KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the Kansas City Chiefs started to get serious about trading wide receiver Tyreek Hill last spring, general manager Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid made a phone call to an interested party: the team’s quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
They were calling to let him know the Chiefs may soon deal one of the NFL’s most explosive receivers. They weren’t seeking approval, exactly, but they also didn’t want Mahomes to be surprised if they did eventually trade Hill.
They told Mahomes that negotiations with Hill for a contract extension were getting too rich for what the Chiefs considered their own good. They told him they thought they could get a bounty of draft picks in return that would help keep the Chiefs competitive for years to come. And they told him their plan to add veteran receivers to cover for Hill’s departure.
Veach and Reid even kept calling Mahomes with updates as the trade negotiations progressed. By the time the Chiefs agreed to send their top wide receiver to the Miami Dolphins for five draft picks, Mahomes was ready for a post-Hill world.
“The Tyreek situation could have happened without me knowing,” Mahomes said. “I could have seen that on my phone, and I think some guys have been in situations where they see stuff like that happen. To tell me that, it kind of prepares me so that I’m not kind of blindsided by anything.”
The Chiefs have looked around the NFL and seen elite quarterbacks who have, for one reason or another, gotten sideways with their franchises. Tom Brady (Patriots), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Matthew Stafford (Lions), Deshaun Watson (Texans), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Kyler Murray (Cardinals), Baker Mayfield (Browns) and Carson Wentz (Eagles) have all either asked to be traded at some point in recent years or expressed disenchantment with their situations. The Chiefs became determined that wasn’t going to happen with Mahomes. And for now at least, the relationship between Mahomes and the Chiefs is very strong.
“We show him the ultimate amount of respect, and I think he appreciates that,” Veach said. “I don’t think that there was ever a moment — and this is whether this is our free agency plan or our draft plan, certainly the Tyreek Hill situation — that we ever neglected that relationship.
“I just think it makes too much sense when you have a guy that is not just the face of this organization but in many ways the face of the NFL.”
Communication of that sort is the style for Veach and Reid, and they’ve even occasionally looped in tight end Travis Kelce — one of the most important veterans on the roster — on some bigger team moves. Reid is in his 24th season as an NFL head coach, and through most of his career, he has had three starting quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb for 11 seasons with the Eagles, Alex Smith for five with the Chiefs and Mahomes for the past five. He shared a lot with each of them.
Ahead of the 2017 draft, he called Smith into his office to show him collegiate highlights of some of the top available quarterbacks, including Mahomes. He told Smith that one of the featured quarterbacks was likely to become his teammate. That’s a contrast to how some other similar situations are handled around the league; for instance, Brady and Rodgers appeared surprised when their respective teams drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and Jordan Love in recent years.
Left unsaid but certainly understood by Smith was that this player would eventually take his job. And so it was after the Chiefs wound up drafting Mahomes at No. 10. But Reid didn’t want Smith to be surprised by the addition of Mahomes, and he operates the same way with his latest starting quarterback.
“Myself and Brett keep it wide open with Patrick,” Reid said. “It’s part of playing that position. There’s a pretty good chance there’s change that’s going to take place throughout your career, so that’s all part of it. I think if you beat around the bush on it, I don’t think that’s good either. I’m kind of up front — ‘This is what it is. This is the plan going forward.'”
Mahomes signed a team-friendly contract extension in 2020 that pays him an average salary of $45 million. While that number at the time made him the highest-paid quarterback in the league, he knew that distinction wouldn’t last long. He was right. He’s now the fifth-highest-paid quarterback, following Rodgers, Wilson, Murray and Watson.
But Mahomes said he’s comfortable with that arrangement for two reasons. First, he wanted to leave money on the table so the Chiefs could build around him. Second, he trusts the decisions Veach and Reid make.
“I always want to be successful this year, but at the same time, I’m in here for the long haul,” he says. “If we’re going to have a long time here, I want to have a chance to win Super Bowls every single year. I want to get the best players that we possibly could on this team. And I want to keep the players that are loyal and that want to win just as much as I do. So I’m just going to do whatever I can to give my input and let [Veach and Reid] do their job. We have some of the best of the business at that stuff.”
This offseason, the Chiefs replaced Hill with veteran receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and they signed veteran safety Justin Reid. And some of the picks acquired in the Hill trade helped them draft cornerback Trent McDuffie and receiver Skyy Moore.
