Chris Jones: Pay Or Trade?

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Nate looks at the delicate Chris Jones dilemma facing the Kansas City Chiefs

With the Chiefs trading two defensive stars two years in a row, it raises a question; will Chris Jones be the next? The Chiefs, while young, have a super complicated cap sheet over the next few years. With looming contracts for Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and others coming up, some feel that the Chiefs may trade Chris Jones.

In this article, we’re going to cover the many different scenarios the Chiefs are working through at this moment, and analyzing a few packages that the Chiefs could receive for Jones.

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Option 1: Re-sign to Long-Term Deal

While the Chiefs are limited in cap, it’s not impossible to re-sign both Jones and Mahomes to long-term deals. With the CBA about to boom and the way contracts are structured, the Chiefs could work around the two contracts. One could be front-loaded, the other back-loaded (more likely Mahomes).

If the Chiefs ultimately choose this decision, it wouldn’t necessarily turn out poorly. Jones is much closer to Justin Houston than Dee Ford in terms of salary. Jones isn’t a flash in the pan player. He consistently performs, putting up over 25 sacks in two years. With Frank Clark already under contract the tandem would keep Kansas City near the top of the league in defensive line play for 5 years to come.

If we’re looking at salaries, I would say Jones takes a deal for 5 years, 95 million, with around 65 guaranteed. That places him second on the defensive line tackle list in the NFL, right behind Aaron Donald. Jones can’t reasonably ask for Donald money, but with his play over two years, he can get close. Don’t expect Jones to take a pay cut, due to him not getting an extension worked out last offseason.

Option 2: Franchise Tag Him and Keep Him

This option seems more likely, which has the Chiefs forcing Jones to play on a franchise tag. His tag is worth around 16 million dollars, fully guaranteed. The Chiefs may want Jones for next year, then trade him the year after, when the new contracts set in. In terms of next year, that actually makes a lot of sense.

The issue that could come out of that would be Jones holding out for money. He’s a smart guy, and could view himself in a similar light to Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney knew they would never pay him, so he forced a trade out. Houston got way less value for Clowney than they could’ve in March, getting only a 3rd and a few players. For the Chiefs, they are going to have to have a plan for a dilemma like that. We can’t afford to have major controversy in our locker room.

Option 3: Franchise Tag Him and Trade Him

If I was a betting man, I would bet money on this is the most likely option. It’s not that I want to trade Jones, it just seems the path heads this way. Unless Jones takes a SIGNIFICANT pay cut to an annual salary of 14-15 million, then Kansas City is likely to trade him. They want to keep other players like Sammy Watkins and Kendall Fuller. If they want to do that, something has to give.

After a few days of looking around the league, here are a few packages that I could see being available for Jones.

Package 1 (from Seattle): 1st Round (27), 4th Round (123), 2021 6th Round for Chris Jones

Package 2 (from Miami): 1st Round (26), 3rd Round (70), 7th Round (224) for Jones + 4th Round Pick (128)

Package 3 (from Atlanta): 2nd Round (47), 4th Round (109), 2021 2nd Round for Jones

These packages might not seems super enticing, but I really feel they are fair packages for teams that want Jones. We’re either going to get a late first from a playoff team or a few seconds from a bad team. The package I like the most is the Atlanta package, honestly. Yes, there’s no first round pick, but getting two picks in this draft, both in the middle of their rounds, are really valuable. There’s also a good chance that Atlanta is not very good in 2020, making that pick even more valuable. It’s not unreasonable to say that pick might even be in the top 40.

While Jones is really valuable, if we get 2-3 picks this year, that allows us to move around the board more. We all know Brett Veach is a gambler in the draft, trading around in the high rounds often. You can’t really do that with only 5 draft picks, especially for a team with major needs on both sides of the ball. If we trade Jones, though, we end up with 7-8 picks, many in the first 4 rounds. We’ll be able to replenish all of our needs on the roster with all those picks.

My Prediction: Jones Gets Franchise Tagged and Traded

This will be unpopular, for sure. Don’t get me wrong, and I’d have to see the actual package before agreeing with it, because I don’t really like trading Jones. Like I said, he’s a rare playmaker on the interior of a pass rush. He allows the Chiefs to rush with four more often, which helps our coverage shells. It’s just what I think is most likely.

