Heading into the Kansas City Chiefs' offseason, general manager Brett Veach had an issue: The future of the team's salary cap picture looked rough.
There were many problems facing Veach in regards to the long-term health of the Chiefs' salary cap. Frank Clark’s contract was a money anchor for the roster, Patrick Mahomes’ extension kicked in, multiple key players were free agents or were going to be free agents very soon and there was a dearth of young, cheap talent on the roster.
As the meat of the 2022 offseason winds down, it's time to examine how Veach changed the course of the Chiefs' salary cap going forward.
The Chiefs currently sit at $14.7 million in salary cap space, per OverTheCap. This number is without rookies Skyy Moore and Leo Chenal in OverTheCap’s system. However, both players will not subtract a substantial amount from the current cap number due to their contracts replacing others already represented in that $14.7M figure. At most, the Chiefs’ salary cap space will drop around $700k.
If the Chiefs carried their current active contracts during the season, which means no further major additions that would cost north of $1M, they would finish the offseason with around $10M in salary cap room. This number is derived from the two contracts still missing from the final 53-man roster and the practice squad players that will still need to be accounted for. Rough math indicates the total of those expenditures will be around $4.2M.
$10 million in operating room heading into the year is much more than the Chiefs have had in recent seasons. In the NFL, it is possible to carry over unused salary cap room to the next season. Carrying over $10M is a serious boon to the salary cap next year if the Chiefs wish to stay at that number.
An extension for Orlando Brown Jr. does change the salary cap math, however. While reducing Brown’s $16.6M salary cap hit this year would be likely with an extension; Brown does not count against the salary cap next year at all due to being a free agent. If his salary cap hit this year was lowered to $6M and next year’s salary cap hit was $18M then overall, that does lower the 2023 salary cap for the Chiefs despite having more rollover salary cap room.
The reason an extension for Brown is more tenable now is thanks to an overall effort by Veach to reshape the future of the Chiefs' salary cap.
The start of this strategy by Veach and the Chiefs front office is first conceived by them refusing to employ a short-term benefit: a Patrick Mahomes contract restructure. I have outlined this small, but meaningful, benefit to the Chiefs holding out on doing this earlier this offseason, and that does start to pay dividends next year with improved flexibility.
The biggest move that Veach did to help long-term salary cap health for the Chiefs was the biggest move of the offseason for the team: trading Tyreek Hill.
The biggest tangible benefit from the Hill trade was the draft picks from the Dolphins that turned into players such as Trent McDuffie and Skyy Moore. The most efficient way to ensure long-term salary cap health is to have young, cheap talent on the roster. With a 10-person draft class already on the books for 2022 and twelve more picks lined up for the 2023 NFL Draft class, Veach is setting up the Chiefs' roster nicely to have an influx of that aforementioned young, cheap talent.
Recently, the Chiefs’ roster has been top-heavy with top-of-the-market contracts. Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Joe Thuney, Travis Kelce and a couple of other players have dominated the Chiefs' salary cap space, thus leaving less of the pie for role players. Paying both Hill and Brown would have just continued that trend.
Trading Hill will hurt in the short term, but the long-term possibilities for the Chiefs are endless. If Brown does get a contract with salary cap hits of $6M this year and $18M next year, the Chiefs can carry over $20M in salary cap space. If the salary cap is set to around $225M next year, that means the Chiefs will have around $40M in salary cap room. That $40M is after an expected Frank Clark return, with 39 players already under contract and without Mahomes’ contract being restructured.
Call it a “revamp," “reload," or “retool” but the end result is still the same: The Chiefs are sitting pretty when looking at their salary cap past this year. Small and large transactions this offseason set up that future. While short-term results might have suffered due to this forward-thinking mindset, Veach knows that maximizing Mahomes’ career should be his true goal. With that in mind, the Chiefs are locked and loaded for that future.