Salary-cap management underscores Chiefs' decision to trade WR Tyreek Hill

Bengals Chiefs Football
Posted at 12:44 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 10:21:34-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After contract extension talks broke down with Tyreek Hill's camp, his time with the Kansas City Chiefs came to an end Wednesday, when he was reportedly traded to the Miami Dolphins.

The move left many Chiefs fans scratching their heads.

After all, Hill had developed into one of the league’s best wide receivers since he was drafted in 2016 out of West Alabama.

He’s one of the fastest players in the NFL and has a unique ability to track deep passes, which forced defenses to adjust their style to account for his explosive ability.

Despite regularly facing two-high safety looks last season, which limited Hill’s big-play chances, he still set a franchise record with 111 receptions, racking up 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns.

But Hill’s contract demands after the wide-receiver market was reset in recent weeks with the deals Christian Kirk signed in Jacksonville and Davante Adams signed in Las Vegas forced Kansas City to explore alternatives with an eye toward managing the salary cap in 2022 and beyond.

Hill, who had one year remaining on a three-year extension worth $54 million he signed in September 2019, was set to count nearly $21.9 million against the Chiefs’ salary cap next season.

An extension could have lowered that number and bought General Manager Brett Veach time to maneuver money around this year and in subsequent seasons.

But as talks between Kansas City and Hill stalled, he was given permission to seek a trade with the Dolphins and New York Jets emerged as the most likely trading partners, per reports.

After Green Bay traded Adams to AFC West rival Las Vegas earlier this month, Hill reportedly sought a contract that would make him the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL.

Adams, who was traded for first- and second-round picks, signed a five-year deal worth $140 million with the Raiders after the trade from the Packers.

The $28-million average annual value makes him the highest-paid wide receiver in NFL history, but it also was richer than the Chiefs apparently felt comfortable with given the big-money deals already in place for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, defensive tackle Chris Jones and left guard Joe Thuney among others.

Hill, who has dealt with hamstring and heel injuries in recent seasons, reportedly received a four-year extension worth $120 million with more than $72 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL Network Reporter Ian Rapoport.

Effectively, that makes Hill’s deal worth five years and $142 million.

In terms of guaranteed annual compensation, it’s also worth more than Adams’ deal, which is back-loaded with high base salaries that are not guaranteed and might be unlikely to be realized.

Taking a wider view, Kansas City only has 21 players under contract for 2023 and only 13 for 2024, which made adding another long-term, big-money deal potentially problematic.

Instead, the trade allows the Chiefs to focus on building through the draft with cheap, controllable talent that will make it easier to manage the cap moving forward.

With the trade, the Chiefs now have six picks in the first 103 of the upcoming NFL Draft — Nos. 29 and 30 in the first round, Nos. 50 and 62 in the second round, and Nos. 94 and 103 in the third round.

Kansas City also has two fourth-round picks and four seventh-round picks next month, including the additional fourth-round pick from the Hill trade.

The deal also netted additional fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2023 when the NFL Draft will be in Kansas City.

It's a curious move in that sense that the Chiefs' offense stagnated last season as teams keyed on Hill and tight end Travis Kelce after Sammy Watkins’ departure in free agency.

Kansas City added JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency to provide a No. 2 receiving threat.

He was viewed as a terrific complement to Hill's ability, but the Chiefs may not be done addressing the position in free agency now that Hill's been traded.

Former Green Bay wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling reportedly was set to visit Kansas City and would be a logical replacement for Hill, according to NFL Network Reporter Tom Pelissero.

With defenses frequently rolling a safety to Hill’s side of the field last season to limit deep throws, Hill’s per-catch average plummeted to 11.2 yards — the lowest since his rookie season (9.7 yards per reception).

Kansas City's offense needed to get more versatile moving forward, but fitting in new weapons and extending Hill would have been a tough trick to pull off for Veach.

Instead, Hill, a controversial pick when the Chiefs selected him six years ago after he'd been booted from the Oklahoma State football program amid a domestic violence charge, is headed to South Beach and a new era dawns for Kansas City's offense.