Beginning this season with Chris Jones holding out, the Chiefs found a bridge solution by providing incentives for the disgruntled defensive tackle. The sides will need to revisit the situation soon, and Kansas City’s secondary may require more attention than the team previously expected.
Jones and L’Jarius Sneed have one game remaining on their current contracts. Both standouts will be free to speak with other teams if unsigned by the start of the legal tampering period, which begins March 11. Jones will be gunning for a deal north of $30MM per year, and it will be interesting to see what kind of offers come in if/once he hits the open market. Sneed is playing out a banner contract year, and a longstanding Chiefs precedent would point to the fourth-year corner leaving in free agency. Before serious negotiations commence, the Chiefs want both players back.
“Sometimes I look at our situation and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this,’ but we usually work through things systematically and have a list of the priorities,” GM Brett Veach said, via ESPN.com’s Adam Teicher. “Certainly, Chris and LJ are at the top of the list. It’s extremely hard because you have two keystone players there.”
The Chiefs spent months negotiating with Jones during the 2023 offseason, reaching no long-term resolution. The team attempted to fit Jones in around the D-tackle salary tier created by younger, less accomplished players. Between March and July, four young DTs — Daron Payne, Jeffery Simmons, Dexter Lawrence, Quinnen Williams — created a second salary tier of sorts at the position, signing extensions that averaged between $22.5-$24MM. But Jones has played closer to the Aaron Donald level in recent years, arguably leapfrogging the all-time great as a pass rusher over the past two seasons. Jones, 29, sought a deal closer to the Donald number.
The Rams gave Donald what has been an outlier contract at the position — $31.7MM per year — in June 2022, and with Jones barely a month from free agency, he can soon see if teams will value him at or near that level. Donald used the threat of retirement to score a landmark Rams agreement, which featured no new years added to his previous contract. The open market figures to arm Jones with sufficient leverage, and Nick Bosa‘s subsequent $34MM-per-year pact stands to help. The former second-round pick entered this season as the NFL’s ninth-highest-paid D-tackle. Jones picked up his second straight first-team All-Pro honor this season, continuing to spearhead the Chiefs’ pass rush.
Kansas City is running out of time with Jones, who will cost north of $32MM to tag due to being tagged back in 2020. The 120% rule would make Jones’ 2024 tag price north of the standard DT figure. While Jones has said he would be open to staying, he has also recently acknowledged he could be in his final weeks as a Chief. Lacking steady edge rush options for most of Jones’ tenure, the Chiefs have relied on their interior pressure artist.
Preliminary Sneed talks also took place last year. Like Jaylon Johnson in Chicago, the contract-year cornerback has made quite a bit of money over the past few months. Regularly matched with No. 1 wide receivers, Sneed has produced coverage metrics that rival Johnson’s. While not named to the All-Pro teams or the Pro Bowl, Sneed has allowed a 51% completion rate as the closest defender and merely a 56.2 passer rating. Coverage metrics are far from perfect at this point in time, but Sneed has been one of the NFL’s best corners. His walk-year work represents a big reason why the Chiefs — and what has been an inconsistent offense, despite Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce‘s presences — are back in the Super Bowl.
Johnson is on track to be tagged, which would be the NFL’s first cornerback franchise tag since 2017 (Trumaine Johnson). Sneed would make more sense as a tag candidate for the Chiefs, with Jones’ franchise tender number so high.
It would cost the Chiefs just more than $18MM to tag Sneed. Then again, this franchise has regularly avoided paying corners under Andy Reid. Since trading Marcus Peters in 2018, the Chiefs let Steven Nelson, Kendall Fuller and Charvarius Ward collect their money elsewhere. While Sneed has been indispensable this season, the team does have 2022 first-rounder Trent McDuffie — a first-team All-Pro — in place on a rookie deal through at least 2025.
Kansas City will be connected to wide receiver upgrades, and despite that lingering issue set to bleed into the offseason, the Jones and Sneed matters stand as the team’s top priorities entering Veach’s eighth year as GM. At $24MM-plus (before restructures), the Chiefs sit in the middle of the pack for cap space.