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Kansas City Chiefs roster analysis: Turning over the offensive line

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Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor's note: We continue on with our Chiefs offseason roster analysis from Dirk Scholl, Aaron Hansberry, and Joe Edwards of Football Futures. Many thanks to them for allowing us to post their analysis here. Check out the introduction here.]

The offensive line

RT - Donald Stephenson 
RG - Zach Fulton 
OC - Eric Kush 
LG - Jeff Allen, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif 
LT - Eric Fisher 

Other players: Ricky Henry (OG), Jarrod Pughsley (OG), Derek Sherrod (OT), Curtis Feigt (OT)

Free agents: Ryan Harris (OT), Rodney Hudson (C), Mike McGlynn (OG), Jeff Linkenbach (OG)

A general look at the unit

One of the obvious elephants in the room. This unit underwent a major shakeup prior to the season when three starters left the team. Stephenson's suspension and Allen's subsequent injury increased the problems of establishing a coherent unit for the new season. The necessity of bringing in a starting left guard (McGlynn) the day before the final preseason game demonstrates the urgency with which the unit was patched together. Let's look at that again: FOUR of the 2013 starters (Albert, Allen, Schwartz, Stephenson) plus ONE prime backup (Asamoah) gone. That said it comes as no surprise that the offensive line had some serious issues throughout the season and created more issues for other units. 

But how come? Looking at the scenario that unfolded at the beginning of the 2014 season may help understand what to expect this offseason. The Chiefs went into the draft with an offensive line similar to this: 

RT - Donald Stephenson 
RG - Jeff Linkenbach 
OC - Rodney Hudson, Eric Kush 
LG - Jeff Allen 
LT - Eric Fisher 

They drafted Fulton and Duvernay-Tardif in the sixth round and signed Harris prior to training camp. While less than ideal the Chiefs' brass seemed content with this line-up although depth is not that impressive. However, with Stephenson, Linkenbach, and Allen you have players who can play various positions.

Then: Stephenson's suspension and Allen's injury came at a point when the free agent market was empty and preparations for the season should have been complete. What little depth was there -- gone. Linkenbach obviously was not what they thought he could be. And a road trip to Denver coming up in Week 2. Re-checking these events I'm still surprised they were able to run five players onto the field for 16 games.

The guys under contract

Eric Fisher continues to develop, however, at a pace that's still disappointing for a No. 1 pick. But he has yet to get a full offseason under his belt after rehabbing from injuries over the past two years. Let's hope he's good to go this year. There's no doubt he'll remain the team's Left Tackle.

Jeff Allen has been blamed for a lot of offensive line struggles in the past - but look no further than McGlynn to see the good in him. He's at minimum serviceable.

I have no clue why Donald Stephenson failed to reclaim his starting job once he returned from his suspension. Rumors are that the Chiefs continue to plan with him. While less then ideal after a year out of the game, looking at the guys currently available he's the right tackle (for now).

Jeff Allen has been blamed for a lot of offensive line struggles in the past - but look no further than McGlynn to see the good in him.

Zach Fulton had a rookie year with all the usual ups and downs. Some good, some bad, some awful. Lots of room for improvement, but I think he developed over the season and with another training camp he should be good to go as the 2015 right guard.

Eric Kush, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Ricky Henry, Jerrod Pughsley, and Curtis Feigt haven't shown anything so far (at least to the public) to seriously consider them for a significant role. However, Henry has been around for two years now, so the staff obviously sees something in him.

The Derek Sherrod signing is interesting. We have no clue how he recovered from injury, but before he went down that guy could play. I'll keep my breath, but I hope the Chiefs found something here. Of note: he started his first training camp with the Packers (back in 2011) as left guard before being moved to tackle. 

One interesting thing I stumbled upon while doing a little bit of research for this piece: Stephenson played at left guard some in preparation for the 2013 season when the Chiefs thought about improving from Allen at that spot. Allen played offensive tackle in college, and I really think he played well over the last two preseason games and into the first week at right tackle this year. Something to consider if you are unhappy with the "conventional" Allen / Stephenson line-up....

The free agents

Of the impending free agents only two justify consideration for re-signing: 

Rodney Hudson obviously was the anchor point for the offensive line over the last years, and he became a really good player recently. However, he'll receive a significant contract either in KC or elsewhere. But unless Kush clearly demonstrated he's ready to step in the Chiefs should make every effort to keep him - and if just for the sake of some continuity.

Unless Kush clearly demonstrated he's ready to step in the Chiefs should make every effort to keep Hudson.

Ryan Harris didn't play too shabby, he knows the system, and would be a valuable backup. So if he's willing to sign a cheap contract I'd bring him back at least for camp.

Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach should just be afterthoughts. Neither of them should draw serious consideration when it comes to talking about re-signings.

Cap considerations

The players on the roster are uncritical. Not much to be saved here. Hudson or another starting caliber free agent may be one of the bigger spendings we'll see in March.

Overall assessment

The unit requires some serious attention. First look at the pre-draft line-up in 2014 and the current projection: Only three changes: Fulton replacing Linkenbach at right guard, and Hudson and Harris are missing. That leaves a gaping hole at center and qualified (in terms of proven) depth is non-existent. Unless the Chiefs are able to fill those voids from within (which I don't believe, may be Kush has more in him than we know?) we will see some activity here.

Furthermore Stephenson and Allen are in the final year of their contracts. So looking forward to 2016 the Chiefs need to build a core to re-establish continuity. Keeping Hudson would be a first step if feasible cap-wise. But bringing in fresh blood to groom is important as well. Thus I expect one longer-term, starting caliber free agent signing (Hudson or someone else), one mid-term quality depth free agent signing (Harris or someone else) challenging for a starting role, at minimum one mid-round draft pick, another late around draft pick, and the usual batch of UDFA. If the Chiefs are unable to sign a quality free agent due to cap restrictions I expect another high-to-mid-round draft pick aiming at immediate starter quality.

Stephenson and Allen are in the final year of their contracts. Looking forward to 2016 the Chiefs need to build a core to re-establish continuity.

That leaves one critical area of concern: Right tackle, where Stephenson is the big unknown. If he isn't up to the job I hope one of the other guys who have been around in 2014 can hold down the fort. Or Sherrod. I just don't think they'll invest heavily in the draft with the number of potential fills for the position on the roster already now.

Coaching

I don't blame this year's performance on the coaches. Andy Heck and Eugene Chung were dealt a bad hand. But they made something out of it. I don't consider any of the two a candidate for a promotion elsewhere, thus they'll likely stick around.

2015 OFFENSIVE LINE PROJECTION

RT - Stephenson, Sherrod 
RG - Fulton, mid-round draft pick 
OC - Veteran or high / mid-round draft pick, Kush 
LG - Allen, Duvernay-Tardif 
LT - Fisher, Veteran