When the Kansas City Chiefs signed quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a breathtaking 12-year contract that could be worth as much as $503 million, NFL fans around the country immediately began wondering how Mahomes’ new deal could affect upcoming contracts for their starting quarterback.
“One line of thought is that Pat Mahomes’ deal makes getting one done with Dak Prescott easier” was one of the headlines on our sister SBNation site Blogging The Boys on Monday. “How The Patrick Mahomes Contract Extension Affects Deshaun Watson & The Texans” headlined Battle Red Blog. The Ringer examined “The Ripple Effects of Patrick Mahomes’ Massive 10-Year Extension”
Certainly Mahomes’ unprecedented contract will have effects across the league. But right now, I’d like to consider the effect on some players closer to home: Chiefs backup quarterbacks.
Except for just one season during his time in Kansas City, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has opted to have an experienced backup quarterback behind his starter. From 2013 through 2015, it was professional backup Chase Daniel, who has somehow managed to earn $34 million during a 10-year NFL career in which he has started exactly five games.
In 2016, it was Nick Foles, whom Reid had drafted for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. Foles, of course, returned to the Eagles in 2017, took over in Week 15 after Carson Wentz was injured and led the team to Super Bowl LII — where he was named MVP after the team’s 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots.
In his 2017 rookie season, Mahomes backed up starter Alex Smith. But when Mahomes became the starter in 2018, the Chiefs brought in Chad Henne for his tenth NFL season. Henne would have stayed in the job for the 2019 season, but was injured in a preseason game. Matt Moore — who had, ironically, replaced Henne when he was injured during his 2011 season with the Miami Dolphins — was signed (from the coaching staff of Hart High School in Santa Clarita, California) to take his place. Henne will likely to return to his backup role in 2020.
But that may be the end of this particular parade.
Henne’s contract runs through 2021. In its final year, however, the deal gives the Chiefs an out, allowing them to save $1.25 million against the cap if they part ways with the veteran quarterback. At the same time, Mahomes’ cap hit will rise from $5.3 million to $24.8 million. The savings from cutting Henne will be relatively minor, but in a year during which the salary cap could actually fall because of the revenue impact of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, that could end up being pretty significant.
And that brings us to quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, whom the Chiefs signed in late March after the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks folded.
A native of Pearl City, Hawaii, Ta’amu had backed up Shea Patterson (who is also now on the Chiefs’ 90-man roster) at Ole Miss before Patterson was injured in 2017. Patterson transferred to the University of Michigan in 2018, leaving Ta’amu as the starter for his senior season. Over 19 games at Ole Miss, he passed for 5,600 yards and 30 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions, collecting a collegiate passer rating of 156.8.
Undrafted in 2019, Ta’amu had a preseason stint with the Houston Texans before landing with the Battlehawks in November. Over the five games of the pandemic-shortened XFL season, he threw for 1,050 yards, 12 touchdowns and only five picks, accumulating a passer rating of 101.3. And like Mahomes, he also proved to be a threat on the ground, gaining 5.3 yards per attempt (and scoring a touchdown) while in St. Louis.
That was enough for the Chiefs to not only sign him, but give him a $70,000 signing bonus — which suggests he figures into their post-Henne plans as a backup quarterback. It’s a pretty good bet that either through the active roster or the practice squad, the Chiefs will find a way to hang on to him for the 2020 season.
When Mahomes starts carrying the cap hit of a franchise quarterback, the Chiefs will have to find ways to maximize their salary cap dollars; it’s not likely they will be able to continue to afford spending money on the safety net of a veteran backup quarterback. This likely means the Chiefs will have to depend on quality young backups for Mahomes.
At the same time, Mahomes’ contract — which is now fully guaranteed through 2022, and will continue to be guaranteed for two seasons in advance of the current season through 2024 — will put more pressure on the Chiefs to give Mahomes time off during regular-season games; they’ll want their relatively inexperienced young backups to see some real action when the team is holding a big lead — or when a late-season game is meaningless. Fortunately, as the Chiefs defense continues to improve, this will involve less risk than it has during Mahomes’ first two seasons as a starter.
That adds up to some real opportunity for Ta’amu and other young quarterbacks the Chiefs will acquire during the term of Mahomes’ deal: a chance to play (and learn from) the league’s top quarterback and its most-celebrated offensive mind. While these young quarterbacks will (hopefully) not have many opportunities to start, they should be able to gain enough knowledge and experience to begin solid NFL careers — and for the Chiefs to develop assets they can exchange for more draft capital.