The Kansas City Chiefs are being backed into a corner because of the suddenly lucrative market that is the safety position. Jamal Adams agreed to a big deal with the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month, and the Minnesota Vikings extended Harrison Smith over the weekend. The nature of both deals could trouble for the Chiefs in their efforts to retain Tyrann Mathieu.
General manager Brett Veach has made miracles happen, notably completing a Chris Jones extension in the same offseason that star quarterback Patrick Mahomes signed his megadeal. However, Kansas City has a lot of cap space tied up in a few players, and Mathieu is more than deserving of big money. But while Mathieu might be deserving, is he worth the stress and maneuvering it might take to finalize a deal?
Tyrann Mathieu is in the final season of his current deal with the Chiefs
Tyrann Mathieu has been an instrumental part of Kansas City’s secondary.
The Chiefs’ safety made the All-Pro team in each of his first two seasons with the organization. Mathieu had 10 interceptions combined in the last two seasons, including six in 2020. He can blitz off the edge or stack the box against the run.
Mathieu’s ball-hawking abilities are notable, but a deeper dive really emphasizes his ability to cover. He has the lowest passer rating allowed in the slot since 2019, per Pro Football Focus.
The Chiefs have the high-powered offense to compete with any team in the league, but it’s been imperative for them to develop or acquire key defensive players to stay atop the AFC. Signing Mathieu in 2019 helped Kansas City do just that, and that notion is also likely why Veach felt obligated to extend Jones last spring.
However, Mathieu’s time with the team could be winding down. He is in the final season of the three-year, $42 million contract he signed in 2019. That contract now looks like a pittance after the contracts given to Adams and Smith. Mathieu knows it, too.
The 29-year-old has been fairly vocal about wanting new money. One would imagine the Adams and Smith extensions could incentivize the Chiefs to get something done. But Mathieu might want to be the highest-paid player at the position, and Kansas City probably doesn’t have that kind of flexibility. At least, not right now.
Paying Mathieu what he is worth right now could put the Chiefs in a compromising position
Tyrann Mathieu would prefer to stay in Kansas City. The Chiefs want to keep their All-Pro safety. So, an agreement would seem to be inevitable. But that’s not how it works.
The Chiefs are pressed for cap space. They rank in the bottom half of the NFL in cap space for each of the next three seasons, per Over The Cap. That’s mostly because Mahomes’ cap hit starts to rise substantially beginning in 2022.
Part of the issue is the Chiefs have no way of knowing what the cap will look like in the next couple of seasons or what roster bonuses could entail. That’s an important consideration, especially given guys like Tyreek Hill and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will be free agents in the coming seasons. The franchise is already at a running deficit because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Veach explained as much earlier this offseason, per ESPN. It makes things that much tougher.
Veach and Co. might not have an issue paying Mathieu what he’s worth, but contractual structure matters in the NFL. Does Mathieu want the most guaranteed money? If so, that could loom large. The years on the deal also factor into the equation.
Ultimately, it could be about timing. Kansas City’s front office might prefer to wait and see the financial outlook when the numbers are crunched. Signing other players to extensions and spreading money out would help matters, but that’s a development that would happen over time. Mathieu might then enter this season on an expiring deal. How would he feel about that?
Neither side has put a hard deadline on talks. But the Harrison Smith extension should probably force the Chiefs into action, in one way or another.
Brett Veach could pursue trade avenues
Kansas City likely does not want to trade Mathieu. The Chiefs would probably prefer to re-sign him and make him a mainstay in the secondary. However, it’s entirely possible the front office at least considers the trade route.
Mathieu is only 29 years old. He is a turnover machine who has made back-to-back All-Pro teams and is very clearly one of the best, if not the best, player at his position. That makes for a definite trade asset, especially when considering the New York Jets’ haul for Jamal Adams.
The Seattle Seahawks traded two first-round picks to the Jets as part of a package for Adams. It stands to reason, then, that the Chiefs could get at least that and more if they elect to trade Mathieu.
Mathieu might have been more willing to wait his turn as it pertained to an extension. However, his peers are getting their big-money deals sorted out. Maybe he’s beginning to feel a greater sense of urgency.
The Chiefs face the hard decision of possibly frustrating Mathieu further by being stagnant in contract talks or even losing the engine of their defense if a trade comes into the picture. Veach is in an unenviable position, regardless of what happens next.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.