NFL: Le’Veon Bell and the Chiefs’ payroll

This Sept. 22, 2020, file photo shows New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell watching from the sideline near the end of the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, in Foxborough, Mass. The New York Jets have surprisingly released Bell, ending a disappointing tenure after less than two full seasons. The team issued a statement from general manager Joe Douglas on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in which he says the Jets made the move after having several conversations with Bell and his agent during the last few days and exploring trade options. Photo by Steven Senne/AP Photo, File.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ bank made yet another huge withdrawal when they signed running back Le’Veon Bell for the remainder of the season at $1.05 million. After one-plus disappointing season in the Meadowlands, the New York Jets, who owe Bell $15 million over the next two seasons, decided to cut their running back after not being able to trade him away. This signing covers two grounds for both sides as Bell immediately returns to a contending team for the first time since his days on the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chiefs continue looking to defend their Super Bowl LIV victory over the San Francisco 49ers. There is one question regarding this signature signing though: How much payroll will the Chiefs have in the future? 

The Kansas City Chiefs, established in 1963, decided to celebrate their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years in a grand style. First, they signed Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year extension for $450 million, which kicks in starting 2022 when he is paid $50 million a season. Then, they extended Travis Kelce for four more years and $57.25 million, which also kicks in starting 2022. Already spending $107.25 million on big names to start in two seasons, the Chiefs continued to sign and extend as Chris Jones stayed on the team for four more years and $8 million as a huge part of the Chiefs’ shutdown defense. Tyreek Hill also earned a payday as he got a three-year and $54 million extension to be an incredible WR1 for Mahomes. These four are not even the four highest paid players on the team. Frank Clark is currently earning $20.8 million this season for five years at a total of $104 million. So that brings the value of the top five guys up to $71.23 million this season alone. When the contracts of Mahomes, Kelce and Hill kick in, that number skyrockets to around $105 million dollars per year starting in 2022.   

The Chiefs have $5.9 million in cap space available, the eighth lowest in the league, and they have a lot of guys to resign heading into next season, including Bell, Alex Okafor, Daniel Sorensen, Sammy Watkins, Kelechi Osemele and others. Without doing the math, those players’ contracts already exceed the cap space. The next best option would be to let all of them walk into free agency, but knowing the Chiefs, they will try to re-sign some of the players to keep them contending. 

Despite all this spending to keep the big names in town, the biggest reason that I bring up this concern about payroll and cap space is because of performance. The only reason these players are getting paid so much is because of their elite performances. Look at how much Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are getting paid (a combined $791.50 million and 24 years). That is because they are the best in the MLB. Even Khalil Mack, Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers ($431 million combined over fourteen years, which is less than Mahomes’ extension) are getting paid handsomely because of their stellar performances. However, and this is the case in multiple leagues, not everyone performs like their contract asks them to or how the fans expect. 

Look at Albert Pujols. He is under a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels where he was expected to continue to rake like he did in St. Louis. Instead, he turned into a disappointment whose best highlights were hit number 3,000, RBI number 2,000, home runs 600 and 661 and one All-Star appearance. Let us also use Bell here; he was getting paid for four years and $52.5 million after holding out for a season before rushing for a touchdown just four times and having no rushes greater than 19 yards. Part of that might just be the Jets, but Bell was just disappointing. Finally, look at the infamous 15-year deal given to Rick DiPietro for a total of $67.5 million. The Islanders thought he was the goalie of their future, but he just turned out to be a tragic disappointment who severely underperformed his contract and his No. 1 overall pick status. As a result, he was bought out and the Islanders owe him $1.5 million until 2029. 

As seen above, the biggest issue about being a disappointment under a big contract is the money. If someone is cut or traded, they still receive the money. If they are bought out, they will still be paid beyond the contract’s end. That is the case with players such as Bobby Bonilla ($1 million a year until 2035 from the New York Mets) and Todd Gurley ($7.55 million from the Los Angeles Rams). If Mahomes’ and Kelce’s new extensions lead to massive disappointment, then soon their contracts will just take up cap space. Should they be released, the Chiefs will end up owing them a lot of money, restricting a new era of elite Chiefs’ football. 

Bad contracts exist and occur, but they cannot be predicted. Events such as injuries or underperforming can change the way a contract is looked at. Initially, a signing can be seen as a huge win for a team, but if the player performs badly, the signing is a regrettable action. Nonetheless, the bigger issue is what happens when the contracts take up a portion of the team’s total salary, thus preventing the team from officially rebuilding (see the Detroit Tigers and Miguel Cabrera’s contract) or having enough money to improve. I understand the Chiefs are in a win-now mode to head back to the promised land, but they should manage their finances very carefully with their next signings, or the bank will be paying the price, literally, for years. 

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