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Where the Chiefs’ salary cap stands after the Joe Thuney signing

The Chiefs had put together a big chunk of cap space quite quickly — and had to spend only a small amount of it to get the player they wanted.

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Hours after the NFL’s legal tampering period began on Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs made a big move: signing former New England Patriots offensive guard Joe Thuney to a five-year contract worth $80 million.

Initial reports said the deal had $32.5 million guaranteed for the first two years of the contract, with the third year fully guaranteed just after the 2022 league year begins — meaning that as a practical matter, $48 million would be guaranteed over the first three years of the deal.

This suggested that Thuney’s contract — like other recent deals negotiated by Chiefs general manager Brett Veach — was a straight-line, “pay-as-you-go” agreement that would leave the Chiefs with a solid “out” after the third season (a good thing) because it would carry no dead money from a signing bonus into the fourth and fifth years of the deal (another good thing). But in cap-starved 2021, it would have something around a $16 million cap hit (a bad thing).

Could it have been that Veach had just spent nearly half of the team’s $33.8 million in cap space?

But by late Monday afternoon, the picture was clearer — and a lot more pleasant.

Joe Thuney Contract

Year Salary Sign Wkt Cap Hit
2021 $990K $3.4M $110K $4.5M
2022 $13.9M $3.4M $500K $17.8M
2023 $15.0M $3.4M $500K $18.9M
2024 $15.5M $3.4M $500K $19.4M
2025 $15.5M $3.4M $500K $19.4M
Totals $60.9M $17.0M $2.1M $80.0M

As you can see, this is structured much more like a traditional NFL contract, in which a signing bonus is prorated across the life of the deal. This allows the contract to count only $4.5 million against the cap in 2021. Furthermore, under Top-51 cap rules — under which Thuney’s hit replaces the 51st-highest contract — its immediate impact is just $3.8 million.

So if you were thinking that this deal will prevent the Chiefs from making other free-agent deals this offseason... it absolutely won’t. The Chiefs still have $30 million with which to work.

But this agreement differs from a traditional signing-bonus contract in a significant way. Rather than increasing the guaranteed money by giving Thuney a larger signing bonus, the Chiefs chose to guarantee the first two years of the contract — and after a year, guarantee the third.

This allowed them to give Thuney a signing bonus of $17 million, which is 21% of the total contract value. Compare that to Dak Prescott’s recent deal with the Dallas Cowboys, in which he received a signing bonus that was 41% of the value. While Thuney’s contract will have dead money after the third year, it will be a very manageable (by 2024 standards) $6.8 million. In contrast, Prescott’s will have $26.4 million.

There’s obviously a risk inherent in fully guaranteeing the first two seasons. But if there’s a situation where that risk is minimized, this is it. Thuney has started 16 games in all five of the seasons he played in New England, playing at a high level in each one. And the Chiefs will have a year to decide if they want to guarantee the third season.

And yes... this deal represents a lot of money for an offensive guard. But playing under the franchise tag in 2020, Thuney earned $14.8 million. So while the Chiefs may have paid a little more than Thuney is worth at this moment, his 2022 cap hit projects pretty closely to what the tag now projects to be — and in the later years of the deal, he’ll likely be a bargain.

We should also remember that Thuney is whip-smart — and in a pinch, is capable of playing every position on the line. That’s just the kind of offensive lineman that head coach Andy Reid likes to have. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the Chiefs made this move in the first afternoon of the legal tampering period; it’s pretty obvious that this was a deal Kansas City really wanted to make.

And now... they have made it. Next case, please.