If we do trade Jones for any of those packages, I think we’re going to have to spend some picks on some pass rushers. Even if Emmanuel Ogbah comes back we have a serious lack of interior pass rushers. Breeland Speaks may help there, but counting on him to produce is a huge gamble. Even with Brendan Daly back, I don’t feel comfortable without Jones.

I understand the desire for more picks though. The best way to build a dynasty is to have a great coach (check), QB (big check), and plenty of cap space and picks to move around and makes moves. You always want to be flexible. Without Jones and his huge salary, we may be able to do it. It’s risky and makes us worse next year, but long-term, it may set us up for many more championships.

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ElPasoJason
ElPasoJason

I hate when people say that draft picks are more valuable than a proven, bad ass player.

I don’t feel that you’re saying that Nate, just saying that as it’s relevant.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you think CJ will price himself out of KC and we should get what we can before we get nothing or very little?

I’m on board with getting something over nothing but I’m not sure I would want any of those deals in March. I would probably end up being the guy that waits until way closer to training camp to entertain trades. I would want to make absolutely sure we could not work anything out before I took a trade on a player like CJ.

He makes our defense so much better. I don’t know that Ogbah, Nnadi and Okafor gets it done without CJ.

Man, this sucks!

Cheat Code
Cheat Code

The entire purpose of cap space is to acquire the services of a player of Chris Jones caliber. So we should take advantage of the purpose of cap space to retain Chris Jones. This seems the most reliable way to keep the defense improving.

The probability of draft picks + cap space generated by trading Jones >/= paying Chris Jones, seems way less than 50%. This isn’t a case of short term pain for long term gain. Chances are good that such a trade makes the Chiefs worse now and worse years down the road.

Cap is certain to go up every year and with owners fighting for game 17 in the next CBA, I could see quite an upswing in cap size in the near future.

chiefsfan
chiefsfan

Has anyone looked to see if there are any contracts that can be restructured to gain cap space? I know part of that may require pushing cap obligations to future years, but as stated several times the new CBA should help that. Could we see a flurry of restructures right before the start of free agency, a lot of players signing like Fuller and Breeland even plus a franchise tag for Jones?

Berserker

This right here is why trading Jones for picks is at best zero-sum:

If we do trade Jones for any of those packages, I think we’re going to have to spend some picks on some pass rushers.

You think by trading Jones, you “free up cap space and picks to move around and make moves.” But you have to use at least some of that space to replace what you just lost. Likely as not, you’ll end up losing more than you gained.

Somebody downthread mentioned the example of Reggie White. A much more recent example could be Frank Clark.

After the Clark trade, I mentioned several times that I was very interested to see how Seattle progressed after they traded Clark for picks and enough cap space to sign FA replacements for him. Well, I guess by now we’ve all seen.

Zero-sum…except for a risk variable. Draft picks are unknowns, cap space is an unknown, until those things are turned into actual players.

There’s a chance that picks and cap could equal the production of a 25-year-old Chris Jones. There’s a small chance that picks and space could exceed the production of a 25-year-old Chris Jones. There’s a larger chance that picks and space will end up worth less than a 25-year-old Chris Jones (hi Seattle and Frank Clark).

In the end, the surest way to equal or maybe even exceed the production of a 25-year-old Chris Jones, is with a 26-year-old Chris Jones.

Tyrone

Re: A trade with Atlanta. They went on a bit of a run to end last season, and had a lot of injuries. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made the playoffs.

WTF_Chiefs
WTF_Chiefs

The guy who single handedly (partial pun) wrecked the 9ers offense in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, has 25 sacks in 2 seasons as an interior defensive lineman, has 4-5 years of prime athleticism left and is top 3 at his position isn’t elite? And some of you poking holes in his run defense (his effort and willingness to engage then shed blockers improved dramatically as season went on) are same dudes saying running game/stats don’t matter because it’s a passing league and only 1 other guy in the league is as effective as interior lineman as Jones
And I don’t get all the hand wringing over how you pay him……contracts are given out all the time that mitigate cost in 1st season using roster bonus guarantees that push cap hit in to later seasons. Also, Veach has said his previous contracts were negotiated with idea of having to pay Pat in future so his front loaded deals to Sammy and Hitchens aren’t necessarily the rule….Veach could add a ridiculous 5th year # that is non guaranteed that agent can use to brag about “total value” but will allow Chris a chance at another contract at 30

