Patrick Mahomes signed the richest contract in sports. At least, that's what the NFL will tell you. NFL contracts have guaranteed money and numbers that look good in press releases. So when Mahomes signs a 10-year deal worth $450 million, the real number is likely closer to $350 million.
We don't know the exact number yet. In the worst-case scenario, Mahomes will get $140 million.
If injury ends his career before the start of this season or next season, he will get $140 million on top of the remainder of his current deal. It's always a possibility in the NFL. But when you've won a league MVP and a Super Bowl MVP after just three years in the league, worst-case scenarios feel unlikely. The Chiefs have already got their value from Mahomes. He's achieved everything they'd have hoped for when they drafted him.
A 10-year contract extension is obviously massive. Mahomes will be 36 when this deal ends. He's unlikely to actually see it out, it will likely have some void, option years or restructuring opportunities over the next decade. NFL teams rarely accrue real risk with their contract extensions, even the biggest ones that go to quarterbacks. The biggest risk they could take on is if they guarantee salaries late in the contract, something few teams have ever done.
Regardless of the risk factor, Mahomes is worth it.
Like all of the great quarterbacks, Mahomes has a rounded skill set. His huge arm stands out. He can obviously make outstanding throws into tight windows deep downfield or on the run. Mahomes can match Aaron Rodgers with his spectacular plays. Then he also matches Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in his ability to avoid having to make spectacular plays. The best quarterbacks make spectacular plays when they're forced to. The rest of the time they're making the offence effective by getting to the most efficient options.
That requires poise, intelligence and timing. Traits Mahomes has in an abundance.
Take this play from Week 1 last year against the Jaguars last year. Mahomes faces pressure off his left side. Eric Fisher, the Chiefs' left tackle, is beaten early in the play. This forces Mahomes to react. When the pressure penetrates the pocket, the receivers are still setting up their routes downfield. That means the ball can't come out at this point. Mahomes understands this. He feels the pressure and steps up into space.
On the left side of the Jaguars defensive line, they ran a stunt. That means the defensive end is coming free at Mahomes when he steps up in the pocket.
Because Mahomes didn't panic and force the ball out when the pressure arrived, the receivers had more time to run their routes. The defenders also continued deeper into their zone drops. This means that when the ball arrives to the receiver, he's wide open and the gap between the linebackers in coverage is massive. There's no risk of this pass being defended or intercepted.
Mahomes executed the play perfectly. He reacted to the initial pressure perfectly. And, like good quarterbacks tend to do, he paid for it by absorbing a massive hit just after the ball left his hand. This is just one example of his toughness to open up his ribs and prioritize delivering the ball over protecting his body. That's a constant in his performances.
You have to show that kind of toughness to sustain success in the NFL. The quality of offensive linemen across the league is such that it's impossible for franchisees to have great offensive lines over a prolonged period.
On this specific play, Mahomes elevated his offensive line directly by stepping up when Fisher gave up the early pressure. He then covered for the right side of his line by getting the ball out before the unblocked stunt defender could get home. He found that perfect moment between the point when his receivers came open and the pass rush got home. Mahomes has lived in that moment for most of his career.
That's how you elevate your offence as a quarterback.
Wasp became the signature play of Super Bowl LIV. Wasp refers to the route combinations in the above gif. It was the fourth quarter when the Chiefs faced a Third-and-15 with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter. Mahomes had thrown an interception on his last drive, now they needed to score to stay within touch. On the play, Tyreek Hill lines up in the slot and runs a deep corner route that initially breaks infield toward the deep safety.
Hill comes wide open because Sammy Watkins ran a post from outside the numbers on that side of the field. Watkins' route was shallower than Hill's so he pulled the cornerback on that side of the field forward. That left the space wide open for Hill to catch the ball uncontested.
What was the key to this play? It's not in the gif above.
Mahomes was the one who called for this play. He encouraged Andy Reid to call it and asked offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy if it was possible. The 49ers had beaten Mahomes up badly throughout the whole game. They'd dominated the Chiefs offensive line to disrupt Mahomes' rhythm repeatedly. Despite taking such a beating, and despite the fact the offense couldn't create time to throw deep all game until that point, Mahomes said "I’ll run it at any down and distance, I don’t care.”
The young quarterback was right. The play design worked because of the specific coverage the 49ers were playing. He anticipated it and exploited it. But that was only half of the equation.
In the pocket, the 49ers rush four like they did most of last season. Their pass rushers won with a stunt on the right side. The edge rusher brought Fisher inside while the defensive tackle worked past the outside shoulder of the Chiefs' left guard. Mahomes started the play in shotgun then dropped eight yards with the ball to establish a very deep position behind the line of scrimmage.
