April 24, 2024

Chris Jones holdout: How we got here, what the future holds and what it means for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs

There are plenty of detentions or potential detention cases to monitor throughout NFL going into the beginning of training camps – Pro Bowl running Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley plus a Dallas Cowboys All-Pro offensive guard Zack Martin remember — but the Kansas Chiefs 2022 All-Pro is backed Chris Jones is the most important.

The 29-year-old defensive lineman is the anchor of the defense Super Bowl defending champion Chiefs. Jones is the only player to earn a Pro Bowl selection on that side of the ball as Kansas City’s front office has gone with an affordable youth movement around him as it tries to keep two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and its offense rolling. He also maintained a strong bill of health throughout his seven-year NFL career (2016-2022), missing just six games. Jones also continues to improve as he posted career highs in sacks (15.5, tied for fourth-most in the NFL in 2022) and quarterback pressures (77, fifth-most in the NFL in 2022) last season en route to helping lead the Chiefs to their second Super Bowl title in four years.

So, with Jones providing an elite skill set, ripping the passer, for a Chiefs defense loaded with players on their rookie deals, how did things escalate to the point where he felt the need to hold out? Here’s a look at how the deal has changed and where things could go between Jones and the Chiefs as he enters a contract year.

How the protected taxi market has changed

When Chris Jones signed his current contract that will enter its final season in 2023, four years, $80 million, that was being paid at the top of his positional market. In 2020 when Jones’ contract was entered, he was one of three defensive tackles with an average annual salary of at least $20 million along with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (then on a six-year contract, $135 million) and Indianapolis Colts All-Pro DeForest Buckner (on a four-year contract, $84 million).

Now instead of just putting Donald and Buckner at his job, Jones is behind eight defensive swans for the highest average annual salary: Donald, Jets All-Pro Quinnen Williams (four years, $96 million), Jeffrey Simmons of the Tennessee Titans (four years, $94 million), Giants Pro Bowler Dexter Lawrence (four years, $90 million), the Chiefs Pro Bowler $90 million, the Chiefs Pro Bowler $90 million grave (four years, $84 million), Leonard Williams of the New York Giants (three years, $63 million), and Buckner. With five of those signed during the 2023 offseason, it’s clear that the market value for the defensive tackle position has shifted upward.

Highest Average Per Year Among Defense Support Contracts

Aaron Donald (LAR)

3

$31.7 million

$95m

Quinn Williams (NYJ)

4

$24M*

$96M*

Jeffery Simmons (TEN)

4

$23.5M*

$94M*

Dexter Lawrence (NYG)

4

$22.5M*

$90M*

Daron Payne (WAS)

4

$22.5M*

$90M*

Javon Hargrave (SF)

4

$21M*

$84m*

Leonard Williams (NYG)

3

$21m

$63m

DeForest Buckner (IND)

4

$21m

$84m

Chris Jones (KC)

4

$20m

$80m

* Signed this season

Why Jones has leverage

No one else on this list other than Donald has anchored a Super Bowl defensive front like Jones, and he’s done it twice. His question comes at the right time since he is still on the right side of 30 for 2023 and entering the final year of a contract that is now an old friend compared to Jones’ market value. He finished third in DPOY voting last season behind San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, who led the NFL in sacks with 18.5 and co-led the league in quarterback pressures with 90, and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Micah Parsons, who also led the league in quarterback pressures with 90.

No one else on the Kansas City defense comes close to Jones in terms of production or salary, making a strong case for the Chiefs to extend him before Week 1. No one on the Chiefs defense other than Jones had more than 50 quarterback pressures, Jones had 77, or seven sacks, Jones had 15.5. Rookie defensive end George Karlaftis, the 30th overall pick of 2022 NFL draftranked second on the team the past two seasons with 48 quarterback pressures and six sacks.

Jones is currently one of five players on the Chiefs roster with a total contract value over $40 million, but he is the only Kansas City defensive player in that box. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (10 years, $450 million), guard Joe Thuney (five years, $80 million), right tackle Jawaan Taylor (four years, $80 million), and tight end Travis Kelce (four years, $57.3 million) are the others on the team who receive such high compensation.

While Kansas City currently ranks last in the NFL in available cap space for 2023 ($562,353), according to OverTheCap.com, the Chiefs are projected to have $51.2 million in cap room to use heading into the 2024 season, 11th-most in the entire league. There is now a way for Jones to pay off.

The path forward

General manager Brett Veach could get creative with structuring Jones’ potential deal to make it work for their future cap, which he said he believes will eventually happen. Kansas City could sign him to a four-year or three-year deal averaging just under $30 million annually with a first-year salary and cap hit lower than future years if needed.

“We have great communication and there is a lot of time before camp,” Veach said back in June at the end of the team’s minicamp Jones made a jump, via FOX 4 News in Kansas City. “Feel good about where we’re going to be with Chris. We’re going to celebrate tonight and have a good time, rest tomorrow, and I’m sure we’re going to have a great conversation from now until the start of training camp and we’re looking forward to Chris being here not just for next year, but for a long time.”

It makes too much sense for Kansas City to insult their defensive leader since Justin Reid (three years, $31.5 million) is the only Chiefs defenders with deals totaling $20 million or higher. Most of Kansas City’s key contributors are on rookie deals, making Jones’ importance that much greater given that he is as vital an intangible presence as he is in terms of the on-field counting stats. As long as the negotiations between Veach and Jones maintain the tone the general manager hinted at in June, there are plenty of reasons for the two sides to come together and make a deal.

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