‘4th & 1’: Chiefs must continue offensive line makeover

Patrick Mahomes
Posted at 5:29 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 18:29:41-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs got walloped in the Super Bowl – a lopsided loss to Tampa Bay that laid bare the lack of quality depth along the offensive line.

Kansas City was good enough to win Super Bowl LIV with Eric Fisher, Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Reiter, Laurent Duverney-Tardif and Mitchell Schwartz up front, from left tackle to right tackle.

The Chiefs weren’t anywhere near good enough to defeat the Buccaneers with Mike Remmers, Nick Allegretti, Austin Reiter, Stefen Wisniewski and Andrew Wylie as the starting offensive line, from left to right.

It’s a big reason the Chiefs would be wise to invest — and invest some high picks — in offensive line prospects during the 2021 NFL Draft at the end of April.

“4th & 1” analyst Nick Jacobs and host Tod Palmer kicked off their draft preview series with a discussion of the tackle, center and guard prospects who make sense for the Chiefs.

After winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 50 years during the 2019 season, a spate of absences and injuries added up and cost the Chiefs any chance to become the first repeat champions in NFL history in 16 seasons.

Duvernay-Tardif, the first player in NFL history to also be a medical doctor, opted out for the 2020 season, spending the year in his native Canada assisting with the COVID-19 pandemic.

He remains under contract with the Chiefs, but there’s been no indication yet if he’ll play next season.

Meanwhile, the only offensive lineman Kansas City drafted last season — Lucas Niang, a third-round right tackle prospect from TCU — also opted out.

Once the season started, Kelechi Osemele, an offseason signing who earned the starting left guard job, suffered multiple knee injuries in October. He missed the rest of the season.

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, an ironman known for playing every meaningful snap during his first eight seasons in the NFL, was shut down for the season a week later with a back injury that eventually required surgery.

The most damaging blow came late in the Chiefs’ win over Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game, when left tackle Eric Fisher — a former No. 1 overall pick and Kansas City’s best offensive lineman — suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Fisher’s injury forced a wholesale reshuffling of the line in the two weeks ahead of Super Bowl LV.

The net result was that against a vaunted Bucs defensive line, the Chiefs had only one healthy starter playing at his best position (Reiter), a backup at left guard (Allegretti) and three serviceable veterans — albeit one coming off a significant early season injury (Wisniewski) — playing completely (and helplessly) out of position.

Remmers played relatively well in Schwartz’s place at right tackle, but he was exposed at left tackle and Wylie, who is a guard by trade, was unable to hold up in space against Tampa Bay’s edge rushers.

Instead, Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City spent a frustrating, touchdown-less evening — the first games of Mahomes’ NFL without a TD — that highlighted the need to shore up the offensive line.

The Chiefs seem to understand that.

General Manager Brett Veach pursued arguably the NFL’s best left tackle — Trent Williams, who ultimately stayed with San Francisco on the largest-ever NFL contract for an offensive lineman — and landed one of the NFL’s best left guards in Joe Thuney, who signed a five-year deal with the Chiefs.

Kansas City also has re-signed Remmers, signed former Bears Pro Bowler Kyle Long out of retirement, and added former Los Angeles Rams center Austin Blythe.

However, those three contracts were one-year deals, leaving the Chiefs with lingering long-term needs at tackle, center and right guard.

Martinas Rankin, who is 18 months removed from a torn ACL now, and Yasir Durant, an undrafted rookie from Mizzou last season, also remain on the current roster and provide depth at tackle.

Allegretti also returns along with some more developmental guys — including Bryan Witzmann, Darryl Williams and Prince Tega Wanogho.

But Veach and company have plenty of work left, including finding a starting left tackle and adding depth, before the 2021 season.

Fisher and Schwartz were released as the Chiefs scrambled to get under the reduced salary cap ahead of the start of the 2021 league year.

Both remain free agents.

The Chiefs have shown no inclination to re-sign Reiter and backup center Daniel Kilgore, who replaced Reiter for four games in the starting lineup midseason, who also are free agents.

Wisniewski, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Pittsburgh’s season opener and signed a few months later with the Chiefs, also remains a free agent.