How, When Will Chiefs Make Patrick Mahomes NFL’s Highest-Paid QB?

It’s difficult to call someone underpaid when they’re earning $45 million per year. However, that’s where Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro and reigning Super Bowl-champion quarterback Patrick Mahomes finds himself. He’s 16 percent below the $52 million per year salary of Lamar Jackson that leads all NFL players.

Jackson’s career production pales when compared to Mahomes’. Jackson has a 1-3 career playoff record and has missed 11 games due to injury during the past two years. Jalen Hurts is the second-ranked quarterback at $51 million per year. He has just one Pro Bowl compared to Mahomes’ five, and Mahomes just beat Hurts in the Super Bowl this season.

The NFL’s quarterback salary scale is out of whack and likely beginning to weigh on Mahomes, who is a fierce competitor.

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.

I never wanted to extend a player with more than two years remaining on his contract, or I would have every star player on the team lined up at my door. Yet players and agents love long-term deals with big signing bonuses and high guarantees. They figure if the player outperforms the deal as the market surges, they’ll renegotiate.

Evaluating Mahomes’ Next Contract

Kansas City Chiefs Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes’ Deal, Then and Now

When he signed his record-breaking 10-year, $450 million extension in July of 2020, I said Mahomes’ massive deal would be renegotiated and restructured several times during the following 12 years, including the last two years of his rookie contract.

On Tuesday, NBC Sports’ Mike Florio wrote, “Expect Mahomes, before the season begins, to once again be the highest-paid player in league history.”

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.

The quarterback market has taken a huge leap in less than three years since Mahomes’ deal was signed. Less accomplished quarterbacks, including Kyler Murray and a character risk in Deshaun Watson, have jumped Mahomes.

In the past few weeks, previous pay leader Aaron Rodgers’ $50 million per year contract was surpassed in new money by Hurts’ five-year, $255 million extension with $179 million guaranteed, and then Jackson signed for five years, $260 million with $185 million in guarantees. Mahomes’ guarantee at signing was a paltry, comparatively speaking, $63 million, and he has $141 million in total guarantees.

Now a two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time league MVP, Mahomes is clearly the best player in the NFL. He is extremely likable on and off the field. He’s a family man, married to his high school sweetheart Brittany, and they have two children. His charitable endeavors are numerous, primarily through his 15 and the Mahomies Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of children. He’s the perfect franchise quarterback.

Mahomes has quietly — at least publicly — watched these other quarterback deals unfold, confident his time to return to the top spot would come. He and his co-agents — Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott — are obviously waiting for the Burrow and Herbert deals to get done before talking with Chiefs owner Clark Hunt and general manager Brett Veach.

Hunt addressed Mahomes’ contract situation during draft weekend when he told the Kansas City Star, “Coming up with a dollar value for what he means to KC would be a challenging endeavor. I don’t know that there’s really a way to quantify it financially. And, no matter what he makes over his career, I’m sure one way or another, he’ll be underpaid.”

Leverage-wise, Hunt’s words haven’t made it easy for Veach as he approaches this renegotiation with Mahomes.

Tom Brady Patrick Mahomes

Home Team Discount?

Will Mahomes continue to give the Chiefs a Tom Brady-like home team discount to help build a solid supporting cast? Hunt says that was the case with Mahomes’ current contract

“The great thing about Patrick is he recognized that he wanted to give the club the flexibility to build the team around him. And that contract was structured in that way,” Hunt previously said.

Mahomes clearly values winning and understands — as Brady did — Super Bowl success translates to great endorsement opportunities, which Mahomes is capitalizing on. But it’s a priority and source of enjoyment for Mahomes to use his financial wherewithal to invest in other businesses, especially sports teams. He’s part owner of the MLB’s Kansas City Royals and the MLS’ Sporting Kansas City. He and Brittany are also co-owners of the NWSL’s Kansas City Current.

So factor in what the big money can do for Mahomes and his family with what’s fair and reasonable, along with his interest in having sustained success on the field, and therein lies the challenge facing Mahomes and the Chiefs.

What’s next contract-wise for Mahomes? He’s still only 27, so he could play another 15 years or so. I don’t foresee Mahomes chasing the last dollar as so many players and agents do. But I’m sure he wants to be the top-paid quarterback.

Next Step: Compromise?

It makes sense for the two sides to compromise and increase his contract to $55 million per year in the principal terms (base salaries and roster bonuses). That will make him the highest-paid quarterback unless Burrow and/or Herbert are at that level. Then, Mahomes needs to be at least a couple million per year above them.

Incentives and escalators should be included to keep him at pace with the top of the market if he is still producing at a Pro Bowl level for a playoff team. He has already cashed in on two lucrative incentives a couple of times — $1.25 million for winning the AFC Championship Game and $1.25 million for NFL MVP.

The appropriate escalators would involve an increase in base salary in a year following outstanding production and tying it to staying at the top of quarterback pay. Adding escalators to his current incentives and the increase in principal terms would give the Chiefs a happy leader.

Mahomes’ agents and the team can say Mahomes could have demanded more money but wants the Chiefs to continue building a great supporting cast around him.

Mahomes is the type of superstar who will never be content with just being well-paid. If I’m Hunt, Veach or Chiefs coach Andy Reid, I have no worries Mahomes would ever be content just being the NFL’s highest-paid player.

They know he’ll also be highly motivated to win more championships because, like Brady and the greatest players in any sport, it’s how Mahomes is wired. He is a high-level competitor and high achiever with a true love of the game and appreciation for his potential to be considered one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks and players.

Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.

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