It looks like the Chiefs are paving the way for Travis Kelce to be their undisputed, lead tight end in 2015.
On Thursday, the team announced the release of veteran tight end Anthony Fasano, who had been their primary starter for the last two years.
The Chiefs are expected to receive $2 million in salary cap relief by releasing Fasano, with approximately $2.25 million in dead money. Based on projections by cap analyst Joel Corry, that should put the Chiefs roughly $6.5 million under the cap, approximately halfway to the space they’ll need to clear if they decide to franchise tag star outside linebacker and pending free agent Justin Houston by Monday’s deadline.
All teams need to be under the salary cap by March 10, so if the Chiefs do in fact franchise Houston, more moves will need to be made, especially if the Chiefs find a way to retain center Rodney Hudson, another looming free agent who could command at least $6 million per year on the open market. A source told The Star earlier this week that Hudson’s representative met with the Chiefs at the NFL Combine.
Fasano, 31, is a nine-year pro who has battled injuries the past few years but is expected to continue his playing career. He has started 22 of 32 possible games the last two years, including 13 last season, when he caught 25 passes for 226 yards and four touchdowns.
Fasano’s primary role, however, has been as a blocker, as Kelce, a third-round pick in 2013, emerged as quarterback Alex Smith’s favorite target.
Kelce, who essentially had his entire rookie season wiped out because of a knee injury, bounced back to catch 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 2014. He started 11 games, but with Fasano out of the mix, the Chiefs will clearly be relying on him to be an every-down threat.
The Chiefs currently have four other tight ends on the roster, including second-year pro Demetrius Harris, veteran Richard Gordon and developmental prospects Brandon Barden and Adam Schiltz.
Harris, who is listed at 6 feet 7 and 230 pounds, caught three passes for 20 yards in eight games (three starts) before a foot injury ended his season. He would appear to be in the mix for the No. 2 job, though free agency and the draft could change that.