To say the Kansas City Chiefs weren’t concerned when three offensive linemen walked out the door in the moments after the free-agent signing period began wouldn’t be accurate. But they certainly didn’t go into a panic mode. This was part of their plan.
The Chiefs have tried to fortify at the five line positions in recent seasons. They drafted center Rodney Hudson in 2011, guard Jeff Allen and tackle Donald Stephenson the next April and tackle Eric Fisher last year. They also signed a developmental prospect, guard Rishaw Johnson, last year.
Those are the probable starters next season.
"We kept a load of offensive linemen on the roster knowing something like this could happen," coach Andy Reid said. "Some of them are young guys but ... they were able to get some experience and they’ll have an opportunity to compete in there."
Because of their work through the draft and free agency in recent years, the Chiefs are better off with regard to their offensive line than a lot of people believe. That's not to say there aren't concerns.
One is a glaring lack of experience. In terms of age, Jeff Linkenbach and Ricky Henry are at 26 the oldest among their 12 offensive linemen. Linkenbach will at least begin practice as a backup, while Henry will compete for a backup spot.
The five probable starters have a total of 74 career NFL starts, led by Allen with 27.
The offseason surgeries for Fisher, recently installed as the starting left tackle, don't help. The Chiefs aren't concerned that Fisher will miss much if any in terms of practice time for the season, but he needed to get stronger in his upper body during the offseason. So shoulder and sports hernia surgeries have limited him in that effort.
The depth took a big hit by losing three linemen. The only proven backup is Linkenbach, who started 33 games in four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Chiefs this year as a free agent. The rest of their linemen are developmental prospects.
But the Chiefs have six draft picks to use this year and, given their strategy of recent years, it makes sense they would bring in at least one more lineman.
As far as the starting right guard spot, the Chiefs seem comfortable with Johnson. The Chiefs got a good look at him as a starter in the final regular-season game last year in San Diego. The Chiefs rested many of their starters that day against the Chargers, who needed to win to get into the playoffs.
"We'll open it up and let them go," Reid said. "We signed a kid (Jeff Linkenbach) and he’ll get in the mix and compete there."