On Friday, CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan published an article detailing the biggest offseason priority for all 32 NFL teams. For the Kansas City Chiefs, he didn’t name signing a free-agent edge rusher or trading for Julio Jones. Instead, he called for general manager Brett Veach to sign one of his current players to a contract extension.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyrann Mathieu extension
While the Chiefs offense that consists of Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce captures most of the headlines, Tyrann Mathieu has grown into the main face of the Kansas City defense during their ascension into an NFL powerhouse. The safety is now heading into the final year of his contract and it’ll be interesting to see how the Chiefs play this. Will Mathieu simply play out the final year of his contract and possibly face free agency or will the two sides come to terms on a deal prior to the season? If I’m Chiefs GM Brett Veach, I try to lock in this key defensive piece.
Back in mid-February, I laid out six relatively simple moves the Chiefs could make to go from being $18.1 million over the salary cap to as much as $29 million under it. To this point, Veach has made every one of them except one: extending Mathieu’s contract.
Then, the focus was simply getting underneath an extremely low salary cap figure that was the result of the coronavirus pandemic. And as it turned out, the Chiefs — despite my counsel to be conservative with each step — went all-in on every one of them, grabbing every dollar available on the contracts of Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones and Travis Kelce, while outright releasing both Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz.
So now — with the team sitting on an estimated $8.1 million of cap space — why create space by signing Mathieu to an extension?
There are two reasons.
One is that the team still needs to conserve as much salary-cap capital as they can. While the salary cap could rise by as much as $25.7 million in 2022 — and perhaps go up spectacularly in 2023, when the new television contracts will have their full impact on the cap — the team will still have an enormous financial commitment to Mahomes. In addition, the easy-to-arrange moves Veach made to clear an astonishing $55 million in cap space in 2021 will come due in the coming seasons. When someone tells you the NFL salary cap is “just a myth,” don’t believe them. It’s a fact: every dollar spent on player compensation must eventually be accounted for.
This is also consistent with the approach that our Pete Sweeney identified in late March: that for the Chiefs, rollover equals flexibility. The more of each season’s cap they can carry forward to the next season, the better off they’ll be.
But the other reason is Mathieu himself. As Sullivan noted, he has become the main face of the team’s defense; it’s not unreasonable to believe that he was a huge cog in the defensive turnaround that won the team its first Super Bowl in 50 years. But at the same time, he will be 29 this season, so the Chiefs would be wise not to extend him more than three years. Even with that three-year extension, however, they could clear something around $10 million they could carry forward into 2022.
So I’m all on board with Sullivan’s evaluation of the Chiefs’ biggest remaining offseason need. Sometime this summer, we’ll learn if the team agrees.