How much?! The headline number's a distraction
Patrick Mahomes just signed the first professional sports contract worth north of half a billion dollars. At the age of 24.
The initial reaction to the 6 July deal with the Kansas City Chiefs cant help but be dressed in a primal instinct - how can anyone be worth that amount of money, regardless the circumstance? But, when assessed as a member of the economy, Mahomes is effectively reimbursing those figures and adding them back to the balance sheet.
As a product of the environment he's in, his monetary value actually isn't to be subject to calculation; neither is the cultural impact measurable to the community of Kansas City (or beyond; he's already landed a GQ cover), nor his influence on the most popular sporting league on the planet.
But while the half a billion dollars isn’t worth discussing, Mahomes himself is. That said, it would be remiss to avoid looking at future cap permutations as that directly lends itself to how likely #15 is to win more Super Bowls - and that really is the be-all and end-all.
Let us begin
The biggest clause not included by the Kansas City front office, or, the biggest omission by Mahomes' agency – whichever way you wish to look at it – is one that ties Mahomes' earnings to a certain percentage of the salary cap. But clearly this is no accident.
Imagine that somebody was to suggest that the quarterback's contract be consistently worth 25% of the total cap figure. That would mean that not only will Mahomes absolutely make more money (the NFL’s value is only increasing, and the cap number increases in tandem), but that rolling figure would have to be recalculated every year, leaving the Chiefs organisation never quite sure where it stands in terms of space to surround the Texas Tech alum with other talent.
And that’s the rub - this is not a single-number dump, despite its portrayal in the media in such hyperbolic terms. Patrick Mahomes is worth half a billion dollars, but half a billion dollars had a different level of monetary attachment five years ago, and it won’t quite resemble what it does today, in five years' time.
What the Chiefs did was be first off the mark to recognise this. Other quarterbacks playing in Patrick Mahomes' home state of Texas are also due sizeable extensions soon - namely, the Cowboy's Dak Prescott and the Texans' Deshaun Watson.
Instead of being reactionary to potentially inflated figures, the Chiefs set the table, and by doing so were able to land on a number they're comfortable with.
What if the Cowboys had been trigger-happy and given Prescott half a billion – someone who can’t keep up with Mahomes in almost any metric?: The Chiefs either lose one of the greatest players to ever play the sport, or they bloat themselves out of winning a Championship because Mahomes will always command more than his positional peers.
So, with a little context, the deal starts to read a bit differently.
But how do the Chiefs now maximise this decade-long window they have with a player, who in some people's eyes, is unlikely to ever be surpassed in terms of raw ability?
A potential GOAT-in-the-making can’t do it all himself
Mahomes can't do it by himself, even if he's the most capable QB on the planet. The Chiefs will have to invoke a combination of the New England-style bargaining chip - where players come to them at a cut price, simply for a better chance of winning a championship ring - and stepping up their scouting intelligence considerably, because getting rookie deals under their belt will be the lifeblood of this organisation under a big cap weight.
What the Chiefs may have to do is trade some established players for draft capital, and the reason for that is, with Mahomes in place and if he’s on form, they’re unlikely to ever fall short of a 10-game winning record, such is his poise.
Effectively, this means the Chiefs are unlikely to be selecting players in the top half of the draft, theoretically ruling them out of access to the 16 best players available in any given draft class for the next 10 years.
The front office will have to work hard to maximise its opportunity here – it won’t be any easy task to try to continuously pump rejuvenated, fresh talent into a roster when you’re always only a couple of additions away from winning a Super Bowl. But let’s face it, that’s a position countless other front offices would beg to have to contend with.
So how do the Chiefs win?
Luckily for the Chiefs - and with all due respect - their skill players aren’t exactly world-beaters. Tight end Travis Kelce is 31 this year and he’s the X-factor. Wide receivers Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins are all speedsters (proud members of the The Legion of Zoom), and Head Coach Andy Reid is a genius when it comes to design.
What this Chiefs line-up means is that an opposing defence is forced to play deep coverage because there’s too much of a threat of speed at receiver - and a failure to respect that leaves you open to getting burned in a one-play drive.
This frees things up for Kelce underneath, as well as screens for the running back, and even Mahomes himself, who isn’t short of a burst of speed, to take off.
Given this set up, all the Chiefs need to replace some very high earners in these areas is a commitment to bringing in fast talent that can replace Hardman and Watkins when they eventually leave - they serve a systematic purpose without being difference-makers, so the Chiefs enjoy a luxury on this count.
The Chiefs also made a wise investment in Clyde Edwards-Helaire in this year’s NFL draft. He can do many things that other running backs in Mahomes' supporting casts to date simply couldn't – and in a way, he ensures that opposition linebackers need to stay honest by playing underneath and allowing all sorts of post route combinations for outside receivers.
His flexibility also guarantees that pass rush have to account for screens, draws and various other disguises.
That weapon is now in place for half of Mahomes' contract... The wheels are already in motion.
The offensive line may well be where the majority of the money comes from, though. As of now, the Chiefs have the key pieces of their O-line tied up through 2021, so it isn’t an immediate concern, but do not be surprised one bit to see them select a lineman in next year’s draft.
The man himself
Moving on to the man himself – what Mahomes is capable of, how he will improve, what his skill set means for opposing teams and committing so much money to offensive identity means that, schematically, defence will have to suffer in the long term.
