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Time is short to resolve the situation with defensive tackle Chris Jones

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The Chiefs could trade Jones or sign him to a new deal — but whatever they decide to do, it will have to be done pretty soon.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In a CBSSports.com article published on Wednesday afternoon, former sports agent Joel Corry examined the historical precedent for trading NFL players who were on the franchise tag, hoping to determine the probability that current franchise-tagged players like Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones might be traded this offseason.

Corry noted that before 2018, it had been almost a decade since such a trade had been made — but of the seven such trades made since 2008, the Chiefs have been involved in four of them.

Franchise Tag Trades

Deal Teams Comp
DE
Frank Clark
2019
SEA>KC 2019 1st rd pick (29th) & 2020 2nd rd pick; Swap of 2019 3rd rd picks
DE
Jadeveon Clowney
2019
HOU>SEA 2020 3rd rd pick, OLB Jacob Martin & OLB Barkevious Mingo
DE
Dee Ford
2019
KC>SF 2020 2nd rd pick
WR
Jarvis Landry
2018
MIA>CLE 2018 4th rd pick & 2019 7th rd pick
QB
Matt Cassel
2009
NE>KC 2009 2nd rd pick; Chiefs also get LB Mike Vrabel
DE
Jared Allen
2008
KC>MIN 2008 1st rd pick (15th) & Two 2008 3rd rd picks; Swap of 2008 6th rd pick
DT
Corey Williams
2008
GB>CLE 2008 2nd rd pick

Of course, two of those Chiefs-related transactions occurred before the team’s current administration was in control. But two of them took place just last year — and Corry speculated that the timing of last year’s trade to acquire Frank Clark could suggest that Jones might be traded shortly before the NFL Draft begins on April 23.

A majority of the acquisitions took place at the beginning of league year when the trading period opens. Since there haven’t been any franchise player trades so far this year, the timing with such acquisitions may be similar to when Frank Clark was dealt. Clark’s trade occurred two days before the 2019 NFL draft began. He received a five-year, $104 million contract with $62.305 million of guarantees ($43.805 million fully guaranteed at signing) in the process.

Corry is not certain the Chiefs are in a position to sign Jones to a long-term deal.

There is skepticism about the Chiefs being able to keep defensive tackle Chris Jones long term because most teams don’t have two high priced pass rushers. The Chiefs would be extremely top heavy by making a commitment to Jones since quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, could become the league’s first $40 million per year player before the regular season begins.

If the Chiefs were to trade Jones, the $16.1 million they would have to pay him to play on the franchise tag in 2020 would simply disappear from their books, giving the team room to maneuver under the cap, create enough space to sign Mahomes to a long-term contract right away and give the team one or two draft picks in 2020 or 2021 — at least one of them a very high pick.

Corry pointed out that the recent trade sending San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (who was not on the franchise tag) to the Indianapolis Colts would factor in to any kind of Jones deal.

The 49ers trading Buckner to the Colts for a 2020 first-round pick (13th overall) complicates matters for the Chiefs. The four-year, $84 million extension averaging $21 million per year Buckner received from the Colts will likely be an important data point to Jones. Buckner’s deal contains $56.378 million in guarantees, of which $39.378 million was fully guaranteed at signing. The Buckner trade compensation should be relevant if the Chiefs decide to move Jones.

But as we’ve previously shown in these pages, it would be possible to sign Jones to a long-term deal that could create between $8.7 and $10.3 million of cap space for 2020 — while giving Jones a contract that would pay him more than $20 million per year.

Following the new contract given to wide receiver Sammy Watkins and the re-signing of free agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland, the Chiefs are once again tight against the cap; the team probably has no more than $135,000 of cap space left. So the amount of space the team could clear with a new Jones deal would be enough to sign the five draft picks they currently hold (this would require about $4.8 million), but little else. Sometime before they sign their draft picks — and certainly before the regular season begins — they’ll have to find that money somewhere.

That doesn’t mean the Chiefs must trade Jones — but as Corry explained, waiting much longer than the draft isn’t likely to help them.

The Texans created a blueprint of how not to trade a franchise player with Jadeveon Clowney. Waiting until after the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign long term passed — and that limited the Texans’ trade compensation. Clowney wasn’t traded until the end of last preseason. Other teams were only going to give up so much for Clowney when there was potential for him to be just a one-season rental because he could only sign a one-year deal.

In normal circumstances, a team in the Chiefs’ position — that is, a defending Super Bowl champion with a big quarterback contract looming, relatively few picks in the upcoming draft and minimal room under the cap — would likely trade Jones for the draft picks, putting themselves in a better position to acquire (and develop) young players to put alongside their expensive quarterback.

But these aren’t normal circumstances — and such a team probably wouldn’t make the deals the Chiefs have made with Watkins and Breeland. Those moves suggest that in the current environment — where the team doesn’t know how much time they’ll have to really prepare for the coming season — the Chiefs might value players with experience in its system over college prospects.

So with regard to their star defensive tackle, it’s difficult to predict which way the Chiefs will go. But it’s becoming more and more clear that whatever their solution turns out to be, it’s most likely to happen in the next month or so.