In some surprising news (to me at least) the Chiefs and franchised defensive tackle Chris Jones came to an agreement on a new four year, $80 million contract. My gut reaction after hearing the numbers was that the Chiefs moved up their offers in order to maintain a harmonious locker room and make sure there was no threat of Jones holding out. After Mike Florio had the details for PFT I would change that opinion and put this in the category of the Chiefs getting a solid deal on their terms.
The cash breakdown of the contract is very team friendly. The Chiefs will not spend a penny more in cash or on the salary cap in 2020 than they would have had Jones played the year on the franchise tag. For a tagged player to not receive a raise over the tag itself in the first year is very rare. Had the Chiefs tagged him a second time the cost would have been $19.35 million. Per Florio’s report Jones will only receive a $2.15 million raise over that figure. Id say the typical starting raise is in the ballpark of 10-13% and then higher depending on the quality of player.
In a year by year look at the contract the Chiefs will basically get a front end bargain compared to the higher end deals on the market before bumping the salaries to reach an annual value of $20 million a year. Here is how the contract compares to the other big name defensive tackles.
Jones front end cash will trail both Jarretts and Cox’ in the first two seasons which puts that part of the contract more in line with the $17 million players before making the big turn in year 3. To make up for the difference it sounds as if the third year is virtually guaranteed at signing so this will be a real $20 million a year deal even if the way it gets there is not very traditional. It should also be noted that Donald and Cox have longer contracts that also benefit their cash flows while the other three will be free agents after four years.
The first thing I would wonder here is if Jones received a no trade clause or not. Surprisingly the Chiefs used no signing bonus at all which keeps his cap number this year intact. It also leaves him with $21.5 million cap hit next season in a year when the Chiefs will be right up against the salary cap. While they can convert salary into bonus money the structure itself would lend itself to a trade, giving the Chiefs the best of both worlds in having a relatively team friendly contract with an ability to trade as if you tagged again next year. If there is a no trade clause then all of this conjecture will make no difference.
In return for the lower cash flows up front Jones did get the strongest guarantee of the group with a $15 million per year guarantee topping even Donald’s contract that averaged $14.48 million per year guaranteed. This seems to be the Chiefs way right now of doing business, keeping cash flows and annual values at a respectable level and in return being more generous with the guarantees. Teams in general will (or at least should) almost always be willing to push guarantees for better cash terms and the Chiefs are doing very well in that regard.
I would guess that the willingness to get to $20 million a year even if in an unconventional manner was what got this contract done. $20 million per year has been the magic number for defensive players for the last two offseasons. Locking in two years of salary may have also been beneficial if Covid causes havoc on the 2021 salary cap harming free agency prospects in the event Jones was not tagged for a second time.
As for the Chiefs it will be interesting to see how they manage this. The contract for Jones will technically give them two defensive players earning $20 million a year to go along with Patrick Mahomes at an effective value of $40 million and Tyreek Hill near the top of the receiver market. They also have Tyrann Mathieu at the top of the safety market and four key players who should be looking for extensions next year- left tackle Eric Fisher, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, tight end Travis Kelce, and Mathieu.
While the team did a good job staggering the Frank Clark and Jones deals (In theory Clark could be cut when Jones contract truly becomes a $20 million deal), they have pretty much officially entered the superstar contract roster building strategy. Teams in the past that have gone this route have included the Seahawks during the Legion of Boom era, the Packers at the peak of Aaron Rodgers run, the Eagles for the last few seasons, and the Falcons of the last few years. The Vikings and Rams quickly got out from that after basically one year.
It’s always interesting to see what happens. Most of the teams that get into these types of roster constructions do so after a high period- most of these teams did off a Super Bowl appearance- and in some cases the teams have continued to do well while in others they have declined. Everyone gets praise when they do a bunch of high priced contracts and fit them under the cap but the test is what happens two to three years from now? Can the team maintain or improve to have a Conference Championship round caliber roster or do they blow up and wind up like the Rams this year with $36 million in dead money just two years after being praised for finding a way to keep Donald, Brandin Cooks, and Todd Gurley and a year removed from getting praise for adding Jared Goff and trading for Jalen Ramsey into the cap mix. Only time will tell where the Chiefs wind up in the grand scheme of things.