Growing Optimism Chiefs Will Re-Sign Chris Jones; L’Jarius Sneed Generating Trade Interest

Chris Jones balked at a Chiefs attempt to extend him on a deal far south of the Aaron Donald salary range. As the perennial All-Pro nears free agency, the team may be coming around to his price point.

Playing last season on his 2020 extension (four years, $80MM), Jones is believed to want a deal in the $30MM-per-year range, according to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini and Nate Taylor. Although the Chiefs were not prepared to go into that neighborhood to retain their top defender last year, they might be now. Growing optimism exists the sides agree to a deal before free agency, per Russini and Taylor (subscription required).

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Jones has said he would like to stay in Kansas City, but it will be interesting — given a few factors — if the 29-year-old standout passes on testing the market. Considering Jones’ 2023 holdout, the developments on the D-tackle market over the past year and the salary cap’s $30MM-plus increase, it would be a slight surprise if the likely Hall of Fame-bound player passed on seeing what was out there. Players get hints of the market at the Combine, however, even though the legal tampering period (11am CT on March 11) represents the first instance communication with other clubs is allowed.

Jones’ holdout reached mid-September, with the eight-year veteran not reporting to the Chiefs until after their Week 1 game — a loss to the Lions. An incentive package ended up covering Jones for the fines incurred during for skipping training camp, penalties that surpassed $2MM. Jones also forfeited a $1.1MM game check by missing Week 1. His absence was noticeable, and the Chiefs brought him back into the fold with an incentive package.

The Chiefs were believed to be offering Jones $24MM per year, an AAV in the range of the Quinnen WilliamsJeffery SimmonsDexter LawrenceDaron Payne quartet that formed the top non-Donald tier at the position last year. Jones, now a five-time All-Pro, wanted Donald-level dough. He made a strong case for it again last season. The Chiefs needed a 49ers special teams miscue to tally a touchdown before overtime in Super Bowl LVIII, and a Jones rush stopped a 49ers OT drive to set up the game-winning score. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes– and Travis Kelce-led offense took a backseat to a top-end pass defense last season, and the Jones-dependent unit led the way to a repeat championship. It is difficult to build more momentum toward a free agency windfall.

Donald was 31 when he threatened retirement and landed a three-year, $95MM Rams deal; Jones will not turn 30 until this summer. With the cap rising to $255.4MM, it would seem Donald’s $31.7MM AAV — which leads the DT market by more than $7MM — would be in reach for Jones.

With Nick Bosa scoring a $34MM-per-year pact from the 49ers, Jones is poised to do remarkably well if he hits the market. A deal that includes more than the $80MM the Steelers guaranteed T.J. Watt could well be in play. The Chiefs, who will need to make more moves (perhaps another Mahomes restructure) to create cap space before the 2024 league year opens March 13, do look to have a plan to help afford a third Jones contract. It involves bidding farewell to their other top free agent defender.

Since the report that indicated the Chiefs were preparing to tag L’Jarius Sneed but were willing to trade him emerged, Russini and Taylor indicate at least six teams have reached out about the ascending cornerback. The expectation is Sneed will end up in a tag-and-trade transaction, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline notes.

The Chiefs went to this well with Dee Ford in 2019, replacing him with Frank Clark. With most of Kansas City’s free agency budget going to Jones — if the franchise is to succeed in its top offseason mission — no CB replacement is likely en route. Instead, the Chiefs will likely do what they have done for most of Andy Reid‘s tenure: replace a starting corner from within. As the Marcus Peters, Steven Nelson, Kendall Fuller and Charvarius Ward exits show, the Chiefs have an M.O. when it comes to corners. Sneed is looking likely to be the latest Chiefs CB to become a one-contract player for the team.

The Chiefs, who were on the receiving end of tag-and-trade moves involving Matt Cassel (2009) and Clark (2019), are poised to pick up a quality asset for Sneed by using the tag here. And they have established a blueprint in which cornerbacks are replaceable; Jones has proven he is not.

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