Breaking Down Kansas City Chiefs' Salary-Cap Situation Heading into Free Agency

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Breaking Down Kansas City Chiefs' Salary-Cap Situation Heading into Free Agency
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images|Edited by Brett Gering

The Kansas City Chiefs can welcome free agents to the negotiating table on Saturday, March 8—contracts can't be officially signed until March 11—and the NFL has set the 2014 cap ceiling at $133 million, per NFL.com

For John Dorsey, this is "dead week."

So, as the Chiefs comb the annual job fair known as free agency, let's preview the GM's itinerary. 

 

Salary-Cap Situation

Yes, the $10 million increase over last season's cap helps the Chiefs, who, before, couldn't have jump-roped without head-butting the ceiling.

But remember, the aforementioned upsurge isn't exclusive to the heartland. If anything, it affects the players, particularly those prepping for bidding wars, more so than the franchises. Signing someone like Branden Albert wouldn't impact Kansas City's cap space as much as it would have a month ago, but that truth holds water for 31 other clubs.  

That being said, Dorsey ultimately has more elbow room to work his magic, which is obviously never unwelcome. The added financial freedom should allow him to sign an extra batch of names whose contracts round up the team's all-important top 51.

 

Kansas City's Cap Room: $9.79 million

Denver's Cap Room: $19.44 million

Oakland's Cap Room: $66.5 million

San Diego's Cap Room: $4.74 million

 

Impending Free Agents

Branden Albert, OT

The Case for Re-Signing Him

Albert is a top-10 pass-blocker, and in today's pass-centric NFL, left tackle is arguably the second-most valuable position. 

He's the veteran leader of a young and relatively inexperienced Chiefs offensive line, and while Eric Fisher finished last season with a promising five-game stretch, the bulk of his rookie year was plagued with injuries and growing pains. 

 

The Rebuttal

Albert is a (cue Richard Sherman sound bite) mediocre run-blocker and has missed nine starts since the beginning of 2012. 

Teams such as the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins, both of whom have more savings in their vaults, find themselves in desperate need of a blind-side blocker. That, in turn, will swell Albert's asking price, resulting in a bloated bottom line. 

Fisher's athleticism is better suited for Andy Reid's offense, and with one year of experience under his belt, reverting to left tackle will remedy any second-year concerns. 

Above all else, breaking the bank for Albert will lead to the departures of other key contributors, including ones who made last year's 11-5 run possible. 

 

Verdict: Not Re-Signed

 

Dexter McCluster, WR

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

The Case for Re-Signing Him

From a receiving standpoint, Dexter McCluster's production has increased in each of his four seasons. Reid effectively schemes him into the offense, consistently using the veteran slot-out as a decoy. 

In 2013, McCluster was elected to his first Pro Bowl, churning out 120 more punt-return yards than his closest competition (Golden Tate). Every time he cradles a kick, No. 22 is a home run threat who regularly recaptures at least 10-15 yards (12.2 average) in field position. 

His average salary should fall within the $3.5 million-to-$4.5 million range, which, given the newfound (financial) breathing room, is more than appeasable. 

Despite his seemingly fragile frame, McCluster has also participated in 47 of his last 48 regular-season games. 

 

The Rebuttal

The lion's share of McCluster's playing time stems from the offensive side of the ball, where he has yet to post more than 511 receiving yards in a single season. 

Last year's career-high output was a product of Reid's system, and Kansas City can draft a cheaper alternative from 2014's receiver-rich crop. 

 

Verdict: Re-Signed

 

Tyson Jackson, 3-4 DE

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Case for Re-Signing Him

Although he played 100 fewer snaps (509) than the year before (609), Tyson Jackson netted five more quarterback hurries and a career-high four sacks. 

As a 3-4 defensive end, the sixth-year bookend is a reliable run-stuffer, and he has shown that the meager production in years past (pre-2013) can be attributed to the passive read-and-react schemes he was burdened with playing.

 

The Rebuttal

Where to start?

For one, Jackson's 2013 salary of $7.2 million trumped the combined earnings of Mike DeVito and Dontari Poe by $2.3 million. Secondly, a few of his sacks were byproducts of airtight coverage, and one occurred on a play-action rollout. 

Allen Bailey is an infinitely cheaper option and three years younger. As a situational pass-rusher, he recorded just one sack last season. However, he posted three more quarterback hits (to Jackson's zero) and 11 more hurries. Bailey also defended the run reasonably well.

