One of the most common names thrown around for the Kansas City Chiefs in the upcoming free agency frenzy is San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. He is widely considered one of the best in the entire league at what is arguably the most important position on the field for Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense: nose tackle.
Franklin is expected to hit the open market as early as July 25th, or whenever free agency does begin. The question is not whether or not the Chiefs would be interested, but how much it would cost to sign him with the new salary-floor that the new CBA will most likely require?
The Chiefs drafted Jerrell Powe in the sixth round of this past 2011 draft. Although he is a much better player than the round he was drafted would suggest, he is still a rookie defensive lineman that can't be expected to be the 'answer' as a rookie at this crucial position on the defense.
Shaun Smith and Ron Edwards are both going to be free agents. There is a lot to suggest that the Chiefs would be smart to try and re-sign either of these players, or possibly both. But neither of these players have the ceiling that Franklin has or the ability to play at the level Franklin does. Sure, there are times in which Edwards and Smith display above-average skills, but comparing apples to apples, Franklin is the better player and that can't be ignored. In any other year many fans would throw out the, "He's going to cost too much, why spend that much money on one player?".
The answer has been made very simple by the rumored new CBA salary-floor constraints. Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs are going to have to spend money in order to meet these new requirements. They can front-load a contract for Franklin that may be more appealing to a free agent that is looking for a big pay-day early in the contract. Not to mention the fact that the Chiefs would be an attractive destination for a top free agent nose tackle that would be widely viewed as a last-piece-of-the-puzzle type fit to an up-and-coming defense.
There hasn't been any proof to this point that the Chiefs have been, or will be interested in looking at Franklin. It's just a "What is our biggest need?, and who out there feasibly fits?"
It will be fascinating to see what happens with players like Franklin when they hit free agency with all of these new rules in place. Will Franklin be in such high demand that he receives a Vince Wilfork type of deal? Wilfork signed a 5-year $40 million contract with $25 million guaranteed with the New England Patriots before last season. But even more attractive than that was the $18 million signing bonus that Wilfork received.
It's this signing bonus that the Chiefs could work with Franklin much like the Patriots did with Wilfork. Signing Franklin and extending Tamba Hali's contract, while front-loading both with big signing bonuses could get the Chiefs closer to the salary-floor while setting the Chiefs up for the future.
It's similar to what the Chiefs did with Matt Cassel's extension not long after he was traded from New England with recently-retired Mike Vrabel. Cassel's contract was front-loaded with bonuses so that he becomes more afforable at the time in which the Chiefs will need to spend money on other areas of the team to solidify their standing as division champs and playoff participants.
Casey Hampton of the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with Wilfork is considered one of the best, if not the best nose tackles in all of football. Casey Hampton signed a 3-year $21.3 million deal with $11 million guaranteed before last season also. He was given a $6.5 million dollar signing bonus.
If you look at the Hampton and Wilfork contracts and you will see an average value of between $7-8 million per year for these two players. You take into consideration age and the two contracts seem appropriate to one another. Wilfork is a little younger and maybe a notch-ahead of Hampton, and the 3-year deal for Hampton makes sense like the 5-year deal for Wilfork fits for the Patriots. Franklin will turn 31 at the beginning of the 2011 season, Wilfork will turn 30 and Hampton will turn 34 years old before the season is over.
If the Chiefs made an offer that rivaled other offers out there in regards to length and total dollars, the contract guru Alan 'Trip' MacCracken should be able to put a package together with Pioli that gives Franklin the upfront and guaranteed money that he is looking for. Something along the lines of 4-years and $28 million with $14 million guaranteed in the first two years.
Make it a $10 million signing bonus and that would seem to help both parties. The Chiefs get closer to that salary-floor and Franklin gets his pay-day. Add base salaries of $2 million in 2011 and 2012, a $4 million bonus in 2012, along with base salaries of $4 million in 2013 and $6 million in 2014. The contract would need to escalate, like most contracts, to provide financial motivation for the player to earn that next raise from one year to the next.
These numbers are on-par with the other top nose tackles in the game right now and if the Chiefs are interested in bringing in Franklin it would seem that a contract would fit closely with these numbers. Things could always change and with several teams around the league needing to spend money in order to hit this salary floor, it's players like Franklin that could benefit the most.
The Chiefs could be one of many teams that are looking to solicit the big-man from the bay area to help with their defense. But these new salary-cap rules might give the Chiefs a slight-edge with some creativity on a contract that could land the Chiefs a dominant piece to a could-be-elite defense.