KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs are paying Chase Daniel more than $4 million in salary and bonuses this season, yet the backup quarterback has not taken a meaningful snap in a game.
There’s an argument to be made that fact won’t change Sunday, when the Chiefs head to San Diego to play a game that can’t affect their playoff situation. Kansas City is already locked into the No. 5 seed and is merely waiting to find out who it will face the following weekend.
But there’s also an argument to be made that every snap Daniel takes — and it stands to reason there will be many — is very important.
After winning their first nine games, the Chiefs have lost four of their last six. And any positive vibes that came with back-to-back wins over Washington and Oakland may have evaporated in a 23-7 rout last weekend by the Colts, a potential first-round playoff opponent.
So while most of the starters will likely sit out the majority of this one, it could be up to Daniel and a slew of backups to give Kansas City some momentum headed into the postseason.
“My mindset going in is to prepare like the starter, just as I have my entire career,” Daniel said. “Hopefully I’ll get to play a little bit.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has said only that he plans to “mix and match” his players Sunday, leading to some heated water-cooler discussions about who should be held out.
Jamaal Charles? Probably. There may be no more valuable player to the Chiefs, let alone any other team in the NFL.
Alex Smith? Possibly. He’s coming off a miserable performance against the Colts, and said this week that there’s some benefit to entering the postseason on a roll.
One player almost certain to get the weekend off is linebacker Tamba Hali, who missed practice again Thursday with swelling in his knee. Otherwise, all bets are off.
“If you play, the argument is yeah, you’re staying in rhythm,” Smith said. “You’re keeping your timing, all that stuff. The speed of the game, you stay used to it. The negative, of course, is the injury risk. Not playing, the benefit is you’re getting healthy and fresh. The downside is yeah, you’re missing out on some rhythm and momentum heading into the playoffs.”
That’s where Daniel, running back Knile Davis and the rest of the backups come into play.
Daniel played earlier this season in mop-up duty against the Redskins and Raiders, and the results were forgettable. He was 4 of 8 for 48 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
Davis had emerged as a solid No. 2 option behind Charles, but then started coughing up the ball against the Colts. He’s had trouble with fumbles throughout his career, so San Diego could give him a chance to get that in check as the Chiefs’ feature back.
Then there are the guys who haven’t gotten much playing time, such as linebacker Nico Johnson, a fourth-round pick out of Alabama. This could be their first extended playing time since training camp — in a game that matters, no less, depending on how you look at it.
“It gives us an opportunity to see these guys, and it gives them some confidence,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “If we can get them out there, get some plays in, it would be great. See what Andy wants to do with it, but I think that would be awesome.”
No amount of prying this week could get the Chiefs to divulge their exact plans, especially with San Diego having something on the line. The Chargers can squeeze into the playoffs if they beat Kansas City and Baltimore and Miami lose earlier in the day.
Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson even declared Thursday that Smith is the starter, and that Daniel would be taking the same “mental reps” that comes with being the regular backup.
“You go in and attack the game like any other,” Pederson said. “We’re professional and we attack it like professionals. We get our guys ready to go. We’re excited obviously about being in the postseason and playing next week, but you can’t look past San Diego.”