason games during those seasons.
Under the old CBA, a player like Robinson — who has been a reliable contributor to the team, but hasn’t put up enough numbers to be an attractive signing for another team — would often slip through the cracks of free agency and find themselves on the street. But using this VSB expansion, the Chiefs were able to sign him a one-year deal worth $2.3 million that counts just $1.05 million against the salary cap.
Essentially, this part of the new CBA gives Robinson the bonus he deserves for being a consistent, solid contributor — and the team another opportunity to capitalize on their four-year investment at a minimal cost.
And Robinson’s contract isn’t the only one that takes advantage of the CBA’s VSB provisions.
The contracts given to newly-signed cornerback Antonio Hamilton and offensive lineman Mike Remmers — and the one given to defensive tackle Mike Pennel when he was re-signed last week — all used the other variation of the CBA’s VSB.
This provision allows a player with at least four accrued seasons (for any team) to be given a one-year contract paying them the NFL minimum salary according to their experience, but carrying the cap hit of a player with only two years of experience. Both variations of the VSB also allow these players to be paid signing bonuses of up to $137,500, which count against the cap as they normally would.
You may recall that in 2019, the Chiefs used the old CBA’s minimum salary benefit to sign fullback Anthony Sherman to a one-year contract worth $1.02 million that carried a cap hit of just $735,000. While we don’t yet know all the parameters of the one-year deal the Chiefs gave Sherman last week, it’s a virtual certainty that it will also be a VSB deal.
If that’s true, it means that aside from the exclusive rights free agent contracts given to tight end Deon Yelder and guard Andrew Wylie — each of which are minimum-salary deals carrying cap hits of only $750,000 — every contract the Chiefs have given to veteran free agents has used the VSB of the new CBA. All told, seven players have been signed to one-year veteran free-agent contracts totaling $8.3 million — but that count only $6.1 million against the cap.
To be sure, VSB contracts carry a built-in disadvantage: they can only be used for one-year agreements; therefore they do nothing to improve the roster over the long term.
But aside from the money teams can save against the salary cap in the current season, they carry another big advantage: under Article 10 in Appendix V of the new CBA, players signed to VSB contracts do not count in the NFL’s compensatory picks formula. Even if any of the team’s VSB players have fantastic seasons in 2020, their signings won’t hinder the Chiefs from gaining compensatory picks in the 2021 NFL Draft because of players they lost in free agency this year.
Any NFL general manager is capable of making poor judgments about specific players. It’s likely that in hindsight, every one of them has a draft pick of free agent contract they’d like to do over. But so far, it’s hard to fault the moves Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has made in free agency — simply by paying close attention to the details.