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A few days before the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January 2017, Chris Cabott and Brett Veach huddled in a quiet hallway outside of a Los Angeles hotel ballroom.
The discussion they’d have that day — about a quarterback prospect out of Texas Tech named Patrick Mahomes II — would shape the direction of the Kansas City Chiefs for years to come, though no one would have guessed that at the time.
Cabott, who co-represented Mahomes with Leigh Steinberg, was trying to convince NFL teams and draft pundits that Mahomes was more than a reckless gunslinger, someone who should be a first-round pick in the coming months. This was long before Mahomes became one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL entering Sunday, sporting a 143.3 rating with 10 touchdown passes, 582 passing yards and zero interceptions after two games.
Veach, the Chiefs’ co-director of player personnel, was a mere lieutenant for general manager John Dorsey. But he had long earned the trust of head coach Andy Reid, who was given the same power as Dorsey within the Chiefs’ organization, and held significant sway. And that mattered because Reid never forgot Veach’s strong — and endearingly overbearing, he’d tell you — recommendations to draft DeSean Jackson, Fletcher Cox and LeSean McCoy, way back when Reid was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Veach was a scout there.
So as Cox, Jackson and McCoy all blossomed into Pro Bowlers in Philly, Reid came to value Veach’s opinion more and more. And Veach, who was eager for his next score after following Reid to Kansas City in 2013, was convinced he’d found his next gem in Mahomes. He grew infatuated with the strong-armed Texan over the previous 12 months, when the Chiefs were tasked with finding a gifted young quarterback to develop behind incumbent starter, Alex Smith.
So when Veach bumped into Cabott that day, he had an agenda. He wanted to start a running dialogue about Mahomes with Cabott, another ambitious, fast-talking East Coaster in his late 30s. The two bonded easily over big dreams and a love of football, which was a prime reason Veach wasn’t too worried about showing his cards, even though another agent might have used his interest in Mahomes as a means to drum up more curiosity from other teams.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got Mahomes,” Veach said, prompting Cabott to answer in the affirmative. “We’re really serious about Patrick.”
Veach did not know that the latter sentence was music to Cabott’s ears. Everyone loved Mahomes’ gun, gusto and improvisational ability, but prognosticators still had him pegged as a second- to third-round pick, largely due to his raw footwork and the fact that an air raid quarterback had never made it big in the NFL.
But now, finally, someone else believed.
“Good — and I’m serious about him, too,” Cabott said. “I think he’s special, a once-in-a-decade type talent.”
“Agreed,” Veach said.
Rallying the troops around Mahomes
At that very moment, the two reveled in their shared understanding, and began talking candidly about the rifle-armed kid they both believed would be a star, and how he’d be a perfect fit for the Chiefs.
So if you want to know the Mahomes origins story involving the Chiefs, this is as good a place to start as any. Over the next three months after that meeting in L.A., Cabott says that without fail, he’d hear from Veach, who always wanted to know the latest on his guy.
“For like 94 straight days, we literally communicated in some way, shape or form,” Cabott told Yahoo Sports. “We established a rapport where Brett was like, ‘anything about Patrick, I want to know.’”
Cabott respected Veach’s aggression and persistence. He wanted to know how Mahomes did in workouts. He wanted to know how his injured wrist was healing. He wanted to know the details of Mahomes’ passing script for his pro day workout at Texas Tech.
“Some of these calls with Brett were at midnight, 1 a.m. in the morning,” Cabott recalled with a chuckle. “It was clear to me that Patrick was the guy in Brett’s eyes, the guy that he wanted them to take. But it would be more than his call.”
Indeed. But Veach was on that, too, as he was the first one to introduce Mahomes to Reid, the quarterback guru with a tremendous amount of organizational sway.
For months, Veach hounded Reid, telling him: check out Mahomes, check out Mahomes, check out Mahomes.
Reid did, and grew to love him, too, for all the reasons Veach did.
Dorsey held his cards much closer to the vest than Veach did, but Cabott could tell he was into Mahomes, too, given the way Dorsey acted at the Senior Bowl – another college all-star game that the NFL descends upon for scouting purposes — which was held a few weeks after his meeting with Veach at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
“Hey, I want to talk to you about our guys,” Cabott remembers saying when they bumped into each other.
“OK, who do you got?” Dorsey asked, somewhat mischievously. “Oh, I know who you got.”
