Getty images

Almost three years ago, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes landed the richest contract in American team sports history. The two-time Super Bowl MVP signed a 10-year, $450 million contract extension worth up to $475 million with incentives.

Mahomes dramatically raised the bar for quarterback salaries with his $45 million average yearly salary. The previous standard was the $35 million per year in the four-year extension Russell Wilson signed with the Seahawks in 2019. Mahomes got a 28.6% increase over Wilson's deal.

The deal runs through the 2031 season. Mahomes was under contract for 12 years when he signed in July 2020 since he had two years remaining on his rookie deal.

Patrick Mahomes
KC • QB • #15
View Profile

Mahomes becoming the NFL's highest-paid player was expected. The enormity of the contract took practically everybody by surprise. Prior to Mahomes' deal, the five-year extension Matt Ryan signed with the Falcons in 2018 was the longest contract among the league's highest-paid quarterbacks. The longest NFL contract in existence when Mahomes signed was the eight-year extension (10 total contract years) offensive tackle Tyron Smith signed with the Cowboys in 2014 to become the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman, which was an anomaly.

Typically, the later years of lengthy NFL contracts are essentially a series of one-year options where teams can release players when it best suits them. Mahomes has protections that aren't usually in the later years of deals.

Mahomes' contract breakdown

A significant amount of Mahomes' compensation each year is in March roster bonuses that become fully guaranteed at least one year early. For example, Mahomes' 2027 compensation consists of a $10 million base salary, a $49.4 million third-day-of-the-league-year roster bonus and a $550,000 workout bonus. The $49.4 million roster bonus, which is 83% of Mahomes' 2027 money, becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2026 league year. The base salary and workout bonus are fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2027 league year. The Chiefs would have to buy Mahomes out for $49.4 million to exit his deal in 2027 before the remaining $10.55 million became secure.

Mahomes' 2026 contract year operates in the same manner so the Chiefs will be on the hook for his $38.9 million third day of the 2026 league year roster bonus in the previous March on the third day of the 2025 league year. All of the latter years in Mahomes' contract are like this.

After 2028, the percentage of Mahomes' compensation in a March roster bonus starts decreasing significantly. By 2031, the final year of the contract, the percentage of compensation in a roster bonus is less than 30%. The Chiefs have already done two contract restructures (in 2021 and 2023) where some or all of a roster bonus was converted into signing bonus for salary cap relief.

Mahomes' contract guarantees and cash flow are underwhelming. Only $63,081,905 was fully guaranteed at signing, which equaled the cash in the first three years (2020 through 2022). At the time, Ryan's $94.5 million was the most ever fully guaranteed at signing in an NFL contract.

The $141,481,905 in overall contract guarantees, which is the cash in the first five years (2020 through 2024), set an NFL record. Overall contract guarantees are defined as the amount guaranteed for injury at signing that can become fully guaranteed during the deal. The roster bonuses aren't included in this calculation because each one is unguaranteed at signing although
the conversion to becoming completely secure occurs early. 

Mahomes only got $6 million more over his remaining two years (2020 and 2021) than if he had played out his rookie contract. By contrast, quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who signed $33.5 million and $32.8 million per year four-year extensions with the Rams and Eagles, respectively, in 2019 when at same point in their careers as Mahomes was at the time, received $30 million and $29.6 million more over the final two years of their rookie deals.

There was also a big disparity with 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett's deal with the Browns that made him the league's first $25 million per year non-quarterback about a week later. The All-Pro edge rusher got $23.75 million more than he was scheduled make in the final two years of his rookie contract, which was $17.75 million better than Mahomes.

Mahomes' contract is backloaded. He is getting $197.75 million or 43.9% of the new money over the first five new contract years (2022 through 2026), which averages $39.55 million per year. $252.25 million of the $450 million (56.1%) is in the final five new years for an average of $50.45 million per year. Mahomes' deal doesn't top the $40 million per year mark until the sixth new year in 2027 with a $42.95 million average yearly salary (by new money).

