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Nick Jacobs: 6 ways for Chiefs to get under salary cap

Eric Fisher, Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Schwartz
Posted at 3:00 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 13:02:26-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs' current salary cap projection stands at nearly $23 million over a salary cap of $180 million, per OvertheCap.com.

The NFL salary cap, which was $198.2 million for 2020, reportedly will drop, possibly significant;y, amid revenue losses spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. The league announced a salary-cap floor Thursday of $180 million, but some projections have it up to $188 million.

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No matter where the final number lands for 2021, Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach has work to do. Here are some of the tough cap decisions facing Kansas City:

1. DE Frank Clark
2021 salary cap hit: $25.8 million
Cap savings if released: -$13.1 million
Cap savings via trade: $5.4 million in savings
Clark converted $5 million of his base salary into a bonus on March 18 last year. The Chiefs could convert more of his $18.5 million base salary into a bonus for immediate flexibility.

Kansas City would lose some savings if it parted ways with Clark during the next two seasons by doing so, but it might be needed in a pinch.

The team would lose more than $13 million in cap space if it elected to outright release Clark, so the only way to create cap savings this season would be with a trade, which seems unlikley.

2. DT Chris Jones
2021 salary cap hit: $21.875 million
Cap savings if released: -$750,000
Cap savings via trade: $20.75 million

The Chiefs could clear most of their cap issues off their books if they found a trade partner for Jones. His early-season groin injury might have hampered his performance in 2020 and reduced some of his value, if he were to be shopped on the open market.

Otherwise, there is no point in altering his contract because next season the team can save almost $22 million if they need to move on or he has a repeat performance of this season.

3. SS Tyrann Mathieu
2021 salary cap hit: $19,733,334 million
Cap savings via release or trade:$14.8 million

Mathieu is entering the final year of his three-year deal. This cap number is designed to either set his value if he hits the market next season or forces the team to go to the negotiation table for an extension.

An extension with Mathieu, who has been an All-Pro both seasons in Kansas City, is one of the easier ways for the team create significant cap space.

Most of the current cap savings would come from his base salary. The chances the Chiefs would outright release one of their defensive leaders seems highly unlikely.

4. LT Eric Fisher
2021 salary cap hit: $15,150,418 million
Cap savings via release or trade:$11,968,750 million

Fisher's ruptured Achilles tendon came at a crucial time for the team. His cap hit needs to be reduced during his recovery.

The team could reduce a portion of his $11.250 million base salary to get the cap hit knocked down to a comfortable rate.

Kansas City also could outright release him and gain back almost $12 million in space during the final year of Fisher’s current contract.

5. RT Mitchell Schwartz
2021 salary cap hit: $9,848,750 million
Cap savings via release or trade: $6,098,750 million

Schwartz’s back injury forces the team into a tough decision. He potentially will retire, but, if not, the Chiefs will be forced to release him or work out an extension to drop his cap number.

Schwartz turns 32 this year and has no remaining years on his contract.

6. RB Damien Williams
2021 salary cap hit: $2,708,334 million
Cap savings via release or trade: $2.175 million

The Chiefs invested in a first-round pick at the position (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) and found similar production from Darrel Williams.

Damien Williams might need to be one of the final spots shaved if they are near the line on cap space or need to reallocate his salary to afford a low-cost starter in free agency.

The Chiefs don’t have a ton of spots to maneuver money outside of the ones listed above.

Kansas City has cap-friendly contracts in place with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Jones, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and linebacker Anthony Hitchens, which will allow them long-term financial flexibility and it would benefit the team not to adjust those with extensions or conversions, if possible.