KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In their perfect world, the Kansas City Chiefs would retain defensive tackle Chris Jones for the foreseeable future and perhaps the rest of his career. Jones, the Chiefs' sack leader in each of the past two seasons, is only 25 and said recently he would like to play in Kansas City "forever."
But despite winning Super Bowl LIV, the Chiefs' world isn't perfect. At least their financial picture for 2020 isn't. They will have trouble keeping Jones given all the burdens on their salary cap.
The Chiefs are scheduled to have about $13 million of cap space when the league year begins next month without doing anything between now and then. Merely placing the franchise tag on Jones at a cost of about $16 million would put the Chiefs over the cap.
On one hand, Jones is the kind of player the Chiefs should clear salary-cap space for. He's been the top playmaker on their defensive front. Jones had 15.5 sacks in 2018 and 9.0 last year. He was a major factor in Super Bowl LIV, knocking down three passes and getting pressure on 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on a second-quarter play to force an interception.
Jones should be heading into the prime of his career and had this to say at the end of the season, though the words came in the euphoric moments after the Super Bowl: "You don't get these moments often and I'm so grateful to be on this team. Kansas City -- I know I don't talk about it much, but I want to be a Chief for life. I plan to stay here forever. Win not only one championship -- two, three, four. We've got to build a dynasty here."
On the other hand, the Chiefs survived last season in the times when Jones was out of their lineup. They went 2-2 without him, one of the defeats coming early in the season when the Chiefs were going through a rash of injuries that had Patrick Mahomes among others on the sideline.
The Chiefs were -- statistically at least -- a better run-defense team when Jones was out of the lineup than when he was on the field. They allowed 5.5 yards per rush with Jones in the game and 4.3 without. That's a significant gap.
But key indicators show the Chiefs to be better against the pass when Jones was in the game. They allowed a 59.4 completion percentage with Jones, 62.9 without. They allowed 6.45 yards per pass attempt with Jones, 6.95 without.
The Chiefs could find a way to afford Jones but seemingly made their decision about that last year, when they traded for and then signed defensive end Frank Clark to a five-year, $104 million deal. Giving Clark that contract one year and then a similar deal to Jones the next wouldn't be smart business for a team that is preparing for Mahomes' massive next contract, whether it comes this year or next.
The best hope for the Chiefs to keep Jones, at least for 2020, appears to be as the franchise player. But there's no guarantee Jones would sign the franchise tender. He held out of offseason workouts last year in the hope of getting his contract extended then.
It's impossible to see the Chiefs letting Jones just leave as a free agent with no compensation. The Chiefs have the option of making Jones their franchise player and then trading him. That's what they did last year with linebacker Dee Ford, who was traded to the 49ers.