There are some obvious reasons why the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs are in Super Bowl LVIII.
Both teams have received stellar play out of their quarterbacks and received notable contributions from others on both sides of the ball — the 49ers have nine Pro Bowlers on their roster to the Chiefs’ five.
But reaching the Super Bowl isn’t entirely about finding star talent. Both sides have been able to sign key contributors to deals well worth their value — or get their top-end players to agree to deals that might make them a bit underpaid relative to the best at their position.
Of course, the rookie-scale contracts benefit both teams, particularly those of the Niners. Brock Purdy’s $889,253 salary might be the biggest bargain in sports, considering his production and the position he plays. His salary is that low because he was the last pick in the draft two years ago.
But Purdy is just the start, and the values go far beyond rookies.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the eight best non-rookie scale bargain contracts in Super Bowl LVIII.
49ers RB Christian McCaffrey
Contract: Four years, $64.1 million ($38.2 million guaranteed)
Average annual value: $16 million
Salary positional rank: Highest-paid running back
2023 cap hit: $3.4 million
2023 cap hit rank among all RBs: 17th
The frontrunner to win Offensive Player of the Year might have the highest yearly salary among all running backs, but his cap hit this season was equivalent to that of a middle-of-the-pack starting running back. The 49ers restructured his contract so that they could sign their draft picks this past offseason. Now, none of their nine draft picks were major contributors this season, but clearing that cap space allowed the 49ers to be able to make those picks and possibly add some pieces for future championship runs.
As a result of the restructuring, McCaffrey’s cap hit was lower than the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Austin Ekeler — who all had fewer combined yards than McCaffrey — this past season. On top of leading the league in rushing (1,459 yards) and being second in rushing touchdowns (14), McCaffrey was 44th in receptions (67) and tied for 18th in receiving touchdowns (seven), giving the 49ers a top-end dual threat. For what it’s worth, McCaffrey’s cap hit would’ve ranked 63rd among all wide receivers this season.
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Chiefs DE Charles Omenihu
Contract: Two years, $16 million ($8.6 million guaranteed)
Average annual value: $8 million
Salary positional rank: 36th-highest-paid defensive end
2023 cap hit: $4.5 million
2023 cap hit rank among all edge rushers: 40
On the flip side, the Chiefs’ decision to steal Omenihu from the 49ers in free agency this past offseason has paid dividends. Omenihu had a career year in his first season in Kansas City, recording seven sacks, 11 QB hits, two forced fumbles and 28 combined tackles in just 11 regular-season games. Omenihu’s production helped the Chiefs rank second in total defense (289.8 yards allowed per game) and in sacks recorded (57).
Omenhiu was relatively quiet in the Chiefs’ first two playoff games, recording just two total tackles and no sacks. But he made a key play in the AFC Championship Game, recording a strip-sack of Lamar Jackson in the second quarter to keep the Chiefs’ 14-7 lead intact at the time. Unfortunately for Omenhiu, he tore his ACL shortly after that play, knocking him out of the game and out of the Super Bowl.
49ers CB Charvarius Ward
Contract: Three years, $40.5 million ($26.6 million guaranteed)
Average annual value: $13.5 million
Salary positional rank: 12th-highest-paid cornerback
2023 cap hit: $6.4 million
2023 cap hit rank among all CBs: 21st
The 49ers were able to get the former Chiefs corner on a deal that’s proven to be one of the best at the position when they signed him in 2022. Ward emerged as one of the game’s best corners in 2023, recording five interceptions and a league-best 23 passes defended. The 27-year-old earned his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods as a result, proving to be a valuable member of the 49ers’ secondary.
Ward also kept the opposing team’s top receiver in check as well throughout the season. He allowed just 51 receptions on 93 targets for 599 yards and three touchdowns to go with his five interceptions, per Pro Football Focus. He has continued that level of play so far in the postseason, allowing just four receptions on 10 targets for 54 yards and no touchdowns, per PFF. Whether Ward is able to slow down his former team remains to be seen, but he’s certainly proven to be worth more than the price tag of his contract.
Chiefs TE Travis Kelce
Contract: Four years, $57.4 million ($22.75 million guaranteed)
Average annual value: $14.3 million
Salary positional rank: Fourth-highest–paid tight end
2023 cap hit: $14.8 million
2023 cap hit rank among all TEs: Second
Kelce is highly paid relative to his position, but anyone who watches the Chiefs knows that he’s arguably one of the best receivers in the league — regardless of position — and consistently ranks among the best in the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns season after season.
