There are plenty of holdouts or potential holdout situations to monitor across the NFL entering the beginning of training camps -- Pro Bowl running backs and plus Dallas Cowboys All-Pro offensive guard come to mind -- but Kansas Chiefs 2022 All-Pro defensive tackle is the most pivotal one.
The 29-year-old defensive lineman is the anchor of the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs defense. Jones is the only player to earn a Pro Bowl selection on that side of the ball as Kansas City's front office has gone with an affordable youth movement around him while shelling out to keep two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and his offense rolling. He's also maintained a strong bill of health throughout his seven-year NFL career (2016-2022), missing just six games. Jones also continues to get better as he posted career-highs in sacks (15.5, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL in 2022) and quarterback pressures (77, the fifth-most in the NFL in 2022) last season en route to helping guide the Chiefs to their second Super Bowl title in four years.
So with Jones providing a premium skillset, rushing the passer, for a Chiefs defense filled with players on their rookie deals, how did things escalate to where he felt the need to hold out? Here's a look at how the market has changed and where things could go between Jones and the Chiefs as he enters a contract year.
How the defensive tackle market changed
When Chris Jones signed his current contract that is set to enter its final season in 2023, four years, $80 million, it represented being paid at the top of his positional market. In 2020 when Jones' contract was inked, he was one of only three defensive tackles with an average annual salary of at least $20 million along with three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (then on a six-year, $135 million deal) and Indianapolis Colts All-Pro DeForest Buckner (on a four year, $84 million contract).
Now instead of trailing only Donald and Buckner at his position, Jones is now behind eight defensive tackles for the highest average annual salary: Donald, Jets All-Pro Quinnen Williams (four years, $96 million), Jeffrey Simmons of the Tennessee Titans (four years, $94 million), Giants Pro Bowler Dexter Lawrence (four years, $90 million), Commanders Pro Bowler Daron Payne (four years, $90 million), 49ers Pro Bowler Javon Hargrave (four years, $84 million), Leonard Williams of the New York Giants (three years, $63 million), and Buckner. With five of those being signed over the course of the 2023 offseason, the market value for the defensive tackle position has clearly shifted in the upward direction.
Highest Average Per Year Among Defensive Tackle Contracts
Aaron Donald (LAR)
Quinnen Williams (NYJ)
Jeffery Simmons (TEN)
Dexter Lawrence (NYG)
Daron Payne (WAS)
Javon Hargrave (SF)
Leonard Williams (NYG)
DeForest Buckner (IND)
Chris Jones (KC)
* Signed this offseason
Why Jones has leverage
No one else on this list besides Donald has anchored a Super Bowl-winning defensive front like Jones, and he's done so twice. His ask comes at the right time given he's still on the right side of 30 for 2023 and entering the final year of what's now an antiquated contract relative to Jones' market value. He finished third in DPOY voting last season behind San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, who led the NFL in sacks with 18.5 and co-led the league in quarterback pressures with 90, and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, who also co-led the league in quarterback pressures with 90.
No one else comes close to Jones on the Kansas City defense in terms of production or salary, making a strong case for the Chiefs to extend him prior to Week 1. No one on the Chiefs defense besides Jones had more than 50 quarterback pressures, Jones had 77, or seven sacks, Jones had 15.5. Rookie defensive end George Karlaftis, the 30th overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, ranked second on the team in both last season with 48 quarterback pressures and six sacks.
Jones is currently one of five players on the Chiefs roster with whose contract's total value runs over $40 million, but he's the only Kansas City defensive player who fits in that box. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (10 years, $450 million), guard Joe Thuney (five years, $80 million), right tackle Jawaan Taylor (four years, $80 million), and tight end Travis Kelce (four years, $57.3 million) are the others on the team who are compensated that highly.
Even though Kansas City currently ranks last in the NFL in cap space available for 2023 ($562,353), according to OverTheCap.com, the Chiefs are projected to have $51.2 million in cap room to use in the 2024 offseason, the 11th-most in the entire league. There's a way for Jones to get paid now.
The path forward
General manager Brett Veach could get creative with the structure of a potential Jones deal to make it work for their cap going forward, something he said he believes will eventually get done. Kansas City could sign him to a four-year or three-year pact with an average-per-year just under $30 million with the first year salary and cap hit lower than proceeding years if necessary.
"We have great communication and there's a lot of time before camp," Veach via FOX 4 News in Kansas City. "Feel good about where we're going to be with Chris. We'll get to celebrate tonight and have a good time, break tomorrow, and I'm sure we'll have great dialogue from now to the start of training camp and look forward to Chris being here not just for next year, but for a long time."back in June at the end of the team's minicamp that Jones skipped,
It makes too much sense for Kansas City to placate their defensive leader given he and safety Justin Reid (three years, $31.5 million) are the only Chiefs defenders with deals whose total value is $20 million or higher. The bulk of Kansas City's key contributors are on rookie deals, making the importance of Jones that much more since his presence is just as critical intangibly as it is in terms of the on-field counting statistics. As long as negotiations between Veach and Jones maintain the cordial tone the general manager espoused in June, there are tons of reasons for both sides to come together and get a deal done.