$31 Million Signing Bonus Lures Orlando Brown to Bengals
Orlando Brown spent the past two seasons protecting the blindside of Patrick Mahomes, and now his switching sides to protect public enemy No. 1 in Kansas City, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow.
Brown wanted to lay claim as the highest paid tackle in the NFL, and he does at least temporarily own the crown for the largest signing bonus for an offensive lineman. NFL Network says the deal includes $43.5 million fully guaranteed with $49.9 million guaranteed through three years.
Brown will apparently displace Jonah Williams at left tackle, who has a $12.6 million salary this year as part of his guaranteed fifth-year option.
Brown seems happy with the resolution, telling NFL Network, “I’m super thankful for the opportunity to carry on my father’s legacy and be a left tackle. It was important to be able to play that position and play for a winning team and a winning quarterback.”
Chiefs Free Up Cap Space with Mahomes Restructure
The Chiefs have tapped into the Patrick Mahomes roster bonus for cap space, converted $12 million of his 2023 roster bonus into a signing bonus. That frees up $9.6 million in salary cap space for this season.
That leaves the Chiefs with roughly $17 million in cap space based on what is known thus far about the free agent contracts with offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor and defensive end Charles Omenihu. That’s plenty of space for GM Brett Veach to work with as the first wave of free agency crescendos and teams start to search for bargains in the second wave.
Mahomes will now have a salary cap number of $39.69 million this season including a $22.4 million roster bonus and a $5.5 million base salary. The restructure means he will have a $2.4 million cap hit spread over each of the next four seasons.
The Chiefs also have two other large contracts from which to gain cap space. A simple restructure of left guard Joe Thuney’s contract could free up to around $11 million in space if needed. The Chiefs could also substantially reduce the $28.3 million cap hit for defensive tackle Chris Jones by signing him to a long-term extension.
S Juan Thornhill Lands with Cleveland Browns
Another player with a strong contract season landed a big deal Wednesday evening with safety Juan Thornhill signing three-year deal with Cleveland with $14 million guaranteed in the first two seasons.
Thornhill’s departure isn’t a surprise for the Chiefs, who made the move for Bryan Cook in last year’s draft as preparation for the likely loss of Thornhill this year. While the 27-year-old missed just one regular-season game in four years with the Chiefs, his torn ACL in the final game of his rookie season came to define his next two campaigns. It wasn’t until this past season that Thornhill looked the same as he did during his rookie year. His 71 tackles were a career-high and he matched his personal best with three interceptions along with his first career sack.
Thornhill will certainly be missed in the Kansas City secondary but the Chiefs believe Cook is more than ready for an expanded role as a starter in this second season.
Patriots Scoop Up WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
JuJu Smith-Schuster lead the Chiefs’ wide receivers with 933 yards last season but he won’t be returning for a “run it back” campaign in Kansas City. The 26-year-old on Wednesday agreed to terms on a three-year contract with New England worth up to $33 million.
The deal reportedly includes $16 million guaranteed with an average annual salary of $8.5 million. Incentives could push the deal to $11 million per year.
The structure of the contract may have been more than the Chiefs were willing to commit right now. At first blush, Smith-Schuster’s deal is somewhat similar to the one signed by Marquez Valdes-Scantling with the Chiefs last season. The Patriots could exit the contract after one season for as little as $16 million or two years for $22.5 million. That’s a sizable commitment in the first two years.
As good as Smith-Schuster was last season, there is a red flag regarding the health of his knees. While he only missed one game last season, a sore knee limited him to just seven catches for 83 yards in the final three games of the regular season and 10 catches for 89 yards in the playoffs. That’s six games with 17 catches for 162 yards. Injury concerns were a reason why Smith-Schuster signed a one-year incentive-laden deal with the Chiefs last offseason. Thus far in free agency, the Chiefs have prioritized durability as a key characteristic.
Chiefs Tender Exclusive Rights Free Agent Shane Buechele
The Chiefs as expected are returning Shane Buechele to the quarterback room but unlike the past two seasons, he currently ranks at No. 2 on the depth chart and is a prime contender for the backup job behind Patrick Mahomes.
The club has tendered the exclusive rights free agent a contract offer, a source tells Chiefs Digest, keeping him in the stable for a third season in Kansas City.
With the retirement of Chad Henne following Super Bowl LVII, the Chiefs are in need of a backup quarterback. Chiefs GM Brett Veach said during the combine that he places a premium on putting high-IQ players into the quarterback room who can help support Mahomes.
“The cool thing for us is Shane is in that category,” Veach said. “Now Shane’s been in the building, he knows, Pat, they have a good report.”
The Chiefs quarterback group currently consists of Mahomes, Buechele and Chris Oladokun, who spent last season on the practice squad. The Chiefs normally carry four quarterbacks for the offseason program and training camp so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the club signs a free-agent veteran or selects a quarterback late in this year’s draft.
“We know with (10) picks we’ll have a chance to maybe add competition to that room,” Veach said. “But on the other end, we’re certainly thankful and that Shane has been here and we feel confident in moving forward.”
Saints Sign DT Khalen Saunders to Three-Year Deal
After a breakout campaign in which he piled up 40 tackles and 4.5 sacks, fan-favorite defensive tackle Khalen Saunders is heading to New Orleans on a three-year deal worth up to $14.5 million.
Saunders had a strong season in his contract year and fit well with defensive line coach Joe Cullen in his first year with the club. Cullen tagged Saunders “The Wagon” as the player who would be the first one through the line for drills and set the standards for others in practice. Saunders was a favorite in the locker room as well for his infectious smile and positive attitude. Yet Saunders was also serious when necessary and delivered a strong postseason run with eight tackles and a sack in this year’s playoffs.
