When the Kansas City Chiefs signed free agent defensive end Carlos Dunlap on July 28, we knew only that the team had signed him to a one-year contract worth “up to” $8 million. No additional details — including his impact on Kansas City’s 2022 salary cap — were made available.
This is not unusual. Few NFL teams make it a point to publicly disclose contract details — and the Chiefs are not among them. Any additional information tends to come later — and usually comes from player agents (or other league sources) through NFL reporters or salary-cap sites like Spotrac and OverTheCap.
Two weeks after the signing, the two sites now agree: Dunlap’s deal is giving him a guaranteed base salary of $1.12 million (the league minimum for his experience), along with a signing bonus of $1.88 million. His 2022 cap hit is listed as $3 million, which means that the rest of the “up to” figure of $8 million is in not-likely-to-be-earned (NLTBE) incentives. If Dunlap’s play earns him those incentives, they will count against the cap in 2023 instead of 2022.
On the day he was signed, we estimated that roughly half (or perhaps less) of his contract would be NLTBE incentives. That estimate was based on what Dunlap had been set to earn on his Seattle Seahawks contract in 2022: a $4.1 million base salary and a $1 million roster bonus; we were simply figuring he’d want a new deal that guaranteed him at least that much.
But we now know that more than half of his contract dollars won’t hit Kansas City’s cap until next season. Dunlap is being guaranteed $2.1 million less than Seattle was going to pay him in 2022.
Does this mean that Dunlap has agreed to play for less money because he will now be playing for a contending team? When he first spoke to Kansas City reporters on Thursday, he might have left that impression.
“One of the things I have not done is I haven’t gotten over 100 sacks, I haven’t won a playoff game, and I haven’t clearly won a Super Bowl,” he noted. “So those are things I’d like to do at this point in my career — and I’m in hot pursuit. I feel like this team gives me a great opportunity — the best opportunity — to do it.”
But Dunlap also seemed to say that how Kansas City intended to use him had factored into his decision, making a reference to rookie defensive end George Karlaftis.
“We’ll be rolling,” he said. “You got a young bull — [a] first-round pick who has a lot of talent. The sky’s the limit for him, so the opportunity [is there for me] to play on every down. At this point in my career, because I’ve been a closer in so many games and have 96.0 sacks in my career, they try to correlate with being older, taking down your snaps, featuring you in passing situations. But I like to eat [whatever] you put on the table. First and second down are just as important to me as third down.”
As I noted during this week’s edition of the Arrowhead Pride Editors Show podcast, it’s possible that Dunlap’s circumstances allowed Chiefs general manager Brett Veach to make a deal that could pay the pass rusher more than what he was set to make in Seattle, but will still defer a significant portion of those dollars to 2023’s salary cap calculation.
This is because NLTBE incentives are based only on the player’s previous season — not on what is actually likely to happen. In 2021, Dunlap appeared in all 17 of the Seahawks’ games — but started just two of them.
So to illustrate how this could have been done, let’s say Veach offered Dunlap a bonus of $2.5 million if he started four games for the Chiefs in 2022. For salary-cap purposes, that would qualify as an NLTBE incentive — but given that Kansas City is entering the 2022 season with a first-round rookie at defensive end, it’s pretty likely that Dunlap will end up starting at least four games. In his mind (and in all probability), he would earn $5.5 million this season. That’s more than he was set to earn in Seattle.
It’s also pretty likely that his deal has an NLTBE incentive based on how many sacks Dunlap will get in the coming season. He notched 8.5 with the Seahawks last year, so it would have to be set for 9.0 or above. So in our illustration, let’s say that the two sides agreed on a $2.5 million bonus if Dunlap reached that number.
On Thursday, Dunlap made it pretty clear that the deal he made with the Chiefs contained a similar provision.
“I try to average 8.0 a year, and I want to go for more than that,” he told reporters. “I put my money where my mouth is with the deal we did — we structured it that way, for the incentives to increase it.”
In the scenarios outlined here — just a couple of many possible variations — by starting at least four games and getting at least nine sacks, Dunlap would earn the full $8 million — but the Chiefs would still be on the hook for only $3 million against the cap in 2022. If both of those things happen, he’ll have earned every penny of the $8 million he’ll be paid. But if they don’t, Kansas City will have had Dunlap available as a rotational pass rusher for just $3 million.
Almost any way you slice it, this should be a very good deal for the Chiefs.