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Bringing Patrick Mahomes’ contract conversation back to reality

National writers continue to misunderstand the circumstances of the Kansas City superstar’s megadeal.

F1 Grand Prix of Miami Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images

During the last several weeks, national NFL writers have been busy speculating that two-time NFL (and Super Bowl) MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes will soon be re-negotiating his contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio is among those leading this conversation. On May 2, Florio said that the way Mahomes is underpaid is “almost criminal.” A week later, he claimed that a new Mahomes contract is imminent.

Expect Mahomes, before the season begins, to once again be the highest-paid player in league history.

Florio said that Kansas City general manager Brett Veach had “vowed” to address Mahomes’ contract after other quarterback contracts are done.

While Veach didn’t delve into any specifics, here’s what reasonably should be expected, based on our conversations with folks aware of the dynamics of the situation.

Florio isn’t the only one, however. Writing for The 33rd Team on May 9, former Minnesota Vikings GM Jeff Diamond said it will happen because Mahomes is no longer the league’s highest-paid quarterback.

Mahomes already has restructured to give the Chiefs salary cap relief, but the first true renegotiation is likely to take place in the next few months. This is because Mahomes’ $45 million per year average in new money — actually $40 million per year when factoring in the two years he had remaining in his rookie contract — now ranks seventh among NFL quarterbacks. He’ll likely have the ninth-highest average after Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are extended before the 2023 season.

On Wednesday, Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson added another name to that list, saying that soon, Mahomes will be even further behind.

That’s six quarterbacks who have exceeded Mahomes in average annual salary and overall guaranteed money. Soon enough (and barring a Mahomes renegotiation), that list will be joined by Burrow, the Los Angeles ChargersJustin Herbert and Jacksonville JaguarsTrevor Lawrence. By the start of the 2024 season, Mahomes could be the 10th highest-paid quarterback in the league.

All of these well-respected writers could be exactly right. By Week 1, Mahomes could once again be the league’s highest-paid player.

But I don’t think so. Here’s why:

It’s too soon

Mahomes signed his 10-year contract extension on July 6, 2020 — not yet three years ago — when he still had two full years remaining on his rookie contract. This means that he and the Chiefs are now one year into 2020’s 10-year contract.

When the contract was signed, everyone understood that it would be renegotiated before it expired in 2031. At the time, the 2025 offseason — when the deal’s dead money would drop to zero — was identified as the earliest likely renegotiation date. But right now, the deal has $134 million in dead money. In any renegotiation, that money will have to be figured against the cap.

The deal that Veach made with Mahomes’ agents Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott was without precedent. It’s unlikely that this carefully-structured agreement will be torn up on a whim.

Mahomes — and the Chiefs — knew this would happen

In his column on Wednesday, Robinson not only acknowledged that the next window for negotiation was years away, but he also that everyone was aware that Mahomes would not be the league’s highest-paid quarterback for very long.

It was a deal that everyone knew failed to maximize Mahomes’ value by pushing out his next free agency window into his mid-30s and it guaranteed that he’d be quickly surpassed in salary by a multitude of lesser quarterbacks.

Franklin admitted the same thing.

When I was a general manager, I was never a fan of long-term contracts beyond four or five years. I knew the deals would soon become under market value and set up potential acrimonious situations that would have to be dealt with via contract extensions or trades.

And then there’s what Mahomes himself has said about it. Here’s an exchange from a press conference last July:

REPORTER: “When you signed your deal a few years ago, I think you probably anticipated that it was going to be surpassed a few times. What are your thoughts on that occurring over the past couple of years?”

MAHOMES: “Yeah, I mean, it’s awesome for not only the quarterback market but for just the market of players in general. You want the salary cap to keep going up; you want players to keep getting more and more money. When I signed my deal, I knew I was going to be pretty set for life regardless of what the market kind of [did]. But you just keep playing. I mean, money is one thing, but when you get those Super Bowl rings at the end of your career, I think that’s going to be the thing that you look back upon. I think I’ve made enough money from the football field — and obviously off of it as well — that it won’t matter at the end of the day.”

Does that really sound like someone who is unaware that his contract is going to be surpassed again and again — and when it happens, will insist on a new contract?

Mahomes is happy with his deal

Let’s be honest: contracts are never renegotiated for more money because that’s what the team wants. It happens because that’s what the player wants.

Is there any evidence that Mahomes really thinks that the average annual value (AAV) of his contract is the measure of its actual value? Is there any evidence that Mahomes will want a new deal before it makes sense for himself and his team? To be sure, there are quarterbacks who are being paid more in AAV. There are also quarterbacks who are being guaranteed more money — but only within traditional contract structures.

But there are still no other quarterbacks whose teams have committed to paying them $500 million — and while it’s not structured like Deshaun Watson’s $230 million in guarantees, $477 million of Mahomes’ money is virtually guaranteed.

Even then, the deal is structured so that the Chiefs can continue to surround their quarterback with quality players — and contend for more championships. Everyone agrees that this is the case.

The bottom line

Florio and Franklin (and others, including Arrowhead Pride editor-in-chief Pete Sweeney) all think that Mahomes’ deal will soon be renegotiated. They could easily be right. There are decades of evidence suggesting that NFL players will always do whatever it takes to be considered the highest-paid player — even if the title is illusory or short-lived.

I also believe, however, that if Mahomes has taught us anything, it’s that he can break any record or trend that he chooses to demolish.

It was only four months ago that everyone believed no quarterback who won the league’s passing title could also win the Super Bowl — and that no team devoting more than 13.1% of its salary cap to a quarterback could win a championship. But those records have both been shattered.

I believe that by the typically-used standard, Mahomes will not be the league’s highest-paid quarterback this season. And he’ll be fine with that.


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