A healthy Patrick Mahomes in 2020 is more important than limited version of the MVP this year

Terez PaylorSenior NFL writer

Kansas City Chiefs fans, as well as the NFL world, held their collective breath, hoping and praying for the best regarding Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs’ star quarterback — the sidearm-slinging, pass-rush-ducking, reigning MVP — suffered an ugly right knee injury during the first half of their 30-6 win in their “Thursday Night Football” contest against the Denver Broncos.

Indications on Thursday night were fairly positive considering the circumstances, as sources told Yahoo Sports that there was belief that Mahomes suffered a dislocated kneecap that does not appear to be fractured. An MRI on Friday confirmed the best-case scenario for the Chiefs, as Mahomes is expected to miss three weeks with the injury, according to an NFL Network report.

The MRI dispelled the terrifying nightmare scenario — that there was enough damage done to require immediate surgery — but the Chiefs and Mahomes may still find themselves with the following difficult choice:

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Do they push for a return in a matter of weeks and keep his season alive but risk another shot on his injured knee that will likely need eventual surgical attention?

Or do they sideline him for a lengthy time and essentially punt on this season, but ensure the best weapon in football returns for 2020 at full strength?

Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes gets helped off the field Thursday night after suffering a knee injury on a QB sneak. (Getty Images)
Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes gets helped off the field Thursday night after suffering a knee injury on a QB sneak. (Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford returned from the same injury in four weeks in 2009, and went on to play six straight games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams was in and out of the lineup in 2017 until he ultimately relented and had surgery, ending his season with two weeks left.

If Mahomes indeed returns, he may have to wear a knee brace, one that could affect his Houdini-like mobility. This is in addition to the left ankle sprain that Mahomes has heroically gutted through with multiple aggravations since Week 1.

So from this vantage point, the choice is clear: err on the side of caution and rest him for as long as it takes. Go overboard on it, if necessary.

If there’s a chance Mahomes can suffer more damage by taking the wrong hit — one that could fundamentally change who he is as a quarterbacking magician — it would be prudent to have the surgery now and sit him for good in 2019, no questions asked.

That won’t be an easy decision for anyone involved. The Chiefs would be flushing the season down the drain, and Mahomes, who prides himself on being a warrior just as much as Stafford, will almost surely want to put off any surgery for as long as possible and return for his teammates. He even refused to get carted off the field, presumably because he didn’t want them to see him like that.

This decision is bigger than Mahomes’ competitiveness, and even the Chiefs’ 2019 season. He’s not just the franchise player, he’s also a generational talent who will be a torch-bearer for the NFL for the next decade-plus, someone fans will abandon their home setups, complete with their massive big screens and comfy couches, to come to the stadium and see.

Franchises can go half a century without a player like that, let alone one who plays the most important position. That type of player is worth his weight in gold, which is even more reason to err on the side of caution.

Prior to the Chiefs’ fantastic defensive performance Thursday against a moribund Denver offense, there was a significant question about whether the now 5-2 Chiefs had the supporting cast to win a Super Bowl, even with a full-strength Mahomes. A win over a 2-5 Denver team that has players who should now be planning their offseason vacations to Acapulco doesn’t change that.

Or at least, it shouldn’t.

Even if the MRI yielded relatively positive results according to media reports, a compelling case can be made that the Chiefs should still hold him out longer than necessary, just to be sure. If they lose a bunch of games in the meantime, who cares? In that case, you’d know this really isn’t a Super Bowl-caliber team, even with Mahomes, so there’s no point of risking his future in 2019.

The AFC West stinks, and home-field advantage won’t matter after the first seed, which Mahomes’ injury will likely make New England’s anyway. Kansas City can win anywhere, provided Mahomes — the NFL’s single-greatest weapon — is healthy for the playoffs.

However, the franchise has a responsibility to make sure its crown jewel gets to that point, whether that means sitting him for a lengthy period in 2019, or sitting him for good until 2020.

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