Think maybe some of you need to go ask Seth(or ask Dan for an article here(Tony I can’t keep giving you these great ideas for free, maybe more Bert’s)) to chart common opponents of both Donald and Jones and see just how close they are since you obviously cant see it yourself(some of you are going to be in for rude awakening about specifics of Donald vs run)

WTF_Chiefs
WTF_Chiefs

Meant to add that some saying Jones isn’t elite are same guys saying that difference in Ford/Houston and Clark wasn’t worth the trade last off season

Panzer85
Panzer85

A friend of mine (pre-playoffs, mind you) said, “I wish they wouldn’t have gotten rid of Houston and Ford”. I about slapped him in the mouth. If there’s a way $-wise, I’m all for option 1. I’d like him here, but it would be ideal if he were happy here. He seems to be at the moment and I think they should keep it that way.

Severely Concussed
Severely Concussed

^^^This guy gets it

Jdklks
Jdklks

Discussion over. You win.

Berserker

Why do I agree with you about this? I never agree with you about anything.
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Druful
Druful

Losing CJ is the price of Frank Clark and winning SB LIV.

Which is infinitely better then having to lose CJ and not winning a SB, which is the alternative here. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck though.

Severely Concussed
Severely Concussed

Cut Watkins and LDT and we have more than enough money to sign Chris Jones.

Jones is a game wrecker. If we let him go, it makes Frank Clark less effective.

CHIEFSandSABRES

Agreed. They have to find a way to re-sign him IMO. Don’t break the bank or ruin a chance at a dynasty, but I feel we need CJ95.

Berserker

Or even just Watkins, since that move would save about $14 million on its own.

Or trade Watkins, because his new team would be paying him just $14 million in that case, and I’m sure that several teams will believe he’s worth that much.

Tyrone

Might get a team like the Eagles willing to give up 4th for him. They’ve got 3 fourth round picks.

Berserker

Eagles or Chicago. Or Indy, I think they still need a playmaker, right? Andy’s tentacles spread wide.

3rdnlong
3rdnlong

What if we tag him this year, and find a way to pay him a long term salary next year when more money frees up?

Berserker

YES, this.

New CBA. All the talk is that Mahomes and the team are both waiting on that before working out Mahomes’ new deal. So why isn’t the same being said about Jones’ potential new deal? It won’t be as much money as Mahomes’, but it will be more than big enough to justify waiting to see the new CBA before working out the details.

Also, any hard feelings Jones might have about getting tagged, those should go away if the reasoning is that the tag is just a stop-gap until the new CBA hits.

CHIEFSandSABRES

Pay. This. Man.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh

Honestly there’s a lot of dead weight on the team. CJ isn’t one of them. Make it work.

CHIEFSandSABRES

Yep!

Armychiefj
Armychiefj

Why are people saying pay cut? There is no pay cut. CJ has made about 6m in his entire NFL career so far. What you mean is him signing for below what you perceive his market value to be. I’m not being pedantic here. There is a huge difference between an actual pay cut (what Watkins will be asked to do in a restructure if he wants to stay here) and paying someone 2-3x more in a single year than he has yet made in his whole career, even if that’s less than the max he hypothetically could make if he were able to sign with another team.

The Chiefs hold all the cards and Jones has almost no leverage for the upcoming year assuming he is franchised tagged. He isn’t going to go the way of Le’veon Bell, especially as that didn’t really work out for Bell. So the Chiefs will tag him and he will play with the Chiefs on the tag unless one of two things happen: 1. The new CBA is finalized before July 15 and the cap suddenly balloons allowing for a long-term deal to be much easier for both sides or 2. The Chiefs are given some ludicrously good trade offer for him.

Trigrumps
Trigrumps

Honestly this situation reminds me a lot of the Eagles letting Reggie White go in the 90s. A decision the Eagles deeply regretted. You don’t let generational football players walk, you make it work. The chiefs cap situation isn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be. And the players getting a higher share of league revenue under the new CBA in tandem with new tv contracts will make the cap skyrocket. Chris Jones isn’t going anywhere.

SuperMegaChief
SuperMegaChief

As things stand now, tag and trade is the only option that has the best odds of working out. It sucks but we have some huge money on the books already and we’ve got to pay PM2.

CHIEFSandSABRES

Tag and trade this offseason, or let him play under the tag this upcoming year and repeat the following postseason?

