L'Jarius Sneed may have played himself out of the Kansas City Chiefs' budget

L'Jarius Sneed has been absolutely terrific this season, but he may have played so well, that the Kansas City Chiefs might not be able to afford him next year.

Kansas City Chiefs' cornerback L'Jarius Sneed
Kansas City Chiefs' cornerback L'Jarius Sneed / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

Week in and week out in 2023, L'Jarius Sneed took the field for the Kansas City Chiefs and matched up with the opponents' best wide receiver. He didn't allow his man to score a touchdown all season. That is pretty amazing.

There will be no Pro Bowl trip for Sneed this year, and no All-Pro accolades, making him one of the more prominent snubs for each. He just went out every game and shut down the other team's top receiver, but few outside of Kansas City seemed to have noticed.

Sneed is in the final year of his rookie and contract, and while he hasn't received the attention he deserves, he has played himself into a pretty good payday as he hits the free agent market this offseason.

Will the Kansas City Chiefs pay what it will take to retain L'Jarius Sneed this offseason

It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs will be able to keep Sneed or if they are so inclined. Kansas City has three key players hitting free agency this offseason in Willie Gay, Chris Jones, and Sneed. Chances are they won't be able to sign them all long-term, especially with the level of players who will be eligible for free agency in 2025 that the Chiefs may place a higher priority on. This list includes Nick Bolton, Trey Smith, and Creed Humphrey.

Right now, the Chiefs have about $20 million of effective cap space available, according to Over the Cap. That same source lists six cornerbacks making at least $19 million a season. The math doesn't seem to fit.

Two years ago, the Chiefs let Charvarius Ward walk in free agent and he signed a lucrative deal with the 49ers for three years and $40.5 million, with $18.06 million guaranteed. At the time, Ward was a good, not great, cornerback. He has since picked up his game and was named a Pro-Bowler this season. He led the league with 23 passes defensed. Sneed tied for 8th with 14.

Sneed was targeted nine fewer times, allowed a lower percentage of completions (51 percent to Ward's 54.1), and a way better yards per target (4.8 to Ward's 6.6). Ward also allowed three touchdowns to Sneed's zero. The case could be argued that Sneed was as good or better than Ward in the latter's best season.

The biggest case against Sneed is, of course, penalties. He had 17 flags thrown against him (11 accepted) and most were for being pretty handsy down the field. Defensive pass interference and holding accounted for 14 of the flags. By contrast, Ward had a total of 7 penalties called against him (six accepted).

Pairing Sneed on the outside with Trent McDuffie in the slot has given the Chiefs a formidable cornerback duo, and they are a huge reason why the Chiefs were second in the NFL in passing yards allowed.

That said, cornerback isn't a position the Chiefs typically spend a lot of money on. Two years ago, Kansas City had Sneed in-house and let Ward walk, then drafted McDuffie to replace him.

If you watch the Chiefs a lot and pay attention to their drafts, you probably get the feeling they think they can draft and develop corners rather than pay big money to them. So far, under this regime, that seems to be the case.

Pro Football Focus has Sneed listed as the second best cornerback heading into free agency this offseason and they project his contract to be three years, 52.5 million, just under what the top corners are making.

Without some major wrangling of the salary cap, it seems unlikely the Chiefs will be able to reach that number. While it seems doubtful that they will retain Jones with what the star defensive lineman is looking for and it seems just as unlikely they can offer Sneed that projected salary.

The Chiefs more than likely will look to develop some of the young corners already on their roster, and supplement that group in the draft, where Kansas City has enjoyed a lot of success. Sneed's season has been terrific and he's probably played himself into a very lucrative contract, but it most likely won't be with the Kansas City Chiefs.

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