KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs lost three regulars from last season’s offensive line during the opening days of free agency, but were confident they could absorb those blows. They still had Eric Fisher, the first pick in the 2013 draft, plus three other linemen who played a lot last season and were drafted in recent seasons in the top three rounds.
The Chiefs still might be right, but with the suspension of starting right tackle Donald Stephenson for the season’s first four games for violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, that premise is looking shaky.
Fisher hasn’t played well in the preseason. His arrival as a top left tackle appears a way off, it if ever happens. Neither of the guards, Jeff Allen and Zach Fulton, have been much better. The sum is a line that was pushed around in the Aug. 17 preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers.
And now the Chiefs will have to find a right tackle for the first four games between veterans Ryan Harris and Jeff Linkenbach. Harris was signed by the Chiefs shortly before the start of training camp. Linkenbach came as a free agent in March.
Another option is Allen, who played tackle in college at Illinois and has received some work there during training camp.
But whatever the Chiefs do, they can’t afford any more hits to the offensive line. The player they were initially counting on to start at right guard, Rishaw Johnson, was so disappointing in training camp that he was recently traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As backups now, the Chiefs have center Eric Kush and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who look promising as developmental players but probably aren’t ready now. There’s also Harris or Linkenbach, whoever doesn’t get bumped into the starting lineup, and guard Ricky Henry, who has played well enough at camp to get the attention of the Chiefs, but has little experience.
Maybe everything will work out for the Chiefs on the offensive line, but a better guess is that at least for a while, things are going to look he way they did against Carolina. Then, they looked like the Chiefs made a bad decision to let Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz walk as free agents.