Most days, it seems pretty good to be Patrick Mahomes. Even by the lofty standards of the reigning Super Bowl MVP, though, Monday was a particularly good afternoon for him. The 24-year-old agreed to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs on what is reportedly the largest contract for an athlete in the history of sports, inking a 12-year deal that could end up being worth $503 million. Mahomes is a special player and he deserves to get an extraordinary contract.
So then, why am I feeling like the Chiefs just got away with a team-friendly deal? While the reported numbers represent a transcendent contract, the guarantees aren’t quite at that level. Mahomes has a résumé unlike any quarterback in football history through three seasons, but his contract in the short term is more in line with what we would have expected for other first-round quarterbacks than it might seem. It’s also a deal that likely made the Cowboys and Texans happier than they would have expected as they try to sign their own quarterbacks to extensions.Slim. He might very well make more than $500 million over the next 12 years, but the chances that the two sides choose to ride this deal all the way out to 2031 are low.
The structure of the deal, the history of quarterback contracts and the recent path of the salary cap all suggest that the Chiefs and their star aren’t likely to see the final few years of this contract under the current terms. A lot of NFL deals — especially deals that approach or reset the top of their respective markets — have team options tacked onto the end to raise their value or produce impressive round numbers in the media.For this deal to play out as planned to its conclusion, Mahomes would need to be just good enough to justify these massive roster bonuses without being good enough to justify a new extension.
More realistically, he will play out a portion of this deal and then earn a new extension down the line, well before 2031. The structure of this deal makes me think it will end up as a six-year, $183.4 million pact before the two sides negotiate a new contract after the 2025 season finishes, which would reduce $319.2 million of this deal to play money.
Comparing this deal to Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million contract isn’t realistic, since all of Trout’s deal is fully guaranteed, while “just” $141.4 million of Mahomes’ deal is guaranteed, and that is for injury only. It’s more realistic to compare this to other quarterback contracts, with two recent deals coming to mind.
Where does this stand compared to other quarterback contracts?
You could easily argue that no player should be compared to Mahomes, who has a league MVP and a Super Bowl title in his first two full seasons as a starter. In terms of on-field performance, I agree. In terms of contracts, though, these sides were likely looking at the deals handed to other first-round quarterbacks since the league adopted its rookie scale for draft picks. That group consists of Mahomes and six other quarterbacks: Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
Of those, Goff and Wentz are the most comparable for two reasons. One is that they each signed an extension after their third season, just as Mahomes did. The other is that they were signed more recently than the other four passers. Wentz signed his extension in June 2019 before Goff followed in September. Wentz got $107.9 million in injury guarantees on his deal, with Goff topping him at $110 million. Amid the salary cap rising 5.3% this year over 2019, Mahomes just got $141.4 million, which is all of the cash he’s due over the next five seasons.
Consider that Goff, Wentz and Mahomes were already due somewhere between $26.8 million and $27.6 million over the final two years of their respective deals before signing extensions. Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million deal. Goff signed a four-year, $134 million deal. Mahomes will make $155.8 million in new money over the next four seasons as part of his deal, which is about $14.7 million more than Goff after adjusting for cap inflation.
To put those numbers into context, let’s compare the deal Mahomes just signed over the next six years to the other first-rounders who signed extensions off their rookie deals. I’m going to leave out Bortles and Tannehill, whose deals trail the group. Pay attention to the cap percentage number on the far right: