Patrick Mahomes may have signed the largest contract in the history of sports, but will he ever actually be the NFL’s highest paid quarterback?
The Kansas City Chiefs were the talk of sports fans and media all over when they signed quarterback Patrick Mahomes to the largest contract in the history of any of America’s major sports leagues. It’s a staggering deal that keeps K.C.’s star player and Super Bowl champion in Kansas City for the next twelve seasons and could pay him a half a BILLION dollars over the life of the contract. So how in the wide world of sports could anyone even ask the question of if he will ever be the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback?
Let me start by saying that in terms of his total contract, Mahomes is clearly the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL right now and likely will be for the foreseeable future. The $450 million in new dollars that this deal gives him is a full $300 million more than the next closest quarterback deal (Matt Ryan) in terms of total money. Not only that, but his yearly average of $45 million over those ten new years is a full $10 million more per year than the previous high of $35 million per year for Russell Wilson.
If one were to ask the question “Who is the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback?” the answer would have to be Mahomes. However, we all know that NFL contracts aren’t simple, that the overall numbers thrown around are almost never what the team ends up paying when it comes to actual salary cap numbers. Deals often include huge numbers towards the back end that end up getting renegotiated or, at that point in the deal, the team can simply cut the player without owing him a dime.
Now, Mahomes deal is unique in that it has “guarantee mechanisms” that, as far as my simple brain can comprehend, means that after each season they either guarantee his next year’s salary or have to pay him the next two seasons salary to buy him out of the contract. These guarantee mechanisms make it much less likely that K.C. can simply cut Mahomes to avoid the big cap hits later in the deal. I think there is probably more nuance to it than that, but that seems to be my basic understanding.
So why do I am asking if Mahomes will ever actually be the NFL’s highest paid quarterback? Well, when you look at the actual breakdown of yearly cap hits, I think that becomes a very interesting question. I typically use Over the Cap for all my salary cap and contract information. They aren’t a sponsor or anything, but I highly recommend you check them out if you want to look over any of the numbers for yourself. So according to Over The Cap, these are Mahomes’ salary cap hits for all 12 years that he is under contract and where that cap hit currently ranks amongst quarterbacks that season.
- 2020 – $5.35 million (30th)
- 2021 – $24.81 million (13th)
- 2022 – $31.45 million (7th)
- 2023 – $42.45 million (1st)
- 2024 – $39.95 million (1st)
- 2025 – $41.95 million (1st)
- 2026 – $41.95 million (1st)
- 2027 – $59.95 million (1st)
- 2028 – $44.45 million (1st)
- 2029 – $44.95 million (1st)
- 2030 – $50.45 million (1st)
- 2031 – $52.45 million (1st)
So we already know that Mahomes will not be the highest-paid quarterback during the next three seasons. If nothing were to change between now and then, he would become the highest-paid quarterback starting in 2023. From 2023 through 2026 Mahomes salary is relatively steady, averaging about $41.5 million per year over that span. Now that Mahomes has reset the yearly quarterback average at $45 million per year, what are the odds that an average cap hit of about $41.5 million will give him the highest cap number in the NFL four seasons from now?
Next season, in 2021 there are already two quarterbacks set to have cap hits over $40 million: Falcons QB Matt Ryan at $40.91M and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethisberger at $41.25M. The same is true for 2022 with Ryan at $41.66M and Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings at $45M. So we were already seeing cap hits in that range before Mahomes reset the market.
Another thing to consider is the expected salary cap for those seasons. Assuming the current Covid-19 crisis is a thing of the past by 2023, new television deals with all the major networks will be in effect by 2023 and are expected to bring in significantly more money, thus leading to a major bump in the salary cap. With a larger cap comes larger contracts. Most experts agree that this is probably why the Chiefs designed Mahomes contract to have the first real significant cap hit that season.
With quarterback cap hits already reaching $40 million prior to the Mahomes deal, and new television money expected to boost the salary cap, AND with guys like Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson set to get big deals in the coming year or two, the cap numbers for Mahomes between 2023-2027 are certainly no lock to stay the highest in the NFL.
