Here’s how the Chiefs’ salary-cap spending breaks down by position heading into 2015 training camp. Here is a list of each player’s salary cap number.
▪ QUARTERBACKS: Alex Smith’s four-year, $68 million extension begins this season, which means he’s your quarterback for the next two years, minimum. Releasing him before then would result in a massive cap penalty. Chase Daniel makes a nice salary for a backup ($4.8 million) but he’s worth it. He works well with Smith, is a good influence on youngster Aaron Murray and has performed well in spot duty the last two years. Tyler Bray is coming off an injury and enters the final year of his deal, while Murray’s cost-effective rookie contract runs three more years.
▪ RUNNING BACKS: Jamaal Charles has a cap number of $7.9 million this year, and there’s no doubt he’s worth it. He was dinged up all of last year, but remains an elite running back. Charles’ backups (Knile Davis, Cyrus Gray and Charcandrick West) all make less than a million dollars and represent good value, considering their respective roles. Anthony Sherman is entering the first year of a three-year extension he signed last fall. He remains one of the best players at his position in the league.
▪ RECEIVERS: The Chiefs struck big in the offseason when they signed Jeremy Maclin to a five-year, $55 million deal. Another positive for the Chiefs is that most of the cap hit is deferred — his cap number this year is only $3.4 million — which is how the Chiefs were able to fit him in this year, despite their overall lack of cap space ($538,565, per the NFLPA). He is, by far, the highest-paid receiver on the team, as no one else has a cap number over $700,000.
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▪ TIGHT ENDS: Provided he stays healthy, Travis Kelce will represent one of the best values in the league at his position. He’s under contract through 2016, but the Chiefs will need to pony up the dough to keep him in 2017, provided he continues to develop. The Chiefs have 2015 fifth-round pick James O’Shaughnessy under contract cheap through 2018, so if he can develop into a solid contributor, they could have depth here for years to come. Richard Gordon and Ryan Taylor are cheap veteran options, but this is a position that will be evaluated closely in camp following the release of rock-solid veteran Anthony Fasano.
▪ OFFENSIVE LINE: The highest-paid player on the offensive line, by far, is left tackle Eric Fisher ($6 million). This is a crucial year for Fisher, who has flashed talent the last two years and has steadily improved but needs to be more consistent. There’s also this: The Chiefs will need to make a decision on his fifth-year option (for 2017) next spring. Fisher’s performance this fall will make that decision easy or difficult. Recently acquired left guard Ben Grubbs signed an extension that should keep him in Kansas City for the next two years, at least. Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson will be playing for new deals this fall, so the Chiefs should expect to get their very best. It will be interesting to see which, if either, returns to the fold in 2016 — the Chiefs’ new regime hasn’t retained any offensive linemen brought in by prior regimes once they’ve hit free agency (Rodney Hudson, Jon Asamoah, Branden Albert, etc.). Guard Paul Fanaika signed a three-year deal this offseason, but he’ll battle for a starting job, like everyone else. After those guys, the line is stocked with young/cheap options who still have much to prove.
▪ DEFENSIVE LINE: Dontari Poe is now the highest-paid Chief along the defensive line at a very manageable $3.6 million, and the Chiefs recently exercised a fifth-year option worth approximately $6.1 million that should keep him in town through 2016. But Poe will be a free agent after that, and he will command a big contract, provided he continues his high level of play. Allen Bailey signed a lucrative four-year, $24 million extension last fall, so he’ll be here for a while. Veteran Mike DeVito took a pay cut to be a part of what he hopes is a special unit. Jaye Howard is entering the final year of his rookie deal, so he’ll be playing for money and looking to build off a 2014 season in which he earned plenty of valuable experience.
▪ OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: Everyone wants to know what will happen with Justin Houston. He was franchise-tagged this offseason at a $13.1 million tender, and he has until July 15 to agree to a long-term deal with the Chiefs. If a deal can’t get done by then, he’ll have to play on a one-year deal — though it doesn’t necessarily have to be the tender, and he doesn’t have to show up until week 10 — and the Chiefs and Houston will do this dance again next offseason. Tamba Hali took a pay cut to stay in Kansas City, while Dee Ford and Josh Martin serve as young (and cost-effective) insurance/developmental pieces.
▪ INSIDE LINEBACKERS: Derrick Johnson is the highest-paid Chief at this position, and he deserves to be, even after an Achilles tear ruined his 2014 season. At 32, he is possibly the defensive player the Chiefs can least afford to lose. This is the final year of his deal, however, and it will be interesting to see what happens with Johnson come negotiating time if he has a bounce-back season. The Chiefs signed Josh Mauga to a three-year deal this offseason and also drafted two young inside linebackers (Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander) in the middle rounds, but Johnson is a beloved Chief, like Hali, and chairman Clark Hunt knows this. James-Michael Johnson enters the final year of his rookie deal and will be playing for money.
▪ CORNERBACKS: Sean Smith is the team’s top earner in the defensive backfield ($7.7 million), and after a career year in 2014, he looked the part of a No. 1 corner in organized team activities. But Smith will be 29 next year, and he enters the final year of a free-agent deal he signed with the Chiefs. With another big year, Smith will get paid on the open market, and it will be up to the Chiefs — who have invested high picks in cornerbacks Marcus Peters, Steven Nelson and Phillip Gaines the last two years — to decide if they want to invest the necessary financial resources to retain him. Jamell Fleming, meanwhile, showed flashes last season but will be free agent after the season. Marcus Cooper, the man he beat out for a starting job, is under contract through 2016.
▪ SAFETIES: The Chiefs developed Ron Parker into a starting-caliber player, and paid him like one this offseason via a five-year, $30 million deal. Veteran safeties Husain Abdullah and Tyvon Branch are solid, competitive players who will be free agents after the season. Kelcie McCray is a cost-effective young option at safety who helps on special teams. Sanders Commings still has two years left on his team-friendly rookie deal.
▪ SPECIALISTS: By cutting Ryan Succop and going with undrafted free agent Cairo Santos, the Chiefs found a cost-efficient alternative at kicker. Santos, who has a cap number of $510,000, is under contract through 2016. That helps offset the high cost of punter Dustin Colquitt, who is one of the best in the business but has a cap number of $3.8 million this year. He is under contract through 2017. The Chiefs have their top return options (De’Anthony Thomas, Knile Davis, Frankie Hammond) and long-snapping options (James Winchester and Andrew East) signed cheap.