If there were doubts about the direction the Chiefs are headed in — younger, faster, cheaper — the trades of Marcus Peters and Alex Smith and the releases of Derrick Johnson, Darrelle Revis and Ron Parker erased those.
The thing about soft rebuilds — or on-the-fly retools, or whatever you want to call what the Chiefs' roster turnover — is that they can be sped up by stud quarterbacks, the hardest thing to find in professional football. And let there be no doubt: The Chiefs believe in Patrick Mahomes all the way.
All you had to do is listen to coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach speak about the talented gunslinger, who they traded up 17 spots to draft last year, and his first career start against Denver in last season’s finale.
“It was something, I think, we all expected,” Veach said at the NFL scouting combine. “From the day Pat stepped on the field at rookie minicamp, he’s always wowed us. ...
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“I think we knew when the Denver game rolled around that he would absolutely make plays and show us all the things that he showed us throughout the process.”
The final numbers — 22 of 35 for 284 yards and an interception — didn’t fully convey how impressive Mahomes was, as he consistently eluded trouble and made difficult throws from absurd platforms.
“I think he handled things very well,” Reid said. “Prepared to the 'T' on that, handled himself very well.”
To the Chiefs, it was proof their Mahomes plan — learn the offense, then play when he had a firm mental grasp of the playbook — worked. And that glimpse of the future was enough to convince the club’s decision-makers that they could trade starter Alex Smith, even coming off a career year, because Mahomes’ ceiling is so high.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen,” Veach said. “But you don’t want to throw them out there too soon. You want them to be who there are, and not really process too much, and just play, right? So Coach had a vision, we brought him along slowly and we’re excited for him and for the future.”
Despite Veach’s “best he’s ever seen” comment, the Chiefs would like to tamp down expectations for Mahomes. He’s just 22, this will be his first year as a starter, and even great quarterbacks have struggled in the exact situation Mahomes is about to enter.
But that’s not keeping the Chiefs from banking their future on Mahomes, and literally planning around his talent.
The picks the Chiefs surrendered to Buffalo for Mahomes last year — two firsts and a third — deem that mandatory, but so does his ridiculous arm talent. The Chiefs hope Mahomes, when paired with an appropriate cast of speedy receivers, will force teams to consistently account for the deep ball, opening up the running game led by rookie Kareem Hunt.
“Pat’s skill set is maybe a little bit different than Alex’s, and maybe the players you surround him with maybe work more to his skill set,” Veach said. “Well look, Pat’s got a cannon, right? I think everybody wants fast receivers. But know you have a quarterback that really doesn’t have a limit in how far they can throw is a good thing.
“(Receivers) are highly coveted throughout the league, but I’m sure, yes, I’ll be in that market.”
Mahomes’ future was just one of several issues in which Reid and Veach, whose partnership began in earnest last summer after he was promoted to general manager, replacing John Dorsey, were in lockstep.
Veach reiterated what Reid said Wednesday, that he wouldn’t answer direct questions about Peters’ trade until March 14, the start of the new league year. Like Reid, Veach also offered support to chairman Clark Hunt, making it clear there’s never been a mandate from Hunt to trade Peters, despite the fact Hunt disagreed with Peters’ pregame protests.
“We keep an open dialogue with Clark Hunt — he’s tremendously supportive of us,” Veach said. “He believes in the vision we have, both in the short and the long term.
“He has full trust in us, he believes in what we do. He will offer his own opinions, but never a mandate. He lets us do our thing.”
That would strongly suggest the Chiefs traded Peters, the 25-year-old two-time All-Pro, for other reasons, such as his sometimes-explosive temperament and the team’s unwillingness to make him the game’s highest-paid corner at $18 million per season.
Trading Peters with at least two years of club control remaining also suggests the Chiefs believe they had done everything to help Peters, who was kicked off his college team after repeated clashes with the coaching staff. Veach was asked whether he was confident the Chiefs built a good enough culture and support system for Peters — and all their players.
“In any phase of roster building, I think we can all get better,” Veach said, speaking generally. “There are things that we can all learn from and grow and develop. So to sit here and say we were perfect in every way is wrong.
“(But) to sit here and say we didn’t exhaust a lot of efforts into certain things would be wrong, too. I think that we work hard to provide support for everyone. That’s not say we can’t get better, but it’s also something we take a lot of pride in when it comes to working with players and helping them get better, no matter who they are.”
Regardless, Peters officially will be gone March 14, along with Smith. The team’s future will be in the hands of Mahomes, who is being given every opportunity to both thrive on the field and lead a locker room that will likely be younger and more impressionable.
“I think that position does set the tone,” Veach said. “You’ve have guys at other position … but the quarterback is the guy that touches the ball every play, and it’s important that he has command of that huddle, of that locker room and his voice is heard.”