At the 101 Awards on Saturday, Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt was asked whether he expected the team to be big spenders this offseason.
Hunt, never one to give away the game plan, grinned and took his usual stance, mentioning the Chiefs’ desire to use the resources they have to put together they best team they can.
“And some years, it means different things,” Hunt said, before dropping a hint. “We’ve got a number of guys that we’d like to bring back, and that may be how we use some of the resources.”
Hunt’s words proved to be true, as the Chiefs found a way to keep at least one team icon in the fold on Tuesday by agreeing to a three-year deal with outside linebacker Tamba Hali, a source with knowledge of the situation told The Star.
NFL Network’s Rand Getlin reported the deal is worth $22 million, with $12 million in guaranteed money.
The team did not announce the move, but Hali confirmed on Twitter that a deal had been struck.
“Thank you to the Hunt family, Coach Reid, John Dorsey and the entire Chiefs staff,” Hali wrote. “To the best fans in the NFL, we will continue our mission to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy home to #ChiefsKingdom.”
Hali, 32, was set to become a free agent at 3 p.m. Wednesday, the start of the new league year. He has spent his entire 10-year career with the Chiefs, and finished with 48 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks last season, achieving his sixth Pro Bowl berth.
However, Hali played through knee issues the last two seasons, and sat out practices most of last year in an effort to keep him fresh for Sundays.
Hali appeared in 15 games and was a major contributor to a Chiefs team that finally ended its playoff misery. Their 30-0 win over the Houston Texans in the wild-card round was the club’s first in 22 years, and Hali’s first in four tries.
“Our team is special,” Hali said at the time. “It’s a bunch of guys that came together to play this game, and we enjoy playing it. We made our minds up two months ago (that) we’re a better team than what the record was stating. We just play our hearts out every game.”
The Chiefs lost in the next round, a 27-20 road defeat at the hands of New England, but after the game, Hali expressed a desire to return to the Chiefs in 2016, though he made it clear that if he did, he wanted to make sure he could play better than he did in 2015.
Hali also indicated after the season that his knee would require surgery, a procedure that Chiefs general manager John Dorsey recently said was completed.
The extension comes only four days after the Chiefs were charged $4 million against this year’s salary cap because they didn’t reach a contract extension with Hali by March 4.
That machination was the result of a $3 million pay cut Hali — who was set to have a cap number of $11.9 million in 2015 — took to stay with the team last year. The move created $7 million in cap room, but the Chiefs added four voidable years to the contract to spread out his $5 million signing bonus, the cap hit for which hit on Friday. Had the Chiefs extended Hali before the deadline, they could have turned the voidable years into real years and spread out the cap hit over time.
Whether or not the Chiefs, who still have several key free agents set to hit the market Wednesday, could have used that extra room this year remains to be seen. The Chiefs, who also have safety Eric Berry’s $10.8 million franchise tender tying up cap room, were slated to have about $18.75 million to work with prior to Hali’s deal.
But there’s little doubt the move is a good one for the Chiefs, who retain one of their most popular players, someone who can continue to mentor 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford, an outside linebacker who showed improvement in 2015 after being sparsely used as a rookie but will not be allowed to simply inherit a starting job.
“I thought his play improved throughout the year,” Hunt said of Ford. “I think our coaching staff and his teammates have a lot of confidence in him, and I know he’ll seize the opportunity if he’s given it.”
The move also sets up Hali, a first-round pick of the team in 2006, to retire as a Chief. Hali has 86 career sacks, which is only a half-sack behind Neil Smith for second all-time in club history. Derrick Thomas is the leader with 126 1/2 sacks, and both Smith and Thomas are in the Chiefs Ring of Honor.
With Hali’s deal done, the Chiefs can turn their attention to a number of other key free agents, including another team icon in inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and three solid starters in defensive tackle Jaye Howard, cornerback Sean Smith and offensive guard Jeff Allen.
“If we all could have what we want, nobody would leave,” cornerback Marcus Peters said.
But while the status of the other free agents are up in the air, the Chiefs have taken care of one of their own, someone whose value to the team extends to the locker room and community, as well.
“Certainly, with a guy like Tamba, you’re not just talking about the sacks,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “Same thing with D.J. and a lot of those guys. Sometimes that stuff gets scoffed at, but it’s important.”