Thoughts on Chris Jones Five Year, $158.75 Million Contract

Chris Jones finalized a deal today with the Chiefs that will make him the highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL at $158.75 million over five seasons according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The contract has massive guarantees with $60 million fully guaranteed at signing and $95 million virtually guaranteed to be earned. Here is a look at how the contract matches up with Aaron Donald’s contract and some other thoughts on the contract.

Last year when Jones held out in training camp and the early part of the regular season all eyes were on the Donald contract which seemed to be a non-starter last season. Donald had leveraged the Rams into ripping up his contract via the threat of retirement and replacing it with a contract that had zero to do with the defensive tackle market and everything to do with the edge rusher market. A year later the Donald contract clearly became the template to follow. Here are how the two contracts compare in cash flows

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5
Chris Jones$31,350,000$60,200,000$95,300,000$123,650,000$158,750,000
Aaron Donald$31,500,000$60,000,000$95,000,000FAFA

Donald earns $150,000 more in the first year of his contract while Jones jumps Donald by $200,000 in year two before getting all of $300,000 over him in year three. While the salaries are certainly big and the annual value of the contract huge, these numbers are in no way reflective of the way Edge players are paid at the top which probably is one of the reasons why the Chiefs felt willing to do this contract since there was a framework to follow. Here is how the cash stacks up with some of the Edge rushers.

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Nick Bosa$48,955,471$79,641,000$102,821,000$136,000,000
Chris Jones$31,350,000$60,200,000$95,300,000$123,650,000
T.J. Watt$49,911,000$69,911,000$90,961,000$112,000,000
Joey Bosa$42,390,000$63,640,000$87,640,000$109,640,000
Montez Sweat$35,000,000$56,000,000$77,000,000$98,000,000

This is an easier way for the Chiefs to work within their budget to get to $95 million over three years since they don’t have to hit a near $50 million payment in year one of the contract and being at $70 million through year two. This is a steady state of payments relative to the others.

The guarantee on the contract, however, blows away the Donald contract and does compare with the Edge market especially if you look at new guarantees.

PlayerTotal GuaranteeFull GuaranteeNew Total GuaranteeNew Full Guarantee
Nick Bosa$122,500,000$88,000,000$103,590,471$69,090,471
Chris Jones$95,000,000$60,000,000$95,000,000$60,000,000
Joey Bosa$102,000,000$78,000,000$87,640,000$63,640,000
Myles Garrett$100,000,000$50,000,000$80,203,875$30,203,875
T.J. Watt$80,000,000$80,000,000$69,317,529$69,317,529
Aaron Donald$65,000,000$46,500,000$65,000,000$46,500,000

On a new money basis this contract is second to only Nick Bosa in injury protection and is fourth in full guarantees. In no way does it resemble the Donald contract which provided some minor protection for the Rams by not carrying a third year guarantee.

History will look at this contract as a big deal but not the biggest. When adjusted for salary cap inflation the annual value of this contract will rank 7th in the NFL among interior defenders.

PlayerTeamYearAPYInflated APY
Aaron DonaldRams2022$31,666,667$38,845,662
Warren SappBuccaneers1998$7,076,500$34,499,086
Ndamukong SuhDolphins2015$19,062,500$33,979,359
Aaron DonaldRams2018$22,500,000$32,429,458
J.J. WattTexans2014$16,666,667$32,005,013
Richard SeymourRaiders2011$15,000,000$31,825,545
Chris JonesChiefs2024$31,750,000$31,750,000

This was one area where you could see some departure on the Donald contract. Donald set a market when he signed his contract two years ago. This contract was simply pegged to a contract that was two years old. That just adds some perspective as to how this ranks all time.

From a salary cap perspective the Chiefs will be tied to Jones for the first three years of the contract. They went all in with the cap structure on this which was a major departure from the way the team handled his 2020 contract that he signed as a franchise player. That contract had a low up front payment and a high salary cap charge in the first year. The team essentially opted into two franchise tags at signing and gave themselves an option to trade in year 2 or cut in year 3 since they held off his vesting guarantees until year 3.

Here there is no option like that. Jones will carry a $7.35 million contract in 2024, due to a Chiefs high  $30 million signing bonus, and then that number jumps to $34.85 million in 2025 and $41.1 million in 2026. The cost to move on in 2025 would be $52.75 million in cap charges if cut and $24 million if traded. In 2026 the numbers will be $53 million to cut and $18 million to trade. The reason the number is so high in 2026 is because he will earn a 2026 guarantee in 2025. The primary out is year 4 where there are no guarantees that kick in during a prior league year. If they can avoid restructuring the contract for cap relief next season it would be $12 million to move on in 2027.  

This is a really aggressive move by the Chiefs who typically are a little more calculated. They are certainly banking on Jones holding strong the next three years. Donald has held up from age 30 to 32, missing only 6 games in that span and while his sack numbers are down he is still very disruptive. Other top players have tailed off at this age. Sapp was not the same player from 31 onward nor was Suh. Seymour was solid but not great and out of the NFL by 34. Watt’s body started to break down at 30. Fletcher Cox’ post 30 years were never top of the position good.

The decision to do this contract seems based strongly on going for a “three-peat” and not wanting the cloud hanging over them of “what if” if they were to lose while he is on another team. If they were willing to do this contract it probably should have been done last season. At that point at least you have the guarantees out of the contract by the time that Jones would be 32 rather than 33 and my guess would be it would be structured a bit more evenly with the salary cap.

There was nothing for Jones to prove last season. Regardless of how great he was it really had no bearing on the future. Jones will be what he will be. The team should not have had to see the 2023 season to decide that Jones will be great in 2024, 2025, and 2026. You should either be willing to make the commitment or not make the commitment. This just feels as if they wasted a year since they wound up in the same place with him on the contract he wanted all along.

The next question will be if this does or does not impact the defensive tackle market. Donald has always been painted as an outlier. Jones never was though he has a really unique career where he got better in his 2nd contract while most players fade or stay the same. Still once you get two players at a number it is harder to make the outlier argument. That can make the market work to where you are pegging your offers down off of Jones rather than up off of Quinnen Williams and Justin Madubuike. Pegging off of Jones can make the market jump up quicker than the incremental growth we see in the other players.

Kansas City will need to make some moves this week to get their salary cap in order. Likely they will restructure part of Mahomes’ contract and then see what market develops for Sneed. Right now the Chiefs have the third highest payroll in the NFL so moving on from Sneed and maybe making another cut or two would be expected to bring the numbers down more into a level the Chiefs are comfortable with. If they do remain top 10 in spending it is probably a sign that they will have less invested in 2025 to help balance out the numbers from this year.