Trying to answer the top 10 questions about the reigning Super Bowl champions heading into their title defense.
Heading into the season, I’ll cover my “10 Biggest Questions” regarding the Kansas City Chiefs in 2023. Let’s start here.
What is the Chiefs’ contingency plan at offensive tackle?
This offseason, the biggest priority for the Chiefs was what they wanted to do with the offensive tackle position. Former tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie were free agents, and the Chiefs decided not to re-sign either player to a long-term extension. They had to replace two starting tackles in one offseason, which is never easy.
Knowing this, Kansas City went out on the first day of free agency and gave former Jacksonville Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor a massive four-year, $80 million contract. Taylor’s pedigree and skills in pass protection are significantly better than either Wylie’s or Brown’s, so it made sense that the Chiefs decided to return to him as a long-term solution at tackle.
Going into the NFL draft, there was a lot of speculation that the Chiefs still wanted to take another tackle with a premium draft pick. The bosses brought in tackles Broderick Jones, Anton Harrison and Darnell Wright for top-30 visits — but all three were drafted before the Chiefs’ pick on the 31st.
The Chiefs would eventually take a tackle, selecting Oklahoma tackle Wanya Morris in the third round. Morris was one proclaimed high school prospect with a ton of athletic potential, but he fell because he still needed development before he could play at the NFL level.
After passing on the tackles who could start as rookies, the Chiefs decided to re-enter the free agent market, signing former Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith to a one-year contract. Smith’s final season with the Buccaneers was significantly worse than his previous two seasons protecting Tom Brady, but some of that was related to injuries that plagued him all season. With an offseason to get healthy and motivated to earn another big contract, the hope is that Smith’s play returns to what it was in 2020 and 2021, which was about average for a starter.
As offseason activities have progressed, it has become increasingly clear that Smith and Taylor will be the starting tackles for the Chiefs. Barring unforeseen circumstances such as an injury or another tackle popping up, head coach Andy Reid has made it pretty clear that both veteran additions will get the first opportunity to start.
In terms of health and level of play, there are no concerns with Taylor at right tackle. He comes from Doug Pedersen’s system, which is similar to Reid’s. He is a proven pass protector who has started every regular season game of his career. Unlike Brown, there should be almost no learning curve for Taylor to succeed, and the results of the improved tackle spot should show immediately.
On the other hand, Smith brings concerns. His play declined significantly in 2022, ultimately leading to his release. Whether it was injuries, a messy situation with the Buccaneers’ offense or just declining play, it’s fair to have concerns about Smith’s ability to get back to his previous level over a long season.
Can he stay healthy? Will his game be closer to what he was in 2020 and 2021 — or was last season the trend for the rest of his career?
If Smith is healthy and playing well, none of this is a major concern, but let’s explore the possibility that Smith isn’t a season-long solution at left tackle.
Does the Chiefs have a contingency plan at offensive tackle, and what exactly would it look like?
To start, talk about Taylor’s role in this scenario. Prior to Smith’s signing, the entire Chiefs organization repeatedly mentioned that Taylor would be the left tackle during the season. Taylor himself said he would have no problem sliding over to left tackle. However, he has never started a game at left tackle, and with Smith in the fold now, Taylor won’t get much opportunity to practice at left tackle in training camp.
Would Taylor suddenly be comfortable turning around? Potentially, but let’s say Taylor performs at an elite level at right tackle. Want to move Taylor from his natural position to play at a high level, potentially making two tackle spots worse? The Chiefs ran into this problem with Mike Remmers in 2020, where he was fine at right tackle before the Super Bowl. Then they moved him to left tackle, where he continued to struggle mightily.
The reason this is concerning is that both Morris and Lucas Niang are primary right tackles. Both – and especially Morris – have some experience at left tackle, but most recently played right tackle. If Taylor only plays right tackle, is either ready to step up and play left tackle?
And speaking of Morris and Niang, which player should be the swing tackle? Can Morris replace Niang as a rookie, or will Niang come into camp healthy and ready to fill that spot? If there is a scenario where both tackles are injured, who immediately steps in and plays?
With Morris, it is important to talk about his development. Smith is only under contract for one year, so Morris would likely be the leader in the clubhouse for one of those tackle spots in 2024 — and most likely at left tackle.
Do the Chiefs have Morris work out fully at left tackle this offseason, preparing him for the scenario where he plays there this year or next? Morris played left tackle at Tennessee – albeit not at a high level. Do the Chiefs want him to be a long-term left tackle or will they potentially slide Taylor over in 2024?
While I think it’s fair to say the Chiefs improved at tackle this offseason, there’s also more uncertainty at offensive tackle in the short and long term. The Chiefs will have plenty of contingency plans built in at tackle if needed, but I’m intrigued to see how that plays out in training camp and during the season.
What do you think is the Chiefs’ contingency plan at offensive tackle? Enter below.