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What the Chiefs should do at offensive tackle

A break down of the 2021 Chiefs roster, one position at a time

NFL: JUN 12 Chiefs Minicamp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With free agency scheduled to officially open on March 17, it’s a good time to take a closer look at each position on the Kansas City Chiefs. In this post, I start with the offensive tackle unit.

Who they have

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Schwartz

Schwartz started the first six games of 2020 at right tackle — the same position he had started at the first 141 consecutive games of his NFL career. A back injury forced him to leave the field in Week 6, and there was hardly ever a good sign he would be able to return in the remaining weeks of the season.

General manager Brett Veach expressed confidence that Schwartz can be available for training camp, but there are no guarantees with a back issue. If he does feel good about returning, there is no question that the Chiefs would want him protecting quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ right side. He has a reasonable $10 million cap hit in 2021, and the Chiefs would save just over $6 million in cap space by cutting him.

If he struggles to return or isn’t the same player, it’s still hard to see Kansas City letting him go. As long as Schwartz is motivated to be back, he should get the chance here. If he isn’t feeling right, he may just retire, which would save the Chiefs just as much cap space as if he was cut.

My opinion: Keep him, but plan on needing a backup capable of starting.

Eric Fisher

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Fisher captained an offensive line with plenty of turnover throughout the 2020 season from his left tackle position. He played every meaningful snap of the year until the fourth quarter of the AFC championship, during which he suffered an Achilles injury that required surgery.

2021 will be Fisher’s first season aged into the 30s. He had been the model of durability until 2019, when he needed midseason surgery to repair his core and missed eight regular-season games. He now faces the challenge of quickly recovering from a very serious injury — although Veach mentioned Fisher in the same breath as Schwartz in regard to being ready for training camp.

That might be too optimistic for me. It’s fair to assume Fisher could miss several games during the 2021 regular season. That’s not good news for any player, but especially one entering the last season of his current deal. It’s a bit of a moral dilemma, but the Chiefs could save $12 million in cap space with the release of Fisher this offseason. If he wouldn’t be a contributor for any part of 2021, that’s a move they have to consider.

My opinion: Plan as if he will be unavailable for at least 4-8 games of the 2021 season.

Martinas Rankin

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rankin’s only offensive action in 2020 came as the left tackle in the Week 17 game in which starters were rested. He did see nine special-teams snaps in the postseason. In 2019, all but one of his offensive snaps were at the left guard position — where he started five consecutive games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

I was impressed with Rankin as a left guard in 2019. I thought he showed enough to be considered a potential starter somewhere on the line eventually, and he could get his shot with the questionable status of Schwartz and Fisher. He hasn’t played legitimate left tackle snaps — outside of Week 17 — since 2018 with the Houston Texans, but it seems that the Chiefs want him on the edge of the offensive line rather than the interior.

As Rankin enters the last year of his rookie contract, he needs to show he’s capable of contributing as a starter — and the Chiefs need to find that out for themselves.

My opinion: Give him the chance to prove himself a capable starter.

Lucas Niang

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

2021 will be Niang’s de facto rookie season since he opted out of the 2020 season. He was picked 96th overall in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

It’s impossible to know anything more than what Niang showed in college. At TCU, he was a very good pass-protector at right tackle, but had injury issues — mainly a torn hip labrum that resulted in season-ending surgery in 2019.

The opt-out season gives him a chance to completely recover. Without the injury, Niang could have been selected a lot higher in the 2020 draft. It’s unfair to expect too much from him in his NFL debut season, but he could also be a pleasant surprise.

My opinion: Give him the chance to prove himself a starter — but don’t expect it.

Yasir Durant

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In his rookie season as an undrafted free agent, Durant filled in due to injury a few times. He tallied 36 total snaps at right tackle and 55 snaps at right guard — the position he played during the entirety of the Week 17 game.

Durant’s big frame is what makes him an intriguing developmental project. He should be sticking around, but he may not see the field this year as he did in 2020.

My opinion: Keep for the chance to develop into quality depth.

Prince Tega Wanogho

After being selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Tega Wanogho saw only two snaps in his rookie year: both on special teams in their Week 17 loss.

The Chiefs signed him to a reserve/future contract after his season ended, making him a candidate to be on the fringes of the active roster or work with the practice squad in 2021. Last offseason, the KC Draft Guide graded him out as a second-round prospect. Similar to Durant, he is a raw player that the coaching staff can work on.

My opinion: Keep for the chance to develop into quality depth.

Who they could sign

If the Chiefs do acquire a free-agent offensive tackle, they need to be capable of starting. Re-signing Mike Remmers could make sense — but external options include former Pittsburgh Steelers players Alejandro Villanueva or Matt Feiler, former Jacksonville Jaguar Cam Robinson, former Green Bay Packer Ricky Wagner or former Arizona Cardinal Kelvin Beachum.

Who they could draft

Veach has already expressed his excitement for the offensive tackle class in this year’s draft — and so has almost everyone else in the draft community. Prospects that could be available for Kansas City in the first round include Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, Texas’ Sam Cosmi, Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg, North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz, and Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood.

If the Chiefs want to address offensive tackle later, some popular names are Stanford’s Walker Little, BYU’s Brady Christensen, and Notre Dame’s Robert Hainsey.

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