As you celebrated the news of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes signing a 10-year, $450 million extension yesterday, you probably saw some people online who were trying to rain on the parade — offering arguments similar to these:
- “Now the Chiefs won’t be able to afford good offensive weapons.”
- “Teams never win after they pay their franchise quarterback. Look at what happened with the Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck, or the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford.”
- “The roster will become depleted and there won’t be room for solid depth and role players”
But these narratives are nothing but excuses for a badly-run organization that consistently loses. There are certainly challenges to having one individual take up an average of $45 million or more in cap room each season, but a smart franchise can still succeed with good drafting and coaching.
I thought of four reasons why the Chiefs will be able to handle Mahomes’ record deal.
Ability to develop receivers
The team has built their cabinet of pass-catching weapons by drafting and developing them; currently, the Chiefs’ only significant receiving contributor who wasn’t drafted by the team is wide receiver Sammy Watkins. In 2019, 72% of wide receiver and tight end snaps were taken by players who were drafted (or initially signed) by the Chiefs.
And the receivers the Chiefs draft share one trait: athleticism.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill didn’t even play that position in college, but his mind-blowing speed earned him a chance to transition to becoming a pass-catcher in Kansas City. Second-year receiver Mecole Hardman wasn’t known for much besides his speed in college. In 2016, wideout Demarcus Robinson was selected in the fourth round based on his athletic traits.
The credit for this belongs to wide receivers coach Greg Lewis — and with Lewis, Kansas City should feel comfortable continuing to take chances on athletic receivers. Since 2017, Lewis has helped turn Hill and Robinson from Day 3 draft picks into starting-caliber players. He has also done great work with undrafted free agent wideout Byron Pringle.
Counting star tight end Travis Kelce, the team’s wagers on athletic receivers have paid off so far. If they can continue to trust their ability to develop receiving weapons, they can limit the amount of capital they invest in those positions.
Lesser investment in the interior offensive line
There’s no denying the importance of a strong, reliable offensive line — and the Chiefs’ strategy to build one started from the outside in. They’ve invested heavily in securing their right and left tackles. But historically, they have lacked the same investment in the line’s three interior positions.
The three primary players at those positions last year — left guard Andrew Wylie, center Austin Reiter and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — were all selected in the sixth round or later. The eventual starter at left guard — Stefan Wisniewski — was a mid-season pickup who had previously been cut. The last interior offensive lineman the Chiefs took in the third round (or earlier) was center Mitch Morse in 2015. He was allowed to walk after his rookie contract.
The Chiefs have rotated player after player through these positions — and have continued to win. So while the lack of investment has been apparent, so has the team’s success.
Under Mahomes’ new contract, the team should continue to use their ability to plug-and-play on the offensive interior; to maximize cap usage, a contract similar to Duvernay-Tardif’s should not happen again.
Andy Reid’s coaching
It’s hard to imagine that 62-year old head coach Andy Reid will make it all the way to the end of Mahomes’ 10-year contract extension in 2031 — but we can assume he’ll be coaching the bulk of it. He consistently gets the best out of the players he puts on the field. Now that the Chiefs’ cap space will limit them from big-time offseason acquisitions, that will becomes even more important.
Reid — the offensive mastermind — helped rookie receiver Hardman get wide open for an 83-yard touchdown catch against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 of 2019. His progressive play-calling allows for creative, successful plays like Rose Bowl Right Parade and Hungry Pig Right. His mastery in setting up screen passes (with misdirection help) can set up big gains — no matter who is being targeted.
No matter how they go about it, Reid’s game plans always put his team in positions to succeed; let’s not forget that Reid once won nine games in a season without a touchdown reception by a wide receiver. In 2016, they won 12 games while completing only 15 touchdown passes. In every playoff victory during Reid’s Kansas City tenure, every starting running back has been an undrafted player.
Reid’s ability to form the offense to fit his personnel will be as important as ever — but it could be as easy as ever, too... because...
Patrick Mahomes will get better
As great as the 25-year old Super Bowl MVP has been to this point in his career, he has a chance to continue to get better and better over the next 12 seasons. Among other things, he can improve his mental abilities on the field — and he recognizes that.
It really comes down to experience. As he takes more live reps and sees different styles of defense, Mahomes will continue to grow as a player; he will only get more comfortable with Reid’s play-calling tendencies — and how he thinks. This not only allows Reid to continually add plays to expand the offense, but also can build toward Mahomes running the offense himself.
Considering the pace he is on now, it wouldn’t be shocking to eventually see Mahomes dictate the offense from the field, picking his plays based on what he sees each snap — similar to what Peyton Manning did throughout his career. If he can get to that level, it makes the game that much simpler for every offensive player on the field.
Ultimately, the Chiefs will continue to win while paying Mahomes for one reason: because he is truly worth the money. This is an unprecedented contract simply because no one has ever proven themselves this soon in their career. This giant annual salary will be offset by how transcendent of a player Mahomes is — and will continue to be.