Turns out Dorsey — who Cabott remembers winking and walking away — was as easy for Veach to sell on Mahomes as Reid was. Prior to joining the Chiefs, Dorsey put in 20-plus years with the Green Bay Packers as a scout and front-office executive. The bulk of his time there was spent with Hall of Famer Brett Favre, and Dorsey grew to revere Favre’s combination of toughness, arm strength and ability to make impossible throws. Privately, he began telling folks that Mahomes had a little Favre in him.
With the two men at the top of the Chiefs’ organizational football chain on board with Mahomes — and area scout Willie Davis’ background work on Mahomes coming out clean — the decision was made to place Mahomes atop their quarterback board for the 2017 NFL draft. That put him above Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, both of whom were viewed internally as having late first-round value.
That means the Chiefs, who tagged Mahomes as a top-10 selection, would not have given up the same capital to move up for either player that they would eventually use to snag Mahomes, a notion backed up by the fact that Veach skipped Watson’s and Trubisky’s pro days, but didn’t miss Mahomes’.
“Brett said in a recent interview that if the Chiefs had the first overall pick, they would have taken Patrick – and I believe him,” Cabott said. “Brett was pretty sincere and genuine in his interest the whole time.”
NFL draft night: The QB sneak
To get Mahomes, Dorsey, the man in charge of actually working the phones, had to get creative. The Chiefs were selecting at No. 27, and thanks to the league-wide connections of Reid, Dorsey and Veach, they knew a handful of other teams were just as interested in Mahomes as they were. The New Orleans Saints, picking at No. 11, brought Mahomes in for a pre-draft visit. The Cleveland Browns (at No. 12) and the Arizona Cardinals (at No. 13) worked him out. The Houston Texans were picking 25th and sniffed around about a trade-up for him.
Cabott and Steinberg were careful to never reveal the Chiefs’ intense interest in Mahomes, lest they screw up the chance for their player to land in what they deemed an ideal situation, with a quarterback guru in Reid, stable ownership in the Hunt family and a plethora of offensive skill players.
“They seemed pretty laser-focused on Patrick,” Steinberg said. “We were more than happy to encourage their interest, and we kept their confidence and never said a word publicly about it because had we said anything, it would have put them in a compromised position to make a trade. If other teams knew they really, really wanted Patrick, they would make a trade difficult.”
So Cabott and Steinberg kept their secret, and by the time the first night of the draft rolled around, the Chiefs had already signaled to both of them that they intended to move up and select Mahomes. Veach did it in an amusing way, by texting Cabott an image of a Texas Tech Red Raiders logo along with the words “good luck.”
And when pick No. 9 rolled around, and Veach sent Cabott the same image again, Cabott grew excited.
“Does this mean what I think it does,” Cabott wrote back.
“Yup,” Veach replied.
“When,” Cabott asked.
“Now,” Veach wrote.
And sure enough, the Chiefs traded two first-round picks and a third-rounder to Buffalo for the right to move up from No. 27 to No. 10 and snag Mahomes. Kansas City, a town that had not seen its Chiefs select a first-round quarterback since 1983, rejoiced.
So did Reid and Dorsey, for that matter. While Reid finally had a premium young quarterback to develop, Dorsey — who was about two months away from being replaced by Veach as the Chiefs’ general manager after four seasons — had outmaneuvered at least four teams (New Orleans, Cleveland, Houston and Arizona) that he believed would take Mahomes. And he hadn’t panicked by moving up further, as others might have done after the Chicago Bears shocked everyone by trading up a spot to snag Trubisky at No. 2.
But no one was happier about the move than Veach and Cabott, the two men whose initial conversation in January — as two of the only true believers on the initial Mahomes bandwagon — spurred hours and hours of talk and texts about how good of a fit he’d be in Kansas City.
“I about jumped out of my skin and started yelling — we got it done! We got it done!” Cabott said with a laugh, when asked to recall draft day.
The next thing Cabott remembers doing on draft night reveals how clear the Chiefs were about their interest in Mahomes as their No. 1 guy. After Cabott and Steinberg got word of the trade, someone at Mahomes’ draft-day party fetched a Chiefs hat from behind a nearby banner and slipped it to Mahomes so he could put it on quickly for the cameras that were stationed to watch the ensuing celebration.
Shortly after the NFL Network broadcast went live, Mahomes was shown grinning widely, with a bright red Chiefs hat on his head. Cabott was caught smiling next to Steinberg, only a few feet away, while Veach beamed on his own in the Chiefs’ war room alongside Dorsey and Reid.
For months, this was what they all had wanted. And now, finally, it was a reality.
“Let’s say this,” Cabott concluded with a laugh, “we only had a few hats behind that banner.”
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