Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be playing in the biggest game of his young NFL career when Super Bowl LIV finally gets underway at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday night. After essentially being redshirted while a rookie in 2017, the third-year star took the NFL by storm as a first-year starter in 2018, posting one of the most prolific seasons in league history. Mahomes became the only quarterback besides Peyton Manning to ever throw for at least 50 touchdowns and 5,000 or more yards in the same season. For his efforts, he was named NFL MVP.
Mahomes picked up where he left off last season by winning AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors for September. While Mahomes was slowed by a dislocated right kneecap that caused him to miss two games during the middle of the season, he started being overshadowed by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is expected to be named league MVP at NFL Honors on Saturday.
Mahomes' postseason performance has been a reminder that he is the gold standard for quarterbacks. He became the first player in postseason history to throw for at least 300 yards, rush for at least 50 yards and throw at least five touchdowns in game when the Chiefs faced the Texans in the divisional round. In two playoff games, Mahomes has connected on 46 of 70 passes for 615 yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions to post a 131.5 passer rating. He has also carried the ball 15 times for 106 yards and one touchdown.
As a 2017 draft pick, Mahomes became eligible to sign a contract extension when the regular season ended. Mahomes is scheduled to make just over $2.7 million in 2020.
The assumption has been a new Mahomes contract would be a top offseason priority. Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt tempered those expectations on Tuesday by indicating that a new deal doesn't necessarily have to happen so quickly.
"There will be a right time sometime in next 12 to 15 months to extend Patrick, and when I say right time it will be right time both for the player and the club," Hunt said, per ESPN.
The Chiefs will surely exercise their fifth-year option for 2021, which must be done before May 3. Mahomes' option year salary is expected to be approximately $25 million.
It's a foregone conclusion that Mahomes will become the NFL's highest paid player on his next contract. The only real questions are how much will he raise the bar, and when will he get paid.
Current NFL salary bests
Any deal Mahomes signs will likely set new standards in most major, if not all, contract metrics. The current financial benchmarks are listed below.
|Average yearly salary||$35 million||Russell Wilson, Seahawks|
|Maximum yearly salary||$37 million||Jared Goff, Rams|
|Biggest contract||$175.5 million||Aaron Rodgers, Packers|
|Overall contract guarantees||$110,042,683||Goff|
|Fully guaranteed at signing||$94.5 million||Matt Ryan, Falcons|
|Fully guaranteed within 12 months||$100 million||Ryan|
|Signing bonus||$65 million||Wilson|
|Three-year cash flow||$107 million||Wilson|
|First three new years||$114 million||Wilson|
Rodgers and Ryan were the only two $30 million per year players when last offseason began. The $30 million per year club tripled to six members by the time the regular season started. In addition to Goff, Wentz and Wilson joining the club, the Steelers gave Ben Roethlisberger a two-year, $68 million extension last April.
Ryan was the lone player to hit the $100 million guarantee mark prior to last year's extensions. The five-year extension he signed in 2018 had $100 million in overall guarantees. Wilson first topped Ryan with $107 million. Wentz bettered Wilson at $107,870,683 before Goff beat them all.
Professionals within the industry (agents and team negotiators) typically value deals by new money, which is the amount of compensation in a contract excluding what a player was scheduled to make before receiving a new deal. For example, Rodgers had two years remaining on his existing contract with $20.4 million and $21.1 million salaries for 2018 and 2019 prior to his signing. Although Rodgers signed a six-year contract for $175.5 million, his deal is considered as a four-year, $134 million extension averaging $33.5 million per year among industry professionals. His two existing contract years for $41.5 million are subtracted from the $175.5 million six-year total to arrive at this number.
Incentives and salary escalators for outstanding individual performance were included in most of these contracts so that there would be an opportunity to increase the value of the deals. Rodgers has $4 million in salary escalators and incentives to make the extension worth as much as $138 million. Wentz's contract with the Eagles is worth up to $144 million through salary escalators. The maximum value of Wilson's deal is $146 million because of salary escalators. Goff can make as much as $148 million under his extension thanks to his incentives and salary escalators. These performance bonuses aren't considered as part of the base value of the deals.
Compensation in the first three new years is the amount of money in a contract exclusive of what a player was scheduled to make before receiving a new deal, just like with new money when determining average yearly salary. The cash flow analysis looks at the compensation in its totality. The focus is on the amount of money received in the first three years of a contract regardless of whether it's considered as new money. Both metrics have the same dollar amount when a player signs a new contract as a free agent or when his contract is set to expire.
Overall contract guarantees can be misleading. A complete picture of a contract's true security isn't necessarily given by this metric. The amount of money fully guaranteed at signing and will become fully guaranteed early in the contract are the best and most accurate measures of security.
What 'basketball money' means for Mahomes
Top NBA player money differs from top NFL player money in several respects. Fully guaranteed contracts are the norm in the NBA. Salary maximums put a ceiling on how much an individual player can make, with the amount dependent on his years of service. For players with less than seven years of service, the limit is 25 percent of the salary cap. It's 30 percent of the cap with players that have seven to nine years of service. Players with 10 or more years of service can get up to 35 percent of the cap. By meeting certain performance standards, a player can be eligible for a maximum at the next tier.
The NBA salary cap isn't a hard cap like in the NFL. There are several exceptions that allow a team to exceed to the cap. New contracts and extensions can't be more than five years in length. Rules for extensions are more complex. Generally, the earliest an extension can occur is with two years remaining on a contract. Under no circumstances can a player be under contract for more than six years.
