With the 2021 NFL offseason dwindling down and the draft in the rearview mirror, it is not too late to peer into the next offseason and speculate on how the future of the NFL will look.
The salary cap will almost certainly be a hot topic yet for a couple of interesting reasons.
With the roster as it currently stands, the Chiefs will have around $20 million of salary cap space for the post-2021 offseason if the cap comes in around $200 million. The Chiefs will only have 30 players under contract, meaning they will be mandated to add more than 20 contracts to their roster which will eat up most of that salary cap room. It is not an impossible situation to be in, but it will put pressure on an offseason where the salary cap does not balloon as it was previously expected to with new TV deals.
In this offseason with a marginal increase in the salary cap, there are a lot of decisions to be made that will define the next few years of Chiefs football.
The most pressing issue facing the Chiefs next year will be re-signing two cornerstone players.
One such player is newly acquired left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
Unless Brown plays shockingly terribly during the 2021 season, the Chiefs will be staring down the barrel of handing him a large contract next offseason. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, the franchise tag will most likely be used on Brown, which will come out to $16.8 million for the 2021 season. That is not a desirable number for a team up against the salary cap. Brown's contract will be the linchpin decision of the 2021 offseason.
The other cornerstone player is Tyrann Mathieu, who has become the face of the defense since he was signed back in 2019. With 2021 being the last year of his contract and no extension imminent, his contract is in flux much like Brown's. Any contract Mathieu is given will add more money into the 2021 salary cap equation.
Beyond Brown and Mathieu, there will be other tough decisions for the Chiefs.
Tyreek Hill is a pillar of the offense, but his $20 million salary cap hit in 2021 is fifth among wide receivers in the NFL and could be lowered with an extension. However, with the news that Hill turned down a contract restructuring this offseason, it is hard to speculate where the Chiefs and Hill would meet on a possible extension.
The Chiefs also have a variety of players who they're probably less-inclined to keep for the 2022 season. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens and defensive end Frank Clark are at the top of the list — and near the top of the Chiefs' '22 cap hits.
After 2021, Hitchens is cuttable to the tune of $8.5 million in 2022 salary cap savings. Clark can also be cut without a post-June 1 designation for $12.6 million in salary cap savings or with a post-June 1 designation for $19.5 million in salary cap savings. The June 1 designation would spread the dead cap hit on to 2023.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has shown he doesn't hesitate to move on from veterans if there is ample reason for the Chiefs to release them. He illustrated this early in the offseason when the Chiefs released tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. The Chiefs drafted Hitchens' likely replacement and much cheaper teammate, Nick Bolton, with their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and Frank Clark hasn't lived up to his massive contract. Those are solid reasons to move on from both Hitchens and Clark after the 2021 season.
The Chiefs are set up well to take advantage of the salary cap rising over the next decade thanks to Patrick Mahomes's unique contract structure, but it seems like they will have to navigate one more dicey offseason before they can reap the rewards. What Veach does over the summer with Mathieu's contract will set the stage for the 2021 offseason. Once again, Veach and the Chiefs' front office will have to work a bit of salary cap magic.