What's perhaps most overlooked about Mahomes is his short to medium accuracy. Quite often he'll rely on his arm strength to counter his unorthodox throwing mechanics - but that isn't always easy to get away with.
After all, mechanics are far more important on shorter routes than they are with downfield bombs, because underneath routes generally have less time to develop, with the emphasis being on ball placement to ensure both maximum gain and minimal defensive opportunity.
The crux of the issue is that Mahomes can throw the ball from an almost impossible arm angle, but he often puts himself in those less-favourable situations because he likes the challenge of it.
Simply put, Mahomes misses throws he just shouldn't – because he believes he can get away with altered basics due to his freakish, undoubted talents.
This isn’t a major criticism, but an angle to understand that, if he works on these mechanics - and Offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy isn’t too afraid to restrict his gunslinging ways - there is no under/over TD total that is too big for you to take the under.
From a betting perspective, books will almost certainly understate how often Mahomes is going to get the ball into his hands, and a large part of that is the drafting of Edwards-Helaire and the fact Mahomes simply relied on his own clutch ability to produce last year when down big.
What books won’t account for is that these narratives must be replayed because that’s the way Mahomes operates.
Instead of seeing this as over-technical, it’s better to realise that by pledging half a billion dollars, the Chiefs are accepting that they’re going to concede 22-25 points a game. In case you missed it, Mahomes can handle a comeback.
What’s also clear, however, is that you can ride Mahomes' arm to victory. Which the Chiefs looks set to do – time and time again.
If he cleans up his feet, expect him to go close to breaking the all-time single-season passing touchdown record.
To borrow from baseball, #15 is worth six wins by himself. That’s his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric. To borrow PFF’s model, they’ll have said 7.5 wins from the 2019 season, but due to naturally occurring knowledge of the Chiefs’ offensive concepts, that comes down ever so slightly for 2020. Even still, bet the over on win totals, bar empty stadiums all but nullifying home advantage - though that’s a fairly large disclaimer because Mahomes is a showman and needs to feed off the energy to be that good.
Thankfully he landed in Arrowhead Stadium – the perfect stage for him to be his brilliant best.
But it’s also worth asking why the Chiefs felt 10 years would be the appropriate contract. Perhaps it’s to do with divisional status? Could be.
The AFC West
The Chargers and Broncos both have quarterbacks on rookie deals, while the Oakland rebuild is probably a draft or two away from competing. The AFC West has always swung hot and cold – it’s very rarely middle of the road in terms of competitiveness.
The Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos and Raiders have all been collectively terrible at various stages, while in three years’ time, we could see three teams making the playoffs from the West again.
With this edge they're clearly going to have, it was important that Kansas City at least nail that consistency down to plan on how to beat them. And that’s the thing – the road to the Super Bowl only really becomes clear once you’ve won your division. Yes, you may want the #1 seed to avoid the Wild Card round, but you’re at least guaranteed home advantage if you win at home, and Kansas City know just how important that is for them.
There’s absolutely no team in the AFC West right now capable of matching their win tally, but by 2023, there’s the potential for all teams to win 10 games - and then you're placing extra importance on divisional clashes.
Both the Raiders and Chargers are moving into new environments that should benefit them massively in terms of morale. The Bolts needed somewhere bigger to feel like they could develop less of an echo chamber for the masses of road fans forcing them into a silent count, while Oakland can finally move out of the Colosseum - which, while boasting character, always made them feel like they couldn’t really compete with the same panache as their NFL counterparts.
With the obvious advantage that comes from being in Denver, the Chiefs now face three road games a year that promise very different challenges in three unique environments. To maintain a level of consistency throughout, that adjustment will be crucial for them – and both Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach knew that.
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If the Chiefs keep Mahomes healthy, they’re all but securing 10 wins a season for the next decade – and no other contractual opportunity this large had ever been afforded to another NFL team. The money is seismic, but it equates to the return.
From a betting perspective, it seems there will never be a total too high for Mahomes as he will now likely have a big say in calling plays given the chunk of cap handed to him. With that in mind, he’ll probably want to massage his own statistics, as well as add more to his rushing totals. If there’s a total Mahomes yards market to come, bet the over there, too.
With all this pistol-formation trickery now becoming prominent in the league, expect Bienemy and Mahomes to steal John Harbaugh’s blueprint in certain situations – so if you can add extra insurance to Mahomes props where they include rushing touchdowns - the additional extra value there is probably going to amount to about 4.5 a season.
If you wish to examine Mahomes’ surrounding cast in their respective prop markets, our advice is based on schematics and the implementation of adjustments, like we saw in the Super Bowl.
Early in the season, expect Clyde Edwards-Helaire to be utilised underneath as teams try to replicate 49ers Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s Cover 4 cloud system, which worked so well for 3.5 quarters in Miami.
So, if you wish to trade on these props, back Edwards-Helaire early for touches and production. As the season progresses and Bienemy implements more deep shots, opposing defences will already have started to use less nickel-and-dime packages, resulting in big gains to Hill, Hardman and Watkins.
The NFL is a copycat league, and these trends come up year after year. Is Mahomes smart enough to take advantage of these situations? Absolutely.
The Kansas City Chiefs have entered an unprecedented window of opportunity. The hardest work starts now to ensure they’re not wasting it.
Two things you can be certain of though - Patrick Mahomes will do his bit, and guarantees are few and far between in the National Football League.
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