And now, the hard work begins for the Chiefs’ front office.
For the past two seasons, the Chiefs possessed the single biggest advantage in the NFL in Mahomes, an All-Pro, MVP quarterback on a dirt-cheap rookie deal. They took advantage of it, using the free salary-cap room to sign transformational talents like Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu, along with other key contributors like Sammy Watkins and Anthony Hitchens. All contributed greatly as the Chiefs won their first Super Bowl title in 50 years last season.
Mahomes’ historic deal could go down as the richest in the history of American professional sports. It also will increase the degree of difficulty for the Chiefs’ front office, though admittedly not as much as it could have had Mahomes insisted on tying a portion of the deal to a percentage of the cap, something agents across the league were hoping he’d do.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to surround him with talent, and this deal provides us more flexibility to do that,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said in a statement.
Still, whenever a quarterback’s cap number rises from $5.3 million, as it is this year, to an average of nearly $45 million in the 11 years after that, there’s no doubt the front office and coaching staff will have less room for error.
For starters, key contributors to the championship run will undoubtedly be allowed to leave, eventually. There won’t be many free-agent splurges, but the ones they sign can’t miss. Additionally, nailing draft picks will be crucial; they are talented, moldable and most important, cheap, so early round draft picks must be Day 1 contributors, while late-round selections must be developed into eventual contributors.
In all, it’s the real-life, front-office equivalent of increasing the difficulty level on “Madden 20” from all-pro to all-Madden.
Interestingly enough, five rival NFL evaluators — made up of executives, scouts and coaches — reached for this column agreed that Kansas City has the look of an organization that could navigate the dreaded big-money quarterback extension, largely due to the competence of the front office and coaching staff, and Mahomes’ overwhelming talent.
“The risk is in the length of the contract and not knowing what could happen with injury and the cap, obviously,” one evaluator told Yahoo Sports. “That said, he is the best quarterback in football and he is just scratching the surface.”
Besides, the evaluator added, the Chiefs now have the luxury of building around the single greatest asset in pro sports — a young, elite quarterback.
“He will have to cover for weak spots that will come around due to the size of the contract, and he will,” the evaluator noted. “I would have no problem sacrificing a few positions to sign arguably the best player in the game right now while he is young.”
Another NFL talent evaluator who spoke to Yahoo Sports agreed wholeheartedly that the team should be able to build around Mahomes sufficiently to be competitive for years to come.
“I don’t think it limits it much,” the evaluator said. “They’ve been pretty good at developing young talent on rookie contracts. With Mahomes at quarterback, he’ll make up any lack of talent at the skill positions and in any offense.”
There’s also this: Other players will be clamoring to play with Mahomes in the future, thus making it easier to build around him.
“The guy is better than any generational talent and free agents for the coming years will line up at the door looking to take pay cuts just to play with him,” the evaluator said.
One NFL coach agreed with that notion, adding that paying a 24-year-old quarterback with an MVP and Super Bowl title under his belt $45 million per season is a win-win.
“All day long,” the coach said. “This kid, when it’s all said and done, will be the greatest QB in the history of the league. He’s a multiplier. He’s a game-changer. He’s a winner. Pay him whatever he wants. Other players will go to K.C. because they have him. It’s the PM2 discount for the next 10 years.”
One more boon for the Chiefs: While the contract is historic — Mahomes’ average annual value blows the previous NFL high of $35 million out of the water — they also didn’t have to tie it to a percentage of the cap, which could have led to a sea change throughout the league.
Yet, it’s understandable why Mahomes opted to take the historic payday. Football is a perilous game — his knee scare against the Denver Broncos last October was evidence of this — and a career-altering injury is always only a play away.
Mahomes was facing four more years of club control, and though the two franchise tags would have paid him handsomely, when a competently run, Super Bowl-winning team is willing to pay half a billion dollars and make him potentially the highest-paid player in pro sports history … well, he had to take that.
And similarly, when a competently run, Super Bowl-winning team had a rare opportunity to lock up its greatest young asset in pro sports for the long haul, it had to do that, too — no matter how much the degree of difficulty for building a championship roster increases.
“That $45 million may restrict them from big-time splashy moves,” one evaluator told Yahoo Sports. “But as long as they draft well and don’t overpay in free agency, they should be set for a long time.”
And that’s exactly what the Chiefs are betting on.
“There was no way Andy [Reid] and Brett [Veach] would ever let him leave,” one of the evaluators concluded. “Those two will have to draft well over the next few years to balance the losses, but this is the move they had to make.”
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