In March of 2019 — 16 months from the date of this writing, MLB outfielder Mike Trout signed a 12-year, $430 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Angels.
Chiefs director of football administration Brandt Tillis, who had heard the news, dropped by general manager Brett Veach’s office. He had something to share regarding the then-reigning AP NFL MVP — their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
“‘Pat’s going to be a baseball contract,’” Veach recalled Tillis saying. “‘That’s how good this kid’s going to be, and we need to start thinking like this.’”
The Chiefs were already framing their baseball contract before Mahomes won the Super Bowl. And the figure for that contract only went up and up and up — with a Pro Bowl MVP, a Super Bowl MVP and the first championship in 50 seasons for the Chiefs franchise.
It was that advanced planning that allowed the Chiefs to create what could be considered the most creative contract in the history of the National Football league or American sports entirely — one that see Mahomes sign the country’s richest deal while also allowing the franchise wiggle room to stay competitive.
During Tuesday’s Zoom press conference with the Kansas City media, head coach Andy Reid and Veach credited Mahomes for his progressive maturity.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say that having a great football team around me doesn’t help me when I’m on the field,” said Mahomes, “And so I wanted to find the best way that I could do that, and I feel like as we talked... they came to me with this idea and this concept of obviously making me financially secure but having the ability to go out and re-sign all these guys — like we’re returning 20 of 22 starters. I knew that this was going to be the right way to do it, where we can accomplish both of those things that are so important to me.”
Mahomes provided his representatives, Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabbott, with two directives: in a new contract, he wanted financial security for years to come — and he wanted to win.
Veach said Mahomes’ foresight allowed the Chiefs to sign free agents like safety Tyrann Mathieu and extend successful draft picks like wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
“I joked with Chris (Cabbott),” explained Veach. “I said, ‘It’s almost impossible to do the biggest contract in sports history and have a player look unselfish,’ but somehow Pat is able to do this in a unique way where he’s the highest-paid player in the game and will be for a long time, yet does so in a way to allow us to reward his teammates along the way.
“It’s very unique, and I don’t think the city should take that for granted — I know they won’t.”
The Chiefs and Mahomes’ representation came to an agreement on the contract on July 4 — Mahomes said he heard of the news via a call from Cabbott before taking in some fireworks with his family.
How’s that for a picture? Mahomes looking at fireworks up in the sky, knowing that in two days he would sign his name on a piece of paper that would make him the highest-paid player in professional sports?
The fireworks served as the culmination. The discussions to make it happen took longer than a year.
It helped that Veach had a long-standing relationship with Cabbott, dating back to before Mahomes became a Kansas City Chief. Veach and Cabott texted frequently leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft, when Kansas City would trade with Buffalo to go get their quarterback of the future.
Veach noted negotiations with this much money on the line can often turn quite contentious. But that never happened between these two camps.
“There was never a sense of ‘We need to win this,’ or ‘We have to win this.’ This was, ‘How can we get this done?’” Veach said. “And that goes back to Pat because ultimately Chris (Cabbott) and Leigh (Steinberg) work for Pat, and Pat has to have this long-term vision on what he wants his legacy to be.”
“He was very conscious about the situation of being able to keep players,” said Reid, who after 20 years in the league, knows how these things can go. “That was in the dialogue there, and he made it known to us that however we can work that out, we can do it.”
Mahomes wanted to be fairly compensated, but the team-first approach was emphasized throughout.
“It’s never been about money to me,” Mahomes said. “It’s awesome and it’s an exciting time for me, but at the same time, I’ve always been about being the best person, the best player that I can be. This is another step in the journey that’s just beginning. I’m just excited that I have this done, and I have that security where I can be the same player that I was and that same person that I was the day I stepped in this league.”
As he does for every major decision, the quarterback turned to the family brain trust — his father, Pat Sr., and his godfather, LaTroy Hawkins — both of whom are former professional baseball players. They advised young Mahomes that he could not build the legacy he is seeking alone.
“You want to have great players around you,” Mahomes said of their counsel. “You don’t want to be a guy that takes up all the money, and then all of a sudden, you’re having to find different guys that can take cheaper deals. Those guys need to be rewarded as well. It’s not about one person, and I truly believe that. I know the situation that I was brought into and how good a situation it was where I got to sit a year behind a great quarterback, who taught me a lot (Alex Smith), then I got to play with a lot of great players the moment I stepped on the football field. And so I understand that I have a bigger perspective, I guess you would say, of how to go out there and obviously get the security that I want, but at the same time, reward the guys that have helped me be the person that I am and the player that I am.
“I feel like with the contract and how it was done, I feel like I got both of those things — we’re going to be able to reward players and keep a lot of these guys around that have built a culture even before I was here, and at the same time, I have the security that I know my future generations will be able to have.”
On the Chiefs side of the negotiations, Tillis worked closely with Chris Shea, the football operations counsel and personnel executive who joined the Chiefs in 2017 to work specifically on the salary cap. Tillis and Shea ran ideas by Veach and Cabbott, who offered some ideas of his own.
When there was a snag with the contract, owner Clark Hunt intervened — so much so that Veach joked Hunt may want to give cap management a try if being an owner does not work out.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with no sports to watch, many sports fanatics — Mahomes included — turned their attention to ESPN’s “The Last Dance.” The 10-part series documented the sixth and final season of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ six-title dynasty.
Watching Jordan and how he went about things resonated with Mahomes. He had always prioritized his legacy, but seeing the ideas of the greatest basketball player of all time affirmed his thinking.
“I’ve always believed in those things, about the legacy, about going out there and being the best player and having the best teammates around me,” said Mahomes. “And it’s not about one person; it’s about the team. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think you see that with our whole entire team, is you see we have a lot of these guys coming back that want to be a part of this, that want to be a part of this culture, that want to be a part of trying to build a dynasty because those things aren’t easy to do, and we understand that, so it’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication, and I feel like we have that with a lot of guys we have in this locker room.”
And now with the contract on the books, Veach can move onto the next task — surrounding Mahomes with as much talent as possible under the cap. Believe it or not, sometimes general managers can sound like fans at a tailgate.
“I know as well as anybody that if Pat Mahomes is healthy and there is talent around him, it’s unstoppable,” Veach said frankly.
And then the 62-year-old head coach with no plans of retiring perfectly summed up the day.
“Very seldom do you come out of a deal and go, you know what? It’s a win-win,” Reid added. “It’s a win for the player, it’s also a win for the team, the organization, and so I’m one happy guy — I put on my best Tommy Bahama for all of you, today, just to celebrate this. Man, this is a big day, and it’s an awesome thing.”