The Kansas City Chiefs have to juggle a star contract extension soon, and no, it’s not for quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones is also looking for a big payday. After his role in Super Bowl 54, as well as the four seasons since he was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft, Jones more than deserves it.
There’s just one problem: How much can the Chiefs pay Jones?
The two parties are currently at a standstill. Jones wants $21 million and Kansas City wants to see how its 2021 salary cap will be affected by Mahomes’ looming extension but more importantly COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has already impacted the offseason and previously scheduled events—the Hall of Fame Game has been canceled and the enshrinement ceremony has been postponed—and will significantly affect the 2021 salary cap. Before the pandemic, the salary cap was expected to increase by $11 million. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on MySportsUpdate Football Podcast in May that teams’ salary caps could take a hit anywhere between $30-80 million.
Mahomes will get a top-end deal, besting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s record-setting contract. Spotrac puts Mahomes’ market value at just north of $36.3 million per year. And Jones’ value? It’s in the ballpark of the top defensive ends, an honor Jones has earned.
Jones’ market value is currently $20.1 million; a contract this high would be behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald ($22.5 million), the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence ($21 million), and teammate Frank Clark ($20.8). The kicker here is that Clark just penned a five-year, $104 million deal with the Chiefs last offseason, which was the kind of money Jones was looking for from them. Kansas City wanted some reinforcement and still had other key playmakers to consider, including wide receiver Tyreek Hill, to re-sign. The Chiefs thought Jones was fine, for the time being, playing out the final year of his rookie contract. But, as expected, his price went up, and Jones staying with Kansas City is becoming more unfeasible with the other impending factors.
The Chiefs are concerned about how they can get this deal done. They want Jones long-term, NFL Network’s James Palmer reported, but “COVID's played a big part with teams not knowing what the cap will be in 2021,” and the NFL, while operating business, as usual, hasn’t provided any clarity.
Can Kansas City pay two defensive ends $20-plus million dollars and Mahomes whatever number he wants? It’s going to take some excellent cap gymnastics; the Chiefs aren’t working with a lot.
Jones, who will turn 26 next month, didn’t play the full 2019 season but his efforts, particularly three passes defended in the Super Bowl while battling injury, make him one of the most fearsome interior defensive linemen. In four seasons, Jones has 97 solo tackles, 33 sacks—including a season-high 15 1/2 when he played in all 16 games in 2018—and 20 passes defended. In 2018, he ranked third in pressures and second in sacks among the NFL’s interior defensive linemen and does it at a quicker pace than anyone.
Jones has quietly been mentioned in the same breath as Donald and is playing fewer snaps than the Rams’ star. In 2019, Donald led in PFF’s pass-rush productivity at 8.7. The only other interior defensive lineman with 300-plus pass-rushing snaps that had pass-rush productivity above 8.0 was Jones (8.2). He’s been constantly producing and one of the best features of Kansas City’s lowly defensive line.
He is on the non-exclusion franchise tag. If he and the Chiefs cannot come to an agreement by the July 15 deadline, Jones will be playing the 2020 season on a $16.1 million deal. Kansas City already devalued Jones when it let him play out his original deal; it can’t get away with low-balling him when the time comes to really negotiate a new contract.