Early Monday afternoon marked the first time the Kansas City local sports media had gathered to talk to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in a long while.
As I watched the past three months of his life unfold from afar, I can’t lie: I wondered if maybe Mahomes might change his personality because of his newfound celebrity.
I saw the countless partnerships—from Hunt’s to Oakley to Adidas— and the imaginative commercials that came with them. I saw a mega movie star, Paul Rudd, wear Mahomes’ name on the back of a suit jacket, I saw his appearance on Jimmy Fallon to launch his foundation, 15 and the Mahomies, and I saw the spotlight shined upon him at one of the most significant non-NFL events of the offseason in Minneapolis at the NCAA Final Four.
Tight end Travis Kelce, Mahomes’ running partner in Minneapolis, had never seen anything like it.
“I’ve never been around a guy that’s [has] that much stardom, like everywhere he goes,” Kelce said.
The 23-year-old reigning NFL MVP walked up to the podium Monday in a black sweatshirt, looking physically bigger, at least in my mind, so I asked if he put on muscle during the offseason.
“I hope it’s muscle,” he said with a smile as the media members in the room laughed.
And that’s when I knew.
To my slight surprise, and what should be Kansas City’s delight, it was the same old Mahomes from last year—and in my opinion, that is the best part about him.
There is no doubt he has that something you can’t teach—the thing that separates the good ones from the bad—but he also has surrounded himself with good people. Some of them happened naturally like his father, Patrick Mahomes I, and his godfather, LaTroy Hawkins.
Others, like the selections of Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott as his agents, have played a critical role as well.
“Leigh has that experience with all those quarterbacks from years past,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid explained Monday. “Chris is really working first hand with him on that. I thought they narrowed it down to where it was manageable. They kept me abreast to what they were doing. Not that I am making any of those decisions, but it looked manageable. I thought [Mahomes] handled it well.”
As we know, Cabott, in particular, played a significant role in making sure Mahomes landed in Kansas City, which meant he would be with Reid, who gave Mahomes the following advice ahead of the first offseason in which everybody would know his name.
“There can be too much, because everybody is going to want you and that is part of that,” Reid explained. “So how you manage that, select and manage that, I think is important. And that is up to he and his people there. And who they choose. We don’t make those decisions, so we put in the best interest of how they are going to handle it.”
Very much by design, Mahomes came out of his MVP campaign the same young man.
“I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of great people in my agency and in this facility that we know what kind of person that I want to be seen as, what kind of person I actually am,” he explained. “I want to make sure that I align myself with people that are on that same page and I’ve gotten to go around and have great partnerships now and got to go to great speaking engagements with great charities and people around the country, really. I’m excited I can just keep building my brand along the lines of what the Kansas City Chiefs do, and I feel like it’s a great match that we’re all together and we all have the same vision ahead.”
As far as any attention he garnered as a result, Mahomes said he didn’t look at it through the prism of celebrity, but rather, opportunity.
“I don’t think it was a lot of pressure at all. It was cool to get to go around and get to meet a lot of great people. Be able to align myself with a lot of great organizations and partners that understood that football was still the first thing, but I got to go around and see and meet a lot of great people.”
Improving an MVP
Andy Reid discussed Patrick Mahomes' MVP season, potentially re-signing Dee Ford and Justin Houston and more!— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 4, 2019
: @NFLTotalAccess pic.twitter.com/n5iVjY6onN
Back in early March, Reid spoke to NFL Network about the challenge of developing an MVP quarterback. For all parties involved, there has to be something innately difficult about accepting that a player who had 50 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards has room to improve.
But if there is anybody that can keep you humble, it is probably the head coach with 20 years of experience—who has directed the likes of Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Alex Smith.
Like many tweaks, it starts with the tape.
“We go through it with him, “ Reid said. “The coaches will do that, and we detail it up. Normally, you start it off by going through plays and then you branch out from there to situations and that is how we break it down. Z in, here is your 20 Z ins that you ran. What can we do better here? How are teams defending you? Your foot work, when you are working the back or the Z or Y, those type of things. So, you go through all of it. You go to the next play and the next play and the next play and kind of chisel through that. Then you come back and hit all your situational football.”
Footwork appears to be a point of emphasis for Mahomes as offseason workouts begin.
