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Is Patrick Mahomes’ $500 million contract actually team-friendly? Answering eight questions on the Chiefs QB’s deal

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Most days, it seems pretty good to be Patrick Mahomes. Even by the lofty standards of the reigning Super Bowl MVP, though, Monday was a particularly good afternoon for him. The 24-year-old agreed to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs on what is reportedly the largest contract for an athlete in the history of sports, inking a 12-year deal that could end up being worth $503 million. Mahomes is a special player and he deserves to get an extraordinary contract.

So then, why am I feeling like the Chiefs just got away with a team-friendly deal? While the reported numbers represent a transcendent contract, the guarantees aren’t quite at that level. Mahomes has a résumé unlike any quarterback in football history through three seasons, but his contract in the short term is more in line with what we would have expected for other first-round quarterbacks than it might seem. It’s also a deal that likely made the Cowboys and Texans happier than they would have expected as they try to sign their own quarterbacks to extensions.

Let’s answer some of the critical questions coming out of the Mahomes deal and what it means for the Chiefs and the rest of the league:

Jump to a section:
Will Mahomes play out this entire deal?
How does this compare to other QBs?
Wait, what is a ‘guarantee mechanism’?
Why is 2025 so important for Mahomes?
Could this contract length be a trend?
How are Prescott and Watson impacted?
Is it fair to pick a winner or loser here?
What does this mean for Chris Jones?

What are the chances Mahomes actually plays out this whole deal and makes $503 million?

Slim. He might very well make more than $500 million over the next 12 years, but the chances that the two sides choose to ride this deal all the way out to 2031 are low. The structure of the deal, the history of quarterback contracts and the recent path of the salary cap all suggest that the Chiefs and their star aren’t likely to see the final few years of this contract under the current terms. A lot of NFL deals — especially deals that approach or reset the top of their respective markets — have team options tacked onto the end to raise their value or produce impressive round numbers in the media.

For this deal to play out as planned to its conclusion, Mahomes would need to be just good enough to justify these massive roster bonuses without being good enough to justify a new extension. More realistically, he will play out a portion of this deal and then earn a new extension down the line, well before 2031. The structure of this deal makes me think it will end up as a six-year, $183.4 million pact before the two sides negotiate a new contract after the 2025 season finishes, which would reduce $319.2 million of this deal to play money.

Comparing this deal to Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million contract isn’t realistic, since all of Trout’s deal is fully guaranteed, while “just” $141.4 million of Mahomes’ deal is guaranteed, and that is for injury only. It’s more realistic to compare this to other quarterback contracts, with two recent deals coming to mind.

Where does this stand compared to other quarterback contracts?

You could easily argue that no player should be compared to Mahomes, who has a league MVP and a Super Bowl title in his first two full seasons as a starter. In terms of on-field performance, I agree. In terms of contracts, though, these sides were likely looking at the deals handed to other first-round quarterbacks since the league adopted its rookie scale for draft picks. That group consists of Mahomes and six other quarterbacks: Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.

Of those two, Goff and Wentz are the most comparable for two reasons. One is that they each signed an extension after their third season, just as Mahomes did. The other is that they were signed more recently than the other four passers, as Wentz signed his extension in June 2019 before Goff followed in September. Wentz got $107.9 million in injury guarantees on his deal, with Goff topping him at $110 million. Amid the salary cap rising 5.3% this year over 2019, Mahomes just got $141.4 million, which is all of the cash he’s due over the next five seasons.

Consider that Goff, Wentz and Mahomes were already due somewhere between $26.8 million and $27.6 million over the final two years of their respective deals before signing extensions. Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million deal. Goff signed a four-year, $134 million deal. Mahomes will make $155.8 million in new money over the next four seasons as part of his deal, which is about $14.7 million more than Goff after adjusting for cap inflation.

To put those numbers into context, let’s compare the deal Mahomes just signed over the next six years to the other first-rounders who signed extensions off their rookie deals. I’m going to leave out Bortles and Tannehill, whose deals trail the group. Pay attention to the cap percentage number on the far right:

As you can see, while Mahomes is set to make more than any other quarterback from this group, the difference isn’t staggering in the way that the length or total value of this deal suggests. On the other hand, this comparison undersells the value of his contract because of the contract structure. Here’s where the “guarantee mechanism” comes in.