Let’s throw out a very realistic contract scenario that could unseat Mahomes in 2023. There are rumors that Dak Prescott is only seeking a four-year deal so that he can hit free agency again after new television deals kick in—leading to the aforementioned cap increases. There are also rumors that Prescott already turned down a five-year deal that would have paid him about $35 million per year.
Let’s say that Prescott gets his way and signs a four-year deal this week worth about $37.5 million per year that would give him the second highest yearly average after Mahomes. (I’m not interested in wether or not that’s a good idea, just what the numbers would look like.) Typically, these contracts increase in yearly cap numbers over the course of the deal, so a breakdown of cap hits for a deal like that for Prescott could resemble:
- 2020 – $30 million
- 2021 – $35 million
- 2022 – $40 million
- 2023 – $45 million
That would make Prescott’s 2023 cap hit higher than Patrick Mahomes’.
It wouldn’t be hard to do something similar with an extension for Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans or Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens. As good as those players are, it’s hard to imagine teams dealing out ten-year extensions left and right. If players like Watson or Jackson are going to get deals with yearly averages anywhere near what Mahomes got, but with less years, those big dollar years are going to have to come much sooner than they did for Mahomes. A five-year extension that averages $45 million per year would likely look something like:
- Year 1 – $35 million
- Year 2 – $40 million
- Year 3 – $45 million
- Year 4 – $50 million
- Year 5 – $55 million
If Watson were to sign an extension like that following this season it’s new years would start in 2022. So his cap hit in 2023 would be very close to Mahomes and would be higher than Mahomes in 2024-2026. If both of those hypothetical contracts were to happen with Prescott and Watson, it would mean Mahomes would not have had the highest cap hit in the NFL through the next seven years. Is it possible that he will? Sure, but it’s a very real possibility that Mahomes remains No. 2 or lower on the list when going year by year.
That brings us to the 2027 season where Mahomes is due to have a staggering $59.95 million cap hit. While I certainly think that he will have earned every dollar of his contract at that point and will hopefully have led the Chiefs to a few more Super Bowl wins, it’s hard to imagine a team having one player account for $60 million of their cap space. Regardless of how much the cap increases by then, that’s a massive number. Should that number stay where it is, Mahomes will almost assuredly be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL that season.
It is also very possible that by the time 2027 rolls around, the Chiefs will either go back to the table to negotiate a new deal or convert that massive amount to a signing bonus so they can spread it over the next several seasons—a trick teams often use to create cap space. Regardless of the what or how, I believe that 2027 number is so large that it likely means they will do something to change it.
Mahomes has already been vocal about wanting to make sure the team has the cap room to take care of the entire roster. We saw Tom Brady take less than he could have for years so the New England Patriots could retain enough talent around him to compete year after year. If Mahomes keeps that same mindset and the Chiefs are concerned about how that huge number in 2027 could affect the roster, it’s certainly possible that he could renegotiate something more team friendly, especially if Mahomes continues to be a huge star and the sponsorship dollars keep stacking up.
If that happens it is possible that we could see Mahomes stay in Kansas City for the next 12 years and never actually be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL based on yearly cap hits.
That’s a crazy thing to say of a guy who just signed a deal that could be worth over a half a billion dollars. However, I don’t think it’s that wild of claim to make. Mahomes may be the most exciting and talented player the NFL has seen in quite some time. He deserves every bit of praise laid upon him and, after what he’s accomplished in his short career, he should certainly celebrate the record-setting deal that he signed. However, the Kansas City Chiefs and general manager Brett Veach also deserve a ton of credit for coming up with such a creative and long-lasting deal that gives their quarterback bragging rights on how much he is getting without crippling their salary cap space for years to come.
What do you think Chiefs fans? Do you think it’s crazy to suggest that Mahomes may never actually be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL after signing such a massive and record-breaking deal? Do you agree that it’s a very real possibility that he may never actually lead the NFL in his yearly cap dollars? Regardless of which stance you take, we can all agree that Mahomes being in Kansas City for 12 more years is reason to celebrate.