QuackTastic
QuackTastic

16M is a steal for a year of CJ (if we tagged and kept him). He’s in his prime. I would also be OK with tagging and trading if we got at least a 1st and 2nd rounder. Or we could tag and keep, then try to tag and trade next year.

My least favorite option is giving him his payday. We will almost certainly find ourselves in the same situation we find ourselves in with every mega contract we hand out…that is…when is the soonest we can cut this guy without getting killed with dead money? I love CJ as much as the next guy, but he is in his prime NOW, not 3-4 years from now. If we give him a multiyear contract you’ll almost surely be paying him top dollar when hes on the backend of his career. I’d rather keep CJ another year and tag and/or tag & trade.

CHIEFSandSABRES

trading if we got at least a 1st and 2nd rounder.

What worries me is even if we do get a 1st and 2nd rounder, there is zero chance of knowing if they are going to impact the game like CJ95, does right now, in not only his prime, but also MVPats prime. We need to focus on striking while the iron is hot, and winning as many Super Bowls as possible with Pat.

MasterChief
MasterChief

This is a good point that is always on my mind when trading for picks. Picks are a gamble. Even if you get a 1st rounder, he may end up being a dud, so you’re gambling away a very good known for an unknown with potential. The Chiefs have had a few 1st round duds (John Baldwin) or guys that just didn’t fully live up to expectations (Dee Ford).

cotton_don

For me, the question isn’t are we getting the same talent in one player – it’s do we get really good, quality, cheap young players in return. As our core players start to consume large parts of our salary cap we have less to pay the rest of the team – meaning fewer (expensive) free agent signings. To have a truly “A” quality player is great but getting 2-3 “B+” quality players may be better for our team overall. Imagine that we trade him and get two picks in the top two rounds as well as a fourth and we get a CJ replacement that gets 6-7 sacks and plays well (but not as well as CJ), we get a serviceable linebacker and then a mid-round CB prospect who plays ST and subs in as depth at CB and maybe develops and plays more and more. Wouldn’t you at least have to consider that?
Other considerations are that if one of the picks is a first round pick we get 5 cheap years instead of four, and there is also the possibility that we use the additional picks to trade back slightly to get additional 2nd, 3rd and 4th round picks.
Of course, some of this could change with the new CBA and upcoming television contracts. The salary cap, I think, has been rising at around 6%/year lately. With the players getting a bigger percentage of revenues in the new contract you can expect that to go up by at least a slightly higher rate. Your guess is as good as anyone’s but consider that if it were to go up at, say, 10% per year for the next three years. Players and agents are going to re-figure player value and we should be ready to hear that the 5-year, $95 Million-65 guarantee could rapidly evolve to $125 Million/95 guarantee for the equivalent player within a year or two.

Berserker

I agree, partially. It’s not just about replacing Jones one-for-one, there’s also the possibility of replacing his production with multiple upgrades.

However, you have to define how much upgrade you need.

Your hypothetical 6-7 sack Dlineman + serviceable LB + ST player, would that combo have been able to stop the Niners from converting a 3rd down during that 3-n-out drive in the 4th quarter, like Jones did? Would they have made as much difference vs Houston’s and Tennessee’s running games as Jones did?

You can’t just say 1 elite player = 2.5 average players, and leave it at that. You have to look at the specific players, and figure out the specific things they do. Football is not a game of averages, it is a game of instances.

cotton_don

Well, you’re certainly right that there is no guarantee that acquired draft picks result in good players. (Just as there is no guarantee that CJ lives up to any contract he signs [As a bad example, he could have early-season knee injuries in consecutive seasons and when he returns is not the player he was – large contracts to a player carry more risk than cheaper contracts]).
And you’re right CJ did make crucial plays. And there’s no way of telling how any of those games would have turned out without him.
So, really, I agree with you, the devil is in the details and it is impossible to know with certainty what path is correct. I love Chris Jones and I want him to get paid. It will be interesting to see what happens.
As an exercise, if the general manager decided that the choice was between trading Chris Jones and trading Frank Clark, would you consider trading Clark instead?

Berserker

Yes, I believe that Jones is a more valuable player than Clark right now. Clark’s great competitive attitude is valuable, but already having Mathieu makes Clark’s leadership contributions less necessary. And Jones is a rarer and better player at his position, than Clark is at his.

cotton_don

I agree with you that, “Jones is a rarer and better player at his position, than Clark is at his”. So maybe we franchise tag or long-term sign Jones and then trade Clark a year or two down the road…

Berserker

I am worried about Clark’s future health. Seems like the wear and tear might build up on him pretty quick.

