One week after Super Bowl LV, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line remains the primary position of focus—and for good reason. The offensive front was a major concern for Patrick Mahomes for the entire game, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers utilized their advantages against a clearly inferior unit. Looking ahead to the offseason, the Chiefs o-line is likely to be completely remade—or at least that’s one dominant narrative.
A quick glance through Chiefs-centric conversations on social media, however, also yield another line of thought: that people are overreacting to the Chiefs o-line issues in Super Bowl LV. Here is a team that won 14 games, owned the top seed in the AFC, and ended up with a chance to “run it back.” One bad game doesn’t throw all of that away. If the line was good enough to topple the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game, then let’s not panic after one meltdown. So goes the line of thought.
So which narrative is right? Do the Chiefs need to completely tear the whole thing apart, like taking a dilapidated house down to the studs? Can the Chiefs just sit back and let current players get healthy for another run at the crown in 2021?
The competing narratives can be confusing because they both seem sound. But one has to win out.
The glass half-full
For those who want to shut out any negative talk, it makes sense to want to quiet the naysayers at this point. The Chiefs are still the favorites next season (and beyond) and it was basically a Lemony Snicket-esque Series of Unfortunate Events that pushed the Chiefs offensive line to the brink.
Do we really believe that the Chiefs would lose nearly every single starter again next season? The Chiefs had two ironmen at offensive tackle last year and they both went down with major injuries. The Chiefs also lost another two likely starters to opt outs instead of playing during a global pandemic. Another starting guard went down with torn knee tendons in both knees on a non-contact play.
In other words, the Chiefs could play “Yakety Sax” to a montage of piecing the line together over the course of the season and it would make total sense. The circumstances were so dire that they become laughable. That Mike Remmers went from sixth man to starting guard to starting tackle to—oh, wait—the other starting tackle (for the Super Bowl at that) is the perfect example.
It’s possible Mitchell Schwartz just needs rest. Eric Fisher has come back strong before and looked just fine. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has already stated he’s excited to return. Lucas Niang is already a nice draft investment at tackle. And just as easily as the Chiefs added nice cheap options in free agency this year with Remmers and Osemele, they can do it again in ’21.
In the process, the Chiefs also saw Nick Allegretti step-up and become a long-term starter at left guard. Andrew Wylie should be back in the fold as a restricted free agent. Yasir Durant is a promising tackle project who made the team as a rookie free agent, and Martinas Rankin is a versatile player who remains oft-forgotten in this mix who will enter a contract year.
Given all of this, it’s possible to view the glass as half-full. The Chiefs don’t need to make major moves in order to return to championship glory.
The glass half-empty
While all of the aforementioned players and situations sound as if the Chiefs could make things work okay in 2021, it’s a bit of a mirage.
Suddenly, the Chiefs have a definite age problem. While offensive linemen can enjoy productive years well past the age of 30, it’s also true that their most valuable linemen are dealing with serious injuries and age at this point.
Fisher suffered an Achilles injury shortly before the Super Bowl, the sort of injury that can take upwards of a full year before he can bounce back. Immediately, his return for next season is in question and even then, you have to worry about getting back into game shape.
Remember watching Juan Thornhill this season as a young prospect try to look as sharp as he did pre-ACL tear last December. This year the Chiefs had Thornhill back but yet they didn’t—at least not all the way—until the postseason, it seemed. Do the Chiefs really want to take that chance with Fisher and hope he returns not only in time to play some of the regular season but then work his way back into shape?
That’s a very tall order at left tackle, but the right one is in even worse shape. At this point, Mitchell Schwartz might not even officially know what he will do next season as he wrestles with back pain that kept him out of every game since Week 6. For a man who used to playing every single professional snap, it must have been brutal to sit out like he did during the team’s failed repeat bid. At this point, Schwartz is now a former All-Pro right tackle who is facing a long-term back injury beyond the age of 30. Does he come back from this? If so, is he doing long-term damage? Is it worth it?
It is entirely possible that Schwartz can come back and be his dominant self, but Niang was drafted last season for a reason and it was likely with a view of replacing Schwartz when it was time. When such an injury arises, that’s typically a good signal that “it’s time.”
Speaking of Niang and LDT, both men will not have played an official snap at their respective positions for well over 18 months when they return for the Chiefs. It’s safe to assume both are working out and that they’ve plenty of time to return to form, but it’s another wrinkle in the picture that the Chief have to consider—that leaning heavily on two guys to return after a year away might feature some unexpected hiccups.
At this point, we’ve not even discussed the interior line issues that have been concerning for the last few years. The Chiefs have rotated a crowded carousel of bodies at left guard ever since Andy Reid arrived back in 2013.
Last season, the center position was so disconcerting to the Chiefs that they replaced Austin Reiter at midseason for a few games with Daniel Kilgore. They didn’t like the results enough, apparently, and gave the job back to Reiter thereafter.
At right guard, Wylie held things down while Duvernay-Tardif was out, but let’s not forget that LDT just turned 30-years-old himself.
When people ask the Chiefs to invest heavily in the offensive line, this is what they mean. Niang could be the answer at one tackle position, but the favorites to win the Super Bowl will likely enter the year with a well-rested rookie who sat out a season at right tackle and a complete unknown at left tackle. The players who could come back are all 30 or more, and many of them are dealing with serious injuries.
Looking at it from this angle, it’s hard to believe the Chiefs are okay. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine any other position on the Chiefs roster deserves this level of attention. And after watching Patrick Mahomes run all over the backfield in attempts to dodge the pressure of the Bucs in the biggest game of the year, it makes sense why the Chiefs would invest heavily in the offensive front.
We all hope the Chiefs offensive line looks better in 2021 and beyond, but some of us have fallen into magical thinking if we think things will just take care of themselves with minor improvements. The narratives are competing at this point, but one is a bit irresponsible in its hopefulness. The stakes are too great for the Chiefs to cross their fingers and make a few minor changes along the offensive line.