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7 ways the Chiefs can create salary cap space

Brett Veach and his staff have a busy month ahead of them.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs fully expected to spend this week in Los Angeles, preparing for Super Bowl LVI. Unfortunately, their shocking playoff exit in the AFC Championship will make the team — and its fans — spend Super Bowl Weekend pondering what moves might be possible to bring Kansas City back to the top.

As is the case in any offseason, the team’s salary cap will determine how aggressive t can be when free agency starts in March. When all reported signings are factored in, we estimate that the Chiefs have approximately $2.7 million in cap space. Even before free agency begins, the Chiefs will need to clear significant room just to tender offers to pending restricted free agents and to use the team’s franchise tag.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has options for creating tens of millions of dollars of cap room. Here are the most likely moves Veach and his staff will make in the coming weeks. All contract numbers are taken from Spotrac.com.

Patrick Mahomes

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The league’s highest paid player currently has a 2022 cap charge of $36.8 million — including an already-guaranteed roster bonus of $27.4 million. As they did in 2021, the Chiefs will almost certainly convert the roster bonus into a signing bonus, spreading the cap hit for that money over multiple seasons. This will not affect how Mahomes receives his compensation — but the team can make this move without even consulting him; it’s simply changing how the money is counted against the cap. The Chiefs would then be responsible for as little of a fifth of the roster bonus this year — which would create as much as $21.9 million in cap space.

Anthony Hitchens

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The linebacker is in the final year of the contract he signed as a free agent in 2018. Hitchens has a cap hit of about $12.7 million — but the team can save more than $8.4 million by releasing him. Hitchens became a likely 2022 cap casualty when the Chiefs used their first 2021 draft selection on middle linebacker Nick Bolton. Bolton should enter this season as the unquestioned starter — leaving no room for Hitchens. Expect the team to release Hitchens in the coming weeks, giving him an opportunity to choose his best opportunity with a new team.

Frank Clark

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Many Chiefs fans are aware of the veteran edge rusher’s large cap hit. Clark currently counts $26.3 million against the cap, with $13.4 million potentially saved by releasing him. Though the savings would be greater by releasing him after June 1, the money would be unavailable to the Chiefs until that date — which would minimize the potential to improve the team with the cap savings. While it is possible Clark could agree to a pay cut to stay with the team, he will likely be released — though the Chiefs could wait to secure a replacement before making the move official.

Chris Jones

Dallas Cowboys v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on the star defensive tackle in 2020 — but they were able to agree to a four-year contract before the negotiation window closed. Jones has a cap hit of $29.4 million that is heavily tied to a $18.1 million roster bonus. Having already restructured his deal in 2021 — and with only two years remaining on the contract — the Chiefs may be hesitant to do so again. A second restructure would open up at least $9 million. It would also increase his 2023 cap hit to more than $36 million — almost guaranteeing Jones’ release after the this season. As they did with Clark in 2020, expect the Chiefs to keep future options open by leaving Jones’ current contract in place.

Tyreek Hill

Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We previously looked at reasons the Chiefs should sign Tyreek Hill to a contract extension. Besides locking up one of Mahomes’ essential weapons, it would likely improve the current salary cap situation by addressing Hill’s $20.7 million cap number. The bulk of Hill’s 2022 pay comes via $16.5 million in roster bonuses — $12 million of which is likely paid before the league year starts. Hypothetically, the roster bonuses could have $3.5 million added and be converted into a $20 million signing bonus on a new three-year extension. Hill would be able to increase his pay for the coming season — while the Chiefs would create $13.4 million in cap space. Expect a new deal for Hill to be a priority in the month between the Super Bowl and free agency.

Joe Thuney

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The guard who can play through a broken hand signed a more traditional contract than other players we’ve covered. Thuney is owed $13.9 million in base salary for next season. The Chiefs could restructure up to $12.8 million of his salary into a signing bonus and take 80% of the altered amount off of the 2022 cap— with the remainder spread over the remaining four years of his contract. Because base salary is not paid until the regular season begins, the Chiefs have the luxury of waiting to see if a restructure of Thuney is needed.

Orlando Brown Jr.

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Because Brown is currently not under contract for 2022, this would be a case of spending now to save later. Having finished his rookie contract in 2021, Brown is likely to receive the team’s franchise tag — projected to be $16.5 million for an offensive lineman. By signing him to a new contract before the March 8 tag deadline, the Chiefs would be able to structure the first year with a lower cap hit. With an estimated market value of $23.3 million annually, however, the team may prefer Brown play a year on the tag and revisit a long-term contract in 2023.

Prediction

The Chiefs save as much as $43.7 million by restructuring Mahomes and releasing Clark and Hitchens. An extension for Hill saves approximately $13.4 million more — bringing the total amount of cap created to over $55 million. Brown will play under the franchise tag, instantly tying up $16.5 million of the savings. The Chiefs avoid altering Jones’ deal — while keeping Thuney’s contract on deck if additional cap room is needed.

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