Realistic Landing Spots for Chris Jones in 2020 NFL Free Agency
While perhaps not quite a household name in the mold of J.J. Watt or even Jadeveon Clowney, Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones is one of the best players scheduled hit this year's free-agent market March 18.
He's thrived at both defensive end and tackle and is a fit for virtually any team. Jones is productive as a pass-rusher (24.5 sacks over the last two years), he's just 25 years old, and he carries some Super Bowl shine.
While the Chiefs would likely love to keep the centerpiece of their defensive front, having $16.5 million in projected cap space could make it difficult—the contract Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett signed last offseason is worth $17 million annually.
So where might Jones land in 2020? Based on factors such as positional need, team fit and cap room, these are the most realistic options.
Kansas City Chiefs
We have to start with the Chiefs, as Jones was one of their most important defensive players in 2019 and is likely a massive offseason priority.
"One way or another, I expect him to be a Chief in 2020," Albert Breer of SI.com wrote last Monday. "They'll try to work out a deal first, and if that doesn't work, they'll tag him."
Using the tag won't be easy. Last year's tag value for defensive tackles was $15.2 million. Working out a long-term deal could be even trickier, though, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes will get a massive raise soon, since he's heading into the final year of his contract.
While Kansas City should make a major push to retain Jones, the team may have to let him go or trade him after giving him the tag. It's the route the Chiefs took with defensive end Dee Ford last offseason, eventually flipping him for a 2020 second-round pick.
Whether they use the franchise tag or go straight for the long-term offer, the Chiefs will have to clear some cap space before the March 10 tag deadline. If they let him go, they'll likely receive a third-round compensatory pick in 2021.
According to Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller, if the Chiefs tag and trade Jones, they'll likely ship him out of the conference.
"The biggest prediction from league insiders? That Jones, who is expected to want close to $20 million per season, has priced himself out of K.C. and will be traded to an NFC contender for a late-first-round pick," Miller wrote.
Coincidentally, that NFC contender could be the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle traded Frank Clark to Kansas City for a first-round pick last year and then failed to adequately replace his sack production. As a team, Seattle put up just 28 sacks. The Seahawks are set to potentially lose Clowney—a 2019 trade acquisition—in free agency and could find a home for Jones at either tackle or end.
If he is dealt to Seattle, the Chiefs won't have to worry about seeing Jones in 2020—unless they meet the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Getting to the quarterback wasn't as much of an issue for the Indianapolis Colts, who finished 2019 with 41 sacks. However, getting there with the front four was a problem. Defensive end Justin Houston was their only down lineman to record at least 5.0 sacks.
Houston's presence is one of the reasons the Colts could be an intriguing home for Jones. Reuniting the former Chiefs teammates would give Indianapolis a fearsome front, as the two combined for 24.5 sacks in 2018.
The Colts are also flush with cap space. They're projected to have $86.1 million in available cash, making them a major threat to sign Jones if he hits the open market.
If the Chiefs tag and trade him, it's unlikely Indianapolis would be a top destination as an AFC opponent. For the right price, though, a deal could be done. The Chiefs at least wouldn't have to worry about meeting Jones until the 2020 postseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like the Colts and Seahawks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are slated to be rich in cap space ($85 million). With players such as Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul and Beau Allen set to become free agents, Tampa could also have a major need along the defensive line.
One thing is for sure: Head coach Bruce Arians wants to make defense a priority this offseason.
"I don't care who's my quarterback. We've gotta have a defense," Arians said, per ESPN's Jenna Laine.
Jones should be a prime target for the Buccaneers, but adding him probably won't be the team's biggest goal. It will likely first look to lock up edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett, who had a league-high 19.5 sacks in 2019.
After securing Barrett, though, Tampa could zero in on Jones—likely to play end in Todd Bowles' 3-4 base scheme. Though they will play the Chiefs in 2020, the Buccaneers could be viewed as a tag-and-trade option since they reside in the NFC.
Another potential tag-and-trade destination is the Arizona Cardinals. Though not yet an NFC contender, Arizona is a young, rebuilding team that could use a premier defender like Jones up front. The Cardinals ranked 24th in run defense and 31st in pass defense in 2019.
In Arizona, Jones would likely move back to defensive end in a 3-4 base—potentially replacing impending free agent Rodney Gunter. Pairing Jones with edge-rusher Chandler Jones would immediately give the Cardinals an intimidating pass rush.
And adding to the front is a goal for Arizona this offseason.
"We just want to get better, and obviously the defense is an area where we have to improve, particularly the front seven," general manager Steve Keim said on Arizona Sports 98.7's Doug & Wolf.
Financially, the Cardinals can afford to pay both Joneses for the next couple of seasons—the incumbent Jones is signed through 2021. The team has $51.5 million in projected cap space and has second-year quarterback Kyler Murray on a rookie deal.
The Buffalo Bills could be a free-agent destination for Jones, though the Chiefs probably won't trade him to a 2019 playoff team. For Buffalo, much will depend on what it does with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who's also set to hit free agency.
Phillips was a waiver-wire pickup in 2018 and broke out with 9.5 sacks last season. He often rotated with 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei on the interior. Jones could do the same while also rotating at defensive end—something impending free agent Shaq Lawson did in 2019.
Adding Jones would be a luxury move for the Bills, but it's realistic. The 49ers proved in 2019 that having a strong defensive line rotation can pave the way to playoff success. Buffalo is projected to have $83.1 million in cap space and has quarterback Josh Allen on a rookie deal for at least another two seasons.
The Bills can afford to pay Jones and would offer him a chance to get back to the postseason.
All contract and cap information via Spotrac.