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What signing Donovan Smith means for the Chiefs

Smith brings experience to the Chiefs line and adds depth at tackle

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs made waves on Wednesday by bringing in veteran offensive tackle Donovan Smith as a free agent. Drafted out of Penn State by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Smith spent eight years in Tampa before being released this offseason.

Starting all 124 games of his career as a left tackle, Smith was a cornerstone for the Buccaneers’ transformation and played a pivotal role in keeping Tom Brady clean while helping the Buccaneers beat the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

An injury-plagued 2022 season saw a drastic dip in play from Smith and likely led to his release in Tampa Bay. The Chiefs signed him to a one-year deal worth up to $9 million, showing some level of financial commitment.

While it shows they will be committed to having him on the roster for the season — as our very own Jared Sapp pointed out — this deal is worth more money than the Chiefs currently have available.

Looking at the deal from the perspective that it will be highly incentivized can change how we think about the team's commitment to Smith regarding playing time. The Chiefs had options on their roster for a second offensive tackle — but now, they have options for whether or not they want to move Jawaan Taylor to the left or keep him on the right side, where he played in Jacksonville.

The personnel

The Chiefs' current tackle room comprises Jawaan Taylor, Lucas Niang, Donovan Smith, Wanay Morris, Prince Tega-Wanogho and Darian Kinnard. Taylor is the only lock to start, but whether he will stay on the right or move to the left is not yet set in stone.

Lucas Niang — the Chiefs’ 2020 third-round draft pick — started nine games in 2021 before being sidelined with a nasty injury until midway into the 2022 season. While he does have experience on the right side, his up-and-down play will likely cause him to have to play the best football of his life to come away with a starting job. It should be noted that in the Super Bowl — when Andrew Wylie had to leave the game for a play — it was Niang to came to fill in.

Wanya Morris was the Chiefs' third-round draft pick this year — and while he brings an interesting blend of talent to the table, as I touched on in my film review of his game, he is still far too inconsistent with cracking into the starting lineup as a rookie.

Prince Tega-Wanogho was the team's swing tackle last season and saw the field minimally. He is the most likely candidate to be cut.

Kinnard was inactive for most of 2022, and despite being an All-Conference tackle at Kentucky, his route to the field will be nearly impossible with the bodies the Chiefs have added. I expect him to transition to guard — his more natural position— and compete for a reserve role.

Possible lineups

With Kinnard likely moving to guard and Tega-Wonagho the odd man out, that would leave roster spots at tackle for Taylor, Smith, Niang and Morris. This grouping likely puts Morris in a backup or developmental-type role where he can work on his technique and develop for the future. With Taylor penciled in for at least one spot, this would allow Niang and Smith to duke it out for the final spot.

Niang has more experience in the scheme, but when healthy, Smith would likely be the better option. In the end, I think the Chiefs will go with Smith to start.

Andy Reid puts a huge emphasis on putting the "best five" on the field, and if that best five involves Taylor playing left tackle and Smith playing right, then that is what the Chiefs will roll do. Kansas City is likely to start with the two players at their natural positions and go from there.

As for Niang and Morris on the bench to start the season, that might not last. Any lapse in play from Smith or injury to either he or Taylor will result in a backup entering the game.

With this many options available, it would be hard for the Chiefs to start any struggling player continually throughout the season, which opens the possibility that we might see a few different lineups this year.

The most likely lineups assuming Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, and Trey Smith make up the interior

OL 1: D. Smith, Thuney, Humphrey, T. Smith, Taylor

OL 2: Taylor, Thuney, Humphrey, T. Smith, D. Smith

If an injury were to occur to Donovan Smith:

OL: Taylor, Thuney, Humphrey, T. Smith, Niang

If an injury occurs to Niang and Smith:

OL: Taylor, Thuney, Humphrey, T. Smith, Morris

If there were to be multiple injuries along the line:

OL: D. Smith, Thuney, Allegretti, Kinnard, Morris

The bottom line

It's early May.

Nothing is set in stone right now, and there will be fierce competition come training camp. The idea right now is to prepare for the worst-case scenario possible. Smith and the Super Bowl LV champion Tampa team largely has their rings because the Chiefs failed to develop good depth on the offensive line.

It has been clear since that game the Chiefs will never let themselves be put in that position again.

It's Game Time.

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