Patrick Mahomes’ having his paycheck on …..
Jones would later tell that story in a virtual news conference after his own payday had come to fruition. He had a smile on his face, but he was restraining from rolling his eyes at the notion.
Wait, how did a half-billion-dollar contract save the team money?
Two years later, a prognostication that felt a bit absurd to say out loud is showing its evidence, often as plainly as black and white. On a per-year basis, Mahomes’ contract has been surpassed.
And then again.
In 24 short months, Mahomes already is making less money per season than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. OK, Rodgers is a four-time MVP winner. Makes sense, I guess, though given the age disparity, I’d throw more cash at Mahomes. But that’s not the headline.
But this? Mahomes also sits behind Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and Arizona Cardinals passer Kyle Murray.
And it’s is only the beginning. In a league of one-upmanship, the winner goes to the most recent free agent to cash in.
Joe Burrow will follow. Justin Herbert, too. There will be others. Some will surprise you.
But here’s the key in all of this: Mahomes doesn’t seem to give a dang about it.
“When I signed my deal,” he said, “I knew I was going to be set for life regardless of what (happens in) the market. 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 it as well, that it won’t matter at the end of the day.”
It sounds good — if put into practice. Thing is, athletes tend to let their salaries do the talking, particularly in the NFL. Who’s the best quarterback? Let’s scan the paychecks.
I brought that up to Mahomes in the conversation. Isn’t that a source of pride?
“Nah,” he said. “I mean, I think especially at the quarterback position, the next guy is the top-paid guy. Any of these top-tier quarterbacks, they make such a difference on NFL football teams that it’s going to get passed up.
“You always want to get paid and, like I said, take care of your family. But I want to have a great team around me as well, so whatever way is going to make sure I have a great team around me for the rest of my career.”
Mahomes might never catch Tom Brady’s ring count — that conversation is more than a bit silly considering Mahomes is, ahem, six away — but he’s mimicking one of Brady’s most important attributes. Or at least says he plans to mimic it.
Brady took it to a farther extreme. In 22 seasons, he has never occupied more than 13.6% of his team’s salary cap. There’s a reason his teams have rarely been short on talent. A reason, besides Bill Belichick, that his Super Bowl runs were consistently aided by top-10 defenses. Those teams had the funds to build. Brady made sure of it.
Mahomes is slated to top that number this year for the first time, when he will occupy 17.1% of the Chiefs’ salary cap. It’s not like he’s playing for pennies. He’s a man well-compensated for his talents. But it’s clear he could be compensated even more, and given the length of his contract — 10 years — it’s clearer yet that cap percentage is slated to drop. Into Brady territory, eventually.
That will test Mahomes’ words — how comfortable is he really with his compensation? How many quarterbacks must surpass his number in order for him to get uncomfortable? Is there a magical number? We will find out.
This is where I have no choice but to point out his half-billion dollar contract will eventually seem cheap, and that two years into the 10-year pact, we might already be there. As it stands, in 2025 he will be out-paid by Rodgers, Watson, Josh Allen and Matt Stafford, and he will be near-even with Murray and only slightly ahead of Derek Carr.
Murray’s career playoff record: 0-1.
Carr’s career playoff record: 0-1.
We don’t really need to cover Mahomes’ postseason resume, do we?
Again, this is the nature of NFL contracts — one one-up after another. But what goes against nature is one of those top-tier players saying, You know what, I’m good. Pay the other guys.
So rare, in fact, that there’s a more than a bit of believe-it-when-I-see-it here. Because not only will Mahomes be out-paid by, conservatively, 8-10 other quarterbacks in a few years, the margin at the top could be wide. It’s assumed Burrow and Herbert could land deals approaching $60 million annually in the next two years, 33% higher than Mahomes’ average annual value. And Mahomes is slated to be under contract through 2032, a contract that expires three years later than any other on the books. The margin will only grow.
While the contract extends for 10 seasons, nothing says Mahomes cannot ask for a raise midway through. Nothing except for, well, him.
The system is going to test his desire to win versus his desire to get paid.
It is now, in fact. And for now, the former is winning the race. It’s how far he’s willing to lag behind that will turn this from a pop quiz to a final exam.
The Chiefs spent the offseason trying to preserve their championship window for the duration of Mahomes’ career here in Kansas City. It’s partially why they balked at Tyreek Hill’s asking price and didn’t hand out mega-deals to free agents.
But the length of this window will ultimately come down to Mahomes, and that’s not a reference to his talent. It’s a reference to his price tag. If he’s comfortable over the long haul, the Chiefs will have the wiggle room to keep the surrounding pieces mostly in place. They could add, say, a Carlos Dunlap a week into camp.
As the salary cap climbs — and it’s expected to surge in coming years with new TV money — the faster Mahomes’ cap-percentage number will fall. He will occupy less and less of it. And the more room there will be for his teammates to eat.
If the quarterback can digest his own number.