What on earth is a ‘guarantee mechanism’?

The hot new term coined to make the Mahomes deal look even more significant, it appears that a guarantee mechanism is the language in a deal designed to trigger a guarantee at a particular date and time. The language itself is nothing new, but it plays a unique role in this particular extension.

Let’s start with a quick explainer. Most years of NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed, meaning that a veteran could theoretically make it all the way through the preseason before being cut without their income guaranteeing. As an example, Larry Warford‘s base salary of $7.7 million with the Saints wasn’t guaranteed this season. The team was able to keep him on its roster throughout free agency, but once New Orleans drafted Cesar Ruiz in the first round, it no longer needed Warford and cut him in May, freeing up that $7.7 million.

When veterans sign extensions, they typically try to get it in writing that their organization will have to guarantee their salary at or near the beginning of the new league year in March, forcing their teams to either keep them or cut them while the league is still throwing around free-agent money. In Mahomes’ case, for example, the Chiefs have to guarantee each of his salaries and roster bonuses by the third day of each league year.

In the case of the league’s stars, though, they can get their base salaries guaranteed a year before they come due. Take Tannehill’s extension. In addition to a $20 million signing bonus, the Titans guaranteed his $17.5 million base salary in 2020 and his $24.5 million salary in 2021 at the time of signing, which is common for free agents or pending free agents when they sign new deals. Critically, though, Tannehill’s 2022 salary of $29 million becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year in 2021, meaning that if the Titans want to keep Tannehill on their roster for more than one season, they’re in for three.

The Titans’ deal either guarantees him $62 million for one year or, more realistically, $91 million over three. I’ve called these sorts of guarantees “practical guarantees,” because while they aren’t actually guaranteed at the time of signing, they’re extremely likely to be realized. Todd Gurley‘s 2020 compensation from the Rams is one of the rare exceptions for when these practical guarantees didn’t turn out to be guaranteed.

One of the reasons Mahomes’ deal is so unique, beyond the length, is that his yearly compensation guarantees in advance throughout the deal. As the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported, his 2020-2022 base salaries and roster bonuses are guaranteed alongside his $10 million signing bonus when the deal is signed. His 2023 compensation guarantees in 2021, his 2024 compensation guarantees in 2022 and most of his 2025 compensation guarantees in 2023, with the remainder guaranteeing in 2024. After that, Mahomes’ money guarantees one year in advance, with his 2026 compensation locking in place in 2025, his 2027 compensation guaranteeing in 2026, and onward until 2030. There’s no precedent I can recall for that sort of guarantee structure.

The benefit of this sort of structure for Mahomes is to make it more difficult for the Chiefs to cut him. As an example, let’s say Mahomes tears up his shoulder in 2027 and misses the remainder of the season, and Kansas City decides that it’s better to move on. (I don’t want to live in this example, and I suspect most Chiefs fans would prefer to opt out too.) He is due $44.5 million between his base salary, roster bonus and workout bonus in 2028, which guarantees before the 2027 season begins. If the Chiefs wanted to cut him, they would still owe him all of that $44.5 million for 2028, even though he wasn’t on the roster. While $44.5 million won’t seem like an exorbitant amount of dead money by 2028, having that sort of protection gives him leverage as he ages throughout this contract.

The Chiefs would still be able to trade Mahomes without incurring a salary-cap disaster, but the contract has a no-trade clause, so he would be able to refuse any deal if he wanted to stay in Kansas City. If he continues to play at a high level, this deal basically locks in his floor over the next decade at somewhere around $500 million.

Why do you keep bringing up 2025 as the time for a new extension?

There are a few reasons. One is that this present crop of quarterbacks — Goff, Wentz, Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson — will all be signing new deals around that time. With Goff and Wentz locked up until 2024 and Prescott and Watson reportedly seeking shorter extensions, some of Mahomes’ peers will be resetting the top of the market. Those deals are also likely to come after the league has doubled its television rights, meaning they could exist in an environment where the cap is north of $300 million as opposed to the $198.2 million mark of today.

