Patrick Mahomes was different from his first start. He was different when he won the MVP in his first full season under center, and he was different winning the Super Bowl at age 24. It only makes sense his first mega contract would be different, too.
The Chiefs announced a 10-year contract extension Monday afternoon that keeps Mahomes under team control through the 2031 season. The full contract terms have started to emerge, but they also feel beside the point in this case. The length is the point. A deal this large over this long a timeline cuts against NFL trends. In the Chiefs' best-case scenario, the deal will probably be ripped up once or twice before 2031 anyhow. The Chiefs know they've already landed the best-case scenario -- Mahomes is their quarterback. This contract ensures that is not going to change anytime soon.
This welcome diversion from the latest COVID-19 protocols calls for a quick version of some Mahomes contract winners and losers:
Patrick Mahomes: The news had barely trickled out before Debbie Downers said that Mahomes had sold himself short. I don't buy that argument. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero report that the 10-year deal is worth up to $503 million, with a rolling guarantee structure that would pay Mahomes $477 million over 12 seasons. Mahomes will be fully guaranteed $63 million at signing and will have $103.5 million guaranteed by March of 2021 and $141.4 million guaranteed by March of 2022, if he's still on the roster at that point, according to Pelissero. (Feels like a safe bet!) Rapoport added that there is a no-trade clause in the deal.
These are still relatively broad strokes. But no matter how you slice up the contract, Mahomes' average salary has reset the quarterback market. Russell Wilson's average salary was $35 million; Mahomes' $477 million over 12 years averages $39.5 million. Andrew Luck signed the biggest contract in NFL history back in 2016 for $140 million; now Mahomes will be guaranteed more than that in the first 20 months of his contract.
No matter what "mechanisms" become guaranteed, the timing of the contract is a massive win for Mahomes and the Chiefs. Completing big business deals during the pandemic is complicated and will only get increasingly more so. Signing this contract before training camp was a priority for both sides and ensures Mahomes will not risk an injury playing on a rookie contract far below his value in 2020. His family's financial health is now secured for generations, and I'm never going to criticize a player for not maxing out every last dollar in exchange for long-term security.
While this commitment provides both sides security, it's a reflection of how Kansas City has proven to be football heaven for Mahomes. From the decision to let Mahomes learn behind Alex Smith to Andy Reid's play-calling to the organization's embrace of Mahomes supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, the organization has done well nurturing Mahomes' talent and impact. He would have transformed any team, but he clearly landed with the right one.
Contracts this long carry risk that Mahomes will be underpaid again in a few years. But both sides know that. Mahomes gives up some leverage in his future contract negotiations, but it's not like this contract will remain untouched until Mahomes' curls start going gray. As the market for quarterbacks changes, Mahomes' contract inevitably will, too. That's just how non-guaranteed NFL contracts work for great players. I will be very surprised if Mahomes ever falls out of the top-five quarterbacks in compensation throughout his career.
Andy Reid: I'll also be surprised if the Chiefs' grand poobah ever coaches another starting quarterback, barring injury. After two decades as one of the NFL's defining offensive minds, Reid knows he hit the mother lode. Trying to parcel out credit or separate Reid and Mahomes' success together is futile, much like trying to assign points to Bill Walsh and Joe Montana or Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. That's not how football works; it's the partnership that matters and this partnership is a work of art.
Reid's joy for football may not always be apparent in his facial expressions, but it shows up in his play calls. Every September, he rolls out a handful of new concepts that the rest of the league spends the next three months copying. Reid constantly evolves and is the perfect steward to continue challenging Mahomes, getting the most out of his talent. He will also put the players around Mahomes in a position to succeed.
Reid said in a statement Monday that "the best part" of the news is how early Mahomes is in his career. Mahomes has already enjoyed the best two-season stretch to start his career as a starter since Dan Marino. He's already the best quarterback in football. Reid is the right coach to help Mahomes get even better.
Chiefs fans: As if winning their first Super Bowl in 50 years wasn't good enough, Chiefs fans now have the next decade-plus to anticipate.
"This is a significant moment for our franchise and for the Chiefs Kingdom," Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said Monday.
No one expected Mahomes to be playing elsewhere, but the length of this contract gives Mahomes a chance to play his entire prime in Kansas City. In sports, it usually doesn't get much better than the very beginning of a great run.
Mecole Hardman, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Travis Kelce: Anyone playing with Mahomes will benefit by association. I single out Hardman and rookie running back Edwards-Helaire because they will have a chance to truly grow with Mahomes. During his analyst days, Jon Gruden was fond of saying how Brett Favre changed the lives of countless Packers coaches, executives and players. Essentially: Favre helped get them all paid because of his greatness. Hardman and CEH will get more opportunities to put up massive numbers, play in meaningful games and have greater careers than if they were drafted to play behind Mitchell Trubisky.
Kelce is in a different stage of his career, already established as one of the game's best tight ends. His association with Mahomes, however, gives him a real chance to one day get a gold jacket.
Deshaun Watson: He's up next and he knows it.
The Cowboys' front office: They waited too long. Like Washington with Kirk Cousins, the Cowboys could get stuck paying huge money on the franchise tag without ever locking up their quarterback. The difference here is Dak Prescott's ceiling is higher than Cousins' and, presumably, the Cowboys actually want to keep Prescott.
The Cowboys have until July 15 to sign Prescott to a long-term contract or he will play this season under a one-year, $31.4 million deal as the team's exclusive franchise tag recipient. That's a relative bargain for Dallas, but I'm confused why it is playing this game so deep into the offseason. Mahomes just raised the bar that Prescott will fit under.
Wanting Dak to "prove himself" again in 2019 was risky, but understandable. Prescott exceeded any reasonable expectations. If he enters 2020 without a new contract, the Cowboys could have a lose-lose-lose scenario where they are dealing with an annoying storyline, their quarterback is unhappy and he's only going to become more expensive.
Chris Jones: The Chiefs' defensive tackle is one of the five best interior pass rushers in football. He's set to play under the terms of the franchise tag, unless he pulls a Le'Veon Bell. No one blames the Chiefs for prioritizing Mahomes, but they are in a tough spot with Jones. The Chiefs didn't have a lot of cap room before Mahomes' contract. ($6.2 million entering Monday, according to OvertheCap.com.) They could probably find room for a mega deal for Jones if they wanted to, but their actions haven't shown that is likely. It looks more likely that the Chiefs will find out the hard way whether Jones is serious about missing time.
Salary cap nerds who wanted Mahomes' contract tied to a percentage of the salary cap: I include myself in this special category of dork. Mahomes' deal felt like an opportunity to get really creative with how contracts are structured. Tying the contract to a percentage of the cap felt fair, and it would have represented a new frontier for NFL contracts. But it wasn't to be. Instead, Tom Pelissero revealed that Mahomes will see a set of rolling roster guarantees that he'll earn just by being on the team each March. This structure is an expansion of a trend general managers have used on contracts to massage the salary cap, but it's not a market-changing deal.
To put it another way: Mahomes' play has stood out like no other quarterback I've covered in the last two decades. His contract may prove to be more common than his play over the next decade.
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