Chiefs want to sign DT Chris Jones and DE Frank Clark to new deals

INDIANAPOLIS — With his shoulder pads and jersey still on, and a fresh new commemorative hat serving as the crown of a two-time Super Bowl champion, Chris Jones smiled for several minutes as he discussed his emotions following the Chiefs’ comeback win over the Philadelphia Eagles on the NFL’s biggest stage . Jones’ smile then turned to a serious look on his face as he shared his biggest wish for the Chiefs’ offseason.

“I definitely feel like we can be in a position to compete again for another one,” Jones said of the Chiefs’ chances to continue their dynasty. – This is a special team. We keep this core together, keep Frank Clark, keep me and him together, I think we can be very, very special.

Once again, one of the most important subplots for the Chiefs in the coming weeks is whether they can retain their pass-rushing duo of Jones and Clark. Both players are on the Chiefs’ salary cap for the 2023 campaign, but are in the final year of their contracts and have a cap hit of more than $28 million, according to Over The Cap.

During the Chiefs’ annual state-of-the-franchise event Tuesday, on the opening day of the league’s annual scouting combine, general manager Brett Veach acknowledged that one of the most complex components of the team’s multifaceted offseason plan — which could be changed by a single transaction or trade — is to find the best path that leads to signing Jones and Clark to new contracts while still having enough salary cap flexibility to improve other areas of the roster.

“What’s good for us is we have these strong connections with these players who have played here a long time,” Veach said Tuesday of Jones and Clark. “They love being here. It is a good starting point for us. The bonds we have with these players and the fact that we have a long track record with them helps us buy more time.”

And yet Veach said the first domino for the Chiefs to have a successful spring doesn’t involve Jones or Clark.

Instead, Veach named star left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. The Chiefs have until 3 p.m. CT Tuesday to decide whether to place the franchise tag on Brown before the league’s deadline. However, such a move would require the Chiefs to create salary cap space. One of the most logical ways to accomplish such a task is to release Clark before 3 p.m. CT on March 15, the start of free agency. Releasing Clark would create $21 million in salary cap space while taking a $7.6 million cap hit in dead money, according to Over The Cap.

If that possibility becomes a reality, Veach stressed the Chiefs will be competitive in the open market to sign Clark, the nine-year defensive end who led the team in the postseason with 2 1/2 sacks and four quarterback hits.

“We’ll probably, to some extent, need some cap space, but we have a long history with (Clark) and his agent (Erik Burkhardt), as well,” Veach said. “He will be one of the many conversations we have this week and look forward to joining him and seeing if we can work out something that makes sense for both parties.”

An eight-year veteran, Jones was the league’s top interior pass rusher last season, producing 15 1/2 sacks and 29 quarterback hits, both career highs. He also played 916 snaps – 80 percent of the unit’s total snaps – the most among the Chiefs’ defensive linemen. Jones is the top defenseman Veach wants to sign to a contract extension, a deal that would secure his services throughout his career while creating more salary cap space for the team.

Veach also feels there is an 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 accomplish a similar goal with superstar receiver Tyreek Hill, who was also entering the final year of his contract.

“I left here last year thinking we were going to get Tyreek’s (deal) redone,” Veach said. “Things change quickly. The market usually dictates these things.”

Right before free agency, the Chiefs offered Hill, the league’s fastest player, a lucrative extension that would have made him one of the league’s highest-paid receivers, perhaps as high as a top-five earner at his position. But Hill would be the The NFL’s highest-paid receiver. The negotiation’s conclusion came in the form of a blockbuster trade, when the Miami Dolphins acquired Hill and signed him to the contract he wanted. The exchange of the deal gave the Chiefs five draft picks, which Veach used to improve and better balance the team’s roster.

This year, according to a league source, Jones wants an extension that would make him at least the second highest player at his position. In June, Aaron Donald, the Los Angeles Rams’ superstar defensive tackle, signed a three-year, $95 million contract restructuring.

“We will certainly have conversations with Chris and his agents (Jason Katz and Michael Katz),” Veach said. “Doing something with Chris would make sense for us and I think Chris will stay here and retire a manager.”

In addition to wanting to play out his entire career with the Chiefs, Jones understands that a possible extension — one structured in a certain way over three or four years — could be a key mechanism for the team to have enough cap space 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 as much as $503 million through incentives, the largest contract in sports history at the time. With his extension starting after the 2021 season, Mahomes gave the Chiefs the flexibility to sign Jones to a four-year, $80 million extension that could reach a maximum of $85 million through incentives just before the league’s franchise-tagged player deadline.

“I want really good football players around me,” Mahomes said then. “It’s not about one person. It’s about the team.”

After a disappointing season in 2021, Clark made the biggest financial sacrifice on the team to stay on the roster. The team could have released Clark, who would have cleared $12.7 million. But Clark restructured his contract, reducing his base salary to $3.7 million in a move that helped the Chiefs create $12.6 million in cap space. He agreed to the deal after having an offseason standoff with coach Andy Reid, who demanded that his veteran be a stronger leader for his teammates, one whose words matched his actions.

Clark responded by being a reliable player in 15 regular-season games, then produced his best production during the Chiefs’ postseason run. Reid’s exit meeting with Clark last month, which centered on both men expressing gratitude to each other, took place on the same day as the Chiefs’ celebratory parade of fans in Kansas City.

“I love Frank,” Reid said Tuesday. “Frank is a first class guy. I love him to death.”

At halftime in 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 tight end Travis Kelce, who used his voice to motivate and inspire his teammates.

“I said this to Chris: ‘We must win this s—; we have to win this game,’Clark said after the game. “This one just means a lot more to me because of the road here. I don’t care about the passing numbers, about being third all-time in the playoffs. I don’t care about Playoff Frank. I just care about winning a Super Bowl and being the best teammate I can be.”

(Photo by Frank Clark and Chris Jones: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

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