If it wasn't already apparent after 15 weeks, it is after the 16th. The Kansas City Chiefs have plenty of talent dotting the field on both sides of the ball, but are being held back like a dog with an electric collar by their offensive line. On Sunday, Kansas City watched its playoff hopes dashed in a 20-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in large part due to six sacks allowed.
It was a horrific performance by a group that has been terrible most of the season. They have surrendered an unfathomable 45 sacks. The statistic is even more unfathomable when you consider the run game the Chiefs possess and the short passes of Alex Smith. Andy Reid has designed a team to lessen the offensive line's burden, and it still has become the death of it.
The loss doesn't only fall on the line, because it is a team game. Jamaal Charles is a wonderful player, but he can't fumble at the Steelers' 25-yard-line. Smith can't miss that throw downfield to Albert Wilson, albeit with a hard-charging defensive lineman bearing down on him. There is blame to go around.
Still, it comes back to the line. Kansas City couldn't open any holes on the ground even when Reid decided to run, gaining 39 yards on 14 carries. It is hard to blame Reid for going to the air when the offensive front was being plowed every play. It became clear the only chance the Chiefs had was to throw, and throw often.
While the line doesn't need five new starters, it likely needs three. Kansas City must re-sign Rodney Hudson, a terrific center and by far its best lineman. Eric Fisher, who struggled badly on Sunday, is a solid left tackle for the most part. Zach Fulton is a rookie, but he's a borderline starter. Ryan Harris, Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach haven't shown enough.
General manager John Dorsey has to be aggressive this offseason. He needs to venture into free agency with an opening and willing wallet, ready to spend on top linemen such as guards Mike Iupati or Clint Boling, and tackles Doug Free or Bryan Bulaga.
Some might ask how this is possible because currently, the Chiefs are projected to be $1.5 million over the 2015 cap, per Over the Cap. By March 7, the new league year, Kansas City could cut Donnie Avery ($3.5M), Chase Daniel ($3.8M), Tamba Hali ($9.0M) Joe Mays ($3.0), A.J. Jenkins ($1.3) and converted Smith's base salary into a bonus ($8.1M). All of that totals a cap savings of $28.7 million, and doesn't touch on Bowe's reduced pay (would be $11M if cut). Mike DeVito could also be tossed in the mix, another $4 million. The Chiefs won't make all of these moves but those are some of the options available.
Dorsey can open up approximately $30 million in cap space. Once you have allotted money for draft picks ($6M), re-signing Hudson ($5M/year) and tagging Justin Houston ($13M. If they sign him long-term, the number could be around $7M first year), Kansas City still has ample money for a couple of premiere free agents.
If the Chiefs fix this offensive line, they immediately become a true playoff-caliber team. The defense is in place with the return of Derrick Johnson, and the special teams is already ranked among the best. Offensively, the weapons are there with Charles, Travis Kelce, De'Anthony Thomas, Dwayne Bowe, Wilson and Smith.
The loss on Sunday hurt. Yet, if Dorsey makes the right moves over the next four months, the future is still blindingly bright.