by John Unrein
Patrick Mahomes is a generational talent. The 2018 National Football League Most Valuable Player and 2019 Super Bowl MVP has endeared himself to the hearts of many Kansas City Chiefs fans. And for good reason, as the franchise struggled for years to draft and develop a talent that could bring both the Lamar Hunt (AFC Championship) and Vince Lombardi (Super Bowl) trophies home to One Arrowhead Drive. Those old enough to remember names like Todd Blackledge, Matt Blundin, and Brodie Croyle know exactly what I am talking about.
One of my favorite attributes of football is offensive line play. Even during the era of the spread offense and run pass option (RPO) that produce video game like numbers, football games are still won at the line of scrimmage in the trenches. Offensive lineman must possess the will to fight in a space the size of a phone booth for 50 to 70 snaps a game on average. It takes a toll on the body and challenges the mental toughness of those who man the position.
It has been said that it does not matter how you get to the NFL, just that you seize the opportunity upon arrival. Both of my two favorite Chiefs players are examples of this mantra. Andrew Wylie and Nick Allegretti would by my first picks to walk through a dark alley with on the current roster. Wylie and Allegretti carved out starting spots along the Chiefs offensive line as an undrafted free agent and 7th round draft pick, respectively.
Wylie broke into the NFL in 2017 after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Baltimore Ravens before bouncing to the Indianapolis Colts roster, prior to ending up with the Chiefs. He was one of the stars of Chiefs training camp in 2018. Wylie would go on to play in all 16 games that season, including starting the final 10 games at right guard after a leg injury sidelined Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. A trend that continued again this past season as Wylie started in the same spot with Duvernay-Tardif opting out of the season for COVID-19 reasons.
The 6’ 6” three hundred and nine pound lineman starred collegiately at Eastern Michigan as an offensive tackle and was used primarily at that spot as a reserve for the Chiefs prior to Tardif’s injury. Wylie has possessed the Twitter handles of, “Lineman versus everyone,” and “My Madden ranking does not define me.” Both are a window into Wylie’s mindset as he has had to earn everything thus far during his professional career.
Surprisingly enough, Wylie was not invited to the NFL combine, despite being recognized with All-MAC Conference Honors and staring 44 games at Eastern Michigan in helping to propel his alma mater to its first bowl game in 29 years during his senior campaign. However, NFL teams could not ignore the numbers Wylie put up during his pro day in the spring of 2017.
His numbers turned the heads of professional scouts. Wylie bench pressed 340 pounds, along with posting a 4.5 second 20-yard shuttle, a 9-foot7 inch broad jump, and a 34-inch vertical leap. This performance would have placed him near the top of all offensive lineman at the NFL combine.
Wylie reaped respect from his teammates in 2018 by winning the Mack Lee Hill Award, given to the Chiefs Rookie of the Year as voted on by the team. Wylie’s tenacious play in the trenches is what has been most impressive though. He plays to end of the whistle, often getting under the skin of his opponents. This was apparent during the Chiefs week 14 matchup of the 2018 season against the Baltimore Ravens during the regular season. The Ravens defense was unnerved by Wylie’s use of leverage in the run game as well as his final hand placement in pass protection. Usually, it is the Ravens’ opponents that take exception to their physical play, not the other way around.
A similar scenario played out during the Chiefs Super Bowl LIV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wylie replaced starter Mike Remmers at right tackle due to Remmers moving to left tackle to fill in for the injured Eric Fisher. Wylie went toe to toe with Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Shaquil Barrett on football’s biggest stage. Words were exchanged between Wylie and his Buccaneer foes without a fight occurring. Wylie did not back down when challenged and put forth a resolute effort against the NFL’s sixth overall rated defense in 2020.
No one has accused Wylie of being a dirty player. On the contrary, the pushing and shoving that occurs with Wylie after the play has been because opponents know it is going to be a long day against number 77 for the Chiefs. Wylie has simply done whatever has been asked of him for the betterment of the team.
Wylie’s unselfishness has paid off for him. The NFLPA has recently announced 2020 performance-based pay distributions. Wylie was the highest grossing Chief on the list following his third season in the league, obtaining $542,979 in performance based pay for his performance on the gridiron last season. That number is on top of the $750,000 base salary that Wylie already earned with the franchise in 2020.
Wylie has started 35 games for the Chiefs overall, including a career high 14 starts that was good for 92% of the team’s offensive downs played last season. Wylie’s playing time during 2020 is what earned him the additional pay day. Most often, it is a player that contributes significant snaps for his team with a lower range salary that is rewarded under the NFL’s performance based pay formula.
