COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The Kansas City Chiefs will play in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years on Sunday. The main reason for that is the addition of Patrick Mahomes, a transcendent quarterback who regularly makes the right decisions at the end of games to put his team over the top.
Unfortunately for the rest of the AFC West, including the Los Angeles Chargers, the 24-year-old Mahomes is going to be around for a long time.
For the Bolts, that means finding a quarterback with similar qualities as Mahomes to give them a chance to overtake the Chiefs. That's tough, because players with rare talents like Mahomes' don't come around often.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had to make the difficult decision of moving on from a productive quarterback in Alex Smith by trading up to select Mahomes No. 10 overall in the 2017 draft.
"You never know until guys are in house and they're getting whatever you're presenting to them how they're going to pick things up and how they're going to handle things in the locker room -- you don't know all that," Reid said. "The prestige of becoming a quarterback in the NFL, a first-round draft pick and how they are going to handle that? So these are all unknowns and you hope that you've done your homework well enough, but we've all seen it -- 50% of these guys don't make it in the NFL, not necessarily quarterbacks, but first-round draft picks.
"There's a tremendous amount of money spent on these guys, so listen, I want to tell you I knew. We try and cut the odds down and all of that. But you really don't until you get them here."
Bottom line is Reid took a calculated risk in drafting Mahomes and hit the jackpot. He moved on from Smith, who reached the postseason four out of five years in Reid's system but appeared to have reached his ceiling. And because of his willingness to step out of his comfort zone, Reid and the Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl.
"I'm a big fan of Alex Smith and he got this whole thing rolling here," Reid said. "He deserves that credit. He's a heck of a football player and a good person. One of the smartest guys I've ever coached. For Patrick to have that opportunity to even be in the room with him is special. I think that really helped in Patrick's development."
Chargers president of football operations John Spanos, general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Anthony Lynn must take a similar leap of faith in this year's draft at quarterback.
We've heard the names before. Whether it's Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon's Justin Herbert or Utah State's Jordan Love, they all have warts. None of them are perfect, but the Chargers have to figure out who best fits their system and culture -- and jump off the ledge.
Telesco has selected just two quarterbacks in the draft since taking over as head personnel man for the Chargers in 2013: Brad Sorensen in the seventh round of the 2013 draft and Easton Stick out of North Dakota State last year in the fifth round.
Both players were Day 3 picks and projected as developmental prospects in the NFL. The Chargers should have taken a quarterback three years ago when they had the No. 7 overall pick, but they passed on Deshaun Watson and Mahomes. Instead, they selected wide receiver Mike Williams, who has played well for the Bolts in his three seasons.
Whether they choose to bring back 38-year-old free agent Philip Rivers in free agency, the Chargers need a long-term answer at quarterback to compete with Mahomes' Chiefs during the next decade.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Chargers selecting Herbert at No. 6 in his first mock draft -- a signal-caller who would give the Bolts a chance to compete with the Chiefs.
Herbert checks the most boxes. Unlike Tagovailoa's well-documented injury history, Herbert is healthy, having not missed a game the past two years.
And Herbert, for the most part, takes care of the football and makes good decisions, two very important things for Lynn and a contrast with Love's 17 interceptions last season.
At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Herbert is a very good athlete who can come in and run some of the zone-read stuff Lynn would like to incorporate. He would immediately compete with poised veteran Tyrod Taylor, or Rivers if he's retained, for the starting quarterback job.
A 4.0 student at Oregon, Herbert appears to have the intellectual bandwidth to master L.A.’s offense. A four-year starter at Oregon, Herbert is accurate, having competed 64% of his career passes for the Ducks.
And he's pretty good at situational football. Last season, Herbert completed 73.6% of his passes for 799 yards, with eight touchdowns and two interceptions, in the fourth quarter. He completed 60.5% of his passes for six touchdowns and just one interception on third down. And in the red zone, Herbert completed 65.6% of his passes for 356 yards, 19 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Herbert put together an impressive display at the Senior Bowl, earning practice player of the week and MVP honors in the game. Some question his leadership and low-key demeanor, but his quiet confidence would be a good mesh with Lynn.
"I feel much more comfortable with my leadership over the past couple years," Herbert told reporters at the Senior Bowl. "I've done a great job here of meeting guys, being myself and being genuine."
Herbert's steadying influence on offense could be a key in the Chargers possibly taming the explosive Chiefs.
Since Reid took over the Chiefs in 2013, the Chargers are 3-11 against Kansas City. They have a minus-20 turnover differential vs. the Chiefs during that time, turning the ball over 26 times. Rivers is responsible for 24 of those miscues.
"You can change the personnel, you can change playcalling to prevent some of those," Lynn said at his end-of-the-season news conference when asked about his team's turnover disparity this past season. The Chargers finished with a minus-17 turnover differential, tied for league worst with the New York Giants.
"That's still an emphasis. It's a huge emphasis. We have to take the ball away as well. We didn't take the ball away enough this year and we turned it over way too much. That's uncharacteristic of this football team since I've been here. I don't expect to see that again."