On this beautiful Monday morning during the 2020 offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs have $177.00 in salary cap space.
That’s right. One hundred seventy-seven dollars and 00/100 cents.
That’s the number given by ESPN reporter Field Yates early on Monday morning, which lists the cap space available of the bottom quarter of all NFL teams.
Official cap space by team (teams 24-32):— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 30, 2020
24. BAL: 13,513,779
25. GB: 12,966,433
26. MIN: 12,495,443
27. SEA: 11,317,846
28. NO: 9,237,537
29. PIT: 8,667,814
30. ATL: 7,530,188
31. NE: 891,775
32. KC: 177
Meanwhile, the salary cap reporting site OverTheCap lists the Chiefs with minus $255,452 in space — that is, more than a quarter of a million dollars over the salary cap.
The competing site Spotrac shows the team with minus $1,697,961 in space.
Our own calculation — which is based on Spotrac’s numbers, but also includes our best estimate of the contracts reported to have been signed that are not yet included in Spotrac’s total — shows the team with minus $2,240,045.
Why do these numbers vary so widely?
Some of it is that Spotrac and OverTheCap just have different numbers in their calculations. Doing a quick side-by-side comparison of them on Monday morning, I found 24 cases where the amounts they report for base salary, prorated bonus, roster and workout bonuses — and so on — differ. Some of these differences are small. Others are larger — and can add up to a significant difference in the cap space each site reports.
The biggest differences, however, tend to be which players they include in their calculations. On Monday, neither tracking site was including the reported signings of fullback Anthony Sherman and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson in their cap calculations. Spotrac’s figures included the signing of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, but OverTheCap’s did not.
But we have no idea which player contracts are included in the official calculation that Yates reported on Monday — much less how the component parts of those contracts differ from the numbers Spotrac and OverTheCap are currently reporting.
In theory, it’s impossible for NFL teams to be over the salary cap. We know that every player contract must be approved by the league before it is enforceable. So when a new contract is submitted, the league can simply reject it to keep the team under the cap; it’s the simplest possible system to keep teams in compliance.
It’s widely believed that when a team goes over the cap, they have seven days to get back underneath it. But on closer inspection, it’s not clear this is actually true. There does appear to be a seven-day window for teams over the cap to get back in compliance, but this seems to be reserved for special cases outside of the submission of a new contract — for example, a trade or player retirement that unexpectedly changes a team’s cap situation.
So what’s probably happening is that some deals the Chiefs have made have not yet been submitted to the league. That is absolutely not to suggest that the team is engaging in some kind of underhanded behavior. On the contrary, it’s a reflection on the world in which we live — one in which it’s very hard to keep a secret.
There’s always a minor team employee with knowledge of negotiations... an agent anxious to trumpet a new deal for a client... or a player who wants the world to know they just “got paid.” These are the kinds of “sources” reporters use to get information about new contracts — which is how we learn of them. Many teams — including the Chiefs — never make contract details public.
So it’s not hard to see how there could be a significant delay between the time a deal is agreed upon (and publicly reported) and when the paperwork finds its way to the league office in New York — especially in a time like the present, when team facilities are closed and travel is limited. A team and a player’s agent can easily negotiate a contract over the telephone and exchange contract revisions via email. But once a contract is agreed upon, getting the signatures of both parties on that physical document is likely to be more difficult than usual.
Here’s what we know: once all the contracts they have reportedly signed have been processed and approved by the league, the Chiefs will at be least $2.2 million over the salary cap. So we know the team still has some work to do in order to remain in compliance — work that will have to be done sooner rather than later.
We just don’t know how soon.