Can the Kansas City Chiefs really allow Chris Jones to walk away when he’s done absolutely everything right since arriving in town?
The Kansas City Chiefs face a very difficult decision, and there’s not an obvious answer—at least without access to 1 Arrowhead Drive. What should the franchise do with regards to Chris Jones’ future with the team?
Do they sign Jones for the long-term and somehow try to squeeze another $20 million commitment into a budget already set to burst? Do they let him go, even in a trade, and watch an ideal citizen on and off the field leave the place he loves?
Every NFL team has to make painful decisions like this. It’s the very point of the salary cap to keep competitive disadvantages from forming between owners with deeper pockets than others. Just watch Major League Baseball these days to ask about how popular it feels to have the rich get richer before an already long season gets started.
Some teams are great at this. The New England Patriots became synonymous with being cold-hearted and calculating. Did you play through an injury? Didn’t matter. Fan favorite? Fans will cheer for anyone. Community hero? Someone else will come along. Only Tom Brady, the rarest of talents, was above the heartless franchise model that let every other sort of contributor walk as if they were role players at best.
For the Chiefs, there are solid arguments to make against keeping Chris Jones that actually have nothing to do with Chris Jones. The other day my son asked me if we could adopt a particular puppy that we saw and we told him no. It had nothing to do with the puppy. We lack the time, the money, the space, the lifestyle for raising a puppy right now. The puppy could be a future rescue hero or an amazing companion. It didn’t matter. A look at circumstances other than the puppy itself dictated the answer.
I’m assuming it runs the same way internally at Arrowhead. I’ve no doubt that everyone, top to bottom on the organizational ladder, love Jones as a player and person. But it might have nothing to do with the player at all. It’s about financial space. It’s about needs at other positions and incoming talent where Jones plays. It’s about resource allocation when other factors are going to make a dynasty that much more difficult.
These are the days in which the Chiefs cannot afford such a mistake.
But all of still feels wrong to say about Jones. After all, Jones isn’t just a contributor; he’s a dominator. Think about this: other than Aaron Donald, many players and coaches would likely identify Jones as the single most disruptive talent along the defensive interior. If disrupting the quarterback is the quickest path to defensive success, then having one of the NFL’s best, especially someone still so young, simply has to be a priority, right?
Jones joined the Chiefs as a second round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft as a prospect with a questionable motor and inconsistent performances on game tape. The otherworldly strength was there. The surprising quickness and elite pairing of size and athleticism was already in place. But a team had to know whether or not they could unlock his drive on the highest level.
Four years later, the Chiefs have a clear answer. In 2018, Jones set an NFL record for consecutive games with a sack with 11 and he finished third in the league that year with 15.5. This year, he finished with 9 sacks and 20 quarterback hits despite missing 3 games due to injury. In four years, Jones has 72 quarterback hits, 33 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, and 20 batted passes—and he’s still learning. There’s no reason to believe Jones’ ceiling has yet been reached.
What’s even more impressive is that Jones could really blossom further in Steve Spagnuolo’s system after having a full year to learn its nuances. He’s also developing further chemistry with Frank Clark and other such teammates. What’s the next step beyond elite? Is Jones on a Hall of Fame trajectory? At this point, it’s far too early to tell but Canton is certainly not out of the question.
Even more, Jones is a fan favorite for Chiefs Kingdom. It’s impossible not to love the guy for all of his swagger and antics. Together with Clark up front, he gives the Chiefs very real teeth in a defense that was recently quite toothless. They talk the talk and then follow it up with very real pressure. Just ask Tom Brady how much he enjoys having Jones in his face.
There was a brief moment that Jones thought about holding out, but he ended up reporting last year to training camp on time despite the fact that he wanted a long-term deal done even then. Since that moment, Jones has been a model citizen in K.C. and has been clear time and again in his words that he wants to stay a member of the Chiefs for the rest of his career. Fans likely feel the same: Jones is captivating to watch on the field and hilarious off of it. He’s endearing and intimidating. He’s the sort of player that makes you say, “Damn, so glad he’s on my team!”
But it’s that earlier word—feels—that likely gives it away on this (my) side. Maybe it’s emotion that’s getting in my way. Perhaps the successful general manager, owner, and front office executive is the one who is removed from emotion. If players are reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet, then maybe letting Jones go is easier to stomach.
For fans, however, for those on the outside of 1 Arrowhead Dr., it’s hard to stomach the thought of Jones playing elsewhere when the marriage here is so clearly healthy.