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What the Chiefs could get in return for Chris Jones might be less than we think

The Chiefs are in a tough position with their star defensive tackle — one that might make it hard to get what many think he’s worth.

Chiefs beat Jaguars 30-14 John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Last Friday, I wrote about a trade scenario proposed by ESPN writer Dan Graziano. In a panel discussion, he suggested the Kansas City Chiefs could trade their defensive tackle, Chris Jones, to the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round draft pick “and more.”

In a poll attached to that article, 80% of our readers said they wouldn’t make that deal — although to their credit, many commenters said it would depend on what “and more” actually meant.

Reactions on social media, however, used words like indefensible, absurd, loser... and so on.

I understand these reactions. Jones is elite player by any definition. I’m just like any other Chiefs fan: if Jones has to be traded, I want for the team to get as much as they can for him.

But let’s remember the basic, immutable fact about a trade: for it to happen, both parties have to believe they are benefiting from it. For the Chiefs, that benefit may not be defined by whether or not the compensation they receive for Jones lines up with previous trades for similar players; whether it’s the same compensation Team X got for Player Y might have no bearing on whether the Chiefs see a benefit from the deal.

Let’s be honest: at this point, the only reason for the Chiefs to even consider trading Jones is because they will have difficulty paying him what he will demand — and deserve. If they had the resources available to immediately sign Jones to the deal he wants, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

Nor is this a secret. Everyone knows the team’s salary cap position. Everyone knows that sometime in the next year (or month) or so, the Chiefs have to find a way to fund a very large contract for a quarterback who became NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in successive seasons.

This gives the Chiefs very little leverage in any trade negotiation for Jones. In order for such discussions to even take place, the team will first have to place the franchise tag on their star defensive tackle — meaning that if they can’t find a trading partner, they’ll be on the hook for a salary that will consume a large chunk of their existing cap space. That gives the Chiefs very little room to tell another team, “That second-round pick just isn’t enough. Sorry.”

This isn’t to say the Chiefs couldn’t find a partner who would give up more. But the most likely way for that to happen would be for the Chiefs to find two teams in a position to try for Jones — that is, to have a pressing need for Jones, the salary cap space to sign him to a new deal and the draft capital to make the deal.

This is precisely why Graziano suggested the Colts as a possible trading partner: they have all of those things.

The Colts love their second-round picks and might not want to part with one, and they don’t love to spend big in free agency. But they also play in a division with Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette, and they need to spend some money this year to get to the CBA’s mandated salary floor. If there’s a place I can see Colts general manager Chris Ballard spending big money, it’s up front on one of the lines.

As many have noted, trading Jones to another AFC team isn’t ideal. But not every team has the right combination of circumstances that would make them a trading partner. And if you limit the pool of potential suitors to the NFC, it makes it even more difficult to set up a situation where two teams could drive the compensation up to something more palatable.

The bottom line is pretty simple. If the Chiefs don’t have a way to pay Jones, they have two choices: let him walk — in which case they might get nothing in return — or put him on the franchise tag in the hope they can get something back. If they can get a couple of draft picks for him... great. But they’re going to be in a position where they may have to settle for whatever they can get.

This is why we should all hope that the Chiefs can find a way to sign Jones to a long-term deal — one that minimizes his cap hit in 2020 so the team can make the other moves that will be necessary.

The alternative could be tough to swallow.