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Chris Jones is playing back-to-back contract years for the Chiefs

Kansas City’s superstar defensive tackle has played his contract years on a different schedule than most players.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest: during the six months that Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was holding out for a contract extension, friends who know what I do for a living would often ask me what I thought about it. I almost always said that general manager Brett Veach needed to hold the line — that he shouldn’t reimburse Jones for the fines he had accumulated.

“If it was me,” I’d say, “if Jones (or his agent) even hinted that they’re trying to get me to reimburse him for the fines, I’d hang up the phone!”

To me, there was a real financial issue involved: money paid in fines comes out of a player’s pocket — so the team has already accounted for it under the salary cap. Cap money is a finite resource; there’s only so much to go around. What’s the point of reimbursing a player for these fines — and once again accounting for that money under the cap?

But as I pointed out in our Arrowhead Premier newsletter shortly after Jones ended his holdout, that’s pretty much exactly what the Chiefs did: they gave Jones some easy-to-earn incentives that added up to roughly the same amount of money he lost during his holdout.

To say the least, I was disappointed in Veach. As time has passed, though, I’ve (once again) learned that he’s the guy who should be negotiating these contracts — not me.

I would have hung up the phone. Veach didn’t — and now he’s sitting pretty.

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler published a story based on conversations with several league sources. In it, he identified some NFL players who are “top performers among free agents-to-be” — including Jones.

The Chiefs were impressed — but not surprised — that Jones showed up for Week 2 in excellent shape and produced 3.5 sacks through his first three games, setting a tone for a defense that’s been mostly stout.

Fowler reported that when Jones becomes a free agent in 2024, he’s now considered in line for a deal that will pay him $90 million over three years.

The Chiefs were reported to have offered him a two-year extension after his 2023 season that would have paid him $54.5 million in new money for 2024 and 2025 — and guaranteed $70 million for injury from 2023 through 2025. But apparently, that wasn’t enough for Jones. Meanwhile, Veach seems to have considered Jones’ reported counteroffer of $84.5 million for 2023-2025 to be too rich for Kansas City.

So the two sides agreed to make it pretty easy for Jones to earn his fines back in 2023 — and also have an opportunity to earn another $2.5 million in harder-to-earn bonuses. Even better for Veach, none of that will count against the cap until 2024.

The late Terez Paylor often noted that “the contract year is undefeated.” He was referring to the final year of a player’s deal, in which they seek to put in a great performance that will improve their bargaining position as a free agent. But Jones has chosen to play his contract years one season earlier — in each case, hoping to renegotiate the final year of his existing deal.

So Jones has already given the Chiefs two contract years — one in 2018 and another in 2022. Now — and at a cost likely between $4.3 million and $6.8 million against next year’s salary cap — Veach has now induced Jones to play back-to-back contract years.

And all he had to do was stay on the phone.

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