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Insider Blog: The Final Thread

Posted Mar 17, 2010

Lilja's signing offers flashbacks of KC's o-line in the early-to-mid 2000s

Yesterday’s acquisition of Ryan Lilja forced us to remember better times. Not necessarily better times for Lilja, but better times for the Chiefs no doubt.

Struggling to make the 2004 version of the Chiefs as an undrafted rookie, Lilja’s journey was a lot more difficult back then, than it would be today. That’s not a knock on the current Chiefs offensive linemen, it’s just a fact based off of franchise (and NFL) history.

In the early 2000s the Chiefs offensive line could be matched by no one. Some will argue that the Chiefs offensive line became the finest in the history of football once the club added Willie Roaf to the roster in 2002. Anytime a player the caliber of John Tait is forced to move positions, the team is likely in a good situation.

Across the board, the Chiefs front line from 2002-03 read as follows: Willie Roaf, Brian Waters, Casey Wiegmann, Will Shields and John Tait. Most knew that the group was special at the time, but that fact is even more apparent today.

That crew of five started every single game together over those two seasons (32 consecutive games), re-establishing an NFL record which had stood since the early 1970s (San Diego, 1971-73). The results saw the Chiefs finish in the NFL’s top-five in total offense both seasons and post a 13-3 regular season record in 2003 (which also represents Kansas City’s last AFC West title).

By the time Lilja joined the team in 2004, Tait had packed his bags for Chicago. Tait’s replacement (John Welbourn), however, didn’t translate into decreased offensive production. In fact, just the opposite occurred. The core was still there on the front five and Kansas City would pace all NFL offenses in 2004.

The Chiefs core of four (Roaf, Waters, Wiegmann and Shields) would last together and enjoy offensive success until the summer of 2006. That’s when Roaf decided to call it quits. At that point, Kansas City had lost 40% of its original five-man cast and a decrease began to show on the edges of the line.

Still, the interior of the front-five was filled with originals and held up strong enough to sneak the Chiefs into the 2006 playoffs with a 9-7 record. All season the feeling was as if the Chiefs were just hanging on by the tiniest of threads. During the 2007 offseason, the scissors came out.

When Shields hung up his cleats, Kansas City’s version of the “Fab Five” had been reduced to less than 50%. As a result, the bottom fell out. A once rock-solid core turned into a wave of transitions and new faces. Unfortunately, new faces churning in and out of the offensive line have been a part of Kansas City ever since.

Since Shields’ retirement after the 2006 season, Kansas City has seen 17 different players receive starts along the offensive front. That’s a far different situation than the one that Lilja walked into as a rookie six seasons ago.

Starts along the Chiefs offensive line since Shields’ retirement (17 players)

Brian Waters – 47 starts

Damion McIntosh – 31 starts

Rudy Niswanger – 31 starts

Branden Albert – 29 starts

Wade Smith – 16 starts

Casey Wiegmann – 16 starts

John Welbourn – 16 starts

Ryan O’Callaghan – 12 starts

Adrian Jones – 10 starts

Chris Terry – 8 starts

Mike Goff – 7 starts

Kyle Turley – 5 starts

Will Svitek – 4 starts

Andy Alleman – 3 starts

Ikechuku Ndukwe – 3 starts

Barry Richardson – 1 start

Herb Taylor – 1 start

Grab your cliché book and start writing. Shields was the straw that broke the camel’s back. There isn’t any single event that causes a franchise to go into a complete rebuilding mode, but there’s also no denying that the Chiefs are just 10-38 (.208) since Shields’ thread was pulled from the Chiefs elite offensive line.

Lilja’s signing reminds us of one of football’s golden rules. Don’t lose tomorrow’s impact players today. Keep the in-house talent, in the house. Losing Lilja in 2004 is just one small piece of a big picture that factored into the Chiefs sharp downfall of the past three seasons.

At least he’s back now. Let’s hope that Lilja’s signing is just one small piece of a big picture that sees the Chiefs ship turn around.

If you missed yesterday’s blog, the reserves who the Chiefs kept over Lilja in 2004 can be found here.

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