In the midst of a whirlwind week full of salary cap-clearing roster cuts, one move the Chiefs made Friday can be interpreted as a positive sign.
The Chiefs on Friday agreed to a three-year deal with Josh Mauga, a source confirmed to The Star. The deal is not expected to be officially completed until Monday.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who first reported the contract, reported it is worth $8 million.
The news came on the heels of the Chiefs’ decision to release veteran defensive end Vance Walker earlier in the day, which cleared $1.7 million off the cap.
Walker was the fifth player — along with tight end Anthony Fasano, receiver A.J. Jenkins, linebacker Joe Mays and receive Donnie Avery — to be released over the past three weeks as the Chiefs work to accommodate the $13.1 million franchise tag it placed on Justin Houston on Monday.
The release of Walker left the Chiefs approximately $1.1 million over the cap, not counting Mauga’s new deal. All NFL teams have to be under the cap by Tuesday, March 10, which means the decision to sign Mauga is an indication the Chiefs feel comfortable they’ll be able to get under by then.
The Chiefs can create more cap space by restructuring the contract of outside linebacker Tamba Hali, something that is currently in the works, a source confirmed to The Star on Friday.
Hali, 31, told ESPN on Friday that he was “optimistic” a restructured deal would get done. The Chiefs stand to save $9 million by releasing Hali, who has a cap number of $12 million this season, but he is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he finished with six sacks.
The Chiefs can also create more room by negotiating a lower salary with safety Eric Berry, who is slated for an $8.3 million cap hit but is currently battling lymphoma, and/or converting quarterback Alex Smith’s base salary to a bonus.
Other players whose release would create a sizable amount of cap space include receiver Dwayne Bowe ($14 million cap hit in 2015), inside linebacker Derrick Johnson ($5.2 million), quarterback Chase Daniel ($3.8 million) and defensive end Mike DeVito ($4 million).
But all are good players the Chiefs would have to replace, which is the dilemma they found themselves in after the release of Mays on Thursday left only three players at inside linebacker — Derrick Johnson, James-Michael Johnson and JoJo Dickson — under contract for 2015.
The return of Mauga, however, now makes it four. He was signed last July but ascended to the top of the depth chart because of his comfort in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme and injuries to Johnson and Mays.
Mauga, 27, who had been plagued by injuries earlier in his career, managed to stay healthy and made 103 combined tackles in 16 starts. He was slated to be an unrestricted free agent.
Signing Mauga worked out a little better for the Chiefs than adding Walker. He agreed to a three-year deal worth $13 million last offseason, but he couldn’t beat out Allen Bailey or third-year pro Jaye Howard and ended up recording 19 tackles and two sacks in 16 games, including only two starts.
The Chiefs still have multiple defensive ends on their roster, including Bailey, Howard, Mike DeVito, Mike Catapano, Vaughn Martin, Jerel Worthy and Nick Williams.
Walker, like Mays, was signed during last year’s free-agency period, along with cornerback Chris Owens and offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach. Linkenbach and Owens, who signed one-year deals, are set to be free agents.