The Kansas City Chiefs are locked into the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs, which makes their Week 17 tilt against the Broncos a game with no postseason implications whatsoever. For head coach Andy Reid, that’s the perfect time to break in a new quarterback.
Reid announced he’d give incumbent starter Alex Smith the week off and start rookie passer Patrick Mahomes in his stead to close out the regular season. It will mark Mahomes’ first regular season appearance in the NFL.
For Reid, giving Mahomes a live game opportunity is all about building for his team’s future.
“Every snap that he gets is a valuable snap for him whenever he has that chance of getting in there,” Reid told reporters during his Wednesday press conference. “It’s invaluable and fortunately, we’re in a situation we can do that.”
The veteran head coach doesn’t see the move negatively affecting Smith, either.
“Fortunately we have a quarterback that understands it,” Reid said. “[Smith] is having a phenomenal year. It’s an MVP-caliber year, so he understands the situation and this won’t detour off of anything he’s doing the remainder of the season.”
What does this mean for the Chiefs? Kansas City spent big in order to trade up and draft Mahomes, who has been pegged as Smith’s successor. A big preseason performance showed off the kind of big-play capability the team had been looking for, but the rookie’s play also lit a spark under his veteran mentor. Smith was one of the league’s best quarterbacks during the team’s 5-0 start, thriving thanks to explosive targets like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt.
Now Mahomes will get the chance to prove himself after waiting patiently for playing time. While it’s unlikely he’ll get the chance to see any significant snaps in the playoffs, this Week 17 audition could play a major role in the team’s offseason; a big performance could be all the evidence Reid and the Chiefs staff need to make him 2018’s top option at QB.
What does this mean for Alex Smith? Smith is still the team’s starter in important games, but Mahomes’ ascension threatens to cut his time in Kansas City short. His lackluster play last January made the Chiefs a one-and-done casualty in the playoffs, and he’ll have to prove 2017’s revival — his 104.7 passer rating is tops in the league — extends to the postseason. If not, the club can cut his $20.6 million cap hit from the books with just $3.5 million in dead money to account for and begin the Mahomes era in earnest.