KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes is in the second year of a 10-year, $450 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. For the 2022 season, he, alone, gobbled up 17.2 percent of the team’s salary cap, according to spotrac.com.
Mahomes is the most talented player in the league, so neither the Chiefs, nor any other team, given the opportunity, would hesitate to allocate that much to a single player. He is the exception to the rule.
However, what goes to one player can’t go to all the others, i.e. the 52 others needed to win games.
That’s why the theory remains that the winning formula for teams is having a great quarterback on a relatively cheap rookie contract — like Kansas City’s Super Bowl opponent Philadelphia (Jalen Hurts, $1.6 million cap hit) or championship rival AFC Cincinnati (Joe Burrow, $9.8 million) have fun. Then spend some of that extra cash on more important pieces.
And that’s probably true.
Well, unless you’re the boss and can find an old-fashioned way around this conundrum; namely absolutely crushing the draft for the past three years and stocking the roster with key contributors that come in on the cheap, even if the quarterback doesn’t.
Kansas City has made 22 selections in the last three NFL Drafts. Due to his success during that span, the Chiefs have never had a selection higher than 21st overall (2022). They missed the first round in 2021 and picked the 32nd in 2020.
Yet general manager Brett Veach and his staff have warmed up. As much as Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones, and head coach Andy Reid are receiving well-deserved praise, this was truly a Super Bowl organizational journey.
Seventeen of those 22 selections played in the AFC title game, with 10 playing at least half of the snaps. And they came from the whole project, from the first round to the last. Also there was rookie undrafted free-agent Jake Cochrane, who made 18 special teams snaps.
Additionally, two other draft picks — running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and defensive end Joshua Kaindoh — are on injured reserve. One pick: Cornerback Thakarius “Bopete” Keyes, a seventh-round pick in 2020, was traded after one season.
Another Cornell wide receiver Powell, a fifth-round pick in 2021, is on the practice squad but has seen action in three games this season. Rookie Darian Kinnard has seen limited serve this season, but the team sees a future for him as an inside offensive lineman.
It’s fair to say that Kansas City has reached 20 of its last 22 draft picks.
Consider some of the highlights from Sunday’s AFC title game win against the Cincinnati Bengals from the class of 2022 alone:
Running back Isiah Pacheco, who went off 251st off Rutgers, combined 85 rushing and receiving yards in a game where they were hard to come by.
Defensive end George Karlaftis, the 30th pick out of Purdue, had a big sack and added depth to a dominant defensive front.
Cornerback Jaylen Watson, who went off 243rd by Washington State, had an interception for the second straight playoff game.
Cornerback Joshua Williams, the 135th selection out of Fayetteville State, had his pick by ripping off a brilliant tip off fellow first-year defensive end Bryan Cook, a second-round pick from Cincinnati.
First-round corner Trent McDuffie from Washington had two pass deflections and six tackles while catching 98 percent of snaps.
And finally there was receiver and, more importantly, returner Skyy Moore, a second-round player from Western Michigan, who caught just three passes for 13 yards but delivered the team’s massive 29-yard punt return. last minute to set up the game of KC-winning push
This is a jaw-dropping and critical group performance from rookies. As of 2021, linebacker Nick Bolton (four tackles) and offensive linemen Creed Humphries and Trey Smith were on the field for every defensive or offensive snap, respectively.
The Chiefs are, without a doubt, a top tier team. There’s Mahomes, the biggest star in the game. And tight end Travis Kelce, a future Hall of Famer. The rushing pair of Chris Jones and Frank Clark combined for seven tackles and 3.5 sacks. Offensive linemen Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown Jr. were expensive additions the team brought in to protect Mahomes.
Those six alone add up to 53.58% of the bosses’ salary cap. Comparatively, on the Eagles sharing the wealth, the top 25 players combine for 53.13% of the salary cap.
Next season will be tougher for Kansas City. Brown could walk away via free agency, but the remaining five would have to gobble up a whopping 63.71% by themselves.
Yet it may not matter. At least not if Veach and company can continue their streak and use their dozen picks from the 2023 draft picks to find players who come in and contribute, even in the biggest games.
Kansas City may be star-fueled, but it wouldn’t be in the Super Bowl, let alone potentially win it, if it weren’t for the relatively low-paid young boys of the Chiefs stepping up again and again and again.