Dunta Robinson: Possible Cap Casualty
By Eric Paolini
During free agency last season, the Kansas City Chiefs signed veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson. Soon after that signing, the Chiefs signed another cornerback, Sean Smith. Robinson and Smith were expected to complement star cornerback Brandon Flowers. Both players were signed to three-year deals.
In the span of a couple of days, the Chiefs overhauled their secondary, spending $30 million or so in the process. The season before, the secondary was a huge weakness on a terrible Kansas City team. After these signings, the position seemed to be more of a strength for the Chiefs.
Overall, the emphasis made on defense worked. The defense was much improved this season and played a major role in the Chiefs’ nine-win improvement. However, Robinson contributed little to that improvement.
Robinson struggled early in the season even in a supporting role as a nickel corner. He struggled so much he was benched in favor of Marcus Cooper, the seventh-round draft pick the Chiefs picked up after the San Francisco 49ers cut him before his rookie season began. While Cooper played well at times, he could get overmatched. The most notable example of Cooper’s struggles was against Denver when he was burned badly by Eric Decker on two different occasions for touchdowns. Robinson would eventually earn his job back. But the results weren’t any different the second time around.
In the wild-card game against the Indianapolis Colts, Robinson was once again replaced by Cooper after being burned early and often. Robinson just could not keep up with the anonymous receivers he was tasked with covering.
This upcoming offseason, the Chiefs don’t face too many obstacles. What to do with Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert will be the biggest question the team faces. Kansas City will have to make a decision on a couple of less significant players who are without a contract for next season. By and large, the base group of guys that swung the Chiefs from bottom dweller to playoff team will still be under contract next season. That means, the Chiefs' main goal this offseason is to add depth and try to improve at a couple of positions.
Kansas City doesn't have a lot of cap room heading into free agency. Now, the Chiefs don’t need a lot this season. The most important players (excluding Albert, of course) are already under contract, but in the near future they will need the room.
Kansas City has one move that would clear up cap room and save the team some money: cut Robinson. If the Chiefs keep Robinson on the roster, he will have a cap hit of just over $5 million next season (that number jumps to $5.7 million the year after). If Kansas City cuts ties with the 31-year-old cornerback, they will be saddled with only $2 million of dead money, a total savings of more than $3 million next season.
The Chiefs should probably add another cornerback whether they keep Robinson or not. As much as I like Cooper down the road as a prospect, he is not good enough (or ready enough) to fill in as the Chiefs’ third cornerback. Neither is Robinson. Unfortunately for him, that’s not something that will change in the future. Cooper still has potential, that tantalizing aspect of young players. The aging Robinson will most likely continue to regress.
By cutting Robinson, the Chiefs would be able to clear up a roster spot for his replacement while making more cap room to sign that player. They could also go the more economically conservative route and select someone in the middle rounds of the draft and use that money at a more needed position such as safety.
I would be surprised if Robinson is still in a Chiefs uniform come August. At his current salary, Robinson is the NFL’s 31st highest-paid cornerback (according to overthecap.com). At the very least, that contract needs to be renegotiated. Robinson is not close to one of the 30 best cornerbacks in the league.
Before too long, the Chiefs will need to sign Justin Houston to a much larger contract and re-sign Alex Smith (who could possibly get a bit of a raise after next season). Next season Dwayne Bowe’s cap hit will triple, adding to an already large number of players with big contracts.
The Chiefs will need to be careful with those contracts that soak up cap room. Too many large contracts will leave a team vulnerable to a lack of depth if any of those guys go down (read: 2013 Atlanta Falcons). Kansas City’s foundation has been established over the past few seasons and it’s ready to be a strong division contender at the very least. The Chiefs don’t have a lot of guys who need raises soon, but there are some.
Robinson’s contract isn’t a behemoth or particularly damaging. The Chiefs can get out of it without the dead money being too hard to overcome, even if they choose to release Robinson next season (when the dead money will be less). But they should get out of the contract.