Next is the guarantee structure of the deal. The big year on the contract comes in 2027, when Mahomes has a $10 million base salary and a roster bonus of $49.4 million. He’ll make $59.5 million in cash that year, which is a staggering sum to think about by NFL standards. Traditionally, when teams have that sort of increase in a contract, it’s used to spur them into signing an extension or a restructure; Joe Flacco‘s post-Super Bowl deal with the Ravens is an example.

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Mina Kimes is stunned when coming across the news of Patrick Mahomes’ 10-year extension on her phone.

That 2027 figure guarantees on the third day of the league year in 2026, which is why the window for a new Mahomes deal would likely be before that deadline hits. At that point, he will be staring at a six-year, $294.2 million contract with just under $42 million already guaranteed. An average annual salary of just over $49 million per year might sound great right now, but if the cap hits $300 million in 2025, that would amount to only 16.3% of the cap. If he continues to play at this level, he’s going to deserve more money and get a higher percentage of that money guaranteed. Mahomes will be 31 in 2026 and could reasonably sign a restructured contract with an added year or two or a new deal altogether.

The flipside would also be true, although it’s far less likely. If Mahomes took a step backward for some reason and wasn’t playing at his currently established level, the Chiefs would likely try to use the threat of cutting him to bring down that $59.5 million figure in 2027 as part of an extension. In this scenario, they would be stuck eating $38.9 million in dead money on their 2026 cap.

Why haven’t other NFL players signed deals of this length?

Mahomes has the longest deal in football, topping the eight-year extension signed by Tyron Smith with the Cowboys in 2014. To my knowledge, this is the longest extension signed by any player since Brett Favre and Drew Bledsoe signed 10-year extensions in 2001. Philly tackle Lane Johnson is the only other player under contract past 2026, and his deal expires in 2028. Mahomes is on the books through the 2031 campaign.

Typically, if a player is good enough to justify this long of a contract, it’s better for him to take a shorter deal and either get a crack at free agency or use the threat of free agency to negotiate a market-value deal. The cap has grown at a faster rate than most NFL contracts and seems extremely likely to rise dramatically in the medium term once the league negotiates new television contracts.

The only way a player would be able to justify signing a deal of this length would be if his team were willing to both guarantee the majority of the contract and pay him like a star the whole way. The Chiefs are practically guaranteeing the entire deal, and while the contract isn’t tied to a percentage of the salary cap, Mahomes would be compensated handsomely if he played out the entire deal.

Leaving their current contracts out of the equation, is there anybody else in the NFL you could realistically do that for right now? Every non-quarterback is immediately off the board. All the guys in the twilight of their careers are out. You wouldn’t do it for anybody 30 or older and be stuck with the risk of paying someone nearly $200 million over the final four years of this deal, so you would rule out Russell Wilson. Goff isn’t good enough, and Prescott hasn’t shown that sort of ceiling yet. Wentz and Watson both have significant injury histories. The only guy from the Class of 2018 who would even be under consideration is Lamar Jackson, and as smart as I think he is about protecting his body, I would still be a little scared about basically guaranteeing him 10 years.

Mahomes is realistically the only player who could justify this sort of deal. While someone like Joe Burrow could command a similar sort of deal three years from now if he plays at an MVP level, my guess is that Mahomes’ deal is going to be one of a kind.

How does Mahomes’ contract impact Prescott and Watson?

The Cowboys and Texans are breathing a sigh of relief. If Mahomes had signed a short-term contract with a big average annual salary, those two teams would have been forced to negotiate off that deal as they tried to lock up Prescott and Watson, respectively, on their own extensions. And while the teams would have surely preferred to come to terms on agreements with their quarterbacks before the Mahomes deal finished up, this isn’t as bad as they would have feared.

There have been suggestions that Watson is looking for a three-year extension to the two years and $19.9 million remaining on his current contract. Mahomes got $113.9 million in new money across the first three years of his extension and will have an average annual salary of $28.3 million over that time frame, leaving the guarantee structure aside.

