Patrick Mahomes became the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL this summer with his record 10-year, $450 million contract extension with the Chiefs. Lamar Jackson, who succeeded him as league MVP last season, is now waiting for his big second payday from the Ravens in 2021.
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Mahomes’ average annual salary was set at $45 million by the Chiefs, knowing that the QB market was going to get exponentially expensive. He got $63 million guaranteed at signing, but the big number was the $141.481 million in total guarantees. He also can earn up to $503 million with incentives and bonuses.
Mahomes wanted to be secured in Kansas City long-term and team officials, fresh off seeing him lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory, didn’t mind locking in at a lucrative level for a decade after his spectacular play before age 25.
Jackson might want to take a different approach with Baltimore when he’s looking for a big raise from his rookie contract. As the No. 32 overall pick in 2018, Jackson, who serves as his own agent, got four years for $9.47 million, with $7.575 million. That’s not quite the bargain of a later-round QB who starts right away, but Jackson has been well under-payed, having far outplayed that.
Deshaun Watson decided to go a different route than Mahomes when he got his new deal from the Texans. He got more guaranteed at signing ($73 million) while accepting a four-year, $156 million extension through 2025. His average annual salary falls behind Mahomes but ahead of every other quarterback at $39 million a season. Watson has a higher percentage of his deal in total guarantees, however, with $110.7 million.
So in relation to the duration, Watson made out well and gave him some flexibility to land a bigger deal sooner with his free agency closer.
Dak Prescott, taken in the fourth round of the 2017 draft by the Cowboys after Mahomes and Watson went in the first, is playing on the franchise tag for 2020. He’s earning $31.4 million guaranteed for this season, and should he get tagged again in 2021 and play on another tender, he would essentially earn a combined $69.2 million guaranteed at signing, or right in the middle of what Mahomes and Watson got.
Prescott should be looking to a similar short deal as Watson, that is to get the important money up front but open the door to be the new pace-setter of the market should his second-contract performance merit that.
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Mahomes had the advantage of having a Super Bowl ring in hand after Year 3, timed well with his near-future Chiefs’ contract negotiations. So far, that’s eluded Watson and Prescott and with the Texans (0-3) and Cowboys (1-2) struggling out of the gate this season, Mahomes is much more likely to get two rings before either gets one.
However you look at it, Mahomes deserved that major salary and length bump over both. Jackson, like Mahomes, broke out to NFL MVP status in Year. 2. Jackson knows if he can continue to follow Mahomes’ path by ending Year 3 as Super Bowl MVP, he would have a shot to match Mahomes in both years and overall money.
Should Mahomes and the Chiefs again be better at the end than Jackson and the Ravens in 2020, Jackson would be better off going shorter-term, presumably after the Cowboys take care of Prescott without a second tag in spring or early summer.
Whatever happens, Jackson shouldn’t accept anything less than $40 million in average annual salary and has a case to push for $43 million, a little closer to Mahomes than Watson. After Jackson in 2021, Kyler Murray, the Cardinals’ first overall pick in 2022, would be next in line to get in the mega-contract conversation. There’s also an older QB, Russell Wilson, current MVP front-runner in line for a big bump before the final year of his current deal in 2023.
Wilson, last April, signed a four-year contract extension at $140 million, putting him at $35 million in average annual salary. He got $70 million guaranteed at signing and $107 million in total guarantees. Looking at what Watson got from Houston, that was very much in line with what Wilson got in Seattle, adjusted for inflated market value a year later.
Jackson getting to four years and $160 million will be easy in relation to Watson. Depending on how he and his team perform in Week 3, he should shoot to surpass $170 million overall and hit $120 million in total guaranteed money.
It’s possible that Jackson pushes for a Mahomes-like long lock-in deal with the Ravens. But it’s more probable and practical that he slots in between Watson and Mahomes, making sure he’s ahead of whatever Prescott gets over three or four years. The NFL QB market has never been richer, and for that reason it’s smarter to go shorter for the non-Mahomes elite crowd.