So Kansas City Chiefs just signed its quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a half-billion dollar contract (that’s billion with a B!) to keep him on the team for the next 12 seasons.
First off, congratulations! That guy must be really, really good to warrant that kind of contract. To earn that kind of a contract, surely he’s won a Super Bowl by now... right?
You might be looking at the numbers for Mahomes’ contract, trying to figure out how the Chiefs are going to field a competitive team. But you should take a deep breath and relax. It’s going to be fine.
Does the contract present some obstacles? Absolutely. But they are far from insurmountable. There are some things that the Chiefs can do to help offset the high salary-cap hits they’ll incur when the contract starts coming due.
Here are some ways the Chiefs can build a team around the largest deal in NFL history.
The Chiefs have (rightfully) made a large investment in Mahomes stock. Now they need to diversify their portfolio, spreading their cap space around to other players.
But the Chiefs aren’t going to be able to pay everyone. There are going to be some difficult decisions — and they start with Chris Jones. General manager Brett Veach is going to move on from some fan favorites, allowing them to go after top dollar on the open market. With a week remaining until the deadline to sign Jones to an extension, it appears we could see the start of what is likely going to be a frequent occurrence: saying goodbye to some of our favorite players.
That doesn’t mean the Chiefs will never hand out a big contract again. It just means that some players we’d like to see get big deals in Kansas City simply won’t.
Gaining draft capital
The NFL draft is the lifeblood of sustained success in the league. In contrast, free agency is largely used to account for the holes created by an inability to draft and develop talent.
So when you pay the richest contract in sports history, you’re going to have to hit on a high percentage of the picks you have. But it doesn’t stop there. You also need to give yourself as much capital as possible.
The only upside of moving on from good players is that you become eligible to receive compensatory picks in future drafts. The Chiefs will have to take advantage of this model to accumulate more cheap assets to be developed by their great coaching staff. Volume is essential; the Chiefs need to give themselves as many opportunities for cost-controlled talent as they can.
This could mean a less-aggressive approach with draft-day trade-ups — and stronger consideration to moving back to gain additional selections. How the Chiefs accumulate and utilize their draft capital is going to become very important.
Keep investing in offense
I said it earlier this year and I’ll say it again: the Chiefs should spend two of their first three draft picks every year on offense. I’m not advocating for abandoning the defense, but I am suggesting focusing the team’s premium picks on offense.
While that may look like overkill, it is actually the business of keeping a strength a strength — and if the Chiefs can keep the cupboard overflowing with talent, Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid can reward the organization with a top three offense every season.
Don’t forget that in 2018 — even with one of the worst defenses in football — the Chiefs were on the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Even when another phase of the team isn’t pulling its weight, Mahomes is always going to keep you in the game. So during the term of his contract, making sure the offense continues to operate from an abundance of weapons (and with a strong offensive line) is critical to the team’s success.
Keep investing in UDFAs
Over the last few years, the Chiefs have quietly built one of the best undrafted free agency strategies in football. They have been aggressive in recruiting (and paying guaranteed money) to undrafted players — and over the long term, the process is going to pay off. A large portion of the NFL is made up of players who didn’t hear their names called on draft weekend — like Daniel Sorensen, Charvarius Ward, Damien Williams (and several more) undrafted Chiefs on the Super Bowl roster.
Getting as many quality lottery tickets as they can will inevitably lead to some significant hits that will give the Chiefs more cost-controlled assets — without any real cost in acquiring them.
The bottom line
Stockpiling cheap talent by all means necessary will allow the Chiefs to keep a quality supporting cast around the greatest football player in the world. There is a rhythm to this cost-controlled approach — one that has bred success for teams like the New England Patriots, which always has additional draft capital at their disposal.
The Chiefs have always maintained an excellent coaching staff — and they’ll have to continue to earn their paychecks by developing young players into a positions where they can contribute.
This isn’t rocket science. But starting now, the Chiefs’ ability to acquire and develop young talent has little margin for error. The good news is that this organization has a staff that is more than up to the challenge.