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Kyle Long’s signing is looking better and better for the Chiefs

The former Bears interior lineman could be in the Chiefs’ plans beyond 2021.

Denver Broncos v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In an ESPN article published on Thursday evening, analysts Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Seth Walder and Kevin Seifert discussed the winners and losers of NFL free agency to this point.

While considering the question of which team had made the best bargain in free agency, both Bowen and Clay picked the one-year, $5 million contract the Philadelphia Eagles gave to safety Anthony Harris. Walder chose the one-year contract worth up to $6.5 million that the Indianapolis Colts made with cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

But Seifert had another idea.

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Kyle Long, G, Kansas City Chiefs. For a grand total of $1.1 million in guarantees, the Chiefs got a player who could be one of the NFL’s best guards in 2021. Long is a force when healthy and just took a year off to get his body right. The deal has incentives that could add another $3.5 million, but that money will only come if Long stays on the field and helps the Chiefs to another playoff run. This is a fantastic opportunity for Long and an even better one for the Chiefs.

Whether Long’s deal is a better bargain than those given to Harris and Rhoades is open to argument. But Seifert correctly identified Long’s signing as a very low-cost deal with a large potential upside.

This wasn’t immediately apparent at his signing. At the time, the one-year contract was announced as being worth up to $5 million — which is agent-speak for, “This contract is actually worth much less than that.”

In fact, per Spotrac, Long’s salary is only $1.1 million in 2021. He received a $350,000 signing bonus and also has a $50,000 workout bonus — so his cap hit this season is just $1.5 million. Even if he earns the incentives to push his compensation to $5 million, they are categorized as not-likely-to-be-earned (NLTBE) — which means that if he makes the benchmarks in 2021, the extra pay will be charged against the cap in 2022.

While it is likely that the Chiefs themselves don’t know exactly how they will lay out the offensive line this season, I would be surprised to learn that their initial plan is to have Long replace returning right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Instead, I believe they intend for Long to serve as the primary backup to both the good doctor and their newly-signed left guard Joe Thuney.

In a perfect world, Duvernay-Tardif would play out the final year of his deal (the 2022 portion of his contract voids next February, leaving behind $2 million in dead money) to begin his medical career at the age of 31. Meanwhile, Long — then 34 — should be in ideal physical shape from a year of NFL-level conditioning and be fully acclimatized to the Chiefs’ offensive system. He would be in an ideal position to sign a one-year, $3-5 million dollar deal to serve as a bridge to the team’s right guard of the future, who could be a developmental prospect signed in 2021 or an early-round draft selection in 2022.

In a less-perfect world, Long might be forced to come in for either Thuney or Duvernay-Tardif this season. As a savvy Pro Bowl veteran, he would be a much better backup than any other interior lineman now on the roster — and very inexpensive at his $1.5 million cap hit.

Either way, Long’s signing was a shrewd move for the coming season — and perhaps beyond.