Let’s get this out of the way first: There is only one Patrick Mahomes.
He is the only quarterback in football who could carry his array of weapons this year to the Super Bowl. He will be the MVP of the league. He’s probably already a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s the best at his position in the league, and based on what he did at Arrowhead on Sunday — earning his third crack at the ring in four years because of a sore ankle — he lives in a division of his own.
Mahomes has the unique ability to ensure that his team will be the farthest in a league of copycats, where millions upon millions are spent in search of tight ends, for the next decade.
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That’s why it would be unwise for the NFL to look at the Chiefs and be convinced they have a plan to win. no They have Mahomes.
How then will the rest of the league build a team that can consistently challenge Kansas City? Check out the three teams that made it to last weekend and see where they invested.
The Bengals of course took Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, but they followed that up by using a second rounder (Tee Higgins) and then the next year’s first rounder (Ja’Marr Chase) on receivers.
The Eagles took a second-round quarterback in Jalen Hurts, but they spent the first round on a wideout next year (DeVonta Smith) and followed that up last offseason by trading a first-round pick for a star wide receiver (AJ Brown).
The Niners continued to build in reverse, hoping to land a highly drafted quarterback in a talent mix that already featured talented receivers taken in the first (Brandon Aiyuk) and second round (Deebo Samuel) in back-to-back drafts to go along with one of the best tight ends in football (George Kittle). They are so talented at quarterback that Trey Lance’s season-ending injury didn’t stop them from playing for the NFL title.
None of these investments in the receiver spot – which with each passing year looks like the second most important position on the field – guarantees a Super Bowl spot. Investments like that in the future can’t promise a January win in Kansas City, as the Bengals found out Sunday.
But having an elite offense is the price of admission this time of year. And the most successful teams in football have been vocal about their wallets and spending on draft picks: Multiple successful pass rushers are a prerequisite for a Super Bowl shot.
The Chiefs don’t have to live in this world thanks to Mahomes. But that’s the reality teams without the best pitcher of this generation are forced to live with.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane, after being pulled from the postseason in a loss to Cincinnati and their high-powered passing attack, faced questions about adding more to an offensive lineup that already includes a supremely gifted quarterback in Josh Allen and top – wide receiver in Stefon Diggs.
Was it enough to have a wide out who scares the secondary?
Not everyone has the opportunity to draft a Chase-level player, as Bean pointed out. But the number of star wideouts produced in the second round and later in recent years would suggest that turbocharging an offense with a good decision or two is as affordable as ever.
However, the willingness to spend elections or money (or both) for the position must be there. For those who follow the Patriots, it’s worth asking where that desire stands this offseason. My understanding is that they look at receiver as one of their top two or three needs, but how far will they be willing to go to address that?
They drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round in 2019. He flopped. They paid Nelson Aholor two offseasons ago. The same. They have shown that they wish this place had been there before. They have to prove it again.
Last season they had second round pick Tyquan Thornton. They are paying two veterans — DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne — to short-money deals through 2023. They currently rank 26th in the NFL in spending on receivers for next season, which puts them ahead of only the Packers, Colts , Falcons, Bears, Ravens and Nines.
Two of those six teams made the postseason in 2022, but they also ranked near the top of the league in tight end spending. The Patriots sit atop the NFL in tight end cap space used, but their duo of Hunter Henry and Johnu Smith doesn’t measure up to Kittle or Baltimore’s Mark Andrews from a production standpoint.
In a world dominated by teams with more than one next-level pass rusher, the Patriots are looking for their first. Unfortunately for them, it looks like it won’t be easy to find people with needles there in the off-season.
Arguably the best receiver on the free agent market is one of them: Jacoby Meyers. And the draft doesn’t look like it’s stacked with huge talent either. “I don’t think it’s anything like what we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah told Lindsey Rhodes last week when asked about the incoming class of wide outs.
Maybe Bill Belichick needs to get creative. There are names worth pursuing via trade if he kicks around the idea of parting ways with the picks.
Whatever happens, if the Patriots want to play until the end of next January, they will have to – as Belichick likes to say – do business like business is done in today’s NFL. They will have to try to stockpile talent at receiver.
Such is the world for teams that don’t have the great fortune of hiring the best quarterback on the planet. As they may have come to find out.