Red Zone

Terez A. Paylor: Ready or not, Chiefs still interested in this year’s rookie QB crop

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday in Indianapolis. AP

After spending the entire weekend reporting about the Chiefs’ interest in quarterbacks, I was alerted Monday morning to the following quote from Chiefs general manager John Dorsey about the readiness of this year’s quarterback class.

Here’s what Dorsey told Albert Breer of MMQB.com:

“First off, what stands out, I think there’s only one guy that’s ever taken a snap from under center. How about that one? It shows how we’re evolving into a spread-option era. Then, what you have to analyze is can they spit out a play in the huddle? If you look at the majority of these guys, everybody’s signaling everything in from the sideline.

“These are the types of things people are looking for as they sit and talk to these players. Can they sit and regurgitate an offensive play? That’s hard to do, especially in [our] system, it’s really hard to do. But on the whole they’re a more athletic group.

“Are there any finished products here? I don’t think so. So where are the warts, and are you willing to live with the warts? That’s what people are asking.”

I (Breer) then asked Dorsey if he thought any of the quarterbacks are ready to play. He smiled and said, “Me personally?” Then a long pause, another smile, and a “No.”

It’s a good quote. But when it comes to the Chiefs’ interest in selecting a quarterback high in this draft, I wouldn’t read too much into it.

First, I diligently asked many of the quarterbacks if they had formal interviews with the Chiefs at the combine, and six of them said yes, which is unusually high to me. I didn’t get to talk to all of them, so there could be more (Virginia’s Tech’s Jerod Evans said he didn’t interview with the Chiefs). And before you say “every team meets everybody,” I again will say that is not the case. Not formally. Every team only gets 60 formal interviews at the combine, and the last three years, the Chiefs have a drafted a number of players they’ve formally interviewed. So that matters.

Second — and most importantly — the Chiefs do not need a quarterback to be ready right now. Despite the Tony Romo speculation and barring an unforeseen development, Alex Smith will start in 2017. Andy Reid has said it, John Dorsey has said it and Clark Hunt has said it. Publicly. If Smith is not the starting quarterback then it won’t be a good look for any of the Chiefs’ leaders.

The Pittsburgh playoff game notwithstanding, the feeling here is Smith deserves one more year. They’ve invested four years in his development and he’s 41-20 with three playoff appearances. Does he need to make more plays? Yes. But with Alex Smith and Andy Reid, you’re going to finish with a winning record in 2017 barring an unforeseen disaster. That, and overall organizational consistency, matters to ownership.

Smith also knows there is pressure to win. At the Pro Bowl, where he confirmed he was told he would be the starting quarterback in 2017, he said this to me:

“If I were running a team, of course you would continue to bring in young talent — are you kidding me, the quarterback touches the ball every single play. It’s hard to develop guys, it’s hard to find guys. Every year, you want to be taking a shot — that’s just smart football.”

It’s almost like Smith was prepared for the possibility that the Chiefs would draft a quarterback.

When I asked him about his status in 2018, he shook his head and replied that no one is guaranteed to be anywhere in this league more than a year. I took that to mean that he knows he has to get it done this year or the team will continue to seek upgrades.

Now, more than ever, it makes sense for that potential upgrade to come via the draft. There are three reasons for that:

1. Dorsey and Reid believe in building through the draft. It’s easier to develop a player when you’re the first voice they had coming into the league.

2. Money. Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported that Tampa Bay Bucs backup Mike Glennon could get $14 million or $15 million per year on the open market. A quarterback drafted at the Chiefs’ 27th overall spot would be cost controlled for at least four years. The cap numbers for Paxton Lynch, who went 26th overall to Denver last year, are as follows — $1.7 million (2016), $2.1 million (2017), $2.5 million (2018), $3 million (2019).

That’s a bargain, especially if you trust your scouts to identify talent and coaches to develop it, like the Chiefs do. It would also be a cost-controlled move for a team that has been up against the salary cap for years and has lots of money committed to Justin Houston, Eric Berry, Eric Fisher and Travis Kelce.

3. The Chiefs were interested in Lynch last year. I’ve heard that from multiple sources. The Chiefs still need another premium talent in the pipeline, and though they remained enamored by Tyler Bray’s arm strength, adding another guy to the mix would make sense.

So that’s why I’ve been hitting the quarterback train so hard. That’s why I went to see the quarterbacks throw at the combine. That’s why I wrote about Deshaun Watson and why I asked Dorsey two days before that about what he looks for in quarterbacks*.

*Mental toughness, mental quickness, athletic feet, arm strength and accuracy, by the way.

The truth is no one knows what the Chiefs will do. Dorsey and his team are very good at keeping their thought processes quiet, especially when it comes to the draft.

The Chiefs could pass on this year’s QB crop, explore mid-to-late round options, and hold off to 2018, where Southern California’s Sam Darnold — whose name came up a ton in Indy — likely awaits some lucky teams. They could even sign a free agent.

But again, I think the Chiefs drafting a quarterback in the first or second round is a legit possibility because it makes too much sense.

Now, Dorsey is right: these guys all have warts, and none — with the possible exception of Pitt’s Nathan Peterman, a high-floor guy who has grown on me — is ready to take some snaps early.

But the good news for the Chiefs is that they don’t need a quarterback to be NFL-ready if they draft one early.

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