The Kansas City Chiefs have continued to load up on the interior of their offensive line this offseason, signing free agent Kyle Long to a one-year, $5 million dollar deal. Long had played his entire career for the Chicago Bears prior to retiring after the 2019 season — his fourth straight season of 10 games or less — and had entered the podcasting and media world. However, the reports came out last week that he was “healthy, happy, nasty, and shredded” and was looking for a return to the NFL.
Some may remember the three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, but others may not have the same exposure to the Chiefs' newest signing. I strapped on the goggles and headed down to the lab to check out the tape — tossing aside a clearly-hurt four-game 2019 campaign — to see what a healthy Long could look like in Kansas City for the 2021 season.
If Kyle Long is feeling good again after a year off, the Chiefs are getting an *athlete* at guard.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) March 18, 2021
Whether he's combo-and-climbing or pulling, Long shows really good movement skills, harkening back to some of Andy Reid's OL calling cards. pic.twitter.com/6RHWr5O0rs
Kyle Long was born to play for an Andy Reid offense.
Long is a 98th-percentile athlete and it shows when he is healthy. He is a good mover and gets into space well as a pulling blocker. He’s also explosive and climbs to the second level well after seeing off a combo block up front. These are hallmarks of Reid’s offensive linemen through the years, and only recently has the team made a shift toward heavier, power-based linemen. Long will fit in very well in a diverse screen game and in the Chiefs zone rushing attack, going back to Reid’s bread and butter from previous years.
Long’s movement skill is not just featured when he gets out into space; he also does well moving his feet and mirroring rushers when pass blocking. The movement ability also shows up when Long is reacting as a help blocker. He will routinely help a tackle with an EDGE rusher before transitioning off to pick up a blitzer or close a rush lane on an interior defender. Reid has leaned on offensive linemen with this type of movement ability — Eric Fisher and Mitch Morse, as prime examples — and found ample success in the past.
Long is a finisher, particularly in the open field. He typically does well to ID and frame the LB early, putting the defender on the turf and making sure he stays there. pic.twitter.com/y50dMNH5wY— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) March 18, 2021
Long may not be a traditional “power” offensive lineman, but he is a terrific block finisher — especially in space.
Long had a “nasty” streak coming out of Oregon, and it has carried with him through his time playing in the NFL. He revels in finding linebackers in space and planting them in the dirt. Long is excellent at identifying the second or third-level defender early in his pull and cutting off the angle to the ballcarrier, forcing the defender into his frame. He can then square up, use his explosion to drive through the defender and plant him in the dirt.
Long doesn’t often miss in space, giving him a highlight reel full of pancakes that are very easily visible. If he gets the opportunity to get into space as often as he has in his career thus far, he’ll endear himself to the Kansas City fanbase in a hurry.
Long's height and playstyle lead to some leverage issues, but he typically did well to re-frame and re-anchor when healthy. He gets a good, wide base against power rushers and can stonewall after initial losses. pic.twitter.com/nuIl3ofxtd— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) March 18, 2021
Long does have some reps where he plays with poor leverage, which is to be expected from a player with his height and build on the interior. However, he’s become very good at re-anchoring against power rushers and keeping the pocket clean.
Coming out of his stance, Long can lose the initial surge against a smaller, more powerful defensive tackle — as shown in the play above. As he’s knocked back into the pocket, Long is good at widening his stance, anchoring with the opposite foot of the rusher and extending through the defender’s pads to lock out and hold the line. Time and time again while watching his tape, I would see Long find himself losing the initial drive off the line, but then he would anchor and hold with plenty of space for the quarterback.
As the Bears cycled through their endless array of quarterbacks, it was apparent that they trusted Long to keep the integrity of the pocket. Where some would scramble at the hint of a loss up front amongst other players, Long’s ability to re-anchor and hold the line earned some goodwill — and hopefully will earn goodwill from Patrick Mahomes.
Long *did* play RT in 2015 -- finding out just before the start of the year -- and won a Pro Bowl nod for his performance.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) March 18, 2021
While there were expected moments of inconsistency, he showed good mirror, punch, and movement on an island. He could fill in there in a pinch. pic.twitter.com/MSRF0x67j3
With the Chiefs adding yet another interior offensive lineman, questions remain about where all these players will line up in 2021. Former Chief Geoff Schwartz took a stab at Long’s placement, guessing “both right guard and right tackle are in play” for the Chiefs.
Part of the reason Geoff mentioned it is because Long made a Pro Bowl at both positions early in his career. While his best fit was at guard — and likely is in Kansas City as well — Long started an entire year at right tackle in 2015. Finding out just before the season started, Long had to adjust to NFL speed and technique off the edge without many top-level reps. His lack of experience showed — particularly at the beginning of the year — but his movement ability and punch translated well to the outside by the end of the year.
Andy Reid loves versatility in his offensive linemen, and Long provides that off the right side. Most are currently slotting 2020 third-round pick Lucas Niang into a starting position at right tackle. However, if the Chiefs feel Niang needs some extra practice time at the beginning of the year — or if the team goes through another rash of injuries at the position — Reid can feel comfortable in Long’s ability to kick outside and get the job done for a handful of games in a pinch.
The bottom line
Long is a high-upside signing for the Chiefs should he win the right guard job from Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. He’s not costing much against the Chiefs cap — especially if that $5 million contract is laden with incentives — and he adds an athletic veteran presence to the group. The Chiefs have plenty of young bodies at the position in Andrew Wylie, Nick Allegretti and Martinas Rankin if Long isn’t able to finish another season, making this a low-floor signing as well.
It remains to be seen if Long is as healthy as he says he is. He’s struggled with injuries for most of his career, and the time off last year likely did his body a lot of good. If he’s able to play at the level he did as recently as 2018 — where most of the clips I’ve shown above are from — for an entire season, he’ll be a fine guard that will be able to keep Mahomes mostly clean and help a young group get better. However, if he’s able to unlock some of his early-career ability with a year off in a Reid offense, he could end up being one of the steals of the Chiefs’ offseason.