While Houston might try to play a hard line on treating the Mahomes deal as an outlier when the team negotiates Watson’s deal, coach and general manager Bill O’Brien’s recent track record suggests that he’s less concerned about negotiating the best deal down to the final penny than he is about having his desired core of players locked up for years to come. A three-year, $120 million extension for Watson would push the Texans star’s total compensation ahead of Mahomes over the next five years while keeping his average salary at a relatively team-friendly number of just under $28 million per season. I would expect this contract to come together relatively quickly now that Mahomes’ deal is done.

Prescott’s deal will be a little trickier, since he has already played through his rookie deal and is on a franchise tag. As I mentioned earlier this offseason, he could go year to year and end up making nearly $188 million over the next five seasons. Everything reported about this situation suggests the Cowboys and Prescott are disagreeing less about the money involved than they are about the years of the contract, with the quarterback preferring a shorter deal and the Cowboys wanting a longer one.

I don’t think the Cowboys would offer Prescott an 11-year extension to his franchise tag, but the Mahomes deal gives Dallas more fuel for its side of the argument. Prescott was always going to get more money than Mahomes over the next few years. While he will make $141.5 million over the first five years of his new deal, a Prescott contract is likely to come in somewhere between $170 million and $190 million over that same time frame. If anything, the Mahomes deal getting done makes it a little more likely Prescott and the Cowboys come to terms before the July 15 deadline.

Is this a good deal for both sides? Did one side win?

Both Mahomes and the Chiefs can generally feel good about this deal. He and his representation wanted to come away with something that blew away the typical quarterback contract. The numbers on this deal aren’t figures we talk about when it comes to even the best football players. Nobody in league history has earned more than Eli Manning’s $252.3 million. Mahomes just signed a contract for nearly double that much money over the next 10 years, and it’ll be difficult — although not impossible — for the Chiefs to get out of the deal unless Mahomes wants to sign for more money. This is one of the most significant contracts in pro football history.

And yet, the more I look at it, the more I feel like this deal is risk averse. The contract is structured to make it almost impossible for the Chiefs to cut him, but what are the chances that they’re going to do that over the next decade? It would take a catastrophic injury or an unprecedented case of the yips for the Chiefs to cut him, and insurance could have helped cover the risk with the former. Obviously, I can never fault him or anyone else for taking this kind of money. I just think you can make a case that he gave up a lot up front in this deal without getting something like a guaranteed percentage of the cap down the line.

While there’s a huge total value on paper, the guarantees and the short-term cash flow of the deal don’t blow away the competition. So much of what makes this deal truly staggering doesn’t guarantee until 2026 or start arriving in Mahomes’ bank account until 2027, and by then, it might not be a stratospheric deal.

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Dan Orlovsky explains why Patrick Mahomes’ 10-year extension with the Chiefs is good for all parties involved.

As an example, the most popular number tossed around for Mahomes publicly was $40 million per year on a new extension. If he had signed a four-year, $160 million extension, he would have made $187.6 million over the next six seasons, slightly more than he’ll make through the first six years of his new deal. He then would have been up for free agency after the 2025 season, which likely would have forced the Chiefs to the negotiating table again in 2023 or 2024 as the new TV money hits.

The final six years of this new deal amount to $294.2 million without any significant upfront guarantee remaining. Mahomes would likely do better than that if he were negotiating a year away from free agency or the franchise tag in 2024 or 2025. He still could if the Chiefs are willing or want to avoid that $60 million payout in 2027, but he is going to be underpaid in the short term and have less leverage in the long term than he would have by signing a five-year extension this time around.

From the Chiefs’ perspective, they lock in a guy who is on a Hall of Fame track for about as long as they want. They do so without destroying their cap or making a huge upfront payment out of their coffers; in fact, this deal barely changes their short-term cap situation. Mahomes’ cap hits over the next two seasons before the extension were set at $5.3 million in 2020 and $24.8 million in 2021, and they’ll be virtually identical after this deal. By keeping their cap obligations for Mahomes relatively low in the years to come, the Chiefs might be able to make another signing before the July 15 deadline …

Does the Mahomes signing means Chris Jones is on the way out?

