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Patrick Mahomes Breaks All the NFL’s Rules—Again

The Chiefs’ superstar signed a league-changing extension right when it’s most difficult for players to ink new deals. But the normal orders of the sport don’t apply to the best quarterback in decades.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Chiefs started planning for Patrick Mahomes’s extension before he was even a starter. This was in the days when Alex Smith was starting and Mahomes’s brilliance was seen only by other Chiefs players and coaches. When, as a rookie in practice, he stared at the sideline and flicked a no-look pass over Justin Houston’s head, or when he threw across his body perfectly before he even knew the offense, Chiefs coaches told me. It was obvious to anyone who saw those practices what was coming. And, well, everything was coming: an MVP, a Super Bowl win, and countless throws that would be impossible for almost any other quarterback. The Chiefs always knew they’d have to pay a lot of money for that, and they knew it would be worth it.

All of these things led to a conversation I had with Chiefs general manager Brett Veach last season, in which he said the obvious about Mahomes’s contract: “I think Pat will get what he deserves.” He deserved everything, and on Monday, he got it. Mahomes signed a 10-year extension on top of his existing two years left, giving him 12 years on a deal worth more than $500 million, according to Ian Rapoport. As with all NFL deals, the value hinges on the details—the exact structure is not yet known—but the initial numbers make it the biggest deal in American sports history. In the last decade, eight NBA teams have sold for less.

Regardless of structure and guarantees, we know that Mahomes is rich as hell, as he deserves to be. The hardest thing to defend in football is a perfectly thrown pass. The hardest person to defend is someone who does that all the time. Mahomes throws passes that are a risk for any other quarterback and doesn’t make mistakes on them. He is the closest thing to a sure thing on the field that exists in the sport, and now the Chiefs have him for another decade. It is not an overpay because with Mahomes, that is not possible. It’s an unprecedented deal for an unprecedented quarterback.

Veach said on Monday that the deal gives the team flexibility. It is a win for the Chiefs to know exactly how much they’ll be paying a star whose value seems incalculable. They have a decade of cost certainty.

This deal will change a lot for the sport, the Chiefs, and other quarterbacks. It goes against the rest of the NFL offseason: According to Sports Illustrated, only three players got extensions with their current teams after the COVID lockdown started in March, and two more got deals with new teams after they were traded. Teams, fearful of 2021 salary cap problems due to revenue shortfalls if games are played without fans, have mostly stopped signing extensions. As with most things, Mahomes was the exception: This is a man who erases double-digit leads in the playoffs and makes it look easy. Now he signs the biggest contract in NFL history in the face of a global pandemic when all NFL teams are nervous about their long-term cap situation. He really can do it all.

What happens to the next crop of superstar quarterbacks is another matter. Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson are due for deals and deserve a lot of money. Neither deserves nearly as much as Mahomes, which means this deal will likely break the yearslong trend of the highest-paid quarterback being the star who signed his deal most recently. Last season I suggested to Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff that the $30 million average annual value benchmark Matt Ryan broke would eventually be a bargain. He said it already was. “He’s going to be the top-paid quarterback, and before you know it, he’s not going to be the top-paid quarterback because that’s the way it goes,” Dimitroff said, characterizing how quarterback pay has developed over the last decade. Mahomes’s deal will likely be untouchable for a number of years, but it undoubtedly raised the price for all star quarterbacks. Russell Wilson and Jared Goff were the previous gold standards for long-term quarterback contracts, and each count about $30 million against the salary cap this year. The negotiations for Prescott and Watson now start much higher.

When I talk to people around the sport, especially players, they lament the inability for players to create real leverage in negotiations. Mahomes created it by being the best young quarterback in decades. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the deal is not tied to a percentage of the salary cap, so that bridge remains uncrossed in football (Aaron Rodgers said during his negotiation that the Packers were unwilling to have conversations about such contract clauses, and Schefter reported the Chiefs had a similar hardline stance). Mahomes did not change NFL contracts forever, but he may have changed the sport by simply getting baseball money in a football career. Schefter reports that injury guarantees are for $140 million, and there’s not a world in which Mahomes gets cut early in this deal. In fact, with the way quarterbacks age now, barring serious injury, Mahomes will get another mega contract after this one.

“We will not,” Veach told me last season about Mahomes’s contract, “get caught with our pants down.” He was right. The Chiefs had a plan: Pay Mahomes more than anyone in the history of sports and let him win for another decade. That starts now.