Patrick Mahomes’ record-breaking contract provided a reminder of a few Twin Cities sports moments.
That’s right. I’ve been here more than 30 years. I know that Minnesotans will claim a connection to any athlete with a tenuous local connection, even if that athlete merely drove at high speed through Luverne or Grand Portage.
Mahomes, of course, is the son of former Twins pitcher Pat Mahomes. As a reporter covering the Twins, I remember writing a 2-inch note on Mahomes leaving the team for the birth of his son. I failed to predict that the son would become the richest athlete in sports history.
The news on Mahomes’ 10-year, $503 million contract emerged first on the Twitter feed of a Kansas City liquor store employee, who sold six bottles of Dom Perignon to Chiefs executives and correctly presumed that the celebration was connected to the quarterback.
This kind of thing has happened before. I was a rookie backup beat writer covering the Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News in 1989 when a reporter from a small radio station in Florida suggested that the Cowboys were trading their best player, Herschel Walker, to the Vikings.
How would that guy know, we asked? He had a connection to Jimmy Johnson’s family.
Twice, the late Dark Star broke big news in the Twin Cities — once before he became a local media figure. A conversation at a bar led him to call into a radio station to correctly state that Bud Grant would be returning to coach the Vikings. And when Chuck Knoblauch was lobbying for a long-term contract, Dark Star wound up mediating between Knoblauch and the Twins, resulting in a five-year, $30 million contract and a lot of inside information.
For the current Vikings, Mahomes’ deal is a reminder that angst over large price tags in sports are usually short-lived.
Two years ago, the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract that felt like an overreach, especially because it was fully guaranteed and became the largest contract in NFL history in terms of average annual value.
After Mahomes signed the largest contract in sports history, Cousins is ... well, he’s still really, really rich. It’s just that compared to Mahomes, he’s fractionally rich.
This is a reminder that there is enough money in sports to pay for anything that sports owners want. Coronavirus tests. Lost seasons. Games played in empty stadiums. Free agents.
The measure of any large sports contract is not whether the owner can afford it, but whether it makes sense within the salary and payroll structure of that team and league.
The Chiefs faced a problem that the Vikings never have: Paying what it takes to keep a young, historic, Super Bowl-winning quarterback under contract for the bulk of his career.
The Chiefs succeeded in securing Mahomes, giving him a ridiculously high earning potential, and yet limiting the money he is guaranteed. The stated value of the contract is $503 million over 10 years. The closer-to-reality potential earning total is $450 million. The fully guaranteed money is only $63 million, although it’s highly likely he’ll make much more in guarantees that kick in later — two years before some seasons — and would make $140M if he suffers a catastrophic injury.
That’s right — Mahomes has less fully-guaranteed money in his 10-year deal than Cousins did in his first three-year Vikings contract.
This is why Cousins and his agent were shrewd in their negotiations, securing a fully-guaranteed deal in a league that loves to toss injured players aside.
Mahomes is the best and most valuable player in the richest sports league in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The story here is not that he signed a record deal. His performance and potential justify that.
The story here is that even Mahomes couldn’t get a fully guaranteed contract like Mike Trout ($426.5 million), Bryce Harper ($330 million) or Giancarlo Stanton ($325 million), none of whom is as dominant.
If the NFL Players Association were as successful and influential as the MLB Players Association, Mahomes might have gotten $1 billion. Guaranteed.