In a previous article, I mentioned the extremes that can be observed regarding the Chiefs inactivity in free agency. They have since acquired Remmers and Hamilton, but the big question remains in terms of what they plan to do with Chris Jones and Sammy Watkins. There seems to be a tremendous amount of fan support in maintaining both for this upcoming season, and I’m in favor of that approach as well. There also appears to be a population of fans who understand that the business side of things may take both players elsewhere.
What We Know
Jones received the Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag earlier this month, which means he is free to sign an offer sheet with another team. Should another team offer a contract, the Chiefs will have the ability to match that contract offer. If they cannot or choose not to match the offer, the Chiefs receive two first-round picks as compensation. The projected amount will be $16.1M for 2020 and charged directly to the Chiefs’ salary cap.
We know that Jones is asking for greater compensation than he’s projected to receive in 2020. Will he take less to remain on an incredibly talented team? I don’t think he’s interested in taking less or a “hometown discount.” He already fired a warning shot last season by delaying his return to Kansas City and threatening to hold out. There were conversations about the Chiefs changing his position from DE to DT upon the arrival of Steve Spagnuolo and the new defensive scheme. With that position change came a change in projected compensation. This most likely explains the alleged large gap that existed between both parties while in contract negotiations last season. Based on various interviews with Brett Veach, we know the Chiefs fully recognize Jones’ talent, impact, and worth, and they want to reach an agreement to keep Jones in Kansas City for years to come.
It’s a very unpopular opinion, but the Chiefs maintain the leverage in these negotiations. There are three current options for Jones; play the 2020 season under the tag, reach an agreement on a new contract, or receive an offer from another team that sends two first-round picks to the Chiefs if the offer is unmatched. Jones has commented on wanting to remain in Kansas City, though he has also commented on wanting to put himself and his family in the best possible position.
Turning to Watkins, he is under contract for the 2020 season and due to earn $14M. When he joined the Chiefs in 2018, the three-year contract was for $48M with an average yearly salary that ranked ninth-highest among WR’s. If they honor the current contract, the Chiefs are taking a cap hit of $21M. Should they simply release Watkins, it will result in a cap charge of $7M for the 2020 season but free up $14M in cap space. Plus, none of the $14M owed to Watkins in 2020 is guaranteed. Should they entertain trade talks with other teams, there is no guarantee that the Chiefs will receive adequate compensation for what Watkins brings to the Chiefs with both his on and off-the-field production.
Both Veach and Reid have fielded questions related to Watkins’ status, and both were very optimistic that something could be accomplished. We know that Watkins is unsure of how he wants to handle the 2020 season. When speaking with Matt Derrick during Super Bowl week about possible contract renegotiations, Watkins was quoted as saying he may choose to sit out the 2020 season. He also stated that he believes coming to Kansas City and playing for Andy Reid may have been the best decision he has made in his lifetime. In an interview with NFL.com, Watkins admitted that he’s not totally opposed to considering a pay cut, stating that he understands and agrees that the Chiefs are nearing a new contract with Patrick Mahomes.
We know that Watkins’ regular season production the past two seasons left many fans questioning his value, posting a total of 1192 yards and 6 TD’s. However, we also know that one could make a strong argument that Watkins’ post season contributions (464 yards, 1 TD) elevated him as a superb “complementary receiver” and played a significant role in the Chiefs ultimately winning Super Bowl LIV.
What We Don’t Know
We have no idea what’s being discussed behind closed doors or telephonically at 1 Arrowhead Drive. It has been incredibly silent among Chiefs personnel, players, and even other teams around the league. With so many “insiders” around the league, one could assume that even if the Chiefs aren’t willing to share any information, agents and/or other teams might leak potential discussions related to Jones or Watkins. There have been a handful of social media postings that fueled fan anxiety, but nothing has suggested that the Chiefs are not quietly and diligently working towards a resolution with both players. We have seen what could be considered outrageous trades and acquisitions among players at the DT and WR positions, yet not a word was heard from the Jones or Watkins camps. The best that can be provided at the present time is pure speculation, and I believe now is the best time to follow the old adage, “No news is good news.” Let’s stick with that for the time being.