Jackson collected $16.7 million throughout the past two seasons—an average of $8.35 million. In the future, his annual income will be a fraction of that, but the Chiefs can still find a two-down run specialist for significantly less. 

With a strong offseason, Bailey could potentially vie for starting consideration. 

 

Verdict: Not Re-Signed

  

Geoff Schwartz, G

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

The Case for Re-Signing Him

Geoff Schwartz partook in just 498 snaps last season, yet his overall rating at Pro Football Focus (PFF) still finished No. 8 among guards.

Throughout his career, he has alternated between positions (guard and tackle), while also anchoring down on both sides of center.

In his debut season with the Chiefs, Schwartz proved to be an athletic and fundamentally sound blocker, adding a touch of consistency to Kansas City's often-erratic protection. Furthermore, according to PFF, only one lineman, Zane Beadles, bested Schwartz in screen blocking—a skill near and dear to Reid's heart. 

 

The Rebuttal

If Jon Asamoah, who was Kansas City's most well-rounded blocker before Schwartz's arrival, accepted less money, the Chiefs could retain the former and bid farewell to the 2013 signee. 

A case could be made that Schwartz is the team's one essential re-signing, though. Per The Kansas City Star's Terez Paylor, the Chiefs have already engaged in negotiations with the guard's agent.

Money will undoubtedly spark a few tug-of-war sessions, but Dorsey will eventually ensure that Schwartz's next home game includes an Arrowhead tunnel. 

But make no mistake, Albert isn't the only Chiefs lineman who will attract gangs of offseason suitors.

 

Verdict: Re-Signed

  

Jon Asamoah, G

Tim Umphrey/Associated Press

The Case for Re-Signing Him

Throughout 2012, Asamoah showed the makings of a top-10 guard and, in due time, potential Pro Bowler. He thrived in Brian Daboll's straightforward, run-heavy offense.

Even though his 2013 campaign was riddled with injuries, Asamoah graded out as PFF's No. 20 guard overall (and remember, at any given time, there are 64 starting guards in the NFL).

Over the course of his four seasons, the 300-plus-pounder has, on average, missed just one game per year. And though he isn't great in space, Asamoah, when healthy, can be depended upon to protect the quarterback and pave lanes on a down-to-down basis. 

 

The Rebuttal

As mentioned above, Asamoah was beset with injuries in 2013, and Schwartz not only minimized the damage, he outperformed the former starter. 

If No. 73's contract had expired after 2012, he would've likely been locked up with a new multi-year agreement. However, his skill set is tailored for a more traditional offense, and Reid's system is a far cry from Daboll's three-scoops-of-vanilla approach.

Ideally, the Chiefs would re-sign both Asamoah and Schwartz, with intentions to bench Jeff Allen by sliding the latter over to left guard. 

Kansas City's cap situation puts the kibosh on that hope, though, and Schwartz is a snugger fit for Reid's offensive vision. 

 

Verdict: Not Re-Signed

 

Remaining Free Agents: FS Kendrick Lewis, ILB Akeem Jordan, SS Quintin Demps, FS Husain Abdullah, OLB Frank Zombo, WR Kyle Williams, WR Chad Hall, NT Jerrell Powe, G Ricky Henry, LB Robert James

 

Free-Agent Targets

Andre Roberts, WR

With the Chiefs' cap scenario in its current state, don't be shocked if Donnie Avery begins 2014 in a different uniform. He's a one-dimensional wideout whose potential release would free up $1.35 million in cap space (as well as $4.05 million in 2015).

If that prognosis sees the light of day and McCluster exits town (or the team doesn't draft a possible starter), Andre Roberts could upgrade the receiving corps at an affordable cost. 

Roberts is a sure-handed target who can line up inside or outside the numbers. Furthermore, he's a meticulous route-runner with respectable straight-line speed. 

 

Leger Douzable, 3-4 DE

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Leger Douzable is a player who, like Bailey, can effectively defend the run and pressure the passer.

Last season, he recorded one fewer sack than Jackson, but he also accounted for two more hits and the same number of hurries as Kansas City's longtime starter. The difference? Jackson's pass-rushing opportunities (266) nearly doubled Douzable's (137). 

Again, thwarting the run is a 3-4 defensive end's (excluding situational pass-rushers) top priority. Douzable has proven that he can do that without regressing to an afterthought on passing downs.

Additionally, after spending 2013 with the New York Jets, he's obviously familiar with Bob Sutton's brand of defense. 

