An acquisition at any other position on the K.C. Chiefs active roster would be filed under “that’s nice.” That’s because, at this point, the only real concern for anyone in Chiefs Kingdom is left tackle.
Two months or so into the offseason after an embarrassing loss in Super Bowl LV to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs have gone to work on a number of positions, but the primary focal point has been the offensive front. In many ways, the line will already be better in 2021 than it was at any point last year due to the losses suffered all last season and the arrival of the first high-ceiling interior player in years in Joe Thuney. But the roster hole at left tackle is glaring, if only because the pursuit to fill it with Trent Williams was such a high-profile grasp that didn’t quite work out.
When the Chiefs failed to convince Williams to leave the San Francisco 49ers, it left them with precious few options. It wasn’t long after that other options also began to disappear, as the likes of Riley Reiff were also signed, leaving the Chiefs with a choice of a veteran like, say, Russell Okung and/or depending on a drafted rookie.
Left tackle has been such a huge cause for concern ever since the team decided to release Eric Fisher in the first place, which also wasn’t that big of a surprise given that he’s a 30-year old lineman who was going to be quite expensive against the ’21 cap coming off of an Achilles injury that could have kept him from playing at all this season. At the very least, his timeline would have been in question and many feel that it might be a lost year for him—if he’s still interested in playing professional football.
Brandon Brooks provides a template of how Eric Fisher could get healthy after all.
But what if this is all for nothing? What if he is really able to come back and play on the initial timeline given by the team? If you will remember, Brett Veach spoke to reporters immediately after the Super Bowl and said the expectation was that Fisher would be back by August and fine for the regular season, per word from the team’s athletic training staff. If Fisher could/would be ready, is this much ado about nothing?
For those who doubt Fisher’s ability to come back from such an injury on that sort of timeline, let’s not forget the plight of three-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks of the Philadelphia Eagles. Back in January, 2019, in the Eagles’ last gasp of the 2018 season and postseason, Brooks went down with an injury that turned out to be a ruptured Achilles tendon. The immediate response looked like this:
Sound familiar? A 30-ish lineman goes down in January with an Achilles injury and suddenly everything is in question. The entire offseason would be spent asking “if” and “when”. When the 2019 season was said and done, Brooks not only played all 16 games of the 2019 season for Philly up front but he earned his third straight trip to the Pro Bowl in the process.
This is, of course, pulling out the one example that works well in favor of believing in Fisher’s ability to return when NFL history also has plenty of other linemen who have torn an Achilles or suffered another major injury and were never the same again. That’s fine, but remember that the Chiefs initially said August and Fisher has been relatively healthy throughout his career. He’s turned into a Pro Bowl level player late in his career, and there was every reason to expect he had plenty left in the tank before going down in the AFC Championship.
In short, the move to release Fisher might have been about immediate finances and the chance to chase Trent Williams. If and when that didn’t work out, the plan might have been all along to keep tabs on Fisher and know, if he’s healthy, that they can just go back to Plan B with a likely drafted rookie there to help provide long-term security—let’s say a first-round pick in Samuel Cosmi or a second-round choice of Walker Little (just as random examples).
At the very least, the ability of Brandon Brooks to return as soon as he did and do so with excellence gives the Chiefs proof positive that Fisher could enjoy similar success or at least provide stability on the edge if he were up for returning. And that could mean all of us being a bit less concerned about what the team will do at left tackle when there’s still so much time left.