The Buffalo Bills weren’t going to select a quarterback during the 2017 first round. But the “what if” game is always fun.
When Kansas City traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to the No. 10 overall pick to take Patrick Mahomes, it was the Bills who traded out of that spot. So on NFL Draft charts everywhere, that No. 10 pick shows as Kansas City’s (from Buffalo). There’s an alternate universe where the Bills are convinced enough to take Mahomes. That would’ve altered all sorts of things, from MVP trophies to Super Bowl champions. Josh Allen, Alex Smith and Tre’Davious White likely would’ve wound up in different places. And somehow, in a number of these hypotheticals, Lamar Jackson ends up impacted, too.
We’ve examined why the Bills-Chiefs 2017 draft day trade happened. It made sense. But for those of you who like hypotheticals, this is the article for you. Enjoy a trip into a fantasy land where Mahomes is a Bill, Allen is a Dolphin and Jackson is already a Super Bowl champion.
Patrick Mahomes to the Bills (or elsewhere)
It’s been well-documented at this point that the Bills weren’t in the market for a high-round QB in 2017 due to limited advanced scouting done by a new head coach and a yet-to-be-determined new general manager. But let’s just imagine that Sean McDermott turned on a few Texas Tech highlights and was blown away by the absurd throws Mahomes both attempted and completed. In his first year as head coach with an outgoing GM helping him draft, McDermott could have chosen to hang his hat on Mahomes.
In this alternate scenario, instead of trading down, the Bills stick at the 10th overall pick and take Mahomes. His first season may have played out similarly to how it did in Kansas City. Buffalo already had Tyrod Taylor coming off two solid seasons as a starter, so he could’ve been the holdover starter in 2017, too. Mahomes could have learned the speed of the game in practice and on the sideline, just like he did in K.C. working behind Alex Smith.
Let’s assume that like in Kansas City, Buffalo chooses to move on from its incumbent after 2017 and hand the reins to Mahomes. In K.C., that meant an MVP 2018 season for the second-year QB. He had tons of weapons with the Chiefs, starting with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The Bills did not provide such encouragement on the outside in 2018: Zay Jones led the team in receptions, with Robert Foster and Kelvin Benjamin both getting the occasional target, too.
Mahomes’ biggest blessing in a 2018 starting for the Bills would’ve been LeSean McCoy, in his final year in Buffalo and still relatively productive. But it seems like there’s almost no way that Mahomes would have had the immediate success that saw him throw 50 TDs in 2018 for the Chiefs. It’s hard to predict whether lots of early dump-down passes to McCoy would’ve stifled Mahomes’ development entirely. That seems unlikely, and the potential additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley before 2019 would’ve helped. No Super Bowl, yet, but more success showing off Mahomes’ cannon of a right arm.
The Bills likely still would’ve been intrigued by what their young QB could do with a superstar receiver and traded for Stefon Diggs in the offseason. And so just as Buffalo is making the case with Allen now, Mahomes and the Bills may have been 2020 Super Bowl contenders after building up their roster to be closer in talent to Kansas City than it was in 2018 or 2019.
The Chiefs’ GM at the time, John Dorsey, told ESPN that he feared Mahomes might go at pick 11 to New Orleans or pick 13 to the Giants if the Chiefs didn’t trade up. So if the Bills insisted on passing on a QB, Mahomes could have wound up an understudy to Drew Brees or Eli Manning.
If Mahomes went to the Saints, he might’ve accelerated Brees’ departure from town or retirement. Maybe Brees would’ve broken records elsewhere in 2018 and 2019. In New York, Mahomes very well could have led to Manning’s retirement one year earlier, following the same sit one, take over year two formula as he did in Kansas City.
Where would Josh Allen be?
Here’s where things get interesting. Mahomes seems like a transcendent enough talent that he’d eventually succeed anywhere. Allen was even more divisive as a prospect than Mahomes. The big arm was obvious, but accuracy struggles against relatively weak competition at Wyoming gave Allen his doubters.
If the Bills took their franchise quarterback a year earlier, Allen would’ve fallen past Buffalo’s pick in 2018. Maybe the Cardinals would’ve taken him instead of Josh Rosen at 10th overall and destined Allen to a disastrous rookie season behind a terrible offensive line that would’ve stunted his development. A division rival, the Dolphins, could’ve chosen Allen at No. 11 and made him their heir to Ryan Tannehill. If the Saints didn’t get Mahomes the year before, Allen could’ve gone at No. 14 to be Brees’ heir apparent.
