Once the Chiefs traded superstar receiver Tyreek Hill in March, general manager Brett Veach was at a crossroads.
The league-shaking move not only returned draft picks to KC but also opened up salary cap money. And suddenly, Veach had a wide range of options for rebuilding the offense around superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Get another speedy receiver, or sign a running back? Use draft capital to select a wideout early, or look to solidify the team’s strength on the offensive line?
Potentially, Veach also could have looked at the question this way: What future moves would help Mahomes the most?
An example: Many NFL talent evaluators love Mahomes’ ability to read the field, so spreading talent among multiple wideouts could make sense if you wanted to play to that processing strength. It appeared to be the path the Chiefs eventually took, as they signed big-body free agents JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling while adding second-round pick Skyy Moore in the draft.
But Veach says something less complicated was at play when choosing the team’s new offensive pieces:
He simply put his trust in Mahomes.
“We probably look at the reverse way, where Pat is going to be able to adapt to any play style,” Veach said. “Because Pat is obviously gifted, but he’s also extremely smart.”
Veach understands the freedom this affords. Instead of scheming a way to play up his quarterback’s strengths on offense, Veach said the end goal of player acquisition was “just trying to get the best talent we can.”
He was comforted based on what he’d seen from Mahomes last season ... when nearly every defense threw a two-high shell defense his way.
Mahomes, after some early struggles, dinked and dunked to success. In doing so, he helped the Chiefs to the league’s most efficient offense last year (counting postseason) in Football Outsiders’ all-encompassing Weighted DVOA efficiency metric.
“He’ll adapt to the game,” Veach said. “And if you’re going to take stuff away, he’ll be able to rework his mindset.”
That skill will be crucial as the Chiefs open this season as well.
Ask Mahomes how he needs to change this season, and he starts by talking about his approach. The last few seasons, Chiefs fans loved to circulate an online meme with a picture of Mahomes rearing back for a deep throw, along with the caption, “F- it, Tyreek down there somewhere.”
Mahomes — he responded to the meme last September in a news conference by admitting, “Sometimes it be like that” — says a simplified version of that thought process was periodically at play pre-snap.
“There were some times where even if it was like a backside of a route, and you just got a good matchup with Tyreek, you would just throw it just because — good or bad,” Mahomes said. “And I think now, it helps you get through the entire offense. There’s no one spot that you’re just looking for matchups. You’re just trying to run the play the way it’s being called.”
The shift of focus, Mahomes said, helped him get through progressions even faster in training camp. Certainly, he’ll still look tight end Travis Kelce’s way early if there’s a one-on-one situation he can’t pass up.
Mahomes, though, declares this year’s Chiefs offense will be predicated more on “spots” than “guys.”
“You trust every guy on the field to make plays, and even the guys we’re rotating in are guys that have been making plays at camp,” Mahomes said. “And so you just trust to go through your reads the right way, and those guys will make plays when their number gets called.”
Veach also was reassured by his head coach’s track record.
Throughout his 23 seasons in the NFL, Andy Reid has been able to construct top-ranked offenses in various packages. Veach said offseason discussions with Reid about personnel additions in previous months might include talk about increasing depth in a spot or getting younger at a specific position.
But they didn’t center on needing a specific type of new-player skill-set.
“Just get them talent, and they’ll put them in positions and they’ll dial up stuff that they can do,” Veach said of Mahomes and Reid. “And then once they get open, Pat will find them.”
So how would Reid like to see Mahomes evolve with the new challenge of this season?
First, the coach wants to see his quarterback “be himself.” Some natural maturation should happen from there, Reid says, as Mahomes becomes accustomed to some new wrinkles of the playbook.
Mostly, though, Reid says the Chiefs will be just fine if Mahomes trusts himself and his reads as he has in the past.
Veach is banking on Mahomes doing the same — modeling an offseason’s worth of moves around the expectation that his star QB won’t stray from who he’s been.
“Pat has such a versatility in his game. He can really do anything,” Veach said. “So I think that’s a little bit of a luxury we have.”