He's made his throw much longer but has also bought the necessary time for the Chiefs receivers to run their routes. Again, the ball comes out at the perfect moment. Just before the defender hits him, the ball leaves his hand. Hill can then catch it like he's fielding a punt because of how much space came open downfield.
This Wasp play was the most significant play on the biggest stage of the season. It wasn't Mahomes' most impressive version of this play though.
Against the Patriots in Week 14, the Chiefs called a Wasp variation with Mecole Hardman running the route that Hill got open on. In the pocket this time, the pressure comes up the middle. This forces Mahomes to drop deep after collecting the snap then adjust moving to his left before he begins his throwing motion. His arm strength is valuable here because his body weight is working against his throwing motion.
Relocating to his left put him at the mercy of the defensive end but it also bought him time against both defenders coming through the middle of the pocket on the stunt. It was a smart repositioning. He again gets the ball out just before any of the three pass rushers can touch him.
Hill was isolated with the deep safety against the 49ers, Hardman has tight coverage from a cornerback underneath with the deep safety waiting for him underneath. Mahomes can't rely on his receiver being wide open. In fact, the above image shows the point in the play when the quarterback begins his throwing motion. Mahomes has to envision where his receiver is going to be as the ball arrives.
Mahomes throws the ball to a spot. His receiver is at the 35-yard line, near the hash mark moving in the opposite direction to where he's ultimately going to catch the ball. This is an outrageous throw. The anticipation required and the understanding of the coverage to place the ball perfectly for his receiver is rare.
The Patriots did everything right on this play. They got quick pressure in the pocket and covered the initial route actions perfectly.
The Ravens took it one step further. They got quick pressure on Mahomes with a four-man rush. They got so close to sacking him that they gave away a roughing the passer penalty when the left-side defensive end took the quarterback's feet out from beneath him just after the ball came out. On the back-end, the Ravens had one linebacker in the passing lane watching the Mahomes' eyes and another playing good coverage on Travis Kelce.
Mahomes neutralized both defenders by arching the ball over the defender in the passing lane and purposely pushing the ball upfield to lead Kelce away from the defender, also preventing the defender from undercutting the ball.
It's a perfect throw to beat the defence that develops in front of him.
Containing Mahomes is impossible without him having an off day. When you pressure him in the pocket, he doesn't flinch and he gets the ball out in perfect time. When you do pressure him enough to force him away from the play design, he'll move appropriately behind the line of scrimmage while seeing the whole field. This throw against the Raiders' didn't count because of a holding penalty but it's representative of how he plays.
Everything about the play is flowing to the right side, Mahomes never settles and he can still throw the ball with perfect accuracy back across his body to a receiver who came open late. There's no defending that. There's just hoping he doesn't do it often enough to beat you.
All the best quarterbacks process the defence faster than the defenders themselves can react to their actions. Hastened processes beat blitzes/premature pressure and patience with awareness lets them read through progressions to beat blanket coverage. On this play against the Indianapolis Colts, the play design rolls everything to the right. Mahomes has a flat receiver, a crossing route and a deep shot down the left seam.
Each one of those receivers is covered. Mahomes recognizes each one quickly as he cycles through his progression. He ends up locating Byron Pringle in the opposite flat. Pringle didn't run a route. He was the misdirection receiver at the snap. He just hung out on the backside of the play in case the ball came his way. Because of Mahomes' timing, Pringle was able to catch the ball and run upfield for 12 uncontested yards.
So how does Mahomes' timing create that space?
Had Mahomes lingered longer on his receivers early in his progression, the cornerback on the opposite side of the field would have had the time to recognize Pringle was in the flat. He had no other receiver to occupy his attention once he passed off the seam route. Mahomes threw the ball when the defender was still sitting back on his heels, he only began coming forward after the ball was approaching Pringle.
Pringle having that moment to catch the ball, survey his situation and advance forward forced the defender to wait for him to come to him.
That's proactive quarterback play.
In the playoffs, the Titans and Texans forced Mahomes to scramble more than he wanted to. They took away his passing options so he ran the ball. His success as a runner wasn't about his athleticism. It was about plays like this one. Plays where he forced the defense to continue into their coverage drops then he located the space underneath. The difference was that he ran the ball himself on those plays instead of passing the ball.
Don't confuse those games with Mahomes' running as evidence of him being a running quarterback or even an athletic quarterback. Mahomes will sustain his success because the foundation of his skill set is his technique.
His poise. His intelligence. And his timing.
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