KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Defensive tackle Chris Jones chose to skip the beginning of the Kansas City Chiefs’ mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday, the latest step in the growing discord over his looming contract situation.
Jones is hoping to parlay the finest season of his career into a massive payday as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. But with negotiations seemingly going nowhere, the affable 24-year-old defensive tackle opted against participating in the Chiefs’ voluntary workouts.
Now that they are mandatory, Jones is risking a fine for being absent this week.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is only planning to speak with reporters on Thursday, when the minicamp wraps up. But his viewpoint is unlikely to have changed from a couple weeks ago, when he said: “We just go. If you’re here, you get better. If you’re not, you don’t.”
It’s hard to imagine Jones being a whole lot better than last season.
He appeared in all 16 games and had career highs in just about every meaningful category: 40 total tackles, 29 quarterback hits, 19 tackles for loss and a whopping 15 1/2 sacks.
That last number was the most important for a team that desperately needed any pressure it could generate on the quarterback. The Chiefs had arguably the league’s best offense, anchored by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but they also had perhaps the league’s worst defense.
It was that unit that failed so miserably in the playoffs, when the Chiefs were unable to stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in their overtime loss in the AFC championship game.
The Chiefs made major moves to address the defense this offseason, firing coordinator Bob Sutton and hiring Steve Spagnuolo as his replacement. They also jettisoned longtime stalwarts such as Eric Berry and Justin Houston, brought in big names Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu, and began the difficult task of changing from a 3-4 system to a 4-3 defensive set.
And while Jones’ unique set of abilities should allow him to flourish no matter the system, there is still a learning curve that takes place, and participating in the offseason would be helpful.
“We don’t really talk about it,” said Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller, when asked about Jones’ absence. “We just focus on our position groups. We mow our own lawn.”
To be sure, the guys who showed up at minicamp Tuesday have enough to mow.
The Chiefs have a handful of newcomers on offense, including wide receiver Mecole Hardman, their top draft pick. They also are working around missing wide receiver Tyreek Hill, suspended from all team activities while the NFL investigates his domestic violence situation.
It is likely that Hill will miss at least part of the upcoming season.
But the bulk of the pressure facing the Chiefs is centered on the defense. Clark and Mathieu are among a dozen newcomers who will be counted on to shore up the sieve-like unit this season, and minicamp is the last chance to work together before training camp in late July.
“It’s a long process,” Spagnuolo said. “What I look for right now is building a foundation. I’ve talked extensively with the guys about that. It’s been all about building a foundation of fundamentals.
“That goes to communication and to believing in the system,” he added. “I’ve talked extensively about mastering the things that take very little talent. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to communicate or to call out an under route or get aligned. Those little things we need to get taken care of, otherwise it creates holes and then we have problems. So I’m more focused on that.”
The rest of the guys? Forgive them for letting their focus wander just a bit, especially given how close the Chiefs came to returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly five decades.
“We can be really good. If you’re talking about No. 1 in the league across all of the boards, I feel like that’s the potential we have,” Clark said. “This is a hard league, every game is hard. You think we are going to have the same things happen as last year? No, it’s going to be a little different. You want more success than just runner-up, but you just have to work. It’s a work atmosphere here. I’m just thankful to be a part of it.”
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