Kansas City’s offensive line produced a woeful performance in pass protection against opposing pass rushers throughout the 2014 season.
2014 ROSTER: Eric Fisher, Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach, Rodney Hudson, Zach Fulton, Ryan Harris, Donald Stephenson, Eric Kush, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
INJURED RESERVE: Jeff Allen (elbow)
2015 FREE AGENTS: Rodney Hudson, Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach, Ryan Harris
The starting offensive line fell under fire with the amount of sacks or quarterback hits allowed, both a common occurrence in virtually every game.
Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniel were sacked a combined 49 times and hit by opposing defenders a combined 68 times.
Smith drew the brunt of the punishment with a career-high 45 times sacked in a single season and 61 times hit in 15 games.
Daniel, who started Week 17 due to Smith being out with a lacerated spleen, was sacked four times and hit seven times.
The troubles in pass protection mostly came from the left side where tackle Eric Fisher (8) and guards Mike McGlynn (7) and Jeff Linkenbach (2 ½) combined to allow 17 ½ sacks.
Right tackle Ryan Harris (7), rookie right guard Zach Fulton (3), center Rodney Hudson (3) and Donald Stephenson (2) round out the remaining sacks allowed outside of missed blocks from running backs or tight ends.
The preseason forecast quickly went from questionable given the free-agent departures of left tackle Branden Albert, tackle/guard Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asomaoh to pending doom before the regular season started.
The NFL suspended Stephenson, who projected as the starting right tackle, four games to start the regular season for violating its policy on performance enhancing substances. Jeff Allen, who moved from left guard to replace Stephenson at right tackle, suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Week 1.
Kansas City never recovered.
The Chiefs left guard position should solidify with the return of Allen, and Fisher made strides as the season progressed following a slow start.
But to say the offensive line desperately needs an upgrade is an understatement.
Hudson, McGlynn, Linkenbach and Harris are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 10. Of the quartet, expect the Chiefs to attempt to keep Hudson and it wouldn’t surprise if the team parted ways with McGlynn, Linkenbach and Harris.
Eric Kush, a sixth-round pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, is available if the Chiefs don’t bring back Hudson.
The Chiefs have offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, one of two 2014 NFL Draft picks, and guard Ricky Henry, who spent the season on the practice squad, to consider.
Still, the Chiefs must acquire depth at guard and right tackle either through the NFL Draft or free agency to enhance competition.
[Related: Offseason priority must focus on offensive line]
ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK?
Donald Stephenson’s 2014 season proved a lost cause after he returned from his four-game suspension and was utilized on special teams or as an extra blocker on offense.
And it’s unclear if he fits in the team’s future despite starting seven games (three at right tackle, four at left tackle) in 2013.
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey didn’t give a definitive answer the day after the season finale when asked directly what the team’s plans were for Stephenson or if there are tentative plans in place.
“I don’t know, this is still 2014,” Dorsey said. “This is Dec. 29, 2014; 25 hours removed (from the last regular-season game).”
Stephenson, who enters the final season of his rookie contract in 2015, is scheduled to count $844,375 against the salary cap.