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Contract expert says Chris Jones’ Chiefs deal could be more than $20 million a year

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Speaking to Carrington Harrison, J.I. Halsell said Jones could opt to hold out for a franchise tag in 2020

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent post to his YouTube channel, 610 Sports Radio host Carrington Harrison spoke with J.I. Halsell — a former agent for Priority Sports and a salary cap analyst for the Washington Redskins — about the contract situation with Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones.

As others have done, Halsell said that the precedent for a potential extension of Jones’ contract would be the 2016 contract given to Philadelphia Eagles 4-3 defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, which was reported to be a six-year, $102.6 million deal.

”It could be in the Fletcher Cox neighborhood: $17.1 million per year,” said Halsell. “I think that’s kind of his floor, if you were to ask me. You can also make the argument, though, that Cox’s deal was in 2016. With the increase in the salary cap to 2019, that Cox deal — when you adjust it for the increase in the cap — is nearly $21 million per year. So I don’t know if Chris Jones gets to $20 million per year, but the floor is probably going to be $17 million a year.”

Halsell said he believed that Jones and the Chiefs may reach an agreement before the 2019 season begins.

”If it’s something that is excess of Fletcher Cox, that’s a lot of money to turn down and pass up,” he explained. “And given all the other needs the Chiefs have to take care of from a contract and cap management standpoint, I think there’s a significant chance Chris Jones gets a deal done before the start of the 2019 season.”

But Halsell also said that from Jones’ side, there might be an advantage to wait on a deal.

“So if you’re his agent, the question you have to ask — and you have to be on the same page — is, ‘Are we willing to take a deal today that is going to be a good deal, but not an elite or great deal?’” he said. “Or do we want to say, ‘The Kansas City Chiefs need to pay us like the elite defensive lineman that we are, and we need to avoid the temptation of taking the good deal today, bet on ourselves here in 2019 and force them to tag [us].’ Then you kind of go down the Demarcus Lawrence route in order to get that truly value-maximizing deal. If you take the deal today, it’s in excess of Fletcher Cox’s deal. But if you wait until after the 2019 season when they’re going to have to tag you, now you’re working off the tag to get your second contract, and you could approach Aaron Donald’s $22.5 million per year, and his $80 million guarantee.”

Halsell said that on the other side of the negotiation, the primary question wouldn’t be Jones’ skill, but rather what the team sees in his character.

”You have to understand what type of personality the player is,” he said. “If you’re sold on their personal and football character — that even if you give them this huge financial windfall, they’ll remain motivated — then yes, you do it. If you think otherwise — a la Albert Haynesworth — that once they get this money, the player’s play level is going to go down, then maybe you hold off. I think those are the considerations when you’re thinking about whether you want to make that level of financial commitment to Chris Jones -- because on the field, he’s shown it to you in multiple seasons: he is a top-tier interior defensive lineman. It’s just a matter of the kind of personality [he has] in the locker room. Is he a fit for what you’re trying to build long term?”

Since the Chiefs have already signaled an interest in extending Jones’ contract, there already seems to be a willingness on their side to extend his deal. So much of how this transpires could depend upon the attitude Jones (and his agent) bring to the negotiation.

Will Jones settle for a long-term deal in the range of $20 million per year, or will he hold out for what Halsell termed a “value-maximizing” contract by choosing to play on the franchise tag in 2020?

And if he does, will that affect the Chiefs’ perception of his character and their willingness to make a long-term deal?

As I pointed out on Monday, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has thus far established a good track record at striking deals with free agents that are favorable enough to the players to entice them to join the team, but without creating long-term salary cap problems. Jones’ contract will be a big test: the first time Veach will face the challenge of signing a mission-critical player already under contract to a new deal.

It’s not going to be easy. Now in its fourth year, the Fletcher Cox contract Halsell referenced as a precedent for Jones has already created problems for the Eagles. Like the Landon Collins contract I referenced on Monday, the original deal was complicated, containing option bonuses and triggers for guaranteed money, and was restructured last season to provide cap relief for 2018 and 2019. As it now stands, Cox’s $11.9 million cap hit in 2019 will almost double to $22.4 million in 2020 — more than 11 percent of the Eagles’ projected salary pool — with almost $27 million in dead money. Cox’s cap charge will remain above $22 million for two additional years — that is, until Cox is 33 years old.

Veach is going to have to do better than that.