It appears that Thursday's NFL season opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions might be missing one of the game's brightest stars in defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Jones is holding out in the midst of a bitter contract dispute, having already collected over $2 million in fines for sitting out training camp this summer. Ahead of Week 1, coach Andy Reid doesn't sound confident that his team's best pass rusher will be on the field when the Chiefs open their Super Bowl title defense.
"I can't tell you that [if Jones will play against the Lions]," Reid t0ld reporters. "I don't know what his agenda is or when he's coming or not coming. But we're rolling right now. I haven't put much into it."
Entering the final year of his contract, Jones is set to collect $19.5 million in 2023, if he ever returns to Kansas City. While contract extensions can materialize at any time and deadlines — such as Week 1 — tend to spur action, it seems the two sides have yet to come anywhere close to a deal. There's a very real possibility that Jones might have donned a Chiefs uniform for the final time.
Last season, Jones had one of the most dominant seasons of his career, tying a career-high 15.5 sacks along with a career-best 44 total tackles en route to a First-Team All-Pro selection.
If the Chiefs do move away from Jones, he is the type of player who can instantly elevate another team's Super Bowl chances, especially given the value of interior pass rushers and how disruptive a player he is.
Here's a look at Jones' potential five best trade fits:
The Lions have made no bones about the fact that they are going for it in 2023, and beyond.
Detroit has certainly taken on the hyper-competitive attitude of head coach Dan Campbell, but general manager Brad Holmes has constructed a young roster littered with top draft picks and overachievers on both sides of the football. The Lions' defensive line is anchored by second-year edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and Charles Harris, who combined for 10.5 sacks last season.
However, adding Jones to the interior of the defensive line — on the heels of a season in which he produced 15.5 sacks while adding 77 total quarterback pressures — would make the Lions' front one of the most formidable in the league. Jones would allow defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to get awfully creative with how he deploys his rushers off the edge, with the the 2022 First-Team All-Pro generating significant interior pressure on the quarterback.
The NFC West has become an arms race, especially along the front seven; and if the Seattle Seahawks want to keep pace with the defensive juggernaut that general manager John Lynch has built in San Francisco, adding a dynamic interior presence such as Jones could tip the scales. That's especially with Seattle being tasked with not only rattling quarterback Brock Purdy to get past the 49ers but also creating enough disruption to limit the likes of explosive playmakers such as Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel.
It would take some maneuvering for the Seahawks to get into the Jones sweepstakes, having only $3.8 million in cap space. But the need and potential upside Jones provides would make any contract restructuring or corresponding roster moves worthwhile.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider isn't afraid to make splashy trades, especially when it comes to adding a player of Jones' caliber who could elevate Seattle in the race to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
On the surface, it might seem unlikely that the Chiefs would deal Jones to an AFC contender. But Chiefs general manager Brett Veach did trade dynamic wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins last season, so anything is possible.
While Jones might not fit the profile of a traditional nose tackle, his 78.0 run-stopping grade from Pro Football Focus in 2022 would make him a clear upgrade over recent addition Angelo Blackson, who is currently slated to start for Jacksonville in Week 1.
It isn't difficult to imagine the Jaguars' front seven taking major strides if Jones is lined up between ends Roy Robertson-Harris and Folorunso Fatukasi. Additionally, the Jaguars have plenty of spending flexibility, with approximately $6.83 million in remaining cap space in 2023 and $30.64 million in 2024 to add Jones to bolster a roster on the cusp of competing for Super Bowls.
If the Browns are willing and are comfortable shedding some talent this offseason to create cap space, adding a dominant interior rusher such as Jones would certainly help close the gap on quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in the tight AFC North race.
Considering Myles Garrett might be the most dominant defensive player in the sport, and Za'Darius Smith arrives fresh off a 10.0-sack 2022 season, dropping Jones alongside elite run-stuffer Dalvin Tomlinson and those two Pro Bowl defensive ends just might make Cleveland's defensive line legitimately unblockable.
New Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans' top priority in 2023 is to set the foundation for the kind of culture that can ultimately compete for championships. Jones would go a long way toward accomplishing Houston's short- and long-term aspirations.
Ryans not need look too far into his recent past in San Francisco to see the value that an elite defensive lineman such as Jones has to a defense. And few coaches are as astute blitz-designers and play-callers as Ryans to maximize a player of the 29-year-old's caliber.
Houston might struggle to compete for the postseason in 2023. But in the long run, it's easy to see the value of pairing Jones alongside No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson as the foundational centerpieces of a rebuilt front seven capable of wreaking plenty of havoc for years to come. The Texans are sitting on $3.7 million in cap space in 2023 and $86.7 million in 2024 to front-load any sort of Jones extension to potentially prop open a potential championship window.
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