KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs declined to use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Dontari Poe on Wednesday, which means the two-time Pro Bowl selection could become a free agent for the first time next week.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that general manager John Dorsey has been in communication with Poe’s representatives. But after the Chiefs spent $78 million to keep safety Eric Berry and $41.25 million on offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, they would have to get very creative with the salary cap to sign Poe to a long-term contract.
“We’ll have to see how that goes,” Reid said. “Berry got a substantial amount of money. I’m not sure what’s left in the purse. We love the kid. We’d love to have him back for sure.”
The Chiefs got some help Wednesday when the NFL Players Association announced the salary cap will increase by $12 million to $167 million next season. They have about $5 million in unused cap space last year that rolls over, effectively giving them $172 million for the upcoming season.
Kansas City is also expected to decline backup quarterback Nick Foles’ option, creating an extra $6.75 million, and they cut running back Jamaal Charles this week to save more than $6 million.
That move, in particular, was bittersweet for the franchise.
“Jamaal Charles is one of my favorite guys that I’ve had a chance to coach. He did everything for us from inside — not a very big guy, but fearless — and he had the speed to run outside,” Reid said. “He had world-class speed to turn the corner. He had great hands. On top of that, he is a great kid — just dirty tough. You hate that situation. Whether he decides to play or not, that’s up to him.
“We all do get older and that’s the way the National Football League is today.”
Injuries were a big reason Charles’ career derailed in Kansas City: torn ACLs in each of his knees cut seasons shorts, and he needed additional procedures last season to clean them up.
Injuries probably haven’t helped Poe’s chances of a long-term deal, either.
The 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft has started 76 of 78 games during his five-year career, becoming a stalwart in the middle of the defensive line. But has surgery to repair a herniated disc in 2015 slowed him that season, and back injuries tend to make NFL front offices wary of giving big contracts to 346-pound players who man such a physically demanding position.
Still, Poe started every game last season and finished with 27 tackles. He also threw for a touchdown on a pop pass and ran for another TD when he caught a lateral in a game against Oakland, a pair of plays that only served to endear him even more to Chiefs fans.
If he doesn’t return, Kansas City already has plenty of depth along the defensive line.
Chris Jones was a breakout star during his rookie season, and veterans Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard will be back from season-ending injuries. Rakeem Nunez-Roches also took a big step forward in his development during his second year in the league.