Friday, September 10, 2021
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How Kansas City can Fix the Offensive Line Issue

After the Kansas City Chiefs surprised the NFL with the release of starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported hours later that former starting center Austin Reiter is expected to find another team in free agency. 

These moves had to happen, and Kansas City must bolster up an offensive line good enough to protect Patrick Mahomes next season and beyond.

With a 2020 NFL season that was a real doozy, the first problem started when Mitchell Schwartz was injured during a week six matchup against the Buffalo Bills. Later found to be a serious back injury, Schwartz was unable to play for the rest of the regular season, including the playoffs. 

Then, during the AFC Championship game against the Buffalo Bills, longtime Chief and starter Eric Fisher wound up tearing his Achilles tendon, leading to the end of his season. Now add that with the fact that Austin Reiter would be a free agent after 2020 and the team was in cap hell (by the end of the season, they were $21 million dollars over the cap, according to Spotrac). 

The Chiefs were in a tough spot. They cannot make any improvements to any position, extend players or sign any future draftees if they are over the cap.

Kansas City had no choice but to figure out who to release. With both Fisher and Schwartz’s departure, the team cleared up over $18 million in cap space, leaving them with only about $3 million left until they meet cap expectations. They also realized that Austin Reiter may be too expensive for them, which correlates to the report that he would leave Kansas City.

With that being said, these moves were not favored by many Kansas City fans. Even though Schwartz was ranked the best offensive tackle entering 2020, relying on him being the same after the back injury would have been a huge gamble. Putting faith on a soon to be 32-year-old right tackle, who just had a severe injury, is not the best thing to do. 

Eric Fisher, who is 30 years old, hasn’t really lived up to his expectations and just had the best season of his career before his injury. His contract of over $11 million was just too much for Kansas City to keep.

Losing three starters in the offensive line is a tough thing to see. After seeing the beat down that the Buccaneers laid down on Mahomes, they need to protect their expensive franchise quarterback before it’s too late. 

There are some good things that the team has done to help the cause. On March 12, the team reconstructed Patrick Mahomes’s $21.7 million dollar roster bonus and converted it to a signing bonus, which ended up saving the Chiefs over $17 million. This move will be crucial for Kansas City if they want to make any important signings. 

The only player they have who will return to the offensive line and is a starter is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. But, with some contract restructures and releasing other players, Kansas City could have enough money to sign, trade or draft quality replacements.

Here are some ideal players that Kansas City should bring in to become a solid unit.

In-House Option

The best and probably only option to patch up the line without signing anyone is to start Lucas Niang at the right or left tackle position. 

Drafted in the third round last year, Niang was seen as a future starter in the NFL. In his two years as a starter in TCU, he never allowed a sack. NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein wrote in his report that Lucas was “a dancing bear with good agility and a great football IQ.” It was exciting to see what Coach Andy Reid was going to do with such a great player.

Unfortunately, he opted out of the NFL season in 2020 due to COVID-19. With the current predicament, he has the chance to step up and become a key starter on the offensive line. He oozes potential, and the team should start him as soon as the new season begins.

Free Agents

If Kansas City goes down the route of starting Lucas Niang, they will need to sign someone in free agency that can fill in the gaps easily. Here are a couple of names to watch for:

1. Rick Wagner: Ranked 23 out of 79 eligible tackles in 2020, playing 756 snaps, he was a solid addition to the Green Bay Packers last season. He has a couple good years left in him and can be signed to a smaller contract. He is best suited to play right tackle.

2. Corey Linsley: Ranked first overall out of 36 eligible centers in 2020, playing 880 snaps, Linsley is best center in free agency. He was a key component to the Packers’ success in his time with the team. He would be an instant upgrade, but will come at a hefty price.

3. David Andrews: Ranked 14 out of 36 eligible centers in 2020, playing 724 snaps, he may not be as good as Corey Linsley, but he is still a good upgrade to the center position. He is mainly a pass blocker and needs to improve on his run blocking. He would be a great signing nonetheless, and can be extended in the future if he makes improvements.

Looking at these three options, the one that is the most enticing is Corey Linsley. He is a proven starter, and is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Getting him would instantly cure the offensive line woes. But with a projected contract at $11 million a year, he may be too expensive for Kansas City. 

