Last game with Chiefs or not, Chris Jones looks to add to his legacy in Super Bowl

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Last game with Chiefs or not, Chris Jones looks to add to his legacy in Super Bowl

LAS VEGAS — Chris Jones knows exactly how he wants the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive unit to be remembered — both Sunday night and into the future — if the team defeats the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII.

“As Super Bowl champions,” Jones said Wednesday, getting straight to the point faster than many of his teammates. “I don’t care about the stats. I don’t care about (if) we’re one of the (NFL’s) best defenses. I don’t care. Super Bowl champions.”

Already in possession of two Super Bowl rings, Jones is aware of how adding a third ring can elevate his reputation and legacy in the NFL.

Sunday’s game could also mark the end of a significant chapter in Jones’ career. As an eight-year veteran, Jones will become an unrestricted free agent after Sunday’s game. Jones is ranked as the league’s top free agent by Pro Football Focus.

Jones has stressed several times this week that he hasn’t thought much about whether Sunday’s game will be his last time in a Chiefs uniform.

“If it is, it is,” he said. “If it’s not, it’s not. I don’t really worry about it. I’m worried about winning a Super Bowl.”

Like his team, which had to navigate its most difficult path to the Super Bowl in the Patrick Mahomes era, Jones experienced a challenging season. He stayed away from the team throughout the offseason and held out of training camp seeking a lucrative contract extension. That ultimately cost him $3.931 million. When the Chiefs began the season on Sept. 7, Jones watched his teammates fall to the Detroit Lions while sitting in a suite inside Arrowhead Stadium between his agents, Jason Katz and Michael Katz.

A victory Sunday would be more than gratifying.

Jones rejoined the Chiefs in Week 2 and put together another memorable season. He tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 sacks, led the Chiefs with 13 tackles for loss and recorded 29 quarterback hits to lead one of the NFL’s best defenses. No opponent has scored 30 points on coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit, as the Chiefs finished the regular season allowing just 17.3 points per game, the second-fewest in the league.

“To me, there’s nobody I’d want more leading our defense in a big game like this than Chris,” defensive line coach Joe Cullen said Wednesday. “He knows what it takes. He’s the best defensive lineman in football, and I think his laser focus right now is second to none, just the energy and leadership that he brings.”

Jones has demonstrated his versatility in the postseason, his rare blend of power and quickness and his ability to make clutch plays when he doesn’t even touch the opposing quarterback.

He helped sack quarterback Tua Tagovailoa alongside defensive end George Karlaftis in the Chiefs’ comfortable win over the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round. In a divisional-round victory over the Buffalo Bills, Jones did a little bit of everything — he forced a field goal with a batted pass near the line of scrimmage in the red zone, he forced a Josh Allen fumble and, on the penultimate play, he created enough pressure to affect Allen’s final pass, which fell incomplete.

The AFC Championship Game, though, featured Jones’ best performance. The box score of the Chiefs’ win over the Baltimore Ravens shows that Jones recorded just a quarterback hit and a batted pass. But Jones generated constant pressure on quarterback Lamar Jackson, the NFL MVP. His deflection denied a possible highlight for rookie receiver Zay Flowers. And his presence helped Spagnuolo design an aggressive blitz package that led to four other players — Karlaftis, defensive end Charles Omenihu, safety Justin Reid and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton — collecting a sack.

“I love Spags,” Jones said. “This is the ultimate goal. We have to appreciate this moment.”

As he walked off the field at M&T Bank Stadium, Jones tipped his commemorative ballcap to the hundreds of Chiefs fans who cheered him. The scene thrilled general manager Brett Veach, who was also on the field.

“When you get in situations like this, there’s never going to be a perfect resolution,” Veach said Thursday of Jones’ holdout. “But let’s just find some common ground that we can meet on and just never close the door on communication. That’s how that unfolded. We genuinely wanted him back and, to a certain extent, you see where he’s coming from.”

When training camp ended, both parties believed they had leverage in negotiations. The Chiefs felt they could secure Jones with a combination of guaranteed money and a continued place as an essential member — alongside Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce — of a perennial Super Bowl contender. Jones, 29, viewed himself as the league’s most impactful pass rusher last season and knew the Chiefs built their defensive scheme around him.

Before the Chiefs played the Lions on opening night, the Chiefs offered Jones a two-year, fully guaranteed extension worth $54.5 million, which would pay him an average annual salary of $27.5 million in 2024 and 2025, according to a league source. Jones declined the offer. He wanted an extension that would pay him an average annual salary of $30 million, making him the league’s third-highest-paid defensive player behind San Francisco 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

The day after their loss to the Lions proved to be critical to the Chiefs’ season. Veach called Jones that morning and requested they meet, face to face, in the Chiefs’ facility. Inside Veach’s office, the men talked for more than two hours.

“That was beneficial,” Veach said. “It wasn’t this huge shift in offers. I just think there was a greater understanding. From his standpoint — and this is beyond numbers — you hear other things that are important. There was genuine respect and he left with a greater appreciation of me and I certainly left with a greater appreciation of him.”

Three days later, Jones and the Chiefs reached a financial compromise. Jones signed a new one-year deal, replacing the final year of the four-year contract he signed in 2020. His base salary remained the same at $19.5 million, but through incentives, he could earn up to $25 million.

Jones achieved four of his six incentives — including earning $1 million by earning first-team All-Pro honors and the Chiefs reaching the Super Bowl — to finish this season having earned $22.6 million. Jones promised last season to give Spagnuolo, Cullen, assistant defensive line coach Terry Bradden and his defensive line teammates each a Rolex.

Several of the Chiefs have praised Jones this season for his continued ascension as a leader in the locker room. They say he instantly improved team chemistry when he returned from his holdout.

“We respect the work being done and we know that we trust each other,” said safety Justin Reid, another veteran leader. “That confidence in each other breeds an environment where guys get along. We don’t have any drama. We don’t have any fights. I’ve been on teams that have had a lot of both of those. We’re just focusing on everyone contributing in whatever way they can to get a win on Sunday.”

Before kickoff, the Chiefs’ pregame routine on the field ends with the players surrounding Mahomes, who gives the final motivational message. But before the players start their pregame drills, the player who gives a speech to the entire defense is Jones, who was so passionate before the AFC Championship Game that Mahomes stopped what he was doing and watched in admiration.

Jones said he thinks of former Chiefs safety Eric Berry when he tries to inspire his teammates.

“It was early on in my career, but I was able to take a lot from Eric Berry, one of my favorite players,” he said.

Every Saturday night this season, Jones has attended the Chiefs’ chapel service, often sitting next to Spagnuolo. Jones promises to share Spagnuolo’s message — that each player must perform with the proper discipline — throughout the Chiefs’ most significant game of the season.

Jones also shared that he hopes to have emotional, celebratory hugs with coach Andy Reid, Spagnuolo and Veach while red, yellow and white confetti flies around them.

As for Veach, he knows what will happen in a few weeks.

“It’ll pick up right where it left off, but I think there will be more knowledge on both sides,” Veach said of starting another round of contract negotiations with Jones. “The (salary) cap will be a little bit higher, so you’re just hopeful that we can work it out this year.

“We love him and he’s an iconic player.”

(Photo: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)