Chiefs have ‘growing optimism’ they’ll keep Chris Jones with a new contract


INDIANAPOLIS — In the corners of downtown bars, in the lobbies of several hotels and even the negotiations behind closed doors, most of the conversations at the NFL combine surrounding Kansas City Chiefs pass rusher Chris Jones have reached an understandable, unanimous sentiment.

“He deserves to get paid,” one league source said earlier this week.

“I would give him a ton,” another league source said.

“He should get a massive deal from the Chiefs,” a third NFL source said.

The race to retain Jones began this week. The Chiefs hope to do just that before 11 a.m. CT on March 11 when agents of unrestricted free agents can enter contract negotiations with any interested team. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach acknowledged Tuesday that re-signing Jones is the team’s top priority. By Thursday afternoon — when several members of the organization flew home to Kansas City — there was “growing optimism,” according to league sources, that the Chiefs will agree to a new contract with Jones before free agency.

“I love Chris,” Veach said Tuesday of Jones. “We tried really hard to get something done (last year) and we didn’t. But when we got together right after that Detroit game (in early September), we had a great talk.

“Both parties, I think, want to be here, so we’ll get to work. That’s certainly a guy we want back and love and want to see him finish his career here in Kansas City.”

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Veach and Chris Shea, the Chiefs’ vice president of football operations, met in person Tuesday and Wednesday with Jones’ agents, brothers Jason and Michael Katz.

Similar to this time last year, Jones wants a contract that will pay him an average annual salary of $30 million, which would make him the league’s third-highest-paid defensive player behind San Francisco 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Jones led the Chiefs last season with 10 1/2 sacks and 29 quarterback hits. Since Jones has demonstrated his versatility by showcasing his ability to pressure the quarterback from the interior and the edge the past two seasons — each ending with the Chiefs as Super Bowl champions — an understanding between him and the Chiefs has become more clear.

The Chiefs will likely have to offer a contract that’s more lucrative than what the Pittsburgh Steelers gave outside linebacker T.J. Watt in 2021 — a four-year, $112 million extension with $80 million guaranteed — for Jones to agree to continue his career with the franchise that selected him with a 2016 second-round pick.

Veach has already made two moves this week to increase the Chiefs’ odds of retaining Jones in the wake of the news that the NFL salary cap for 2024 will be set at $255.4 million, an unprecedented $30.6 million increase for each franchise.

The Chiefs informed veteran receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling that they are releasing him, according to a league source. A six-year veteran, Valdes-Scantling was the most logical veteran to be a salary-cup cut. The decision created $12 million in cap space with just $2 million in dead money. The Chiefs hope to use much of that money to help re-sign Jones.

The Chiefs are also expected to place the franchise tag on cornerback L’Jarius Sneed before the 3 p.m. CT deadline on March 5. By preventing Sneed from becoming a first-time unrestricted free agent, he would be set to earn a one-year salary of $19.8 million — unless he and the team agree to an extension before the July deadline for franchise-tagged players. But the Chiefs could tag and trade Sneed for 2024 pick ahead of the draft. In 2019, the Chiefs placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Dee Ford, then traded him to the 49ers for a second-round pick. If the Chiefs enter into advanced trade discussions for Sneed, they would seek at least a second-round pick. Since Tuesday, six teams have shown interest in acquiring Sneed, according to a league source.

The Chiefs could also create more salary-cap space by converting a sizable amount of the roster bonus in quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ contract into a signing bonus. The same could be done with left guard Joe Thuney’s contract.

“Every offseason is a series of contingency plans,” Veach said Tuesday. “Things typically never go exactly how you want. You have to prepare for the opportunities as if they will go exactly how you want. But at the same time, you have to be realistic.

“It’ll be great to get (deals with) Chris and LJ done. That’s our goal and intention, but we also know it’s not 100 percent. It might not even be 75 percent. It might be 50 percent. We’ll have a backup plan.”

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In early September, Jones declined a two-year, fully guaranteed extension with the Chiefs worth $54.5 million, which would have paid him an average annual salary of $27.5 million in 2024 and 2025.

In Week 2, Jones signed a new one-year deal, replacing the final year of the four-year contract he signed in 2020. His base salary remained the same at $19.5 million, but he could earn a maximum of $25 million through incentives. Jones finished last season having earned $22.6 million after achieving four of his six incentives — including earning $1 million by earning first-team All-Pro honors and the Chiefs reaching the Super Bowl.

“Chris was a hell of a leader for us,” defensive end Charles Omenihu said Monday on “Good Morning Football.” “Throughout the season, his relentlessness, leadership and play, those are things you don’t see in the stat sheet, really showed up. I told him, I’ve played with top-of-the-line defensive linemen, those guys that every week the (coaching) staff is looking at, like, ‘You’re going to make a play that’s going to change the game.’ He’s right up there with J.J. (Watt) and Bosa, two other guys I’ve played (with).

“I hope that everything works out and that he’s a Chief for the rest of his career because playing with him, I just fed off of him so much.”

The Chiefs’ four-game postseason run included memorable play after memorable play from Jones. The Chiefs’ final defensive snap of the season ended with Jones pressuring quarterback Brock Purdy into a pivotal third-down incompletion in overtime of their comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII.

After the game, Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce expressed to Jones how much they want him to stay their teammate.

Jones also reiterated his desire to remain a Chief earlier this month during the city’s celebratory rally when he was handed the microphone in front of hundreds of thousands of fans.

“We ain’t done yet! We ain’t done yet!” Jones shouted. “Kansas City, we will be back here next year! And for those who want Chris Jones gone, I ain’t going nowhere, baby!

“I’m going to be here this year, next year and the year after!”

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(Photo: Jay Biggerstaff / USA Today)





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