Hindsight is 20-20. That’s what makes it easy to see how genius it was for the Chiefs to trade up and select Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft.
At the time, though, the maneuver made sense not just for Kansas City, but also for the Bills, who were trading down. Even in retrospect, the Bills can feel pretty good about the players they have now because of that trade, including star cornerback Tre’Davious White. With Mahomes set to take on the Bills on Monday night at 5 p.m. on CBS, the Chiefs-Bills trade on draft night in 2017 is worth another look.
For Kansas City, groundwork was laid toward winning Super Bowl 54. In Buffalo, it began a slightly longer process toward consistent relevance that’s been advanced with the 2018 selection of Josh Allen. Both teams have their franchise quarterbacks now, and the Bills have a deeper team thanks to that trade with Kansas City and other deals that followed.
The Chiefs were already on the rise when they traded up to pick Mahomes, while the Bills were mired in mediocrity. Thanks to that move, both teams now reside among the AFC’s best.
Patrick Mahomes draft pick trade details
Why did the Bills pass on drafting Patrick Mahomes?
The Bills entered the 2017 offseason in a state of limbo. Head coach Sean McDermott was hired in January, but he’d be working on the 2017 NFL Draft with outgoing general manager Doug Whaley. The Bills didn’t hire current GM Brandon Beane until May, after the draft.
Buffalo wasn’t totally out in the weeds at quarterback, with Tyrod Taylor remaining on the roster and having proved serviceable in his first two seasons as a starter for the Bills. Essentially, McDermott would have to decide whether he wanted to make his career-defining QB pick in 2017 without a GM’s backing.
The quarterbacks available in the 2017 draft all had some enticing traits, although there wasn’t one viewed as a for-sure thing. Mitchell Trubisky went second overall to the Chicago Bears. Mahomes went 10th to the Chiefs, with Deshaun Watson going to the Texans two picks later. Deshone Kizer from Notre Dame was the only other quarterback taken in the first two rounds.
McDermott chose not to hang his hat on a quarterback who hadn’t undergone as thorough a vetting process as he would’ve liked. Coming off a 7-9 2016 season, the Bills had a good amount of building still to do and couldn’t afford to whiff on a quarterback selection. At the time, it wasn’t so much about the Bills thinking Mahomes wasn’t worth the pick as simply not feeling informed and safe enough in the selection.
“Look, you look at things and you say, ‘What’s in the best interests of this organization?'” McDermott said after the draft. “That’s what I have to do. [Chiefs coach] Andy [Reid has] got his own situation. We’ve got our own situation here. That’s the nature of the draft. You stick by what’s important and what’s right for us, and that’s what we did.”
Why did the Chiefs trade up for Patrick Mahomes?
The Chiefs weren’t the most obvious candidate to select a quarterback in 2017. They’d just gone 12-4 in 2016 with former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith at quarterback. Andy Reid could count on a veteran, accurate QB like Smith to execute whatever fun or different offensive schemes he wanted to cook up.
Kansas City had identified Mahomes as the quarterback prospect it wanted to build around, though. That’s what Clark Hunt told ESPN in 2019. Originally slated to pick 27th, Kansas City didn’t feel that Mahomes would make it to that pick.
“We knew that we were interested in Patrick, and if the opportunity came along for us to trade up and get him, it was something that we wanted to do,” Hunt told ESPN. “I would say that in a lot of ways, it made it more of a nervous first hour just watching the players come off the board.”
The Chiefs had already been working to line up trades to move up before the draft began, and one of those deals set in place was with Buffalo, according to ESPN. When nine picks had gone by and Mahomes was still available, Kansas City made the move.
“It was pretty tense in [the draft room] for a little bit because we knew there were a couple other teams trying to get him,” Reid told ESPN. “There was a bit of tension, but everyone was excited when it happened. It wasn’t one of those deals where half the room was in on him and half wasn’t. Everybody was in on this kid and liked him, so everyone was pretty fired up.”
Before the draft, Chiefs GM John Dorsey had identified the Saints (No. 11), Giants (No. 13) and Cardinals (No. 23) as teams that could potentially take Mahomes, according to ESPN. That’s why moving up to No. 10 made the most sense.
Mahomes has turned into arguably the NFL’s best quarterback, but draft experts didn’t see him as a sure thing in 2017. There was worry that he was a “system quarterback” at Texas Tech. He attempted risky throws that few others tried, which conceptually increased his bust potential.
In Kansas City’s war room, though, Mahomes was the guy. The organization has long had a policy that ownership needs to approve trading first round picks, according to ESPN. Hunt was just fine approving this deal.
“It’s not a decision that I took lightly,” Hunt told ESPN. “But with all things considered, it was not a hard decision. The chance to get a quarterback who can be a franchise quarterback for the Chiefs in the future made it a pretty easy decision.”
Who won the Patrick Mahomes trade?
The immediate answer here appears to be the Chiefs. They got Mahomes, possibly the face of the NFL for years to come. Mahomes won the 2018 NFL MVP and then led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl 54 title while winning Super Bowl MVP honors.
While the Bills have moved on from Jones, they got a star cornerback (White), a starting left tackle (Dawkins), a starting middle linebacker (Edmunds) and a depth corner back (Neal) out of this trade tree. The Bills signed White to a four-year, $70-million extension in the offseason with a total value approaching $82 million.
With more time for the staff to get its full scouting done in 2018, the Bills selected Josh Allen in the top 10, landing a player who appears to be the franchise QB Buffalo has been looking for. The Bills surely wouldn’t have taken Allen in 2018 if they’d stayed at their pick and chosen Mahomes in 2017.
It’s hard to say that the Bills lost this trade. It was the move they felt comfortable making at the time, and it landed them three quality NFL starters in the moves that followed.
It’s easy, though, to say that the Chiefs won their half of this trade. The proof is in the hardware that Mahomes has already earned himself and his team, and no one would bet against him adding more rings to his fingers.
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