When the Kansas City Chiefs won 2022’s NFL championship with a 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles three weeks ago, quarterback Patrick Mahomes shattered two longstanding Super Bowl records.
Mahomes became the first quarterback to lead the league in passing yards and win the Super Bowl in the same year.
But he also set a new record for the largest salary-cap percentage used for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. According to the salary-cap site Spotrac, Mahomes’ 2022 cap hit was 17.2%. That figure exceeded the previous record of 13.1% — set by San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Steve Young back in 1994 — a 4.1-point increase.
Since Young set that mark 28 years ago, two quarterbacks have reached the championship game with higher salary-cap hits: Peyton Manning (18.8% for the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 and 14.2% for the Denver Broncos in 2013) and Matt Ryan (15.3% for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016). But neither quarterback won those championship games.
This evidence — combined with the fact that Young set his record in the first year the league played under the salary cap — led to a longstanding belief: an NFL team couldn’t win the Super Bowl by spending more than 13.1% of its cap space on its quarterback.
While it was universally understood that a quarterback — as the team’s most important player — could easily have the highest cap hit, the relative size of that figure remained important.
As PBryde explained in his FanPost, most of the rest have tended to be quarterbacks on rookie contracts.
Thompson concluded that the “ideal” range for a quarterback’s cap hit was between 10.6% and 12.3%.
While Thompson turned out to be dead wrong about that, his logic appeared sound: if too much of a team’s salary cap is tied up in its quarterback, the team won’t have enough money to “surround the quarterback with weapons” or “build a winning team around him.”
So here’s the question: was Super Bowl LVII an outlier — or a sign of things to come in Kansas City?
Of course, part of the reason the team succeeded while spending so much for its quarterback is Mahomes himself. With each passing season, he finds more ways to show how he is the team’s outlier.
But none of this would have been possible without the contributions of general manager Brett Veach and head coach Andy Reid, either. Veach (and his personnel staff) have nailed the last two drafts. Reid (and his assistant coaches) were able to get immediate contributions from a high percentage of their first-year players in each of the last two seasons. In the Super Bowl, the 47-man gameday roster included 10 rookies. That 21.7% rookie roster share is higher than just one other NFL champion from the salary-cap era.
In 2023, Mahomes’ cap hit will account for 22.1% of cap dollars — but as the limit continues to rise, Spotrac now estimates the quarterback’s share will fall to 17.7% in 2024, 13.4% in 2025 and 8.5% in 2026.
This suggests that the team will still need to bring in young, inexpensive talent for at least the next couple of seasons — but after that, more cap dollars will be available. If the team continues to win while putting young players on the field, that money could be used to restructure Mahomes’ deal — but if not, some of it could be used to finance contract extensions for some of the young stars the team has recently acquired.
Either way, it looks like the Chiefs will continue to be contenders — and Mahomes will continue to destroy records no one thought could be broken.