“I always work on my feet,” Mahomes said. “I try to make sure that my footwork is getting better and better, especially within the pocket. I feel like at times last year I would get, I don’t want to say lazy, but basically lazy with how I was handling my feet in the pocket. It would disrupt timing on throws, so keep working on those things so they can be more and more consistent as I go on.”
In addition to his own improvements, dealing with Mahomes-proofing in the AFC West will be another challenge to overcome.
“I see talent,” Vic Fangio, the new defensive head coach of the Denver Broncos said of the Chiefs’ offense, via Chiefs Digest, this offseason. “That’s the first thing I see when I look at them. Mahomes is obviously a great, great talent. He can make plays from the pocket and, obviously, outside the pocket with a great arm, and he’s got good creativity.”
Fangio added that Mahomes plays with an athletic arrogance. And now Fangio has 18 tapes of Mahomes pro games to watch.
“You have these great minds in the NFL, these defensive coordinators who have opportunities to study us,” Reid said. “How are they going to stop Patrick (Mahomes) and this offense? What are they going to do? You’re not going to sneak up on anybody, you know that. That is staying true to what you built, being able to add on to it. The tape that he has, the cutups that have been done for him this offseason will be tremendous for him.
“To see himself do it, not to watch Alex (Smith) do it, which was a help, but now you get to see yourself do it. How can you make yourself better in these situations? ‘Well, what did I do good? What did I do bad?’ Evaluate it. I think that will be priceless.”
A year of success for Mahomes was great. It was fun.
Reid’s dissatisfaction is what will provide him the chance to become a legend.
“I was itching the day after the AFC championship game”
Though Mahomes has been happy to dive into all that the offseason has to offer, the recurring theme on Monday was that he’d much rather be playing football.
“I was itching the day after the AFC championship game,” he said.
Mahomes never saw the field in overtime of an AFC title game the Patriots won, 37-31, and they went on to beat the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl.
“I kind of watched [the Super Bowl], but at the same time I couldn’t watch it because I was so disappointed that we weren’t there,” he said. “This whole offseason has been training and trying to restrain myself from throwing too much or restrain myself from doing too much because it’s a steady process and you don’t want to peak too soon. You want to make sure that you’re building and building. That’s the thing, when you’re that close, you want to get back in the building and get right back after it.”
Mahomes said that he hasn’t discussed the playoff loss much with teammates. What they have talked about is taking the next step.
Individual numbers and accolades don’t appear to matter to Mahomes—but wins are at the forefront of his mind.
“Just winning the Super Bowl is my only goal, honestly,” he said. “I feel like that was my goal last year and I feel like that’s my goal this year and it will be every year. When you look back on the season at the end of the season, you’re not going to look back at what your stats were or what all that stuff was, you’ll look at whether you’re holding that trophy at the end of the season or not.”
“A special character, a special kid”
Mahomes’ teammates realize what this upcoming year means to him and the franchise as a whole.
“I think expectations are obviously higher,” right tackle Mitch Schwartz explained. “I know going into last year no one thought Patrick was going to be what he was last year... Obviously, we went out and did it on the field and let that speak for ourselves and now it’s going to be, ‘Well you’ve actually shown how good you can be, how do you get better?’ You understand that the base level expectation is last year, plus improvement, and so that’s a pretty high bar to get over.
“It just comes down to all of the small things. You can probably ask any individual and they’ll feel like they could’ve played better—probably markedly better than what they did. I think that’s the cool thing about this team and how we keep improving. You have a lot of guys who aren’t satisfied with what they do and everyone is pretty competitive across the board and Patrick especially. He’s harder on himself than anyone could ever be so he’s never going to be complacent and he’s never going to feel like, ‘Oh I got this.’”
A new face to the room—Bashaud Breeland—most recently played with one of the other elite quarterbacks in the league.
“I just got finished playing with Aaron Rodgers and to me, he’s like a younger version of Rodgers with a lot more attributes,” Breeland explained. “Young guys are starting to propel differently these days. He’s an exciting player and I’m just ready to compete against him. I know that if I can ball against him at practice, then I can play against anybody in games.”
And what reminds him of Rodgers?
“No look passes, just smart,” Breeland added. “[He] controls the offense. He’s a game manager and a gunslinger at the same time. He’s just a special character, a special kid.”
Mahomes might have thought he was special last year, but now he knows it.
And the beauty of it all is it hasn’t changed him.
“He’s just always going to be him,” remarked Kelce. “That’s the best way to put it.”