With Patrick Mahomes' contract looming, Chiefs should trade down in NFL draft

Watkins restructures contract for another Chiefs Super Bowl run (0:43)

Adam Teicher explains how much the Chiefs save restructuring Sammy Watkins' contract and the difficulty of finding playing time for young players like Mecole Hardman. (0:43)

The Kansas City Chiefs have five draft picks this year, which would make it their smallest rookie class since 2002. That fact, combined with a looming contract extension for Patrick Mahomes, makes the 2020 NFL draft an optimal time for general manager Brett Veach to trade down.

The Chiefs are going to need many good, young players on relatively inexpensive contracts to surround their quarterback when he becomes, as is widely expected, the highest paid player in football. Consider: The NFL player with the richest contract based on average pay per year is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is making $35 million annually. Wilson will count $31 million against the Seahawks' salary cap this year, or about 16%. Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff has the league's highest 2020 cap number at about $36 million, accounting for 20.8% of his team's cap.

Mahomes, who will count about $5.3 million against the Chiefs' cap this year, is chewing up just 2.4% of their space.

In other words, things will change for the Chiefs once Mahomes receives his new contract. That's why trading down to acquire additional picks makes sense.

But trading down hasn't been Veach's forte since he started running the Chiefs' draft in 2018. The Chiefs have made four draft trades during the past two years, and in all of them they jumped ahead to grab a desired player.

Veach moved the Chiefs up in the second round to draft wide receiver Mecole Hardman last year. He made three such trades in 2018, with the Chiefs climbing to get defensive end Breeland Speaks in the second round, defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi in the third round and offensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie, who has since been released, in the sixth round.

At least two of those trades proved useful in the Chiefs' successful pursuit of a Super Bowl championship. Hardman scored seven touchdowns and averaged almost 21 yards per catch as a rookie while Nnadi started all 16 games last year in the regular season plus all three in the postseason.

In 2017 -- before Veach -- the Chiefs had a great draft after making two big leaps. They climbed in the third round to get into position to draft running back Kareem Hunt, who went on to lead the NFL in rushing as a rookie. They also moved up 17 spots in the first round so they could get Mahomes. That trade may eventually be remembered as the best in NFL history.

When it comes to the 2020 draft, the Chiefs still have a few positions of need. They recently bolstered the biggest of these by agreeing to terms with cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who will return along with last season's other starter, Charvarius Ward. But that doesn't mean the Chiefs couldn't use more help at corner, or several other positions.

At running back, for instance, the Chiefs have starter and Super Bowl LIV standout Damien Williams plus Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson and free-agent addition DeAndre Washington. But the Chiefs were 22nd in rushing yards, 28th in rushing attempts and 29th in carries of 10 yards or more last season. And players such as Georgia's D'Andre Swift or LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire could make sense for them.

The Chiefs don't have an immediate need for a wide receiver after agreeing to terms on one-year contracts with Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson. But this year's receiver class is deep, and the Chiefs could do worse if they wind up trading down rather than picking up a wide out such as Denzel Mims of Baylor.

Trading down worked the last time the Chiefs tried it in 2016. They moved down twice in that draft, and the most beneficial of those swaps allowed the Chiefs to pick defensive tackle Chris Jones in the second round and acquire an additional fourth-round pick. Jones led the Chiefs in sacks the past two seasons.

Trading up may be Veach's preferred way, but he has shown this offseason he's capable of operating differently from his norm. The Chiefs were bold in acquiring veteran talent the past two years, signing Watkins and linebacker Anthony Hitchens in 2018 and signing defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and trading for defensive end Frank Clark last year.

This year, with the roster in better shape coming off the Super Bowl victory and the Chiefs having a tight salary-cap situation, the Chiefs have so far been far less aggressive. All of their signings from the outside have been for backup players.

Which brings us back to the draft, where the Chiefs have a first-round pick for the first time since 2017 and a selection in each of the first five rounds. Unless they trade down.