With the recent induction of Willie Roaf into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the ceremony conjures images for most Kansas City Chiefs fans of one of the greatest offensive lines in the history of the NFL. Not only has Roaf been immortalized, but the future chances at Hall of Fame glory look positive for guys like Will Shields and Brian Waters as well. Even Casey Wiegmann has a solid resume that should at least warrant some level of consideration as an ironman center.
While some fans will reflect back, it also brings up a comparison to the present -- just how does the current line stack up against the past. Specifically, how does the tackle position currently look? While there are no Willie Roafs on the roster, there's likely only one or two in the entire NFL at this point, so such comparisons aren't fair.
However it is safe to say that the Chiefs have better bookends at this stage of roster development than at any other point in the tenure of Scott Pioli as general manager. Some of that should be credited to Carl Peterson for drafting Branden Albert in the first round (15th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft with a vision for moving him to the left tackle position. On the other side, Eric Winston is now the starting right tackle, giving the Chiefs the tentpoles on the outside upon which they can construct their offense.
Albert is hardly ever mentioned in a conversation about the greatest tackles of the NFL, but consider this: few offensive linemen receive any credit until a team is getting ready to lose them. Think back to how many people learned who Carl Nicks was and just how well he was respected when it was time for him to hit the open market. The same thing will happen next spring when Albert is potentially going to hit free agency or at least make the Chiefs deal with a new contract.
Albert might not be the best in the game, but his reputation is that he's a steady veteran who never misses a game and has developed into a very good all around tackle. He continues to become better each and every year and he's playing for a mid-market team that hasn't been very successful in his time in KC. Thus it's not surprising that Albert doesn't have a higher profile.
On the other side is Winston, the Chiefs key free agent addition -- and perhaps greatest addition of all -- from this past offseason. Winston's move bumps a player like Barry Richardson from the starting line-up and gives the Chiefs someone as reliable on the right side as the team already had on the left.
A new offensive coordinator and schemes will take time to develop, but the Chiefs will notice an instant impact along the right side of the line in the running game especially. There's a reason that many NFL writers were surprised at Winston's release by the Houston Texans and that the cheers were plentiful when the Chiefs were able to keep him in town and eventually sign him when on his free agent tour.
It should be noted that having a great tackles is not just about protecting the quarterback or running the ball well. Those things are certainly at the heart of this, but the overall concept reaches farther than that. Instead, it's about giving everyone that much extra time to do what they can do. If a player is starting at the NFL level, then they have the physical ability to make something happen if given enough time. The offensive line does exactly that, giving the play enough time to develop.
A poor quarterback is typically known as a poor quarterback because they make bad decisions. The reason? They're constantly under pressure. Watching a quarterback play behind a porous line is depressing. Watching a running back trying to make moves when defensive linemen get instant movement into the offensive backfield is maddening. Having guys up front who can anchor an offense on both sides equally allows the offense to do what it was designed to do.
If the addition of Winston and the further development of Albert give the Chiefs even a hint of what the team had when Roaf and John Alt anchored the outsides of the line for the Chiefs, the offense is going to look much better than the 29th ranked offense the team trotted out last year under Todd Haley. Even that extra second more in the pocket will allow Matt Cassel to make that extra read or Jamaal Charles or Peyton Hillis to survey the field that much easier.
The playmakers are in place for Kansas City's offense. If everyone can stay healthy, this year's offensive line should give the team the time it needs to make that impact and begin to match the defensive output under Romeo Crennel.