The Kansas City Chiefs convinced defensive tackle Chris Jones to return his summer-long holdout this week by attaching $6.75 million worth of incentives to his contract. The fact that the Chiefs didn’t have to guarantee Jones any new money or hand him a long-term extension was already a win for the club.
But the way in which Kansas City managed to keep that $6.75 million off their 2023 salary cap deserves a hat tip, at least from those interested in how NFL teams organize their financial resources.
How the Chiefs Manipulated Chris Jones’ Incentive Package
Jones, entering the final season of his contract with the Chiefs, was initially supposed to collect a $19.5 million base salary and a $500,000 workout bonus in 2023. His cap charge would have been $28.292 million.
But Jones missed out on the workout bonus by skipping Kansas City’s offseason program. He was also fined roughly $2.3 million for missing the Chiefs’ mandatory minicamp and 42 days of training camp.
Finally, Jones will also forfeit his Week 1 game check for sitting out Kansas City’s season opener against the Detroit Lions. That will cost him 1/18th of his $19.5 million salary, $1.083 million.
All told, Jones sacrificed $3.7 million over the summer and into the regular season. He can earn back $6.75 million worth of incentives by achieving the following:
- $1 million playing 35% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps
- Additional $1 million for 50% playtime
- $1.25 million for 10 sacks
- Additional $500,000 for 15 sacks
- $1 million for first-team All-Pro nod and Chiefs Super Bowl appearance
- $2 million for Defensive Player of the Year award and Chiefs Super Bowl win
Many of those incentives — especially those tied to season-end awards and Kansas City’s playoff success — will be incredibly challenging for Jones to attain. It’s difficult to argue that the Chiefs didn’t come out ahead in this negotiation.
As if that weren’t enough, Kansas City also figured out a way to keep Jones’ incentives off their 2023 salary cap. While the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement normally requires any new incentives added in-season to be considered “likely to be earned” and thus count on a club’s cap, the Chiefs got creative.
Kansas City included Jones’ incentive as part of a 2024 option bonus, according to Matt Derrick of Chiefs Digest. Instead of that $6.75 million total hitting the Chiefs’ cap in 2023, the money is currently spread out through the four void years Kansas City added to Jones’ contract.
The Chiefs have $1.37 million in Jones’ prorated money on their books from each year from 2024-2027, per Over the Cap. However, if they don’t re-sign Jones next offseason, all that money will accelerate onto their 2024 cap. If Jones doesn’t reach all his incentives, any leftover cap space will be credited to Kansas City next season.
We finally have the official answer to the Chris Jones incentive mystery.
The Chiefs made the $6.75m in incentives part of an option bonus and added four void years on the contract. Jones currently hits $1.35 toward the cap in 2024-27.
— Matt Derrick (@mattderrick) September 14, 2023
The Chiefs are one of the most cap-strapped teams in the NFL. They only have $1.99 million in available cap space, so they couldn’t have fit Jones’ incentives on their ledger, even if they’d wanted to.
Instead, Kansas City’s front office devised an inventive solution that not only convinced Jones to return but didn’t leave the Chiefs in a financially vulnerable position, at least from an accounting standpoint.
Can the Chiefs Franchise Tag Chris Jones in 2024?
Yes. Jones did not receive a no-franchise tag clause as part of his revised agreement, and his deal will void before the NFL’s franchise tender deadline.
There are caveats, though. Kansas City would have to be willing to give Jones a 120% raise over his 2023 compensation, meaning his franchise tag figure would come in somewhere between $32 million and $33 million.
The Chiefs could also try to work out an extension, but we’ve already seen how complicated those negotiations with Jones can get. Still, Jones said that his extended holdout didn’t hurt his relationship with Kansas City or the club’s decision-makers.
“I think you as reporters and fans kind of [misconstrue] the contract thing,” Jones said. “It’s never personal,” Jones said. “I don’t think I’d start hating coach Reid, or I’d start disliking (general manager Brett) Veach. I love Veach. He knows I love him. We had on-and-off conversations throughout it all. Coach Reid, I love him too.
“I don’t think our relationship was affected any about that. They know how much I love this organization, they know how much I love this team. And I don’t think that affected any part of our relationship.”