Blaine Gabbert’s contract will determine Shane Buechele’s future

TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 18: Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up prior to game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Raymond James Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 18: Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up prior to game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Raymond James Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Shane Buechele looked like he was ready to step into a backup role for the Chiefs, but Blaine Gabbert’s contract will determine how the team views the situation.

A new competitor has entered the arena at quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.

On Tuesday, news leaked that the Chiefs had reached an agreement with veteran quarterback Blaine Gabbert in free agency. At the time, no terms were announced about the number of years or dollars, which meant that the presence of Gabbert alone created both some questions and answers at the position.

Remember earlier this offseason, the Chiefs lost Chad Henne to retirement after five seasons with the team. He’d been an ideal backup for a young Patrick Mahomes, the sort of smart veteran who could step in and keep the chains moving, and opportunity had even provided him some courageous moments of his own to claim as part of the Chiefs’ overall dominance.

But Henne’s retirement wasn’t a big surprise. After all, the Chiefs seemed like they were positioning themselves for a sort of handoff at the position from a veteran quarterback to a rising newcomer in Shane Buechele. Henne was, after all, 38 years old, and Mahomes himself was entering his prime seasons. No longer an inexperienced signal caller, the Chiefs could afford to lose any sort of veteran mentor needed in the room and begin to develop younger arms who could serve both as backup and as desirable trade assets. (Think the Patriots and their QBs behind Tom Brady over the years.)

Last year, Buechele was in the driver’s seat to be QB2 in 2023. At one time, the Arizona Cardinals were poised to poach Buechele away from the Chiefs’ practice squad. The Chiefs responded by elevating Buechele to the active roster, where they kept him every game thereafter. That’s a huge tell for the Chiefs in the way they viewed him.

Let’s break that last statement down for its importance. Remember this: every NFL team only has a certain number of active roster spots, which is why it’s so heartbreaking for teams during final cuts in early September. For a team like the Chiefs, it’s even tougher because Brett Veach knows he’s building a roster for 20 games, not 17. The Chiefs need as much depth as they can manage, which makes every roster spot incredibly valuable.

It’s within this system that Shane Buechele took up a roster spot during every game in 2022 and never played a single official snap—he still hasn’t even after two years with the team. The Chiefs protected their investment in Buechele by making him unavailable to any other team in the NFL for the last year and a half. That’s what you do when you want to keep a guy around for the long term. Thus, it made sense, then, for Buechele to be the natural replacement for Henne upon word of his retirement.

Now the picture is muddied with Gabbert around. A few quick possibilities:

  • Did the Chiefs sour on Buechele somehow? Maybe they just needed more time with him on the roster and they ultimately didn’t like what they saw enough to move forward with him as QB2.
  • Did the Chiefs change their mind about going forward with an untested product behind Mahomes? It’s scary seeing Mahomes limp or work with his knee, and we can’t blame Andy Reid and company if they just feel a bit nervous about not having someone with experience there behind Mahomes.
  • Did someone else make a power play that ruined the entire set-up? Did someone up top say, “Yeah, you’re not going with a 25-year-old undrafted free agent as the guy running our offense if Mahomes goes down”?
  • Maybe Gabbert’s deal is for a veteran minimum and they’re just making Buechele face some competition like anyone else.

That’s what makes the terms of Gabbert’s deal so important. If there’s any real commitment attached to it—in terms of dollars or years—then Buechele will know something’s wrong. If not, then Gabbert is just the latest quarterback he’s going to have to beat in order to claim his spot on the Chiefs for this year. He’s done it before with the likes of Anthony Gordon or Dustin Crum and now Gabbert is entering the arena. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

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