Warriors guard Steph Curry became the NBA's first $40 million per year player and got the league's first $200 million contract in 2017 when he signed a five-year deal averaging just over $40.25 million. Guards James Harden, John Wall and Russell Westbrook followed Curry's lead in 2017 by signing extensions averaging in the $41 million neighborhood with the Rockets, Wizards and Thunder respectively. Last summer, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard signed a four-year extension kicking in after the 2020-21 season averaging $49 million per year. He is currently the NBA's highest-paid player by average salary. Reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible to sign a five-year extension with the Bucks making him the NBA's first $50 million per year player in July. A five-year maximum extension would be worth a fully guaranteed $253.75 million.
Mahomes' counterparts in the 2017 NBA Draft will be eligible to sign extensions in July. Extensions can be for a maximum of four years unless selected as one of the two players each team can designate on rookie contracts to get new five years. The designated rookies can also receive up to 30 percent of the cap instead of 25 percent depending on All-NBA selections, being named NBA MVP or NBA Defensive Player of the Year before the extension takes effect. Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum are the best bets in the 2017 draft class to be designated.
A designated rookie extension would worth $181.25 million for five years, which averages $36.25 million per year. All-NBA honors either this season or next season would make an extension worth up to nearly $217.5 million over five years for a $43.25 million average when it would kick in, starting with the 2021-22 season.
Both sides should have incentive to do a deal this offseason. The injury scare Mahomes received from a knee injury, which could have been a lot worse than a dislocated kneecap, could make him (or at least his representatives) more interested in achieving lifetime financial security sooner rather than later. Mahomes is represented by the legendary Leigh Steinberg and his partner Chris Cabott.
It's usually more costly the longer a team waits to sign a Pro Bowl caliber player. A new NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is likely going to be more player friendly than the current one, especially if the regular season increases to 17 games. Once a new CBA is in place, owners are expected turn their attention to new broadcast rights and media deals. Network executives are reportedly anticipating an increase at least in the 25 to 30 percent range for these deals to give the NFL $8 billion to $10 billion annually. Mahomes' expectations for a new contract could dramatically change once those deals are in place, since they will likely be the impetus for a substantial increase in the salary cap in the coming years.
It may make sense for Mahomes' camp to look at the franchise tag dynamic as a guide for a long-term deal. There haven't been fundamental changes to how the exclusive franchise tag works in quite some time. It's highly unlikely that a new CBA is going to overhaul the franchise tag system.
There would have to be some sort of major breakdown in negotiations for Mahomes to be in a position to be franchised in 2022. Nonetheless, the 2022 quarterback exclusive franchise number, which would be the average of the top five 2022 quarterback salaries (usually salary cap numbers) at the end of that year's restricted free agent signing period, currently projects to $35.61 million. This number is subject to change depending on new quarterback deals, contract restructures, pay cuts and/or releases over the next two years. A second franchise tag in 2023 at a 20 percent increase over Mahomes' projected 2022 franchise number would be $42.732 million. A third franchise tag in 2024 with a 44 percent increase over the 2023 figure would be exorbitant but not out of the question for someone with the potential to be an all-time great. It would be slightly over $61.5 million.
Putting the franchise tag analysis into the equation would give Mahomes justification to target an extension averaging in excess of $45 million per year with well over $100 million fully guaranteed at signing, where there would be more than $150 million in overall guarantees. Mahomes could make in excess of $140 million with three franchise tags after playing out the final two years of his rookie contract for approximately $28 million.
The Chiefs will likely insist on a lengthy extension as a concession from Mahomes in a groundbreaking contract. The longest lucrative quarterback deal under the current CBA was the seven-year deal averaging $18.1 million per year Jay Cutler received from the Bears days after the 2013 regular season ended.
There isn't a realistic circumstance where Mahomes is going to approach Lillard's $49 million extension average or the $196 million fully guaranteed in the extension. Since Lillard had two years remaining when he signed his extension, he is under contract for six years, with nearly $257.5 million fully guaranteed.
Mahomes should easily surpass the baseline of $36.25 million per year Mitchell or Tatum could get over the summer, but his overall guarantees should fall well short the $181.25 million they would have in security.
Whether Mahomes can get the base value of an extension to Mitchell or Tatum's elevated $43.25 million average per year remains to be seen. Mahomes shouldn't be interested in any extension that doesn't hit the $40 million per year mark before factoring in the incentives and salary escalators that have become commonplace in the most lucrative quarterback deals. The performance bonuses should at least push what Mahomes can earn in any extension to Mitchell/Tatum's maximum contract average.
There's been plenty of speculation that Mahomes will get the first $200 million contract in NFL history. It would be a nice distinction that shouldn't come at the expense of giving up additional years. Goff, Rodgers, Wentz and Wilson signed four-year extensions. Anything longer than this should be a deal breaker for Mahomes. A four-year extension running through the 2025 season, which would put Mahomes under contract for six total years (including the fifth-year option) would be worth approximately $188 million. That could be fine because Mahomes would be in a position for a new deal as a 28-year-old after the 2024 season when heading into his contract year. To reach the $200 million mark on a four-year extension, Mahomes would need to essentially average $43 million per year in new money.
Mahomes is in an almost no-lose situation with the Super Bowl from a contractual standpoint. A terrible performance last year in Super Bowl LIII after a late season slump didn't prevent Jared Goff from tying Rodgers as the third highest-paid player in the league with the most overall guarantees in a contract. A poor Super Bowl by Mahomes shouldn't affect his ability to become the NFL's first $40 million per year player, while a Chiefs victory with an MVP-caliber performance will increase his contract leverage.