The Chiefs and Chris Jones each face some difficult decisions before July 15.
This is a very important week for the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s even more so for defensive lineman Chris Jones.
As of press time, the Chiefs and Jones remain separate parties at an untold distance over the terms under which Jones will potentially be playing in 2020. In the past, both team and player have stated they want to reach a long-term agreement that would keep Jones in K.C. for years to come. The only official movement, however, from the Chiefs is the application of the franchise tag upon Jones. For his part, Jones has not yet signed the tender.
What does all of this mean? At this point, it looks as if there are three primary choices facing Jones (and the Chiefs). Let’s go over each to know what is fully at stake.
A long-term deal
The NFL’s deadline for teams and players who have been given the franchise tag designation to negotiate an extension successfully is July 15. That’s Wednesday. After that, both sides must table any contractual talks until after the season is concluded.
It’s here that the Chiefs hold all the leverage. The franchise tag means that Jones has been basically offered a one-year deal for $16.1 million to play the 2020 season. Jones has no other way to play in the National Football League other than that—that is, unless he’s able to get the Chiefs to offer up a long-term extension to his liking.
However, the update here is that the Chiefs and Jones have “begun talking” in recent days. The Chiefs front office was able to get a long-term agreement with Patrick Mahomes finished and now Jones is the one looming decision left for general manager Brett Veach and the team’s front office. Perhaps they left themselves enough time to return to the table and hammer out one more big-money contract.
If you doubt it, just remember that the Chiefs said this is what they wanted to do all along.
Why Jones would do it: Besides saying that he wants to stay in Kansas City for the long haul, Jones also has the much greater risk heading into a season with no security beyond the coming year. If Jones is injured or if his play falls off for any reason, he loses much of the ground he’s gained so far in the NFL.
Right now, Jones is an elite disruptor along the defensive interior. He’s an All-Pro performer who wants to be paid like it, and NFL teams are typically quick to reward these sorts of players. Aaron Donald receives a king’s ransom every year and even DeForest Buckner just earned a long-term deal from the Indianapolis Colts, who also traded a first-round pick to acquire him.
If the Chiefs come within range of what a player of his production, youth, and future projection is worth, that’d be the safest bet for Jones.
Why Jones would not do it: If Jones is confident in his ability to maintain his play and avoid injury in 2020 (a tall order), then he could go the route of a Kirk Cousins, who has actually made a ton of money by leaping from multiple franchise tags to short guaranteed contracts.
Sign the tag
Right now, a handful of players who have been designated as franchise players have yet to sign them. However, many players wait until the eleventh hour due to attempts to negotiate a long-term contract until then.
For Jones, one other option, if he wants to bet on himself, is to come to Kansas City, sign the franchise tag, and let the season play out. This would mean Jones is playing in a contract year for $16.1 million and would become a free agent after the season is over (or the Chiefs could once again apply the franchise tag, albeit at a much higher price tag for the 2021 season).
Why Jones would do it: This is the confident player’s (or the angered player’s) response. Let’s say Jones is able to add another Super Bowl ring to his resume and/or that he’s able to put up 8 to 12 sacks and maintain consistent disruption from the heart of the defensive front. That’s another year of proven production. It’s also another year removed from the character or consistency concerns that haunted him coming out of college.
At this point, the Chiefs might find themselves more willing to cough up the long-term money desired. They also might be tired of the back and forth and could see what the trade landscape brings them in return. Either way, the long-term doors could be opened for Jones.
Why Jones would not do it: In this scenario, Jones not only has no real job security beyond this season, but the Chiefs remain in control of Jones for the immediate future as well. Jones could be given the tag a second time and, calculating 120% of his current salary, the total would only be for $19.3 million. That’s still less than what Jones reportedly wants from the Chiefs per season. In short, as we said, the Chiefs have all the leverage here.
This feels like the long shot option, although it has a bit more merit to it given that Jones was tweeting about taking advice from former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The current Jets back held out the entire 2018 season after receiving the franchise tag, and the team let him walk in free agency in 2019. He signed a big-money extension with New York and he remains a Jet at present.
Why Jones would do it: If Jones is taking his cues from Bell, then he might be convinced that it’s worth forcing the Chiefs hand to either give him a long-term extension to appreciate his production or lose it entirely. It’s the only bit of leverage that Jones has and it’s anyone’s guess as to how determined he is to use it. If he takes this option, it means that Jones believes completely in himself and is not concerned about his ability to earn a long-term deal from someone at some point.
Why Jones would not do it: This would signal the ultimate break and it’s a lose-lose proposition for everyone involved. Jones would face all of the same criticism and questions that Bell endured—being dramatic, being away from the game. He has worked hard to overcome any such concerns coming into the league already and he’s endeared himself to fans in Kansas City to date. The Chiefs also lose out here by not having their star back for another championship run and his stock takes a hit in case they want to trade him in the future.