The Chiefs’ most important draft pick in a generation won’t play for at least a year, and that’s if things go right — and only part of why it’s a smart pick.
These are strange times we live in. In the last two years, we have seen the Royals win the World Series, and now the Chiefs draft a quarterback in the first round. Aliens could land on Bartle Hall, turn us all into vegetarians, and maybe we’d shrug.
Bury the line about Todd Blackledge (who was the last quarterback the Chiefs used a first-round pick on, in 1983) and the glass ceiling that has trapped the Chiefs for the last generation as general manager after coach after general manager has trusted football’s most important position to a long line of guys who weren’t good enough for their last team.
Patrick Mahomes II is unlike any quarterback Kansas City has seen, perhaps ever. Arm talent is the term of the moment for quarterbacks, and Mahomes has more of it than anyone who’s worn a Chiefs jersey in quite some time.
The Chiefs traded three picks including next year’s first-rounder to select him at No. 10 overall, a decision that will define the franchise’s next decade — good or bad. For decades, and by its own actions across different leadership groups, the Chiefs have branded themselves a singles hitter. They just took a home run swing.
“If you have a guy you like,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “you go get him.”
Alex Smith remains the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. He’s helped them into the playoffs three times in four years, and deserves that much. Mahomes needs at least a year to be ready for the NFL, and maybe more. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was in Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers took three years, and then began what will certainly be a Hall of Fame career.
This fits Dorsey’s tendency to address needs at least a year early, and gives the Chiefs their best chance to upgrade from solid to great at the one position that impacts more than any other. A year from now, if the Chiefs are confident in Mahomes, they can save $17 million in cap space by cutting Smith. If not, they can renegotiate Smith’s deal.
It’s a risk, but that’s true of any pick. This is an aggressive risk, taking the guy they like more than the national champion Deshaun Watson, the one move that provides more potential profit for the Chiefs than anything else they could have done on Thursday.
If you watch his college games, you will see him make virtually every throw possible. Fifty yards downfield off his back foot, over the linebacker but under the safety and somehow on a line, rolling left and throwing right across the field. Some of the decisions are terrible. Others look terrible, until he makes the play.
He is the son of a professional athlete, and the godson of another. He grew up in locker rooms, specifically baseball locker rooms, and he was a pretty good baseball player until he quit to focus on football.
“I didn’t know what love was until I played football,” he has said many times.
This is part of what the Chiefs are betting on. Reid will not give his offense to the current version of Mahomes. But Reid is comfortable trading away part of his franchise’s future for what he believes will be the future version of Mahomes.
This is an important point. Quarterbacks from spread offenses have an awful track record in the NFL, and Mahomes must learn the complicated verbiage and reads that come with football’s highest level. Often, his footwork is atrocious. Reid talked of Mahomes’ need to synch his feet to the routes and the coverage on any particular play.
Coach out Mahomes’ rough edges, alter the offense to bring out his best, and he could be one of the league’s best quarterbacks — the kind capable of playing deep into the playoffs. If not, there will be a day when Chiefs fans long for another 49ers backup.
This is Reid believing in his ability to coach up quarterbacks, Dorsey believing in his ability to identify talent, and each believing in the other to do his job. The Chiefs still have enough picks to fill holes with the rest of this year’s draft, and part of their calculus surely included the expectation that next year’s first-round pick will be No. 25 or later.
So this becomes a test of Reid and Dorsey as much as Mahomes. Because if this flops, Dorsey will be the one who passed on Watson and Reid will be the supposed quarterback guru who couldn’t make it work with his highest drafted quarterback since Donovan McNabb.
It is a spectacular risk, but one done in the most friendly context. The Chiefs know they can win with Smith, whose history in San Francisco included a final season in which he actively worked to help Colin Kaepernick when doing so may have been against his own self interests.
Mahomes will not — and should not — be expected to play right away, instead given time to learn behind a veteran quarterback and proven coaches. Change is constant in the NFL, but if Mahomes plays in 2018 it will likely be with a good offensive line, explosive playmakers on offense, and a very good defense.
The easy thing would’ve been to sit, keep the picks, and take a run stuffer or edge rusher at No. 27. Maybe history will prove that would’ve been the smarter move.
But here, the Chiefs have dared to be great. They’ve taken a smart and considered risk that, if it works out, could set them up for a decade or more.
And when’s the last time you could’ve said that about them?