On Tuesday, ESPN’s Mike Clay published an article ranking the NFL’s top 25 veteran position upgrades in the 2021 offseason. At No. 1, he listed the Arizona Cardinals’ acquisition of defensive end J.J. Watt to replace Zach Allen, followed by the Los Angeles Rams’ replacing quarterback Jared Goff with Mathew Stafford and the Cleveland Browns switching out safety Andrew Sendejo for John Johnson III.
Then just a few spots further down the list, he had one of the Kansas City Chiefs’ moves.
6. Kansas City Chiefs: Orlando Brown Jr. and Joe Thuney replace Eric Fisher and Nick Allegretti
Fisher’s 2020 stat line: 88% PBWR, 70% RBWR, 80 PFF grade
Allegretti’s 2020 stat line: 93% PBWR, 62% RBWR, 66 PFF grade
Brown’s 2020 stat line: 89% PBWR, 75% RBWR, 76 PFF grade
Thuney’s 2020 stat line: 93% PBWR, 72% RBWR, 74 PFF grade
Fisher was a very good left tackle in Kansas City, but the team decided to upgrade for the long term by trading for one of the game’s top young tackles in Brown. Since he was drafted in 2018, Brown’s 90.9% pass block win rate ranks 11th, and his 77.0% run block win rate ranks eighth among 63 qualified tackles.
Thuney was one of the top free agents on the market and is a major upgrade over 2020 Week 1 starter Kelechi Osemele and his eventual replacement Allegretti. The former Patriot ranked above average in PBWR, RBWR and PFF grade while playing on the franchise tag in 2020.
Though Brown and Thuney are the two most notable upgrades, the Chiefs could enter 2021 with five new starters on the line, with center Austin Blythe, tackle Mike Remmers and guards Laurent Duvernay-Tardif or Kyle Long all good bets to start. After the display we saw against Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl, this overhaul is music to Patrick Mahomes’ ears.
We have to acknowledge that part of the reason Clay ranks this move so highly is that it was so visible. It’s not every season that a team experiences such a spectacular failure on its offensive line during the Super Bowl.
But what strikes me as most interesting is that Clay ignores the fact that Fisher was injured during the postseason — and that in early March, his availability to play in 2021 was unknown. Instead, Clay looks at it as simply replacing one player with another.
And if we’re being totally honest, that was likely going to happen anyway. Without Fisher’s injury, the Chiefs likely would have used their 31st pick to select a tackle who could be ready to start in 2022. But faced with the prospect of starting one of this year’s rookie tackles to protect Mahomes’ blind side, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach went a different direction, using only a somewhat greater amount of draft capital to acquire a proven player young enough to be signed to additional seasons after 2021.
Clay also had a list of 15 Honorable Mention moves, which included the Chiefs signing defensive tackle Jarran Reed to replace Tershawn Wharton.
That’s not exactly how I would describe that signing, since Wharton had only 48% of last season’s defensive snaps. Instead, getting Reed was more about bringing in another player who could play starter-level snaps (around 75%) on the interior, giving the Chiefs a very solid inside pass rush — or the opportunity to use Chris Jones on the outside more often. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it really could go the other way around — that Wharton may replace Reed in 2022.