Since the day Patrick Mahomes first took the field in 2018 -- remember, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions in 4 games -- the NFL at large has dreaded the day he went down with injury. The most electric playmaker, the face of Madden, the face plastered on every league advertisement from February to September, sidelined. Hobbled. His wings clipped.
Mahomes went down with injury after a QB sneak against the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football (why do only bad things happen on Thursday Night Football?), after playing on a hobbled ankle during the last few weeks. Early signs indicate that his kneecap was dislocated, and further testing will determine whether or not there's accompanying damage to the ligaments.
If there is ligament damage, Mahomes will likely be sidelined for the bulk of what remains of the NFL regular season. The Chiefs would be wise to approach his injury with the upmost caution, as much of his magic is predicated on his mobility and full-body flexibility to generate throwing power. If Mahomes is down long-term, the Chiefs -- only 1.5 games ahead of the Raiders in the division and still in the thick of the AFC race for seeding in the playoffs -- will need to consider all of their options at quarterback to stay above the rising tide of contenders.
Stick With Matt Moore
The Chiefs' backup quarterback is one Matt Moore, the 35-year old journeyman vet who has only started 5 games in the last seven seasons after losing the starting Miami job to Ryan Tannehill in 2012. Moore boasts of a career completion percentage below 60%, a 5:4 TD to INT ratio, and an average yards/attempt right around 7 yards.
Moore ended the night against Denver with 10 completions on 19 attempts for 117 yards and a touchdown, generally playing mistake-free ball as the Chiefs defense quickly grabbed a two-score lead on an Anthony Hitchens strip-sack, allowing no points after the Broncos' first drive: the game was never in jeopardy.
Moore is the definition of serviceable -- you'll survive against bad teams and need heroic team efforts against good ones. The Chiefs will rarely face an offense as toothless as Denver's, and even when they do, they likely won't play as inspired ball as they did in the immediate wake of losing Mahomes.
Sticking with Matt Moore makes sense if Mahomes will miss 3-4 weeks -- your schedule isn't that easy (v. GB, v. MIN, @ TEN, @LAC) but you might scrape by at 2-2, and stay on track for when Mahomes returns. But if he'll be injured into December, the Chiefs likely need more firepower at the quarterback position.
Go Hunting On The Street
If the Chiefs do choose to ride with Moore in the short- or long-term, they'll have to find a way to activate Kyle Shurmur from the practice squad; they only have two QBs rostered as it is, and Mahomes will be inactive.
There's a chance that Shurmur brings more right now than Moore does, even with Moore's experience and steady play. The same could be said for Chase Litton as well, the undrafted 2018 product out of Marshall who impressed in the preseason for Kansas City, and currently sits on the Jacksonville practice squad. Adding Litton to the active roster by snagging him from Jacksonville gives you the advantage of retaining Shurmur on the practice squad, protecting you from further injury as you have three QBs who could go.
If you don't want to activate Shurmur, you'll need to grab a street free agent, which -- as you can imagine for Week 7 on the quarterback market -- isn't an easy proposition. Matt Cassel and Tom Savage are likely your best options, besides Colin Kaepernick, who of course hasn't started a game in about two and a half years. Kaepernick does bring more Mahomes-like traits than any other passer on the market, though it's tough to measure at what rate those skills have decayed.
I'd imagine Kansas City doesn't go bargain bin hunting unless Mahomes has a short-term injury and they want to ride with Moore and an insurance policy. The more likely avenue for addition is the trade market.
Well, the eleven days to the trade deadline just got a whole lot more interesting, as GM Brett Veach is likely already sitting with staff and generating a list of potential targets by degrees of feasibility and comfort in the system -- if Mahomes is shelved for the season, the Chiefs can only be realistically competitive in the 2019 playoffs if they add a more dynamic passing threat.
A couple teams stand out with multiple QBs who have played well in 2019: New Orleans and Carolina. Now, these teams serve as proof of the value of a qualified and talented backup, and might potentially rebuff all trade offers because they're gunshy following the injuries to their starters.
But if you look deeper, there's a case to be made for both teams. New Orleans is very unlikely to retain Teddy Bridgewater after this season (he's entering free agency) unless they are certain Drew Brees is retiring after this year. If Bridgewater indeed walks, he will likely be worth a 3rd round compensatory pick in free agency, so Kansas City will have to spend something more than that; but when Bridgewater walks for them in 2020, they'll get the third back, so the price isn't as steep as it seems.
Carolina is inevitably going to bench Kyle Allen for Cam Newton when Newton returns to health -- and while Allen has impressed, they did select Will Grier in the third round in the 2019 NFL Draft. He was drafted as a potential replacement for Newton when the oft-injured QB eventually hangs up the cleats, as Allen, just like Bridgewater, is currently in a contract year. While he won't return the same value in a comp pick as Bridgewater will during 2020 free agency, he will spell a Day 3 pick back to Kansas City, which mitigates the cost they'd pay to get him into the building.
Beyond Allen and Bridgewater are the teams with more QBs than they know what to do with: Tennessee, Washington, and Miami stand out here. Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Josh Rosen, and Ryan Fitzpatrick have all rode the starting carousels for their team in the first half of 2019, and accordingly the Titans, Redskins, and Dolphins could solve their own problems by offloading one.
The pool of talent isn't great, but I'd imagine Miami and Washington to both be quite interested in any draft capital they can snag for their soon-to-be-irrelevant QB options, as both are tanking (one knowingly, one otherwise) and will be starting first-contract QBs in 2020. Among those six names, Keenum is likely the candidate the Chiefs would pursue with the most intensity, as Reid will have to make the fewest adjustments in terminology and core route concepts with an ex-Air Raid QB at the helm. (Also: contract year.)
Allen also fits that mold, so I'd expect Allen and Keenum to be the two biggest trade targets for Kansas City if Mahomes indeed must take a long-term recovery. The Chiefs are already out their sixth and seventh round picks in 2020, and the extra second-rounder they got from the Dee Ford trade, they spent on Frank Clark -- so negotiations might bleed into 2021's selections. Is that worth trying to salvage the 2019 season?
I'd say so. Matt Moore is more a QB coach than backup passer at this point in his career, and you really want to take Mahomes' recovery slowly. The AFC is still wide open -- any of 6 or 7 teams could feasibly make it to the AFC Championship game against the Patriots, at this juncture of the season. Mahomes' injury does not seem season-ending, so it's worth making the quick investment in a stop-gap solution to ensure a playoff berth.
Do you want to spend time seeing what Matt Moore has? Remember, the trade deadline is next Tuesday, so you'd only have one game against a Mike Pettine-led Packers defense that has powered Green Bay to a 5-1 start. I'd make a move before hand.
Case Keenum in Kansas City makes too much sense. I'd get on the phone and start with this year's fifth-rounder.