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Yes, the Chiefs have $16.9 million in cap space — but they won’t be spending it

With Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones on the Did Not Report list, the team gets some breathing room.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It’s very rare for an NFL contract holdout to extend into the regular season, so the situation surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs’ superstar defensive tackle Chris Jones is bringing all of us into uncharted territory.

As he seeks an extension to his contract — which currently runs through the 2023 season — Jones is holding out. By this Sunday, he’ll have lost close to $3 million from his unearned workout bonus and accumulated fines.

But as a consequence of Jones being placed on the team’s Reserve/Did Not Report list on Tuesday, he not only doesn’t count against the team’s 53-man roster limit, but his full $19.5 million base salary becomes available to the team as additional cap space.

As we’ve noted before, however, salary cap sites like Spotrac and OverTheCap don’t include this in their calculations of a team’s cap space. Since a player could report at any time, cap space for the base salary of their contract would still need to be available — so, as a practical matter, the extra cap space doesn’t exist.

How much cap space do the Chiefs have?

The team was required to get its roster down to 53 players on Tuesday. But until the regular season begins on Monday, offseason salary cap rules still apply: only the largest 51 cap hits are included in the cap calculation.

Under top 51 rules, Spotrac now estimates that the Chiefs are $2.6 million over the cap. But since that calculation includes Jones’ $19.5 million base salary, the team is officially $16.9 million under the cap.

If nothing changes before Monday — when we move to regular-season salary cap rules — Spotrac’s calculation will change to $4.1 million over the cap — but accounting for Jones’ status will make the actual figure $15.4 million under the cap.

If Jones doesn’t report before 3 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Tuesday, he will forfeit $1.08 million of his 2023 base salary — which is 1/18th of his $19.5 million base. When that happens, Spotrac will say the Chiefs are $3 million over the cap — but the adjustment for Jones’s status will be reduced by that same $1.08 million to $18.4 million. This means that officially, the team will continue to be $15.4 million under the cap.

As long as the holdout continues, this pattern will continue. Eventually, Jones would miss enough games that the team would be able to actually use some of its official cap space to sign another player.

The bottom line

This highly unusual situation is essentially giving the Chiefs some breathing room. Without this $19.5 million cushion, general manager Brett Veach might have had to release a player or two as cap casualties during Tuesday’s 53-man roster cutdown.

Still, Veach is gambling. At any time, Jones could decide to end his holdout and report. If he does, the team will have to make some fast roster moves to get back under the cap.

On the other hand, if Jones and the team can come to an agreement about an extension, it’s very likely that the deal will give Kansas City some cap relief on its own; no other moves will have to be made.

The logical conclusion from all of this is that Veach doesn’t believe Jones will end his holdout without an extension — at least not during the first half of the season.

Since we don’t know exactly where the negotiations between Jones and the Chiefs now stand, it’s impossible for us to know how much of a risk the GM is taking. But since we’re talking about millions of dollars, we have to assume that Veach sees it as a pretty safe bet.

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