Drastic changes along the offensive line for a Super Bowl-winning team are rare; most championship teams prefer maintaining as much continuity as possible. Going into 2023, the Kansas City Chiefs are an exception.
The Chiefs will enter the season with two new starting tackles.
Not long ago, fans were reminded how important the offensive line — and particularly its tackles — can be.
Super Bowl LV
Injuries throughout the 2020 season forced many changes to the line. In Super Bowl LV, Kansas City played without starting tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, so backups Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie played outside as Stefen Wisniewski, Nick Allegretti and Austin Reiter handled the interior. The unit allowed 3.0 sacks and nine quarterback hurries as Patrick Mahomes scrambled 497 yards behind the line of scrimmage in a 31-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In response, general manager Brett Veach made it a priority to revamp the offensive line that offseason. Veach hit a home run on drafting Creed Humphrey in the second round, and Trey Smith was highly considered the steal of the draft when the Chiefs took him taken in the sixth round. In free agency, Joe Thuney proved to be worth every penny.
Orlando Brown Jr. struggled early in the year as he adjusted to the change in the scheme from the Baltimore Ravens to the Chiefs, but he had a better second half. Lucas Niang had an average year as he returned from an opt-out season. In Week 17, Niang ruptured his patella tendon, ending his season as Wylie stepped back in.
Veach placed the franchise tag on Brown before offering a six-year contract worth $139 million — with an average salary of $23.16 million per year and a $30.25 million signing bonus. The contract paid $95 million in the first five years. Brown’s agent would eventually reject the offer, sign the tag and play the 2022 season on a one-year commitment.
Defending the championship
Coming off another Super Bowl win, Kansas City now has a lot of big decisions to make, and those surrounding the offensive line may have been the biggest. Both starting tackles were set to be free agents, and while there were talks that both could return, it was clear that would be tough to accomplish. On the first day of free agency, Wylie signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Washington Commanders.
Veach initially suggested that using the tag on Brown again was an option but one that he did not prefer to use. After meetings with Brown’s team, it was quickly reported that the Chiefs would not tag him, and that meant they only had a couple of weeks to reach a deal before free agency started.
The thoughts of a deal getting done with Brown Jr. were put to rest on the first day of free agency when the Chiefs signed former Jacksonville Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor to a four-year deal worth $80 million, including $60 million in guaranteed money. The writing on the wall for Brown became permanent when reports pointed to Taylor sliding over to left tackle.
With the Chiefs projecting to put Taylor at left tackle, it still left questions about right tackle. Now fully recovered from his injury, Niang was the first option, and then the Chiefs drafted right tackle Wanya Morris out of Oklahoma in Round 3.
The line seemed set, but then Veach made another move and signed former Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith. Many questions floated around about who would play where and who would start. Head coach Andy Reid addressed that after Chiefs rookie minicamp, noting Smith would get the first-team snaps at left tackle while Taylor would be at right tackle.
Donovan Smith will begin OTAs at left tackle with the first team, per Coach Reid. Jawaan Taylor will begin at right tackle.— Matt McMullen (@KCChiefs_Matt) May 8, 2023
Taylor is more athletic than Wylie and is a better pass-blocker. He has great footwork to pair with athleticism and power. According to Pro Football Focus, Wylie gave up 9.0 sacks last year, as Taylor only gave up 5.0. Wylie allowed 49 pressures, as Taylor only allowed 16. Taylor is also three years younger than Wylie.
Brown allowed 47 pressures and 4.0 sacks during the 2022 season. He often struggled with pass blocking, especially against speed rushers. On the other hand, Smith allowed 31 pressures in 2022 and 6.0 sacks.
Smith had better numbers despite battling injuries throughout the 2022 season. He was a much better player in 2021, and he started for the Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers in 2020. Before the injuries, Smith was a good left tackle, and it is fair to expect him to be at least a slight improvement over Brown.
The bottom line
Protecting the MVP quarterback remains a top priority for the Chiefs.
Kansas City’s interior line remains intact. Taylor and Smith look to be upgraded over Wylie and Brown paper and on film. When you add the depth pieces of Morris, Niang and Allegretti, the Chiefs have the solid pieces they need to keep Mahomes upright this coming season.