Back on February 17 — when the Kansas City Chiefs were $18.1 million over the as-yet-unknown salary cap for 2021, I outlined five moves the Chiefs could make to create cap space.
- Release injured left tackle Eric Fisher
- Release injured right tackle Mitchell Schwartz
- Convert tight end Travis Kelce’s 2021 roster bonus to signing bonus
- Convert defensive tackle Chris Jones’ 2021 roster bonus to signing bonus
- Convert Patrick Mahomes’ 2021 roster bonus to signing bonus
Since then, Kansas City has done every one of those things. And the results were spectacular.
The team has now used quite a bit of that space, aggressively signing former New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney — one of the top offensive linemen available in free agency — along with former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed, former All-Pro offensive lineman Kyle Long, former Los Angeles Rams interior offensive lineman Austin Blythe, former New Orleans Saints fullback Micheal Burton and former Dallas Cowboys (and Chiefs) tight end Blake Bell.
They also traded for Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and re-signed offensive lineman Mike Remmers (and a handful of other free-agent players from the 2020 roster), ultimately leaving $9 million of that 2021 cap space intact.
But there was another move I suggested back in February — one that the Chiefs haven’t yet made: extending the contract of All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu carries a cap hit of $19.7 million this year, including a base salary of $14.5 million and a workout bonus of $250,000 — so any extension will have to pay him at least that much in 2021.
The Chiefs might not want to sign Mathieu — who will be 29 this season — to an extension of more than three years, so a deal that paid him a signing bonus of $14 million on top of a $1 million base salary would give him a cap hit of $9.5 million this season. (Mathieu already carries a $4.9 million bonus charge from his original three-year contract).
So the total cap savings for this year would be somewhere around $10 million.
Asked a week before the draft about the timeline for a new Mathieu contract, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said it was something the team wanted to get done.
“Well look, Tyrann is certainly a big piece of our team and what we do both now and moving forward,” he acknowledged at the time. “I don’t know if there’s a timeline.”
Veach also said that there hadn’t yet been “extensive dialogue” with Mathieu’s agent — but he suggested that such a conversation could be forthcoming.
“I’m sure once the draft is behind us, we’ll have time to address where we are as a team after the draft and moving forward.”
Now that the draft is behind us, it was one of the things reporters were curious about when they met with Veach on Monday morning — especially since the Chiefs had not chosen to pick a safety among their six draft selections.
“I had mentioned earlier that once we get through this free-agency process and the draft, we’ll sit down,” said Veach. “Last year, we were able to get a lot of our veteran players done during the summer. And enough can’t be said about Tyrann and how we feel about him and his role — both on and off the field here.”
With their $9 million in cap space, the Chiefs might be content to leave things where they are — but to do so would run the risk of Mathieu putting in another All-Pro season, making him even more expensive to re-sign a year from now. There’s a similar situation with Orlando Brown Jr., who will be playing on the final year of his rookie contract this season.
“We’ll see,” said Veach on Friday. “We have some different things that we’re working through. We had great dialogue with him and his agent before the trade — and if something got worked out, great — but they were also content on playing it out and having us have some time to work through some other stuff and then get to next offseason.”
But on Monday, Veach alluded to the possibility that he hopes “something will get done” with Brown — which creates additional pressure to not only get one of the team’s most important defensive players locked up for another few seasons, but also increase the available cap space to get Brown signed to an extension of his rookie deal.
It all adds up to making a Mathieu contract one of Veach’s priorities over the coming weeks and months — which “The Landlord” has said would be all right with him.
“I would love to spend the rest of my time in Kansas City,” Mathieu declared on April 19. “Everybody’s embraced me here — it reminds me so much of a football town. For me, that’s everything. Waking up, seeing the family and then going to play football. It’s been a blessing to be here.”