Patrick Mahomes started text message groups with his Chiefs teammates during the offseason, inviting receivers, tight ends and running backs to Kansas City-area high schools to throw the ball around. Mahomes separated the invitations by position, trying to ensure that each time he threw, every receiver got in enough work to make it worth their effort.
It’s a luxury he was afforded during the late winter and early spring, when the objective was simply perfecting the timing of patterns. But it’s not one he will have on Sundays in the fall. Because when Mahomes takes over as the Chiefs' starting quarterback, there will be decisions more complex than which group chat to hit up on a weekday afternoon.
Chiefs brass has surrounded him with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Kareem Hunt. He isn’t short on options. He might be short on footballs.
“We have a lot of guys that can really check their ego at the door,” Mahomes said. “They really just want to win, and that’s the biggest thing. If everybody wants to win, we help each other out.
“I saw all that just working with the receivers off-site — really seeing that they were trying to teach each other the routes and trying to help better each other every single day.”
Mahomes will share the responsibility. Although the snap places the football in his hands, it’s not always a complicated decision as to where it might wind up on a particular play.
The onus of spreading the targets amongst the Chiefs' receivers will fall also to coach Andy Reid, a play-caller whose designs can lend themselves to clear-cut options.
“I’m just going to play through the offense how we’re supposed to play through it,” Mahomes said. “With Coach Reid’s offense, everybody gets the ball (and) everybody has success, so I’m just excited to be a part of that and spread the ball around.”
For Mahomes and Reid, it’s a judicial exercise — making a point to keep the receivers content with their touches. For the receivers themselves, it’s a potential mental adjustment in expectations.
Kelce has topped 100 targets in three consecutive seasons. Hill caught 75 passes on 105 targets in 2017. Hunt tallied 53 catches as a rookie out of the backfield. Watkins has averaged 6.7 targets per game over his four-year career in Buffalo and Los Angeles.
In all likelihood, the numbers will dwindle somewhere — and possibly everywhere.
“I feel like this is what (organized team activities) are for,” Hill said. “We’re all sitting in the meeting rooms. We’re all communicating to each other to put our egos to the side because we all wanna win. We all want the ball. All of us can score.”
The offseason addition of Watkins complicates the issue, providing the Chiefs with the proverbial good problem to have. He has 192 catches for 3,052 yards and 25 touchdowns in 52 career games.
Chris Conley opened the 2017 season as the Chiefs’ No. 2 receiver and caught 11 passes in five starts before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. Watkins’ talent will demand more attention from his quarterback. And Conley says he expects to be ready for 2018, even if requires a move to the slot position.
“Obviously, as an offense, there’s one ball that has to go around to everybody,” Conley said. “But we’re going to work and do our best so that when the ball’s not coming to us and it’s in someone’s hands, we’re still out there working, and we’re going to make this offense run.”
If one receiver is prepared for the forthcoming scenario, it’s Watkins. He went through this last season. After averaging 4.1 catches per game in three years in Buffalo, he caught just 39 balls in 15 games (2.6 per game) with the Rams in 2017.
After signing Watkins to a three-year, $48 million contract, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach praised the manner in which Watkins handled the situation in L.A.
“All athletes, we can only control what we can control: that is your effort, your attitude and how you come to work every day,” Watkins said.
He took an example from his teammate in both Buffalo and L.A., Robert Woods, who had a career-best season in 2017.
“I just looked at his situation. He still came to work every day and worked hard. He went and got a nice contract,” Watkins said. “I had guys that helped me through it. That is one thing I remember — even though I am not getting as many targets, I am going to come in and play the game like it is supposed to be played. I feel like those moments made me a better player. I feel like that needed to happen to make me an all-around player. Playing without the ball, I am a better player because of it.”