When the dust settled on the 2021 offseason, no position group experienced more turnover than the offensive line for the Kansas City Chiefs; Kristian Gumminger laid out the details of that overhaul by general manager Brett Veach in a recent article.
A year later, they enter the free-agency period with significantly fewer questions on the line: The three starters that make up the interior offensive line are under contract for the next three seasons, plus reliable backup-guard Nick Allegretti’s rookie deal lasts through another year.
However, the offensive tackle positions aren’t as set in stone. Starting left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.’s rookie contract expires this offseason — and starting right tackle Lucas Niang is currently recovering from tearing his patellar tendon in Week 17. It is not the first injury he has suffered: earlier in 2021, he missed two starts due to a hamstring issue — then missed five of the next six starts with injuries to his ribs. Before all of that, he had to recover from tearing his hip labrum in his final season at TCU.
With so many other positions on the team to focus on as a front office, how can the offensive line be addressed this offseason? Here’s how I believe it should play out:
Franchise tag Orlando Brown Jr. with intention to sign a long-term deal
Any NFL team may now apply the franchise tag to a player set to become an unrestricted free agent. In Kansas City, it has become obvious that the tag needs to be placed on Brown to avoid him hitting the open market.
Once the tag is placed, the Chiefs are projected to owe a salary of $16.7 million to Brown for 2022, per Over The Cap. It’s a very reasonable number for a starter you feel good about; six starting left tackles make more on average per season, and three of them are at $22 million or more.
Brown and his camp will want long-term security — and the Chiefs should oblige. At 26 years old next season, Brown is at a young stage of his career for his position. Kansas City can and should feel good about offering a deal for up to five years.
PFF projects Brown to sign a five-year deal worth $105 million in total; $21 million per season with $73.5 million guaranteed. Spotrac projects Brown to sign for $117 million over five seasons — an average salary of $23.3 million.
The benefit of the franchise tag is they have time to negotiate: the deadline to sign a franchise-tagged player to a contract is mid-July. This allows the Chiefs to see what happens in free agency. If they don’t use a big chunk of the cap space they will inevitably free up, they can front-load Brown’s deal. If they go on a spending spree, they can spread the signing bonus out and back-load the deal — hoping league-wide contract inflation will make the salary reasonable by that fourth or fifth season anyways.
Unlike some players that can demand a monster deal, Brown isn’t being paid for what he has already done. This is a projection of what he can be — and I believe he has shown both the on-field potential and the off-field demeanor and leadership skills to be worth that bet.
A long-term deal for Brown would give the Chiefs five current starters all locked in for at least the next three seasons — a remarkable example of continuity.
The fifth starter is Lucas Niang. As he recovers from the injury mentioned above, it’s important the team is proactive about what is behind Niang — whether that means for the beginning of the 2022 season or in the long term; he has shown the talent to be a starter — but at the same time, he has shown inconsistency in his availability.
One easy move the Chiefs will likely make is to re-sign Andrew Wylie; the 27-year old is an unrestricted free agent — but it’s hard to see any team valuing him as the Chiefs would. You can expect to see him be offered a short-term deal to return as quality depth for right tackle or either guard position.
If the Chiefs want to explore the market of free-agent veterans that could offer a little more at right tackle and possibly sign for only one year, here are a few names to consider:
- Riley Reiff (signed one year for $7.5 million last offseason)
- Morgan Moses (signed one year for $3.6 million last offseason)
- Cornelius Lucas (signed two-year, $3.8 million deal two years ago)
- Brandon Shell (signed two-year, $9 million deal two years ago)
- Bobby Massie (signed one year for $2.5 million last offseason)
- Chris Hubbard (1,997 snaps at right tackle over the last four seasons)
If the Chiefs want to find younger, more versatile pieces that can strengthen the depth of the unit, here are players to think about:
- Joseph Noteboom (27-years old, experience at four positions besides center)
- Ike Boettger (27-years old, experience at all three interior positions)
- Matt Pryor (27-years old, experience at four positions besides center)
- Jason Spriggs (28-years old, experience at right guard and both tackle spots)
The Chiefs should always have their eyes out for capable linemen at any point in the draft. For interior linemen, it may make sense to wait and take a chance on a late-round prospect — but they should consider offensive tackle at any point; it is a talented class of prospects towards the top.
I’ve spotlighted one player that could be available for Kansas City with one of their three Day 2 picks:
Rasheed Walker | Penn State
Walker brings impressive foot quickness and movement ability for his 6’6”, 320-pound physique. As primarily a left tackle in his three starting seasons, he used those strengths to counter speedy edge rushers or schemed-up stunts — using his athleticism to quickly cut their rush paths off. It also showed up in the run game, getting to his assignments faster than the average tackle.
Even with his large frame, he won’t be the most powerful player — but he was strong enough in college. His movement skills and experience in pass protection could lead to him being an option as the swing tackle of the future or even a general competitor for the right-tackle position.