Depth remains an issue for the Chiefs along the defensive line. The club currently has four defensive tackles under contract: Chris Jones, Tershawn Wharton and Danny Shelton. Wharton finished the season on injured reserve while Shelton spent the campaign on the practice squad. The 26-year-old Hoskins signed with the practice squad on Jan. 12. Expect the Chiefs to target this position in free agency, the draft or both.
Seems like just yesterday I was covering Khalen Saunders’ baby labor drama at the @seniorbowl.
Four years later, Saunders has three kids — and just got paid on a three-year deal worth up to $14.5 million with the #Saints. https://t.co/EMtvmjMGxj
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 15, 2023
FB Michael Burton Heads to Denver
The Chiefs lost another of their own free agents with fullback Michael Burton heading to Denver on a one-year deal. Burton will reunite with head coach Sean Payton, whom he played for in New Orleans in 2020.
The departure of Burton raises the question of whether the Chiefs will stick with a true fullback next season or join the growing number of teams who eschew the position. Andy Reid has typically favored carrying a true fullback but Burton saw his offensive snaps drop last year to 71 versus 94 in 2021. That equates to just four snaps per game, mostly in short-yardage situations. It’s possible that a lineman or a tight end fill the role as an extra blocker when needed. Carrying a fourth tight end that’s a true blocker might also be a consideration.
Chiefs Sign DE Charles Omenihu from 49ers
The Chiefs landed another new free agent Tuesday night with defensive lineman Charles Omenihu agreeing to terms with the club. The 25-year-old was a fifth-round pick for Houston in the 2019 draft out of Texas. The team traded him to San Francisco for a sixth-round draft pick in November 2021.
The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Omenihu offers flexibility in lining up across the defensive front although he’s primarily an edge player. He was the primary backup for the 49ers last season behind starters Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam. In a career-high 573 snaps, Omenihu delivered 4.5 sacks, 20 tackles and 21 pressures.
The two-year deal reportedly includes base salaries and bonuses of $16 million with $4 million in incentives. Full details are not yet available.
Omenihu was arrested in January on suspicion of domestic violence in San Jose, California. The Chiefs will certainly face some questions about their due diligence into Omenihu’s background and the circumstances surrounding that incident.
DT Tershawn Wharton Re-signs with Chiefs
The Chiefs are bringing back restricted free-agent defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton on a one-year deal. Wharton finished the season on injured reserve aftering suffering a torn ACL in Week 5. His recovery has gone well, however, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on the field during OTAs. He should be fully ready by training camp at the latest barring a setback
Kansas City could have offered Wharton a one-year tender for $2.627 million for a right of first refusal. The deal as structured, however, provides Wharton with incentives that could escalate up to $3 million based on playing time.
Retaining Wharton is a key move for the Chiefs with both Derrick Nnadi and Khalen Saunders unrestricted free agents.
Jaguars OT Jawaan Taylor Heading to KC
Chiefs GM Brett Veach has apparently found his new left tackle — on the right side of the Jacksonville offensive line. Much like when Orlando Brown Jr. arrived from Baltimore for the opportunity to play left tackle, Jawaan Taylor has spent the first four years of his NFL career at right tackle but will now have the chance to prove himself on the other side of the line.
Taylor no doubt possesses the size (6-foot-5, 330 pounds, 35 1/3-inch arm length) for a left tackle but the Chiefs clearly believe he possesses the athleticism to make the switch. He’s also durable, logging more than 1,000 snaps in each of his first four seasons.
The 25-year-old also appears to be an ascending player. He posted career lows across the board last season with just five sacks, 11 hurries and 16 pressures allowed. He carries a reputation as a premier pass blocker but a below-average run blocker, and his Pro Football Focus grade last season reflects that (76.4 grade in passing opportunities, 39.7 in the run game).
This move also reflects another trait of Veach as a general manager in identifying market inefficiencies. Orlando Brown Jr. was reportedly looking for a contract of at least $23 million per season. Potential trade target Laremy Tunsil reportedly wants to “reset” the market for left tackle, which is currently led by Trent Williams and David Bakhtiari at $23 million per season. The Chiefs appear to have locked up a premier tackle for $20 million per season for at least the next three seasons. While Taylor’s contract currently ranks as the No. 4 contract in average annual value for a tackle, that’s like to be bested in the days ahead. In 2026 that deal might not even rank in the top 10. Just like with the move for Brown in 2021, Veach is banking on getting more production from a converted right tackle on the left side than ponying up big bucks to an established left tackle.
Of course, the Chiefs still have options. If a left tackle the Chiefs desire in the NFL draft falls in their lap next month, perhaps Taylor stays on the right side. It’s too early to complete close the door on adding a true left tackle. Lucas Niang is also a candidate for the right tackle position, plus the Chiefs have Darian Kinnard and Prince Tega Wanogho on the roster. Options abound but the bottom line is this — the Chiefs aren’t likely betting $60 million guaranteed that Taylor is purely a right tackle only.
First Domino: RT Andrew Wylie to Washington
Keeping Andrew Wylie in Kansas City appeared unlikely after Wylie’s strong performance against the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. Wylie entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and persevered to start 59 games for the Chiefs during the past six seasons. His new deal with Washington averages $8 million per season — dwarfing his $6.21 million in career earnings through 2022.
Wylie was a luxury the Chiefs couldn’t afford to keep, not with needing to resolve the left tackle situation as well. The club has affordable options on the right side and draft choices to spare. No doubt teammates are disappointed to see Wylie go — he’s always been popular in the KC locker room, and he and Patrick Mahomes were rookies together in 2017 — but they will be happy to see him get a big payday at long last.
11 a.m. central time, March 13:
Whatever you want to call it — the “negotiation window,” the “legal tampering period,” or what have you — NFL free agency is officially here.