While the Chiefs could still decide to trade Jones or let him play out his franchise tag, they’re still in a position in which they can get an extension onto their cap for the defensive tackle. Kansas City has only $3.5 million in remaining cap space, but with Jones occupying a $16.1 million cap hold, it could use a more traditional extension to get him locked up without needing to create additional cap room.

There are reasonable questions to be raised about signing Jones to an extension. The Chiefs had a better pressure rate, sack rate and a far better run defense in 2019 with him on the sidelines than they did with him on the field. With that being said, he was also my pick for Super Bowl MVP after he helped take the game back for the Chiefs.

If they could sign the guy who won Super Bowl MVP and the guy who arguably should have won the award in a matter of two weeks this July, they’ll probably feel pretty good about their chances of getting Jones another shot at Super Bowl honors. With Mahomes in the fold, they can rightfully dream about adding multiple Super Bowl trophies to the one they took home in Miami this February. The three most important things in football are winning a Super Bowl, finding a franchise quarterback and holding onto him for as long as possible. The Chiefs have now done all three.



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Raiders’ Jon Gruden calls backup QB Marcus Mariota ‘dazzling playmaker’

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HENDERSON, Nev. — While Derek Carr is firmly entrenched as the Las Vegas Raiders starting quarterback, the guy signed to be his backup, Marcus Mariota, impressed coach Jon Gruden on Friday, the third practice of training camp in which players wore helmets.

“He’s interesting,” Gruden said with a smile of Mariota. “He took off a couple times today and it really fired me up. He’s been hurt, but looks like the ankle really turned a corner. He’s a dazzling playmaker with his feet and that’s the key to his game.

“I saw glimpses of that today. It’s exciting. Started off slow on 7-on-7 [drills], but [he] picked it up, had a nice day. Had a real nice day.”

Indeed, Mariota, who lost his starting job with the Tennessee Titans to Ryan Tannehill last season, struggled early in practice, missing tight end Jason Witten badly on an intermediate pass to the right sideline. And he throws a different ball than Carr.

But it is Mariota’s scrambling ability and willingness to extend plays with his legs that makes him a good fit for Gruden’s offense. Even as Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, has said since signing as a free agent with Las Vegas in March that the Raiders were Carr’s team.

In fact, both Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft by the Titans, and Carr, a second-round pick of the Raiders in 2014, suffered season-ending broken legs on the same day in Week 16 of the 2016 season.

“It’s like weird, crazy things that link you together,” Carr said earlier in camp.

“I’ll tell you one thing, in our quarterback group you have to compete and that’s what I do. Anyone that’s around me, all I’m going to do is compete. I’ve had multiple starters in the NFL come in here and be in the same room as me. You can go through the list about who’s started games and who’s been in our quarterback room. It happens all the time, but when you go 7-9, people like to make up stuff.”

Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Mariota would push Carr, a three-time Pro Bowler and the franchise’s all-time leading passer who is coming off career highs in passing yardage (4,054), completion percentage (70.4%) and Total QBR (62.2) but is just 39-55 as a starter, with one winning season in six years.

And as Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com, “The best quarterbacks are the ones that have the wins; stats will follow.”

Mariota is 29-32 as a starter.

“Competition brings out the best in any player in any sport,” Olson said.

“I would say it’s the best competition that we’ve had since we’ve been here.”

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Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett ‘had lot of hesitation’ about playing before deciding not to opt out

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RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett said he “definitely had a lot of hesitation” about playing this season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Lockett’s concern stemmed from a preexisting heart abnormality as well as the fact that much of his family has asthma. Before the Seahawks drafted Lockett in the third round in 2015, medical checks at the scouting combine revealed that his aorta is on his right side. At the time, Lockett was briefly unsure if he would be able to continue playing football.

