Since the Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, the most popular topic of conversation surrounding the club has been what it intends to do at the tackle positions — and really, the offensive line as a whole.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was pressured more in Super Bowl LV than any quarterback in Super Bowl history: 29 times, or 52% of his dropbacks in the game. Part of the reason were injuries to the line’s two long-time bookends, left tackle Eric Fisher and right tackle Mitch Schwartz.
The Chiefs said goodbye to those tackles via releases in mid-March — and Monday marked Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s first opportunity to publicly address the maneuvers.
“With Schwartz and Fish, you run into these cap situations,” said Reid, referring to the $18.3 million in cap space the Chiefs saved with the cuts. “(General manager) Brett Veach and his crew have done a great job of managing this to give us opportunities to continue to work at the top of the league as a football team and so some of these things had to be done, but the greatest thing about this is those guys — with their stay in Kansas City — they go out as champs. They can hold that with them and they’ll be revered here forever and celebrated for that forever in this city.”
But Reid would not close the door on potential returns for the duo — as early as this season.
“Again, you never know,” Reid said. “This is a small fraternity of teams, and so you never know. What goes around could come back around to you. Not that they’re not back with us at some point, but that door always remains open. These guys did it the right way here.”
But as Fisher rehabs a torn Achilles and Schwartz recovers from back surgery, the team is still very clearly planning for life without them. Asked about potential starting tackle candidates, Reid first mentioned the team’s 2020 third-round pick, Lucas Niang, who opted out of the 2020 season.
“We’re fitting that through, but we had aspirations of potentially moving Niang over to that (left tackle) spot,” recalled Reid. “He looked like he had some potential for that when we had him last. Obviously, Kyle (Long) has that flex — to be able to do something like that. He’s played inside, too. The majority of the time he’s played inside, but he wasn’t bad on the outside, either. And then we’ve got guys coming back — so whether it’s Rem (Mike Remmers) or whether it’s Andrew (Wylie) — we’ve got guys that also have flexibility to play in those spots.”
In addition to Niang’s return, the Chiefs expect Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back for 2021. Like Niang, Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the 2020 season. He was the Chiefs’ starter at right guard from 2015-19 before skipping last year to work on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. Reid mentioned having Duvernay-Tardif back a few times during his chat with the media.
Of the five positions along the line, Reid and the Chiefs must feel the best at left guard, where they were able to secure top free agent Joe Thuney on a long-term deal.
“Joe gives you great flexibility,” noted Reid. “He can play either guard or center and do it at a Pro Bowl level, so arguably one of the better guards in the league right now if you look at him the past few years. He’s just done a tremendous job, so we thought that addition in there would be great. He comes from a great culture from New England, understands what it takes to be on a winning team and keep winning going forward, so we welcome him aboard with that and thought it was important to get him.”
Reid made sure to suggest that Veach is not done, given the Chiefs have eight picks in the NFL Draft and there is another free agency period to follow.
“You know how he rolls — he’s very aggressive and he’s staying on top of his game,” Reid said of Veach. “I wouldn’t tell you at any position that we’re done looking. We’re always going to keep our eyes open, try and make ourselves better, which we need to do.
“We’ve got to do that. When you’re sitting in our position, you’re not just striving to stay the same. You’re trying to get yourself better.”