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The Kansas City Chiefs announced that linebacker Anthony Hitchens had been released on Tuesday afternoon. Via the team’s Twitter account, the Chiefs announced the transaction, while also thanking Hitchens. He was of course a team captain and Super Bowl LIV champion. All in all, this was a move that many expected to happen during the 2022 offseason. We wrote about how it was time for Kansas City to make this move just over a week ago. To read that click here.
Mainly, this move is just one of many that the Chiefs could have made to gain more salary cap space for the offseason. We will dive into those details more later. Elsewhere, Kansas City can give the keys to their younger linebacker duo of Willie Gay and Nick Bolton. The team can surely add another linebacker to the depth chart before the season starts. However, the pair of Gay and Bolton shined glowingly throughout the 2021 season.
With this move, we will look back on Hitchens’ time in red and gold with the Chiefs. What are the exact items to know about, in terms of increased salary cap space? Plus, what will be worth monitoring at Kansas City’s linebacker position throughout the remainder of the 2022 offseason? Let’s kick it off.
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The Kansas City Chiefs signed Anthony Hitchens in the spring of 2018. This was one of the first major moves that general manager Brett Veach made, during his first full offseason in his current role. Hitchens signed a five-year contract worth a total of $45 million. Obviously, it was a big investment that Kansas City had made. Hitchens had just spent the first four years of his career in a high-pressured environment with the Dallas Cowboys. Furthermore, he had big shoes to fill with the Chiefs, replacing Derrick Johnson. Hitchens and Reggie Ragland would pair as the inside linebacker duo for the 2018 season.
Entering his second campaign with the Chiefs, Kansas City had made a coaching staff change at defensive coordinator. Steve Spagnuolo replaced Bob Sutton. This ushered in a defensive scheme change, as the Chiefs altered from playing a 3-4 front to now manning a 4-3 front. This allowed Hitchens to gain a greater leadership role in the middle of the defense. Spagnuolo dubbed him the “glue” of Kansas City’s defense. That season of course culminated with the Chiefs winning Super Bowl LIV over the San Francisco 49ers.
The final two seasons of Hitchens’ tenure with the Chiefs saw him take on more of a limited role, so to speak. He was still a leader and called out the defensive play calls. However, his statistical production dipped just a bit. This was not solely due to struggles from the linebacker. Rather, Hitchens had been asked to make less plays in space and served primarily as a downhill threat. It was not always pretty. But, the defender helped motivate others and instilled confidence in the Chiefs defensive unit.
Salary Cap Relief
As you can see, Hitchens still had one year left on his five-year contract. The Chiefs had a prime opportunity to create much needed 2022 salary cap space by cutting bait a year early, however. By making this transaction, Kansas City saves $8.44 million in salary cap space according to Over the Cap. The team will incur a dead cap hit of just $4.2 million. Overall, that is not too hefty of a dead-money charge, given the binds that teams are in with other players nowadays.
The Chiefs are still nowhere near the top of the NFL leaderboard when it comes to 2022 salary cap space. After releasing Hitchens, they currently have just over $11 million in available salary cap space. That is still more than some teams can say as of now. A good number of teams are still in the red entering a new season. With a few more moves, Kansas City has the opportunity to enter the top half of the NFL leaderboard in 2022 salary cap space. They currently have the 18th most salary cap space as of this writing.
Where Does Kansas City Go From Here?
As mentioned above, the duo of Gay and Bolton will likely handle the load at the position in 2022. Gay has shown more confidence when working downhill. At the same time, he has always possessed the ability to play in space and provides a prowess in coverage.
Bolton was expected to do big things for Kansas City’s defense one day. However, not many expected him to have as impressive of a rookie season as he did in 2021. He totaled 112 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, three pass deflections and one fumble recovered for a touchdown. As stated many times, Bolton also provided that boost in a limited role.
As of now, one would have to suggest that Bolton is the one who will wear the green dot and call out defensive play calls. He essentially played that same leadership role while at Missouri and projected best as a MIKE linebacker coming out of college.
It would not be surprising to see Kansas City add a linebacker in 2022. I personally would add a cheap veteran who provides pass coverage capabilities. Yet, it would not be all that shocking to see the Chiefs draft another linebacker at some point in the 2022 NFL Draft. It would likely occur no earlier than the third round, if that were to happen.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles throughout this week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.
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