If Chiefs win, Cleveland Browns should cut their entire offensive line

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 17: Austin Reiter #62 of the Cleveland Browns in action during a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 17, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 17: Austin Reiter #62 of the Cleveland Browns in action during a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 17, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Can a team really win it all with linemen cut from the 2016-17 Cleveland Browns?

If the Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl LV on Sunday, it will mean that the offensive line absolutely did not matter, and so perhaps the Cleveland Browns are wasting their money on star offensive linemen. This might sound crazy but has there ever been a Super Bowl offensive line as depleted as Kansas City’s?

And even more crazy, the Chiefs have had a Cleveland flavor to their line the past few years, as the best linemen (center Austin Reiter and guard-turned-tackle Andrew Wylie) were on the Browns squads from 2016 and 2017 that went 1-31 and were not noted for being exceptionally skilled on the offensive line, or anywhere else for that matter. Mainstay Mitchell Schwartz, the former Brown whose departure destroyed the 2016 offense, has been on IR for the last half of the season.

Yet the prevailing view is that injuries to the Chiefs offensive line absolutely do not matter, and Patrick Mahomes and company are -3 point favorites, expected to prevail in an aerial fireworks show anyway. Losing All-Pros and replacing them with backups near the NFL minimum pay can simply be shrugged off. The Chiefs “Big Three” of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill are believed to be so good that they are going to score anyway. The Bucs are vastly better up and down the line of scrimmage except for, perhaps, at those top three offensive spots.

So, is this fantasy football, or what? To an old school football fan like this hack writer, the fat kids definitely do matter, and it just seems impossible to favor the team that has a clear disadvantage at the line of scrimmage.

If offensive linemen are just excess baggage, it begs the question, why do the Browns currently employ five stud quality athletes, from left to right: First-round pick Jedrick Wills; Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio; J.C. Tretter, who should be sent to the Pro Bowl every year in this writer’s opinion; Wyatt Teller, who is opening up a chain of pancake restaurants soon, and Pro Bowl right tackle Jack Conklin?

The Kansas City Chiefs, by contrast, began the season with three offensive linemen from the 2016-2017 Cleveland Browns, and in fact three that the team did not want. Browns fans may recall that the Browns figured they did not need Joe Thomas’ pal Mitchell Schwartz, so they waved good-bye after he requested too large of a pay raise. Off he went to Kansas City, where he made All-Pro in 2018 and racked up the second-longest consecutive snap streak in history at 7,895 behind Thomas with 10,363. But this season, the Chiefs have lost that same Mitchell Schwartz due to injury. Like the 2016 Browns, they have to learn to play without him.

The oddsmakers say that the Chiefs won’t miss Schwartz. Nor will they miss 2020 Pro Bowler Eric Fisher at the left tackle spot where his job is to protect Mahomes’ blindside. Fisher ruptured an Achilles in the AFC Title Game.

That 2016 Browns squad had Austin Reiter as a highly regarded backup center (nobody could really figure out why he was cut), and that same dude is starting for Kansas City. He’s doing a fine job. Andrew Wylie was on the Browns practice squad in 2017. He too wound up at Kansas City where he became a solid starter at guard.

But Wylie is moving to right tackle now because backup Mike Remmers has to move over to the left side to replace Fisher. Ex-Steeler Stefan Wisniewski moves in at guard. The oddsmakers don’t seem to mind moving a guard over to right tackle. Moving a right tackle to left tackle at the last minute is okay too, apparently.

On the positive side, Nick Allegretti has played well in place of guard Kelechi Osemele who is also on IR, and Remmers has been a good replacement for Schwartz. So to sum up, the Chiefs are going to line up Remmers, Allegretti, Reiter, Wisniewski, and Wylie. Only one player started the season at the same spot he will play on Sunday. Three players are playing new positions from two weeks ago.

Not to knock any of these players, because they are all in the NFL for a reason, but they have had very little opportunity to play together and now it is Super Bowl time. When has there been an O-Line with so little experience together in the Super Bowl?

