As a superstar quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP, Patrick Mahomes occupies a rare place in the sporting landscape.
He'll command top dollar for as long as his abilities remain elite. And while Mahomes no longer is in the league's top five in salary on a per-year basis, he doesn't seem like he's out to put the Chiefs in a bind just to maximize his income. Mahomes aims to keep the Chiefs competitive, which means allowing Kansas City to structure his contract to maintain salary-cap flexibility.
But he's not the only party invested in his earning potential. As a premier quarterback and face of the league, Mahomes' salary matters to the rest of the players at his position. The players' union-friendly approach would mean demanding maximum value with his next contract in order to keep raising the market-value ceiling for all quarterbacks, not just Mahomes.
Having said that, Mahomes isn't driven by money.
"No. No," said Mahomes, who was asked Wednesday if he feels a need to be the NFL's highest-paid quarterback. "It's more of a, you just want to do whatever it, to not hurt other quarterbacks whenever their contracts come up. You want to kind of keep the bar pushing. It's not about being the highest-paid guy. It's not about making a ton of money. I've made enough money where I'll be set for the rest of my life.
"At the same time, you gotta find that line where you're making a good amount of money but you're still keeping a lot of great players around you so you can win these Super Bowls and you're able to compete in these games."
To this point, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has done a masterful job of managing the team's cap, making necessary sacrifices (such as allowing Orlando Brown to walk to Cincinnati) in order to retain enough cap space to address needs elsewhere. Mahomes' role in this will remain important for as long as he's on the roster, considering no position makes more per year on average than quarterback, and the fact Mahomes' presence is essential to the Chiefs' chances of contending for future titles.
Mahomes is well aware of this. He's been around long enough to see what a few bloated contracts can do to the overall strength of a team. He's not interested in falling out of the elite tier of NFL teams just to make a few more million per year, yet he also understands the challenges that come with balancing the cap.
"Yeah, it is," Mahomes said when asked if it was difficult to pay key players and still be competitive. "I think it is for all these guys. And I think you see the guys getting paid this last offseason, they're trying to find that right spot. Everybody wants to get paid a lot of money. And when they think they're the best at their craft, they want to get paid like that. But at the same time, if you look at the greats in the league, they find that right spot where they're getting paid a lot of money, but at the same time keeping a lot of these great players around me."
Chiefs have come and gone during Mahomes' tenure. Last year, Kansas City made the tough decision to trade Mahomes' top target, Tyreek Hill, to Miami, where Hill immediately received the top contract among all NFL receivers at $30 million per year.
That type of deal would handcuff Veach to an extent. Instead of deciding with his heart, Veach made the wise business decision to trade Hill and use that cap elsewhere. In the end, it produced Kansas City's second title in four seasons.
This approach guarantees notable departures. This year, it was Brown and Frank Clark, but Veach prepared accordingly, drafting Clark's eventual replacement George Karlaftis last year and signing Jawaan Taylor to fill the void left by Brown.
It takes two to make this work. Mahomes deserves credit for working in concert with Veach, and remains under contract into the next decade (his deal expires after the 2031 season). That doesn't mean Veach won't redo Mahomes' deal at some point, though, especially after Lamar Jackson reset the market with an average annual value of $52 million this offseason. At this point, it should be expected; It's just a matter of when a restructure will happen.
For now, though, it's not a pressing issue. Mahomes ranks seventh in average annual value at $45 million per year, and his cap number won't exceed $50 million until 2027. The Chiefs have their most important player on a relatively affordable deal that should only look better as the salary cap rises in the future.
There will come a time when the Chiefs acknowledge Mahomes is underpaid when compared to his accomplishments. Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt already admitted as much earlier this month. But it's not a pressing need -- not as long as Mahomes and Veach maintain the same goal of winning more Super Bowls.