While Patrick Mahomes and his offense may get most of the credit, the Kansas City Chiefs defense played a key role in the club’s Super Bowl-winning 2019 season. That unit, however, could be heading into the 2020 campaign without tackle Chris Jones.
While the Kansas City Chiefs have placed the franchise tag on Jones, there’s no guarantee the tackle will take the field without a new long-term contract. A look at the numbers reveals why that’s the case: during his first four years in the pros, Jones has earned less than $50,000 per tackle.
Chris Jones has developed into a key part of the Kansas City Chiefs defense
When you think of the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and a high-scoring offense probably spring to mind. Chris Jones, however, has developed into a legitimate defensive talent during his time in Arrowhead.
Jones played his college ball at Mississippi State, where he spent three solid, if unremarkable, years with the Bulldogs. He entered into the 2016 NFL draft, made headlines with a wardrobe malfunction at the combine, and landed with the Kansas City Chiefs early in the second round.
While Jones started his NFL career as a backup, he quickly found himself in the starting lineup. He recorded two sacks and 28 total tackles as a rookie and improved those numbers during his second professional campaign. In 2018, however, Jones burst onto the scene as a legitimate star. The tackle recorded a sack in an NFL record 11 consecutive games, finishing the year with 15.5 sacks and 40 total tackles.
Although Jones’ numbers came back to earth a bit in 2019—he finished the year with nine sacks and 36 total tackles—he still proved to be an invaluable part of Kansas City’s success. As we saw in the Super Bowl, a solid defense makes the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes even more dangerous.
Earning less than $50,000 per NFL tackle
By real-world standards, professional athletes are all pretty wealthy. In the grand scheme of the NFL, however, Chris Jones sits on the lower end of the pay scale.
According to Spotrac, the defensive tackle has only made $6.2 million in salary during his first four professional seasons. His situation is similar to Dak Prescott’s; when you aren’t a top-tier draft pick with a massive signing bonus, a rookie contract severely limits your earning power.
During his time in the NFL, Jones has recorded 136 sacks and 33 total tackles. At his entry-level salary, the tackle earned just over $45,000 for each tackle and a shade under $189,000 per sack. While that sounds like a nice payday, it pales in comparison to the top defensive lineman around the league. Frank Clark, who the Chiefs signed to a massive deal in 2019, made $17.8 million last season; over the course of his career, he’s taken home almost $125,000 per tackle and roughly $502,000 per sack.
That financial reality has the Chiefs and Chris Jones locked in a stalemate
Based on his production and the salary of the other defensive linemen around the league, Chris Jones definitely deserves a raise. That reality, however, has left him and the Kansas City Chiefs locked in a stalemate.
For all of the Chiefs’ strengths on the field, the club is in a tough spot from a financial perspective. According to OvertheCap, Kansas City only has about $6 million in cap space heading into the 2020 campaign; things are also complicated by Patrick Mahomes’ eventual extension.
While both parties have spoken about their desire to work things out—the Chiefs franchise tagged Jones earlier this year, hoping to keep the tackle on the roster and kick the can down the road, while Jones has previously said that he wants to spend his career in Kansas City—there doesn’t seem to be much optimism right now. On Tuesday, Jones fired off a tweet that seemed to suggest he could refuse to sign the franchise tag and sit out the 2020 campaign. That’s far from the ideal solution, but no Chiefs fan can begrudge him for wanting to get paid.
No matter what happens, though, one truth is apparent: Chris Jones is going to be making a great deal more money whenever he signs his next NFL contract.
Stats courtesy of Sport-Reference and Pro-Football-Reference