The Kansas City Chiefs are world champions once more and All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones played a substantial role in making it happen. Jones was a monster on the interior throughout KC's postseason run and, naturally, saved his best for last by dominating the offensive line of the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. His majestic playoff performance was capped off by blowing up an easy touchdown in overtime on what ended up being his final snap of the season.
It also may have been his final snap as a Chief. It's easy to forget with the confetti falling but Jones and the Chiefs went through a very contentious contract negotiation over offseason that leaked into the regular season. Jones was so mad about it he was willing to sit out the team's season-opener and banner-raising ceremony to get what he felt he deserved. Kansas City lost that opener and promptly gave Jones the raise he was looking for. Which obviously ended up being the right decision, but now it feels more likely than ever that Jones will depart when free agency begins in early March.
Nobody knows the value of the star defender quite like Kansas City, to be sure. The Chiefs probably don't have as many Super Bowl rings as they do without him. But he's going to want an absolutely massive payday. Kansas City spent months telling him he wasn't worth the money he was asking for, then dared him to go prove it by giving him a new deal loaded with performance incentives. Jones did just that and undoubtedly remembers how everything went down six months ago. He may not be interested in coming back, even with all the success he has enjoyed and will continue to enjoy with Patrick Mahomes as his quarterback.
And even if he did want to return, KC might not be able to afford his asking price. Jones is going to want market-setting money, something like Aaron Donald's four-year, fully-guaranteed $95 million contract. In fact those will probably be the starting numbers. The Chiefs are projected to have $22 million in cap space so they probably could re-sign Jones to a top-of-the-line contract. But it feels unlikely that they will given how they handled the Tyreek Hill situation. Like Jones, Hill was justified in asking to be paid like the best player at their position, but KC knew doing so would hamstring their cap flexibility so they traded him instead.
The Chiefs can't trade Jones so there isn't a benefit to letting him walk other than the absence of his contract. But that is still the likeliest path they'll walk because from all appearances they understand they have to spend their money wisely with Mahomes' deal on the books and giving Jones a gigantic deal will severely limit their ability to improve the roster elsewhere. And there's a lot to fix, even after a Super Bowl victory.
So if Jones really does hit the open market, which teams have the money and the motivation to go after him?