KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Offensive line was one of the biggest factors in keeping the Chiefs from hoisting a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy.
The offensive tackle position takes on added urgency this offseason after releasing starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz on Thursday.
Both were recovering from injuries, Fisher who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the AFC Championship Game and Schwartz who missed most of the season with a back, which cast doubt on the availability and viability in 2021 and beyond.
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The free agent market is divided into two parts: Veterans, who have the skills but cost a hefty chuck of change, and younger players, who still working to perfect their game.
These players are hitting the market for various reasons, but most provide an upgrade over the line from the Super Bowl LV loss:
Top-dollar free agents
LT Trent Williams, San Francisco 49ers
Height: 6'5" — Weight: 320 — Age: 32
Williams is the best tackle hitting the market at this time and it isn't very close. He is a physical left tackle who hits with pop in both the run and pass, making him capable of knocking defenders off the ball and set a new line of scrimmage.
Williams still mirrors very well for his age and his kick-step remains smooth. He still has a very athletic pull and can get to the second level with authority when he builds up momentum.
This offseason, Williams will command top dollar because of the difference in skill set between the other available tackles. The question will be how much does his body have left before injuries take over and which team is willing to invest elite dollars until that occurs.
LT Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers
Height: 6'9" — Weight: 320 — Age: 32
Villanueva has a couple productive years left and is a technician at the tackles spot.
He has patience in his kick step, and doesn't give up an unnecessary angle or make it harder on himself by rushing his kick. He has a smooth drop and lets the defender take himself wide before engaging.
Villanueva can move some defenders in the run game and has solid athletic ability in getting to the second level. He can maintain his blocks and stay engaged with defenders.
His biggest flaw is when a rusher is coming wide, he will load up with his hands for a big punch and allow the defender to get into his chest to drive him back before he re-anchors and stops the rush.
RT Daryl Williams, Buffalo Bills
Height: 6'6" — Weight: 330 — Age: 28
Williams is a reliable right tackle. When he is on the field in pass protection, it means one less worry with the pass rush.
Williams has his kick step down; it's like a science to him. He gets to the spot, takes the defender wide and gives his quarterback a lane to escape. He has a strong center of gravity and can anchor with the best of them.
Where Williams can get into trouble is when the quarterback starts to scramble around in the pocket. He hasn't shown the speed or stamina on tape to keep chasing after his defender and get in their way.
This could cause some issues if the Chiefs don't shore up other issues on the line, which forced quarterback Patrick Mahomes to scramble too much, especially in the Super Bowl.
Williams provides consistency in the pass rush and a solid drive block to go with it. If he were able to drop a little bit of weight, he could really push himself to a higher level on the perimeter run game.
Once he locks on though, it is tough for a defender to get away.
LT Riley Reiff, Minnesota Vikings
Height: 6'6" — Weight: 305 — Age: 32
Reiff is an ideal fit athletically for the Chiefs' run game style. He has a smooth pull, is capable of getting into space and can get in the defender's way.
He can maintain a block but isn't going to drive a defender off the ball with power or drive step. He also can be late at times with his punch, which causes him to give up his chest occasionally for a bull rush.
Reiff is on par with the Chiefs' previous tackles, but he doesn't provide a tremendous upgrade.
RT Rick Wagner, Green Bay Packers
Height: 6'6" — Weight: 313 — Age: 31
Wagner is a reliable tackle. He understands technique and how to adjust to a pass rusher. He has solid hands and can move a defender down the line.
He will do whatever he has to for the block to be made, won't give up on a block and will protect his quarterback.
Wagner isn't a powerful run blocker, but he can perform a solid double team. He doesn't get worked over by bull rush moves. He also can pick up and pass off a defender without much issue.
The one part of his game that gets exploited is vulnerability to a quick speed rush to his inside shoulder. His reaction time can be a bit slow, but he buries the defender in the dirt once he grows accustomed to it.
RT Bobby Massie, Chicago Bears
Height: 6'6" — Weight: 325 — Age: 31
Massie is a reliable pass protector. You don't have to worry about him not being fundamentally sound on his kick step or his punch. He would be a reliable presence on the line but struggles with lateral quickness.
Massie really struggles on reach blocks and getting to the second level. He often misses second-level blocks, because he can't get there in time.
If he is allowed to combo and drive block, Massie has a much better chance at making the block and moving the defender. Finesse run blocking will always be a struggle for his skill set.
Flawed, but cost effective options
OT/OG Matt Feiler, Pittsburgh Steelers
Height: 6'6" — Weight: 330 — Age 28
Feiler spent time at left guard for the Steelers in 2020, but his fluidity from an athletic perspective translates to multiple spots.
He has solid combo blocks, and aways has his hands up ready to engage and punch a defender. He was good about not letting defenders slip off of him in pass protection, because he didn't unnecessarily turn his shoulders.
Feiler always was on alert for games, stunts and blitzes. He also exhibits good fluidity to get out into space on pulls and in the screen game, and can smoothly get down the line of scrimmage on reach blocks.
He provides a very solid interior offensive line at worst case, but has a ton of skill and technique to play offensive tackle.
RT Zach Banner, Pittsburgh Steelers
Height: 6'8" — Weight: 360 — Age: 27
Banner is coming of an ACL injury from the first week of the 2020 season, but the talent is there.
He is a physical presence on the offensive line, can reach two gaps over, makes his movement look effortless for his size and has a solid pull.
Once Banner locks onto a defender in pass protection, the defender isn't breaking free from his clutch. He has very strong hands and, when he is able to connect on his punches, he can stun a defender at times.
The big question will be how well can he return from his knee injury? It is likely the only reason he will potentially see the market.
OT Roderick Johnson, Texans
Height: 6'6" — Weight: 306 — Age: 26
Johnson started out at right tackle but had to move to left tackle in the middle of a game because of injury. His athletic ability jumps out on tape.
Offensive tackles typically don't get to the second level as quickly as he can.
Johnson also understands how to widen the pocket, and can pick up and pass off quickly. His athletic ability and versatility is where he shines.
Where he struggles is when a defender bull rushes him, because he doesn't have a strong anchor to keep from getting knocked off balance and pushed back. He is light in his midsection, which is likely part of the reason he is hitting the free agent market.
Johnson needs a strength coach who believes he can improve his anchor strength and an offensive line coach who can improve his punch. The talent is there, but he needs help reaching his full potential.
The Chiefs probably need to find a couple of veterans additions for the offensive line this offseason, while also investing with some picks in the draft to develop long-term at the position.