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Salary details show Justin Watson and Blaine Gabbert might be roster locks for 2023

We’ve now learned that Kansas City is guaranteeing both contracts for the coming season.

Kansas City Chiefs v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As often happens, it took a little while to get complete salary details for the Kansas City Chiefs’ two most recent signings: wide receiver Justin Watson and quarterback Blaine Gabbert. That information is now available.

Initial reports about Watson’s signing said that he signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract that included $1.4 million guaranteed — and not-likely-to-be-earned (NLTBE) incentives that could earn him an additional $2.5 million that would count against the 2024 and 2025 salary caps.

Until we had better data, we assumed that this meant he would carry a cap hit near $1.4 million in 2023. Since the Chiefs’ 51st-highest cap hit at that time was $891,000, this meant we expected Watson’s signing would decrease the team’s Top-51 cap space by just over $500,000.

According to the salary-cap site Spotrac, Watson’s 2023 salary is the NFL minimum of $1,080,000, plus a $300,000 signing bonus and a workout bonus of $20,000. The salary is guaranteed, bringing his total guaranteed money to $1,380,000 — and makes his 2023 cap hit $1,250,000. That’s $150,000 less than we expected.

In 2024, his base salary will be $1.47 million, with a $30,000 per-game roster bonus (totaling $510,000) and another $20,000 workout bonus. That brings his cap hit next season to $2.15 million. None of it is guaranteed — and if released, Watson will leave only $150,000 in dead money against the cap.

When Gabbert was signed, we didn’t have any salary information. Based on his previous earnings (and what the Chiefs were paying Chad Henne during his time as the team’s veteran backup quarterback), we estimated that Gabbert’s one-year cap hit would range between $940,000 (the absolute minimum for a veteran salary benefit contract) and $2 million.

This meant the cap impact of his signing (against a new 51st-highest salary of $940,000) would range from zero to $1,060,000. We considered it likely that Gabbert’s signing wouldn’t reduce Kansas City’s cap space at all.

According to Spotrac, Gabbert is, in fact, signed to a VSB contract that pays him the $1,165,000 minimum salary for a player with seven or more credited seasons, but counts just $940,000 against the cap. Unlike several other recent VSB contracts, however, the Chiefs elected to pay Gabbert the $152,500 in additional compensation — in this case, a signing bonus — that is allowed in VSB deals. This makes his cap hit $1,092,000 — with a cap impact that is $152,500 more than we estimated.

We originally thought that when the full details for these two contracts were known, we would calculate Kansas City would have $4.7 million in cap space. Our estimate for Watson’s cap hit was less than it turned out to be, while our estimate for Gabbert’s was more than it really is. The errors in those estimates have zeroed out — and now with 65 players under contract (and including all known transactions) we believe the Chiefs have $4.7 million in cap space.

Kansas City also chose to guarantee Gabbert’s salary for 2023. This means that both he and Watson are pretty likely to make the 53-man roster. That could turn out to be bad news for third-year quarterback Shane Buechele — and probably means that four of the team’s wide receiver spots are now filled by Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore and Watson. That will leave just one (or possibly two) spots for players like Richie James (who himself has $500,000 guaranteed on his VSB contract), Justyn Ross, John Ross, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Cornell Powell and Ty Fryfogle — not to mention any other rookie or veteran wideouts who might yet be acquired.

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