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Armando Salguero

Want to compete for Super Bowls? Find an elite quarterback like the Chiefs did.

 

An NFL team needs a great quarterback to win consistently and be a frequent Super Bowl contender. Can we agree to that?

Because if we can’t come to that understanding, then I give up. It’s over between us. You’re an NFL heretic and I’m not going to any Super Bowl parties with you.

But if we agree, there are some things we’re cool about because we just get it. We understand solid-but-not-great quarterbacks such as Nick Foles, Trent Dilfer, and Joe Flacco can occasionally crack the Super Bowl code but that’s rare.

It happens with guys such as that ... once.

Maybe.

But those guys don’t repeat and neither do their teams. There is no second act. Lightning doesn’t strike again.

To be a constant threat to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a team needs an elite quarterback. Someone like Starr, Unitas, Montana, Favre, Elway, Manning, Brees, Roethlisberger, or Brady.

You must have someone like that or you should be searching for someone like that.

I say all this because this topic is a thing right now. Super Bowl 54 is in Miami this year and it matches the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs.

And the Chiefs have an elite quarterback. And the 49ers have a pretty good player who still has to show everyone whether he’s elite or not.

The topic is also relevant because in Miami, the conversation for the last few ... decades ... has been when or if the Dolphins will again have an elite quarterback. And the franchise this offseason is said to be searching for that elite guy so that, you know, everyone doesn’t get fired.

That all leads us to this: How did the dang Kansas City Chiefs find their elite quarterback? How did they outsmart the entire rest of the NFL and find arguably the next generational talent at the sport’s most important position?

It starts with a mindset, for one thing.

The Chiefs under Andy Reid were pretty good with Alex Smith at quarterback. Smith started five seasons in Kansas City, helped the team get to the playoffs four times, won 50 of 76 regular season games and threw 102 touchdowns versus only 33 interceptions.

Alex Smith was good enough. But the Chiefs had a champion’s mindset.

They didn’t settle on Smith, who is a better Ryan Tannehill. They wanted the upgrade to great.

And they identified Mahomes by watching tape of him from 2015 when he was a sophomore at Texax Tech. The Chiefs were onto Mahomes two years before they drafted him and three years before he became their starter.

And they did it while they had a playoff-caliber quarterback starting and winning games for them. That sets the Chiefs apart as an organization that both knew its in-house talent better than anyone and refused to settle for good-enough being good enough.

So what’s Kansas City coach Andy Reid’s advice for identifying an elite quarterback?

“In it’s simplest form, that they can play the game, number one,” Reid said. “Number two, that they’re a leader of men, of people. And in our case, the guys that are playing. If they can lead those guys and make everyone around them better.

“And the great ones do that with your whole organization. They make everybody a little bit better. We try to find out what kind of leadership ability a player has before you bring him in and that they have those qualities.”

After the Chiefs locked in on Mahomes they had to figure out how to get him. They had the 27th overall selection in the 2017 draft and somehow came to understand the New Orleans Saints, picking No. 11, and Arizona Cardinals, picking No. 13, were interested in Mahomes.

The Chiefs traded away two first-round picks and a third-round pick to the Buffalo Bills to climb to the No. 10 overall pick. And they selected Mahomes.

The Dolphins, by the way, will find themselves in a similar situation this draft.

They have the No. 5 overall selection but might have to climb to No. 4 at minimum and No. 3 at most to select Tua Tagovailoa, if that’s who they believe is going to be elite.

Everyone knows this.

The Tagovailoa family knows this.

Sources close to Tagovailoas say the Alabama quarterback would love for the Dolphins to trade up to No. 3 to select him. Those same sources say they don’t love the idea of Detroit actually picking Tua because of the arc of that team’s current coaching situation.

The Lions will be playing their third season under Matt Patricia in 2020. He has a 9-22-1 record his first two seasons and the Tagovailoas are concerned another poor season could force the Lions to fire Patricia -- putting the quarterback in the uncertain 2021 situation of being a draft pick the new coach didn’t make.

And this: The Tagovailoas would love to come to the Dolphins.

They love the weather. They love the region. They love the idea of trying to be answer for a team long searching for an elite quarterback.

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