While Allen may have presented divisiveness in his draft year, he’s grown in a number of ways since joining the league. His accuracy has gone up as his interceptions have gone down, and he’s showed dynamic ability as a scrambler. His growth from a junior college quarterback to an NFL star may have happened in most destinations, despite that not necessarily being apparent from the start.
Potentially the most intriguing landing spot for Allen for these purposes would’ve been the Dolphins, who had to know Tannehill was on the way out after the 2018 season. That would’ve revitalized the Bills-Dolphins rivalry with a Mahomes/Allen QB battle that could’ve grown to Jim Kelly-Dan Marino heights.
If Allen took over as Miami’s starter in 2019, he would’ve had an emerging DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki to throw to, potentially quickening their development rather than catching passes from Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Allen with the Dolphins also would’ve meant a different landing spot for Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 draft, a different spot for Fitzpatrick to pad career numbers on a losing team and maybe even a quicker moving on from Tannehill that would’ve seen him land somewhere else than Tennessee. Maybe Marcus Mariota would still be starting for the Titans while Tannehill never would’ve saved his career and signed a big new contract.
And hey, while we’re down that rabbit hole, that means Lamar Jackson would’ve never been knocked out of the 2019 playoffs by the Titans, then would’ve beat a Mahomes-less Chiefs and probably won Super Bowl 54 himself to cap his MVP season.
What would have happened to Alex Smith?
The Chiefs went 12-4 with Smith as their starting quarterback the season before they drafted Mahomes. Smith was 33 entering the 2017 season, and while he didn’t seem likely to lead the Chiefs to Super Bowl heights, it looked like he could be a winning quarterback for another handful of years.
Kansas City could’ve decided to stand pat with Smith as its quarterback. His deal expired in 2017, so maybe he still leaves and signs with Washington for 2018. Without a franchise quarterback in waiting, though, Kansas City could’ve chosen to resign Smith and pursue a couple more 10-6 seasons.
If Smith still walked, and K.C. had never traded its 2018 first-rounder to Buffalo, the Chiefs may have been looking for a QB at the 22nd pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Allen and Rosen were already off the board, leaving the top quarterback available as Jackson, who went 32nd to Baltimore in real life.
Maybe Andy Reid chooses he likes the offensive possibilities of selecting Jackson and takes him. If Jackson evolved in the same way he did for the Ravens, the Chiefs could’ve still been 2019 Super Bowl contenders. In Baltimore, the Ravens would’ve either toiled with Joe Flacco at quarterback or reached on a QB at that 32nd spot in 2018, potentially Mason Rudolph.
So now we’ve got one hypothetical where Jackson wins a Super Bowl in Baltimore in 2019, and another where he wins a Super Bowl in Kansas City in 2019. Gotta love hypotheticals.
Who drafts Tre’Davious White, Tremaine Edmunds?
The Bills selected White in 2017 with the No. 27 overall pick, which came from Kansas City when the Chiefs moved up to take Mahomes. Buffalo also acquired what turned out to be the No. 22 pick in 2018, which the Bills used to trade up to No. 16 and select the linebacker Edmunds.
Instead, maybe the Chiefs stand pat at 27 and pick White there. Instead of extending Mahomes for monumental money in the 2020 offseason, the Chiefs may have been extending White for top cornerback dollar, as the Bills did in the 2020 offseason. If Smith stayed in town, a lockdown cornerback would’ve been key to continuing to win in a possession-based offense that would need its defense to hold the opponent down.
Baltimore was the original drafted at the 16th pick in 2018 where Edmunds went. If they stayed in place and picked Edmunds, their math on trading back into the end of the first round to select Jackson may have changed. Baltimore traded down twice from 16, eventually winding up at No. 25 to select tight end Hayden Hurst while accumulating draft capital in the trades down. Without the extra draft picks, the Ravens may have been less comfortable trading draft picks to move up to take Jackson.
If Jackson hadn’t gone to Baltimore at No. 32, the next couple possible landing spots may have included the Giants, Broncos and Titans. Without Greg Roman as his offensive coordinator, Jackson may have been slower in his overall offensive development and not won the 2019 MVP. It’s like Edmunds would have grown into a great linebacker in Baltimore, which has a tradition of growing studs at that position. And there’s no reason to believe White would’ve been any less successful as a cornerback on another team, either.