Agent Opinion: How the Chiefs should approach Chris Jones’ next contract before the 2023 season begins

Will Jones be paid what he is worth despite his desire to be a “Chief for life”?

Before attempting to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the 2004 Patriots, the Chiefs have one urgent task to finish. It involves extending the contract of defensive tackle Chris Jones, a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Jones paid a $98,753 fine for skipping Kansas City’s previous week’s three-day required minicamp due to his contract situation. Before Jones clarified on Twitter that he was ill, his absence from the championship ring ceremony on June 15 originally raised questions about the extent of his displeasure with his contract. Instead of accepting Jones’ claims at face value, some critics persist.

At the ring ceremony, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach voiced hope for Jones. According to Veach, who spoke to Kansas City’s FOX 4 News, “We have great communication, and there is a lot of time before camp.” Feel pleased about where Chris and I will be. We’ll get to celebrate tonight and have a wonderful time, take a break tomorrow, and I’m sure we’ll have fantastic conversations before training camp even begins. We can look forward to Chris being here for a very long time, not just for the upcoming season.

Jones is entering the last year of a four-year, $80 million deal that he signed as a franchise player in 2020. The deal has guarantees worth $60 million and is worth up to $85 million in incentives. This season, he will receive a base salary of $19.5 million. His $28,291,668 salary cap amount is the fourth highest among defensive players in the NFL for 2023.

Jones is allegedly aiming to earn at least the second-highest salary of any interior defensive lineman in the league. In addition to setting the market, Aaron Donald is the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league. Last June, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year agreed to a three-year, $95 million deal with an average of $31,666,667.

Jones believed that the young defensive tackles (Quinnen Williams of the Jets, Dexter Lawrence of the Giants, and Jeffery Simmons of the Titans), who were entering the final year of their rookie contracts, would “blow the market out” this summer in the weeks before Super Bowl LVII. Jones did so because he was aware that any changes in the market would benefit him.

In terms of interior defensive lineman salaries, Simmons is now ranked second. In April, he was granted a four-year, $94 million deal, averaging $23.5 million annually with guarantees of $59.8 million. Williams is anticipated to offer a contract worth up to $25 million per year before the Jets’ training camp begins in the later part of July, helping to close the gap between Donald and the rest of the market.

Since Jones was the best interior defensive lineman last season, even before Donald missed the final six regular-season games with an ankle injury, and applying the franchise tag to him in 2024 will be prohibitively expensive, he should have bargaining power. He had 15.5 sacks, which was a career high. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones’ quarterback pressures (comprised of sacks, quarterback hurries, and quarterback hits) were the sixth most in the NFL and lead interior defensive lineman. He was a nominee for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and received All-Pro recognition. Due to the franchise tag’s provisions for a 120% salary boost, using the tag on Jones the next season will cost $33.6 million.

A constrained salary cap situation works in Jones’ advantage as well. NFLPA statistics shows that the Chiefs are just over $1 million under the salary cap. Given that the contract of reigning NFL MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes was already adjusted for salary cap considerations in March, a Jones extension would be the ideal option to provide more breathing room.

A new Jones contract could potentially free up more than $10 million in salary cap room. For instance, Jones’ cap number would decrease from $28,291,668 to $16,291,668 if he received a $30 million signing bonus on a four-year agreement while having his basic salary for 2023 reduced from $19.5 million to $1.5 million. From 2023 to 2027, the $30 million signing bonus would be deducted at a rate of $6 million annually from the salary cap. Jones’ presumably earned incentive for accumulating 10 sacks this season would be removed, freeing up an additional $1.25 million in contract space.

When Jones declared, “I’m a Chief for life,” on Twitter in March, he may have reduced his influence. I refuse to represent another team. If I had a client who said something like that while I was his agent, I would beg him to either clarify or retract the comments. Jones has done neither as of yet.

Loyalty may not be advantageous during a negotiation. The Chiefs can infer from Jones’ attitude that he won’t be adamant about exceeding Donald’s $31,666,667 annual salary and isn’t eager to drive a really hard bargain. Donald’s deal is most likely seen as an anomaly by the Chiefs in any case. In order to pressure Jones into leaving money on the table during talks, I predict that his “Chief for life” phrase will be utilized against him.

The Chiefs have had success convincing players to accept team-friendly contracts who are or can be regarded as the finest at their position.

With his $45 million average yearly compensation, Mahomes’ 10-year, $450 million agreement, which may be worth up to $475 million with incentives, has upped the standard for quarterback salaries. The cash flow in the early years lagged much behind other top-tier quarterback deals because of the contract’s excessive backloading.

After Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson recently inked contracts averaging $51 million and $52 million annually, respectively, Mahomes is now the league’s seventh-highest-paid player. Since the Bengals and Chargers are anticipated to offer new contracts to 2020 first-round choices Joe Burrow (first overall) and Justin Herbert (sixth overall) at some time before to the start of the 2023 regular season, he will likely tumble to ninth soon. Given the rise in quarterback wages, the Chiefs have admitted that Mahomes’ contract will need to be modified.

Travis Kelce, a dependable All-Pro tight end, extended his contract for four years in 2020 at an average annual salary of $14,312,500, making him the second-highest-paid tight end in the league with two years remaining on his deal. It was unusual for an agreement of this size that his salary for 2020 remained the same. Kelce only received $4.25 million more over the next two years than he would have if the 2016 deal had been completed.

Because there isn’t a signing bonus that would be prorated over the course of the contract (for a maximum of five years), a “pay as you go” contract structure was adopted, which ensures that a player’s cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year. Surprisingly, Kelce’s guaranteed compensation was minimal after the second year of the contract (2021). The Chiefs had the most freedom under the contract because there were no guarantees and no signing bonus, allowing them to walk away from the agreement as early as 2022 without having to worry about it having an impact on their salary cap.

which they have plainly not done. Due to the backloading in his deal, Kelce received a $3 million raise last year, with a commensurate reduction in his 2023 and 2024 compensation.

Given that Jets head coach Robert Saleh has expressed optimism that a deal will be completed by the start of training camp, Jones may want to wait until Williams signs before making a decision so that she can learn more about the interior defensive lineman market. Due to their Aug. 3 Hall of Fame Game match against the Browns, the Jets begin training camp earlier than other teams.

Jones’ contract shouldn’t be any less than the equivalent of Donald’s and the second-highest interior defensive lineman’s salaries. If Williams is unable to surpass Simmons’ $23.5 million annual salary, the total would be close to $27.5 million. Based on Simmons’ and Lawrence’s contracts, the total salary guarantees at this level should be at least in the $70 million range, with about $55 million completely guaranteed at signing. It wouldn’t be unreasonable if Jones insisted on replacing Donald as a $30 million-per-year interior defensive lineman.

A Jones deal’s structure is still to be determined. Jones’ current contract has some fundamental compromises. His franchise tag was equaled by the money in the first year. Edge rusher Justin Houston, who had signed a long-term contract with the Chiefs five years before, received 63% more than his franchise tag from the team in the first year. Additionally, Jones had just over 47% of the total funds in the first two years of his four-year contract, which resulted in a modest backload.