Demarcus Lawrence, Chris Jones and the looming contract extension

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 05: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is sacked by Demarcus Lawrence #90 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during the Wild Card Round at AT&T Stadium on January 05, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 05: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is sacked by Demarcus Lawrence #90 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during the Wild Card Round at AT&T Stadium on January 05, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to pay up on a lucrative extension for Chris Jones. Does Demarcus Lawrence’s deal serve as a guide?

A long-term deal is coming. That much is for sure.

The Kansas City Chiefs have stated that they have interest in locking up defensive lineman Chris Jones for the long haul, and the player has reiterated his own desire to remain in K.C. as long as possible. It’s a marriage where both parties are willing—as long as the terms are agreeable.

It’s that last bit that forms the substance of any extension, since most players are willing to play most places if the money is right. So the primary question when it comes to Jones and the Chiefs isn’t really about willingness or anything else. It’s about exactly how much money it’s going to take.

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The Chiefs are in an interesting position. The NFL has announced this offseason as the arrival of the $20 million defender, even as the Chiefs spent the late winter shedding themselves of such commitments (or anything inching close to it). Are they really willing to dump one contract to pull up a chair to the same table for another player?

Earlier this offseason. one anonymous agent gave commentary for a CBS Sports article that stated “Get used to the $20 million per year pass rusher.” As salaries have escalated, the demand for pass rushers is at an all-time high, which means that several players now have that annual salary in their sights. Aaron Donald is there, as is Khalil Mack. Von Miller has long been on the verge, and now the next string of pass rushers to commit to something long-term are expected to command the same.

But consider the Chiefs perspective here. They are the ones who ushered in this very era with the long-term deal they gave Justin Houston in 2015, one that broke the $20M barrier for multiple years of that deal. The Chiefs not only released Houston this offseason, but they also sent Eric Berry packing, the most expensive safety in the NFL. Even Dee Ford, who himself signed for an average of nearly $19M with San Francisco, was traded away before he could force the franchise toward another sky-high financial commitment.

Now it’s time to lock up Chris Jones. Is he worth $20 million per season? Will he eclipse that total? Or are the Chiefs going to find a way to keep the value a bit lower given the offseason gutting they’ve done to their own roster?

The Dallas Cowboys recently signed Demarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal, and he became the latest great pass rusher to step across that $20 million line. The five year contract is worth $105 million over 5 years maximum, which gives Lawrence the bragging points of averaging such a mammoth total.

But here’s the thing about Lawrence. For anyone who claims that’s now the standard for which Jones’s deal will be tested, Jones is also much younger with less of an elite track record under his belt. That’s not a knock against Jones. He simply hasn’t had the chance to put those sort of stats up in the NFL just yet since he’s only played in the league for three full seasons.

The Cowboys are paying Lawrence a bit of a late fee for forcing him to show what he can do in a contract year for two seasons in a row. After giving him the franchise tag, Lawrence again put up double digit sacks (10.5) immediately after putting up 14.5 the previous year. Offenses key in on him but Pro Football Focus ranked him in the top 10 edge defenders in the game—against the run or pass.

Last year, Jones exploded onto stat sheets with his first double digit sack season yet with an incredible 15.5 sacks. His ceiling was always high but he proved even the most optimistic projections wrong with such an incredible burst from the interior. The Chiefs are right to want to lock him up, but how dependable are 15 sack seasons from this defensive tackle? No one is able to definitively say at this point.

Herein lies the risk. Do you reward 15.5 sacks as if that’s the baseline going forward? Do you reward Jones as an ascending player who has proven a lot without going overboard into an annual salary of $20 million? Do you allow Jones to earn that during a couple years within a larger framework? Do you go all in because that’s just the going amount?

There’s no denying the fact that the Chiefs are better off locking up Jones for the long-term now. He’s a truly special player in the trenches, a straightforward disruptor that could be a multi-season All-Pro for the next few years. But the Chiefs are taking on some sizable risk here after getting burned on the last couple long-term deals they’ve given. Injuries and inconsistency can cloud a long-term view once the money rolls in.

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Is it worth adding another name to the $20M/year club or will the Chiefs be able to keep the totals a notch or two below the going rate?