Nothing short of admiration and respect should be shown towards the three Kansas City Chiefs players that chose to opt out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, running back Damien Williams and rookie offensive tackle Lucas Niang will have their contracts tolled to 2021 — and the remaining years on the deal will also be pushed back one season.
This unprecedented league policy will present a new challenge to teams as they forecast their organization’s future. There are long-term salary cap, roster and player development implications that come with the deferral of a season.
For each player, I’ll explain the impact his 2020 opt-out could have on the Chiefs in 2021 and beyond.
A potential downside: The absence of Duvernay-Tardif — who has been the primary starter at right guard since 2015 — will allow other linemen like Mike Remmers, Martinas Rankin, or Andrew Wylie to fill in. A good campaign for 31-year-old Remmers will likely be looked at as a well-done job of filling in and nothing more — but a productive year from either Rankin or Wylie could leave the Chiefs with a tough decision next offseason.
As a restricted free agent, Wylie could demand a sizable contract if he proves to be a capable starter at 26 years old. If the Chiefs want to keep him in the mix as a starter, they would have to re-sign him while also taking on Duvernay-Tardif’s 2021 cap number of $4.75 million. Duvernay-Tardif’s dead cap number of $6.75 million in 2021 makes it nearly impossible to cut him — but a $4.75 million cap hit for a backup lineman is tough to justify.
Rankin’s contract isn’t up until after 2021, but a year of quality starting experience could tempt the team to extend him early and save money down the road. Would they sign him and then put him back on the bench behind Duvernay-Tardif? If they don’t sign him, would he re-sign after 2021 if he was sent to the bench after starting in 2020?
With Duvernay-Tardif turning 30 in 2021, these could be legitimate dilemmas next offseason.
A silver lining: On the flip side, if Wylie or Rankin does play right guard, the Chiefs will get a good sample size of snaps to evaluate his play and make well-informed decisions on them as their contracts near their end.
A potential downside: By selecting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with their first-round pick, the Chiefs made it clear that he will be the top guy in the backfield for the future. There’s always a need for a solid complementary backup though — and veteran back Damien Williams fits the criteria perfectly. Now that he has opted out, running backs like DeAndre Washington and Darrel Williams will get an opportunity to play in that role.
The problem is that both backs’ contracts are up after 2020 — and making the decision on signing either of them is tough when you haven’t seen Damien Williams on the field in a year. The decision-makers won’t be able to judge the young backs against how the 28-year-old Williams is trending athletically.
The team also won’t know how good Williams looks back on the field until the summer of 2021 — well after they need to make a decision on either Washington or Darrel Williams.
A silver lining: Running backs age faster than any position in football — and that’s usually because of the wear and tear they take going between the tackles carry after carry. Williams — who is two years away from 30 — has not had the typical starting running back workload in his career. With a full season off, he could really extend the length of his playing career and be a Chiefs weapon for longer than expected.
A potential downside: One of the biggest contract decisions coming up for the Chiefs involves starting left tackle Eric Fisher. 2021 is the final year of his deal — and if the team decides to cut him prior, they would save $11.5 million against the cap.
Rookie offensive tackle Lucas Niang has gotten praise as a higher level of talent than a typical third-round selection. A year of development at practice and with an NFL coaching staff could have potentially had him prepared to take over the left tackle position in 2021.
His opt-out will keep him away from the facility and from the practice field, preventing the team from seeing his progress and development right in front of them and coming to a decision on whether he could start in 2021 or not. That lack of clarity will make it much tougher to save the cap room and cut Fisher.
A silver lining: The obvious silver lining is that Niang gets an additional year to recover from his hip surgery in the fall of 2019. Even though he told reporters in May that he was “100% ready to go,” it will benefit to have that additional year to recover from the surgery — especially because of how important hip mobility is as an offensive lineman.