With over $21 million to shed to get under the newly confirmed 2021 salary cap, the Kansas City Chiefs financial situation is going to require some very difficult decisions to be made leading up to the start of the new league year on March 17. On Thursday morning, the AFC champions took the first steps in that process, parting ways with two cornerstones on the offensive line.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chiefs released eight-year starting left tackle and former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, the longest-tenured player remaining on Kansas City’s roster dating back to the arrival of Andy Reid in 2013. Fisher also broke the news with a heartfelt post on his Instagram account, writing in part, “Unfortunately I knew this time would come at some point. Sooner than I would have chose, but another opportunity to beat the odds. All good things must come to an end. Thank you Kansas City.”
Just minutes later, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport followed up with news that starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is also being released after five seasons with the club.
The team’s official Twitter account has since confirmed the release of both players.
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Chiefs Clear $18 Million in Cap Space
The moves, while surprising that they occurred together, are not entirely unexpected. Both tackles were recovering from significant injuries — Fisher from a torn Achilles suffered in the AFC Championship game against the Buffalo Bills and Schwartz from back surgery to repair a lingering disk issue that kept him out since Week 6.
In total, the Chiefs clear approximately $18.2 million in cap space with the two cuts, but will absorb $6.9 million in dead money this season as a result. While not ideal, this scenario was the quickest path to financial flexibility for general manager Brett Veach and the front office. According to Spotrac, Kansas City now sits only $4.3 million above its 2021 cap ceiling of $188.4 million.
Given the nature of the injuries and the importance of the positions in relation to the team’s $500 million investment in Patrick Mahomes under center, it was likely the safest option in the short-term, too.
In a press release issued by the team on Thursday, Veach thanked the duo for their contributions over the years.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Eric (Fisher) and Mitchell Schwartz. With Eric, obviously he was the very first player that we drafted when we got to Kansas City, and we were able to watch him grow into a solid tackle for us for many years. With Mitchell, his durability and toughness is remarkable and he certainly left his mark on our team. These decisions are never easy, especially with guys like these, but both of these players will forever be a part of our history.”
Door Remains Open for Fisher to Return
The possibility that either Fisher, 30, or Schwartz, 32, returns to the team on a cheaper contract at a later date is also still open, though it will depend on their individual recoveries. However, at this point in their respective careers, the odds likely favor retirement for Schwartz more so than Fisher.
During his pre-draft press conference less than two weeks ago, Veach actually surprised the media and Chiefs fans with updated recovery timelines for both tackles, suggesting that they could be back in time for training camp this August.
“Mitch just recently had his disc worked on and we’re hopeful for him to return to training camp and same thing with Fish [Eric Fisher],” Veach said on March 1. “We’re hopeful both these guys will complete the rehab and be available for training camp and to start the 2021 season. We’d probably say Pat [Mahomes] is ahead of them just because of that type of injury and probably quicker recovery. … [Fisher had] Achilles surgery [on] 1/29. Based on Rick [Burkholder] and his medical staff, he’s projecting a mid-August return. How that works, everything is different and everyone recovers differently.”
If it wasn’t already, the Chiefs’ offensive line (specifically its tackle depth) immediately becomes the team’s No. 1 need to address in free agency and April’s NFL Draft. With Martinas Rankin, undrafted rookie Yasir Durant and Prince Tega Wanagho as current depth options, Thursday’s moves were most beneficial for 2020 third-rounder Lucas Niang, who opted out last season due to COVID-19 and now sits in the driver’s seat for a significant role in 2021, potentially starting in place of Fisher.
Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who also opted out last year and will return this season, is now the only remaining starting lineman from the 2019 Super Bowl roster.
In terms of in-house free agents, Kansas City also needs to decide on the future of four other unrestricted veterans: right tackle Mike Remmers, center Austin Reiter, center Daniel Kilgore and guard Kelechi Osemele.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!