With the Kansas City Chiefs operating right at the salary cap — or as much as $2.2 million over it — fans are understandably anxious to learn the latest on defensive tackle Chris Jones and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
The team has placed the franchise tag on Jones, meaning that if the team is unable to work out a long-term deal to replace his just-expired contract, he will play the 2020 season at a cost of $16.1 million — if he plays at all. Watkins still has a year remaining on his contract, which will pay him $14 million in 2020 — along with $7 million in dead money for which the team will have to account under the salary cap.
The team could trade Jones — giving them his whole salary as additional cap space — or sign him to a new deal that could save as much as $10.3 million against the cap in 2020.
Watkins could be traded — providing the Chiefs can find a team willing to pay him $14 million in 2020 or renegotiate a new deal that would cost them less in the coming season. The team could also simply release him, which would give them $14 million in cap space. But both of those options would force the team chew up $7 million of their desperately-needed cap space with Watkins’ dead money. They could also extend Watkins’ current deal for a couple of years, which could save them as much as $8.7 million against the cap this season.
So when Chiefs head coach Andy Reid held a conference call with media representatives on Thursday, questions about these two players were at the top of their agenda.
With regard to Watkins, Reid limited himself to praising his contributions to the team.
“Right now, he’s here,” said Reid. “That’s the positive part. And we sure like Sammy. He’s done a great job for us. As good a player as he is, he’s even a better person. So we’ve really enjoyed him being here. But other than that, I can’t really lead you on either way, because that’s Brett’s area. I’m honestly not dealing with it.”
Asked specifically if Watkins could potentially play the 2020 season on his current deal, Reid wouldn’t say.
”We’ll see. We’ll see how that goes,” he replied. “There’s a ton of time here. But we’ll see how all of that works out.”
Reid said that all of the personnel decisions were up to general manager Brett Veach.
”Again, that’s Brett,” he explained. “He deals with all that stuff. I try to stay as far away from it as I can, to be honest with you. I dealt with all that while I was in Philadelphia. As you know, Brett’s a great communicator. If they’re doing anything there, he’s in it and talking about it. But nothing’s happened at this point. I do know that part.”
Reid said that he is continuing to do his job — while Veach continues to do his.
”Listen, we’ve tried to stay in touch [with the players] as coaches. We try and stay in touch with everybody. Brett has been doing all the other things behind the scenes for that type of thing — agents and so on. They’ve had communications — which is important in any situation, I think, when you’re dealing with players and contracts and tags and all those things.”
But reporters are a persistent bunch. Asked if the COVID-19 pandemic — which is keeping NFL teams from making in-person evaluations (and getting physicals) of both free agents and draft prospects — was making players who have already been with the team more valuable than new ones, Reid was pretty noncommittal.
”Absoutely. As many guys as you can keep, you’d love to do that,” he responded. “That’s part of it — and there’s the other part: Veach has got to sit there and juggle the salary cap and do all that. Logic tells you that as many guys you can keep that are familiar with what you’re doing on either side of the ball — special teams likewise — you’d like to be able to do.
“But there are a whole lot of variables that go into it,” Reid added. “That’s something that Brett and Brant Tillis and Chris Shea — I mean, they all do that stuff. They get in and eat all that up. They spend their time doing that, while I’m with the coaches doing our part. I’d like to be more clear for you — give you any more clarity on that situation — but I’m not sure I can do that.”
Considering that he and Veach both report directly to owner Clark Hunt, Reid doubtless has quite a bit of input on personnel decisions. But throughout his tenure as the Chiefs’ head coach, he has consistently dodged these kinds of questions as much as he can. While that is certainly frustrating for fans (and reporters) seeking answers, it’s hard to argue with the results.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that if a team does not have the cap space available to sign a draft pick at the time the player is selected, they would have until the next business-day transaction deadline (3 p.m. Arrowhead Time) to clear the cap space to make the signing. With regard to other moves moves impacting the salary cap, this much is true; signings made between transaction deadlines are counted as a group. But for a drafted player, it’s almost impossible for this to be necessary. Until the time a drafted player is signed to their final contract, the team only has to carry the NFL minimum salary for a first-year player against the cap — not the salary commensurate with where the player is selected. Unless the team has fewer than 51 players under contract when the pick is made, an additional NFL minimum salary contract will be below the threshold of the top 51 salaries that are counted against the cap during that period of the league year. This error resulted from a careless reading of the pertinent section of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Thanks to user LennyCool for bringing it to our attention. Arrowhead Pride regrets the error.