The Kansas City Chiefs organization has a reputation for being content with “pretty good.”
Fans of the Chiefs have one Super Bowl win to hang their hats on and that win came before most current Chiefs fans were born. Since beating Minnesota for the NFL championship in January 1970, KC hasn’t returned to the big game since.
They’ve won their division seven times since 1993, but have won just three playoff games in that span — and two of those were in 1993. The Chiefs have been pretty good, but not great.
The trajectory of the franchise might have changed Tuesday night when the Chiefs traded quarterback Alex Smith to Washington for a third round draft pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller. This deal signals an attempt to move from “pretty good” to “great.”
What does this mean? Smith’s exit helps the Chiefs salary cap and makes Patrick Mahomes, the 2017 first round draft pick, the starting quarterback in the fall for KC.
Fuller, entering his third year, will start in a secondary that desperately needed a second cornerback to go with Marcus Peters. Fuller was ranked as one of the best slot corners in the league this past season. Whether he stays in the slot or moves outside, he’s a tremendous boost to the Chiefs.
The third round pick helps, too. It adds depth to a draft in which the Chiefs don’t currently have a first round pick. However, KC does have a second round pick and now two third round picks. It’s possible to find quality depth and starters with those three picks. It’s also possible to use those picks to trade up into the first round.
KC needs more help on the defensive side, particularly the line and at linebacker. Pass rush was a problem last season and it goes hand-in-hand with coverage. Better coverage means rushers have more time to get to the quarterback; getting to the quarterback faster means cover guys don’t have to stick with their receiver as long. Improving both units — Fuller is the first step — will make the entire defense improve even more. It’s like 1+1=3.
The big question mark hanging over the trade is Mahomes at quarterback. Check out the reaction of some Chiefs fans on Twitter and you’ll see plenty of people worried Mahomes isn’t ready to be a starter. That’s a misguided fear.
Mahomes has spent a year in the organization, watching film with Andy Reid and Alex Smith, learning the playbook, learning how to attack professional defenses and even started the final game of the season. He won’t be perfect next season, but his physical tools are better than Smith’s and he’s learned all he can from the sideline.
Playing quarterback now isn’t like playing quarterback in the 1990s. Players come out of college more prepared than they used to. Plenty have come in as rookie’s and had strong seasons — think of Deshaun Watson for the Texans last year before he was injured.
Also, Mahomes has three more years left on his rookie contract. He will be much more expensive when that contract expires, so why get two cheap years out of him when you can get three?
The math of the trade makes perfect sense for the Chiefs. They get rid of Smith’s contract which helps free space to address other needs. They hand the reigns of a powerful offense to a quarterback ready to take over. They help fill a huge need on the defensive side of the ball and pick up another draft pick to put the cherry on top.
Congratulations, Chiefs fans. Your team is moving in the right direction.