KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- From the moment the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes II, the decision about when to install him as their starting quarterback was mostly about when he was ready and little about other factors.
The Chiefs made that clear this offseason when they traded longtime starter Alex Smith after the best statistical season of his career to Washington to clear the path for Mahomes.
"This was really more about Patrick," general manager Brett Veach said last month shortly after the Chiefs made the Smith trade official. “The kid has immense talent.
“They give you signs and signals that they are ready. Sure, there will be bumps along the road and there will be some growing pains. We made a move to go up and get him for a reason, because his talent is unique and special. He is a special person."
By moving Smith so quickly after the end of last season, the Chiefs indicated that a year after drafting Mahomes, they are even more bullish on their decision to move up 17 spots in the first round to get him than they were when they made the move.
"All the physical tools are there," Veach said. "He is one of the best players I have ever seen.
"From the day Patrick stepped on the field -- in the rookie minicamps, the [offseason practices], the training camps -- he has always wowed us."
The Chiefs wouldn’t have climbed to the 10th spot in the draft last year without being excited about what awaited them. Indeed, from chairman Clark Hunt to then-general manager John Dorsey to head coach Andy Reid to Veach, then the personnel director, the Chiefs were as sold on Mahomes as any player they’ve drafted.
It was easy to be excited about a player with Mahomes’ skills, particularly his strong passing arm. Mahomes discovered his gift when he was 6 years old and playing shortstop for his local T-ball team in Texas. Mahomes fielded a ground ball and sent a throw that the first baseman couldn’t quite handle.
"I hit the kid straight in the face, and I realized I’m throwing a little harder than these other kids and I’ve got to kind of slow it down," Mahomes said.
Asked whether his throw broke his teammate’s nose, Mahomes said, “I know his glasses were. I don’t know about his nose.”
Mahomes eventually put that big arm to use in football at Texas Tech as a quarterback. He threw for more than 11,000 yards and 93 touchdowns in 2 1/2 seasons as a starter. The Chiefs were intrigued long before he declared himself for the draft after his junior season.
"We watched every snap that he played," Reid said. "Brett Veach had been on him from the get-go. He told me about him before he was 'Patrick Mahomes.' We had a chance to watch him play, and once you get to meet him, you go, ‘Wow.’ This guy is all about football, and he wants to be great."
The Chiefs were scheduled to pick 27th last year and would have to go up to get him. The Chiefs specifically believed they needed to climb above the Saints at No. 11 and the Cardinals at No. 13.
So the Chiefs contacted the Bills, who held the 10th spot. The teams agreed to a trade that put Kansas City at No. 10. Buffalo would receive No. 27 plus a third-round pick last year and the Chiefs’ first-round choice in 2018.
"I tried to read as much as I could in terms of reading the other 31 teams and seeing where they were positioning," Dorsey said after the draft. “I felt, to get this player, I had to be at 10. There were some that were sitting in there saying, ‘You should go up earlier.’ I thought 10 was the appropriate level to go. I know there were three teams that wanted this player very badly.
“I’d been working about five or six different deals. I started this one probably about five days [before the draft], and then [Buffalo general manager] Doug Whaley and I just talked through the whole thing, and then we talked every day. We talked before the draft and, ‘Do you still agree?’ and he says, ‘Yes, I still agree.’ So, we had come to a gentleman’s agreement, but you can never underestimate when you go through that draft. Somebody can pull the rug out from under you, and all of a sudden you’re left holding nothing.”
Whaley kept his word. The trade put the Chiefs in position to select any of the draft’s quarterbacks except North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, who had already been taken by the Chicago Bears. The Chiefs could have drafted Deshaun Watson, who had just led Clemson to the national championship.
But the Chiefs had long since made the decision they would move up only for Mahomes.
The Chiefs, who hadn’t drafted a quarterback in the first round since 1983, could have gone about getting a QB in a different way. Smith at the time had two seasons left on his contract and was entrenched as the starter.
A more conventional path for getting a potential franchise quarterback would have been for the Chiefs to unload Smith before drafting Mahomes. They also could have waited another year to draft the QB.
The Chiefs weren’t interested in either scenario. They wanted Mahomes, and they wanted to pair him with Smith, at least for one season.
"That was the beauty of having a guy like Alex Smith," Veach said. “One of the values of Alex was -- obviously, a great player, all of the wins during his time here -- but he is such a great teacher and a mentor. And because Alex was here was even more motivation to go up and get a young guy."
Smith, by all accounts, was helpful to Mahomes in their year together.
"[Smith] showed me how to prepare, how to be a professional quarterback and have a lot of success at it," Mahomes said. “He helped me build a foundation of how you need to go in every single day and learn and keep getting better every single day no matter where you’re at in your career."
Mahomes’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, also suggested Mahomes would be better off in his first season not only as a backup, but as a backup for Smith.
"We were hoping very much for a situation where he could sit and learn behind a talented veteran," Steinberg said. "Nothing could have been better than the situation with Alex Smith. Alex Smith was unfailingly gracious to him and a good teacher. Instead of sort of fending him off or doing some of the other things I’ve seen other veteran quarterbacks do with their competition, Alex was a real gentleman with him.
“I’ve seen many careers shortened because the quarterback development curve was rushed. Nothing could have been better for him than what Kansas City offered. Kansas City was perfect: stable ownership, smart front office, gifted coaching, a head coach who had developed a number of quarterbacks, a team that already was winning and the opportunity to learn behind a talented, veteran quarterback.
The Chiefs saw enough from Mahomes in practice and the one game in which he played last season to believe he was ready to be the starter. They pursued the Smith trade early in the offseason and found a taker in Washington.
To get the true value of the Mahomes and Smith trades, they have to be lumped together as one. The Chiefs wouldn’t have traded Smith if they didn’t already have Mahomes.
The Chiefs, in return for Smith, received Washington’s third-round draft pick this year plus a starting cornerback, Kendall Fuller. So the Chiefs gave up Smith and first- and third-round draft picks, receiving in return Mahomes, a third-round pick and Fuller.
Allowing the third-round picks coming and going to cancel, the Chiefs in essence traded Smith and a first-round pick for Mahomes and Fuller. Put another way, they traded a first-round pick for the chance to upgrade at quarterback and a good, young cornerback.
That’s a trade any team should make, particularly one that in its 58 seasons of existence had never drafted and developed a satisfactory solution at football’s most important position.
"The reigning consensus was that he has unbelievable talent," Dorsey said last year. “He’s got the skill set to be one of those truly great players, and I think sometimes when you make an aggressive move like that, that’s why you do it. These players, they don’t come by too often. So you have to take a shot at it, and that’s kind of what we did.
“We had him valued as the top quarterback. I can see this guy developing into a really good football player. So why not take a shot at it? This is a quarterback-driven league. You have to do these things to sustain the level you are at for 10 years down the road.”