More Major Payroll Decisions Ahead For Chiefs

From St. Joseph, Missouri

John Dorsey . . . welcome to your job as an NFL general manager.

Holding the position for going on 20 months now, Dorsey and the Chiefs faced a triple crossroads with big ramifications on the near term and future for the Hunt Family franchise. The decisions made in the current contract negotiations between the Chiefs and three of their best players are not just in the real time of the 2014 season. They will reverberate over the next four or five seasons, maybe longer.

Alex Smith, Justin Houston and now Jamaal Charles all want more money than they received from the Chiefs in 2013 and what they are scheduled to pull down in the coming months. Last year, the Chiefs paid the three players a combined total of $12 million and change. This year, they are on the books for $12.8 million, but that’s only if Charles reports because once he does, he is due a $1 million reporting bonus.

A deal was worked out with Charles on Wednesday, with a two-year extension and $18.1 million in new money for the running back. He now has a four-year contract.

So that’s one down, two more to go, or at least two more that we know about. This contract pickle is the price of success. When a team wins 11 games and goes to the playoffs, the cost of players goes up. The NFL does not work in an economic vacuum and on-field results influence revenue and expenditures. There were not many folks looking for a raise coming off a 2-14 season like the one the Chiefs posted in 2012.

All of this would be easier to solve if there wasn’t a salary cap in the NFL. Then, Dorsey could talk the Hunts out of tens of millions of dollars and get everybody signed and relatively happy.

The reality is that they don’t have an unlimited account to sign these players and others. That’s what makes all of this so important to the Chiefs coming season, and the big picture of where this franchise is going over the rest of the decade.

A decision had to be made on just how important to the team’s future is with the current starting quarterback. Based on a lack of agreement to this point, it would seem the team would like to keep Smith, but they don’t view him as a franchise player at the position.

Good quarterbacks are expensive in the NFL. Great quarterbacks are really expensive. Smith is a good quarterback. Are the Chiefs ready to give him mega-millions to solidify the most important position on the field? If it’s not Smith, then who is going to be the man? Finding him, that’s going to cost money. If they decide Smith is worth of a major investment, then it’s going to limit what they can do with other players looking for big money.

In Charles situation, Dorsey the Chiefs decided to reward a player that is closer to the end of his career than the start. That’s a fact of life for NFL running backs. Charles has said he plans to play for a long time, but in December he will be 28 years old, and that’s very close to the expiration date for many heavily-used backs – it’s generally somewhere between 29 and 31 years of age. There are always exceptions, and Charles might rank among them. But the odds are against him. Now, he’s signed through the 2017 season. He’ll be 31 years old then.

Yes, Charles is the Chiefs offense. It’s been that way for three of the last four years. Right now he’s the best player on their roster. But Dorsey had to look beyond 2014. Will Charles after two more seasons of use, have any tread left on his football tires as he turns 30? We’ll wait to see how the new $18.1 million is structured to see how the Chiefs feel about No. 31 three years from now. But, one huge decision has been made.

Before he was injured last year, Houston was the best defensive player on the field for the Chiefs. Despite his excellence, he made $580,000 in the 2013 season. But Houston has nobody to blame for that but Justin Houston. Testing positive for marijuana at the 2012 NFL Combine knocked him out of the first round, where his skill set indicated he would be selected somewhere in the second half of the first 32 picks.

Houston’s compensation in 2014 jumps to $1.4 million under his current contract and if he stays healthy and plays 16 games, chances are he’ll rank among the two or three most under-paid players in the league.

There’s no question the Chiefs want to keep Houston – he’s the type of talent that good, sometimes great defenses are built around. Near as we know, there have been no further displays of silliness during his first three seasons with the team as there was with his test at the Combine.

Before the Charles deal, the Chiefs had approximately $9.4 million available to them on the salary cap for the rest of the 2014 season. How much is left will influence the next two decisions. There are avenues for the Chiefs to massage the contracts under the cap, like whether extensions would be better than new deals, plus how many millions should be allotted in signing, reporting and/or roster bonuses. Right now, Houston should be the priority.

When Dorsey took over in January 2013, he faced contract situations with four players he inherited from the Pioli Era – Charles, Houston, Dwayne Bowe and Branden Albert. When the Chiefs traded for Smith and his San Francisco contract, he was added to the list. Last year, Bowe got the big money deal at $56 million. Albert was slapped with the franchise player tag and left in free agency back in March, landing in Miami. The Chiefs were not a factor in keeping him.

A choice was made – Dorsey and Andy Reid picked Bowe over Albert. This week they decided to keep Charles happy.

Now, they have more decisions to make. Smith and Houston are unlikely to both receive big deals from the Chiefs. There is not going to be room under the cap. Dorsey had the situation in mind over the last 20 months. Fisher is the replacement for Albert. Dee Ford is the replacement for Houston or Tamba Hali. Phillip Gaines is the eventual replacement for Brandon Flowers, released for competitive and salary cap reasons.

The extension with Charles is done and apparently they did not break the bank or smash the cap getting it done.


3 Responses to “More Major Payroll Decisions Ahead For Chiefs”

  • July 23, 2014  - R W says:

    Nice overview and well reported/said by Bob. It’s always easy to justify a richer, re-negotiated deal to one of your star players but what happens on the trickle down for other guys feeling they’re worthy too?
    This is the beginning of what, I don’t know, but it’s not going away.

  • July 23, 2014  - TimR says:

    I believe you’re wrong, Bob. There is room. This coming offseason, you let Hali go, or significantly reduce his salary. You do the same with Bowe by drafting others. Remember…Reid went A LONG WAY with essentially no-name WRs in Phili until he FINALLY drafted Maclin and Jackson. Next…you acquire ILBs in prep for the same thing with DJ… You renegotiate & extend Berry and reduce his cap hit and cover yourself by drafting & acquiring…

  • July 23, 2014  - Mark Ibarra says:

    Tamba will be the odd man out. Hate to lose him, but we will have gotten the best years of his total career.

  • July 24, 2014  - cychief24 says:

    If we keep Santos and let Succup go don’t we save $1.7 mil?
    Since Harris is looking good at TE how much could be saved cutting Fasano and keeping Harris, McCrath and Kelce?
    I wonder when we can afford to dump Bowe and save significant cap room w/o too much dead money?

    I’m afraid many are correct about Tamba and DJ. The CBA is tilted against veteran players.

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