“So just with everything that happened in COVID, that was one of my biggest issues was just trying to make sure [this heart condition] wasn’t gonna affect me if I was able to go out there and play,” Lockett said Friday on a video conference with reporters. “Obviously, nobody really knows. You’ve got doctors who kind of give you what you need to know up front, what they think and what their biggest opinion is of it, but I think I had my chance to opt out, and I said that if I come up here, I’m gonna just play.

“I know that we’ve got Pete [Carroll], we’ve got a lot of older coaches. They don’t want to put themselves in a situation to get sick neither, so I told myself if they could do it then I know I could do it. And if I’m going to come out here and play, then I’m just going to do what needs to be done. I’m not going to stress about COVID. I did that from February to before we came into camp.”

The 27-year-old Lockett has led the Seahawks in receiving in each of the past two seasons.

His family experienced a scare earlier this year when a cousin contracted COVID-19. The woman had previously lived with Lockett in Seattle.

“It was bad,” he said. “I would get messages from her mom and she would send me like a long paragraph and stuff because my cousin never told me. She was just telling me how she was having a hard time breathing, she really didn’t feel good, and when I ended up talking to my cousin after she ended up overcoming it, she had told me that there was one day where her body was just aching so much she had told a woman … basically like she really didn’t think she was going to make it. She was like, she didn’t think her body was going to be able to deal with what she really felt another day.”

Lockett said the cousin has asthma, as does much of his father’s side of his family.

“That’s why it made me question if I wanted to come play,” he said. “I have a lot of stuff in my family to where I don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy.”

The Seahawks had one player, guard Chance Warmack, opt out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns. As of Friday, they had placed only one player on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and that was due to a false positive test to wide receiver John Ursua, who has since been activated and is taking part in practice.

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Colts’ Jacoby Brissett says he knows he’ll start at QB again somewhere

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INDIANAPOLIS — Jacoby Brissett might never start another game at quarterback for the Colts. But in his mind, he believes he’ll be a starter again in the NFL at some point down the road after he failed to hold on to the job in Indianapolis in 2019.

Brissett said he was surprised when coach Frank Reich gave him the news last winter that they were replacing him with veteran Philip Rivers as the starter. Reich acknowledged that Brissett, like any other player would be, was upset by the demotion.

“I still believe in myself,” Brissett said Friday in his first public comments since Rivers’ arrival. “I know I’m a starter in this league. I know I can play at a high level. I did it last year.”

Brissett became the starter when Andrew Luck announced his retirement two weeks before the regular season last year. The Colts gave Brissett a two-year contract, allowing him the opportunity to prove he could be the next franchise quarterback.

Brissett, however, didn’t consistently play at a level needed to lead a team to the playoffs last year. He started strong in leading the Colts to a 5-2 record, including victories over playoff teams Houston, Tennessee and Kansas City. But Brissett, who suffered a knee injury at Pittsburgh in early November, faltered down the stretch as the Colts lost seven of their final nine games to miss the playoffs.

He finished 29th in the NFL with 196.1 yards per game and was hesitant to take shots down the field.

General manager Chris Ballard gave an indication a change was going to occur when he said the jury was still out on Brissett at the end of last season. Rivers is a 38-year-old veteran who has passed for 59,271 yards and 397 touchdowns in his 16-year career. Brissett said he still plans to compete even though Rivers is now the starter.

“I really can’t say enough positive [things] about how he has been with this change, I guess — I don’t know another word for it, with me being here and also how he has just been,” Rivers said. “He’s an impressive guy to be around. The way he works at it and then how helpful he’s been with little things, ‘Here’s how we signal this. Here’s how I usually set that. Here is how I set that.’ Then the few things that I’m like, ‘Gosh, can we do this? Can we do that?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ll learn it. Whatever you are most comfortable with.’ So he has been super helpful, gracious.”

Brissett still has significant value to the Colts. Reich has said they plan to have special packages for Brissett to get him onto the field this season. And Brissett has to be ready to step in and start at any moment, especially with the uncertainty when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.

Brissett, like Rivers, will be a free agent at the end of this season. “I know I’ll be a starter in this league one day again,” Brissett said. “Wherever that may be.”

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