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Is Travis Kelce Underpaid?

Last Updated: February 1, 2022
It’s time to get to the bottom of just how much value the Chiefs are getting out of their star tight end compared to his salary and contract details.

Does anyone come up in the clutch like Travis Kelce? In a miraculous capper to Jan. 23’s Chiefs-Bills thriller at Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City tight end found himself on the end of a Patrick Mahomes touchdown pass in overtime that shut the door on the gobsmacked visitors, propelling the team

Measuring how much “clutch” is worth — or even coming to a consensus about what it is in the first place — is a fool’s errand, but the truth is that Kelce’s on-field production has been a game-changer for Andy Reid’s team for several years running.

And that got us thinking about whether a man who owns a contract with over $57 million is actually underpaid.

Time to crunch the numbers.

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Travis Kelce Salary & Contract Details

All dollar figures via Spotrac.

Age: 32
Contract length: 4 years
Total value: $57,250,000
Average annual value (AAV):$14,312,500
2021 salary: $11,805,872
Free agency: 2026; potential out this offseason

Where Does Travis Kelce’s Salary Rank Among NFL Pass-catchers?

Highest-paid TEs/WRs by 2021 $

1. TE Kyle Pitts (ATL): $21.95M
2. WR Tyler Lockett (SEA): $21M
3. WR Ja’Marr Chase (CIN): $20.43M
4. WR Amari Cooper (DAL): $20M
5. WR Kenny Golladay (NYG): $18.21M
6. WR Allen Robinson (CHI): $17.98M
7. WR Jaylen Waddle (MIA): $17.72M
8. TE Hunter Henry (NE): $17M
9. TE Jonnu Smith (NE): $16.94M
10. WR Chris Godwin (TB): $15.98M

29. TE Travis Kelce (KC): $11.8M

Highest-paid NFL TEs/WRs by AAV

1. WR DeAndre Hopkins (ARI): $27.25M
2. WR Julio Jones (TEN): $22M
3. WR Keenan Allen (LAC): $20.03M
4. WR Amari Cooper (DAL): $20M
5. WR Michael Thomas (NO): $19.25M
6. WR Tyreek Hill (KC): $18M
7. WR Kenny Golladay (NYG): $18M
8. WR Allen Robinson (CHI): $17.9M
9. WR Tyler Lockett (SEA): $17.25M
10. WR Mike Evans (TB): $16.5M

18. TE George Kittle (SF): $15M

22. TE Travis Kelce (KC): $14.31M

Travis Kelce 2021 Regular Season Stats & Accolades

Catches: 92 (No. 2 among tight ends, No. 13 in NFL overall)
Receiving yards: 1,125 (No. 2 among TEs, No. 14 overall)
Receiving TDs: 16 (Tied for No. 1 among TEs, tied for No. 9 overall)

2021 Pro Bowl

2021 Second Team All-Pro

Most games with 100+ receiving yards in NFL history

Patrick Mahomes has a perfect passer rating (158.3) when targeting Kelce this postseason

How Much Did Travis Kelce Make Per Reception This Season?

In the 2021 regular season, Travis Kelce caught 92 balls while earning $11.8 million. That’s good for $128,324.69 per catch.

The Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett, the highest-paid pass-catcher in the NFL by 2021 compensation, caught 73 passes at a salary of $21 million, or $287,671.23 per catch.

The highest-earning pass-catcher of the season currently remaining in the NFL Playoffs as of this writing, Bengals phenom Ja’Marr Chase, secured 81 catches and earned $20.43 million. That’s $252,222.22 per catch.

How Much Did Travis Kelce Make Per Receiving TD This Season?

The Chiefs stalwart posted 16 touchdowns in the 2021 regular season. Based on his salary, that’s $737,867 per TD.

Lockett scored eight times for Seattle, good for $2,625,000 per TD.

The 13 receiving touchdowns Ja’Marr Chase notched amount to $1,571,538.46 per TD.

Is Travis Kelce Actually Underpaid? And by How Much?

The caveat here needs to be that the “market” — something that’s part real, part imaginary — for wide receivers is simply richer than that of the tight end despite the fact that the latter position is far, far more scarce if you’re looking for an offensive game-breaker.

That said, Travis Kelce creates significantly more on-field value for the Kansas City Chiefs than several pass-catchers making more money, especially when this season’s contract numbers are concerned. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that Travis Kelce’s production entitles him to top-10 money among NFL pass-catchers, which we can round off to about $16 million per year. That would mean:

  • An hypothetical 2021 salary bump from $11,805,872 to $16,000,000, an increase of 35.53%.
  • A contract AAV bump from $14,312,500 to $16,000,000, an increase of 11.79%.

The final verdict: Travis Kelce is either your 1a or 1b (alongside George Kittle) in the “Best Tight End in the World” conversation, and is annually one of the finest pass-catchers in football — to say nothing of his ability to come up big in clutch moments. While it may be more of a reflection of the league’s market equilibrium for TEs versus wideouts at the moment, it’s plain to see that Kelce creates more value on the field than both his salary and AAV reflect.

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About The Author
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn is the Managing Editor of Boardroom. Before joining the team, he was an editor and multimedia talent for several sports and culture verticals at Minute Media and an editor, reporter, and site manager at SB Nation. A specialist in content strategy, copywriting, and SEO, he has additionally worked as a digital consultant in the corporate services, retail, and tech industries. He cannot be expected to be impartial on any matter regarding the Florida Gators or Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter @RealFakeSamDunn.