Coming into existence 18 years ago, Plan A free agency would forever change the way NFL business was conducted. When the league’s initial free agent period went into effect in 1993, Kansas City was there. In fact, the Chiefs weren’t just there, but Kansas City served as one of the founding fathers of free agency.
Overshadowed only by Reggie White’s monstrous four-year, $17 million contract that sent him packing from Philadelphia to Green Bay, another future Hall of Famer made waves in free agency’s infancy stage. Raiders RB Marcus Allen had not only switched teams, but he decided to sign with the division rival Chiefs.
And from there, free agency was born.
Players like Deion Sanders, Tony Siragusa, Curtis Martin and Priest Holmes would yield high returns for their new franchises in coming years. The landscape of pro football had changed and with those changes came the franchise tag.
Allen wasn’t the only story in town that off-season. The Chiefs created a stir in 1993 when it came to the franchise tag as well. When teams began utilizing franchise and transition tags for the first time, the Chiefs decided to leave four-time Pro Bowl LB Derrick Thomas unprotected.
On February 26, 1993, the Chiefs announced DE Neil Smith as their franchise player and CB Dale Carter, as well as DT Dan Saleaumua, as the club’s transition players.
“I feel like I was drafted all over again only this time I was the first player taken,” Smith would say of his tagging.
Thomas, of course, was going nowhere. Agent Leigh Steinberg worked with the Chiefs on a contract extension and Thomas would eventually accept to forever remain a Chief.
The rules of franchise and transition tags were essentially the same back then as they are today.
Franchise players couldn’t negotiate with any other team and were due a salary equal to the top five highest-paid players at their position.
Transition players were free to negotiate with other teams, but their current team had the right to match any offer sheet. They were also to be paid the average of the top 10 salaries at their position.
And with that, Neil Smith really did become the first pick. Smith was the first player ever to be franchised by the Kansas City Chiefs. Since then, five players have followed with
The next Chief to receive the franchise designation wouldn’t be as happy. In fact, DE Dan Williams publically stated that he had no intention of playing for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1998. Williams wasn’t bluffing. He was legitimately upset and followed through on his threat to sit out the entire 1998 season.
Surprisingly, sitting out 1998 in its entirety didn’t burn bridges in the Chiefs front office. Williams received a $28 million payday in 1999 and went on to play in 27 more games for the Chiefs from 1999-00. Injuries eventually ended his career.
Up next, at the turn of the century, was Will Shields. Shields actually played through the 2000 season under the franchise title, earning a healthy $4.08 million, before agreeing to a six-year contract with the Chiefs in March of 2001.
“I’m going to give it an ‘A’ for effort,” Shields told the Kansas City Star upon reporting to training camp in River Falls, Wisconsin.
Contract talks obviously didn’t hamper Shields’ future in Kansas City. Not only did Shield finish his career as a Chief, but he also chose to live and work in the Kansas City area following his football career.
Shields currently owns a successful fitness and training facility in the area called 68 Inside Sports.
In 2002, Tony Gonzalez followed Shields to become the fourth Chief to receive the franchise tag. Should we call this edition HoopsGate?
After slapping the franchise tag on Gonzalez, the Chiefs were reportedly close to signing the All-Pro tight end to a long-term deal in the summer months of 2002…under one condition. Gonzalez was to give up his (pipe) dream of playing NBA basketball.
The tight end refused and his long-term contract offer was lifted from the table.
Notoriously against the length of NFL training camps, Gonzalez decided to sit this one out. During his holdout, Gonzalez injured his ankle while trying out for the Miami Heat.
He’d eventually report to the team in late August and sign his one-year franchise tender. Gonzalez was inked to a seven-year contract by September, but one with a special clause attached to it.
Gonzalez was free to chase his NBA dreams, but if he was injured again playing basketball, the contract called for a prorated repayment of his option bonus. With that, Gonzalez’s prospective basketball career eventually faded away.
Heading down the homestretch of Chiefs franchise tag history brings us to 2008 and an angry Jared Allen. The sack master had dealt with off-field drinking issues and Kansas City balked at throwing a long-term contract in Allen’s direction.
Allen sobered up and received the franchise tag in return. He’d been upset with his contract situation for over a year. Long story short, Allen wasn’t happy with this latest development either.
It wasn’t long before Allen was dealt away to Minnesota. The Vikings received the premier pass rusher, while Kansas City was handed draft picks that led to a starting left tackle (
Allen’s career in Kansas City was done.
Neil Smith, Dan Williams, Will Shields, Tony Gonzalez and Jared Allen…those are Tamba Hali’s predecessors.
Though Hali’s chapter has yet to be written, it looks like his entry might resemble print from the pages of Smith or Shields.
To be continued…
All-Time Franchise Players: Kansas City Chiefs
DE Neil Smith, 1993
DE Dan Williams, 1998
G Will Shields, 2000
TE Tony Gonzalez, 2002
DE Jared Allen, 2008
LB Tamba Hali, 2011