There has been a lot of talk about Kansas City Chiefs star defensive tackle Chris Jones not reporting to training camp this week. Jones is entering the final year of a four-year $80 million contract that he signed before the 2020 season and many are wondering what kind of deal it will take to get Jones back in the fold so KC can make another Super Bowl run.
Much of the discussion around Jones has focused on the contracts of other top defensive tackles. The Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald broke the defensive tackle market last year when he signed a staggering three-year extension that works out to about $31.7 million per year. The Rams had to throw a couple of void years into the deal to make the cap gymnastics work, but all that matters to most people is that $31.7 million average.
The Kansas City Chiefs need to offer up whatever it takes to bring back Stone Cold.
The new second-highest-paid defensive tackle is the New York Jets' Quinnen Williams, who recently signed a four-year extension that averages $24 million per year. Naturally, the discussion around Jones has been that his deal should simply be somewhere between Williams' $24 million/year and Donald's $31.7 million/year.
The problem is that it's not that simple. Quinnen Williams is a great player, but he's more of a traditional defensive tackle. He's not an elite pass rusher like Aaron Donald and Chris Jones are. In the current NFL, passing the football wins games, so on the defensive front the more you get after the quarterback, the more you get paid. Period.
While Patrick Mahomes may be the only untouchable player on KC's roster, there is no denying that Chris Jones has been KC's only elite difference maker on the defensive side of the ball during KC's Super Bowl runs. Jones was tied for fourth in the entire NFL in sacks last season with 15.5 sacks. In fact, over the past five seasons, Jones ranks fourth in the NFL in total sacks. Again, that's not amongst defensive tackles, that's out of everyone in the entire NFL. Here are the top four:
1. T.J. Watt - 70.5 sacks
2. Myles Garrett - 67.5 sacks
3. Aaron Donald - 64 sacks
4. Chris Jones - 56.5 sacks
Jones is in elite company when it comes to sacks and you have to know that his agent is going to demand that he is paid accordingly. Now, the good news is that the top edge rushers still haven't been able to top Aaron Donald's $31.7 million average. They are, however, definitely above Williams' $24 million number.
Here are the current top three contracts for edge rushers:
1. T.J. Watt
$28 million/year (4 years/$112 million)
$80 million guaranteed
Signed in 2021
2. Joey Bosa
$27 million/year (5 years/$135 million)
$78 million guaranteed
Signed in 2020
3. Myles Garrett:
$25 million/year (5 years/$125 million)
$50 million guaranteed
Signed in 2020
It simply doesn't work to use Quinnen Williams' $24 million/year as the floor of the contract range for Chris Jones. He's a top-five pass rusher and top-five pass rushers were making more than that three years ago. I think the Chiefs will have to beat T.J. Watt's $28 million/year average. You can argue that Watt is younger and is first in sacks over the past five seasons, but his deal is also two years old. If you're a top-five guy, your contract beats the old best deal even if that guy is a little better. You just have to look at how many quarterbacks are now making more than Patrick Mahomes to know that is true.
Frankly, Jones' agent can make a strong argument for Jones deserves more money than Donald, as Jones is younger and greatly out-produced him last season. I think there is an understanding that Donald's deal was so over the top that it's reasonable to come in underneath it. That would then tighten the window for a Jones deal to $29-30 million/year so that it slotted below Donald but above Watt. If the Chiefs aren't willing to go to that number then KC fans will have to hope that Jones is willing to play for less than he deserves.
If you aren't on board with giving Jones a deal with that high of average, you're really going to think what I'm about to suggest is crazy. After playing with the numbers a little, I think I would offer Jones a five-year deal. Something like 5 years, $150 million ($30 million/year average), with $80 million guaranteed. That would put him second behind all pass rushers behind Aaron Donald on a yearly average and would be the largest total dollar contract for a defender in the entire NFL.
That may sound crazy, but by spreading the money out over five years you can keep the cap hits down more in the first couple of years of the deal and give the team more options in what they want to do with Jones after the guaranteed money is finished. If you do a four-year deal for $30 million/year, you either have to have big cap numbers right away or have a ridiculously huge number in the fourth year of the deal that everyone knows will never be paid.
Here's a simplified example of how a deal like this could work. $25 million of the $80 million guaranteed is a signing bonus that is pro-rated over all five years of the deal. Then the remaining $55 million that is guaranteed is his salary for the first three seasons. So essentially you have a fully guaranteed three-year deal and after that the only dead money if he is cut is the remaining signing bonus cap hits. So the yearly breakdown could be something like this:
- Year 1 - Fully guaranteed $15 million cap hit ($5 million signing bonus, $10 million salary)
- Year 2 - Fully guaranteed $25 million cap hit ($5 million signing bonus, $20 million salary)
- Year 3 - Fully guaranteed $30 million cap hit ($5 million signing bonus, $25 million salary)
- Year 4 - $35 million cap hit (only $5 million signing bonus is guaranteed)
- Year 5 - $45 million cap hit (only $5 million signing bonus is guaranteed)
So in year 4 of the deal (2026) the Chiefs would have options. They could keep Jones (who would be 32 that season) if he's still worth the $35 million cap hit, they could save $25 million in cap space by cutting him and only have $10 million in dead cap, or they could renegotiate if Jones' play has started to decline. The proposed fifth year is highly unlikely to be reached, but this structure at least makes the fourth year possible. While it would be a five-year deal on paper, it would essentially be a fully guaranteed three-year deal with an optional fourth year and no more than $10 million in dead money after the first three years.
So what do you think Chiefs fans? Are you worried about Chris Jones holdout yet? Do you agree that he deserves to be paid like a top pass rusher? What do you think of the idea of doing a five year deal to spread the money around more? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments below.