If Eric Fisher had never went down late against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Even if the K.C. Chiefs had lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the same embarrassing fashion with Fisher in the lineup at left tackle, we still wouldn’t be hosting this discussion. In fact, left tackle wouldn’t even be on the table at all. This is an important point to remember.
As of the second week of NFL’s free agency frenzy (it’s really more of a murmur these days), the primary focus for Chiefs Kingdom is on the left tackle position. Fans are worried sick with the regular season still almost six full months away. They’re not without their reasons, of course, as the Chiefs did lose Fisher to injury and subsequently released him along with Mitchell Schwartz. Just like that, there was a massive hole at the most important spot on a front line that was already exposed on the league’s biggest stage.
The team’s attempts to replace Fisher have only made things worse—or at least even more frustrating. The team reached for the stars with Trent Williams only to be spurned at the last minute so he could remain with the San Francisco 49ers. Even options like Riley Reiff and Matt Feiler found homes with new teams. Despite the additions of interior linemen like Joe Thuney and Kyle Long weren’t enough to overcome the tackle worries.
It makes sense for K.C. Chiefs to keep tabs on Eric Fisher’s offseason.
There are still options on the market if the Chiefs are interested. Al Villanueva is there for the taking. So is Russell Okung. Rick Wagner and Dennis Kelly could provide some security. And perhaps a trade option will make itself obvious given the length of the offseason.
The draft itself is another source of several options. This tackle class is incredibly deep, and fans already have their favorites picked out who should be readily available at the No. 31 overall selection—where the Chiefs sit in the first round. Some popular names thrown around include Liam Eichenberg, Teven Jenkins, Samuel Cosmi and more.
For many fans, however, those options, whether veteran or rookie, are all depressing. The line was exposed against the Bucs and now the Chiefs are going to suffer from downgraded bookends in 2021. Instead of protecting Patrick Mahomes even better after such a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss, it feels as if the best quarterback in the game is even more vulnerable than ever. The veterans aren’t exciting, and rookies make too many mistakes.
Back to Eric Fisher for a second. The Chiefs waved goodbye to him in February and made him a free agent. It’s true that he was going to be expensive heading into the final season of his contract, and it’s also true he faces a long rehabilitation ahead from his Achilles injury. A return from an Achilles can take a long, long time, and even if a player is functionally healthy, it can still be considerable time before he’s back to where he was before the injury—if he can get there at all. Remember that even safety Juan Thornhill was healthy enough to start Week 1 but didn’t look like his old self until the postseason arrived. That’s a long stretch.
But it’s also important to recall that the Chiefs’ internal timeline, given to reporters by Brett Veach who was leaning on head trainer Rick Burkholder, said that they expected Fisher to return by August. In other words, if the Chiefs had never released Fisher in the first place, we’d all be waiting for the draft to see who the future left tackle will be and nothing more. Even if Fisher was injured yet on the roster at present, the worries would have subsided. Instead, the handwringing continues week after week.
Who is to say that Fisher is completely done in Kansas City? The Chiefs cleared the deck in order to reach for Trent Williams and it was a worthy effort. If a team can make a move for the best tackle in the game, you take that chance every time—just like if a team can try for a franchise quarterback. But sometimes those moves don’t pay off and a team has to move on. The Chiefs made the requisite moves to afford Williams but it didn’t work. And if Plan A included releasing Fisher, then perhaps Plan B is checking in on him from time to time about his health and a potential return.
It’s possible that Fisher feels that bridges have been burned. It’s also possible that he’s just ready to retire after making a lot of money and playing several seasons in the NFL. But his mentions of the team were very positive after his release, and there’s been zero buzz about his post-NFL plans. It feels as if all of his attention is likely on getting healthy again, that he knows that worrying about his future is silly when the present features so many questions.
The Chiefs might find a way to alleviate the concerns of fans with a move in free agency or the draft. Perhaps the right quotes from an upcoming press conference will allay the fears. But it’s also possible that the Chiefs might be looking at an uncertain position next August, right about the time that Fisher was expected to be healthy and ready to get back to work. If so, it makes sense for Brett Veach to keep checking in with his former left tackle to see about a reunion. If just feels silly to write it off until one side or another says it’s not going to happen.