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The Kansas City Chiefs planned on extending All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones' contract after beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII last February. Jones was entering the final year of a four-year, $80 million contract (worth up to $85 million through incentives) with $60 million of guarantees he signed in 2020 as a franchise player. Keeping Jones in the fold was an offseason priority. Sometimes, the best laid plans go awry.

The Chiefs and Jones weren't in the same ballpark on a contract extension although both sides felt he should be the NFL's second-highest paid interior defensive lineman. Jones was reportedly seeking $30 million per year to put him in the same vicinity as Aaron Donald, who signed a three-year, $95 million contract averaging $31,666,667 per year with the Los Angeles Rams in 2022 to become the league's highest-paid non-quarterback.

The Chiefs were more comfortable with paying Jones slightly more than Quinnen Williams, who is second in the interior defensive lineman salary hierarchy. Williams signed a four-year, $96 million contract extension averaging $24 million per year with the Jets last July.

Jones highly productive in 2023 despite holding out

Jones engaged in the rare holdout that extended into the regular season. San Francisco 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa replacing Donald as the league's highest-paid non-quarterback a couple of days before the regular season started to end his own holdout probably only validated to Jones' camp that their contract demands were appropriate. Bosa signed a five year, $170 million extension averaging $34 million per year with non-quarterback records of $122.5 million in overall guarantees and $88 million fully guaranteed at signing.

The Chiefs and Jones had one of the more amicable lengthy contract disputes. Jones reiterated his goal of spending his entire career with the Chiefs after ending his 51-day holdout without a long-term contract before preparations for Kansas City's second regular-season game against the Jacksonville Jaguars began.

Modifications were made to Jones' remaining 2023 contract year with 2024 through 2027 years voiding 10 days following the Super Bowl on Feb. 21 being inserted into his deal. Jones' $1.25 million sack incentive was made a part of the $5.5 million of new performance bonuses that were added as an option bonus escalator to pick up a 2028 contract year that also voids on Feb. 21. Jones earned $4.25 million of the escalator.

The window to exercise this option is seven days, beginning a day after the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 and ending seven days after the Super Bowl on Feb. 18. There's a provision designed to force the Chiefs to pick up the option.

It was done this way because the $6.75 million would have been classified as likely to be earned in incentives with the entire amount counting against Kansas City's 2023 salary cap. As an option bonus, the $6.75 million is being prorated at $1.25 million annually from 2023 through 2027 to put Jones' 2023 salary cap number at $26,810,325, which is the league's sixth highest for this season.

Jones has had a strong 2023 campaign despite missing training camp and the regular-season opener because of the contract stalemate. He earned first team All-Pro honors for a second straight year with 10.5 sacks, which was the NFL's second most for an interior defensive lineman. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones had 75 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits), which were also second among NFL interior defensive linemen.

Jones recognizes that his eight-year tenure with Chiefs could be coming to an end. Prior to Kansas City's wild-card game at home in Arrowhead Stadium against the Miami Dolphins, Jones was visibly emotional in an NFL Films video clip.

Historic franchise tag coming?

The Chiefs have the option of using a franchise tag on Jones since it's unlikely that a new contract will be worked out prior to his fake/dummy 2024 through 2028 contract years voiding. A franchise tag would be an expensive proposition. Jones' franchise tag projects to $32,169,912 because of how the 120% of prior year's salary provisions work with the designation. This would easily be the largest franchise tag for a non-quarterback in league history. The franchise tag value would instantly become an important data point to Jones' camp and frame any contract discussions for the Chiefs to retain the five-time Pro Bowler on a multiyear contract.

Placing a franchise tag on Jones with the intention of trading him isn't out of the question. Jones' trade value should be more than the 2025 compensatory pick -- which would be at the end of the third round at best -- the Chiefs would get for him leaving in free agency.

The Chiefs will need to do some salary cap gymnastics to accommodate a Jones franchise tag. There are just under $217.87 million in 2024 cap commitments with 44 players under contract using NFLPA data. The top 51 salaries (i.e. cap numbers) matter under offseason salary cap accounting rules. Once there are are 51 players under contract, the Chiefs should have approximately $227 million in 2024 cap commitments.

The 2024 salary cap is expected to be between $240 million and $245 million. With a $242.5 million salary cap, the Chiefs would have in the neighborhood of $15.5 million in cap space before a Chris Jones franchise tag.

Jones taking some sort of hometown discount to remain with the Chiefs would be a major shock. He had so much conviction about his market value during the last round of negotiations that he racked up $2.25 million of mandatory fines ($50,000 per day) for missing training camp, lost one week's regular-season salary worth $1,083,333 and forfeited a $500,000 workout bonus because he didn't participate in the offseason conditioning program.

Jones could command contract similar to Bosa, Donald

The Bosa deal entering the equation and Jones' performance could make his previous contract demands obsolete. A case can be made that Jones has overtaken Donald as the NFL's best interior defensive lineman. Jones leads NFL interior defensive linemen with 35 sacks over the last three seasons (2021 through 2023). Donald and Javon Hargrave are tied for second. They are 9.5 sacks behind Jones with 25.5 sacks. Donald hasn't had a double-digit sack season since 2021 when he had 12.5 sacks.

Not only does Jones lead NFL interior defensive linemen over the last three seasons in quarterback pressures per PFF, his 217 are the NFL's fifth most during this span. The four players ahead of Jones -- Maxx Crosby (Raiders), Bosa (49ers), Micah Parsons (Cowboys) and Myles Garrett (Browns) -- are edge rushers. Donald trails Jones by seven with 210 quarterback pressures. No other interior defensive linemen are within 45 quarterback pressures of Jones' 217.

Jones would be justified in targeting the midpoint of Bosa and Donald's contracts. The duo signed deals for $265 million collectively totaling eight years to average $33.125 million per year. 

This would put Jones' target price at $132.5 million over four years. Seeking $72.5 million fully guaranteed the first two years, where there are $90 million in overall guarantees, would be in line for this type of contract.

Whether Jones hits my suggested target price remains to be seen. He should ultimately join Bosa and Donald as the only defensive players in the $30 million-per-year club whether with a new team in free agency or by remaining in Kansas City.