Chiefs Will Bolster Offensive Line In Free Agency

Posted May 6, 2011

The Chiefs are still thin at offensive tackle with just three players under contract for 2011

Two years in a row, the majority of draft pundits had the Chiefs selecting an offensive tackle in the first round. Two years in a row, the Chiefs passed on taking a tackle – in all seven rounds.

Over the last two years, small television graphics have declared offensive tackle a “top-need” each time the Chiefs have been on the clock. Despite the network suggestions, no offensive tackles were selected with any of the Chiefs 16 draft picks.

 Maybe the Chiefs view the position differently than most are led to believe?

Tackle remains a team need after the draft; there’s no questioning that. From a numbers perspective, Kansas City’s hand is forced. Aside from starters Branden Albert and Barry Richardson, converted defensive lineman Bobby Greenwood is the only reserve tackle under contract for 2011.

“Clearly at some point we’ll have an opportunity with both college free agents and also pro free agents to bolster the line as well, so I understand your concern,” Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt responded when a season ticket holder voiced his concern about the offensive line during Thursday’s Q&A conference call.

“It is an area that we’re focused on. We took one step in the draft with Rodney (Hudson), but I think you’ll see some more moves as we move into free agency.”

But what strategy will the Chiefs use to fill that need? Will the team be looking to add depth? Find a new starter?

Kansas City’s offense appeared to get along just fine with Richardson serving as the club’s starting right tackle last season. An unlikely candidate to start before the season began, Richardson seized an opportunity after incumbent Ryan O’Callaghan suffered a mid-August injury.

O’Callaghan’s injury opened the door for Richardson to prove himself. The former sixth-round pick went from a third-year player with one career start to a 16-game starter in 2010. In addition, the Chiefs led the NFL in rushing and dramatically cut its sacks-allowed total from the year before.

The highlight of Richardson’s season came at Seattle when Branden Albert was out with an injury. Richardson stepped up to make his first career start at left tackle. Kansas City’s rushing attack pounded out 270 yards on 5.6 yards per carry that day, while Matt Cassel threw four touchdown passes. Cassel wasn’t’ sacked.

The Chiefs draft strategy last weekend certainly showed confidence in both Albert and Richardson, but General Manager Scott Pioli also made it clear that the team isn’t done filling needs.

 “Did we feel every need? Absolutely not because we want every day to find a way whether it is the draft, free agency, trades, claiming players on waivers, we need to improve our football team every single day,” Pioli said in a post-draft briefing. “We have gotten better a number of those places but we are still so far away. We will reassess the roster where it is when this whole thing starts. At some point in time there is going to be more player acquisition and we will continue to do that.”

Part of that assessment will determine the Chiefs free agency approach at offensive tackle. There will be a number of options available to choose from.

While it seems like a given that undrafted rookies will help fill out the preseason roster, veterans with starting experience will also factor into the mix.

The rules for the 2011 league year are still undetermined, but last season’s format would produce 11 unrestricted free agent tackles to begin free agency.

Unrestricted Free Agency: Offensive tackles available under 2010 rules

Player Team Seasons
Khalif Barnes Raiders 6
Alex Barron Cowboys 6
Jammal Brown Redskins 6
Kirk Chambers Bengals 6
Wayne Hunter Jets 6
Matt Light Patriots 10
Sean Locklear Seahawks 7
Chester Pitts Seahawks 9
Barry Sims 49ers 12
Langston Walker Raiders 9
Ray Willis Seahawks 6

Additional veterans will come available once teams are allowed to begin cutting players. The Chiefs picked up both Ryan Lilja and Thomas Jones following their respective release last off-season. Don’t rule out a trade either.

With the Chiefs still needing to fill roughly 20 roster slots to form an 80-man preseason roster, plenty of activity is ahead. How the team approaches the tackle position will be one of the top storylines.

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