INDIANAPOLIS — With shoulder and jersey protectors still on, and a immaculate new trophy hat serving as the two-time Super Bowl champ’s crown, Chris Jones smiled for several minutes as he discussed his emotions after the Chiefs’ victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on the NFL’s greatest stage. Jones’ smile then transitioned into a serious facial expression as he shared his biggest wish for the Chiefs’ offseason.
“I definitely feel like we could be in a position to compete again for another one,” Jones said of the Chiefs’ chances of continuing their dynasty. “This is a special team. We keep that core together, we keep Frank Clarke, we stay together, and I think we can be very special.”
Once again, one of the Chiefs’ major subplots in the next few weeks is whether they can keep their pass rushing duo of Jones and Clark. Both players are on the Chiefs’ payroll for the 2023 campaign, but are in the final year of their contracts and have a cap of more than $28 million, according to Over The Cap.
During the President’s annual State of the Franchise event on Tuesday, the opening day of the league’s annual scouting gathering, general manager Brett Veitch acknowledged that one of the most complex components of a team’s multifaceted offseason plan — which could be changed by a single deal or deal — is finding The best path is for Jones and Clarke to sign new contracts while retaining enough flexibility in the salary cap to improve other areas on the roster.
“The good thing for us is we have these strong bonds with these guys who’ve been here for a long time,” Fitch said Tuesday of Jones and Clark. “They love being here. This is a good starting point for us. The links we have with these players, and the fact that we have such a long history with them, helps buy us more time.”
However, Fitch said the Chiefs’ first domino to have a successful spring doesn’t involve Jones or Clark.
Instead, Veach mentioned the star left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. The Chiefs have until 3 p.m. CT Tuesday to decide if they want to place the franchise tag on Brown before the league deadline. However, such a move would require bosses to create a salary cap. One of the most logical ways to achieve such a mission is to release Clark before 3 p.m. CET on March 15, the start of free agency. Clark’s release will create $21 million in salary cap space while also getting him $7.6 million in dead money, according to Over the Cap.
If that possibility becomes a reality, Veitch stressed that the Chiefs will be competitive in the open market to re-sign Clark, a nine-year defensive end who led the team in the postseason with 2 1/2 sacks and four quarterback hits.
“We’ll probably need, to some extent, some cap space, but we have a long history with (Clark) and his agent (Eric Burkhardt) as well,” Fitch said. “It will be one of many conversations we’ve had this week and we look forward to getting together with him and seeing if we can work on something that makes sense for both parties.”
An eight-year veteran, Jones was the league’s leading inside pass catcher last season, producing 15-and-a-half sacks and 29 quarterback hits, both tying for career highs. He also played 916 snaps—80 percent of the unit’s total snaps—the most among Chiefs defensive linemen. Jones is the first defender Veitch wants to sign a contract extension, a deal that will secure his services throughout the peak period of his career while also creating more salary room for the team.
Veach also feels the urgency to see if Jones is willing to negotiate and agree to a new contract before free agency begins. A year ago, Veach wanted to achieve a similar goal with superstar Tyreek Hill, who was also entering the final year of his contract.
“I left here last year thinking we were going to rebuild Tyrek,” Fitch said. “Things change quickly. Usually the market dictates these things.”
Just before free agency, the Chiefs offered Hill, the league’s fastest player, a lucrative stretch that would make him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league, and possibly the top five players at his position. But Hill wanted it to be the Highest paid NFL receiver. The conclusion of the negotiations came in the form of a huge trade, as the Miami Dolphins acquired Hill and signed him to the contract he wanted. The trade netted the Chiefs five draft picks, which Veach used to improve and better balance the team’s roster.
This year, Jones, according to a league source, wants an extension to make it at least The second highest ranking player in his position. In June, Los Angeles Rams star defensive back Aaron Donald signed a three-year, $95 million contract restructuring.
“We will definitely have conversations with Chris and his clients (Jason Katz and Michael Katz),” Fitch said. “Doing something with Chris would make sense for us, and I think Chris would want to stay here and Reese retired.”
In addition to wanting to play his entire career with the Chiefs, Jones understands that a potential extension — structured in a certain way over three or four years — could be a pivotal mechanism in the team having enough salary room to keep Clark.
Superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes made a similar financial decision in July 2020, when he signed a 10-year, $477 million extension that could reach $503 million through incentives, the largest contract in sports history at the time. With an extension that began after the 2021 season, Mahomes was given maximum flexibility to sign Jones to a four-year, $80 million contract that could reach a maximum of $85 million through incentives before the league deadline for franchise players.
“I want to keep good football players around me,” Mahomes said then. “It’s not about one person. It’s about the team.”
After a disappointing 2021 season, Clark made the team’s biggest financial sacrifice to stay on the roster. The team could have released Clark, which would have earned her $12.7 million. But Clark restructured his contract, cutting his base salary to $3.7 million in a move that helped the Chiefs create $12.6 million in the space. He agreed to the deal after having a conversation at the end of the season with coach Andy Reid, who demanded that the veteran be a stronger leader for his teammates, someone whose words match his actions.
Clark responded by being a reliable starter in 15 regular season games and then produced his best production during the Chiefs’ postseason. Reed’s exit meeting with Clark last month, which centered around the two men expressing gratitude to each other, occurred on the same day as the Chiefs’ celebratory parade with fans in Kansas City.
“I love Frank,” Reed said on Tuesday. “Frank is a first class man. I love him to death.”
At halftime of Super Bowl LVII, the Chiefs entered their locker room after a lackluster first half that ended with them trailing the Eagles by 10 points. Needing to regroup and refocus, Clark was one of the players, along with Mahomes and superstar Travis Kelce, who used his voice to motivate and inspire their teammates.
I said this to Chris: “We have to win this photo-; we have to win this game”Clark said after the game. “It means so much more to me because of the way out here. I don’t care about sack numbers, because I’m third all time in the playoffs. I don’t care about the qualifier Frank. I only care about winning a Super Bowl and being the best teammate.”
(Photo by Frank Clarke and Chris Jones: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)
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