K.C. Chiefs: The mixed messages behind Eric Fisher’s release

On Thursday, the K.C. Chiefs announced a wholesale commitment to a new offensive line, as the team officially announced the release of both left tackle Eric Fisher and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Given the state of the salary cap, the ages of both players, and lingering health concerns, it was a move that made sense in both instances yet also set up the Chiefs for considerable change in the coming weeks and months.

For Eric Fisher in particular, it was also a move that flew in the face of previous announcements from the team made earlier in the month of March. It made for some mixed messages at work from both franchise and player that still leaves things murky. Let’s review.

On Thursday, the Chiefs announced they’d released Fisher and Schwartz, and the team had statements from everyone involved thanking the players for their service. Both general manager Brett Veach and head coach Andy Reid spoke glowingly—and rightfully so—of each player on and off the field. The team also compiled a “thank you” video for Fisher and highlighted it upon their website.

In response to his release, Fisher had such a heartening and classy exit from the team. On Instagram, he posted the following:

Fisher gives a great summation of his career and seems very grateful for the entire ride. He accomplished a lot in his eight years with the team, and he’ll be a fan favorite for a long time.

If all of this—the statements from team and player—had served as the only messages at all, this would seem very natural. After all, Fisher is going to be rehabilitating an Achilles injury he suffered in late January for the foreseeable future in 2021. The team’s long-term left tackle went down against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game and was unavailable to play in the Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From there, Fisher’s status was in doubt for the entirety of the following season—and even the most positive timelines still cast doubt on whether he’d be back for the first half of the season.

It’s hard to understand the mixed messages behind Eric Fisher’s release from K.C. Chiefs.

However, just two weeks prior to the official release of Fisher, Veach took to the podium to answer reporters’ questions heading into the offseason and he sounded promising about Fisher’s return. Specifically he stated the following:

“Mitch just recently had his disc worked on, and we’re hopeful for him to return to training camp, and the same thing with Fish. So, we’re hopeful both these guys can complete the rehab and be available for training camp and start the 2021 season.”

Then Veach was forced to give a further update in response to reporters’ questions about verifying that timeline, since Fisher being ready for training camp would have seriously affected the urgency with which the Chiefs would have been forced to chase a new left tackle. Here’s Veach’s further response:

“Rick [Burkholder] has here a mid-August return. You know how that works, that’s always to be determined until the player actually reports back to camp and goes through the offseason and [we] see where he is. But the mid-August timeline was put in front of my notes here, so I’ll defer to Rick on that and trust his medical expertise.”

For some Chiefs fans, what’s done is done. Veach said one thing and then something else two weeks later. Get over it. That’s fine. If someone’s level of curiosity ends there, so be it. But I can’t help but wonder about a few things here:

1. The Chiefs needed to save significant cap space heading into this season all along and teams have been making moves throughout the months of February and March in order to comply with the decreased cap ceiling. While the official figure wasn’t known for some time, the Chiefs certainly knew the general range of that cap and could have cut Fisher at the beginning of March. Nothing would have changed.

At the time that Veach painted some rays of hope that Fisher would return by training camp, the left tackle was still fairly fresh off of an Achilles injury. He was still going to be expensive as well. Nothing, at least in the view of those outside Arrowhead, had changed. So did the Chiefs alter their approach in those two weeks?

Did the Chiefs survey the potential market as it was unfolding over the month of March and decide their best course was to wipe the slate clean instead of holding on to hope for an injured 30-year-old to be Patrick Mahomes’ blindside protector? Did the Chiefs know they were going to do this all along and just misled the press on purpose? Did something happen in Fisher’s own timeline for recovery that set him back, thus altering the Chiefs’ plan of attack this offseason?

These are all interesting questions. And they’re all without answers at this point.

2. Fisher sounds like a man who knows his Chiefs-centric chapter is over. This part is also very interesting because it doesn’t seem to leave any room for a wait-and-see opportunity on the part of the Chiefs.

For the Chiefs, however, it makes perfect sense to leave all options open. Fisher is going to get better and he was under contract through this upcoming season. Did the player change his mind and decide if the Chiefs were to release him then he was officially done? Is he interested in playing any more? HIs Instagram post made it clear he was finished and thankful for his time in K.C., but it also didn’t say anything about officially retiring.

The Chiefs didn’t officially close the door for any reunion in the future but they’ve also given him a lot of closure as he heads out the door. It would be a little odd if he were to re-sign after these sorts of statements and videos made in his honor, like someone showing up to their own funeral in a way.

There’s no major conspiracy here, but it is curious to look at what we don’t know and to compare the mixed messages that we’ve received in March to try to piece something together. Are the doors even open for a potential reunion down the road, with lesser expectations on both parties to meet in the middle? Is Fisher done? If not, then are we sure he’s done in K.C. just yet?

What we do know for sure is that the Chiefs are going to have a brand new offensive line in 2021. We also know that Fisher had a helluva career and deserves every chance to enjoy his well-earned riches during his eight years in K.C. As for the rest, we might never know exactly how some decisions were made.