Analyzing the KC Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes contract years later
In the days since signing the richest contract in North American sport, the Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes texted a teammate.
Chris Jones was looking for his own contract extension this summer of 2020, and Mahomes’ message correlated the circumstances of the two to him.
“I left money on the table for you,” Mahomes wrote, as Jones recalled.
Jones would later tell that story in a virtual press conference after his own salary materialized. He had a smile on his face, but he was trying not to roll his eyes at the thought.
Wait, how did a half-billion-dollar contract save the team money?
Two years later, a prognosis that seemed a bit absurd to say out loud shows its evidence, often as clearly as black and white. On a yearly basis, Mahomes’ contract has been exceeded.
And then exceeded again.
And then again.
In 24 short months, Mahomes is already make less money per season than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. OK, Rodgers is a four-time MVP winner. Makes sense, I guess, though given the age disparity, I’d throw more money at Mahomes. But that’s not the title.
But this? Mahomes also sits behind Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and Arizona Cardinals setter Kyle Murray.
And that’s just the beginning. In a one-upmanship league, the winner looks to the most recent free agent to cash in.
Joe Burrow will follow. Justin Herbert too. There will be others. Some will surprise you.
But here’s the key to it all: Mahomes doesn’t seem to care.
“When I signed my contract” he said“I knew I was gonna be set for life no matter what (happens) in the market. But you keep playing. I mean money is one thing, but when you get those rings from the Super Bowl at the end of your career, I think that’s going to be the thing you look back on I think I made enough money with the football field, and obviously also with, that it won’t have ultimately important.
Sounds good – if put into practice. The thing is, athletes tend to let their salary do the talking, especially in the NFL. Who is the best quarterback? Let’s scan the paychecks.
I mentioned it to Mahomes in the conversation. Isn’t that a source of pride?
“No,” he said. “I mean, I think especially at quarterback, the next guy is the highest paid guy. Any of these top quarterbacks, they’re making such a difference to NFL football teams that it’s going to be left out.
“You still want to get paid and, like I said, take care of your family. But I also want to have a great team around me, so whatever way I’m going to make sure I have a great team around me for the rest of my career.
Mahomes might never catch Tom Brady’s ring count — this talk is more than a little silly considering Mahomes is, ahem, at six — but he mimics one of Brady’s most important attributes. Or at least says he plans to emulate it.
Brady took it to an extreme. In 22 seasons, he has never occupied more than 13.6% of his team’s salary cap. There’s a reason his teams have rarely lacked talent. One reason, besides Bill Belichick, is that his Super Bowl runs have always been aided by top 10 defenses. These teams had the necessary funds to set up. Brady made sure of that.
Mahomes is expected to top that figure this year for the first time, when he takes up 17.1% of the Chiefs’ salary cap. It’s not like he was playing for money. He is a man well rewarded for his talents. But it’s clear he could be compensated even more, and given the length of his contract – 10 years – it’s even clearer that the cap percentage should drop. In Brady territory, finally.
This will test Mahomes’ words – how comfortable is he really with his pay? How many quarterbacks have to exceed his number for him to feel uncomfortable? Is there a magic number? We will be to find.
This is where I have no choice but to point out that his half a billion dollar contract will end up looking cheap, and that two years into the 10 year pact, here we are. maybe already. As it stands, in 2025 he’ll be paid for by Rodgers, Watson, Josh Allen and Matt Stafford, and he’ll be nearly level with Murray and only slightly ahead of Derek Carr.
Murray’s playoff record: 0-1.
Carr’s playoff record: 0-1.
We don’t really need to cover Mahomes’ playoff resume, do we?
Again, that’s the nature of NFL contracts – one after another. But what goes against nature is one of those top players saying, You know what, I’m fine. Pay the other guys.
So rare, in fact, that there’s more than a little to believe-when-I-see-it here. Because not only will Mahomes be paid by, conservatively, another 8-10 quarterbacks in a few years, but the margin at the top could be wide. It is speculated that Burrow and Herbert could land deals approaching $60 million per year over the next two years, 33% more than Mahomes’ average annual value. And Mahomes is expected to be under contract until 2032, a deal that expires three years later than any other on the books. The margin will only grow.
While the contract runs for 10 seasons, there’s nothing to say Mahomes can’t ask for a mid-term raise. Nothing but, well, him.
The system will test his desire to win against his desire to be paid.
It is now, in fact. And for now, it’s the first to win the race. It’s how far he’s willing to fall behind that will turn this from a pop quiz into a final exam.
The Chiefs have spent the offseason trying to preserve their championship window for the duration of Mahomes’ career here in Kansas City. That’s part of why they balked at Tyreek Hill’s asking price and didn’t hand out mega-offers to free agents.
But the length of that window will ultimately come down to Mahomes, and it’s not a reference to his talent. This is a reference to its price. If he’s comfortable in the long run, the Chiefs will have the leeway to keep the surrounding pieces in place. They could add, say, a Carlos Dunlap a week to camp.
As the salary cap rises — and it’s expected to rise in coming years with new TV funding — Mahomes’ faster cap percentage will drop. It will occupy less and less. And the more room there will be for his teammates to eat.
If the quarterback can digest his own number.
This story was originally published July 29, 2022 5:00 a.m.