Chiefs Defensive Captain Named Team’s ‘Most Likely’ Cut Candidate

Anthony Hitchens Chiefs

Getty The Kansas City Chiefs line up ahead of Super Bowl LV.

Currently sitting about $18 million over a projected $185 million team salary cap for next season, the Kansas City Chiefs will need to clear some cash from their books in the weeks leading up to free agency on March 17.

Although $18 million sounds like a large number, the Chiefs’ front office can get under the new cap with a few larger moves involving some of their veteran players already on the roster. Many have speculated what that might look like, with Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz — both over 30 years old and recovering from significant injuries — among the most popular cap casualty candidates for Kansas City this offseason.

According to Pro Football Focus, a more unexpected move to watch for could involve the team moving on from one of its key defensive cogs: Anthony Hitchens.

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Hitchens Accounts for $10.6 Million Cap Hit in 2021

If the 2021 salary cap does indeed drop from $198.2 million closer to the potential floor of $180 million per team this season, the number of quality veterans on the chopping block will likely rise. With such constraints, the Chiefs will be no exception to having to make some difficult decisions on key contributors.

Hitchens, who will turn 29 years old on June 10, enters the fourth year of a five-year extension with a $10.66 million cap hit, the eighth-highest on the Chiefs’ roster, per Spotrac.

Here is what PFF’s Brad Spielberger had to say about his choice for the Chiefs:

Post-June 1 cut cap savings: $6,437,500
Post-June 1 cut dead money: $4,223,750

2020 third-round draft pick Willie Gay Jr. is waiting in the wings and started to eat into Hitchens’ playing time as the season went on. He sustained an injury and missed the Chiefs’ playoff run, but he will be back in 2021 and should be starting in an every-down capacity. Hitchens is a liability in coverage, grading in 40.0s for his second season of the past three, and the other parts of his game are following suit.

Kansas City has to make some moves to begin its quest for a third straight Super Bowl appearance, and this is an obvious first step.

PFF is hardly the first outlet to suggest that Hitchens — because of his contract more so than his play — could be in danger of being dropped from the Chiefs’ roster. Back in late December, Spotrac listed the seventh-year veteran on its 2021 NFL roster bubble list, along with Schwartz (release candidate) and Tyrann Mathieu (contract restructure).

Hitchens Viewed as ‘the Glue’ of the Defense

Since entering the league as a fourth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, Hitchens has been among the league’s most quietly consistent defenders, recording at least 67 combined tackles every season and peaking with 135 in 2018. He has missed just four games in three seasons with Kansas City and has been entrusted with the defense’s lone green-dot helmet, signaling the player responsible for relaying play calls from defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to his teammates on the field.

Down the stretch last season, the veteran coach affectionately referred to as “Spags” was asked about Hitchens’ role on the team. His response was pretty telling.

“To me, he’s the glue,” Spagnuolo told reporters on December 10, via Arrowhead Pride. “I showed something this morning from [Wednesday’s] practice, and made the point that we should all feel fortunate that we have Hitch as our MIKE linebacker. He does a lot of things before the ball is snapped, and he helps everyone else play better. I’m sure glad we got him, I think he’s playing some really good football. He’s always played aggressive, he’s always tackled physically. … All of us, players and coaches, appreciate what he does.”

Given his status on the club, Hitchens being suggested as a salary dump feels like a reach, especially considering the $8.4 million dead cap hit that would come along with the decision. The Chiefs will also need to ensure the stability of the position with fellow linebacker Damien Wilson set to become an unrestricted free agent and 2020 second-rounder Willie Gay Jr. having an up-and-down rookie year due to injuries and gameplans.

With that in mind, a contract restructure is more likely should Kansas City feel the need to do something with Hitchens.


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!

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