KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wednesday there has been no communication with Chris Jones, one day after the All-Pro defensive tackle indicated on social media that his contract holdout could stretch well into the regular season.
Jones is entering the final year of a four-year, $80 million deal. The Chiefs had been talking with his representatives about a long-term contract, but those negotiations have seemingly grown more contentious as the sides dig in, and with their Super Bowl title defense beginning in a little more than two weeks against the Lions.
“There's been no communication so I don't know what's going to happen there,” Reid said after the last practice open to reporters before the Chiefs' preseason finale Saturday against the Browns. “The game goes on. That's how it works.”
Jones posted a photograph of a chalkboard on social media Tuesday with the message, “If it's out of your hands, it deserves freedom from your mind also.” That led to a back-and-forth with fans, and when one asked how long he was willing to stay away from the team, Jones replied that he could make an appearance around Week 8 — nearly halfway through the season.
Jones has been piling up daily fines of $50,000 for missing a mandatory minicamp over the summer along with all of training camp, and he has proven his willingness to forfeit his game check of about $1.1 million for each game he is absent.
When one fan brought up the hefty bill, Jones replied: “I can afford it.”
Jones has not stated publicly what he is demanding, but the assumption is that he wants to be the second-highest paid defensive tackle in the league behind the Rams' Aaron Donald, who is working on a three-year, $95 million deal.
The price of defensive tackles has skyrocketed since the end of last season. The Giants' Dexter Lawrence and the Commanders' Daron Payne each signed four-year, $90 million extensions, the Titans' Jeffrey Simmons signed a four-year, $94 million deal, and the Jets signed Quinnen Williams to a four-year, $96 million extension.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said he's been in touch with Jones, but that his contract situation is rarely discussed.
“I don't think anyone expected him to not be here now,” Mahomes said, “but that's part of the negotiations. I'm not looking down on him for that. He has some stuff he's trying to get done and that he feels like he needs to get done right now.”
The 29-year-old Jones is coming off the best season of his seven-year career. He matched a career best with 15 1/2 sacks, forced two fumbles and recovered one while starting every game. And Jones might have been even better in the playoffs, especially the AFC title game against the Bengals, when he hit quarterback Joe Burrow five times and had his first two postseason sacks.
“We stay in contact with him all the time. He's in good spirits,” Mahomes said. “He's a guy that loves football, loves playing for the Chiefs. It's a hard time for all players whenever this stuff comes up. You want to play. You want to be out there. But at the same time, you want to take care of your family.”
In the meantime, the Chiefs are treating Jones' absence as if he was injured, rotating several defensive tackles into his spot during practice. They got some help when Turk Wharton returned to practice after dealing with some swelling in the knee, and veterans Derrick Nnadi and Danny Shelton along with sixth-round pick Keondre Coburn have been in the mix.
But none of them has the pass rushing impact of Jones, whose 65 sacks are fifth most in franchise history, and that puts the Chiefs in a bind. They released Frank Clark in the offseason to free up salary cap space, but his replacement, Charles Omenihu, is suspended for the first six games of the regular season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
That means the Chiefs' pass rush must lean even more heavily on second-year defensive end George Karlaftis and Felix Anudike-Uzomah, their first-round pick out of Kansas State, who missed most of the offseason because of thumb surgery.
“You have to have depth everywhere. You have to have guys that step up when their number is called,” Mahomes said. “Yeah, you want to have great players like Chris, but you have to be ready to step up.”
Asked whether the holdout would affect Jones' standing in the locker room, where he is one of the longest-tenured Chiefs and a leading voice on the defense, Mahomes replied: “It doesn't hurt his relationship with any of us.”
"When he comes back," Mahomes said, “we'll welcome him with open arms.”
Even if that doesn't happen until Week 8.
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