 

Louis Delmas, FS

If you take Twitter speculation with more than a grain of salt, you probably believe that every available wideout and free safety is a perfect fit for the Chiefs. You also probably believe that Chris Bosh hatched through an egg at one point in his life. 

The Chiefs are nothing if not unique. Their offense periodically employs read-options from the pistol and receiver screens designed to convert 3rd-and-5K.

On the other side of the ball, the strong safety splits time as a fifth linebacker, and the secondary is one of the few that remain faithful to bump-and-run, often entrusting one deep safety with the last line of defense.

Said safety was usually Kendrick Lewis, who ran a 4.73 40 at the 2010 combine. To give that some perspective, Aaron Donald, a 286-pound defensive tackle, logged a 4.68 40 last week. 

While Sanders Commings flaunts an ideal skill set for free safety, he has next to no pro experience, and position changes always give rise to bumps in the road. 

Thus far, one of the most head-scratching releases of this offseason was that of Louis Delmas. PFF's John Castellane notes:

After being a surprise salary dump in Detroit just one year into a two-year deal, Delmas was a late addition to the free agent class. Making his release more confusing is that he had a good year for the Lions and certainly was worth what they were paying him; finishing as the 26th-ranked safety overall and 11th in coverage grade.

Delmas possesses the kind of sideline-to-sideline closing speed required by a Cover 1 scheme. However, his agent's list of selling points will be headlined by one stat; no safety who played 200-plus snaps last year held targets to a lower reception rate than Delmas' 43.8 percent. 

 

Other Targets of Interest: CB Alterraun Verner, DE Red Bryant, DE Arthur Jones, FS Mike Mitchell, OT Zach Strief, G Rodger Saffold, OLB Dekoda Watson, G Joe Reitz

 

Potential Extensions

Alex Smith

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

 

The Chiefs' plan to extend Alex Smith quickly became Kansas City's worst-kept secret, and chairman Clark Hunt acknowledged that he thinks No. 11 can be the team's core building block going forward, per 610 Sports Radio.

Extending Smith is essential for two reasons.

First off, he grasped and effectively operated one of the most complex systems in professional football, all the while building chemistry with teammates with whom, excluding a few exceptions, he had never played a snap prior to 2013.

Given the circumstances, Smith had every reason to fall short of expectations. Instead, he earned his first career Pro Bowl nod. And if the past is indicative of the future, Smith is bound to progress, which means that delaying the inevitable will only cost Kansas City more money in the long run. 

Conversely, the second reason is more immediate in nature—extending Smith will allow the Chiefs to create cap room by converting a chunk of his contract into a signing bonus. As a result, the team will have better odds at (re-)signing current and future free agents.  

 

Justin Houston 

FR34145 AP/Associated Press

Like Smith, extending Justin Houston makes sense for somewhat similar reasons. The two-time Pro Bowler's contract also expires after 2014, and he's another cornerstone whom the Chiefs can't afford to lose. 

According to CBS' Jason La Canfora, Kansas City understands that time is money. 

In terms of pass rushing, juxtaposing Houston with Tamba Hali ends in splitting hairs. However, the former ranks superior in both coverage and run support, and he's also five years younger. 

If at any point in the near future Dorsey is forced to split the tandem, the choice of which half to retain is a no-brainer. 

 

Eric Berry

After 2011's ACL tear, Eric Berry didn't begin resembling his former self until midway through the 2012 season. He returned at full strength last year and subsequently roamed fields with an ill-intentioned, "Allow me to reintroduce myself" mentality.

Throughout 2012, Berry's targets caught 63.5 percent of intended passes for 12.2 yards per catch. A year later, receivers in his vicinity snatched just 58.7 percent of passes for 9.4 yards per catch. Also, he surrendered four fewer touchdowns (one overall), while plucking two more interceptions (three overall) than he had in the prior season. 

In critiquing the back end of Kansas City's defense, PFF's Rick Drummond added:

As Eric Berry stepped his play up to the next levelfinishing with the third-highest coverage grade (+12.5) among safeties, strong Tackling Efficiency numbers in both phases, and 17 total pressures as a blitzerthe high spot next to him on the defense’s last line is in flux. 

The All-Pro's 2013 performance more than justifies a potential extension. 

Berry may have deep-seated trust issues with all things hoofed, but if last year's trend carries into 2014, the only eyes watching over their shoulder will belong to Broncos

 

Contract information provided by Over the Cap and Spotrac. Player statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

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