Here is a shocking stat that has not been talked about enough this offseason: the Kansas City Chiefs are fourth in the NFL in spending on the defensive side of the ball.
With the trio of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill raising the offensive unit to absurd levels, the main focus of big contracts the last few years has been on defense. In 2021, these contracts are coming home to roost.
The biggest offenders on defense? Free agents Brett Veach signed from the 2018 and 2019 free agency periods. While the Chiefs were able to add important pieces on the defense with small salary cap hits the last few years, these contracts are now getting to the point where they are harder to reduce or move on from.
Start with defensive end Frank Clark. Clark only accounted against the 2019 salary cap to the tune of $6.5 million. In 2021? $25.8 million. With very few ways to spread out money due to previous restructures and only three years left on the deal, the Chiefs are forced to keep Clark at that number.
The same can be said for a few defensive players on the Chiefs for this year, so how does this manifest itself when examining the position groups and where the Chiefs land in spending compared to the rest of the NFL?
Defensive End: Fifth in 2021 spending
The Chiefs are fifth in the NFL in spending at the defensive end position. Frank Clark's contract is a huge reason why, as his salary cap hit of $25.8 million is $800k over the second-highest salary cap hit at the position and $5 million over the third-highest. The next-highest salary cap hit among defensive ends on the Chiefs’ roster is Taco Charlton at $987,000, which ranks 104th at the position.
However, as defensive tackle Chris Jones prepares to take a significant amount of work at defensive end in 2021, the Chiefs could effectively add even more money to their edge-rusher position. Jones' $8.5 million salary cap hit would catapult the Chiefs into being the top spender at the defensive end position. The Chiefs are paying handsomely for their two top defensive linemen.
Defensive Tackle: 10th in 2021 spending
Speaking of Chris Jones, the Chiefs' spending at defensive tackle is certainly worth evaluating. If Jones plays a majority of his snaps at defensive end and is accounted for in that position group, the remaining players at defensive tackle for the Chiefs would be ranked 20th in spending at defensive tackle for the 2021 season.
Incoming free agent Jarran Reed is the only reason the Chiefs are as high as 20th without Jones, as he is the only defensive tackle on the team to make a salary above the average for the position on the team.
Another interesting thing to note: the Chiefs have only five defensive tackles under contract not named Chris Jones, among of the fewest in the league. It seems safe to assume Jones will still spend plenty of time at defensive tackle with that in mind.
Cornerback: 28th in 2021 spending
The Chiefs' lack of investment into the cornerback position continues into the 2021 season.
Only Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes make above the average salary for a cornerback and the Chiefs have one of the smallest cornerback rosters in the NFL, only rostering nine cornerbacks at this time.
With Ward being the oldest player at 26 years young, this group has a lot to prove.
Safety: First in 2021 spending
Similar to the defensive end position group, the Chiefs are first in spending at the safety position solely due to one player: Tyrann Mathieu.
This will probably change if the Chiefs and Mathieu come to terms on a new contract before the season, but as it stands now, Mathieu is $3.5 million above the next-highest salary cap hit at the position. The rest of the Chiefs' safeties make below the average salary for the position.
What does this mean for the Chiefs?
The Chiefs' defense does not need to be the fourth-best defense in the league, despite being the fourth highest-paid defense in the league.
However, with so many resources going to this unit, they will have to continue being a reason the Chiefs win games rather than just holding on while letting the offense win games.
For the most part, the defense has been a positive force during the Steve Spagnuolo era. Whether it was holding the Houston Texans to seven points after going down 24-0, key stops late in Super Bowl LIV or holding onto the lead when Mahomes exited the Cleveland Browns game last year; the Chiefs' defense has stepped up when it mattered.
The Chiefs defense is being paid to be a positive commodity. Time will tell if they live up to that challenge once again.