People talking about the “Patriot Way,” as an argument to move Jones before he starts to decline. That point might be a lot more applicable to Clark.

Tony Sommer

Unless he takes a pay cut to stay here I don’t see it. We have too many big contracts. It sucks to lose such a great player but that’s the nature of the NFL.

Savagerider
Savagerider

If sammy Watkins decides to sit this whole year doesnt that mean we get to save the full 21 million dollar cap hit he is gonna bring to us? If we cut Watkins that’s 7 million dead but 14 million saved right? With watkins sitting I think we could lock him up long term because we can sign him this year for money asked for and next year we can dunno guys like Hitchens who’s contract is horrible but saves 10 million and Sorenson should be done that almost 5 million I’m savings and colquitt should be done that’s another few million. I think we can replace those guys in draft and give their overpaid salaries to jones in next couple years. Hell I may be wrong with all this but damn does it sound good to me

DenverDonkeyHater
DenverDonkeyHater

My understanding. If he “retires” yes we could recoup all the money. Think Andrew Luck. If we cut him, it doesnt matter what he does. Think Eric Berry.

StramtoReid
StramtoReid

I believe we only save 22,000 this year and 2 million in 2021, if we cut Hitchens. I believe you let Dustin try out for the team for competition sake, I don’t think he makes the roster.

Since were going to lose Fuller, we need dirty Dan next year.

Sammy loves the Chiefs, I don’t think he sits out if he isn’t cut. I believe if he is cut, it would be a mistake to sit because his stock his high after a solid playoffs this year.

Part of me, wants to restructure Watkins contract and keep him instead of CJ, but I wonder about him staying healthy.

SonOfaVeach
SonOfaVeach

I’d rather the Chiefs give Jones $22M a year than restructure Watkins at $12M a year. If they let Jones go and then keep Watkins, I’ll be really pissed at that. Watkins has to go in my opinion.

Berserker

With Hitchens, we could save $6.5 million in 2021 by doing a post-6/1 release or trade. Would spread his dead money across both 2021 and 2022.

But yeah, for 2020, we are stuck with him.

cotton_don

Did I miss something? Has Sammy suggested he would retire or sit? I have no idea why he would do that. If he doesn’t sit he gets $14 million dollars this year and then is a free agent. If he gets cut we don’t have to pay him the $14 million but we still will have the remaining $7 million cap hit this year. (Note: the $7 million is the remaining, pro-rated signing bonus – in other words, he has already been paid this money [when he signed two years ago] it is only a cap hit.

Berserker

Yes, he actually did say he could decide to take a year off. But when he said that, he was listing basically all the possible things that he could conceivably do, just trying to make the point that he had no idea at that time what he might decide to do. So, yeah, taking a year off is probably not going to happen.

Savagerider
Savagerider

I feel we will tag and trade him like we did ford. No way should we get 2 seconds and whatever or first amd a third. We gave up a first and second for frank clark and I believe jones is better so we need at least that. But not just because I want him I think we need to keep him. We seen the difference from when he was not in the game to when he was. Teams drives actually got stopped when he was in consistently. Sacks, pressures, and swatted balls he does better than anyone on team. Now if you let him go we need someone or multiple pieces to come in and bring what he did to table.

EAFOX

This is a great unknown until the NFL decides what to do with the salary cap – if quarterback money is taken out of the salary cap, we could, from all appearances, easily keep Jones. If they put a cap on quarterback money, I think we still have a good chance of keeping him, With no changes, we will be hard pressed to keep him and a trade becomes more likely.

Nasrani
Nasrani

It’s the business side of this game that I hate the most.

I’d like to keep him, as we all would. While I’m not sure what exactly the difference is between tagging and tagging/trading (because doesn’t the tag mean they have to exclusively play for the team that tagged them?), I think we all remember what happened when we tagged Houston – he was injured (?) most of the year and we saw diddly-squat from him for a good stretch of that year*.

All the same, he’s going to want a huge payday. And I’m just not sure if that’s in the cards. A dynamic like what the Chiefs had this year is hard to recreate.

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*I’m not actually sure if this is what happened with Houston or if it was with another player we tagged. Grad school has all but fried my memory of Chiefs goings-on outside of the last ~year or two.