MIAMI — Whenever Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs begin their inevitable negotiations to extend the star quarterback from his rookie contract, the balance of power will be akin to an armed robber (Mahomes) and a helpless bank teller (the team).
Give me all the money.
At least it could be. Mahomes is just 24 years old and in his two years as a starter he’s been named the league’s MVP (2018) and led the franchise to its first Super Bowl in half a century (2019). He is exciting, likeable and marketable. He can easily become the highest paid player in NFL history, commanding $40 million, $45 million ... who knows how many millions per season?
He’s earned it.
Will he take it though? Or would he consider the path Tom Brady often took in New England, sacrificing the mega-deal for the very good deal so resources could be spread about on a supporting cast that can help deliver championships?
“You want to have success,” Mahomes said. “You want to win football games. That’s why we are here.”
Why we are here in South Florida is the most pressing task for Mahomes and the Chiefs, of course. Both the QB and front office are solely focused on defeating San Francisco in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Yet the business of the NFL stops for nothing, and the team is headed into an offseason where extending Mahomes makes sense.
Mahomes is in the third of his four-year rookie deal, with a cap hit of just $5.2 million. That makes him one of the great bargains in the league and has allowed the Chiefs to spend on talent all over the field.
The Chiefs are spending $10 million-plus in salary-cap space on eight additional players — two offensive linemen, two receivers, a tight end and three defensive standouts. It’s the advantage of a star QB on a rookie deal.
There is one season remaining on Mahomes’ deal, although the Chiefs could exercise a fifth-year option. It would behoove the team to sign him for the long term this offseason, although they could certainly wait a year.
“There will be a right time sometime in the next 12 to 15 months to extend Patrick,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told ESPN. “And when I say right time, I mean right time for both the player and the club.”
So what’s the right time, and the right amount, for Mahomes? Almost every other American worker tries to get the biggest raise possible. Mahomes isn’t in a typical business.
Football is a team game and the NFL is a league with a hard salary cap. Spotrac.com, which publishes a database on this, assumes a $199M salary cap for the 2020 season. If Mahomes winds up with $40 million or $45 million, then he’s taking 20-22.5 percent of it. Right now he commands just 2.35 percent. (The team’s highest paid player, defensive end Frank Clark, is being paid $22.7 million, or 10.21 percent of the cap).
Every dollar that Mahomes takes is one less dollar to use on talent to surround him. And essentially, every dollar Mahomes takes above the league’s other top-paid quarterbacks is one less dollar the Chiefs have to utilize in a competitive environment.
So what makes sense? It seems wholly unfair for Mahomes, who has done nothing but earn a big pay day off his hard work and talent, to take less than he could. Un-American, even. Yet that’s the system. And he knows it.
As a franchise quarterback, he agreed Tuesday that part of his job is to find ways to acquire and keep talent, whether it’s in recruiting free agents, working with coaches or front office if asked, or making contract considerations.
“I think it’s very important [to be] able to get the best players around you,” Mahomes said. “Everything else is cool but you want to be a great Kansas City Chief for as long as you can be.”
Brady is the most famous example of a quarterback who was willing, most of the time, to sacrifice a maximum payout for the pursuit of team glory. He was the sixth-highest paid player on the Pats last year and his cap hit numbers of $6.75 million and 3.3 percent of the cap were in line with Mahomes. Brady ranked 24th in cap hit among QBs, according to Spotrac. (Jared Goff’s $36 million was No. 1.)
Brady, 42, was paid just $298,000 the year he won his first Super Bowl (it was the 2001 season and he had a rookie deal as a sixth-round pick). It wasn’t until 2010 that he truly cashed in and was paid among the league’s highest.
After the 2013 season, though, he began restructuring his deals to help the roster.
New England won six Super Bowls and Brady is considered the greatest quarterback of all time. Does that happen if he tried to squeeze every penny? Probably not.
Due to longevity, he has made $235.2 million in salary, so no one is crying for his bank account. He is also a free agent who may go big on what would be presumably his final deal. Additionally, his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, is worth even more than him.
Those are the circumstances that Brady was able to play with. The decisions he made worked for his situation, and in turn, he got to play on an extended dynasty.
No one will fault Patrick Mahomes for taking it all when it comes time. He’s worth it. Yet these NFL deals aren’t baseball contracts. Nothing is simple. And sometimes winning has to factor into everything.
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