Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts has played in just three career playoff games, two of which were this year, and none of which were decided by fewer than 15 points. Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has played in five AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls, already throwing more postseason passes than Steve Young or Kurt Warner did during their entire Hall of Fame careers.
This gap in experience between the two starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl LVII is reflected in their paychecks. Hurts is in the third year of his rookie deal, and making less than $2 million this season—about $40 million under market value for a star quarterback. On the flip side, Mahomes is in the first year of his 10-year, $450 million contract.
Just three years ago, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl with Mahomes still on his rookie contract. Since then, more teams have deliberately built teams around young quarterbacks who don’t eat up a big slice of the salary-cap pie. The majority of the starting quarterbacks for this season’s 14 playoff teams were still on rookie deals.
The rookie wage scale, introduced in 2011, bases an incoming player’s pay rate on when they’re selected in the draft. Hurts, a second-round pick, costs even less than a young first-round quarterback would.
His contract gave Philadelphia cap space to improve its roster; in the offseason, the team traded for Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown and edge rusher Haason Reddick. The latter surpassed high expectations with 16 sacks and a league-leading five forced fumbles this season. Reddick’s deal was structured in a way to limit the team's cap hit in 2022, but the acquisition was still enabled by the absence of a mega quarterback contract.
The Eagles spend just 3.4% of their total active roster payroll on the signal caller position, including the backup quarterbacks, per Spotrac. Meanwhile, the Chiefs spend more than 20% of theirs on Mahomes alone.
After signing Mahomes to a huge extension, the team had to make big cost-saving moves to make its cap math work. One of those was trading away star wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, who gave him a new $120 million deal.
In the post-Hill era, just 16.5% of the Chiefs’ total active roster cap hit goes towards backs, receivers and tight ends, which ranks 26th in the NFL. Kansas City struck gold by drafting now-starting running back Isaiah Pacheco in the seventh round of the 2022 draft. Perhaps more crucially, Mahomes' only expensive target is Travis Kelce, who is second all-time in NFL postseason receiving touchdowns, catches and yards, and yet is not even one of the three highest-paid tight ends in the league.
The Eagles similarly have limited their spending on skill position players, ranking 27th in the league. They do, however, allocate the sixth-highest percentage of their payroll towards offensive linemen, while the Chiefs are just 17th. Kansas City’s financial commitment to Mahomes has also forced them to sacrifice on defense; only 42% of their active roster payroll goes toward that side of the ball, versus 52% for the Eagles.
The one defensive position for which both teams shelled out money, however, is linemen, and it paid dividends. Philadelphia led the NFL with 70 sacks this season, and Kansas City, although far behind, still finished second with 55. As a percentage of overall spending, the Super Bowl LVII opponents paid the second and third most of any teams in the NFL, respectively, for their defensive lines. In fact, the Chiefs’ $29.4 million cap hit for game-changing defensive tackle Chris Jones is almost as high as Mahomes’.
Although not a multiyear trend, it is notable that all four conference finalists ranked in the NFL’s top five in defensive line compensation. But if these two Super Bowl opponents show anything, it’s that there’s no one formula for winning.