A rumor regarding the NFL's incoming salary cap for the 2021 season puts even more pressure on the Kansas City Chiefs to win it all this year.
Recent reports are indicating that the salary cap has a high likelihood of coming in at around $180 million for the 2021 season. That is $18.2 million lower than the salary cap for the 2020 season.
While the Chiefs are not in the dire situations the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints find themselves in right now with their projected salary caps being $111 million and $52 million over the salary cap respectively, the Chiefs still only hold the seventh-lowest projected salary cap room in 2021, according to Spotrac. The Chiefs will need to undergo less drastic measures than the Saints or Eagles in order to maneuver under the salary cap, but concessions will have to be made. I wrote about some of those maneuvers the Chiefs could make back in July.
As it stands now, the Chiefs are approximately $19 million over the projected $180 million salary cap for the upcoming offseason. One reality that materializes from this is that the Chiefs’ Super Bowl-winning roster that they kept together for the 2020-21 season may finally have to be retooled.
In the article from last July, I highlighted two players who could be released to get the Chiefs under the $175 million salary cap floor: left tackle Eric Fisher and linebacker Anthony Hitchens. With both players’ play in 2020, it is hard to justify these moves now. With those two cuts rescinded, that is another $20 million that needs to be found somewhere else. That "somewhere else" could be made up in restructures and re-signings, but it might also manifest in a surprise cut or two.
Even ignoring the fact that the Chiefs will start the season above the salary cap, there is the reality that many players who received meaningful snaps in 2020 will be free agents this offseason. The pending free-agents who received meaningful snaps include Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Darrel Williams, Daniel Sorensen, Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Damien Wilson, Ben Niemann, Austin Rieter, Andrew Wylie, Mike Remmers and Tanoh Kpassngon. While opinions on these players vary, every player listed is either a starter or has been on the field for at least 25% of the snaps on their side of the ball this year, with many of them holding a much higher share. For example, Sorensen played the second-highest snaps on defense this year at 81.69%.
In a normal year with a rising salary cap, this wouldn’t be a crazy amount of free agents. With the ample cap space a rising cap would create, the Chiefs could retain many of these players, as they would not fetch high prices on the market.
However, 2020 was an extraordinary year that could bear rotten fruit.
The stench of the upcoming offseason has left the Chiefs in an uncomfortable reality. The team only has this one shot to win another Super Bowl with this particular group of players. Many players who were big contributors in 2019 and 2020 will be leaving soon.
Some similarities can be drawn to the 2014-2016 Kansas City Royals teams, teams with cores that their teams added complementary pieces to in order to push them over the edge. But in the end, both teams did (or will) have to make some concessions after winning it all.
The Chiefs' reckoning will be minor compared to the Royals'. Patrick Mahomes is still going to be around with the usual cast of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Andy Reid. However, a retooling of sorts might be in order as early as this offseason. This re-tooling could have been pushed out further under normal circumstances, but COVID-19 has destroyed carefully made plans around the world, and the Chiefs are no exception.
So for this team, the team whose motto is “run it back,” this might be the last chance for the squad who won it all to do it again. If the Chiefs want to accomplish great things with their current roster, share the same memories they made last year, and see the family they have formed over the last few years succeed once again, they will need to win it all this year.
One thing that has been made apparent over the past few years, however, is that this team relishes high-pressure situations. The 2019 Chiefs showed their resolve last year when they mounted three consecutive comebacks to win a Lombardi Trophy. While the looming reality of the team may manifest in the back of their minds, they have proven that they will take this energy and channel it into championship-level play. The reality of the upcoming salary cap is ever-present and this current Chiefs team seems like they would not have it any other way as they take one more shot at winning it all with the pieces who got it done just one year ago.