Bad contracts are killing the AFC West

Professional football teams are hamstringing their potential by guaranteeing outrageous salaries for just a handful of players



March 6, 2024 - 2:25 PM

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson leaves after a 27-17 loss against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Broncos will pay Wilson more than $92 million over the next two years to sit on the bench. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post/TNS)

The savior of the Broncos is gone in a flash — just 18 months after his arrival — and paid more than $10 million per win before they took his key card. It unraveled so quickly in Denver that it’s almost easy to forget how encouraged Russell Wilson, his coaches and general manager were when this all started.


The introductory words still ring:

“Come on ya’ll. Russell Wilson. Holy (crud).”

And then it turned to, well, (crud).

The Broncos are set to eat about $39 million to not employ Wilson next season. And then in 2025, they will absorb a $53.6 million cap hit to have him, again, do anything but throw footballs while donning orange and navy.

This isn’t a column on Wilson from 600 miles away in Kansas City. He is merely the symbol of the bigger picture.

The Chiefs have wrecked the keeping-up-with-the-Mahomeses blueprints implemented by their most immediate rivals — to the point where you can’t help but wonder when those rivals will finally acknowledge the reason for the trend.

The rest of the AFC West division will pick fifth, 12th and 13th in the 2024 NFL Draft. All three teams have gone through head coaching changes since a 2022 offseason that was supposed to make the AFC West the toughest division in football. You’d think they’d ask themselves how they got here.

I’ll help: a foolish reaction — or overreaction — to the Chiefs. They want to emulate the Chiefs’ success, yet time after time, they ignore how they’ve achieved it.

The simple answer is Patrick Mahomes, but if we’ve learned anything over these past few years, it’s that Mahomes alone is too simple an answer. And that’s coming from someone who believes he deserves the overwhelming majority of it.

Just not all of it. There’s a reason the NFL had never seen a quarterback with a salary cap charge greater than 13% win a Super Bowl until Mahomes came along. It’s really hard to build a supporting cast with limited resources. Mahomes is better than most, if not all, sure. But the Chiefs have done it better than most, if not all, in the same situation.

The Chiefs have been big-picture thinkers, a recognition that avoiding bad contracts is just as key as securing good ones.

They have been big-picture thinkers, a recognition that avoiding bad contracts is just as key as securing good ones. The rivals seem to have overlooked that part. It’s why I scoff at the suggestion that the Chiefs should shove all-in for the chance at becoming the NFL’s first three-peat in history.

Have we been paying attention?