The fact that a player can do a long-term deal after three NFL regular seasons doesn’t mean he should. Many players have resisted offers, opting to watch and to wait and to bet on themselves (including their ability to stay healthy) while building more and more leverage.
The most recent example of that dynamic comes from Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. He rejected significant offers from the Cowboys in 2019, choosing to earn only $2 million in football salary while now positioning himself for even better offers in 2020. To date, he has resisted those offers, too, choosing to cling to a bird in the hand that will pay out $31.4 million this year, $37.68 million if tagged next year, and a 44-percent raise over $37.68 million ($54.25 million) if franchise-tagged a third time in 2022. If not tagged, he goes to the open market.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, like Prescott, should have waited. Multiple league insiders who have concerns about the quality of the Mahomes deal and its potential impact on future contracts, quarterbacks and otherwise, speculate that agent Leigh Steinberg feared that waiting may have resulted in Mahomes hiring someone else to do the deal — especially after Prescott (represented by CAA) signs his new deal or after Deshaun Watson (represented by Athletes First) signs his. Getting the Mahomes deal done now locks in a significant fee for up to 12 years. If Mahomes had left, Steinberg wouldn’t have gotten a fee on the second deal.
The math backs up the case for patience. If Mahomes would have waited, he would have made $27.63 million over the next two seasons. In 2022, the Chiefs would have applied the exclusive franchise tag. In 2023, Mahomes would have received a 20-percent bump over that amount. In 2023, the increase would have spiked to 44 percent over his salary in 2022.
Currently, the exclusive franchise tag for quarterbacks (the average of the five highest quarterback cap numbers for the current year) amounts to $31.4 million. By 2022, it likely will be higher. But even at $31.4 million, Mahomes would make $123.33 million in three years under the franchise tag. Adding in the $27.63 million he’s due to make over the next two years, it’s a five-year haul of $150.96 million.
How much will Mahomes make under the first five years of his 12-year contract? $141.48 million.
The benefit in taking less than he could have gotten under the year-to-year approach comes from the $140 million in injury guarantees. Still, how many quarterbacks suffer truly career-ending injuries? The more likely outcome is that the quarterback is injured, he passes a physical, but he’s no longer as good as he once was, putting him at risk of being released. That doesn’t trigger the injury guarantee.
Mahomes instead could have gotten $140 million in insurance for a career-ending injury, and it would have cost a lot less than the $9.48 million gap between what he would have made over five years if he’d gone year to year and what he’ll make over the next five years on his 12-year deal.
And here’s the kicker. After five years of year-to-year football, Mahomes most likely would have hit the open market. (The question of whether a fourth tag can be used hasn’t been litigated; the union believes it’s not permitted.) By then, the cap will be greater, the market will be higher, and Mahomes would have become the highest paid player in league history. After five years of his long-term deal, Mahomes is still committed to the Chiefs. For seven more years.
Thus, he should have waited. This isn’t about cap number or leaving enough money behind to sign other players. This is about a rare talent striking the right balance between how much he makes and how much the team retains in its coffers.
If Mahomes wanted to do a 12-year deal, the contract should have protected him with a set percentage of the salary cap. Some believe that Steinberg simply wanted to be able to claim “history made” as to Mahomes becoming the first player in league history with a contract worth more than $500 million. Even if the contract actually has a base salary of $477 million.