How Mahomes' contract compares to rest of NFL

Mahomes tried to keep pace with the anticipated changing market conditions by making considerably more than the league's second-highest-paid player in Wilson. It hasn't worked out that way. The deal is quickly becoming outdated.

The gap started closing much faster than expected. A little over a year after Mahomes' deal, Bills quarterback Josh Allen signed a six-year, $258 million extension averaging $43 million per year. Allen clearly targeted topping where Mahomes was after the sixth new year since his deal was $50,000 more per year.

Mahomes' reign as the league's highest-paid player lasted fewer than two years. Aaron Rodgers became the NFL's first $50 million per year player in March of 2022. He signed a contract with the Packers widely considered to be $150.815 million over three years, although there were two additional below-market years (2025 and 2026) in the deal. Rodgers established new standards for guaranteed money in football contracts with $150.665 million in total guarantees and $101.515 million fully guaranteed at signing until Deshaun Watson signed a fully guaranteed five year, $230 million contract in connection with the trade from the Texans to the Browns a couple of weeks later.

Overall, four players went past Mahomes' $45 million average yearly salary last year with Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson signing five-year extensions, respectively, with the Cardinals and Broncos averaging $46.1 million and $49 million per year.

Mahomes is now the league's seventh-highest-paid player after Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson recently signing contracts averaging $51 million and $52 million per year, respectively. The reigning NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP could be ninth in the league's salary hierarchy in a matter of months with the Bengals and Chargers expected to give new deals to 2020 first-round picks, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, before the regular season starts.

During a pre-draft press conference, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach acknowledged that some sort of adjustment could be made to Mahomes' contract after a couple more deals are done (meaning Burrow and Herbert). Veach said, "We have a special relationship with [Mahomes] and his agent. We're in constant communication."

What another Mahomes-type contract could look like

The Mahomes approach of signing such a lengthy contract certainty isn't the way to maximize career earnings. He attempted to strike a balance between being compensated fairly and allowing the Chiefs to consistently remain contenders by providing enough flexibility with the salary cap to add talent to the roster, especially in the initial years of his contract.

Nobody else has followed the Mahomes' blueprint of a lengthy contract. Allen's six-year extension is the next longest high-end quarterback contract.

Joe Burrow
CIN • QB • #9
View Profile

There has been speculation that Burrow, 2020's first overall pick, might consider a Mahomes type deal, especially after Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase's comments during Super Bowl media interviews. "I think Joe knows what he wants and how he wants to set up his contract to keep some weapons around him," Chase said. "I think that's the biggest part for him."

Bengals owner Mike Brown has expressed an affinity for how the Chiefs handled Mahomes' contract on multiple occasions. "I sort of like how Mahomes said he doesn't care about what those guys are getting," Brown said last July. "He's set for life with what he's got. And why isn't that a good way to look at it, I'm thinking." Burrow indicated that his plan is to play his whole career with the Bengals in January before the playoffs started.

Burrow is scheduled to make $5,545,018 in 2023 on an $11,515,043 salary cap number. His fully guaranteed fifth-year option in 2024 is $29.504 million. Burrow has two years left on his contract for a total of $35,049,018.

A Mahomes type deal wouldn't just provide for a nominal increase over the top of quarterback market, Jackson's $52 million per year, where Burrow is at $53 million per year. Rodgers raised the bar for quarterback salaries nearly 12% when he surpassed Mahomes' as the league highest-paid player. Doing the same for Burrow would put him in the $58 million per year neighborhood. That's still insufficient to have Burrow under contract through the 2034 season.

It will probably require a similar increase as Mahomes had over Wilson to prevent the idea from being dismissed out of hand by Burrow's camp. Taking this dynamic into consideration might mean the following deal for Burrow using Mahomes' contract as a guide.