Allegretti has not been far away from Wylie both literally and figuratively since entering the NFL in 2019 as a seventh-round pick (216th overall) by the Chiefs. The 6’ 4” three hundred and twenty pound lineman played left guard opposite of Wylie for most of the 2020 season, starting in 9 games. Versatility is one of Allegretti’s calling cards, much like the aforementioned Wylie. Allegretti has lined up at both center and guard for the Chiefs. A trait that was copied during his collegiate career at the University of Illinois as well.
Allegretti was the number three rated guard in the county by Pro Football Focus in 2018 while earning PFF All-Big 10 Second Team honors. The Fighting Illini product was tied for first in pass blocking efficiency (99.4) among Power 5 offensive guards in the 2019 draft class according to PFF. Allegretti “left the pocket clean” as they say while giving up zero sacks and zero quarterback hits in his last fifteen collegiate games.
The strong play of Allegretti has carried over to the pro level. Fox Sports television analyst and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman lauded Allegretti’s play during his first career start on October 19th in a matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs would amass 245 rushing yards in a 26-19 victory over the Bills.
It is rare for a young offensive lineman to receive the praise that Allegretti did from Aikman in that game with ten minutes left to go in the fourth quarter on national television. Allegretti represented himself and his team well in filling in for Mike Remmers at left guard, who was moved to right tackle to start for the injured Mitchell Schwartz against the Bills.
Allegretti would go on to only give up one sack and accumulate four penalties of the 694 snaps he played during the 2020 season according to PFF. It is easy to say that Allegretti was part of the solution and not the problems that hampered the Chiefs offensive line last season. That is likely why Allegretti will be permitted to compete for a starting role at center along with recent free agent signee Austin Blythe. The previous starting center for the Los Angeles Rams, Blythe gave up four sacks and accrued one penalty in 1120 offensive snaps during the 2020 campaign per PFF.
A generous heart has also been displayed by Allegretti off the field. The Illini’s “Lift for Life” campaign raised more than $88,000 for charity over the course of Allegretti’s last two years on campus. Allegretti was also the President of the Illinois Uplifting Athletes Chapter, which raises funds for rare disease research and treatment. Furthermore, Allegretti was a two-time Wuerffel Trophy nominee, which annually recognizes those that excel both on the field and in community service.
The Chiefs have been busy this offseason retooling their offensive line during free agency. Remmers has been resigned to a one year deal. Blythe, Joe Thuney, and Kyle Long round out the remainder of the Chiefs additions up front. Also returning to the Chiefs for the 2021 season will be their 3rd round selection in the 2020 draft, right tackle Lucas Niang from Texas Christian University, who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
There are 80 million reasons why Thuney will be given the starting nod at left guard for the Chiefs heading into the 2021 season. The five year contract signed by Thuney this offseason is worth $80,000,000, including a $17,000,000 signing bonus, and has $46,890,000 million of the agreement guaranteed. Not too shabby for the former Patriots Pro-Bowl selection.
Both Remmers and Long will be 32 years of age when the season begins. Duvernay-Tardif will be 30 years old. Father Time eventually catches up to offensive lineman who pass the threshold of 30 in the NFL. There are rare exceptions like tackles Andrew Whitworth and Trent Williams (who recently signed a 6 year $138 million with the 49ers at the age of 32). However, technique and strength are relied upon more than athleticism as age accumulates in football.
Long and Duvernay-Tardif are slated to compete for the starting job at right guard. Tardif has appeared to the naked eye to lack the same lateral quickness he possessed prior to fracturing his fibula in week five of the 2018 season. Long has suffered shoulder, hip, and ankle injuries that eventually led to his retirement from professional football prior to the 2020 season. Long, the son of former Raiders Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long is a difference maker along the offensive line when healthy. Long was selected to the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons from 2013-2015.
All of this leads to Wylie standing on the outside looking in and Allegretti competing with an established veteran for a starting role. It is an old football adage that “depth charts are not set in stone.” This bring me solace in knowing that Wylie and Allegretti will be rewarded if they continue to perform at a high level during the offseason and training camp. Wins are too hard to come by in the NFL not to have your best offensive lineman start for you. Especially, when they are protecting the best player in the National Football League in Patrick Mahomes.
I would enjoy the opportunity to meet my two favorite Kansas City Chiefs. My hope is that some day I get to take my picture with both Wylie and Allegretti in a post-pandemic world. I look forward to watching them compete and the return of football to Chiefs Kingdom.