About one week into the 2021 NFL league year, and the Kansas City Chiefs still have a hole at left tackle. The team has certainly made upgrades to the offensive line overall. Simply, the additions of Joe Thuney and Kyle Long cannot go unnoticed. The team has also been reportedly close to landing prominent free agents, such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Josh Reynolds at wide receiver. Most notably, Kansas City was a mere runner up to landing left tackle, and possibly the number one free agent on the market, in Trent Williams.
But despite these valiant efforts and hard pushes by general manager Brett Veach, the Chiefs have been unable to complete agreements. The offensive line may look somewhat deeper and better. Compared to last year’s unit in Week One, the depth is certainly more comfortable in spurts. However, left tackle is one of the most vital positions to lock down at the NFL level. It also means that much more, when you have one of the best quarterbacks in the entire NFL in Patrick Mahomes.
In today’s edition of This Or That, we will be focusing more on the left tackle position. What options may be left in free agency? Should the Chiefs add their left tackle of the future in the first round of April’s draft? Today’s question is as follows. Should Kansas City sign one of the remaining free agents to play left tackle in 2021? Or, do they look to the draft options to hold that spot down? Let’s look into the possibilities.
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Free Agent Options
Though most free agents have been signed, a handful of free agent options are still available. This includes options for players that could start at left tackle. Here are the top five possible outside additions the team could make, in no particular order: Alejandro Villanueva, Russell Okung, Rick Wagner, Dennis Kelly, Jason Peters.
All of these are veteran guys, who can easily be counted on as reliable players. Villanueva, Okung and Peters can all slide in naturally at left tackle, no problem. Yet, Wagner and Kelly have mainly been relegated to right tackle. It is not entirely impossible for either of them to hold down the fort on the blindside. It is just a bigger stretch than the team may be willing to make, though.
A good majority of people have pounded the table for bringing in Villanueva. At the same time, there are mixed reactions surrounding his play from last season in Pittsburgh. Of the other four of these veteran options, all of their performances in 2020 were solid. Meanwhile, Okung played the best out of all of them and allows the most natural fit at the left tackle spot.
Some other outside additions that could be worth taking a chance on are Cameron Fleming, Cedric Ogbuehi or Julie’n Davenport. These are options that could come in at extremely cheap prices. There would also be more risk involved with this select few as well.
Signing A Free Agent: Advantages vs Disadvantages
There are a few items that fall under both the advantage or disadvantage categories. Given the Chiefs current situation, one good thing about signing a veteran to play left tackle, would be that any of them could likely handle a quick transition to play in a pinch. Knowing they do not have to be dependable long term, but still provide a stop gap would likely be motivating and self assuring. Another advantage, is receiving the opportunity to protect a star quarterback like Mahomes. If you perform well in that environment, you may see one final splash opportunity elsewhere in free agency after playing for Kansas City. Now for the final advantage. The Chiefs would have a proven track record of any player at hand for their disposal. The expectations would be straightforward.
On the other hand, there are also a few drawbacks with signing one of these veteran tackle options. Injury history is obviously a major factor. Especially when you just cut Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz because of injuries, you have to go about it in an intelligent and aware way. Just for reference, Okung has managed just 13 games played over the last two years. All of these veteran options also carry more wear and tear on their tires. Kansas City may not provide the best scheme fit for some of these free agent options either. If they intend to continue to use a zone blocking scheme, it is hard to envision that being a natural fit for most of these options we mentioned. Subsequently, the risk taken by signing a veteran tackle, compared to starting a rookie in that spot, could be much greater.
Drafting A Left Tackle: Advantages vs Disadvantages
This year’s class is loaded at the offensive tackle position. There could be anywhere from six to ten players, who could possibly step in and start from day one. For Kansas City, one advantage of starting a rookie at left tackle would be that you would hopefully be able to transition to a new era at the spot for the long term. Getting those reps in right away would definitely bring about learning curves. However, the crop of rookie tackles in this year’s class is truly special and provides versatility.
Another advantage, is the Chiefs have a large majority of the offensive line being occupied by veterans. Their teaching and mentorship could accentuate a rookie tackle’s growth at a higher rate. Additionally, this is where the Thuney signing comes in handy. If he is slated to play left guard, Kansas City knows they will have a smart and patient blocker right beside a rookie left tackle. Andy Reid‘s history of seeing progress from rookies early on, is an added bonus too. Not many other NFL head coaches are as good at identifying traits and playing to those strengths with younger players.
One disadvantage involved with starting a rookie left tackle, is that Kansas City does not have much depth for that spot. Sure, you have Mike Remmers and Lucas Niang as options at right tackle. The same goes for right guard with Long and potentially Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Thuney could maybe play left tackle in a pinch. Though, if you put all of your eggs in the rookie left tackle basket, the immediate expectation could be tricky. Obviously other than possible performance disappointments, an injury would bring the Chiefs right back to square one. Finally, the chances of the team reaching a third straight Super Bowl cannot rely solely on a rookie left tackle getting the job done. That is especially true, if they miss out on the top draft options at tackle.
You can go here to vote on the poll for today’s edition of This Or That: Sign remaining free agent to play left tackle or draft a rookie left tackle?
This is extremely difficult to choose. There is certainly upside and past pedigree in place with the options still available among the free agent offensive tackles. The veterans there could certainly be counted on to be a bridge for a year or two on Mahomes’ blindside.
Nonetheless, I would be more comfortable with the team going with a rookie left tackle. More so after the Thuney deal, there is less panic on the left side. I think there is obvious hesitation with the team going rookie at that spot. There is reason to be ready to make this transition, however. Even if there are bumps in the road, Kansas City needs to take advantage of a strong draft class and hopefully move into their next cornerstone left tackle.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs This Or That hypothetical articles throughout this 2021 offseason. We will post them on Tuesday and Thursday. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.
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