This was not a surprise. Players are rarely happy with the tag, as it has long created animosity between players and teams. And as an athletic, disruptive, pass-rushing defensive lineman, Jones knows he’s one of the most valuable assets in professional football, with several years of his prime remaining at 26 years old. He’s worth more than the $16.1 million he’s set to earn on the tag in 2020, and he knows it. So do the Chiefs.
Yet, how much more? That’s the multi-million-dollar question. It is no secret Jones wants something in the stratosphere of $21 million per year, which is what comparable defensive linemen have received in recent years. Jones is not wrong for wanting that.
That became the goal, after all, when his own team traded for Frank Clark last year and handed him a five-year deal averaging approximately $21 million per season. And when the Indianapolis Colts in March handed a similar deal to DeForest Buckner, who is the same age as Jones and a similarly respected player at the same position, it only fortified the legitimacy of that claim.
Yet to this point, the team has not offered a contract with the average annual value Jones is seeking, and the result has been the continuation of an impasse that has existed for nearly a year. Jones skipped OTAs and practically all of training camp in protest a year ago, only to return in time for the season. He was his usual dominant self when he came back, contributing lots of energy along the way and making several critical plays down the stretch of their Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Jones should be rewarded for those contributions, and it’s been my belief for months the Chiefs would like to do so. I still feel that way, even in the aftermath of the Chiefs signing Patrick Mahomes to a half-billion-dollar contract earlier this week. Mahomes wanted to give the Chiefs financial flexibility to be a contender for the next decade, and despite the mammoth contract, his money for 2020 and 2021 are virtually unchanged, so the Chiefs have the ability to work something out with Jones before the July 15 deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions.
Getting there might be tricky, as one factor to pay attention to is the 2021 salary cap. The Chiefs, according to OverTheCap.com, already have $179 million in salary committed to 2021. Could they create additional cap room if necessary? Yes. But with fewer fans projected to attend games this season due to COVID-19, NFL revenue will be down. This could lead to the salary cap, currently at $198.2 million, dropping significantly, unless the league and the players union reach an agreement to mitigate the losses (players recently balked at the team owners’ ask to put 35 percent of their salaries in escrow).
Regardless, if the Chiefs truly want to sign Jones to a long-term contract, both sides will need to work together in the coming days to make it happen. The road to compromise would have to start with Kansas City getting closer to Jones’ preferred valuation than it has since talks started a year ago. From there, Jones might also need to be open to a deal with a creative structure.
Even if the deadline passes without an extension, there may still be a path to a partnership, provided Jones eschews the Le’Veon Bell-style holdout he threatened and returns to the team for the largest payday of his career. After that, the Chiefs could franchise him again and sign him to an extension, provided both sides are still amenable to that.
If that doesn’t work out — or Jones follows through on his holdout threat — the Chiefs could eventually trade him for a premium draft pick or two, which wouldn’t be the end of the world for either side. While draft picks are the type of cheap, valuable assets the Chiefs need more of as they attempt to build around Mahomes, with a new team, Jones would have the long-term security he seeks and be installed as a defensive savior and leader (not unlike Clark was in Kansas City).
That latter scenario isn’t ideal for either side. Finding a replacement for Jones, who is one half of the type of verifiable pass-rush punch every team needs to win a Super Bowl, wouldn’t be easy for the Chiefs. Plus, Jones has it made in Kansas City, where he’s beloved by fans, and the Chiefs are primed to be good for a long time.
That means more endorsements, more spotlight games and thus, more of the type of resume-building moments that elite defensive linemen like Jones can capitalize on to earn honors and push themselves into no-doubt Hall of Fame territory.
To make a long-term partnership a reality, the onus will fall on both sides to work together over the next several days and bridge the sizable gap that exists before Wednesday’s deadline. Nothing that can result from those talks would be a surprise; the only certainty is that Chiefs fans should hope both sides find a way to keep Jones in Kansas City for a long time.
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