Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has firmly established himself as the next face of the NFL. The current state of the league could have been very different, however, with Mahomes wearing black and gold instead of red.

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs

The 2017 NFL Draft kicked off under open skies on April 27 at the Rocky Steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The decisions made on that night would define legacies and reshape the power dynamics of the league. The Cleveland Browns held the first overall selection, and they used it to pick defensive end Myles Garrett, a force of nature from Texas A&M.

The Browns sorely needed a quarterback, as the Johnny Manziel experiment had come to a miserable end, but the general consensus was that the 2017 NFL Draft did not feature a strong quarterback class.

10 quarterbacks were selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears made a bold move by trading up to the second pick in order to select Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback with limited starting experience at North Carolina. The next quarterback taken was Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes.

At the time, Mahomes was seen as a high-upside prospect with natural talent. He needed guidance and patience to develop into a good quarterback at the professional level after playing in an Air Raid offense in college. Some scouts and general managers believed that Mahomes’ poor decision-making was problematic.

Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints almost drafted Patrick Mahomes

Former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was among those who didn’t agree with that assessment, however.

“When we evaluated [Mahomes], he was clearly an elite player,” Payton said. “The best quarterback I’d ever seen on college tape.”

Payton had flown to Lubbock, Texas to put Mahomes through a private workout, and the offensive-minded coach left that visit impressed. Mahomes reminded Payton of Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre due to his ability to torque his body and put power behind his throw without setting his feet.

“I told [my staff], ‘We’re going right to the plane. We’re not stopping anywhere, no one knows we’re here. That’s our quarterback,'” Payton recalled.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees was coming off of a season in which he threw for 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns, but Payton had already informed Brees of the possibility that New Orleans would select a quarterback. Payton believed that Mahomes could sit behind Brees and develop.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. The Saints, who held the No. 11 pick, were patiently waiting for their selection to take Mahomes, but news of Payton’s visit to Texas Tech had leaked. The Kansas City Chiefs traded up to the No. 10 pick, all the way up from No. 27, leapfrogging the Saints at the 11th hour.

Payton knew immediately that the trade was for Mahomes. The gunslinger was a perfect fit for Kansas City head coach Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. The Chiefs were already equipped with an explosive offense and had taken control of the AFC West division. Mahomes sat on the bench behind quarterback Alex Smith, who had a Pro Bowl season with the wide array of weapons around him. The following season, Mahomes took over the reins of a well-oiled machine, and the rest is history.

The Saints ultimately selected cornerback Marshon Lattimore. While Lattimore has turned into a formidable player himself, a transition from Brees to Mahomes would have likely kept Payton in New Orleans for the forseeable future. Instead, Reid has seen a resurgence in the late stages of his career.

Payton, meanwhile, ended up becoming a division rival. As head coach of the Denver Broncos, he will attempt to make Mahomes look as average as possible in the coming years.