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What’s happening with Chris Jones is taking place across the NFL

It’s easy to blame the Chiefs — or Chris Jones — for the impasse between them. But the evidence suggests much of the problem is out of their control.

NFL: AFC Championship-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last year and a half, many solid points have been raised about the situation between the Kansas City Chiefs and their defensive tackle Chris Jones. These include:

  • The parties could have reached an agreement last season
  • Jones could have been traded to another team for draft picks during the free agency period
  • The team has (or hasn’t) done their due diligence in pursuing a deal
  • The Chiefs don’t have the cap room to sign Jones because of Patrick Mahomes’ looming contract

All of those points (and more) have good arguments to support them. But I’d like to draw your attention to just one.

In March, Jones and 13 other NFL players had franchise or transition tags placed on them for the 2020 season.

Historically, about half of the players on whom franchise and transition tags are placed will end up signing a long-term deal with their teams. But at this moment — with just nine days remaining until the July 15 deadline — not a single tagged player has signed a long-term deal.

To be sure, some of these players could be signed to new contracts before the deadline; there have been lots of instances where it’s happened at the last minute. But the fact that no such contracts have been signed to this point strongly suggests that the uncertainty of the 2021 salary cap is playing a role in the way these situations have played out; it’s certainly not true that all of these teams have the same issues with these players that the Chiefs have with Jones.

And it’s not just players “on the tag” who are being affected, as noted by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer in this week’s MMQB column.

Since March 23, the 32 NFL teams have a done a total—again, a total—of three extensions with their own players. Texans OT Laremy Tunsil. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. Patriots S Patrick Chung. That’s it. And really, Chung’s deal was a pay cut.

Breer pointed out that without the coronavirus pandemic, things could have been silky-smooth during this offseason.

Before all this — based on the new CBA, looming broadcast deals and an influx of gambling money — the thought was the cap could break $300 million within five years or so. Now? The 2021 cap figure is almost certainly going to come in lower than this year’s cap, and just to get it on the level of the 2020 cap, the league and union will probably have to agree to borrow from future years. So where we should have had prosperity and a fair amount of fiscal certainty, we have chaos.

This isn’t to suggest that uncertainty over the salary cap is the only issue keeping the Chiefs from signing Jones to a long-term deal. But it’s becoming clear that it’s a significant factor — if not one of the largest ones — contributing to the impasse.

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