In the month leading up to NFL free agency, every fan fantasizes about his or her team signing a great player that has hit the open market — realistic or not. Be honest: As a Kansas City Chiefs fan, you’ve already envisioned what wide receivers Allen Robinson or Corey Davis could do to boost this offense. You don’t consider their salary demands as you dream about the awesome addition to the explosive Chiefs offense.
Unfortunately, young, star players like that are definitely signing for multi-year, big-salary contracts...
Or are they?
This free agency Gon be wild. Gonna be a lot of REALLY good players take one year rentals because that salary cap. Super teams type. IMO we Gon see tho— Chase Edmonds (@ChaseEdmonds22) February 17, 2021
The 2021 NFL offseason will be — and already has been — very unique. The league has never been financially impacted by a global pandemic, and that has diminished the league-wide salary cap that was steadily growing over the last decade; 2020 was the seventh straight year that the salary cap increased by at least $10 million.
2020’s salary cap was $200 million — meaning that NFL teams were projecting 2021’s cap space to be approximately $210 million. Instead, it will be closer to $30 million less than that.
NFL informed teams today the salary cap this season will be a minimum of $180 million.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 18, 2021
A rumored television deal for the NFL could prop up that number to a more reasonable figure — but still, teams will be scrambling to reconcile the situation as their cap projections were completely thrown off track during 2020. There are over 10 teams already over the cap, which limits the competition for star players while also hurting the chances of mid-tier veterans signing for a respectable number.
This could result in big names deciding to push their free agency off a year by signing a one-year deal with a team that can showcase their talents the best. After a productive season, they can sign the multi-year contract next offseason when there is more money willing to be spent.
Who stands to benefit from that more than the Chiefs?
First of all, they aren’t in as negative a cap situation as it seems right now. Our John Dixon broke down ways the Chiefs could get back into the positive and have room to work with, but it won’t be enough to compete for players like Robinson, Davis, or other big names at their maximum value.
However, what if a player like Robinson — who has caught most of his career passes from quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky — wants to wait one more offseason to sign long-term and takes a one-year contract in Kansas City to boost his production playing with Patrick Mahomes?
It is an incredibly packed class of wide receivers to sign in free agency. Robinson is the best of the bunch for my money, but a number of them could have a similar thought process. Wide receivers’ value is as high as it has ever been; teams will pay for big-talent — they just may not be able to this offseason.
That heightened competition in the receiver market may force Sammy Watkins’ price down significantly — enough for the Chiefs to get tempted with re-signing. General manager Brett Veach has publicized his admiration for Watkins, and the selling point on his talent can always be made as justification.
If Watkins’ number gets driven down far enough, could Kansas City bring Watkins back — while also convincing another big-name receiver to join the corps for one season? Watkins could see his role shrink into a Demarcus Robinson-sized one, while another receiver becomes the second wideout target along with Tyreek Hill.
What about defensive free agents?
Could former Denver Broncos pass rusher Von Miller — who was injured for all of 2020 — want to prove he’s worth a long-term deal in 2022 by excelling on a team that’s always in primetime and in the postseason? Would former Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson want to chase a ring for one year and still attempt to cash out at 32 years old next offseason?
Could multiple big-time players decide to team up and join the Chiefs on one-year deals — looking to create a “super team” as Edmonds alluded to in his tweet?
We know Veach and the front office are naturally aggressive. The possibility that big names may sign short-term, team-friendly deals could fuel his fire even more to pursue the best of the best.