KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Brett Veach said having a strong offensive line is one of the pillars of his philosophy for building a football team, behind only quarterback in terms of importance.
“Just the general Football 101 is, get a quarterback and build through the offensive and defensive lines,” the Kansas City Chiefs general manager said. “You don’t ever go into an offseason or a draft and not at least have in your mind one of your priorities is to continually invest in the offensive line.”
The Chiefs, between recent financial investments in Chris Jones and Frank Clark and the drafting of Derrick Nnadi and Khalen Saunders, have made a significant effort at stocking their defensive line since Veach became GM in 2017.
They haven’t put anywhere near the same amount of resources into the offensive line and it showed last year. Between pre-camp opt-outs and in-season injuries the Chiefs had to reach far down their depth chart by the end of the season to fill their line spots.
The result was a Super Bowl loss in which the Chiefs were frequently overwhelmed by the defensive front of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was pressured 29 times by the Bucs according to ESPN Stats & Information and sacked three times. Veach called it a “daunting task” for the Chiefs to attempt to go against the Bucs with a starting offensive line that consisted of three players signed initially for the minimum salary, one who was pulled off waivers and one who was drafted in the seventh round.
The Chiefs were 24th in the league in spending for offensive linemen against the salary cap last season, according to spotrac.com. They spent $22,729,795 for their linemen, which was 10.29% of their cap.
Their only lineman signing containing significant money since Veach became general manager came two years ago, when the Chiefs extended tackle Mitchell Schwartz for three years and about $24.5 million.
The Chiefs have drafted one lineman above the fourth round since 2015. That was Lucas Niang, a third-round choice last year. He didn’t play last year after opting out before the start of training camp.
The Chiefs are one of five teams that didn’t draft an offensive lineman in the top two rounds in the last five years. Nineteen teams drafted at least two linemen in the first two rounds in those drafts.
Other than Niang, Veach said, the opportunity to draft or sign a starting caliber lineman hasn’t equaled the cost.
“You don’t want to draft a fifth-round lineman in the third round and you want to have that value represented in regards to what round you’re picking in,” Veach said, explaining why the Chiefs haven’t spent more of their resources on the offensive line. “I would say a lot of it had to do with maybe where the picks fell in each round and what was available to us in free agency.”
Veach said the Chiefs in 2021 were expecting to have Niang and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who also opted out for the 2020 season. He was hopeful that injured starting tackles Eric Fisher and Schwartz would also return. Both recently had surgery, Fisher for a torn Achilles tendon, Schwartz for a back problem.
The Chiefs have two linemen who started both the season opener and the Super Bowl in center Austin Reiter and guard Andrew Wylie. Reiter is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, Wylie a restricted free agent.
Asked whether solutions for bolstering the line would come from within or through the draft and free agency, Veach said, “I certainly think it will be a combination of both.”
“Andrew Wylie has shown he can play on a consistent level at that guard position and [Nick] Allegretti took a step forward,” Veach said. “We’re anxious to get Niang back. We have a nice blend of some young players that are going to continue to get better and we think we’ll continue to improve.
“Certainly our focus will be to bring in some new talent. We like the way this draft looks to be really talented on the linemen. I think it will be a combination of what we have in house and blending that in with some new talent.”
Offensive line coach Andy Heck said the week of the Super Bowl that he was looking forward to having the offseason discussions with Veach about what the Chiefs need for their line.
“It’s an important part of the process,” Heck said. “Brett gives us our assignments in the offseason: ‘These are the guys we want you to have a look at, tell us what you think about them.’ We write reports on them. We tell him what we think and if we get an opportunity to weigh in on a guy, it’s much appreciated to know he listens to that.
“On the offensive line, they’re going to bring in who they bring in [but] most of these guys I’ve had a chance to weigh in on. Brett and his staff do a great job of bringing in people that love football. That’s No. 1, bringing a guy in that wants to be great at his craft, that wants to work, that’s tough and he’s going to be the same guy every day. The guys that are in my room, it doesn’t matter who they are or where they’re from. We’re going to roll.”