The nightmare for the Chiefs would be to lose Chris Jones after this year.
In the immediate aftermath of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV Championship, the future outlook for the champs was bright, looking purely through rose-colored glasses. The biggest question marks of the offseason surrounded the fate of wide receiver Sammy Watkins and the long-term contracts for MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes and All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones.
When it came to Jones, we were optimistic that a deal would get done. Why wouldn’t we be? General manager Brett Veach indicated it was a priority and both sides were committed to a long term deal. However, prior to the draft, we were also told that the Pro Bowl tackle was a “sleeper” trade candidate for Kansas City.
Now, almost four months after the Chiefs reached football’s greatest summit, the outlook has the potential to end up much different. Not only has Kansas City placed the franchise tag on Jones—a move they’d seemed committed to avoiding—but also they appear no closer to signing their superstar to a long term deal. As Pro Football Talk and Ian Rapoport reported recently, there have been no talks between the Chiefs and Jones’ camp since the tag was placed, and there is no traction towards a deal. Rapoport expounded on NFL’s Total Access:
Let’s be clear: we’re not saying that Jones will not receive a long-term extension to stay in Kansas City. We’re also not implying or insinuating that Veach does not have ample time remaining (five weeks) to get a deal done. And we’re not arguing that the relationship between the two camps is somehow soured or hopelessly disrupted. None of those things are true at this time. There is plenty of time remaining, and no credible information indicates that there is anger or frustration on either side of the negotiation at this time.
There are still three possibilities remaining: Jones receives a long term extension prior to July 15th (still the most likely outcome), Jones plays this season on the franchise tag (and then almost certainly leaves in 2021), or Jones is traded to another team prior to the start of the season.
However, there exists myriad reasons why a failure to extend or trade (for adequate compensation) its superstar defensive tackle would represent, by far, the largest failure of Brett Veach’s young career as general manager in Kansas City. And, if he does fail, this has all the makings of an absolute catastrophe for Veach and Kansas City.
First, placing the franchise tag on Jones this year means that he is not participating in offseason training activities (OTAs) with the team. Sure, it is true that he did not do so last year either and it turned out fine. However, the team at that time did not have established defensive philosophy or leadership, and was undergoing a radical change with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and a bevy of new starters. This year, the team is fully committed to #RunItBack, and any distractions from that risk disrupting otherwise quality team chemistry. Any indication that this has done so (or does so) would be a massive loss for a Kansas City team who has won a lot since Veach took over. Veach has been right far more than he’s been wrong, thus far.
Second, the Chiefs failed to receive top-notch compensation for their young stud defensive lineman by trading him before the draft. The San Francisco 49ers received an early first round pick (No. 13 overall) for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner prior to the 2020 draft. Jones is not only younger than Buckner, he’s also objectively better than the new Indianapolis Colt. Any trade compensation the team receives now will almost certainly be of lower value than what the NFC Champions received.
Third, if the team forces Jones to play 2020 on the franchise tag, the likelihood that he’ll leave in free agency next year is near 100 percent. Yes, the team could franchise him again, but if he’s upset about the tag this year, one can only imagine what will happen if he’s tagged again. And, the tag would then cost north of $21 million, which is less than ideal for a team that will be up against the cap already with a new contract for their star quarterback and a starting lineup number of pending free agents.
Fourth, the team has next-to-no leverage in their negotiations with Jones. Even if they secure a late trade for him (tough to do this late due to cap space available on nearly every other team), they did not acquire a replacement for Jones, and losing him in 2020 absolutely makes the defense worse. This is not ideal in a repeat bid year.
Fifth, a failure on their star defensive tackle would ensure the historical narrative was always that the team chose to pay Frank Clark instead of paying Chris Jones. Most, including this writer, are confident that this would not be a historically positive note for the Chiefs and Brett Veach. Chris Jones is a better player, a more important contributor, fills a more difficult need (at the level he plays at), and is a team-drafted talent. There is no reason to believe that a Clark over Jones narrative would ever look good for Veach.
Brett Veach will be the general manager in Kansas City for a long time—maybe as long as he wants to be, but at least as long as Andy Reid is the coach. And, he’s earned that much. Not only has he made a plethora of quality transactions, but he also brought the city its first Super Bowl title in 50 years. He’ll be given all the latitude he wants from this point forward.
There is still plenty of time left to get a deal done, and we’re not ready to seal the fate of Jones yet. But a failure to seal a deal with Jones (or a failure to have traded him at maximum value) would represent a dark stain on his otherwise very bright resume. It would be his biggest failure as a general manager.