Who Will Help Patrick Mahomes?
Ben Cunningham (@benc1357)
After three straight AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowl appearances the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves facing serious salary cap challenges entering the 2021 season. Few in the NFL have proven themselves as masters of the salary cap more than the Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach, and his skills will be put to the test this offseason. The NFL salary cap is predicted to drop, perhaps significantly, due to the losses in revenue during the 2020 season cause by the Covid-19 pandemic. The final cap number is not yet known, but estimates place it at approximately $180MM which is significantly lower than the past year. This leaves Kansas City approximately $23MM over the salary cap heading into the new league year.
While the focus here will be on what the Chiefs may do in free agency at the running back and wide receiver positions it is important to note the impact from other positions. To create enough cap space to maneuver the offensive positions of need decisions will be needed on expensive contracts for players like Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, and others. Between a combination of converting salary to bonuses, restructuring contracts, or releasing aging veterans enough cap space could be created to add a secondary wide receiver and a suitable backup running back. As recently as this week local media in Kansas City were discussing that a restructuring of Patrick Mahomes’ $500MM contract could free up $17MM in salary cap space. The Chiefs have options, it comes down to how much longer they want to kick the can down the road on certain high value contracts.
Prior to the 2020 season Super Bowl LIV hero Damien Williams opted out due to Covid-19 to care for his mother who has stage four cancer. This left newly drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the only viable running back on the roster. Williams’ fate is in the balance as he missed a full season of play and the team could save $2.2MM by releasing him.
After being released by the New York Jets Le’Veon Bell was signed by Kansas City in the middle of the season to supplement Edwards-Helaire. To say the signing was a failure would be an understatement. After just a few impressive plays Bell was relegated to the bench and was out played by journeyman Darrell Williams down the stretch. Bell will likely not return to the team after his short and unsuccessful stint.
I would not expect the Chiefs to spend much money on free agent running backs given the other positional needs and salary cap space challenges. The team will likely either draft a middle to late round running back to serve as the primary backup or sign a middle of the road free agent. Given those assumptions let’s review three possible running backs that could fit into the Chiefs situation.
Jamaal Williams –
Williams has the consistency and all around game to be an excellent complimentary running back, as he proved in Green Bay while spelling Aaron Jones. With the ability to run the ball effectively, provide decent pass protection, make plays in the passing game, and an amazing ability to secure the ball any team that lands the former Packer will be better off for doing so. Williams literally has zero fumbles on 622 career touches, a truly amazing stat that teams will value immensely.
Boston Scott –
Scott is another player that has shared the backfield and been effective with the limited opportunities has was afforded. With career averages of 4.4 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception Scott is an ideal limited touches back that can provide a spark at just the right time in an explosive offense such as the Chiefs. The link between Doug Peterson and Andy Reid could also provide a path for Scott to Kansas City.
Wayne Gallman –
After an illustrious career with Clemson Gallman entered the NFL looking to have a shot to be a starter for the New York Giants. After one season though the team selected Saquon Barkley and the rest is history, or so we thought. Thrust into the starting role after Barkley tore his ACL early in 2020 Gallman proved himself capable with 4.6 yards per carry, and showing the ability to be a competent pass catcher, in one of the NFL’s worst offenses. I have long been a believer in Gallman’s skill set as a well-rounded running back, and on the right offense he could be serviceable at the right price. Teams must pay attention to backs with power, pass catching abilities, and the speed to do this:
Sammy Watkins has been a nice player for the Chiefs, including scoring the touchdown that effectively put the team into Super Bowl LIV, however the team can no longer afford to spend highly on a player that cannot consistently stay on the field. There is little chance that Watkins returns to the team as he searches for his fourth team in an up and down career marred by injuries. In an ideal world the team would have a young receiver waiting to assume the secondary role to Tyreek Hill, however that is not the case.
Drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft Mecole Hardman was taken during a time of uncertainty for Kansas City. Days before that draft news had broken that Hill had potential legal troubles and the team took Hardman earlier than many expected the team to address the wide receiver position. Hardman has shown flashes, his speed is rivaled only by The Cheetah on the team, but his lack of consistent play would lead us to believe the Chiefs will be in the market for a strong WR2.
Given the needs at other positions the Chiefs may find it difficult to spend too much cap space on a secondary receiver, however they were willing to invest heavily in the position the previous two seasons with Watkins and it would not be a surprise to see them do the same moving forward. Let’s take a look at three possible players that Andy Reid could use to maximize his offense’s output, admittedly these players are on the higher end of the salary possibilities assuming the team will spend to give Patrick Mahomes the strongest weapons possible.
Corey Davis –
After a slow start to his career the heralded wide receiver out of Western Michigan enjoyed his best year in 2020 hauling in 65 catches for 984 yards and five touchdowns. Davis would provide an excellent complement underneath and in the seems opposite Travis Kelce while Hill and Hardman stretch the field. The likelihood of Davis’ salary demands matching the Chiefs offering price may be a challenge, however one cannot ignore the lure of catching passes from Mahomes and being an annual Super Bowl contender.
Marvin Jones –
Jones is an interesting player that has spent his entire career playing second fiddle to the likes of AJ Green, Golden Tate, and Kenny Golladay. In 2020 Jones was finally thrust into the lead role due to Golladay playing only five games and he responded with a stat line of 76 receptions for 978 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. His salary demands could be more realistic than other top free agents given his age and the lure of finally playing for a contending team after a career in Cincinnati and Detroit. For the price, Jones ability to make contested catches in space makes him a great fit for the Chiefs’ offense opposite Hill:
Allen Robinson –
Imagine being an top receiver in the NFL and catching nearly all of your career passes from Blaine Gabbert and Mitchell Trubisky. Robinson has amassed 457 career receptions with 5,999 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns with about as poor of quarterback play as one could imagine. While his salary demands may be too high for the Chiefs Robinson is another player that could forego a top salary to finally play on a top caliber team. He tweeted these thoughts during Super Bowl LV a month ago…
While Kansas City may apply their draft and free agency resources toward the offensive line and various defensive positions there is still a need for solid contributors at the secondary running back and wide receiver positions. Given the real possibility that veteran players seeking a Super Bowl title may take discounted contracts to play with one of the best quarterbacks of this generation the upcoming offseason decisions will be intriguing to say the least.