The Chiefs could look very different after Super Bowl LV
Just one win away from a second straight Super Bowl title, the Kansas City Chiefs are already the frontrunner to win next year’s NFL championship game, too.
NFL Championship 2021/2022
Sun, February 6 2022, 5:00 PM
Kansas City Chiefs
Green Bay Packers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints
The only problem is this roster, featuring Patrick Mahomes and his ultra-talented supporting cast, may look far different in the 2021 season.
Chiefs could lose significant pieces in free agency
Mahomes is, of course, safe, after he signed a historic 10-year extension worth $477 million, plus $26 million in potential bonuses.
The Chiefs also agreed to a four-year, $57.25 million extension to keep star tight end Travis Kelce in Kansas City through the 2025 season.
Back on March 30th, the Chiefs had exactly $171 - yes $171 - in salary cap space. Since then, they've signed Patrick Mahomes to a record-setting 10-year extension and Travis Kelce and Chris Jones to huge 4-year extensions. Cap gurus Brandt Tilis and Chris Shea have worked magic.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 13, 2020
Mahomes’ other top weapon, Tyreek Hill — who led the Chiefs in receiving yards in Super LIV — won’t become a free agent until 2023.
One player who could find himself in a different uniform next season is wideout Sammy Watkins.
The former first-round pick, who hauled in five catches for 98 yards in last year’s Super Bowl win, will hit free agency in March.
Watkins played 47% of snaps during the 2020 season, as he struggled through injuries, and is questionable for Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup against Tampa Bay.
Receiver Demarcus Robinson (64.5% of snaps) and running back Le’Veon Bell (a midseason signing) will also enter free agency in the offseason.
On defense, safety Daniel Sorensen (81.8% of snaps), linebacker Damien Wilson (49.2%) and cornerbacks Charvarius Ward (72.5%) and Bashaud Breeland (64.1%) could all sign with new teams.
Most concerning for Kansas City, though, is the potential turnover on the offensive line, which allowed the fourth fewest sacks per game in 2020.
Center Austin Reiter and backup Daniel Kilgore are impending free agents, along with offensive tackles Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie, plus left guard Kelechi Osemele.
Projected salary cap creates more issues for Kansas City
In order to retain some of their top players, the Chiefs face an extra steep uphill battle due to the unusual circumstances surrounding next year’s salary cap.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams limited - or altogether eliminated - fan attendance this season, which led to a dramatic decrease in league revenue.
The NFL and NFLPA began preliminary negotiations last month on the 2021 salary cap, which some believe will end up higher than expected. It’s one of several key issues as the sides brace for another unusual offseason, with Super Bowl LV days away.https://t.co/PrdNKWIap5— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 4, 2021
The loss in earnings will result in a reduced salary cap next season, which the NFL and its players association agreed would not go below $175 million.
For comparison, the salary cap in 2020 was $198.2 million — around the same figure the Chiefs are set to spend in 2021, according to Spotrac.
Most likely, the league will settle on a salary cap around $180 million — still $18.2 million lower than the 2020 figure.
That will force Kansas City, and quite a few other teams, to get crafty with cap space. For the Chiefs, not only will it be difficult to re-sign players hitting free agency, but they may need to cut a veteran, like Pro Bowl tackle and 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Eric Fisher ($15 million cap hit) or safety Tyrann Mathieu ($19.7 million cap hit).
The thought of losing either player is surely a nightmare for the team. Fisher had the team's highest snap count (95%), before he tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game. Mathieu was one of Kansas City's leading tacklers and ranked third in the league in interceptions (6).
What to expect from the 2021 Chiefs
Whether the Chiefs resort to salary restructures or letting go of a few dependable pieces, there is no doubt this Super Bowl-or-bust franchise will look different in the coming season.
The best Kansas City can do for now is to focus on the one game ahead, on Feb. 7, and attempt to collect one more ring so it can celebrate with nearly the same roster that worked together to win a championship last season.