The problems with the Patrick Mahomes contract
It’s difficult for me to criticize the Patrick Mahomes contract, because the criticism of the contract is not and should not be regarded as criticism of Patrick Mahomes. Ultimately, he has the right to sign whatever contract he wants to sign. Two years, five years, 10 years, 12 years, 20 years.
But the problem is that Mahomes is the best player currently in the NFL, with the arrow pointing straight up. He potentially could become the best player in league history, at any position. His skills and abilities deserve if not command a contract that reflects his unique talents and blindingly bright future. The contract he has signed does not.
“That’s stuff that’s handled with other people,” Mahomes said earlier this year regarding his second contract with the Chiefs. “Obviously, I want to be in Kansas City a long time. I want to win a lot of football games.”
He’ll now be in Kansas City for a long time, if the Chiefs want him to be in Kansas City for a long time. He has committed to the team for a dozen years, but the team hasn’t committed to him for a dozen years. If/when his skills and abilities ever get to the point at which they don’t justify the money he’s due to make, Mahomes will be in jeopardy.
What’s that? Coach Andy Reid wouldn’t do that to Mahomes? G.M. Brett Veach, the man who discovered Mahomes, wouldn’t do that? Chances are Reid will retire in the next 12 years. Veach could be gone by 2031, too. Others quite possibly will be making the decisions about Mahomes at some point in the next 12 years. (Then again, between finding Mahomes and getting him signed to a 12-year deal, Veach may have qualified for lifetime employment in Kansas City, and beyond.)
The point is that a lot can happen in 12 years. One thing that can’t happen in 12 years is that Mahomes can’t make himself into a free agent. He’ll only become a free agent if the Chiefs cut him in order to avoid the fancy-sounding “guarantee mechanisms” that basically are a series of large annual roster bonuses.
It’s well established that, after the first few years of a contract, the team holds all the cards. The team decides whether the contract will continue, one year at a time. And that’s exactly what will happen for the next dozen years; the Chiefs will control whether the relationship continues.
And, yes, Mahomes will be paid handsomely. Amid the haze that deliberately has been established to create the false impression that Mahomes has signed the first half-billion-dollar deal in sports history, the truth is that Mahomes signed a 10-year, $450 million extension and a 12-year, $477 million contract with up to $25 million more available in unspecified incentives.
When it comes to new money, the annual average represents a $10 million jump over the $35 million high-water mark that Russell Wilson established last year. But after the pandemic and the new TV deals, the salary cap will go up, significantly. The quarterback market eventually will expand, significantly. Billions will flow into the sport from legalized gambling which will spread, significantly, as states try to rebuild post-corona budgets. Mahomes, if he plays well enough to get the Chiefs to keep paying him, eventually will be getting a fraction of what he deserves, unless the Chiefs decide to do something they have no obligation to do through 2031 -- rip up the contract and pay him more.
For now, the year to watch is 2027, when the commitment to Mahomes shoots to nearly $60 million for one season. Depending on where the cap stands at that point, where the quarterback market resides, and where Mahomes is from a skill standpoint (there’s no reason to think he won’t be even better, barring the impact of injuries), that’s where the Chiefs may want to tinker with the deal, possibly to create cap space or possibly to get the deal better in line with the cap and the market at the time, if the Chiefs are feeling guilty about what Mahomes has received for what he’ll be delivering from 2020 through 2026.
As it relates to 2020, Mahomes traded in the $27.63 million he was due to make over the next two years for $63 million fully guaranteed at signing on a 12-year commitment. In contrast, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill received $62 million fully guaranteed on a four-year commitment. Of Mahomes contract, 13.2 percent is fully guaranteed at signing. Of Tannehill’s, 52.5 percent is fully guaranteed at signing.
Yes, Mahomes had two years left on his rookie contract, making his circumstances different from Tannehill’s. Still, Mahomes is a transcendent talent. Tannehill is at best an enigma who put together a really good season but who continues to be a largely unknown and inconsistent commodity and a noteworthy injury risk.
So what should Mahomes’ agents have done? They should have counseled him to wait. They should have pointed out that he will make $27.63 million over the next two years and that, at worst, he’d get well north of $30 million under the franchise tag in 2022, a 20-percent bump over that amount in 2023, and either a 44-percent increase over his 2023 pay or a shot at the open market in 2024.
They should have pointed out that he’ll also continue to make millions more in endorsement money, that he can easily afford an insurance policy protecting him against the kind of injury that would keep him from getting the kind of contract he’d get if he waits.
With Dak Prescott (more on his situation is coming in a separate item), the question is whether the Cowboys will offer him by next Wednesday enough to get him to trade in $31.4 million this year, $37.68 million next year, and a shot at free agency in 2022. For Mahomes, the question was whether the Chiefs offered him enough to trade him $27.63 million over the next two years, followed by the year-to-year tag dance. Mahomes, with the advice and consent of his agents, decided to swap his circumstances for a $63 million now and a 12-year commitment with the vague misrepresentation of a half-billion-dollar deal that soon will give the Chiefs full control over the continuation of his situation.
Again, Mahomes has the right to sign any contract he wants to sign. But plenty of agents would have advised him against trading what he could have gotten over the next four or five years for a 12-year commitment that was sufficiently good for the Chiefs to get them to run to the nearest liquor store looking for the most expensive champagne they could find.