  • Overall guarantees: $205,824,018
  • Fully guaranteed: $88,224,018
  • New money total: $675 million ($710,049,018 over 12 years)
  • Maximum value (with incentives): $725 million ($760,049,018 over 12 years)
  • Contract length: 10-year extension
  • Average per year: $67.5 million

The average per year may seem outlandish on the surface, but a 29.8% increase over Jackson's deal is comparable to Mahomes getting 28.6% more than Wilson. The $88,224,018 fully guaranteed at signing is the cash flow in the first three years (2023 through 2025) just like Mahomes had. Jackson has $135 million fully guaranteed at signing in his deal.

The cash through the first five years (2023 through 2027) is the $205,824,018. It mimics Mahomes having his overall guarantees represent his first five years.

Burrow only has $9 million of new money through his two existing contract years (2023 and 2024). It's a far cry from what's happening in Murray's case. Murray, who signed with two years left on his rookie contract, is getting $33,807,640 of new money prior to his first new contract year in 2024.

Burrow would be better off from a cash standpoint by playing out his rookie deal and going year-to-year with two exclusive franchise tags than with a Mahomes style contract. The 2025 exclusive franchise tag will be the average of the top-five 2025 quarterback salaries (salary cap numbers with some minor adjustments) at the end of the 2025 restricted free agent signing period during the latter part of that April.

This number currently projects to $54.815 million. It is subject to change depending on new quarterback deals, contract restructures, pay cuts and/or releases between now and then. Burrow would make $89,864,018 when this tag is added to the remaining $35,049,108 of his rookie contract. He would make $1.64 million than through 2025 than with the extension.

A second franchise tag in 2026 at a NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement mandated 20% increase over Burrow's projected 2025 exclusive number would be $65.778 million. The cash through 2026 would be $155,642,018, which is $6.743 million more than the $148,899,018 in the first four years of the long-term deal.

Obviously, the bulk of Burrow's money in each year would be in March roster bonuses where vesting would occur early. This would first occur with the 2026 roster bonus. Most of the roster bonuses will be over $50 million. Beginning in 2028, the roster bonuses would be unsecured initially and become fully guaranteed a year in advance.

Since the contract would be backloaded, Burrow's average wouldn't exceed $60 million per year until the sixth new year in 2030. There would be $378.375 million in the last five years of the deal for a $75.675 million per year average.

Mahomes has $2.5 million of annual of incentives in each new year of his deal. He earns $1.25 million with Kansas City winning the AFC Championship game where his offensive playtime is at least 50% in the contest or was 50% or more during the regular season. The other $1.25 million is for being named NFL MVP.

These same criteria should be acceptable for incentives in Burrow's contract. To help protect against changing market conditions, the amounts could double to $2.5 million for each achievement.

One thing that Mahomes doesn't have that would be needed for Burrow is the ability to void if the contract becomes outdated and he is still playing at a high level. One idea for the threshold is Burrow having the right to void if he is no longer one of the NFL's 10 highest-paid players and he is named to the Pro Bowl Games on the original ballot in the immediate prior season or two previous times during the contract.

Final thoughts

Mahomes hasn't started a trend with his lengthy contract. The security with the early vesting of the roster bonuses in Mahomes' contract might be appealing to other quarterbacks, but the cash flow won't be. The quarterback market unexpectedly escalating so rapidly on Mahomes is also a deterrent.

The sheer amount of money that would be required to make the most seasoned agents comfortable with the concept would likely prevent other teams from following in Kansas City's footsteps. I suspect that if Brian Ayrault, Burrow's agent, told Brown it would take $750 million for him to consider the approach, the Bengals would pivot to a conventional contract.

A quarterback with Hall of Fame potential is probably going to have to be the driving force for there to be another Mahomes-type deal. Most players and agents are trying to get as many bites of the apple as possible, like Rodgers and Wilson, to try to maximize career earnings. Maybe, in the latter stages of a career, particularly if a quarterback hasn't won a Super Bowl, would he sacrifice money to increase his chances of winning of a championship.