So you’re not happy that the Chiefs cut Brandon Flowers on Friday. That feeling is understandable; Flowers has been a good to very good player for the Chiefs defense over the last six seasons.
But how would you feel if the Chiefs still had Flowers, but not outside linebacker Justin Houston? What if Flowers was still wearing his No. 24 and the Chiefs were without quarterback Alex Smith?
That’s the situation the Chiefs faced as they attempt to build a consistently successful roster and do it within the limits set by the league’s salary cap. In this day and age, a team can’t keep all its good players and pay them accordingly. Decisions must be made. Sometimes they are distasteful, but it’s part of business in the NFL.
The release of Flowers came when it did so the Chiefs could split the so-called “dead money” on their cap to be used in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. That’s $7 million, divided by two years, so Flowers will still count $3.5 million under the team’s cap in the next two seasons.
Flowers carried a $10.5 million number under this year’s salary cap, so releasing him will free up $7 million cap dollars. According to the NFL Players Association, the Chiefs had $2,632,465 remaining under the cap. Add $7 million and the Hunt Family franchise now has close to $10 million.
Whether that’s enough to get Houston and/or Smith signed to a contract extension is debatable; pass-rusher money and the dollars paid to starting quarterbacks are so big that it’s hard to soften the cap blow even in the first year. However, Houston and Smith are still under contract to the Chiefs for the 2014 season, and that provides a launching point for handling extensions under the cap.
It will not be long before Flowers has a new employer. It’s not every day that Pro Bowl cornerbacks are available on the open market. If there’s anything the Chiefs failed at doing in this situation it was getting something for Flowers. But given the terms that he carries under the 2011 contract he signed, no team was willing to take on that financial hit at this point of the league year.
A starter as soon as he walked in the door as the 35th player selected in the 2008 NFL Draft Flowers was in the starting lineup. Joined by fellow cornerback draft choice Brandon Carr, they came through their rookie season and developed into two of the better corners in the AFC. Flowers was rewarded last season with a trip to the Pro Bowl, one of 10 Chiefs that played in the all-star game.
His ticket to Hawaii was punched after the 2013 season but had more to do with his performance in previous seasons than what he did last year. In the 14 games he played (including the playoffs against the Colts), Flowers was thrown at 102 times and opponents caught 68 of those, or 66.7 percent. They averaged 13.9 yards per completion, with five touchdown passes. On those plays, opposing quarterbacks had a 101.6 passer rating.
In the 2012 season quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of their passes against Flowers, averaging 12 yards with a 65.6 passer rating.
Was last season an aberration or was it an indicator that Flowers was no longer an ascending player, but headed in the other direction? He’s 28 years old and in his six seasons Flowers played all 16 regular season games only once (2011). It’s not like his injuries kept him off the field, as he missed just eight games in his career. But Flowers played with a lot of injuries because despite his 5-9, 185-pound frame he threw his body around like he was much bigger and stronger.
The release of Flowers was foreshadowed back in May when the Chiefs selected cornerback Phillip Gaines in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Whether Gaines gets into the starting lineup in his first season like Flowers did back in 2008 remains to be seen. It appears at this point that Marcus Cooper will fill the role at left corner, at least to start the season. Gaines and veteran Ron Parker will battle for playing time there as well.
It’s obvious what the Chiefs have been working on since the end of last season. They wanted to extend the contracts of their starting quarterback and best pass rusher. They knew at least one high-priced player on the roster had to go to free up room under the cap to have any chance to work the extension(s) under the 2014 cap. Finally, they understood that whatever position would be tapped to lose a starter would need a potential replacement in the pipeline.
That’s where the Chiefs sit right now. Dropping Flowers and getting nothing in return only makes sense if Houston and/or Smith soon get a contract extension and Phillip Gaines can play cornerback at a high level in the NFL.