KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs released starting offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz on Thursday as they sought to squeeze under the salary cap.
Those moves will provide another obstacle in their quest to upgrade an offensive line ransacked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs were more than $22 million over the cap of $182.5 million that was set Wednesday. The release of Fisher and Schwartz saves about $18.3 million, leaving them able to restructure other contracts — and potentially extend players — and create enough financial wiggle room to maneuver in free agency.
Fisher and Schwartz were instrumental in helping the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers for their first Super Bowl title in 50 years. They also played a big part in helping them return to the big game, though both ultimately missed it with injuries.
Fisher tore his Achilles tendon in the AFC title game and Schwartz missed half the season with a back injury.
Both of them underwent surgery and while general manager Brett Veach said recently that they could be back by the start of the season, the cost of keeping them on the roster coupled with the uncertainty of their recovery made them natural cuts.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Eric and Mitchell,” Veach said in a statement. ”With Eric, obviously he was the very first player 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.”
The Chiefs selected the 30-year-old Fisher first overall in the 2013 draft, shortly after coach Andy Reid was hired and Veach arrived on then-GM John Dorsey’s staff. His rookie season was a bit shaky, but Fisher developed into one of the league’s best left tackles, earning nods to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and last season.
The Chiefs signed the 31-year-old Schwartz in 2016 to bookend with Fisher on a revamped offensive line. He was voted an All-Pro in 2018 and proved to be among the most durable right tackles in the game, starting 134 consecutive games dating to his days with the Cleveland Browns before his back injury occurred in Week 6 against Buffalo.
“I’d like to thank Eric and Mitch for all of their contributions over the years,” Reid said. “Every day both of these men came to work with the right attitude, ready to grind, both on the field and in the classroom. These guys are both dirty tough, but beyond that, they’re good people and I enjoyed coaching them. I wish them the best as they continue their careers.”
The Chiefs were decimated up front by the time they beat the Bills in the AFC championship game. They lost starting offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and third-round pick Lucas Niang to COVID-19 opt-outs before the season. Fill-in guard Kelechi Osemele tore tendons in both of his knees and was lost for the season, and the injuries to Fisher and Schwartz left center Austin Reiter as the only player at his natural position by the Super Bowl.
The result: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was pressured on 29 of 56 drop-backs, the most of any player in the Super Bowl era, and Kansas City’s dynamic offense failed to score a touchdown in a 31-9 loss to Tampa Bay.
Now, the Chiefs intend to rebuild their offensive line without Fisher and Schwartz factoring in. Reiter and backup center Daniel Kilgore are also free agents, creating even more holes to fill up front.
Veach said recently he expects Duvernay-Tardif and Niang to return next season, giving the Chiefs a jumpstart on their rebuild. They also feel good about Andrew Wylie and Nick Allegretti, though neither played well in the Super Bowl.
With little salary-cap space available, though, the Chiefs are likely to rely heavily on the draft to fill in the holes up front, and that means a young and inexperienced offensive line will be protecting their half-billion-dollar quarterback.
“The draft looks to be really talented on the offensive line,” Veach said, “so I think it will be a combination of what we have in-house and blending that in with some new talent, potentially in free agency and potentially in the draft. But I certainly like the way the draft is shaping up and I think it’s safe to say we’ll be addressing that in any area we can.”