The Kansas City Chiefs Can Now Rest Assured with a Stable Defensive Tackle Situation
There was never any doubt. Okay, maybe a bit. Fine, a lot.
Anyway, defensive tackle Chris Jones has re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Coming off a season that saw him be selected to his first Pro Bowl and win his first Super Bowl ring, Jones was rewarded ahead of the July 15 extension deadline for players previously slapped with the franchise tag.
Arrowhead Report's Conner Christopherson, being the cap-savvy guy he is, broke down the deal in great detail. Not only does the contract allow the team to keep one of its best players through the 2023 season, but it also comes with ample flexibility down the road. Much like Patrick Mahomes' mega-extension, this is a rare situation where both sides should be able to honestly say they're happy with how things turned out.
Now that the threat of a holdout is off the table, we can expect Jones to start alongside Derrick Nnadi along the interior of the defensive line once again. While Nnadi's play improved in 2019 and should continue to do so as he enters his third season in the league, Jones' presence is huge for him. Nnadi's life is made a lot easier when Jones is commanding double-teams and extra attention.
There's a clear contrast between the two players, as Jones is a pass-rushing phenom and Nnadi has just one career sack to his name. On the other hand, Jones' ability to make sound decisions against the run can be questionable and Nnadi's main responsibility — one he excels at — is to be a run-stuffer. It's not nearly as flashy a brand of football as the one Jones plays, but it's just as important. Nnadi and Jones are perfect complements to each other, and keeping that pairing together for the 2020 and 2021 campaigns is a win for the Chiefs.
Behind the aforementioned starters, two other major players in the defensive tackle picture are Mike Pennel and Khalen Saunders. Pennel, who wanted in on the #RunItBack campaign, played a significant role in turning around the Chiefs' run defense down the stretch in 2019. He's a tremendous leader and a solid player to have as he enters his age-29 season. Saunders, who started four games last season, is a fan-favorite and was a third-round pick just a year ago. His game readiness should soon match up with his impressive athleticism as a sophomore and he remains an intriguing piece for the future if he needs additional time to develop.
Speaking of impressive athleticism, Tanoh Kpassagnon is coming off a career season and is in the final year of his rookie contract. He'll be motivated to perform well, regardless of where he plays. Standing at 6'7" and weighing 289 pounds, he's strong enough to line up as a defensive tackle as needed. He also possesses more than enough explosiveness to win on the edge. Jones' snaps don't necessarily affect Kpassagnon, as he's more of an EDGE piece to begin with.
Breeland Speaks, the Chiefs' second-round pick in 2018, will be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster. The Ole Miss product has yet to settle in and dealt with a season-ending injury and a four-game suspension in 2019. Some consider him out of position as a defensive end, preferring he be kicked inside as a tackle. That's probably a better option, but either way, he's facing an uphill battle that only becomes more difficult due to the depth ahead of him.
On the outside looking in, Devaroe Lawrence has spent time on the practice squad. The former Cleveland Browns player is a longshot to receive any meaningful snaps this season, but he's worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.
Depth is important. The Chiefs have a ton of it at defensive tackle. The return of Jones not only helps Nnadi, but it ensures that supporting pieces like Pennel and Saunders will be fresh and able to give their all in limited snaps. Playing time becomes sparse further down the depth chart, but that's a testament to the fantastic job General Manager Brett Veach has done. His ability to balance drafting young talent, retaining it, and then cashing in on "lottery ticket" free agent signings is what's made him so successful as an executive. This is no different.
Had Jones sat out, we'd be having a totally different conversation. Assuming there is an NFL season (please don't mention this to my Arrowhead Report colleague, Tucker Franklin), the Chiefs should once again boast a strong defense capable of stopping the run and getting to opposing quarterbacks.
That starts with Jones, but is contingent upon guys like Nnadi, Pennel, Saunders and Kpassagnon doing their jobs. Any contributions from Speaks or Lawrence would be the icing on the cake. Don't look now, but Veach can officially check, "add a quality defensive tackle" off of his to-do list.