Fair warning, this article is basically a wordy love ballad to the Chiefs’ Director of Football Administration, Brandt Tillis. For those of you who don’t know Director of Football Administration is just a fancy term for “Salary Cap Wizard”. And Brandt takes that title literally, as I’m pretty sure he came out of a goddamn fairy tale story. You see there’s a distinct beauty to the way the NFL salary cap works. Once you see how the numbers align together like a perfectly pieced together jig-saw puzzle a jaw-dropping piece of art emerges. “Not all of Mozart’s painting were perfect”, but every damn one of Brandt Tilis’ contracts are.
You all have already seen this once before, last year when the Chiefs had $177 in cap space and extended Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones, and Travis Kelce. To see NFL “experts” baffled and rivals going from ecstatic to frustrated and sad was simply *Chefs Kiss* magnifique. And guess what? You get to experience that all over again this year. The Chiefs are currently *checks Spotrac’s last tweet* a projected $17.3 million dollars over the cap. I’m already seeing other teams (Well, maybe not the Saints) gloating over this number. But little do they know the devastation that awaits them, the crushing blow that the Chiefs don’t have to cut any of their players, and can even sign more superstars to their team if they want. How do I know this? Well the truth is, like any great artist Brandt Tillis wants to be appreciated, and much like his fairy tale counterparts Hansel and Gretel, he tends to leave a trail of delicious breadcrumbs to follow. Come, I’ll show you the way.
Now lets get a few lessons about the salary cap out of the way first. There’s three important terms you should know when it comes to salary cap funds. The first is Cap Number, this is the amount of money that counts against the overall budget in a given year. Money that makes up a cap number is flexible and often consists of both guaranteed and unguaranteed money.
This brings us to term number two: Guaranteed Money, which consists of funds that players will receive over the course of their contract whether they are playing for the team or not. Guaranteed money may be moved year to year, but must count against the cap at some point. Unguaranteed money becomes guaranteed when the player remains on the team in the year it is allotted on the contract. Front loaded guaranteed money benefits the team as it allows them to cut a player without a cap hit after a few years, whereas backloaded guaranteed money benefits the player as it makes it harder for a team to cut a player early on. It is because of this that guaranteed and unguaranteed money are often mixed together throughout each year of the contract to give teams not only incentive to keep a player longer, but allow them to have greater flexibility later on if need be.
The third important term to understand is the signing bonus. Signing bonuses are part of the guaranteed money that are immediately given to a player when they sign the contract. While the player receives the money immediately it does not all count against the cap year one. Instead, the cap hit is evenly distributed over the course of the contract for up to five years. For example, if a player signs a four year contract with a $20 mil signing bonus the cap hit will be $5 mil each for the four years. This money is not flexible and must be paid in its assigned year.
There are a few moves a GM can do to make salary cap room. For instance a player can be cut, which removes all of his unearned, unguaranteed money from the books. However when a player is cut the rest of their guaranteed money is moved to count against the cap of the current year (Although technically in some cases a Post June 1st designation can split the owed money over the course of two years.) A good example of this is Frank Clark. Clark’s cap hit according to Over the Cap is $25.8 Mil, but if the Chiefs were to cut him that hit would move up to $38.9 mil due to unpaid guaranteed money.
Players can also be extended or restructured. Extensions add years and money on to a contract, but can also allow teams to push both guaranteed and unguaranteed money to later years. (But remember signing bonuses can’t be moved). This is benefitable to both players and teams as it can give the players more guaranteed money over all, but also divides those guaranteed hits over multiple years making it more flexible for the team. Restructures on the other hand do not add years or money. Instead, it converts the player’s salary for the current year into a signing bonus. The money is then given immediately to the player and turns into guaranteed money split up evenly throughout the rest of the player’s contract. While this tactic frees up cap space in the current year, it limits flexibility in down the road.
Players can also retire or be traded, but for all intents and purposes these actions basically work the same way as if the player was cut.
That’s all for now, friends, but be sure to come back for tomorrow’s installment!