After a disastrous Super Bowl, it's no secret that the Kansas City Chiefs need to bolster their offensive line for 2021 and beyond. What will this year's free agent class have to offer?
Dependable, starting offensive lineman rarely hit free agency for the simple fact that great offensive lineman are hard to come by in the NFL. When teams pick a great offensive lineman in the draft, they usually hold on tight and don't let them leave the building. Brandon Scherff, a player who was going to be discussed in this breakdown, is a good example of this as the Washington Football Team tagged him for a second time Monday night.
For the Chiefs, offensive line will be the focal point of the offseason. Everyone saw Patrick Mahomes running for his life in the Super Bowl. The whole offensive line could use work, as the tackles are aging and coming off of major injuries and the interior offensive line has quite a few free agents. The Chiefs might have to rebuild the offensive line, and their first moves will come free agency.
For day three of The Seven Days of Free Agency series, let us dive into this offensive line class and what it has to offer. (Note: The snaps played metric that is paired with a player is for their last team played on in 2020.)
Trent Williams - (49ers, Tackle, 87.32% of snaps)
Joe Thuney - (Patriots, Guard, 96.83% of snaps)
Corey Linsley - (Packers, Center, 70.64% of snaps)
As it currently stands, there are three blue-chip offensive linemen in this class; one at each position along the offensive line.
Trent Williams continues to play like a future Hall-of-Famer and was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 rated tackle for the 2020 NFL season. The assumption is that Williams will be tagged or he will re-sign with the 49ers, but if Williams hits free agency, the bidding war will be fierce.
After being tagged in 2019, Joe Thuney is likely to hit free agency this year. Thuney is one of the best guards in the league and brings above-average pass- and run-blocking chops to the guard position.
The last blue-chip player is very likely to walk away from his current team into free agency. Corey Linsley was the best center in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus. Linsley is just 29 years old and is in line for a record-breaking contract for a center.
The Solid Starters
Russell Okung - (Panthers, Tackle, 39.40% of snaps)
Gabe Jackson - (Raiders, Guard, 98.06% of snaps)
Alejandro Villanueva - (Steelers, Tackle, 100% of snaps)
Austin Blythe - (Rams, Center/Guard, 100% of snaps)
Daryl Williams - (Bills, Tackle, 96.32% of snaps)
Austin Reiter - (Chiefs, Center, 78.68% of snaps)
Ted Karras - (Dolphins, Center, 100% of snaps)
Kelvin Beachum - (Cardinals, Tackle, 99.65% of snaps)
Quality starters along the offensive line are hard to acquire in the modern NFL. That means that even though the players in this tier might not be elite at their position, they could get paid like it.
Russell Okung only played around 40% of the snaps for the Panthers last year due to a nagging calf injury in the second half of the season, but when he played, he continued to perform up to the standard he has established over the course of his career.
Alejandro Villanueva could be forced to move on from the team he started his career with due to the Steelers being in a salary cap crunch. While Villanueva’s play did not match the best seasons over his career, he was still a quality starter and was able to protect an aging Big Ben in Pittsburgh.
Kelvin Beachum and Daryl Williams were on one-year deals last year and are in odd spots of their career where they are coming off a quality year with a team that did not invest much money in them in 2020. Something to watch will be if either of these players can ink a long-term deal as they head into their mid-thirties.
While Linsley headlines the center class of free agents, the depth is not bad either. Austin Reiter, Austin Blythe, and Ted Karras are all quality starters and bring their own flavor of play at the position. Any team looking for a center will get above-average play out of these three players.
Released by the Raiders, Gabe Jackson is now looking for a new home. An interesting consequence of Jackson being cut is that he does not qualify for the compensatory pick formula, so teams will be able to get a solid starting guard with no downsides if they ink Jackson to a contract.
The Quality Old Guys
Alex Mack - (Falcons, Center, 86.55% of snaps)
Ricky Wagner - (Packers, Tackle, 58.71% of snaps)
Jason Peters - (Eagles, Tackle/Guard, 44.96% of snaps)
J.R. Sweezy - (Cardinals, Guard, 56.86% of snaps)
Richie Incognito - (Raiders, Guard, 6.83% of snaps)
Demar Dotson - (Broncos, Tackle, 41.91% of snaps)
This group of older offensive lineman would give any team who signs them a nice season before potentially retiring. Alex Mack is the most interesting name on this list for zone-blocking teams who need a stop-gap center for the 2021 season. A few on this list, such as Ricky Wagner, have already had rumors they might retire, which is something to monitor.
The Flexible Players
Jermaine Eluemunor - (Patriots, Tackle/Guard, 41.44% of snaps)
Matt Feiler - (Steelers, Tackle/Guard, 77.27% of snaps)
Mike Remmers - (Chiefs, Tackle/Guard, 64.34% of snaps)
Germain Ifedi - (Bears, Tackle/Guard, 99.53% of snaps)
All four of these players showed their positional versatility during the 2020 season. On top of showing that they could play multiple positions, all four actually played well when they were on the field. A vital skill of a backup offensive lineman is versatility, and these four are the cream of the crop for teams looking for a great "next man up" offensive lineman.