Enter David Andrews. With a projected contract at $6 million a year, he is the kind of player that can be an anchor at the center position. I predict that the Chiefs will sign him for two years at $13 million. 

There is also a chance that Kansas City can get their hands on veteran players like Kelvin Beachum, Matt Feiler, and even Mike Remmers. They would provide depth to their respective positions and could start if the time comes. 

For the sake of depth, Kansas City should sign Matt Feiler to a one-year deal worth $3.7 million. If Remmers is still available, the Chiefs should attempt to sign him to a one-year deal.

NFL Draft

After going through free agency, Kansas City has a couple of ways they can go with their picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Here are some players Kansas City could look to bring in:

1. Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas: He is projected to go in the first or second round. On tape he has good strength and can anchor the left tackle position nicely. He will need to work on goal line situations more and become a better run blocker. He also needs to improve on his effort when he blocks, he gives up too easily on some plays. Cosmi should be able to learn how to play with 100% intensity on all downs. 

2. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC: He is projected to go in the first round. When watching his tape, he shows nice strength and has a good football IQ. He is very agile, has quick feet and can move anyone at will. He shows great potential to play as a guard in a zone-blocking scheme. He will need to work on hand placement, and he should get stronger so he can man-handle every player. 

3. Tevin Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State: He is projected to go in the first round. Jenkins has great hands, and he is a mauler due to great strength. He has good awareness while blocking, finishes his blocks well, and could also move inside if needed. He lacks athleticism and can get beat by faster players. He relies too much on power and should focus on footwork. 

4. Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State: He is projected to go in the second round. Physically gifted, Davis has great hands and hand placement. He has elite balance, great in one-on-one situations, and can dominate in the next level if trained right. He still has to improve his overall awareness and football IQ.

These three players alone would provide immediate support in the offensive line. They all have their faults but can be developed over time. In case, Vera-Tucker’s style of play is incredible. He has shown sparks of awesomeness and can immediately start on the left side of the line. He should be available at the 31st pick. If not, do not be surprised if General Manager Brett Veach trades up to get his guy.

After looking at all the ways Kansas City can go to restructure the offensive line, there is one more move they can pull off that would easily be the most difficult, but would reap a ton of benefits.

Trade for Orlando Brown Jr.

Son of legendary left tackle Orlando Brown, Orlando Brown Jr. wants to play his father’s position to honor him. If he wants to play left tackle and contend, Kansas City is the best team he can go to.

Having gone to back-to-back Pro Bowls, he is only 24 years old. He has shown that he is a great blocker, only allowing six sacks in three years. He was also ranked 20 out of 44 tackles in 2020. If the team brings him in, they can still offer him a contract extensive that is best for both sides. 

There is one issue with attempting to pull off this trade, though. Brown Jr. will be worth a lot of draft capital. At the very least, he would be worth a first, fourth and a future fifth round pick. If his value drops with time, he could be worth just a second and third round pick. Regardless, this move can be made. The team will just have to make sure they can extend him to a good contract.

Final Thoughts

There are numerous paths the Chiefs can go through. If they trade away their first round pick for Orlando Brown Jr., then they could turn their focus to other positions in later rounds. They could even draft a guard in the later rounds. 

They could also go all out in free agency and bring in players that already have experience. With that being said, here is the prediction for who the Chiefs will bring in, and who would play each position:

LT – Orlando Brown Jr.

LG – Matt Feiler, Wyatt Davis

C – David Andrews

RG – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

RT – Lucas Niang, Mike Remmers

If and when Kansas City clears a ton of cap space, they can really recreate the trenches to their liking. If they manage to sign Andrews, Remmers and Feiler to team-friendly deals, it would be a definite win. Add in the development of Niang, the drafting of Wyatt Davis, the Orlando Brown Jr. trade and the return of Duvernat-Tardif, and the Chiefs have a very solid offensive line going into the 2021 season.

This may all be a fever dream, and the team could instead play with a cheaper line, trying to improve in the 2022 season. But knowing how aggressive Brett Veach can be, he can pull this off. It’s just a matter of how he will do it.

These next couple of weeks will be insane, so be prepared for what’s to come.

camtkb@mail.umkc.edu

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