Can Seahawks pay a QB big money and win? KC is proof — with a catch

Feb 14, 2023, 10:30 AM
Seahawks Chiefs Patrick Mahomes...
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes throws a pass against the Seahawks on Dec. 24, 2022. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

The Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory further cements coach Andy Reid’s legacy and continues to establish quarterback Patrick Mahomes as the league’s best. But in a league built so often on stories, the win also threw a wrench into an old one: the long-held belief that you can’t pay your quarterback big money and expect to win it all.

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“Belief” really isn’t the best word here, for it’s less an old adage and more a fact that no quarterback has won a Super Bowl while accounting for more than 13% of his team’s salary cap.

Prior to this year’s Super Bowl, Tom Brady carried the highest cap percentage of any Super Bowl winner at 12.61% for the Buccaneers in 2020. That total beat the previous high, also held by Brady, at 12.42%. Brady, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning have all won while accounting for more than 10% of their team’s cap, but the bulk of winners have come in under that. There are higher totals reflected in a total list of quarterbacks to have made a Super Bowl, but neither has won: Matt Ryan in 2016 (15.3%) and Peyton Manning in 2013 (14.16%) and 2009 (18.8%).

That changed Sunday when Mahomes took home the Lombardi while accounting for 17.16% of the Chiefs’ salary cap.

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The immediate reaction here is one that you, me, your neighbor, my grandma, and her dog all have: but he’s Patrick Mahomes. He’s a quarterback unicorn. Already with a quarter of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl wins, he’s found himself thrust into the debate of Greatest Ever. And while it’s too early to crown the 27-year-old superstar when Brady holds the bulk of the league’s passing (and winning) records, his talent is undeniable – sometimes to the point of being indescribable – and certainly leaves open the possibility that he becomes the lone exception.

But the fact remains that it happened. And so now here we are, wondering whether another team will find a way to do it. Unfortunately for those 31 other teams, they don’t have Mahomes under center. But they do have other lessons to learn from Kansas City, such as that if you’re going to pay your quarterback a top-tier salary, you’d better get a big return on investment elsewhere.

Easy, right?

That’s cheeky of course, but we know it can be done since, well, Kansas City just did it. The team’s top-paid players in terms of cap hit are, in order, Mahomes, defensive tackle Chris Jones, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., defensive end Frank Clark, and tight end Travis Kelce. Just outside the top five is guard Joe Thuney.

Those investments paid off. Mahomes earned his second MVP this year. Jones was a Defensive Player of the Year nominee. Kelce finished second in the league in receiving touchdowns. All three were first-team All-Pros. Brown and Thuney earned Pro Bowl nods and were vital pieces of an offensive line that finished fourth on Pro Football Focus’ season-ending rankings.

“It’s not common. But you can no longer say it can’t be done,” Michael Bumpus said Monday on Bump and Stacy. “I don’t think it’s the most consistent way to do it, but when teams go after it like that, you cannot say it can’t be done. It’s another possibility, another way of doing business.”

The Chiefs had the choice to invest in receiver Tyreek Hill but instead invested in Mahomes, Kelce, and the offensive and defensive lines. They opted for rookie talent (Skyy Moore), low-risk trades (Kadarius Toney) and mid-priced free agents (JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdez-Scantling) to round out the receiver group. With Hill’s departure, just one skill position player (Kelce) accounts for spots 2-5 in the team’s biggest cap hits.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Back in Seattle, there were plenty of good reasons for the Seahawks to hang onto players like wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, both of whom account for top-five cap hits. It’s no call to move on from high-paid skill players. Rather, it’s a reminder that a lot needs to go right around a highly-paid quarterback – and that more than one big investment needs a big return.

“When I look at the top five guys in terms of salary (for the Chiefs), they’re all performing,” Bumpus said. “It’s all about how you want to spend your money… (one difference) between the Seahawks and the two teams that competed in the Super Bowl this year is that the Seahawks have no one in their top five salaries on the offensive or defensive line. So I’m not mad about how the Hawks are spending their money, but it’s a copycat league, right? These two teams are competing. We’ve got to spend money in the trenches.”

Seahawks offseason coverage from Seattle Sports

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Seahawks Draft: Clemson PxP breaks down Murphy, Bresee and Simpson
Rost: Even after Smith’s Pro Bowl season, Seahawks face big questions at QB
Huard: Why Seahawks CB Woolen didn’t win Defensive Rookie of the Year

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Can Seahawks pay a QB big money and win? KC is proof — with a catch