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10 Biggest Questions: What is the Chiefs’ contingency plan at offensive tackle?

Trying to answer the top 10 questions about the reigning Super Bowl champions heading into their title defense.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Leading into the season, I'll be covering my "10 Biggest Questions" regarding the 2023 Kansas City Chiefs. Let's start here.

What is the Chiefs' contingency plan at offensive tackle?

Going into this offseason, the biggest priority for the Chiefs was what they would do with the offensive tackle position. Former tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie were free agents, and the Chiefs decided not to re-sign either player to a long-term extension. They would need to replace two starting tackles in one offseason, which is never easy.

Kansas City was aware of this, going out on the first day of free agency and giving former Jacksonville Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor a massive four-year, $80 million contract. Taylor's pass protection pedigree and skill are considerably better than either Wylie's or Brown's, so it made sense the Chiefs decided to pivot to him as a long-term solution at tackle.

Going into the NFL Draft, there was a lot of speculation that the Chiefs still wanted to take another tackle with a premium draft pick. The Chiefs brought in tackles Broderick Jones, Anton Harrison and Darnell Wright for top-30 visits — but all three were drafted before the Chiefs' pick at 31.

The Chiefs would eventually take a tackle, selecting Oklahoma tackle Wanya Morris in the third round. Morris was a touted high-school prospect with a ton of athletic potential, but he fell because he still needed development before he could play at an NFL level.

After striking out on the tackles who could start as rookies, the Chiefs decided to enter the free agent market again, signing former Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith to a one-year contract. Smith's last season with the Buccaneers was significantly worse than his prior two seasons protecting Tom Brady, but some of that was related to injuries that plagued him the entire season. With an offseason to get healthy and motivated to earn another hefty contract, the hope is Smith's play returns to what it was in 2020 and 2021, which was around average for a starter.

As offseason activities have progressed, it's become increasingly clear that Smith and Taylor will be the starting tackles for the Chiefs. Barring unforeseen circumstances such as an injury or another tackle emerging, head coach Andy Reid has made it pretty clear that both veteran additions will get the first opportunity to start.

In terms of health and level of play, there are no concerns with Taylor at right tackle. He's coming from Doug Pederson's system, which is similar to Reid's. He's a proven pass protector that has started every regular season game in his career. Unlike Brown, there should almost be no learning curve for Taylor to succeed, and the results of that improved tackle spot should show up immediately.

On the other hand, Smith comes with concerns. His play did dip significantly in 2022, which ultimately led to his release. Whether that was injuries, a messy situation with the Buccaneers' offense or just declining play, it's fair to have concerns about Smith's ability to get back to his prior level throughout a long season.

Can he stay healthy? Will his play be closer to what he was in 2020 and 2021 — or was last season the trend for the rest of his career?

If Smith is healthy and playing well, none of this is a major concern, but let's explore the possibility that Smith isn't a season-long solution at left tackle.

Do the Chiefs have a contingency plan at offensive tackle, and what exactly would that look like?

To start, you have to talk about Taylor's role in this scenario. Before the Smith signing, the entire Chiefs organization repeatedly mentioned that Taylor would be the left tackle going into the season. Taylor himself said he would have no issues sliding over to left tackle. However, he's never started a game at left tackle, and with Smith in the fold now, Taylor won't get much opportunity to practice at left tackle in training camp.

Would Taylor suddenly be comfortable flipping sides? Potentially, but let's say Taylor performs at an elite level at right tackle. Are you going to make Taylor move from his natural position to play at a high-level, potentially making two tackle spots worse? The Chiefs ran into this problem with Mike Remmers in 2020, where he was fine at right tackle before the Super Bowl. Then they had him flip to left tackle, where he went on to struggle mightily.

The reason this is concerning is that both Morris and Lucas Niang are primary right tackles. Both — and notably Morris — have some experience at left tackle but have most recently played right tackle. If Taylor is only playing right tackle, are either ready to step up and play left tackle?

And speaking of Morris and Niang, which player is going to be the swing tackle? Can Morris supplant Niang as a rookie, or will Niang come into camp healthy and ready to fill that spot? If there's a scenario where either tackle gets hurt, who immediately steps in and plays?

With Morris, it's essential to talk about his development. Smith is only under contract for one year, so Morris would presumably be the leader in the clubhouse for one of those tackle spots in 2024 — and most likely at left tackle.

Do the Chiefs have Morris fully train at left tackle this offseason, preparing him for the scenario where he needs to play there this year or next year? Morris did play left tackle at Tennessee — albeit not at a high level. Do the Chiefs want him to be a long-term left tackle, or will they potentially slide Taylor over in 2024?

While I think it's fair to say the Chiefs improved at tackle this offseason, there's also more uncertainty at offensive tackle in the short and long term. The Chiefs will have plenty of contingency plans built in at tackle if needed, but I'm fascinated to see how it plays out going into training camp and over the course of the season.

What do you think is the Chiefs’ contingency plan at offensive tackle? Weigh in below.

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