Go back to the NFL draft on the night of April 27, 2017. The Buffalo Bills were on the clock in the 10th spot and needed a franchise quarterback.
So they traded away the pick that became Patrick Mahomes.
Maybe this will work out over the long haul for the Bills, who are now hitched to rookie quarterback Josh Allen, chosen with the seventh pick in April. Yet the way Mahomes has lit it up through five weeks as Andy Reid’s new wingman, leading the league with 14 touchdown passes, makes me wonder whether Coach Andy suckered a former assistant, Bills coach Sean McDermott, to land the ultimate prize.
The decision to pass on Mahomes, and for that matter Deshaun Watson, whom Buffalo faces this week, could haunt the Bills for years.
“I’m reminded of what Bill Walsh once told me,” former NFL general manager Mike Lombardi told USA TODAY Sports, dropping the name of the late Hall of Famer who built the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s. “The hardest position to evaluate is quarterback and it’s even harder to coach. In the draft, so few really know. But Andy knew exactly what he was getting with Mahomes.”
The axiom that hindsight is 20-20 can be especially true when it comes to the crucial decision to draft a quarterback. The influx of young quarterbacks within the past three years will undoubtedly weigh heavily on the fortunes of several teams, with much fodder attached to comparisons of their development or lack thereof.
“If Deshaun Watson was with the Jaguars, they might be the best team in the league,” said Lombardi, who writes for The Athletic. “How about the Bears? They traded a bundle to move up. Was (Mitchell) Trubisky the best quarterback in the draft?”
Yes, there were a few quarterback-needy teams that passed on Mahomes.
“Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, it didn’t fit their narrative,” Lombardi added of the 49ers coach and GM, who traded with the Bears to move back one spot and take Solomon Thomas, later engineering a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo to address their need at quarterback. “They wanted to make a run at Kirk Cousins.”
Ah, Cousins. If you saw the Vikings’ $84 million man throw down at the Linc on Sunday, then caught Alex Smith on Monday night in New Orleans, it raises questions about how Dan Snyder and Co. bungled that one. Smith was surely seen by Washington as an upgrade, with his attractiveness bolstered by the time spent with the quarterback guru in Kansas City.
But he looks like a downgrade at the moment. The comparisons won’t end for Smith, who came into the NFL as the No. 1 pick overall in 2005 with the 49ers. The next quarterback drafted, Aaron Rodgers, fell all the way to the 24th slot, where the Packers found their successor to Brett Favre.
Perhaps the Jaguars, equipped with one of the NFL’s best defenses (albeit a unit shredded by the Chiefs passer on Sunday) will rue the decision to not only pass on Watson and Mahomes and select running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick, but also the rationale to stand pat with Blake Bortles. Jacksonville had a chance last offseason to move on from Bortles, but instead re-upped him with a three-year, $54 million extension.
Coaching might be the quintessential X-factor. Jared Goff, taken No. 1 overall by the Rams in 2016, epitomizes that. He seemed like a bust as a rookie under Jeff Fisher. Then along comes whiz kid coach Sean McVay, and a star was born. Goff leads the NFL with 1,727 passing yards and ranks second behind Drew Brees with a 119.7 passer rating.
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