That’s enough to keep Mahomes, and perhaps most other quarterbacks, happy. One former franchise quarterback now in the Hall of Fame, Troy Aikman, sounded envious.
“The reason I retired when I retired is not because of injury,” said Aikman, who finished playing in 2000 and is now a Monday Night Football analyst. “It was because I felt decisions were being made within the organization that were not in the best interest of us winning football games. I had no control over that. When you feel that way as a quarterback or as a franchise quarterback, you want to go elsewhere.
“Patrick, he’s in a great spot. He’s playing for a great organization and a great head coach. He’s won, and he continues to win. There’s no reason for him to believe they’re not doing the right things to continue to put good players around him and make good decisions that give them as an organization a chance to win at the highest level. That’s all any quarterback ultimately asks for.”
The Chiefs say they don’t ask for Mahomes’ permission or blessing on their plans, but they do want him to know what those plans are and hear his feedback. Mahomes bought into the ownership group of the Kansas City Royals and Sporting Kansas City in part so he can learn the business side of things, and he has said he would like to become a majority owner of a professional sports team when he’s finished playing. He understands, at least to an extent, the factors the Chiefs have to sort through before making a major move.
One year as free agency had just started, he asked Veach about a particular player from another team and what the Chiefs’ chances might be of signing him. Veach told Mahomes he had checked with the agent of the player in question and relayed the money necessary to sign him. Mahomes seemed surprised and replied, “Oh, that’s way too much for that guy.”
“I’m not like telling them who to sign or anything like that,” Mahomes says now. “But at the same time, they’re at least letting me know what the plan is, why we’re doing this, why we’re trying to get this guy in here. And there’s always a plan. … I usually just listen to the reasoning. I haven’t had one yet where I’ve said ‘I don’t like that move.’ Maybe down the line.”
The Chiefs have kept Mahomes informed of their plans in other instances as well. Veach said that he has conversations with Mahomes about the positions and players the Chiefs intend to pursue in the draft. And on the field, Reid gives Mahomes a lot of freedom. The quarterback frequently goes to his coach with ideas for plays, and the Chiefs occasionally use them in games.
For instance, they scored a touchdown on a play suggested by Mahomes in a 2020 game against the Carolina Panthers. Mahomes started in the shotgun formation before going in motion, returning to his original spot before the snap and throwing a touchdown pass.
“I’ll draw plays on the board and be like, ‘Hey, how do you think we could do this?'” he said. “And then [Reid will] make it work to where he can put it in the game plan, and it goes with all the other stuff that we’re doing. So it’s great to have that open of a relationship where he can listen to me and get those plays in because he knows I like them. It speaks volume to the amount of confidence he has in himself and in me.”
Mahomes also makes play suggestions during games, and Reid is often inclined to run them. During a break in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, Mahomes famously suggested to Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy that they run a play called 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp. The Chiefs, trailing 20-10, ran the play, and Mahomes converted the third-and-15 situation with a 44-yard pass to Hill. They went on to score a touchdown on the drive and eventually won the game for their first Super Bowl championship in 50 years.
Veach says, “I would say that the relationship that Andy has with Pat is different because I don’t think he’s ever had a quarterback that can literally handle anything in the playbook from the mental side or from the purely athletic, arm strength and ability side. … Knowing that he can execute it and knowing that he’s not uncomfortable with this or not uncomfortable with that, I think there’s more of a freedom of exchanging of ideas.”
It’s worth noting that many of the franchise quarterbacks who became disenchanted with their teams did so later in their careers. Brady was in his 40s when he left the Patriots. Wilson and Stafford were in their 30s when they asked for their trades. Rodgers was also in his 30s when things got sideways with the Packers before the reigning MVP re-upped in Green Bay.
Mahomes just turned 27, so there’s plenty of time for his relationship with the Chiefs to still sour. He signed an extension with them two years ago that doesn’t expire until 2031, and 10 seasons constitute an eternity in the NFL.
But as long as the Chiefs keep winning — and keep him involved in what they’re doing — it seems unlikely.
“He still looks at Andy as the guy that can obviously teach him the most,” Veach said. “There’s never been a sense of ‘I have arrived’ type attitude with Pat. He’s always hungry. He’s always willing to work. He’s always looking to better himself. And he knows that the first place to go to better his game is into coach Reid’s office.”