What would a Chiefs trade for Kaiir Elam look like?

If a return for L'Jarius Sneed somehow doesn't work out, a deal for Kaiir Elam could be a smart play.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots / Billie Weiss/GettyImages

It was only two years ago that the Kansas City Chiefs made a play up the NFL draft order in an effort to secure a top-flight cornerback. When dealing with the New England Patriots to move up from No. 29 to No. 21, general manager Brett Veach has admitted that he wasn't sure specifically who would be there at the time of the trade talks, but he knew someone the Chiefs liked would be there.

As it turned out, their top option, cornerback Trent McDuffie, was still there after putting the call through a few picks before to secure the deal. To date, it's been a tremendous move for Veach—McDuffie was an All-Pro in his first full season as a starter—but what about the other presumed top target on the Chiefs' draft board?

Kaiir Elam is a pretty logical guess for the other guy who was within range for the Chiefs in the '22 draft. In fact, the Chiefs leaped over the corner-needy Bills in order to get their guy and Buffalo ended up grabbing Elam instead. Both corners were viewed as pro-ready with the pre-draft measurables scouts love to see in first-round prospects.

Since then, however, the McDuffie deal has been another thorn in the side of Bills fans when it comes to the Chiefs (beyond the Patrick Mahomes trade and the playoff oustings). That's because Elam has either been injured or inconsistent since coming into the league, and halfway through his rookie deal, the Bills still aren't sure what they have on hand.

Why the Bills would trade Elam?

During his rookie year, Elam had no issues getting on the field, but the opponents weren't exactly unhappy with that result. Elam allowed a completion rate of over 75 percent of passes thrown his way and his metrics at Pro Football Focus tell a story of an overmatched corner who looked even worse against the run—and a missed tackle rate of 13 percent.

This year, Elam began the season attempting to play through a torn ankle ligament for the sake of competition as the Bills put him and Christian Benford and Dane Jackson in a competition for a starting boundary corner spot across from Tre'Davious White. Elam lost that competition outright, but when White went down with a torn ACL and Benford hurt his shoulder, an opportunity arose.

Unfortunately, in what little time he played midseason, Elam looked just as lost as he did the previous season and allowed 10 of 13 completions thrown to him. At that point, he was placed on injured reserve and remained out for the rest of the regular season. However, he did come back in the opening game of the playoffs and had a pickoff of Mason Rudolph in a Wild Card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Why would the Chiefs trade for him?

If all of this sounds uninspiring as a potential acquisition, it is, but external observers of the team have questioned the Bills' use of Elam from the beginning. The Bills drafted Elam as a press-man corner knowing he would have to learn their zone-dominant ways, but this is likely a bit overplayed since other corners make such transitions with ease. The truth is that Elam was likely just more raw overall as a prospect than the Bills realized.

When you couple a raw start with an injury-plagued second season, you get a giant question mark in the secondary heading into his third season. This brings up a quandary for Buffalo and an opportunity for Kansas City.

A second season plagued by an ankle injury makes it difficult to evaluate and could put Elam in the sort of discount bin that Brett Veach has loved in the past. Remember, he's reached for the likes of Mike Hughes, Reggie Ragland, Cam Erving, Kadarius Toney, and DeAndre Baker in the past, so adding another grab at potential in Elam would be right in line with his thought process in other offseasons.

Only in a Sneed-less scenario

Of course, all of this only makes sense in a world in which the Chiefs have written off their ability to bring back L'Jarius Sneed for one reason or another. They may deem him too expensive to keep around for the long-term and imagine other recipients for any contract extensions.

With Sneed, the secondary is too loaded for any such deal for Elam and the idea is moot. Without Sneed, Elam is exactly the sort of reach for impact that would make sense in a secondary with other gambles on potential—Joshua Williams' growth, Chamarri Conner's readiness, Nazeeh Johnson's health, Jaylen Watson's development.

If the Chiefs must lose a keystone like Sneed in the secondary, a trade for a prospect like Elam solves any depth concerns while also providing a bet worth taking for his growth in year three. If healthy, Elam could serve as the sort of blossoming outside corner who could thrive with a new coach (I mean, it's Dave Merritt). And when you're facing such a void as going "Sneed-less", the truth is the Chiefs should want multiple darts to throw at the target of filling that hole.

What would a deal cost?

This would be a measured risk for both sides, which makes a fourth-round selection sound like a reasonable place to land. That's a nice round of value for a team like the Chiefs—exactly where they grabbed Sneed and Conner in past drafts—while it allows them to keep any top 100 picks. In response, the Bills take a big hit from their first-round choice, but walk away with a real asset in return for a draft choice that might end up as a complete bust. Better something than nothing, right?

It's possible to work in something that affects both sides a bit more in terms of compensation—say, a fifth-round choice that can become a third-round selection with playing time incentives, for example. But the parameters are there for both teams to feel the risk and reward.