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Perry: Conference title games shine light on Pats offseason priority

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Let's get this out of the way first: There's only one Patrick Mahomes.

He's the only quarterback in football who could've led his complement of weapons this year to the Super Bowl. He's going to be the league's MVP. He's probably already a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's the best at his position in the league, and based on what he did at Arrowhead on Sunday -- earning his third crack at a ring in four years on a bad ankle -- he resides in his own tier.

Mahomes has the singular ability to ensure that his team will be the outlier in a copycat league, where millions upon millions are spent searching for the narrowest of edges, for the next decade.

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That's why it'd be unwise for the NFL to look at the Chiefs and be convinced they have the blueprint for winning. Nope. They have Mahomes.

How, then, does the rest of the league go about building the kind of team that can consistently challenge Kansas City? Look at the three teams who made it to this past weekend, and look where they've invested.

The Bengals of course spent the No. 1 overall pick on Joe Burrow in 2020, but they followed that up by using a second-rounder (Tee Higgins) and then a first-round pick the following year (Ja'Marr Chase) on receivers.

The Eagles hit on a second-round quarterback in Jalen Hurts, but they spent a first-rounder on a wideout the following year (DeVonta Smith) and followed that up this past offseason by trading away a first-round pick for a star receiver (A.J. Brown).


The Niners went about building in an inverse fashion, hoping to plop a highly-drafted quarterback into a mix of talent that already included talented receivers taken in the first (Brandon Aiyuk) and second round (Deebo Samuel) in consecutive drafts to go along with one of the best tight ends in football (George Kittle). They're so talented around the quarterback spot, Trey Lance's season-ending injury didn't prevent them from making the NFL title game.

None of those investments at the receiver spot -- which is looking with each passing year like the second-most important position on the field -- guaranteed a Super Bowl berth. Investments like them in the future can't promise a January win in Kansas City, as the Bengals found out Sunday.

But having an elite offense is the price of admission this time of year. And the most successful teams in football have spoken resoundingly with their wallets and their draft-pick expenditures: Multiple game-breaking pass-catchers is a prerequisite to getting a shot at the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs don't have to live in that world thanks to Mahomes. But that's the reality in which teams that don't have this generation's best passer have been forced to live.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane, after being booted from the postseason in a loss to Cincinnati and their high-powered passing attack, was confronted with questions about adding even more to an offensive huddle that already includes a supremely gifted quarterback in Josh Allen and a top-end receiver in Stefon Diggs.

Was it enough to have one wideout who scares secondaries?

Not everyone has the opportunity to draft a Chase-level player, as Beane pointed out. But the number of star wideouts produced in the second round and later in recent years would indicate that turbo-charging an offense with a good decision or two is as accessible as ever.

The willingness to spend picks or money (or both) on the position has to be there, though. For those tracking the Patriots, it's worth asking where that willingness stands headed into this offseason. It's my understanding they view receiver as one of their top two or three needs, but how far will they be willing to go to address it?

They drafted N'Keal Harry in the first round back in 2019. He flopped. They paid Nelson Agholor two offseasons ago. Ditto. They've shown their want-to at that spot has been there before. They're due to prove it again.

They spent a second-round pick on Tyquan Thornton last season. They're paying two veterans -- DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne -- on short-money deals for 2023. At this point, they rank 26th in the NFL in receiver spending for next season, placing them ahead of only the Packers, Colts, Falcons, Bears, Ravens and Niners.

Two of those six teams made the postseason in 2022 but also ranked near the top of the league in tight-end spending. The Patriots sit atop the NFL in cap space used on tight ends, but their duo of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith doesn't stack up with Kittle or Baltimore's Mark Andrews from a production standpoint.


In a world dominated by teams with more than one next-level pass-catcher, the Patriots are looking for their first. Unfortunately for them, it doesn't look like it'll be easy to find needle-movers there this offseason.

Arguably the best receiver on the free-agent market is one of their own: Jakobi Meyers. And the draft doesn't look like it's stacked with overwhelming talent, either. "I don't think it's anything like we've seen the last couple years," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah told Lindsay Rhodes last week when asked about the incoming class of wideouts.

Bill Belichick may have to get creative. There are names worth pursuing via trade if he's kicking around the idea of parting with picks.

However it happens, if the Patriots want to be playing late into next January, they'll have to -- as Belichick likes to say -- do business as business is being done in today's NFL. They'll have to try to stockpile talent at receiver.

It's the way of the world for teams that don't have the great fortune of employing the best quarterback on the planet. As perhaps they've come to find out.