We have the Los Angeles Chargers to thank for the football spectacle that Patrick Mahomes put on.
When the 27-year-old Chiefs quarterback won his second Lombardi Trophy and second Super Bowl MVP award, football lovers could once again thank their lucky stars that Tom Telesco and John Spanos chose not to draft the former star of Texas Tech with the seventh pick in the 2017 draft.
The decision to recruit Clemson receiver Mike Williams and not Mahomes ensured that Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs would meet three picks later at #10, providing the quarterback with an extraordinarily fertile ground to grow his special but unorthodox talents and thus giving football lovers a five-year spectacle like no other in the annals of the NFL.
Of course, Telesco and Spanos weren’t the only NFL Draft supervisors to pass on Mahomes. But according to former Chiefs GM John Dorsey, the upstart LA Chargers were the team Kansas City feared the most.
Dorsey told NFL reporter Bob McGinn that, as the Chiefs saw it, the teams’ situations were nearly identical: Each AFC West rival employed a veteran franchise quarterback who was under contract for two more years but hadn’t brought in his team to a Super Bowl.
The Chiefs feared that Telesco and Spanos would tuck Mahomes behind Philip Rivers, allowing the “Air Raid” alum a year or two to learn under a perennial Pro Bowler before succeeding him.
Making the Chiefs more nervous, Telesco and Spanos wouldn’t have to spend extra draft picks to get Mahomes. They could just wait for him at No. 7 because the San Diego Chargers last team, beaten and undercapitalized, went 5-11.
Then, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the Chargers had drafted Williams, giving Rivers his favorite type of receiving target, the Chiefs let out a collective exhalation.
Kansas City’s stealthy plan had not been scuppered. The Chiefs knew they could move up 17 spots to reclaim Mahomes.
They were only too happy to send three premium draft picks to the Buffalo Bills.
They had seen in Mahomes what other teams had failed to see: greatness that had been overshadowed by streaks of reckless play for Tech teams that couldn’t stop their opponents from scoring.
Mahomes’ pending situation in Kansas City was great for a young QB.
Instead of starting his NFL career under Anthony Lynn, Mahomes started under Andy Reid.
Instead of pitching to Keenan Allen and old Antonio Gates — an experienced pairing but with speed issues — the shotgun-toting Mahomes teamed with the NFL’s scariest wide receiver in sprinter Tyreek Hill and a young tight end in Travis Kelce who defended of the NFL have not yet resolved.
There were more presents.
Helix High School alum Alex Smith has proven to be Mahomes’ NFL mentor, according to longtime QB agent Leigh Steinberg and Mahomes himself.
Where Rivers was strictly a pocket quarterback, Smith was a mobile playmaker who had learned the same basic run-pass readings Mahomes had learned and knew how to apply them in the NFL.
Smith shared his NFL wisdom with the rookie quarterback. He showed him how to do Reid’s version of the West Coast offense. While Mahomes soaked up the apprenticeship, Smith led the NFL in passer rating and averaged 5.9 yards per rush, furthering rookie education.
Had Telesco and Spanos drafted him, Mahomes would have trained in San Diego for two months and followed the team to Greater Los Angeles, where the Chargers were an afterthought.
It would have been a world apart from welcoming Kansas City, where a dedicated fan base provided it with a competitive edge in every home game.
With the Los Angeles Chargers, Mahomes would have to resort to silent tallies during home games because so many fans in Carson supported the away team.
Rivers would give him directions. But Rivers had no experience in hybrid directing. And because he was unwilling to relocate his family, Rivers commuted from San Diego to Orange County throughout the 2017 season, limiting his ability to assist a rookie replacement.
Wearing blue and gold, Mahomes would be asked to outdo one of the most powerful forces in the NFL.
In Kansas City, Chiefs fans made sure it was the visiting QB who had to overcome communication difficulties caused by a loud crowd.
Let’s be clear: Mahomes wasn’t going to be a failure like the LA Charger. He was too capable for that to happen, and the ’18 Chargers were talented, earning a playoff berth and a wild card round win in Baltimore. Famed quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen, a Norv Turner-trained assistant, moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles team that the Mahomes and Chiefs outscored in the Super Bowl, 38-35.
But know this: It would be foolish to believe that Mahomes would have thrived with Team Spanos as he did with the Chiefs under the brilliant and highly paid Reid and Eric Bieniemy, the only coordinator he has known in his five years as a starter. It’s fanciful to think that the Chargers would have provided Mahomes with three All-Pros (all drafted after the first round) and navigated an NFL system that punishes hits as skillfully as the 2022 Chiefs.
In the five seasons since he replaced Smith, who returned a premium pick and starting cornerback via trade, Mahomes has led Kansas City to five AFC title games and three Super Bowls, compared to one AFC title game and one Super Bowl for the Chargers in 40 years of Spanos management. The Mahomes-Reid tandem was a game or two from achieving five Super Bowl in five years.
Luckily for Telesco and Spanos, luck has once again knocked on their door.
Two years after Mahomes went to the Chiefs, the Chargers lost enough games to get another top 10 draft pick.
Smartly, Telesco and Spanos spent it on Justin Herbert.
Herbert, 24, gives them a chance to get past Mahomes and Reid.
Football lovers, meanwhile, can enjoy the magic show the leaders of the Chargers might have anticipated, but thankfully didn’t.