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What the Fisher and Schwartz releases mean for the Chiefs’ salary cap

The team’s surprise move clears a lot of cap space — but it’s likely some of it will be spent right away.

NFL: DEC 29 Chargers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All along, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has said that even if the 2021 NFL salary cap came in lower than they were hoping, he and his executive team of Chris Shea and Brandt Tilis had prepared scenarios to get the Chiefs under the cap before the new league year begins next Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the NFL announced that the cap would be only $182.5 million this season. The next day, the Chiefs were ready with their opening move: the releases of starting left tackle Eric Fisher and starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.

The business of the NFL

These are business decisions. There is no reason to think that the Chiefs have lost respect for Fisher — or believe he cannot recover from the Achilles injury he suffered against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship. The same is true of Schwartz, who recently underwent surgery for a nagging back injury that kept him off the field for much of the 2020 season.

But since it is unlikely that Fisher will be ready to play before Week 1 — and it is unknown whether Schwartz will be able to play at 100% by then — it creates a bottleneck for the Chiefs. With a salary cap that has fallen for the first time in a decade, the Chiefs simply cannot carry cap hits totaling $25.2 million for two key players who may have to be replaced right from the beginning of the season.

Since both players have dead money remaining from signing bonuses, this move immediately frees $18.3 million of cap space. That dead money will only have to be carried through the current season; none of it will be on the books in 2022. By itself, that gets the Chiefs most of the way to the $21.2 million cap deficit they have to erase by next Wednesday.

But it’s important to remember that this move also means the Chiefs likely intend to replace at least one of these players with a veteran free agent on a relatively short-term deal — which will cut into the immediate savings from these releases. That adds up to more roster moves — perhaps many more — before the new league year begins.