Photo by Matthew Emmons USA Today
Knowing when to extend players is never as easy as it looks. Knowing when to let a good player walk away is even harder. Tyrann Mathieu, of course, is beyond good, he’s excellent: an All-Pro his two seasons with the Chiefs, the argument could be made that Kansas City doesn’t have back-to-back Super Bowl appearances without him. He’s all over the field, in the box against the run, covering slot receivers, playing zone. He’s been superb. Everyone loves him. He’s been the gift that keeps on giving.
The ink may well be drying on a new extension for Matthieu, and yet the Chiefs should hesitate before committing too much cap space to Mathieu over the next three or four years. They should particularly hesitate with the guaranteed money.
For starters, there is his age to consider. By next offseason, the start of a new potential extension, Mathieu will be 30 years old, with nine full NFL seasons behind him. Now, at some positions–DT, LB, QB–that might not matter as much. At the speed positions–WR, DB, RB–it matters a lot. Age 30 and nine or ten seasons are the magic numbers at which NFL players tend to see a huge slide in production, often due to an increase in injuries. But sometimes it’s due simply to “losing a step.” And at the speed positions, that extra step makes a drastic difference.
Second, there are finances to consider. Patrick Mahomes’ contract will continue to gobble up more cap space each year until it gets to around $47M in 2023 and beyond. Chris Jones’ cap number surges well beyond $25M in 2022 and 2023. Thuney will hover around $19M a season from ‘22-‘25. Tyreek Hill averages a $17M cap hit which is likely to go up, not down. And Orlando Brown will get very expensive, very quickly. The money just runs out at a certain point, even when teams restructure, which has yielded dubious results at best, on average. These numbers come from our good friends at Spotrac.
The smart move, if Mathieu will allow it, is to offer a three or four year deal with a cap number close to what Mathieu is already making. Then basically only guarantee the first season. If he loses a step or gets injured, either of which is frequent for NFL players that age, then the Chiefs can get out of the deal and not hurt their cap too badly. It’s not unusual at all for teams to structure a deal that way.
The better move may be to let Mathieu walk away entirely. It eliminates risk and streamlines the finances. And it’s not about how good Mathieu is or about how much everybody loves him. It’s about doing the smart thing moving forward.
Mathieu may very well play sensational football for the next several seasons. And the Chiefs may pay him a lot of money to do it. But the team should definitely give a lot of thought before they get locked in for too much risk.
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