The Kansas City Chiefs have undergone some major changes on defense this offseason. First of all, they fired former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo, the former Giants and Rams coach. They’ll be transitioning to a 4-3 defense, and they cut ties with their two premier edge rushers in Justin Houston (waived) and Dee Ford (traded to the 49ers), while they brought in Alex Okafor to play off the edge. The Chiefs also cast aside Eric Berry and replaced him with Tyrann Mathieu, and let Steven Nelson leave for the Steelers, replacing him with Bashaud Breeland.
It does look like at least one player will be sticking around for a while longer, though, and that’s Chris Jones. The team’s second-round pick back in 2016, Jones is coming off the best season of his career. He racked up 15.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, and 19 tackles for loss last season and was the best player on the Kansas City defense.
“I’ve made myself at home, the fans have bought into me, the community has accepted me for who I am and I appreciate that,” Jones said this week, per the Kansas City Star. “I want to spend the rest of my career here, if that’s possible.”
The Chiefs feel the same way.
“There’s a lot of time to go before the season starts, and he’s certainly a guy that we’ve targeted and would love to get done,” Chiefs GM Brett Veach said, per the Star. “The conversations have started. I wouldn’t say they are heating up at a rapid pace, but you’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve had two to three of these conversations and they’re getting better.”
Jones will presumably get a sizable raise from the approximately $1.1 million in base salary he’s set to collect next season, but he seems unlikely to break through the top of the market set by Aaron Donald last year. Donald is the best defender in football, while Jones is “merely” a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. He’ll get a nice payday, though, and the Chiefs should be grateful he wants to stick around.
In some ways, Chris Jones finds himself in new surroundings. The Chiefs defensive lineman will work with a new coordinator, have several new teammates around him and line up in a new scheme.
What won’t change is the drive that has kept Jones on an upward trajectory through his three seasons in the NFL, from a spot on the league’s All-Rookie team to last season, when he finished third in the NFL with 15½ sacks and was a second team All-Pro selection.
Jones and the Chiefs are talking toward a contract extension and Jones likes the idea of planting roots in Kansas City.
“I’ve made myself at home, the fans have bought into me, the community has accepted me for who I am and I appreciate that,” Jones said. “I want to spend the rest of my career here, if that’s possible.
Jones said he feels fortunate to be where “they love you enough to ask to stay even longer.” That love was on full display Friday when Jones was introduced as the first Champion for KC Metro Special Olympics, which serves 4,000 athletes in Missouri and Kansas.
The announcement occurred in a conference room with a podium, and Jones’ formal acceptance lasted about a minute. Not because Jones didn’t have much to say — he simply wanted to spend more time with the half-dozen Special Olympians on hand.
They shared their sports of choice with Jones, who had a response for all of them.
He then counted down a lineup of basketball, football and track.
“So let me tell you about me,” Jones said. “I played basketball. I dunked on everybody. They used to call me ‘LeBron-do,” because I was LeBron James and (Rajon) Rondo in one person.”
Youth baseball? Jones said he couldn’t hit the ball off the tee. But he responded to every question or comment with a tale or quip. His personality filled the room.
A football clinic and bowling fundraiser are planned and Jones will attend at least one area Special Olympics event.
Jones said he sought a connection to a local cause and, like former Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles before him, Special Olympics was the right fit.
“It was pivotal for me to join something that makes me happy,” Jones said. “This makes me smile. And interacting with people, they’re no different than me. They just have a disability.”
Jones said he has kept up with the recent funding discussion involving Special Olympics. Earlier in the week, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended a proposal to eliminate some $18 million in federal funding, saying Special Olympics is best supported by philanthropy.
As backlash mounted, President Trump told reporters that he had “overridden” DeVos and the cuts would be rolled back.
Special Olympics Kansas CEO John Lair said the budget cuts would have had minimum impact, about 1% of the budget. But cuts would have affected the organization’s Unified Champion Schools program, which increases opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities to work together on sports teams and student clubs. Some 35 schools in Kansas participate in the program.
Lair said he received nearly 50 media calls this week when the cuts were announced, and it gave him an opportunity to speak about the organization.
“It’s been a crazy week,” Lair said. “But we looked at is as a positive, a way to tell people about the Champion Schools.”
Special Olympics leaders also heard from potential sponsors and people who simply wanted to help the organization.
“I’m honored to be part of great organization, and I’m even more so honored to bring awareness to the Special Olympics,” Jones said. “It’s a pleasure; let’s work, guys.”
With that, Jones stepped from behind the podium and got to know the Special Olympians.