Only Patrick Mahomes could turn something expected into a jaw-dropping event. The football world has long known that a massive Mahomes extension was on the horizon. Hell, the Chiefs knew it was coming before Mahomes ever took a snap. But all that anticipation still didn’t prepare us for the official numbers that came out Monday: 10 years, $450 million—just in new money. Add in the two years remaining on his current deal, and the 12-year pact has the highest dollar value of any contract in American sports history. The most spectacular player in football got an equally spectacular deal, and now, we wait to see what’s next.
Whenever a player resets the market, the logical follow-up is to wonder how that deal will affect the next wave of contracts at his position. With QBs, the next contract in line typically becomes the biggest and features a (relatively) similar structure to the one that came before. The pattern then repeats from there. But the Mahomes deal is so staggering in multiple ways that the normal playbook may no longer apply. Mahomes reset not only the market, but potentially the entire framework for how QB deals are negotiated.
Before parsing the extraordinary length of the deal (and its repercussions), let’s start by looking at its average annual value and how that might impact a few coming QB negotiations. This contract is so long that it’s almost like two separate deals. As Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap wrote on Tuesday, the AAV over those first five years comes out to about $39.5 million, and that number should set the top of the market for the next group of QBs seeking extensions. For a guy like Deshaun Watson, this is obviously a positive. When Watson and his representatives woke up on Monday, Russell Wilson’s $35 million per year represented the upper limit for any QB negotiation, with Ryan Tannehill’s recently signed extension and its $29.5 million AAV serving as the other bookend. That’s a fairly limited range for any agent to operate. Now with Mahomes’s deal, though, Watson’s team has significantly more room to work.
Mahomes’s extension creates an entirely different climate for negotiations between Watson’s reps and the Houston front office. Watson reportedly wants a three-year extension similar to the one that left tackle Laremy Tunsil got from the Texans earlier this offseason. Given Mahomes’s new short-term $39.5 million AAV, Watson’s reps should have no qualms about asking for a three-year extension worth about $115 million—putting Watson’s new-money average at $38.3 million per season. The counter to that, though, is that the Texans could use the length of the Mahomes deal as precedent in their argument. With the best QB in the NFL signing a 10-year deal, it’s not out of the question for Houston to approach Watson’s reps with a six- or even eight-year offer that tries to lock the Texans QB into a team-friendly contract for the foreseeable future.
Elsewhere in Texas, it’s harder to predict how the Mahomes deal will affect Dak Prescott’s negotiations. Prescott’s camp has been in talks with the Cowboys for some time now, and this news doesn’t just render those discussions moot. But both parties may still try to incorporate pieces of Mahomes’s deal into an agreement. The large jump in AAV might allow Prescott’s reps to push further ahead of Wilson’s average than they otherwise would have been able to. And the length and structure of the Mahomes deal might give the Cowboys more cause to take a hard-line stance on the longer contract they reportedly want.
In many ways, the Mahomes extension isn’t the mold-shattering contract that some expected it to be. Initial speculation that the future years of the deal would be tied to growth in the salary cap was apparently for naught. In terms of three-year cash flow (traditionally an important factor in any contract negotiation), Mahomes will actually make less than Wilson and only slightly more than Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers. But one area where the Mahomes deal is unique—along with the unprecedented length and dollar figure—is the payout schedule. This contract includes “guarantee mechanisms,” which are rolling guarantees that kick in on specified dates. This isn’t a new concept in the NFL, though typically those base salaries or roster bonuses vest only one year in advance, at the earliest. For instance, Carson Wentz’s 2022 salary and roster bonus become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2022 league year. On that same day, Mahomes’s 2024 salary and roster bonus (about $37.4 million in total) will become guaranteed.
The downside of signing a really long deal is that beyond the initial guarantees, teams get the benefits of a pay-as-you-go structure and cost control on a player’s deal. Kansas City may have the latter with Mahomes, but the guarantee structure gives the QB significantly more security than even most QBs enjoy. If any team tries to use the length of the Mahomes deal as the framework for an extension, an agent could justifiably ask for a similar pay-in-advance plan. All of this stuff works on a sliding scale. Concessions in one area trigger demands in another.
Prescott and Watson are most affected by the Mahomes extension in the short term, but depending on how the deal plays out, it could also produce ripple effects several years from now. Some drawbacks of a long deal only impact the player in question. When Tyron Smith signed an eight-year extension with the Cowboys in 2014 (effectively turning his contract into a 10-year pact), he then had to watch as tackles around the league got richer and richer deals. Packers tackle David Bakhtiari—who’s only 10 months younger than Smith—signed his four-year extension in 2016 and is now set to hit free agency, where he’s likely to reset the left tackle market. Smith, on the other hand, signed his extension two years earlier and will average a $13.2 million cap hit with the Cowboys for the next four seasons. Mahomes will probably be too busy buying a plane to care if Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray eventually pass him up, but if Mahomes actually does play out the length of his deal, it will have implications beyond his own standing in the contract hierarchy.
Along with allowing a player to cash in multiple times, shorter deals also help reset the market more often. If Mahomes were hitting free agency in 2025 instead of 2031, his age-30 extension would likely produce a windfall for Goff, Wentz, Murray, and potentially even guys like Trevor Lawrence, who haven’t even entered the league yet. The best players in the NFL act as a rising tide, and if Mahomes actually does end up playing out the length of this deal, the top QB in football won’t be there to enrich his peers.
There’s a very good chance, though, that those concerns prove to be irrelevant. With a contract like this one, optics are important. Mahomes’s representatives—who don’t have many other big-name clients—can use the “richest contract in history” sound bite as a short-term recruiting tool. And if Mahomes is still the best QB alive five years from now, he can lobby for a new deal, the Chiefs can rip up his current one, and the two sides can reach a fresh agreement just as a wave of other QBs are getting paid.
For now, though, the parameters of the deal should get guys like Prescott and Watson even bigger raises than the ones they were already asking for. The existence of Patrick Mahomes is a boon not only for the Chiefs, but for players around the NFL.