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The GMKC: The Chris Jones Conundrum

Chris Jones is a fantastic football player. There is no way to deny this statement, 33 sacks in four career seasons along with an All-Pro selection, a Pro-Bowl selection, and a Super Bowl is outstanding at the age of 25. He is entering the prime of his career with accomplishments already under his belt. In the Super Bowl, he very well might have been the game’s most impactful player defensively for the Chiefs, being involved in almost every one of the unit’s big stops or key plays.

While only being credited with one tackle his impact was much greater than that, especially with his hit on Garoppolo to set up the Baushaud Breeland interception, but also his pass deflections late in the game, which visibly took Garoppolo out of his game. Is Chris Jones elite? Yes. Does Chris Jones deserve to be paid highly for being elite? Yes. Will the Kansas City Chiefs be the team to highly pay for Chris Jones?….

Just weeks after the Super Bowl it became quite clear the Chiefs had every intention of keeping Chris Jones around and not letting him hit the open market during free agency.

For General Manager of the Chiefs Brett Veach, this decision had to have been one of the easiest decisions of his career. It has been the following three months and some change that have been the most difficult.

Tag and trades have overnight become one of the hottest trends in the NFL, and just last offseason in Kansas City we saw the Chiefs involved in two tag and trades, one to send Dee Ford to San Fransisco and a new contract for a second-round pick, and one more to give up a first-round pick to acquire and sign Frank Clark to a five year $105 million dollar deal. The investment paid off as the Chiefs won the Super Bowl which is, in the end, the ultimate goal, and Clark showed dominance through the playoff run. It should be noted though that dominance in the NFL is not cheap, especially for pass rushers.

Placing the tag on Jones was the best move for Veach to continue to be able to negotiate either a new contract with Jones or find a trade partner. Chiefs Kingdom was very split, more so than usual for having such a dominant player being up for new contract negotiations. Some were all in favor of busting open the books and giving Jones a mega deal, but there was a large enough faction who were all for the tag and trade, partially out of the tremendous haul of picks the Chiefs could have gotten in return, but also because another player for the Chiefs will soon have a big deal, more than likely one of if not the biggest in the history of the NFL.

Patrick Mahomes and his contract are at the top of the list for things that Brett Veach will tend to as a new era of Chiefs football, but that’s a story for a different day. This one is still very much in the present and has to do with Chris Jones, who is still on the franchise tag, and who since the initial tag announcement there have been no moves made on, or even talks of negotiations. No in-person off-season meetings due to the Covid-19 pandemic definitely did not help the negotiations situation, but also Deforest Buckner re-setting the DT market and sitting only behind Aaron Donald’s in terms of how expensive his contract would end up being.

Buckner’s four years $84 million deal cost the Indianapolis Colts not only in terms of the salary cap, but also in terms of having to surrender a good first-round pick at 13 overall, and it also showed us that the Colts, who had been rumored to be interested in Jones, had come to the decision that Jones would be far too expensive, or cost too many drafts picks. After seeing the deal Buckner received, it seems like 30 other general managers were in the same boat. Had the Chiefs been looking to tag and trade this would have blown the plan up. DeForest Buckner is a very good football player but he is no Chris Jones. The deal Buckner received would nearly guarantee Jones would get a deal around $100 million as well as cost a team not just one first-round pick, but potentially multiple picks. It wouldn’t have been to the extent of the Raiders and Bears deal that sent Khalil Mack to Chicago, but it would have been more than what the Colts gave up for Buckner. Trade rumors died down after the NFL draft, and it started to seem like a long term deal from the Chiefs was on the way, but in late May a new development had unfolded, one that left many scratching their heads.

This is where the true conundrum begins, had the Chiefs been intent on signing Jones to a long term deal they would have surely started negotiations before now. Had they wanted a trade it would have happened back before the draft, and while a mid-summer trade could happen it is highly unlikely, especially a month away from the reported start of training camp when teams rosters and salary caps are likely set for the season. It seems unlikely that Brett Veach end game was to let Jones play on the tag this season, where he will make $16 on the franchise tag, but that is the situation the Chiefs find themselves stuck in with around a month left before the July 15th contract extension deadline. For nearly any other player this would be far less of a conundrum, but as mentioned earlier Jones is not just any other player, and while DeForest Buckner is a good player, he is not on the level of Chris Jones as far as interior defensive linemen play goes. Jones is a special player, and is not as far as some would think behind Aaron Donald in terms of overall game impact as well as ability.

Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 310 pounds, there are very few players ever who posses his combination of size, length, raw power, and pass rush. Some naysayers have oftentimes been critical of Jones’ run defense but as the three-technique in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 under defense Jones didn’t just play well against the run, he became a key player in stopping backside cutbacks as well as using his quickness to blow up side runs by creating penetration.

He is a rare type of player and is only 25 years old which makes this decision even heavier for Brett Veach. There is a lot of time in one month but as far a multi-year extension it doesn’t seem likely. At this point preparing for the 2021 season the Chiefs could attempt to execute a trade to get significant draft capital back but with how much Jones would require in a deal it is unlikely teams that are willing to trade first-round picks will also be willing to have Jones take up a large part of the cap. The Patrick Mahomes mega-deal is a factor but it seems as Veach is choosing who he wants to pay the big bucks. While Mahomes will remain a Chief his entire career, the same cannot be said for Jones. The most likely scenario now seems to be the tag staying on Jones and either he holds out or decides to play. The only scenario in which the Chiefs would trade him this late when it will affect their pass rush production as a team would be if they could get a massive haul, and potentially multiple first-round picks in return. If Jones plays on the tag and plays well he will be setting himself up to either be tagged or traded again. This is in a lot of ways a contract season for Jones. It could also give the Chiefs more time to take care of Mahomes and his deal to give them and Jones and his agents an indicator of how much they could spend on him if they wait till after the 2021 season to begin working on a long term extension. A second-year on the cap would increase how much Jones would make the second season as well. If an extension can’t be reached by the end of next season it is reasonable to believe the Chiefs will try to look to deal Jones then. This decision combined with whatever the Chiefs decide to do with Mahomes will shape the next five or six years of the franchise. As of now Brett Veach has stood firm on trying to get Jones to play on the tag. But how much longer will he continue to stand firm while at the same time denying one of the best players in football a chance at getting the contract of a lifetime? Brett Veach has had some tough decisions during his time in Kansas City but this one is by far the hardest.

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