Just two days after securing a former All-Pro left guard in Joe Thuney, the Kansas City Chiefs signed a former All-Pro right guard. Kyle Long is coming out of a one-year retirement to join the Chiefs on their quest to avenge their Super Bowl loss. He visited the Las Vegas Raiders prior to Kansas City but didn’t leave the midwest without agreeing to a one-year deal worth up to $5 million.
There’s a handful of ways this impacts the team for 2021. I looked at four things to consider with the signing of Long:
1. His ability to play tackle
As the news dropped Wednesday evening, former Chiefs offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz dropped a notable nugget on Twitter:
For those asking what position. I think both RG and RT are in play.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) March 17, 2021
Long has been a right guard for every season of his NFL career except one: 2015. That year, Long started all 16 games for the Bears at right tackle and was ultimately voted to the Pro Bowl.
With Long’s retirement, it’s worth pointing out his — and almost every retired lineman’s — dramatic weight loss. Obviously, he’s been training and has time to re-acquire the mass it takes to hold up in the NFL, but slimming down for an extended period could have helped him get quicker feet and better flexibility — two things that are more important at tackle than guard.
As a guard, you need a heavy base to hold up against big, interior defensive linemen. At tackle, being able to match the quickness and explosiveness of edge pass rushers is the most significant part of the job.
It’s going to be six seasons since Long lined up at tackle — but given the current state of the offensive line, it’s hard to rule out any scenario.
2. His age and injury history
Long will turn 33 in December of the 2021 season. He’ll be the oldest offensive linemen on the team and likely has the longest injury history as well.
After missing one start in his first three NFL seasons, Long only played a total of 29 games over his last four years. He didn’t get to 10 starts in any of those campaigns. His injuries over the years include a torn labrum, strained triceps and a hip injury that coincided with the (initial) end of his career in early 2019; he’s also dealt with nagging pain from his ankle, foot, and shoulder, per CBS Sports.
He cited physical health as a reason for his retirement — so the fact that he’s returning indicates that his body feels good. That’s a great sign, but things could always change when the pads come back on.
3. Does this say something about Laurent Duvernay-Tardif?
I laid out how Long could be considered for a tackle position — but he has been a career right guard, so let’s assume that the Chiefs want him for that spot. Kansas City has confirmed that Duvernay-Tardif is returning to the team after the opt-out season, but maybe they aren’t confident he’ll be ready as a starter.
I criticized Duvernay-Tardif a fair amount during parts of 2019 — a season he spent fully recovering from a broken leg suffered early in 2018. Yet, by the end of that championship season, he and the rest of the line were playing as well as you could ask for. Mitchell Schwartz and Duvernay-Tardif were in control of the right side of the line through the title run.
It may be difficult to get back to that level immediately, and the Long signing could be confirming that the Chiefs are aware of that.
4. The aggression in addressing the offensive line this offseason
Long’s visit to Kansas City was scheduled before the team was legally able to tamper with other free agents. Adam Schefter reported the visit on Sunday, meaning the Chiefs were interested in Long even through the signing of Thuney and the reported heavy pursuit of San Francisco 49ers’ left tackle Trent Williams.
General manager Brett Veach is attacking the greatest position of need heading into 2021. If Long and Thuney are guards, the team still should add a tackle at some point — and their actions so far suggest that they likely will.