By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Chiefs Kingdom is having a severe cart-before-the-horse moment.
Let’s start with the actual organization. “Let’s go build a dynasty,” the team tweeted Wednesday. They deserve credit for keeping at the word “build.” They need parts and labor before cutting the red tape. Got to deal with greasy politicians and bureaucrats. If their social media team tweeted “A dynasty is born,” or something along those lines, right in the Freezing Cold Takes vault they go.
Then there’s the Arrowhead Pride tweet: “That feeling when you’re about to win 13 Super Bowls in a row.” Obviously it’s just a funny exaggeration, but how many of them think Mahomes’ 10-year extension just guaranteed a dynastic run?
Either way, Kansas City has reason to be excited that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have laid the groundwork for a partnership they hope lasts over a decade. The goal is the requisite three Super Bowl championships to be gilded a true “Dynasty.”
If Mahomes leads them to two of the next three championships, after putting together one of the most spectacularly heroic playoff performances we’ve ever seen to get his first Lombardi … well they’re halfway to the Patriots dynasty, but they’re certainly a dynasty.
The real question, though – and the treacherous territory they’d enter if they don’t cement their dynasty by 2023 – is did they go too far with Mahomes’ newfound riches to build a strong-enough army behind him?
History, and basic facts, say their chances of multiple Super Bowls just got worse.
There are a few truths to admit before diving into the data. The Chiefs had no choice but to pay Mahomes whatever he and his agent demand. They’ve landed not just a franchise quarterback, but one who is giving a “best of his generation” kind of vibe. The guy’s unbelievable. In years where the Chiefs fall short of a title, it’s likely he will rarely be among the reasons why.
Another truth is that Mahomes is worth the money. He’s the only player in the NFL right now that even has a case of being worthy of $503 million over a 10-year extension. If he wants to be the highest-paid player in the league, he deserves it. Making him the highest-paid player ever isn’t totally out of line.
But the reality is that the richest contract in professional sports history won’t come without sacrifices. And it’s really not worth getting into the details about “guarantee mechanisms,” bonus structures, whatever. It’s too tedious to waste your time debating it. If you need it, read Bill Barnwell’s breakdown because he’s smarter and better than me about that stuff. It seems that the Chiefs have maximized their ability to avoid a long-term stay in the dreaded, slightly mythic “cap jail” with Mahomes.
The Mahomes deal on the whole, however, is something the Chiefs ideally want to keep paying for a long time. And it’s the exact kind of contract you don’t want on your books if your goal is sustained championship success.
For the first three years of his career as the starter, Mahomes will be the most valuable asset an NFL team can possibly have: a franchise quarterback on his rookie contract. It’s a major reason why Mahomes’ superb play instantly elevated the Chiefs to Super Bowl contenders. They can easily afford elite pieces around him on offense and a complementary-enough defense, all bolstered by a strong middle class. We saw the same thing happen with teams that won or played in recent Super Bowls, which is covered in more detail later.
In 2023, when Mahomes’ cash earnings and cap hit jump to $42.4 million and $40.4 million respectively, the game changes. The Chiefs will inevitably have to watch talented, valuable players depart for a payday they can’t afford. They’ll be forced to invest in scouting, drafting and developing, getting the most out of players on their first contracts. Maybe have to spend draft capital to acquire proven talent for short money.
It’s possible, but it’s also a challenge they’ve created for themselves. Recent results show that the way they’re structured now is a far safer bet than what they face over the course of Mahomes’ extension.
Among the past 10 Super Bowl winners, only two won it with their starting quarterback in the top-5 salaries and/or cap hits at the position. They’re both Mannings: Peyton with the 2015 Broncos ($15 million salary, No. 2), and Eli with the 2011 Giants ($8.5 million salary, No. 4).
Peyton was a corpse by the end, ironically. But he did make a handful of plays when Denver needed them in the playoffs. And clearly, they won with balance. Patriots fans know better than anyone that Eli’s Giants were simply a deeper, more complete team in Super Bowl XLVI.