Kelce’s output in the 2023 season was a bit of a step back compared to the numbers he put up over the last few years. But he still had 93 receptions for 983 yards and five touchdowns, working as the catalyst for a Chiefs’ receiving corps that struggled to produce outside of him for much of the season. He’s also stepped up in the postseason, having two of his best games of the year in the Chiefs’ divisional-round win (five receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns) and in the AFC Championship Game (11 receptions on 11 targets for 116 yards for a touchdown).
When you consider that Kelce’s average salary would rank 21st and his 2023 cap hit would rank eighth among all wide receivers, the Chiefs have their star tight end on a pretty good contract.
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49ers S Tashaun Gipson
Contract: One year, $2.9 million ($2.2 million guaranteed)
Average annual value: $2.9 million
Salary positional rank: 46th-highest-paid safety
2023 cap hit: $2.1 million
2023 cap hit rank among all safeties: 59
The veteran safety first joined the 49ers in 2022, heading to San Francisco just weeks before the start of the regular season that year. Even though he was waived on cutdown day that year, Gipson proved to be a vital part of the 49ers’ run to the NFC title game, recording 61 total tackles and five interceptions as their free safety. Yet, Gipson only re-signed for $2.9 million last offseason. He didn’t put up the numbers that he did last year in the regular season, recording 60 combined tackles and an interception, but he’s still been regarded as one of the league’s best safeties, with PFF grading him as the 24th-best this season.
Gipson arguably made the biggest play of the season for the 49ers’ defense as well. He stripped Lions running Jahmyr Gibbs of the ball in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game, giving the 49ers great field position to tie the game after trailing by 17 points at halftime before eventually winning.
Chiefs LB Drue Tranquill
Contract: One year, $3 million ($2.45 million guaranteed)
Average annual value: $2.45 million
Salary positional rank: 48th-highest-paid linebacker
2023 cap hit: $3 million
2023 cap hit rank among all linebackers: Tied for 36th
The other valuable buy-low signing for the Chiefs’ defense this offseason, Tranquill might have been worth his signing for his performance in the AFC Championship Game alone. He recorded a team-high eight total tackles in that game (all solo) as he also served as the spy linebacker on Jackson. While the Ravens’ star quarterback rushed for 54 yards, Tranquill was arguably the leader of a group effort that slowed Jackson and Baltimore’s offense down to the sum of just 10 points.
Before the Chiefs’ postseason run, Tranquill recorded 78 total tackles and 4.5 sacks in 16 regular-season games, showing value as both a pass rusher and open-space tackler.
49ers LB Dre Greenlaw
Contract: Two years, $16.4 million ($7 million guaranteed)
Average annual value: $8.2 million
Salary positional rank: 12th-highest-paid linebacker
2023 cap hit: $5.6 million
2023 cap hit rank among all linebackers: 13th
Fred Warner is arguably the league’s best linebacker, and one of the other top linebackers in the league is right next to him. Greenlaw has been one of the league’s best linebackers ever since the 49ers gave him an extension at the start of the 2022 season, recording over 120 combined tackles in each of the last two years.
The fifth-year linebacker’s strong tackling ability played a big role in the 49ers having the league’s third-best run defense (89.7 rushing yards allowed per game), but it was a pair of plays Greenlaw made in pass coverage that were his biggest contributions so far this season. He recorded two interceptions in the 49ers’ divisional-round win over Green Bay.
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Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Contract: 10 years, $450 million ($210.6 million guaranteed over the next four seasons)
Average annual value: $45 million
Salary positional rank: Eight-highest-paid quarterback
2023 cap hit: $37.1 million
2023 cap hit rank among all quarterbacks: 1
Mahomes’ contract might be the largest in NFL history in terms of total salary. However, his annual salary still falls behind several players after the recent boon in QB contracts, even after he restructured his deal in September. That’s wild to think about when you consider that Mahomes just turned 28 and is the only active quarterback to win two Super Bowls.
The length of his contract also allows the Chiefs to be more flexible with building out their roster and moving money down the line as well, giving them a larger margin of error to build their roster.
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