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3 ways the Chiefs could handle Chris Jones in 2024

After his re-worked one-year deal, the future is unclear for Kansas City’s star defensive tackle.

NFL: 2023 Season Player Headshots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs announced that they had reached an agreement with their star defensive tackle Chris Jones on a new one-year deal that would end his holdout for a contract extension.

The new deal will pay Jones up to $25.2 million in 2023. Since he had missed one game of the season, his base salary has dropped to $18.4 million — but he can earn up to $6.75 million in incentives that will allow him to more than make up the $2.35 million in fines that he’s been assessed this season. While he’ll be a free agent in 2024, Kansas City will still have the leverage of the franchise tag.

While this clears up the immediate future for Jones and the team, there are still many long-term questions about the future of their relationship. Though they could still come to terms on a long-term extension during the coming season, there now appear to be three paths the Chiefs could take with their All-Pro defensive tackle.

Let’s consider them.

1. Free agency

Kansas City could simply allow Jones to walk after his contract is up. He would be hitting the market in his age-30 season, looking to cash in one more time. During the past offseason, 30-year-old Javon Hargrave signed a four-year, $84 million deal (including $40 million guaranteed) with the San Francisco 49ers. While Hargrave is a lesser player, his deal still provides an idea of what a Jones contract might look like. Should another team sign Jones, the Chiefs would get at least a compensatory third-round pick in the 2025 draft.

Keep in mind, however, that letting Jones go to free agency does not necessarily mean Jones will not play for the team in 2024. It’s possible that after Jones sees how the market values him, he could return to Kansas City on a new deal. So letting him hit free agency sets a draft compensation floor.

2. Franchise tag

It was reported on Tuesday that Jones’ re-worked deal does NOT include a no-tag clause. So while it would be expensive, the Chiefs could, in theory, tag him and control him for 2024. Based on his new deal, his 2024 franchise tag tender would cost the Chiefs $30.6 million. That’s pricey — but it is still less than the average annual value (AAV) of the record-setting contract given to Los Angeles Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

But after seeing the contentious nature of the negotiations between Jones and the Chiefs, it’s possible we could see another holdout. Jones has very clearly demonstrated he’s not afraid of paying fines to make his point — and the Chiefs have shown they won’t be held hostage by any player.

3. Tag-and-trade

The last option — perhaps the one that most Kansas City fans would like to see — would be a classic ‘tag-and-trade.’ The Chiefs last did this with edge rusher Dee Ford in 2019. After franchise-tagging him at $15.4 million, Kansas City traded Ford for a second-round pick from the 49ers — who then replaced his franchise-tag tender with with a five-year, $87.5 million contract.

It’s important to remember, though, that the Chiefs would have to have that $30.6 million in cap space available for Jones’ tag until he is traded — and that if no trade is made, the team would be obligated to pay $30.6 million for him to play in 2024. According to Spotrac, the team should have $41 million in cap space next year — but that number could easily be pushed to around $69 million by moving on from veterans like Justin Reid, Joe Thuney or Marquez Valdez-Scantling.

My take

Despite what many fans want to believe, there are limits to what the team is going to get in exchange for a 30-year-old defensive tackle who wants to reset the market; I think that any hope of getting a first-round pick for Jones is gone. In 2020 — when he was 26 — DeForest Buckner was traded for a mid first-round pick. Additionally, the 2024 draft will have exciting defensive tackle prospects like Miami’s Leonard Taylor, Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton and Kris Jenkis of Michigan. That could also supress Jones’ trade market.

Kansas City would be lucky to get a second-round pick for Jones. A trade offer might even be conditional — a second or third-round pick based on playing time. The floor set by the compensatory third-round pick creates a very small group of potential trade partners — and the Chiefs would have $30.6 million in cap space tied up in Jones during a free agency period in which I expect the Chiefs will be active.

Since signing quarterback Patrick Mahomes to his spectacular contract, Kansas City has been very careful about its cap management. The team works to maintain cap flexibility — and keep the roster young — to best support its all-world quarterback. And why not? Last year, the Chiefs proved they could do without wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Last Thursday night — without Jones or Charles Omenihu — the defense gave up 14 points to a good Detroit Lions offense.

Head coach Andy Reid clearly hates holdouts. It’s unlikely that general manager Brett Veach will risk another one with a tag-and-trade. Nor will he want to be handcuffed in free agency by the franchise tag’s large value — which will remain on the team’s books if no trade partner can be found. That’s something that is entirely out of the team’s control.

So my guess is that Kansas City will let Jones test free agency — just as it did with tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in the the previous offseason. For Veach, it feels like the most predictable and controllable outcome.

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