Ever since Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player after his first season as the team’s starter, the question has been at the back of everyone’s mind:
When would the team get their quarterback locked into a long-term deal?
The standard move for a team in the Chiefs’ situation — that is, with a superstar entering the fourth year of his rookie deal — would be to get him signed to a contract extension at the earliest possible moment: as soon as he finishes playing in his third season.
But as the defending Super Bowl champion, the Chiefs have also had other problems to solve: keeping as much of the team together as possible — and figuring out what to do with defensive tackle Chris Jones, whom the team has been trying to get signed to a long-term deal for more than a year.
And then there’s the little problem of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the front office to spend much of its time adjusting to an offseason like no other.
Speaking to the media during a pre-draft videoconference on Thursday, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach had a clear message about where Mahomes stands with the team.
”Pat is a priority,” he said. “The way we look at it now — with all that’s going on — we’re going to have a lot of time to work with. Again, Pat and his agents Chris Cabbot and Leigh Steinberg know that Pat is a priority. Pat isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to be here for a long time.”
Asked if it was still possible that the team might exercise its fifth-year option after the coming season, Veach wouldn’t rule it out — but stopped well short of saying it was likely.
“I can never sit here and speak in definites,” he explained. “I can’t say the fifth year won’t be an option or anything like that. [But] it would be hard for me to see that we’ll have to use that. We feel that it’s a priority. When you have a great player — and that great player is a priority — things get done. It’s just hard to put a timetable on exactly when (and how) that will all work out. We know — and I’m sure that he knows — that it will get done.”
The Chiefs have signed (or re-signed) 14 free-agent contracts since the league year began in mid-March. Except for the two-year deal given to backup quarterback Chad Henne, every one of those contracts has been for a single season. But Veach explained that it sometimes has less to do with Mahomes and cap space than it does the preference of the signee.
”I think sometimes there is a little of us allowing ourselves a little flexibility,” said Veach. “But a lot of times, the players want that. If they don’t get a market they want, they don’t want to tie themselves into a two or three-year deal.”
Veach even said there were players the team would have preferred to sign to longer-term contracts.
“Certainly there could have a handful of players we would have liked [to sign for longer deals],” he said. “We would have done more than one year with Antonio Hamilton, but Hamilton’s betting on himself — and wants to come here on a one-year deal; [he] doesn’t want to tie himself into a multi-year deal.”
Addressing ongoing concerns about the amount of salary cap space the Chiefs now have — and whether they would have enough to sign the draft class — Veach expressed confidence in the plan he said the team has been following throughout the offseason.
“It takes anywhere from $3-5 million to sign [the draft class],” he said. “Depending on [which cap number] you look at, you may say, ‘Shoot, they don’t even have enough to sign the draft class.’ But the cap is flexible; what we’re able to do is flexible. There’s an array of moving parts that we feel confident in. So as far as doing some business from here to the season — or signing our draft picks — we have a plan that we’ve been working [from] all along.”
Current estimates for the team’s space range from $3.2 million (per Spotrac. not including the recent signings of Bashaud Breeland, DeAndre Washington, Demarcus Robinson, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Tyler Newsome) to no more than $132,000 (per Arrowhead Pride, including estimates for all known signings).
But Veach said there is no cause for alarm.
”Obviously, these sites that fans use — OverTheCap and Spotrac — are both good sites,” Veach allowed. “They’re not always accurate — but they’re close.”
“So the numbers may say one thing, [but] there are so many different things you can do to get yourself to where you need to be. It’s hard — unless, I guess, you’re sitting in our rooms here — to know what we’re thinking, but suffice to say that obviously, we’re aware of what it costs to sign our draft picks. There are some things that we’ve talked about — and we’re prepared to do a number of different things. We’ve been working [from] this blueprint for the whole time.”