Reading the latest tea leaves on Chris Jones and the Chiefs

MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 02: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to avoid the pressure from Chris Jones #95 of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. The Chiefs won the game 31-20. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 02: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to avoid the pressure from Chris Jones #95 of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. The Chiefs won the game 31-20. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Our attempts to read the latest tea leaves on whether or not Chris Jones will get his extension has us more confused than ever.

The single biggest question facing the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason comes down to what decision the team is prepared to make with defensive star Chris Jones.

To boil it down, the team has three options in front of them and each of them comes with a unique set of pros and cons, a significant reward and cost both, that must be weighed very carefully. When a team like the Chiefs reaches such a zenith as a Super Bowl winner and perennial contender, the balance in roster management becomes a tightrope walk for the front office.

When it comes to Jones, the defensive tackle has earned a major payday from someone at this point and it’s well-deserved. Besides Aaron Donald, he’s the most feared interior disruptor in the NFL, a man who set a league record with most consecutive games with at least one sack and now he also comes with a Super Bowl ring. Jones should come out smiling with an annual $20 million payout, so the question comes as to whether or not the Chiefs can afford this total when they’re already paying a pass rusher at that set price tag in Frank Clark.

The three options in front of the Chiefs, for the sake of review:

  1. Pay Chris Jones what he deserves to keep such a talented homegrown talent on the team and allow other positions to take the financial hit.
  2. Use the franchise tag on Chris Jones (already done) to allow him to play one more season in K.C. at a more palatable price of $15.5 (the set franchise tag amount).
  3. Having used the franchise tag, the Chiefs could then trade him to another team a la Dee Ford last season for what would likely be a significant haul of draft assets.

Despite the lack of an actual deal, both sides to this point have been on the same page. Chris Jones has made it abundantly clear that he loves the Chiefs, loves Chiefs Kingdom, loves playing in Arrowhead, loves having Andy Reid as his coach, and wants to retire as a member of the organization. On the flip side, anyone speaking on behalf of the organization—from Reid to general manager Brett Veach to team owner Clark Hunt—have been just as clear, not only about how much they appreciate Jones but how much of a priority it is to bring him back.

Even more recently, in these days of cryptic tweets, Jones seemed to insinuate something—at least for those of us constantly searching for news.

Is that a handshake? Is that a fist bump? Does that mean a tentative agreement has been reached and we’re all supposed to celebrate together? (I realize how old I sound trying to interpret emoji in a column here, so I might as well own it.) Given the lack of news on a collective bargaining agreement, it makes sense that the Chiefs would withhold any such news until everything is cemented on a new labor pact.

In short, everything until this point has signaled the likelihood of the first overall option happening for the Chiefs. The Chiefs want to keep him and Veach is a straight shooter. Jones wants to stay here. The salary cap is reportedly ready to skyrocket. All the pieces are in place.

Or are they? Andy Reid recently gave an interview on Fescoe in the Morning on 610 Sports in Kansas City. When asked about the importance of Jones, Reid started strong and then switched to some interesting team-speak.

"“Chris is a part of this team, a big part of this team. I mean, he helped us get where we were. You know, it’s crazy, ’cause in this business, we’re all expendable, right? That’s been proven over and over again. On the other hand, you’d like to keep everybody, but that’s not real. Would we like to keep Chris? Sure, but things happen in this business. We’re all players and coaches. We’re all used to that. And so, if he’s here, great, man. That’s a great thing. If he’s not, we’re gonna keep plowing, man, and keep moving on. We expect somebody else to step up and fill in that position. We get all of that. I think you’ve been in this thing long enough, I think we understand that. I think the fans understand that."

For the first time in any public quote, a Chiefs official started to describe a team without Jones. Reid primed the pump by describing fans as understanding. He quotes the old “next man up” maxim. He references the team’s ability to keep going in the face of losses because, in the NFL, “we’re all used to it.”

If you’ve been following the Chiefs quotes in detail, you’ll recognize this as a significant departure from anything said in the past. Even when pressed about the possibility of Jones leaving, other Chiefs officials like Veach have acknowledged the possibility of Jones not being a Chief, but they’ve never leaned on any such excuse—even when they could have. In fact, it’s been surprising just how little the Chiefs have used this angle—until now.

One reason for so much positivity surrounding Jones and his likelihood of returning is just how straightforward the Chiefs have been about wanting him back without also bringing up the “what if”s in a case things don’t work out. Now Reid is suddenly adding that to a question that didn’t even ask about Jones’s future (but it was instead about Jones’s importance). They’re not entirely disconnected, but the switch felt purposeful.

Then again, at this point, I could be a guy reading far too much into a few emoji characters and Andy Reid stating the obvious. Reid is not wrong here. The Chiefs will go on if they trade him. They will depend on Khalen Saunders and more to step up in his absence. All of that is true. It’s just that, until this point, the Chiefs haven’t felt the need to say so. And maybe that’s because things aren’t as rosy behind the scenes as we might have anticipated.

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