Could Chiefs Tag-and-Trade Chris Jones to AFC Contender?

Chris Jones

Getty Images Chiefs DT Chris Jones is set to hit the free agent market on March 18.

Despite increasing speculation that the Kansas City Chiefs and franchise QB Patrick Mahomes could soon agree on an record-setting contract extension, the 24-year-old MVP may not be the team’s most important contract negotiation this offseason.

Pro Bowl DT Chris Jones finished out the final year of his rookie deal with a Super Bowl title in 2019 and is now set to become an unrestricted free agent next month. One of the most dominant interior pass rushers across the league, Jones compiled 33.0 sacks, 20 pass deflections, and seven forced fumbles in his first four seasons.

The Chiefs front office will need to make decisions on two dozen impending free agents in the coming weeks, but with less than $20 million in current salary cap space, the team lacks the financial flexibility to retain all of their talent.

Jones has earned himself a major payday, likely in the range of $19 million per year, according to Spotrac. However, if Kansas City is unable to lock up the fourth-year lineman to a new long-term agreement, the front office could elect to place the franchise tag on Jones between February 25 and March 10. The one-year alternative would likely cost the Chiefs $15.5 million for the 2020 season.

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In a “Twenty bold (and not so bold) NFL predictions for 2020” story posted on The Athletic this week, NFL writer Sheil Kapadia speculated on an eye-opening franchise tag scenario:

20. Chris Jones has a Za’Darius Smith-like impact … for the Colts

The Super Bowl 54 box score shows one tackle, no sacks and no quarterback hits for Jones. That serves as a great reminder of why we have to actually watch the games. Jones was terrific for the Chiefs, providing consistent pressure up the middle and batting down three passes by Jimmy Garoppolo. He told reporters after the game that he wants to be in Kansas City for a long time, but he will be a free agent and he should be looking for a huge payday. He’ll be just 26 at the start of next season and has had 31 sacks since 2017. It’s entirely possible the Chiefs use the franchise tag on Jones, but if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, perhaps that leads to a tag and trade. The Athletic’s Stephen Holder advised Colts fans not to get their hopes up, but Jones could be the type of young impact player Indianapolis looks to splurge on. Smith had a huge impact as a free-agent signing for the Packers. Jones might be able to do the same for the Colts.

The Indianapolis Colts are in prime position to target difference-makers like Jones heading into free agency with $86 million in salary cap space, the second-most in the NFL behind only the Miami Dolphins.

While Colts Wire writer Kevin Kickey also notes that the three-technique defensive tackle position “was a disaster for the Colts in 2019,” there is also skepticism that the team’s general manager and former Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard would be willing to shell out the sizeable contract that Jones would certainly demand on the open market.

Given Ballard’s frugal track record, a franchise tag and trade scenario is the most probable way for Jones to find himself in a Colts jersey in 2020.

Jones Confirms Interest in Staying in KC

On Friday, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle hosted a brief Q&A session on Twitter. When asked by a couple of fans about his thoughts on staying with the Chiefs, Jones made his ambitions clear.

The ball is in Kansas City’s hands until the final day of the current league year on March 17. At that point, Jones would officially hit the free agent market and would be eligible to listen to offers from teams across the league. However, teams are allowed to begin negotiating contracts with pending unrestricted free agents as early as March 16.

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