Kansas City Chiefs: How Joe Thuney signing affects 2021 NFL Draft plans

The Kansas City Chiefs made a big move early in free agency, adding elite offensive guard Joe Thuney to the mix (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
The Kansas City Chiefs made a big move early in free agency, adding elite offensive guard Joe Thuney to the mix (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs wasted no time on Monday when the legal tampering period began, making a huge splash in the opening hours of free agency discussions. One of the first big stories to break after legal tampering began was the Chiefs coming to terms with former New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney.

The five-year starter in Foxborough signed a five-year, $80 million dollar deal to come to Kansas City and protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes. How does this signing affect the Chiefs strategy for the 2021 NFL Draft and the remainder of free agency? Let’s dig into it.

With the Chiefs releasing starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz last week, there was legitimate concern about their plans for the 2021 roster, specifically the offensive line. Letting go of two veteran starting tackles is not something a team contending for Super Bowl championships typically does.

With a lack of veteran presence on the interior offensive line as well, along with depth players likely leaving in free agency, there was a serious concern the Chiefs would be entering the 2021 regular season with no veteran presence and a serious experience vacuum on the offensive line.

The acquisition of Thuney changes all of that and assuages concerns that the Chiefs might not be taking the protection of Mahomes seriously. And while that idea may seem far-fetched knowing the Kansas City Chiefs, it wouldn’t have been the first time a franchise has sacrificed the protection for a franchise quarterback (see Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts for recent examples). Thuney will provide stability at the left guard position for a team that saw five different players lining up there in 2020, according to ESPN.

A third-round pick in 2016 Thuney has been one of the most reliable guards in the NFL, never missing a game and starting in every game for the Patriots for five years in a row. Considering the injury history of last year’s Chiefs offensive line, it shouldn’t be surprising they valued regular availability over cost with this position.

How Thuney affects the 2021 NFL Draft for KC

So how does bringing in Thuney affect the Chiefs’ draft plans in 2021? While Chiefs Kingdom may be stoked about bringing in a player of Thuney’s stature, it’s important for the organization to continue prioritizing pocket protection in the 2021 NFL Draft and during the free agency period.

The roster is still without a clear-cut starting right tackle, left tackle or center. Rumors abound that 2020 draft pick Lucas Niang is likely to start at one of the tackle positions after opting out in 2020, but nothing has been confirmed. It is likely the Chiefs front office isn’t done with free-agent signings, so fans should still keep an eye out for more acquisitions as free agency continues.

But even if the Kansas City Chiefs were to somehow sign three elite, starting-caliber offensive linemen in free agency, they should still prioritize drafting an offensive lineman or two this April. Thuney will average $16 million a year, eating a very large portion of their estimated $31 million in cap space (per Spotrac) the team had heading into free agency today. And while $16 million isn’t likely to be the final 2021 cap hit for Thuney with contract details still hazy, it will still be high enough to make signing any more free agents to eight-figure deals an incredibly risky gamble for Kansas City.

The Kansas City Chiefs are very fortunate about one thing: the 2021 NFL Draft has a deep reservoir of talented offensive lineman and tackles in particular. PFF currently has 10 offensive tackles listed on their 2021 Draft Board in the top 50. Looking at the list of names is a who’s-who of anticipated college offensive tackles over the last few years: Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, Texas’s Samuel Cosmi and Alabama’s Alexander Leatherwood are just some of the players NFL scouts have been monitoring since they became regular starters in college. The Chiefs will have plenty of good options on Day One and Day Two of the NFL Draft this April.

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But the Chiefs will need to decide how big of a priority it is to protect the future of their franchise, quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Realistically, it doesn’t make sense for them not to sign at least one veteran offensive tackle this offseason. Expecting two rookie tackles to take the field and protect the most expensive quarterback in the NFL is too reckless to even consider. Demanding any rookie be ready to be a Week 1 starter is already pushing it for most rosters (outside the really elite players drafted in a given year), let alone expecting a position of such importance as right and left tackle be ready to go Week 1.

The good news for the Chiefs is that some of the urgency to bring in offensive linemen has been calmed for now. If they expect Niang to be ready as a starter in 2021, then they just need to focus on acquiring one more talented tackle and a starting center during the offseason. The key to their plans will be how well they adapt to their position heading into the draft. If a talented tackle like Leatherwood or Cosmi are within their striking distance, it will be prudent for the Chiefs front office to potentially trade up and get them quickly before missing out.

The other big consideration for general manager Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid will be what round to target a tackle in the 2021 NFL Draft. They might be able to get away with using the 31st overall pick on a different position, perhaps a cornerback or edge rusher (two other positions of need this year) but they are playing with fire if they think they can get a Week 1 starting tackle anywhere after the second round. Waiting that long might already be a stretch, but it will depend on how many tackles have been drafted when the Chiefs are getting close to their first-round pick.

No matter how it shakes out, the Kansas City Chiefs are certainly going to look different this year. Bringing in Thuney can’t be considered anything other than a good thing, as it brings a bona fide veteran to an offensive line that was largely responsible for the Chiefs defeat in Super Bowl LV.

7-round mock draft for KC Chiefs. dark. Next

The offensive trenches prove massively important when considering a quarterback’s seasonal floor and ceiling. If they can secure one more veteran interior offensive lineman during free agency and draft a starting-caliber tackle in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Kanas City Chiefs might just have an offensive line stronger than they have had in many years.