If not for the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line was in disarray during the team's 2020 Super Bowl run, the Chiefs just might have become the NFL's first repeat champion in more than a decade.
With three of its key starters from the previous Super Bowl unavailable for Super Bowl LV, the team couldn't consistently protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes against the fierce Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. And when it decided to let go of starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz early in the offseason, it was fair to wonder if there'd be more bumps in the road moving forward.
About a month ago, Fisher and Schwartz were off the roster, solid center Austin Reiter was a free agent and veteran guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif's future was somewhat up in the air after he opted out of the 2020 campaign to fight COVID-19 on the frontline (he has said he'll be back but is 30 now and will be 19 months removed from football action).
The Chiefs suddenly looked vulnerable.
Friday's trade with the Baltimore Ravens for 24-year-old offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. filled the vacancy left by Fisher on the blind side, providing the cherry on top for a sneaky-awesome offensive line rebuild.
The Chiefs also added mega-efficient, durable and reliable veteran Joe Thuney at left guard. They brought three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long out of retirement. They signed the versatile and battle-tested Austin Blythe as a potential replacement for Reiter. And they re-signed veteran Mike Remmers to return—ideally—as a swing tackle/depth piece.
Throw in the presence of Andrew Wylie, Martinas Rankin, Nick Allegretti and 2020 opt-outs Duvernay-Tardif and Lucas Niang, and just like that you've got one of the deepest offensive lines in the NFL.
The Chiefs now have a slew of options at center, right guard and right tackle, and they're set with Brown and Thuney manning the left side of the line.
Brown is a physical marvel who's coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns. He didn't come cheap, but the price they paid should be easy to swallow considering his accomplishments and his potential at one of the most critical positions in the sport.
Mahomes is the best quarterback in the game and the highest-paid player in league history. Protecting him is of utmost importance, even if it comes at a cost of a first-round draft pick.
That's technically the top chip the Chiefs sent to the Ravens, although we're talking about the No. 31 overall selection, and they're getting a 2021 second-rounder and a 2022 sixth-rounder back in exchange for Brown, a 2021 third-rounder, a 2021 fourth-rounder and a 2022 fifth-rounder, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
If the Chiefs and Ravens again select late in 2022, the draft capital surrendered by Kansas City in this deal—based on the draft pick value chart at Pro Football Reference—will be the equivalent of a second-round selection for a young star who could play a critical role for a decade-plus to come.
Yes, Brown's entering the final year of his rookie contract. That means he'll either soon become a lot more expensive, or he'll be a short-term rental. But when you're a Super Bowl contender like the Chiefs, a second-round pick isn't a bad sacrifice if the return increases your chances for even just one year.
This certainly does, especially if Brown can find chemistry with Thuney et al. Continuity is particularly beneficial along the offensive line, and that's out the window for now in K.C. But these changes could pay off substantially in a short amount of time.
Both Fisher and Schwartz are over 30 and coming off significant injuries. The Chiefs will now become half-a-decade younger at left tackle, and if Niang can win the other tackle job, they'll become nearly a decade younger there.
And then there's the fact that Brown hasn't missed a snap since his rookie season; Thuney hasn't missed a start in his five-year career; Blythe has missed just one game the last three years; and you could argue that both Duvernay-Tardif and Niang should be fresh after each took 2020 off. The former is at least a veteran of head coach Andy Reid's system, while it looks as though the Chiefs have high hopes for the latter, a third-round pick in 2020.
Revolving doors were a problem last year, but Kansas City has a chance to fix that in 2021.
This changing of the guard was inevitable, and the Chiefs now deserve kudos for their proactive and zealous approach to replenishing the line.
Now, with this deal, they've immediately become much better while immediately making a fellow prime contender worse. That's gotta be a tough pill to swallow if you're the Ravens, who found themselves in a tough spot when Brown requested a trade because Ronnie Stanley has the left tackle position locked down there.
Baltimore likely wished it could have traded Brown outside of the conference. Instead, the rich have become richer.
The Ravens have bled elsewhere this offseason, losing veteran pass-rushers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, while the Pittsburgh Steelers were crushed by a salary-cap jam. The Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns look strong again, but neither they nor anyone else in that conference took the sort of leap that would move them into the AFC driver's seat.
That's especially the case now that the Chiefs have quickly turned their most glaring liability into a potentially large asset.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.