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It Wouldn’t Be the NFL Draft Without Dumbfounding Quarterback Trades

The Bears, Chiefs, and Texans all bet their futures on 2017 passers. So which deals made sense — and how good is Mitchell Trubisky?

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

So much for this being a weak quarterback class, huh? In each of the past two seasons, the draft’s song and dance surrounding the most important position in football has been the same. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz went into last year’s first round considered by many analysts to be, at best, fringe top-10 prospects. The Rams and Eagles traded away small fortunes to grab them with the top two picks in the draft. Heading into Thursday night, the thought was that only one passer might come off the board in the top half of the first round. Instead, three separate front offices pushed for trades to snag quarterbacks in the opening 12 picks of the draft.

Let’s start with the Bears’ deal for Mitchell Trubisky, which I’m still trying to work through emotionally. Since Myles Garrett was the presumptive no. 1 pick for months, it long felt like the 49ers controlled the 2017 draft. Boy, did that ever ring true. We may never know whether other teams coveted Trubisky enough to throw comparable offers John Lynch’s way, or if the first-year general manager has the best poker face since Mike McDermott. What I do know is that I was the one chucking Oreos across the room when the details of this trade became public.

Chicago gave up its third- and fourth-round picks (no. 67 and no. 111 overall) this year and its third-round pick in the 2018 draft to move up a single spot to take Trubisky. The move is shocking in a host of ways, starting with the fact that an NFL GM who oversees a roster with multiple holes decided to give away multiple mid-round picks like they were Skittles. The Bears gave Mike Glennon $18.5 million guaranteed to be their starting quarterback 49 days ago. (It seems impossible that Glennon’s signing was that recent; so much of my soul has died since then.) That isn’t chump change, and it seems safe to assume that he’ll be Chicago’s starting quarterback come Week 1. The issue isn’t that the Bears brought in QBs both through free agency and the draft; it’s that if the front office had an inkling in early March — when most of the world figured out that Garrett would go no. 1 — that it was willing to deal three picks in an effort to land Trubisky, then paying the sticker price for Glennon never made sense. Glennon’s appeal over a stopgap free-agent quarterback in the Brian Hoyer mold is that the former Buccaneers backup has a higher ceiling. That ceiling becomes irrelevant with Glennon setting into a role as the guy who will keep the seat warm for a top-two pick in the draft.

It’s possible that Trubisky, the North Carolina product who completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards with 30 touchdowns in 2016, turns into a high-level NFL passer. He’d be an outlier if he does, as he made only 13 career college starts, but it’s clear that he has a lot of traits that teams seek when looking for franchise quarterbacks. Regardless of how he develops, though, there’s plenty to criticize about the route Chicago took to get him.

The Bears’ trade unquestionably made for the most ridiculous moment of the night, but the Chiefs’ decision to move from no. 27 all the way up to no. 10 — and give their third-rounder this year and their 2018 first-round pick to Buffalo in the process — to snatch Patrick Mahomes II wasn’t far behind. Mahomes is the anti–Alex Smith; the former Texas Tech star is a big-armed risk taker who’s able to thrive while working entirely outside the constraints of an offensive system. For Kansas City, targeting a passer with that skill set is purposeful. Down the line, the best version of Mahomes would be able to unlock head coach Andy Reid’s offense in a way that Smith never could. In scouting his new QB (and watching Mahomes sling the ball all over the field with no regard for human life), I’m sure Reid can’t help but see flashes of Brett Favre, who he coached for seven seasons as an assistant in Green Bay.

The key phrase in that breakdown, though, is down the line. For all his tools, Mahomes is less polished than the other two quarterbacks taken Thursday night. And at least for this season, it seems as if he’ll serve as an understudy. Smith is under contract in Kansas City for two more years, and his $16.9 million cap hit in 2017 means he’ll almost surely pilot the offense again this fall. The Chiefs won the AFC West and earned a first-round bye last season, but their wait-and-see approach with Mahomes shifts the timeline for this regime. Most of Kansas City’s roster is built to win now, while drafting a quarterback who could roam the sideline for a year or more is far from a win-now move. GM John Dorsey appears to be planning for a post–Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali world, and even if that’s sound thinking, it was by no means what everyone expected out of Kansas City entering this draft.

With the Texans, who traded the no. 25 pick and their 2018 first-round pick to the Browns to land Deshaun Watson, it feels like their timeline is exactly where we expected. Head coach Bill O’Brien said Thursday that Tom Savage will remain Houston’s starter, but that means little in April. Matt Schaub was labeled as the Raiders’ "starting quarterback" when Derek Carr was drafted in 2014; that lasted about 10 minutes. Unlike the situation in Kansas City, there are few barriers to prevent Watson from taking over.

The Texans could use help at safety and along the offensive line, but for the most part, their roster is rock solid. They could make a serious AFC push with the benefit of improved play at quarterback. The sustained success Reid and Dorsey have enjoyed in Kansas City (43 wins and three playoff appearances in four seasons) provides them with the leeway to be patient with Mahomes. O’Brien’s three straight 9–7 seasons are a different story. With the flaming ruin of Brock Osweiler’s 2016 campaign in the rearview mirror, he’ll face pressure to hand Watson the keys right out of the gate.

Quarterback trades were the story of another first round, and Chicago, Kansas City, and Houston all paid dearly to grab the passers they believe will be the futures of their respective franchises. With the Texans, we shouldn’t have to wait long to find out if a draft-day deal was worth it.