In the final round of cuts, Kansas City elected to pull the plug on Lilja. The intent was to sneak the local prospect onto the practice squad for further development, but Lilja would never make it that far. Indianapolis quickly moved to claim Lilja off waivers and the rookie would go on to make six starts for the eventual AFC South Champion in 2004. He would become a regular starter for the Colts in 2005.
Six years later, Lilja boasts a resume that includes 59 starts for a team that won six-straight division titles and posted a 77-19 regular season record over his tenure in Indianapolis. He also owns two Super Bowl appearances, including one World Championship ring. It’s safe to say that Lilja owns the last laugh when it comes to the 2004 final cut down day.
The 2004 season was a different time for the Chiefs offensive line. Even with Lilja’s eventual success in Indianapolis, who could fault a team for letting a rookie free agent walk when you have
Here’s how the Chiefs lined up along the offensive front on Opening Day in 2004:
LT – Willie Roaf
LG – Brian Waters
RG – Will Shields
RT – John Welbourn
There wasn’t any room along the starting line for Lilja, no doubt. But what about the guys who made the roster as primary backups to the above players? Really, those were the players that beat out an up-and-coming Lilja. Get ready, because this list is where Chiefs fans gasp.
Here’s what the Chiefs official depth chart looked like, behind the five o-line starters, on Opening Day in 2004:
LT – Jordan Black, Kevin Sampson
LG – Jordan Black
C – Chris Bober
RG – John Welbourne
RT – Brett Williams
What makes Lilja’s departure even worse is the fact that the Chiefs didn’t even keep a true backup guard to learn the game under the guidance of two incredible veteran leaders.
Bober would end up filling a role that each team needs from its reserve linemen (a la Wade Smith in 2009), but Sampson and Williams combined to make just 21 appearances (seven starts) over a three-year period. Williams never played a down for the Chiefs outside of the 2004 season and Sampson is currently out of football. Jordan Black, on the other hand, didn’t exactly win over the Chiefs fan base.
Ironically, Lilja re-joins the Chiefs today and fills a position which currently has no incumbents.
Other guards on the Chiefs roster, in addition to Lilja, include
The Chiefs welcome back Ryan Lilja today. Most wish that he had never gotten away.