The Kansas City Chiefs’ All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones — who is under contract with the team through the 2023 season — is conducting a holdout, hoping to create leverage toward obtaining a contract extension.
Ever since Jones began this siege, the most likely outcome has been that he and the team would come to an agreement. That continues to be the case — because it would benefit both the Chiefs and Jones to make a deal.
In all probability, the wisest thing to do with Jones’ recent social media activity is to ignore it. Athletes who choose to conduct contract negotiations in public usually do so at their own peril.
But on Wednesday, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid tersely announced that “there’s been no communication” between Jones and the Chiefs. Reid’s statement is something we probably have to take pretty seriously.
So, we have reached the point where we must consider what will happen if Jones doesn’t report before the regular season begins. Let’s take a look.
1. The Chiefs will place Jones on the team’s Reserve/Did Not Report list
This will open Jones’ roster spot. While on Reserve/DNR, Jones will not count against the team’s roster or salary cap. This also relieves the team from paying him every week.
Once Jones ends his holdout, the team will be obligated to remove Jones from the Reserve/DNR list — and he’ll start getting paid. But Kansas City will probably then request (and receive) a two-week roster exemption for Jones. This will allow the Chiefs to have an extra player on the roster while their star defensive tackle gets up to speed.
2. Jones will miss out on a lot more money
Thus far, Jones’ actions have only cost him money. He will not collect his $500,000 workout bonus for missing voluntary OTAs. He owes almost $99,000 in fines for failing to report to the mandatory minicamp on June 13. He owes $50,000 for every day he hasn’t reported to the team since July 21. That per-day fine will continue to accrue through Sunday, September 3. If Jones’ holdout extends through that date, he will start off being $2.85 million in the hole.
That hole will get deeper very quickly.
If Jones doesn’t report by the close of business on Tuesday, September 5, he will not collect 1/18 of his $19.5 million base salary for 2023 — that is, one week’s pay. That’s $1.08 million. For some perspective on that weekly salary, 67 of the players currently on the team’s 90-man roster have yearly salaries at or below that level.
If Jones doesn’t report by the following Tuesday — September 12 — he misses out on another $1.08 million. That pattern will continue until he returns.
3. The Chiefs will gain cap space
While Jones is on the Reserve/DNR list, his $28.3 million cap hit will not be part of the team’s official salary cap calculation — but since he could report at any time, Kansas City will need to act as if he is still on the active roster.
Salary-cap sites like Spotrac and OverTheCap reflect this reality. The San Francisco 49ers placed defensive tackle Nick Bosa on their Reserve/DNR list on July 26, but both sites are calculating the team’s cap space as if he is on the active roster.
Still... with each regular-season week Jones misses, the Chiefs will eventually gain $1.08 million in cap space.
It is believed that additional cap space could become available to the team each week. Here is a post from former NFL agent (and current CBS Sports analyst) Joel Corry:
There would be salary cap relief for any missed regular season weeks. https://t.co/h5raLmB4EO— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) August 23, 2023
In the final analysis, salary cap enforcement rests in the league’s right to approve new contracts. Should Kansas City execute a contract with a new player that depends upon cap space created by Jones’ holdout, it’s hard to imagine the league will disapprove it.
4. Jones’ 2024 franchise tag value will decrease
This is because a particular player’s franchise tag value is the higher of 120% of his “prior-year salary” (PYS) — a term that, in this instance, means his previous cap hit minus performance bonuses — and the league-wide franchise tag value. In practice, this means that the league-wide figure is the floor of a player’s tag value.
Should Jones’ 2023 cap hit remain the same, 120% of his PYS would be $31.9 million — which is definitely higher than the projected $20.8 million value for defensive tackles.
The rules also specify that a franchise tender must include “provisions providing for incentives or performance bonuses” in the player’s previous contract. In Jones’ case, that would add his $500,000 workout bonus — and maybe his $1.25 million bonus for making 10 sacks. (That incentive would not be considered likely to be earned unless Jones collects at least 10 sacks in 2023).
So, as things stand right now, Jones’ 2024 franchise tag number would be $32.4 million — but it could be as high as $33.6 million. But with each regular-season game Jones misses, those values would decrease by $1.3 million — that is, 120% of his $1.08 million per-week salary.
Corry has already done the math if Jones misses seven weeks of the season.
With 7 missed weeks, 120% would be based on $18,958,335 ($11,916,667-base salary & $7,041,668-bonus proration) for $22.75M. Chris Jones' $500k workout bonus would be added back in. Tag would be either $23.25M or $24.5M depending on whether the $1.25M sack incentive was earned. https://t.co/0X6TDRh5iU— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) August 23, 2023
5. The holdout probably won’t last past Week 8
Jones’ social media post was widely seen as a threat that he won’t return until Week 8. But it’s way more likely that this is simply the point where Jones and his agents have concluded it’s better to give up the fight until the 2024 offseason.
There are four reasons why this would make sense to them.
- History shows players who hold out for entire seasons do not fare well in the marketplace. It will be in Jones’ best long-term interest to play a substantial portion of the season.
- This ensures Jones will be on the roster for at least six games, giving him another accrued season. (Remember: the team could presumably get a two-week roster exemption for Jones after he reports). Without this accrued season, he’ll begin 2024 right where he started 2023: still owing the Chiefs another season under his current contract.
- Jones will likely understand that he won’t be an effective player until a few weeks after he reports. But he will also know that he’ll be back to 100% at the right time: when Kansas City will need him the most. If he reports in Week 8, he’ll still be in a position to be a hero of the team’s stretch run — and not for nothing, maybe even collect another Super Bowl ring.
- Kansas City will have its bye in Week 10. By reporting in Week 8, Jones will get an extra week of practice time before he steps on the field for the team’s Super Bowl LVII rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles on “Monday Night Football.” Jones probably sees this as the biggest stage of the regular season — and as a player seeking a very large contract, he will want to perform on it.
While staying out for seven weeks will be very costly to Jones — between lost salary and fines, he will lose $10.4 million — he would still net a little over $9.1 million for 2023. And while it can be argued that Jones will also be giving up $9.1 million in guaranteed earnings under the franchise tag in 2024, he and his agents may not see it that way.
Consider this: in order to tag Jones for 2024 using the current projected tag value, the Chiefs would have to commit at least $32.4 million of their cap to Jones when the league year begins in March; it’s very possible that general manager Brett Veach won’t want to do that. But Veach could easily decide that tagging Jones for as little as $23.3 million will make sense. From there, the Chiefs might still be able to sign Jones to a fair contract. If they can’t, it would still be possible to trade him — or pay Jones $23.3 million to play in 2024.
Jones and his team may believe that he will be in a better position to get the deal he wants if he is franchise-tagged — rather than being on the market as a player his previous team simply allowed to walk away. So, to them, making his franchise tag lower in 2024 might not necessarily be a bad thing. And even in the worst-case scenario, Jones would play the 2024 season with a fully guaranteed franchise tender that will pay him at least $1.3 million a week — a 20% increase over what he earned in 2023.
The bottom line
It bears repeating: the best thing for both Jones and the Chiefs is to agree on a contract extension. It’s still possible — maybe even probable — that Jones’ holdout will end before the season opener against the Detroit Lions on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, which will take place on September 7. That’s a week from this coming Thursday.
But if it doesn’t, the team will continue to carry on. And it seems pretty likely that Jones will be back for at least the last half of the season — probably the most important half.