Patrick Mahomes, Brock Purdy show path to championship football team doesn’t always make sense

Super Bowl LVIII pits top-10 pick vs. ‘Mr. Irrelevant’

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes shake hands during Super Bowl 58 opening night Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Las Vegas. The San Francisco 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58 on Sunday.

So you want to build a football team?

Super Bowl LVIII is a matchup between two powerhouse teams. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will play in their fourth Super Bowl in five years. The San Francisco 49ers, with Brock Purdy at QB this year, have reached the NFC championship game or the Super Bowl in four of the past five years.

These teams have been years in the making. Countless hours of work from countless people.

Ryan Poles and the Bears have aspirations of taking their rebuild to the next level in 2024. They have a unique opportunity to do so with a team coming off a seven-win season that holds the No. 1 overall draft pick.

The matchup between Mahomes and Purdy is proof, on the biggest stage, that there is no surefire way to get the quarterback right. Mahomes was the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Purdy went dead last – 262nd – in the 2022 draft, earning him the nickname “Mr. Irrelevant,” which goes to the last pick every year.

The Chiefs pulled off a big trade to move up and grab Mahomes. They traded from 27th overall up to No. 10, giving up a third-round pick and a future first-round pick, for the rights to draft Mahomes out of Texas Tech. At the time, nobody knew that Mahomes would become the Mahomes we know now. Bears fans need no reminder that their team drafted Mitchell Trubisky eight spots ahead of Mahomes.

You have to imagine that move has worked out far better than even Chiefs general manager Brett Veach could’ve dreamed of back in 2017.

Five years later, the 49ers took Purdy almost as an afterthought. A grand total of 261 players were drafted ahead of Purdy in the 2022 draft. Thirteen of those 261 (including two quarterbacks) have never appeared in an NFL game. Purdy has more passing yards and twice as many passing touchdowns as all of the QBs drafted ahead of him (including Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder and Bailey Zappe).

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy celebrates with the George S. Halas Trophy after their win against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024.

If nothing else, Purdy is the perfect example of why NFL teams should draft a late-round quarterback every few years. The 49ers didn’t necessarily expect Purdy to become what he is now, but they took an extra QB and stashed him on the bench.

But let’s not act like this was the 49ers’ plan all along. Like the Chiefs did in 2017 with Mahomes, the 49ers took a big gamble and traded up ahead of the 2021 draft just a year prior to drafting Purdy. They traded the 12th overall pick, two future first-round picks and a future third-round pick to Miami in order to move up to No. 3 overall and select North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

Lance started all of four games for the 49ers before they traded him two years later. The big gamble doesn’t always pay off. This spring, the 49ers will finally pick in the first round again for the first time since they took Lance.

A year later, the 49ers drafted eight other players before they took Purdy. He is further proof that a quarterback, surrounded by the right talent, doesn’t have to be a first-round pick to succeed at a high level.

Likewise, the Chiefs don’t get enough credit for what they were building before Mahomes showed up. They had been to the playoffs in three of the previous four seasons before they drafted Mahomes. When Mahomes became the starter in 2019, he already had Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to throw the football to. He had an All-Pro tackle in Mitchell Schwartz.

Drafting the right quarterback with a first-round pick and adding him to an already talented roster accelerated the Chiefs into the stratosphere.

So ... back to the Bears.

The Bears have their top tight end locked up for the next four years in Cole Kmet. They have a receiver in DJ Moore who finished sixth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,364) despite playing in one of the five worst passing offenses in the league in 2023. Kmet and Moore aren’t Kelce and Hill. They are, however, talented players who could thrive with the right quarterback.

If USC quarterback Caleb Williams is as good as some draft analysts predict, he could elevate this passing attack immediately.

There are a million ways for Poles to build his team. All arguments should be taken seriously – whether in favor of drafting Williams or sticking with Justin Fields.

“My brain has gone crazy all year just thinking about the million different scenarios,” Poles said in his season-ending media session on Jan. 10. “... I’ll just stay very wide open with the different paths that we [could] go.”

My brain has gone crazy all year just thinking about the million different scenarios. ... I’ll just stay very wide open with the different paths that we [could] go.”

—  Ryan Poles, Bears general manager

Could the Bears add significant talent by sticking with Fields and trading the No. 1 overall pick? Yes, unquestionably. Can Williams elevate the team to levels we haven’t seen before? Maybe, but that’s an awful lot of pressure to put on a 22-year-old quarterback.

There is no right answer. Not in the moment. Only afterward – after we see the fates of the Trubiskys and Lances of the QB world – is the right answer easy to see.

Mahomes or Purdy will lift the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. And 31 other teams will be wondering what’s the best path to lifting the trophy next year.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.