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Contract for new Chiefs center Austin Blythe carries some surprises

Some had speculated that Blythe would earn more in Kansas City.

Los Angeles Rams v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs signed former Los Angeles Rams center Austin Blythe to a one-year contract. Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson — one of the NFL journalists who tirelessly reports salary information for all teams — we now know more about his compensation.

Per Spotrac, Blythe earned just over $2 million from the Rams in 2019 — the first season following his rookie contract. In 2020 — after serving as a Rams starter for the previous two seasons — Blythe signed a one-year deal that paid him $3.9 million.

So some speculation had suggested that Blythe would command something around that much with the Chiefs. But as we see, Kansas City continues to be very stingy with contracts for mid-level players — even when they have significant experience as starters. To be sure, part of that has to do with the general depression of the market for free-agent players during this cap-starved offseason. But some of it likely has to do with Kansas City’s status as an NFL contender, too.

This is why when we added Blythe to our Chiefs roster page on Tuesday, we estimated that his 2021 cap hit would be between $987,500 (the cap hit of a veteran salary benefit contract for Blythe) and $2 million — likely $1.5 million. That turned out to be pretty close — and yet another reason Chiefs fans should check it regularly (it’s always available under the Resources tab on any Arrowhead Pride page).

We should also note that only $990,000 of Blythe’s contract — that is, the minimum NFL salary for a player with his experience — is guaranteed. The rest, according to Wilson, are incentives tied to playing time and team performance.

Since Blythe started all 16 Rams games in 2020 — playing 100% of the offensive snaps — any playing time incentive would be considered likely-to-be-earned (LTBE) for salary cap purposes. Since the Chiefs reached the Super Bowl, any team performance incentive (except winning the Super Bowl) would also be considered LTBE. So almost all of the $760,000 in incentives will count against the 2021 salary cap — but if they do end up being unearned, they will then be subtracted from the 2022 cap.

So Blythe’s cap hit for 2021 is therefore very close to $1.75 million — the maximum he can be paid without counting into the compensatory draft picks formula for free agents. This also means that under Top-51 cap rules that are in place until the season begins, the immediate cap impact of this new signing would be about $965,000. So with all known roster moves included, we currently estimate the Chiefs have between $12.7 million and $13.9 million in cap space — likely $13.3 million.

Yet again, the Chiefs have acquired a player who could end up being a starter. But his salary cap cost will be very low — and the Chiefs have made sure that this particular signing will not prevent them from obtaining a compensatory pick for a Kansas City free agent who signs elsewhere.