The teams with the very highest paid QB? It’s the Bloodbath Bowl. Lot of good, perhaps even excellent teams, but no champions. Kirk Cousins has been the highest-salaried QB in the league over the past four seasons; Washington and Minnesota have combined to go 33-29-2 with one playoff appearance. The 2017 Ravens paid Joe Flacco the highest cap hit ($24.5 million) and went 9-7, but missed the playoffs. Last year they had Lamar Jackson playing MVP football for one whole million, and look at the difference it made.
Now take a peek at the other end of the spectrum. Mahomes’ salary in 2019 ranked 55th. Tom Brady’s salary and cap hit in 2018 ranked 20th and 11th. The 2017 Eagles paid Nick Foles and Carson Wentz a combined $2.6 million. The 2013 Seahawks paid Russell Wilson $526,000. The 2010 Packers paid Aaron Rodgers $6 million. See where this is going?
Kansas City will always be in the Super Bowl conversation as long as Mahomes is playing at the level he’s played over the past two years. But keeping enough high-end talent under him on the roster will be more challenging if they want to win more Super Bowls. They would’ve been better off if Mahomes pulled a Brady and took a little bit less for the betterment of the team. Bill Belichick always does this up and down the roster and it’s often resulted in a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The Brady trickle-down effect backfired at times, but it’s clearly the best example of how to achieve sustained Super Bowl contention in this era.
Some teams have done well to keep themselves in the mix, but are still falling short of the summit. The Seahawks signed Russell Wilson to a four-year, $140 million extension, and he is worth the money, but it also forced them to trade Frank Clark (coincidentally, to the Chiefs). This year they had to send a fifth-round pick to D.C. for cornerback Quinton Dunbar in order to add an impact player to their secondary. Wilson has to drag them to wins sometimes and it might be impossible to keep both Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf long-term.
The Falcons may be the gold standard for what can happen when you commit too much money to your quarterback, and overspend on a handful of guys in general. Matt Ryan made $44 million cash in 2019 and his cap hit jumps to $40.9 million in 2021, and the offense is already paying the price by losing tight end Austin Hooper to free agency. (This forced them to trade for Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst.) Their defense has been gutted, as they could no longer afford cornerback Desmond Trufant, or linebackers Vic Beasley and De’Vondre Campbell.
Just a fair warning to those who expect the Lombardis to just roll in no problem. If the Chiefs don’t get a couple more in the next few years, you’ll start to squirm. There will be years where Mahomes lights it up, but creates a false sense of security as the Chiefs ultimately get humbled by a more balanced team in the playoffs. The Patriots themselves experienced this in 2010, when MVP Tom Brady topped the cap hits at $20.3 million but the 14-2 Pats fell on their faces at home in the divisional round – against goddamn Mark Sanchez and a more complete New York Jets team.
The Pats couldn’t win with Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Wes Welker doing most of the work. It’s improbable that Mahomes could do it.
One more truth, and it’s an important one: Mahomes is not Cousins. He’s not Matt Ryan. Hell he’s not even Eli. He appears closer to Brady and Manning than these other overpaid quarterbacks, and that’s why he deserves your confidence that he could simply be an outlier. The problem isn’t so much overpaying your quarterback but overpaying a quarterback who SUCKS, MIKE!
Perhaps the Having Patrick Mahomes™ strategy could overcome any other missteps the Chiefs make with their roster-building in the coming decade-plus.
But it’s not exactly appropriate to react to a super-mega-deal like Mahomes’ extension with “OMG we’re gonna win 40 Super Bowls!” Because that’s really not how this works. Whatever the machinations of the contract will be, the proverbial bills will come due as long as Mahomes is soaking up nearly a quarter of the budget. Offerings will need to be made to the football gods.
K.C. better hope those offerings don’t come in the form of lost opportunities, and Lombardis hoisted by better teams.
Hey Patrick Mahomes, Can We Have Some Money?
Thanks for reading. If you want more, Ty Anderson and I prattled on about Patrick Mahomes, the Patriots’ potential with Cam Newton, and a bunch of other random stuff on this week’s Sports Hub Sidelines podcast. Have a listen below.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.