When Patrick Mahomes signed his behemoth of a contract, it was viewed from many angles. In the building, the front office tried to figure out how they were going to handle cap space and roster management for the next decade. Division rivals accepted the reality of Mahomes on their forever horizon and continued devising plans to somehow slow his meteoric pace. NFL pundits and analysts answered the questions of “How?” and “Why?” and “Will it be worth it?”
And for personnel evaluators, the question was: “Who’s next?”
Finding the next Mahomes won’t actually happen, and teams who angle for doing so will likely find themselves chasing smoke. But, Mahomes’ brilliance brought the decade-long deal back to the NFL for the first time since another impossible talent—Michael Vick—signed one in 2004. Now, agents with top quarterbacks will be wondering what bar to clear to sign the next 10-year monstrosity.
As such, I considered the impossible question: if Mahomes got 10 years and $500 million, and the quarterback market is ever-blooming, who will be the next to demand such a deal? Obviously, candidates are skint—but I came up with three names who at least have a wisp of a case, and landed on one that I think is the current running favorite in this unwinnable race.
Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
Could a baseball player in 2018 really become a Mahomes-level contract in 2022? That’s when Murray will first be available for his extension, and if he has any chance of arguing that he deserves such esteem, that means he has two years to grab a league MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Tall order.
There are areas of quarterbacking in which you can draw analogies from Mahomes to Murray. Both have a strong baseball background, and accordingly their ability to manipulate arm slots and facilitate lightning quick releases creates throwing angles that other quarterbacks don’t have. Both are excellent escape artists who are threats to tuck and run, and often foreshadow their incredible deep passes with incredible pocket maneuvering.
But for his arm talent and escapability, Murray is simply not the visionary that Mahomes is when reading the field. He doesn’t create nearly as many deep plays because he doesn’t have such an instinct for routes uncovering during the scramble drill, and he misses a lot more of the easy/schemed stuff that Mahomes does because he lacks the anticipation and field vision. As Mahomes himself has said, he has grown in this area since his time in the league—and the same could be true of Murray, in another year or two. But for now, it is unproven.
Murray’s pro coach is Kliff Kingsbury, who coached Mahomes at Texas Tech. Kingsbury got this job in Arizona largely because of his work with Mahomes in the Air Raid system. If Kingsbury really was an architect of Mahomes’ talent—an argument I’m not sure I would make—then perhaps he can suss out that same, rarefied talent in Murray. But it is a long bet.
Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
At first glance, this could have legs. Burrow did things at the college level that even Mahomes didn’t do in terms of offensive efficiency and output, and he was made the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft accordingly.
But upon further investigation, it doesn’t. Burrow could turn out to be a tremendous pro, but the one thing that he’ll never do that Mahomes does is create the high-end plays. For all of Burrow’s poise in the pocket, scrambling ability, and creative instincts—traits that Mahomes has in spades—he does not have nearly the arm that Mahomes does. This is a big deal.
It’s a big deal because, in the NFL, Burrow will not create the same plays outside of structure that he did in college. The players are too fast, the windows are too small, the pass rush is too demanding. All of the margins are smaller in the league, and Burrow was getting away with crazy, Romo-esque plays in college only because of the wide margins afforded him. And while Mahomes also got away with more in college than he did in the pros, that’s not because of any physical deficiency. Rather, it’s because he’s learned to chill out.
So Burrow is a fun one, but even his top-end projections put him as a franchise quarterback, but not the game-changing talent that Mahomes is.
Clemson Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence
I would not be such a bold editor as to claim that we all saw this coming with Mahomes during the 2017 college football season. Even those most bullish on Mahomes did not have “will sign a $500M deal in his career” in their three-year projection on their scouting notes. He has already become more than we could have dreamt.
But, the raw talent with Mahomes was undeniable. You couldn’t watch him for a few minutes without recognizing that he played the game differently than most passers, and that different characteristic was special, rare, and potentially generational. Such a unique kernel was not recognized in Burrow or Murray. It is, however, recognized in Lawrence.
Lawrence, who lost his first game as a starter in the National Championship against Burrow’s Tigers, has been magical since the moment he took a snap for Clemson football. Even before then, he was the top recruit in the 2018 class. He was the best quarterback recruit of the Rivals era, which dates back to 2002. He took the reins as a true freshman and slayed Alabama on a national stage, hanging 44 on the vaunted Crimson Tide defense.
Lawrence, like Mahomes, is not a perfect prospect. He struggled with accuracy last season and is not yet consistent. He takes dumb risks that are born of his certainty that he can make every throw, that he is the best player on the field, as he has been all of his life. Mahomes was supremely talented but raw coming out of Texas Tech; the same can be said for Lawrence.
But unfortunately, it is to a lesser degree. Lawrence is not the same sort of jaw-dropping, how-dare-he talent that Mahomes was, and he also comes with more polish. There is a warranted argument to be made that, were Lawrence dropped in the 2016 Texas Tech offense, he would look more like Mahomes. But he wasn’t, and so he doesn’t. We cannot be sure.
What we do know is that Lawrence is the most naturally gifted passer to come out since Mahomes—I feel confident in this claim. For all of Josh Allen’s arm strength or Murray’s releases, nobody just throws the football as naturally as Lawrence does. As a passer, he is as reminiscent of Mahomes as we will get in the next few years.
So he’s our best bet. Even for his shaky 2019 games and remaining year of college football, Lawrence’s ceiling could, somehow, reach that decade-long deal that Mahomes has resuscitated in the modern NFL zeitgeist. If Mahomes indeed blazed a trail, it is only for an exceptional few. Lawrence looks to be one of those.
- Dec 06, 2022
- Dec 05, 2022