Editor’s Note: It’s “What-If” week at SB Nation, as we explore what the NFL might look like if certain events didn’t take place or things that in reality didn’t did.
As new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs Andy Reid stood before the media for his introductory press conference on January 4, 2013, media members, fans, and anyone else watching were all waiting for one question.
“How are you going to handle the quarterback situation?”
The answer was the most anticipated out of all of his responses. I understand if Chiefs fans blocked it out of their memory — but at the time, the only quarterbacks under contract for 2013 were incumbent starter Matt Cassel and former fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi going into his third year. Quarterback Brady Quinn also saw starts in 2012, but he left in free agency.
In other words, the answer wasn’t in-house — and everyone knew that at the time. As we’ve come to understand about Reid and his time with the media, he didn’t rule anything out when he spoke on the subject:
“I need to find the next Len Dawson. It might be right here, it might not. I have to dig in, and I need a little time on that.”
Neither of the aforementioned quarterbacks made it to the 2013 regular-season roster. The position would be completely revamped under the new regime.
First, they traded two second-round picks to acquire San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and immediately got behind him as the starter. Then, the team signed backup quarterback Chase Daniel to a multi-year deal. Finally, they released Cassel after a failure to find a trade partner.
Along with the drafting of current starting left tackle Eric Fisher with the first overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, those decisions at the quarterback position turned out to be as correct as they could have been in that situation.
What if the Chiefs decided not or failed to trade for Alex Smith?
We’ll assume the Chiefs still signed Daniel to his three-year deal, but the rest of this piece will be my imagination creating hypothetical scenarios about the Chiefs if Smith had ended up elsewhere or had not been traded at all. I dove into three potential scenarios that could have played out, all centered around how they addressed the quarterback position for 2013 and beyond.
Scenario #1: Chiefs draft Geno Smith
The Chiefs had the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft — the first time the franchise has ever had it. As obvious as it was that there were no sure things, Kansas City had surpassed free agency to address quarterback and put their trust into the draft.
So they went ahead and selected the number one quarterback on their board — West Virginia’s Geno Smith — with the top slot. In the real draft, Smith fell all the way to the 39th overall selection. In this scenario, the Chiefs dug their heels in and wanted to draft the best guy to try and develop without moving from their pick.
Without the trade for Alex Smith, Kansas City retained their second-round pick and chose defensive lineman Kawann Short out of Purdue — a two-time Pro Bowler who still plays for the Carolina Panthers.
As the number one overall selection, Geno Smith was thrust into the starting role immediately. His inconsistent performance in the offense in his rookie season prevented the Chiefs from making the playoffs by just a few games.
The team understood it needed to be patient — but it didn’t take long into 2014 before they began to quit on their franchise quarterback. After an atrocious performance on Monday Night Football in Week 4 against the New England Patriots at home, Smith was benched in favor of Chase Daniel.
The fans rallied behind him as the starter — and so did the team, as they pushed into the postseason. Of course, they ended up losing their first game because of an inability to score.
Seeing that they wouldn’t be in position to draft one of the elite prospects at quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Chiefs would decide to make it a three-way competition and add 25-year-old free agent quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor would eventually beat both Smith and Daniel out and lead the team to success similarly to real-life Alex Smith.
Unfortunately, that means the Chiefs had regular-season success and no postseason success. After two years with Taylor, the Chiefs decided to move up in the 2017 NFL Draft and select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The rest is history.
Scenario #2: Chiefs trade for Carson Palmer
In real-life, 33-year old Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer was traded to the Arizona Cardinals for a sixth-round pick in the 2013 offseason. In this scenario, the Chiefs were outbid for Alex Smith — so they decided to buy low on another veteran quarterback. A late-round selection is all it took to take on Palmer and his estimated $10 million salary.
The Chiefs would be able to have Palmer and Eric Fisher in the draft. They retained their second round pick again — so they’ll draft Short for defensive line depth once more.
The Chiefs would get off to a hot start right away in 2013. While Palmer didn’t have the wide receiver weapons he needed, the defense and the creativity from Reid with ways to get the ball in running back Jamaal Charles’ hands was enough to earn a Wild Card berth. Unfortunately, they would go on to lose in a similar way to the real-life wild card loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Starting in 2014, the offense begins to evolve and take off. Palmer’s ability to throw deep is utilized by Reid with weapons like Travis Kelce and 2014 first-round pick wide receiver Paul Richardson. The Chiefs decided not to draft edge rusher Dee Ford when they saw how much better the offense could be with a speedy deep threat like Richardson.
The team makes the postseason as a wild card in both 2014 and 2015 — but isn’t able to make the AFC championship in either year. As a 36-year old Palmer begins to show signs of slowing down — and Daniel leaving in free agency — the Chiefs decide to draft a quarterback in the mid rounds.
They would end up taking Mississippi State signal-caller Dak Prescott in the fourth-round — instead of their original pick, Florida wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. After a decent start to the season, Palmer would end up suffering a long-term injury. Prescott is inserted into the lineup — and Reid immediately begins to mold the offense around him. The offense becomes dynamic and leads the team all the way to the doorstep of the Super Bowl — but they can’t seal the deal.
Prescott would be signed and solidified as the long-term starter eventually. While they are a consistent contender, this version of the team is still searching for its first Lombardi trophy.
Scenario #3: Chiefs trade for Michael Vick
(I had to throw this in here because it would have been awesome.)
After spending four years together in Philadelphia, a reunion of Reid and quarterback Michael Vick was absolutely possible. The new regime for the Eagles did not initially want to retain Vick due to his cap number — but the two parties were eventually able to reach a restructuring agreement.
Imagine if the new regime wouldn’t have wanted to keep him?
Maybe Reid pounds the table for bringing Vick in to jumpstart the offense and build some early excitement. The 32-year old playmaker still had a few more years left — and no one would have gotten more out of those last few years than Reid. The offense would have looked completely different, the team would have been built around him with different philosophies, but they would have put up points and won games.
After three fun years, Vick would retire. Starving for another dynamic playmaker at the quarterback position, the Chiefs would find a way to bring in former first-round quarterback Robert Griffin III in the 2016 offseason to compete with their quarterback pick from the 2015 Draft, Brett Hundley.