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Chiefs likely to make Tommy Townsend the league’s highest-paid punter in 2023

Restrictedfree agency is not always very restrictive.

NFL: Super Bowl LVII-Kansas City Chiefs vs Philadelphia Eagles The Republic-USA TODAY Sports

Seven members of the Kansas City Chiefs had the privilege of being named to the 2023 Pro Bowl Games — and subsequently bypassing the opportunity as the team prepared to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.

One of those players may be in line for a controversial offseason, with an expiring contract creating an opportunity to reset the market for his position. While many Chiefs fans will worry about the above being true for tackle Orlando Brown Jr., this piece will look at punter Tommy Townsend’s upcoming restricted free agency.

Townsend signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent out of Florida in 2020. That season, he took over for Dustin Colquitt — who had held the job for 15 seasons. In addition to Pro Bowl honors, Townsend was named first-team All-Pro this season and AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September.

In 2022, the third-year pro’s 45.6 net-yards-per-punt led the league.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With three accrued seasons, Townsend can now become a restricted free agent. The Chiefs can choose from three levels to offer him a contract for next season. If Townsend signs a contract with a different team, the Chiefs would be able to match it and retain his services. Assuming Kansas City offered him a right-of-first-refusal tender, the Chiefs would receive no compensation because Townsend was not drafted.

For various reasons, however, tendering Townsend offers Kansas City minimal advantage in keeping him.

Restricted free agency is awkward for a punter because even the lowest tender amount approaches the top salaries at the position. Over the Cap estimates the lowest restricted free agent tender this offseason to be $2,627,000. Per Spotrac, that number would already make Townsend the league’s 10th-highest-paid punter next season.

Detroit Lions punter Jack Fox — who ironically originally signed with Kansas City following the 2019 Draft — currently has next season’s highest salary cap hit for a punter. At $3,565,000, less than a million dollars separates his compensation from the low tender offer.

Kansas City could likely save cap space next season with even a league-topping contract versus the tender amount. Townsend’s 2023 base salary on a new deal would likely be $1,010,000 — the league minimum for players with three years experience. A restricted free-agent tender would instantly count in full against the salary cap.

While the importance of a punter can be debated — especially with the Chiefs boasting an explosive offense — Townsend has the accolades to claim he is the NFL’s best at what he does. Should another team wish to upgrade the position in free agency, he would easily be the top target.

Though technically restricted, Townsend likely will have no compensation attached to him. The Chiefs could offer him a second-round tender, which would cost an estimated $4,901,000 — much higher than the average per year on any potential long-term contract.

A team signing Townsend also would likely intentionally structure the payout to make matching difficult financially for the Chiefs.

At times, Townsend has been divisive in Kansas City. In the lowest moment of his rookie season, he averaged a mere 35.7 yards-per-punt as the Chiefs lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV — compounding a laundry list of the team’s problems that night.

Also, place-kicker Harrison Butker struggled to his worst career season in 2022. Colquitt repeatedly chimed in to local media, blaming his replacement’s role as the holder for his former teammate’s inaccuracy.

NFL: FEB 12 Super Bowl LVII - Eagles vs Chiefs Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

However, Townsend’s performance in this year’s playoffs should put those concerns to rest. While he only punted twice as the Chiefs defeated the Eagles in his second chance at the Super Bowl, he averaged 49 yards on the pair of kicks. Butker also responded with a strong postseason — and the hold appeared true on the only missed field goal attempt.

The Chiefs made the correct decision three years ago to replace a trusted veteran with a rookie. Given the importance head coach Andy Reid has long placed on special teams reliability, expect a top-of-the-market contract for Townsend — which likely will average less than $4 million per season — to be among Kansas City’s first offseason moves.

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