You Could Do Worse
David Andrews - (Patriots, Center, 71.61% of snaps)
Cam Robinson - (Jaguars, Tackle, 93.83% of snaps)
John Miller - (Panthers, Guard, 88.19% of snaps)
Chris Reed - (Panthers, Guard, 86.45% of snaps)
D.J. Fluker - (Ravens, Tackle, 51.75% of snaps)
Tyler Shatley - (Jaguars, Center, 61.95% of snaps)
Matt Skura - (Ravens, Center, 64.42% of snaps)
Cedric Ogbuehi - (Seahawks, Tackle, 26.01% of snaps)
Jon Feliciano - (Bills, Guard, 88.19% of snaps)
Does a team need a body that can play 16 (or likely 17) games in 2021 without being a major liability? This is the group to pull from.
Led by David Andrews, this group of players will get mid-range contracts from many teams so those teams can fill out their offensive line with quality, yet unspectacular, play. While that does not sound flashy or exciting, these types of players are needed for offensive lines to function because offensive line units are only as strong as their weakest link. NFL teams could do much worse than these players being the weakest link on their offensive line.
The Backups/Sixth Offensive Linemen
Cameron Fleming - (Giants, Tackle, 89.93% of snaps)
Nick Easton - (Saints, Guard, 52.27% of snaps)
Senio Kelemete - (Texans, Guard, 37.45% of snaps)
Nick Martin - (Texans, Center, 99.90% of snaps)
Elijah Wilkinson - (Broncos, Tackle, 46.75% of snaps)
Brian Winters - (Bills, Guard, 56.62% of snaps)
Cameron Erving - (Cowboys, Tackle/Guard, 24.32% of snaps)
Joe Looney - (Cowboys, Center, 66.61% of snaps)
Forrest Lamp - (Chargers, Guard, 100% of snaps)
Ethan Pocic - (Seahawks, Guard, 87.51% of snaps)
Dakota Dozier - (Vikings, Tackle, 100% of snaps)
Pat Elfein - (Jets, Guard, 37.11% of snaps)
Dan Feeney - (Chargers, Guard, 100% of snaps)
Andrew Wylie - (Chiefs, Guard, 88.20% of snaps)
Sam Tevi - (Chargers, Tackle, 87.23% of snaps)
Ike Boettger - (Bills, Guard, 57.17% of snaps)
Denzelle Good - (Raiders, Guard, 88.46% of snaps)
Quinton Spain - (Bengals, Guard, 50.46% of snaps)
If a general manager tries to sell one of these names as an everyday starter, they are blowing hot air.
However, as a backup or first offensive lineman in the game due to an injury, these players could perform adequately for a discount price. Many of these names were first-round busts from the last five years who have carved out a role when they left their original team that drafted them. If any of these players were signed to contracts a bit over the veteran minimum, they would be solid additions to round out the offensive line room for teams who need the depth.
Who should the Chiefs target?
If the Chiefs wanted to make a splash signing from this year's group of free agent stars, paying up for Corey Linsley is something to dream about. Linsley has put together a quality career so far and there is every reason to believe he should continue that level of play into his 30s. If the Chiefs are serious about investing in the offensive line, then signing Linsley would prove it.
From the next few groups of offensive linemen, the names that make sense for the Chiefs to pursue are Austin Reiter, Gabe Jackson, Kelvin Beachum, and Alex Mack.
Bringing back Austin Reiter to ensure some continuity on the offensive line would be a smart move by the Chiefs if the money works out and Reiter’s market is not active.
Gabe Jackson is a quality guard who would not cancel out any compensatory free agents the Chiefs lose in free agency, which is a plus for the 2022 offseason.
Kelvin Beachum is a journeyman tackle who has been a quality player no matter where he goes. Beachum would be a smart addition to the offensive line room if Brett Veach is worried about the Chiefs’ options at tackle and feels he can not swing a better option.
Much like Beachum, Alex Mack is a serviceable "break glass in case of emergency" signing if the Chiefs lose Reiter and are not confident in getting a center from the pool of free agents or in the draft. Mack has expressed that he wants to play one more year for a contender, and the Chiefs fit that description. The two could make a logical pairing come free agency.
The Chiefs could add any of the names mentioned in the final three groups of offensive lineman, but it will be interesting to see if the Chiefs are interested in The Flexible Players group. Mike Remmers was a huge success story for the Chiefs last year and securing a player like Remmers for the 2021 season so the team is ready if the worst happens would be a forward-thinking move, even if it is just Mike Remmers re-signing. Any of the four names in this group would be capable options at fulfilling the role of "first offensive lineman off the bench."
Every team in the NFL watched the Super Bowl and saw Patrick Mahomes running for his life. This will probably push the Chiefs to solidify their offensive line, but it could also reinforce to other teams around the league that the offensive line is one of the most vital positions to invest in.
If the Chiefs are serious about getting Mahomes help along the line, they can do so in this free agent class. There are quality starters at the top and some good depth players rounding out the pool. Teams that have the salary cap room to spend will walk away from free agency with at least one quality offensive lineman if they so choose.
Will Veach and the Chiefs spend up for one of the good-to-great starters in free agency? The jury is out. Impactful starters along the offensive line will be available in this free agency class, so it is up to Veach and the Chiefs' front office to decide how much money they want to throw at the offensive line to protect the face of the franchise.