What will the Chiefs do with $30 million?

By Joshua Brisco

Coming into this month, the prevailing concern about the Kansas City Chiefs’ offseason was a lack of salary cap space. Now, after releasing Justin Houston, trading Dee Ford and releasing Eric Berry as a post-June 1 cut, the Chiefs have much deeper pockets.

However, with the big-ticket players now off the market, it seems like the Chiefs may not have anyone to spend this new cap space on.

According to Over The Cap, the Chiefs currently have $23 million in salary cap space, with $9 million more coming after Berry is officially cleared off the books after June 1. The multi-year contracts for Tyrann Mathieu, Alex Okafor and Damien Wilson are structured to have minimal first-year cap hits, equaling roughly $11 million between the three of them combined. Bashaud Breeland’s one-year deal costs $2 million against the cap — an excellent value for a potential starter. But in an offseason where the Chiefs have already freed up nearly $40 million, this means that there are a lot of options for Brett Veach and Andy Reid from here on out. At least, there were a lot of options. Now the free agent pool is more of a puddle.

There’s a reason that the New England Patriots are famous for letting their top-dollar free agents walk, only to replace their production with a less-expensive player that they sign in the second or third wave of the offseason. That’s a strategy that the Patriots have been executing perfectly for more than a decade. No Chiefs fans should be wringing their hands because the Chiefs only brought in one big-splash free agent this year. However, it’s absolutely fair to wonder if this offseason has played out like Brett Veach expected it to.

After signing with the Baltimore Ravens, Earl Thomas publicly said he expected to go to the Chiefs on a one- or two-year deal before the Ravens came in with a Brinks truck. The Mathieu-Thomas duo (with dead cap space still devoted to Eric Berry) would have been an extremely expensive safety unit, but that appears to have been Veach’s Plan A.

So now that the Chiefs appear to have at least one fewer impact player than expected and millions of dollars more than they were expecting: what happens with this newfound surplus of cap space?

Well, the Chiefs defense can afford to improve in a lot of places. Obviously. They’ve been interested in edge rushers and cornerbacks throughout free agency, but the top players at those positions are long-gone at this point in the offseason. Even the majority of second-tier players have cleared out. Safety Tre Boston would be a logical addition, but if the Chiefs are interested in Boston, they haven’t let anyone know about it yet.

The Chiefs could be looking at an extremely front-loaded extension for Chris Jones, or they could roll over any unspent cap space into 2020, but either of those options would be a surprise for a team that should be operating as a legitimate Super Bowl favorite in 2019. And Veach knows, as is made evident in his short-term contracts offered so far in free agency, that the Chiefs can contend this year and also maintain concern for the future. So for the remaining $30 million? They’ll use that post-June 1 money to pay draft picks and some post-roster-cutdown free agents. But for the $20 million-plus currently burning a hole in the Chiefs’ pocket, expect Veach to continually look to restock the pantry of Steve Spagnuolo with bargain-buys. It’s not nearly as exciting as Earl Thomas, but for a defense that kept the Chiefs out of the Super Bowl last season, improvements can still be found in the clearance section.

For a breakdown of Okafor and Breeland, check out Tuesday’s (Almost) Entirely Sports, where we spoke to Seth Keysor of The Athletic about the impact these two new Chiefs will have in 2019.