In the Chiefs’ ideal version of reality, this column would not exist ... or, rather, this column would be about how Minkah Fitzpatrick would instantly improve their most glaring weakness.
That’s what the team wanted, you know. Fitzpatrick convinced the Dolphins to allow him to seek a trade away from perhaps the most shameless tank job in NFL history, and he carries at least four qualities that made front offices from coast to coast swoon: He is talented, versatile, cheap and under four more seasons of club control.
The Chiefs jumped into the negotiations, according to a source, but could not meet the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offer of a 2020 first-round pick.
Just for an example, let’s say the Chiefs’ 2020 first-round pick is 28th and the Steelers — who are 0-2 and are now without Ben Roethlisberger for the season — end up (conservatively) 12th.
To beat the Steelers’ offer, the Chiefs would have to trade their next two first-round picks or next year’s first and two more high selections.
(The Chiefs’ picks used to be so much more valuable. Thanks for nothing, Patrick Mahomes.)
The Chiefs missed on the first available cornerback, but there will be more, which is the purpose of this column.
The process now goes from focusing on Fitzpatrick to canvassing the league for other options. Jaguars star Jalen Ramsey has reportedly asked for a trade and would be the best player available. But there are significant obstacles.
A trade would likely require two first-round picks and almost certainly have to be coupled with a long-term contract extension that would make him the highest-paid cornerback in league history.
The Chiefs created additional cap space with some administrative moves last week, but another big-ticket defender would complicate a potential contract extension for quarterback Patrick Mahomes and an extension or 2020 franchise tag for Chris Jones.
Also, the Jaguars chose not to pay Ramsey, a reminder that some in the league do not consider his talent and price to be worth the potential locker room disruption.
After Ramsey, the paths would center around patience.
Xavien Howard, Fitzpatrick’s now-former teammate with the Dolphins, recently signed a contract and was reportedly told he was part of the team’s future. But maybe that changes.
Patrick Peterson, the accomplished Cardinals corner (and Tyrann Mathieu’s recruiting weekend host at LSU), was taken off the trade market a year ago. But he’s also 29 and owed $12 million next season from a team with a rookie quarterback and head coach. It would make sense that the Cardinals could change their minds if they wanted to get younger.
Others will emerge, and options will materialize once teams have a few more weeks to better assess their postseason chances.
The path here will end up telling us a lot about the Chiefs’ priorities and strategies.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has shown himself to be aggressive generally, and with first-round picks specifically. Draft picks are the currency of the NFL, and while many teams — most notably the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns under Sashi Brown — trade back to hoard picks, the Chiefs have been willing to trade up or use picks to acquire players already in the league.
It’s an interesting strategy and one that requires confidence and trust. Confidence by the general manager and his personnel department in their evaluations, and trust from the owner to make moves many other teams are unwilling to try.
Everyone knows draft picks come with an inherent risk of failure, but trading a pick for a player already in the league creates more of a target — especially if the trade also requires a big contract.
The upshot is that there should be less risk in adding a player with NFL tape, and if fewer teams are willing to do it then the market forces of supply and demand won’t be as harsh as they would in, say, free agency.
To that end, consider that Steven Nelson signed for $25.5 million with the Steelers and Aaron Colvin got $34 million (including $18 million guaranteed) from the Houston Texans. Those are generally solid if unspectacular players signing for Pro Bowler money.
The avenues for a team like the Chiefs to find top corners are limited. They expect to be drafting toward the end of rounds into the future. It is perhaps the only downside of fielding a sustainable Super Bowl contender.
These days, that’s too late in the draft to select a star cornerback. Ramsey went fifth in his draft, for instance, Fitzpatrick 11th. Last year’s class was thought to be soft on corners. The New York Giants made DeAndre Baker the first one selected, at 30th overall, which means the Chiefs essentially traded their chance at Baker for defensive end Frank Clark.
Baker, it’s worth noting, has been torched in each of his first two games — he’s given up 272 yards, two touchdowns and 11 catches on 13 targets so far, according to Pro Football Focus.
All of that is context as the Chiefs’ front office balances the immediate need for another cornerback with the long-term mission.
Here it’s worth pointing out that the Chiefs spent much of last season circling safety Earl Thomas in a trade. That ended with a season-ending injury, and if the Chiefs made the trade they may not have had the draft capital for the Clark trade or the cap space to sign Tyrann Mathieu.
The balance is elusive. The Chiefs have a prepackaged Super Bowl contender at the moment, without any additions. Searching for further improvement is a requirement, but one that comes with so many movements that nobody can know how it will end.