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Signing of Jerick McKinnon could once again be among best of season

Kansas City got amazing value from McKinnon in 2022. Could it happen again?

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the NFL transactions report made our Monday report official: the Kansas City Chiefs have re-signed veteran running back Jerick McKinnon.

In 2022, McKinnon — who turned 31 on Wednesday — appeared in every one of the team’s games, collecting 803 yards (and 10 touchdowns) from scrimmage on 128 touches. His nine receiving touchdowns led all the league’s running backs.

Six other NFL backs have scored at least nine receiving touchdowns in a season. The last to do it was the St. Louis Rams Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk in 2001. No other back has achieved the feat without starting a single game (as McKinnon did in 2022), and no other player did it with fewer than his 512 receiving yards last year.

And could any of those players also lay claim to turning in the Super Bowl’s smartest play in those seasons?

It was arguably the greatest season of his nine-year NFL career — two of which he spent on the sidelines with injuries. (Although he never had a shot at winning the award over Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Geno Smith, McKinnon actually received a vote to be named Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year in 2022).

And yet ... McKinnon did all of this while signed to a one-year veteran salary benefit contract that paid him $1,187,500 but cost Kansas City just $1,047,500 against the salary cap.

It’s pretty easy to argue that no other Chiefs player produced more for less.

Staying in Kansas City

Some speculated that McKinnon might have been able to leverage his 2022 performance into a good contract with another team. Kansas City did right by the veteran, allowing him the entire compensatory free-agency period (which ended at 3 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Monday) to find such a deal. If McKinnon had been signed to one that paid him at least $1.77 million, his signing could have helped Kansas City earn a compensatory pick for the 2024 NFL Draft.

But the sad reality is that it’s very difficult for a soon-to-be 31-year-old running back to land a significant contract with another NFL team. We knew it. The Chiefs knew it. And McKinnon knew it, too. So once Monday’s deadline was in the rear-view mirror (meaning that a McKinnon signing could no longer count in the 2024 comp pick formula), the two sides were more than happy to bring him back to Kansas City for 2023.

No details about McKinnon’s new contract have yet been released. While it’s possible that the Chiefs could decide to reward his 2022 performance with a larger contract — perhaps as much as $1.5 million dollars — this offseason has shown the team to be saving every possible dollar against the salary cap. So it seems more likely that McKinnon will again sign a veteran salary benefit contract that would pay him as much as $1.3 million but count less than $1.1 million against the cap. He would be the 11th Kansas City player to be signed to a VSB contract this season.

McKinnon is the 73rd player to be signed to the team’s 2023 roster. We now estimate that the team has between $4.1 million and $4.7 million in salary-cap space — probably $4.5 million.

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