While the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to pursue their second consecutive Super Bowl title in the coming weeks, it’s never too early to take a quick glance into the future of the team.
With a tumultuous NFL season plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic and very limited fan attendance, league revenues and, in turn, the salary cap are expected to decrease in 2021. The final total will be down from its current all-time high $198.2 million benchmark, but will not to fall below $175 million, per Pro Football Talk. Earlier in December, the outlet even reported there has been renewed optimism that the 2021 cap number could come in “significantly higher.”
Similar to last offseason, this scenario, while maybe not as catastrophic as initially anticipated, could leave the defending Super Bowl champions staring at another tight financial squeeze with some tough roster decisions that could provide some relief.
Follow the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content out of Chiefs Kingdom!
Mitchell Schwartz, Anthony Hitchens on Chopping Block?
On Tuesday, Spotrac.com released its first look at key players on 2021 NFL roster bubbles. The comprehensive list already features three starters for the Chiefs, including an All-Pro on each side of the ball.
The first projected cap casualty, starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, carries a $10 million cap hit into his age 32 season and is among the most likely players to draw the attention of the front office.
RT Mitchell Schwartz
Age — 31
2021 Cap — $10,005,000
Schwartz is likely to finish 2020 on the sidelines with a back injury, putting his 2021 status in question. There’s a $1M roster bonus due in early March, with $6.25M of cap to be cleared per a trade or release prior to it ($3.75M of dead cap).
The ninth-year veteran tackle, who started 134 consecutive games before his injury earlier this season, has been among Kansas City’s most consistent players since signing on with the club in 2016. After being sidelined since Week 6 with an ailing back, it was reported this week that the team now doesn’t expect to have Schwartz back before the postseason. It’s also very possible fans have seen the last of him in a Chiefs uniform, if not on an NFL field altogether.
ILB Anthony Hitchens
Age — 28
2021 Cap — $10,723,750
KC will need to get creative with a lot of contracts this offseason to keep this juggernaut rolling, but there will be casualties. Hitchens can likely be replaced through the draft in 2021, and there’s $6.5M of cap space to be freed up by designating him a post June 1st release in March.
Hitchens is another Kansas City stalwart fighting to get back on the field heading into the postseason, though his return is likely in the AFC Divisional Round. The seventh-year linebacker has started 44 games for the Chiefs since signing a five-year, $45 million free agent deal during the 2018 offseason. Entering year four, the AFC West champs will have an easier time getting out from under the contract and potentially replacing it with another team-friendly free agent or draft pick behind April’s second-rounder Willie Gay Jr.
The team already addressed the linebacker’s bloated cap number in September when it cleared $4.27 million in cap space by converting $5.69 million of Hitchens’ 2019 salary into a bonus.
Notably, Hitchens does currently sport the green-dot helmet as the play-caller for Steve Spagnuolo’s unit, backed by the long-time defensive coordinator even calling him the “glue” of the defense during his December 10 press conference.
Restructure ‘Imminent’ for Tyrann Mathieu
Another Kansas City defender to crack the roster bubble list is two-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu — though under different circumstances. Mathieu, who will turn 29 on May 13 heading into his third and final season under contract with the Chiefs, accounts for the team’s third-largest cap hit this season, which will only increase in 2021.
FS Tyrann Mathieu
Age — 28
2021 Cap — $19,733,334
The versatile DB is only here because of the heightened level of his cap figure for 2021. With just $4.93M of dead cap attached, there’s a significant amount of space to be freed up here one way or another. A restructured extension seems imminent.
The Chiefs will have 25 free agents to work through in the months to come, including 17 of the unrestricted variety which are headlined by WR Sammy Watkins, DE Alex Okafor, S Daniel Sorensen and CB Bashaud Breeland. As of December 30, Kansas City ranks 18th in the NFL in cap space with $6.41 million available, per Spotrac.
- Chiefs Make Final Decision on Patrick Mahomes’ Playing Status
- Most Teams ‘Not Interested’ in Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy: Report
- Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins to Miss out on Huge Bonus Due to Injury
Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!