Recently Kevin Clark of The Ringer had an interview with Brett Veach that went into his team building strategies and what his plans are with Mahomes and his future contract.
With such a rare insight into his thinking, it provides us fans the opportunity to judge whether he’s going about it the right way. Did he say the right things, or are we going to waste Mahomes’ career?
Let’s find out.
The Kansas City Chiefs could not exactly broadcast it at the time, but they knew. When they signed receiver Sammy Watkins, a former first-round pick, to a three-year, $48 million deal in March of 2018, they were guided by a feeling that was known only in the Chiefs facility: that Patrick Mahomes was going to be great. “We were already doing the deal assuming Pat would be an elite-level quarterback. We were already doing our contracts to fit a potentially big contract,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told me of Mahomes. “When he was a rookie, as a backup, we were already doing our structures to fit. That’s how much we believed in Patrick.”
Right off the bat we get a positive quote. It should go without saying that long term planning is important, and once Mahomes gets paid he will be far and away our most expensive contract. Careful planning is required to be able to continue putting talent around him and it looks like Veach is doing just that.
Adam Schefter reported earlier this year that Mahomes could become the league’s first $200 million player. Some things in this world are worth the price tag—Ferraris, oceanfront property, extra guacamole—and Mahomes is one of those things. “I think Pat will get what he deserves, because guys like that do,” Veach told me.
One of the biggest contributing factors the the Patriots current dynasty is Tom Brady continually taking far less than he’s worth. As I wrote before, if Mahomes does the same it would dramatically increase the number of Super Bowl rings he’ll win.
Since Veach’s job is to build the best team he possibly can he should be doing everything in his power to try and convince Mahomes to take a team-friendly deal. That doesn’t mean pressuring him to the point of alienating him, but show him that even if he takes a bit of a pay cut he will still make more money than he, and any future children he has, will ever need while making sure his legacy will live forever.
While the chances of Mahomes actually accepting this are low (there’s a reason why Brady is the exception and not the rule), it is still worth a try. Instead Veach has seemingly taken that off the table.
Despite this being one of Mahomes’ cheap years, Veach scoffs at the notion of the Chiefs being “all in” in 2019. Veach understands a team can keep its roster intact by maintaining salary cap flexibility and utilizing the league’s ever-rising salary cap effectively—the cap has risen $10 million annually for six years, which is the cost of a potential star in the NFL. “You’ve got to be ‘all-in’ every year,” Veach said. “The cap keeps going up, guys can get moved, traded—it’s never like it seems.”
While earlier he seemed to show a good understanding of the need for long term thinking, here he does the exact opposite.
It should be common sense that you should be trying to keep the amount of dead money on your cap every year as low as possible. When you cut and trade players before their contracts end that creates a lot of dead money.
Mahomes still has 15 or more years in front of him, why not spend wisely now instead of signing players who we may have to continue paying even after they leave the team?
That’s spillover from the trade to move up to select Mahomes, executed by Reid and former GM John Dorsey, and the trade to acquire Clark. “I’m sure we probably would have went corner had we not made that trade,” Veach said of this year’s draft.
Before the draft I made the case for why teams should have an aggressive best player available strategy when drafting. Short term holes should be filled in by free agents and trades, while the goal during the draft should be to maximize your chances of acquiring talented players.
Unfortunately this quote makes it clear as day that Veach does not have a best player available strategy, instead opting to go for position of need.
I will be fair to Veach though that he could simply mean that the best player available in his opinion was a corner (although the Seahawks took a defensive end with that pick, 3 of the next 5 picks were corners). It’s also possible that he simply said that to appease fans, who tend to think more in terms of need rather than best player available.
Finding the right personnel on offense to complement Mahomes is another consideration for Veach. “What changes is what type of parts you are looking for. When you have a guy with that type of arm, the type of receiver you’re looking for. He has no limit in regards to arm strength and to where he can put the ball. There are some guys, 4.3 [40-yard dash] guys, who with some quarterbacks it might not be a great match. With Pat it is,” Veach said.
Fans tend to get overly excited about big names, while general managers are supposed to be more discerning. Of course they’re people too and can get caught up in the excitement of being able to acquire that big name guy.
Of course one issue with doing that is that they may not fit well on your team. While DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the best receiver in the NFL, a team like the Chiefs would rather have receivers like Watkins and Hill who better match Mahomes’ skillset. In the same way the Texans would rather have Hopkins over those two as he better matches Deshaun Watson’s skillset.
This quote shows that Veach is taking those sorts of things into consideration, which is certainly a positive.
I asked Veach whether knowing that the Chiefs offense will score points impacts how he builds their defense. Kansas City will be in more shootouts than grind-it-out defensive slugfests. “Subconsciously, probably, yeah” he said. “Are you looking for certain things because you know the offense is going to score a lot of points? Well, yeah, everyone is going to look for more coverage and rush pieces. But if we put a priority on guys who love the process, love game day, and play an aggressive style that’s infectious, it complements the offense.”
This quote is very interesting, but I wouldn’t take it at face value. While he does answer the question in the positive, he clearly waffles and says everybody does that, instead saying he’s looking for guys who love the game and are aggressive.
I’ll leave the part about aggressiveness and loving the game to the scouts, but it seems Veach isn’t taking this pass vs. rush question seriously enough. The Chiefs faced the most pass attempts in the NFL last season (a gap that gets even bigger if you add in sacks (which are technically pass plays), as we also led the NFL in sacks), while merely facing a league average number of running plays.
This is a trend that’s likely to continue, which means that we should be valuing pass defense even more than a normal team. Just like we target receivers who match with Mahomes, we should be targeting defenders who match what kind of offenses we’ll be facing.
While I’m tempted to say that overall the interview showed Veach has a bad strategy, the reality is that the areas where he’s bad are areas where almost every general manager also suffers.
Overall I’d say this interview would indicate he’s the Alex Smith of general managers. He does a decent job and doesn’t do things that are exceptionally bad, but at the same time he’s not doing anything exceptional either.