As fans and analysts of the Kansas City Chiefs turn the page to the offseason, heavy attention will be focused on the team’s 2022 salary cap situation. Among the Chiefs with a very high salary-cap figure this season is wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
This year, Hill is set to finish out a three-year extension he signed on the eve of the 2019 season. According to Spotrac, he has a 2022 salary cap number of $20.7 million — currently the fifth-highest for a wide receiver. Given Hill’s position and production, that number is likely is a bargain. Still — like most large NFL contracts during their final seasons — it is frequently cited as a source for potential cap savings, whether by extension or trade.
When looking at the details of Hill’s extension, however, it has a unique structure that may negate the traditional contract-season thinking.
The contract is structured in a way that gives the Chiefs a high degree of flexibility with the numbers. Each season, his base salary is set very low for a player of his pedigree; in 2022, it’s the NFL minimum of $1.035 million. He received a signing bonus of $5.8 million. For salary-cap purposes, that was spread across four seasons — the final year of his rookie deal in 2019 and the three seasons thereafter.
But the bulk of Hill’s earnings is from roster bonuses. He will have a $12 million roster bonus due to him a week after the Super Bowl. He will earn another $3 million bonus by reporting to training camp on time. There’s an additional $1.5 million in per-game roster bonuses.
These roster bonuses — particularly the one due a week after the championship — is what makes his status something to watch over the next two weeks.
Guaranteeing so much to the player a month before the league year starts is likely to close the door on any offseason trade talk involving Hill. This is because the bonus will have already been paid to Hill — so without a complicated agreement between the team and the player, it would become dead money in a trade deal. The same would be true for the (nonexistent) chance that the team would simply cut Hill to create cap space.
Across the league, an increasingly popular cap-saving technique is converting salary and roster bonuses into a signing bonus. This is usually paired with adding void years to the contract, which allows the bonus to be charged against potentially higher salary caps in future seasons. Converting his roster bonus in this way would not change Hill’s 2022 earnings. However, Hill — and almost any other player — would be unlikely to forfeit his leverage in extension talks by agreeing to a dramatic restructure this close to free agency.
Once his upcoming roster bonus is paid, an extension would become more unlikely. Hill would already have earned two-thirds of the money due to him in 2022. It would also be more difficult to structure his contract in a way that gives the team any cap savings for this season — or to avoid large salary hits in any future year.
As a practical matter, if Hill and the Chiefs remain in each other’s plans beyond 2022, now is the time to act. As new figures shape the receiver market, a new contract will not be any easier after the season. Green Bay Packers star Davante Adams may be in line for a record-setting contract at the position — though he will likely face the team’s franchise tag first. Players drafted in 2019 are also eligible for contracts this offseason. New deals for A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans, DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks and Terry McLaurin of the Washington Commanders could justify Hill demanding much more money a year from now.
After coming up short in their fourth consecutive AFC Championship appearance, it is fair to ask how much longer the team should prioritize continuity over retooling the roster. By the time free agency starts in March, we should have a better idea of the team’s long-term plans for Hill.