Chris Jones contract projection, analysis: Can Chiefs afford to bring star back?

Chris Jones contract projection, analysis: Can Chiefs afford to bring star back?

Chris Jones’ 2023 season began with a holdout, as he stayed away from the Chiefs for training camp and Week 1 in hopes of securing a new contract. 

It ended with flashing his dominance in Kansas City’s Super Bowl LVIII victory Sunday over San Francisco, the franchise’s second straight Lombardi Trophy. The superstar defensive tackle had a team-high six pressures on 35 pass rushes, including on the third-and-4 play on the 49ers’ overtime possession that caused a Brock Purdy incompletion and forced a San Francisco field goal. Kansas City won with a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

With the dust settled, Jones and the Chiefs are back pondering questions with which they started last offseason: what is the future of their partnership? 

The 29-year-old Jones is set to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time. We’re headed this way because the franchise tag, which the Chiefs used on the star defensive tackle in 2020 before eventually reaching terms on a deal, is essentially out of the question this year. Jones’ franchise tag number projects to be north of $32 million, or 120% of his salary last season — an astronomical figure that would force Kansas City to release or restructure the contracts of too many players. The team is currently set to have around $22.8 million in 2024 salary cap space, according to 

[2024 NFL free-agent top-50 rankings: Chris Jones, Kirk Cousins lead the way]

During Wednesday’s championship parade in Kansas City, Jones took the stage and pledged his desire to remain with the Chiefs.

“I need three of those rings, baby. We ain’t done yet,” he said. “Kansas City, we will be back here next year. And for those who want Chris Jones gone, I ain’t going nowhere, baby!”

Jones ended his holdout in September after reaching an agreement with the Chiefs on a new one-year, incentive-laden deal. In 16 games, he registered team highs with 29 quarterback hits and 13 tackles for loss and tied a team-high 10.5 sacks en route to Pro Bowl honors for the fifth straight year and a second consecutive first-team All-Pro nod. 

“It was important for us to mend the fences with Chris because we love him and he’s an iconic player here — not just here, but I mean of all time,” general manager Brett Veach said ahead of the Super Bowl, via ESPN. “That was important for us, and we’ll continue to work hard and see if we can get something done, but it will be a priority for us.” 

What makes that difficult is that the $32 million franchise tender value should be the starting point for the average annual value of a new deal for Jones’ camp. 

Can anyone take down the Chiefs dynasty?

In the modern NFL, the best precedent for Jones’ looming free agency is the RamsAaron Donald, the gold standard at the position and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

In June 2022, the Rams restructured Donald’s contract so he’d make $95 million over the final three years of his deal, including $65 million partially guaranteed and $46.5 million fully guaranteed. With an average annual value of $31.6 million, it made Donald the highest-paid non-quarterback in league history at the time. But Donald was 31 years old when he agreed to the amended deal, two years older than Jones. 

Jones has been more available and arguably a better pass rusher than Donald over the last three seasons. In 47 regular-season games in that span, Jones has 35 sacks, 75 quarterback hits and 217 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. In the same span, Donald has played three fewer games and totaled 25.5 sacks, 59 quarterback hits and 210 pressures. 

While Donald edges out Jones in a few categories over the last three seasons (tackles for loss, forced fumbles, a minuscule edge in pressures per game), Jones’ age and the market conditions are other reasons why Jones’ new contract should slot at more than $32 million annually. 

The average annual value and guaranteed money in Jones’ new deal could fall between Donald and 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa, who surpassed Donald as the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history. In September, he signed a five-year extension with San Francisco worth $170 million, including $122.5 million in guarantees and $88 million fully guaranteed. 

If Jones’ contract falls between Donald and Bosa’s deals, it would be worth more than $33.1 million annually over four years ($132.5 million total value), including $93.7 million guaranteed and $67.2 million fully guaranteed. 

Is that a pill the Chiefs can swallow?

We’re about to find out.

49ers tabbed as early Super Bowl LIX favorites, Chiefs sit behind

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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