Patrick Mahomes hasn’t surpassed Tom Brady as the GOAT — but he might someday

The short and simple take on Patrick Mahomes’ greatness is that he hasn’t won enough Super Bowls. That’s why he’s not the GOAT.

It’s simplistic, I know. But sometimes, it really is that simple.

Let’s look at the scoreboard.

Tom Brady: seven Super Bowl wins
Mahomes: two Super Bowl wins

Looks pretty definitive, even if Mahomes’ number changes to three on Sunday when he takes on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. Even Mahomes admitted there’s a big gap.

“I’m not even close to halfway,” he said when asked about surpassing Brady during Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday. “You ask me that question in about 15 years and I’ll see if I can get to seven. But seven seems like a long way away.”

That gets the simple part of this argument out of the way, doesn’t it? I get that some folks out there want to go with what they’re seeing from the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and crown him. 

But it’s too early. Way too early. There’s really no debate yet. Let’s circle back to the conversation after he has seven rings — which, as Mahomes says, feels very far away.

“Do I ever see it happening? Probably not,” former Chiefs quarterback Chad Henne told FOX Sports on Monday. “I’m not saying that it couldn’t be done. But let’s really think realistically [about] an accomplishment that’s just absurd. And do I think Patrick is the type of guy that could get there? Yes. … But it’s almost a statute that’s just unrealistic.”

Mahomes won’t be the GOAT at the end of Super Bowl LVIII. He won’t even be a legitimate contender for the GOAT for the next few years. Fair?

Now we can move on to what makes the conversation fun and complicated. 

We’ve seen greatness in him unlike in anyone I’ve seen since Brady.

Colin Cowherd: Why Mahomes is “the greatest player that’s ever played”

Colin Cowherd: Why Mahomes is "the greatest player that's ever played"

It feels a bit like the draft comparisons. It’s all about the concept of potential.

Draft analysts compare prospects to project what a quarterback can be. Caleb Williams, the projected No. 1 overall pick this year, will draw Patrick Mahomes comparisons. Drake Maye will appear to draftniks as the next Aaron Rodgers. Jayden Daniels is without an easy comparison, though references include Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott and even Lamar Jackson.

During draft season, we talk all about tangible tools. (It’s actually already tangible tool SZN.) With the Senior Bowl underway and the combine a few weeks away, we’re already talking about arm strength, hand size, 40-yard dash. Even evaluating a player’s ability to get through his progression is tangible enough.

So what does this have to do with the debate over the GOAT?

In the same way that Williams’ tangible tools are comparable to Mahomes’, I think that Mahomes’ intangible tools compare only to Brady’s. And therefore, Mahomes has a real shot to contend for Brady’s Super Bowl record.

It’s not like when draft analysts dubbed Zach Wilson “the Morman Mahomes.” We get ahead of ourselves, don’t we? But for that exact reason, projections are a lot like mirages. There’s no knowing whether Mahomes can realize his potential, even with all his current momentum. Just like we don’t really know that Williams will develop into anything like Mahomes.

But there is another interesting parallel between the paths of Brady and Mahomes. They have both pushed the boundaries of quarterbacking — at times changing the way the position is played and redefining what can be done. Brady did it with tremendous mental sharpness and the right amount of raw tools. 

Brady might just be the greatest pocket quarterback to ever live.

I’d argue, however, that Mahomes has changed the quarterback position even more than Brady did.

Dave Helman and Ben Arthur break down Mahomes’ GOAT standing

Dave Helman and Ben Arthur break down Mahomes' GOAT standing

Mahomes seems to have that same level of mental sharpness, but with even more tools. Mahomes’ arm is bigger. He is faster and bigger than Brady. And yes, we’ve obviously seen 99 percent of NFL quarterbacks enter the league looking more “pro ready” than Brady, who went to the 2000 Indianapolis Scouting Combine looking like a father of three who spent too much time drinking and grilling on his speedboat. But Mahomes uses his physical tools in a way that we’ve never seen a player do before.

Mahomes is the most creative quarterback to have ever lived.

He isn’t just another quarterback whose tools eclipse those of Brady. Mahomes has the tools and the mental toughness to go toe-to-toe with Brady’s legacy. The reason we know that is simple: Mahomes has been an NFL starter for six years and is about to appear in his fourth Super Bowl. And maybe he’ll have three trophies by Sunday night. By Brady’s fourth season as a starter, he also had four Super Bowl appearances and three championships. When Brady got his third, he was younger than Mahomes is now. So in a few senses, Brady is ahead of the Chiefs QB. But there’s still time for Mahomes.

The “Embrace Debate” people of the world will be happy if Brady and Mahomes end up with the same number of Super Bowl victories. Because while Mahomes has the advantage in physical tools, Brady will — barring a return from retirement — always have the advantage in head-to-head postseason matchups. Brady was 2-0 vs. Mahomes in the postseason, including the Super Bowl after the 2020 season and an AFC Championship Game shootout during Mahomes’ first season as a starter (after the 2018 season).

Brady’s exclamation mark of his greatness might cast a question mark over Mahomes’ career.

But those postseason losses have inspired Mahomes. Much like quarterbacks study Brady for his mechanics, Mahomes appears to have been studying Brady for his greatness. For those intangible things that Brady did.

“Not everything has to go the perfect way,” Mahomes said when asked about Brady in an NFL Network interview at this time last year. “He just finds a way to win. Seeing it firsthand in the Super Bowl and seeing it in the AFC Championship Game — it’s kind of inspired me to be even better than I think I can.”

Henne remembered Brady seeking out Mahomes in the Chiefs’ locker room after the AFC title game — and the change it caused.

“He just wanted to talk to Patrick and say what a great player he is, happy to see such a young [player] have such success,” Henne said. “I think that really drove Patrick to be like Tom, in a way. … To have someone of that stature come in and say something like that about you, it probably drove him to say: ’Hey, I can be just like him, and I was so close in that moment that it’s just going to drive me throughout the rest of my career.'”

That said, I don’t think Mahomes would be complaining if he made it to seven titles, a mark that most people thought would stand for many decades.

“I don’t know about seven Super Bowls,” Mahomes said in the NFL Network interview. “So that’s pretty wild, but I’ll try to do whatever I can to be in as many games as possible.”

Patrick Mahomes the greatest football player of all time?

Patrick Mahomes the greatest football player of all time?

It’s a long, long, long road to seven Super Bowl wins. And it would be nothing short of remarkable for Brady’s record to fall to a quarterback who played him (and, coincidentally, lost to him in the Super Bowl). But Mahomes isn’t just a contender to become the GOAT because he’s the best current candidate. 

It’s because, through this point in his career, he is as historically great as they come. He is on pace to shatter pacing records. He has appeared in the AFC Championship Game in every season he has been the starter. And while some might have once doubted how Mahomes might handle the phase of his career where he would have to step up when his contract consumes the bulk of the salary cap, he has done exactly that. Look at his receiving corps this year — it’s not good.

The good news is that the 28-year-old Mahomes seems to be just getting started. But that is also the bad news.

While Mahomes has plenty of time to win five (or even six) more Super Bowls, he still has to actually win all those Super Bowls. And therein lies the excitement and stress for Mahomes. Sunday will be another opportunity for him to take another step in the right direction. 

But Mahomes still has a long way to go to catch the GOAT.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.



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