Now they will face the likes of Vita Vea, William Gholston, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh.  Yikes.

Apparently, Patrick Mahomes is so good that the betting public believes that he can just run around and elude Tampa’s talented defensive front, and still complete passes to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The 2016 Browns tried that theory on a smaller scale, relying on two receivers with talent in Terrelle Pryor and Gary Barnidge, though certainly not in the class of Hill or Kelce. However, the result was that quarterbacks got pasted.

They went through six quarterbacks that year: Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Kevin Hogan, Charlie Whitehurst, and even Pryor took some snaps. They all got injured, with multiple concussions, broken collarbones, ankle sprains and just getting beat up.  This is not going to happen to Mahomes, however, or at least that is the consensus viewpoint.  In fact, Fox Sports and ESPN have been debating how long it will take Mahomes to beat Brady’s record of ten Super Bowl appearances.  Hey, only eight more to go, gang!  Should be simple.

Is Mahomes really that much better than Brady? If we are talking for a multi-year period to build a team around him, sure he is. Mahomes can make throws that no one else can, behind the back and that sort of thing. But what about on Sunday, just for this one game? Is he that much better than Brady right now?

90 percent of the time, it’s about completing normal forward passes from the pocket, not trick passes or 80-yard downfield bombs. Brady can hit the meat-and-potatoes ordinary pass plays as well as anyone if he is kept upright in the pocket. His team is in much better shape than Mahomes’ team up and down the line of scrimmage, with several receiving options: Mike Evans, Gronk, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, and Scotty Miller to name a few.

The fat kids are much better established. From left to right they have Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet,  and former Baltimore Raven Ryan Jensen at center. Right guard Alex Cappa went on IR with a broken ankle and third-year pro Aaron Stinnie substitutes for him. Rookie strongman Tristan Wirfs has been a stud at right tackle.

Readers of this space realize that this writer does not in fact believe the first premise of the headline, that the Chiefs are going to win, at least not by the expected aerial warfare battle.

Quarterback is not the only position that matters. Hopefully, J.C. Tretter, Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin, and Jedrick Wills will not be searching me out after the game to pancake me to death after the Super Bowl for my impertinence. The Browns should not in fact cut the entire offensive line.

The Chiefs offensive line does actually mean something, and that patched-together line is going to limit the effectiveness of the Chiefs offense. It’s the NFL and anything can happen and usually does, but it is unlikely that it can be business as usual for Mahomes and the passing game. The oddsmakers are smarter than this hack writer, but nevertheless, the collective failure of football analysts to account for the problems that the Chiefs have encountered at the line of scrimmage is bewildering.

If the Chiefs do win, maybe it will be because Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can figure out how to make Tom Brady cough the ball up a few times. It probably isn’t going to be because Mahomes can take a seven-step drop, stand tall in the pocket and launch his usual lightning bolts.

Who knows, perhaps Mahomes is in fact good enough to make this fan look stupid (it’s not that hard, actually) and so perhaps he will overcome logic, throw four TD passes and end the Brady dynasty. Then we will be forced to give new credence to the loathsome stat of “quarterback won-loss record” and admit that offensive linemen are not that important. If so, it’s just the quarterback, stupid.

Then Baker Mayfield and his agent will sit down with Andrew Berry this off-season and receive some good news. Berry might say something like this: “Great news, we have re-calibrated our analytics models and determined that offensive linemen are dead weight. We’ve decided to give in to your contract demands. We will give you all the money you want. We are cutting all the veteran linemen and giving you the money we were going to pay them. Just run for your life next year until Jarvis or Odell get open, and it will work out fine. Congratulations, and please sign at the dotted line.”

Canton should be calling Clay Matthews. dark. Next

Hopefully, that is not what the future holds. Football can’t be just about the quarterback. In my humble (and often flawed) opinion. Here’s hoping that the importance of the offensive line comes through loud and clear on Sunday, and the team that dominates up front wins the game.