Kyle Long was just as certain that he wanted to return to the NFL after a year in retirement as the three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman was that he wanted to protect Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
So, when free agency began, that's exactly who he called.
“I absolutely did talk to Pat. I reached out to him, said, ‘Patrick, get me in there, man. I’d love to come play for you,'” said Long, who agreed Wednesday to a $5 million contract for the 2021 season. “I'm so happy here, so happy to be a Chief.”
It wasn't always that way. Long is the son of longtime Raiders defensive end Howie Long, so he grew up in a household knowing the intensity that marked the Los Angeles-turned-Oakland-turned-Las Vegas rivalry with Kansas City.
But after Long, who spent his first seven seasons in Chicago, spent a year watching from afar as an analyst for CBS, he realized the Midwest suited him just fine: He gets to play for coach Andy Reid, protect one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in one of its most dynamic offenses, all while getting to bulk up on some of Kansas City's famous barbecue.
In fact, that's what Long did on Wednesday night with Joe Thuney, the former Patriots offensive lineman that earlier in the week agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract to begin the overhaul of the Chiefs' beleaguered offensive line.
“I got to meet Joe last night and if there's one thing I know about Joe, I know he's tough, he's intelligent and he knows the game of football,” Long said during a Zoom call Thursday.
“When I had a chance to break some bread with him over some barbecue, it felt like he wasn't a stranger, and I don't think I'll ever be a stranger to him.”
So what about Mahomes, the 2018 league MVP and proud new papa?
“I've never been around a guy that can throw it from any inch of the football field to every inch of the football field,” Long said. “It's a unique opportunity. He's a special talent.”
The Chiefs knew they had to rebuild their offensive line, which was decimated by opt-outs and injuries, was ransacked by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.
Most players that started that game were headed for free agency, and more holes opened up when the Chiefs waived tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz to create some salary cap space.
Thuney provides a durable anchor at one of the guard spots after starting every game over the past five seasons in New England, and the Chiefs expect Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — the physician who opted out to help treat COVID-19 patients in his native Canada — to return next season and hold down one of the other guard spots.
“I just want to help the team out in any way I can, in any capacity,” Thuney said. “First time joining a new team. I'm sure it'll be great. I just want to come in and work hard every day and show the guys I can contribute to help the team.”
Third-round pick Lucas Niang, who also opted out of his rookie season, provides an option at one of the tackle spots, and Long could end up at the other one. He played guard for six seasons in Chicago but also spent one season at right tackle.
“I'm comfortable with anywhere on the offensive line,” he said. “One thing I can tell you with conviction, I've never played center. I'm left-handed. I don't know many left-handed centers. But I'll try anything.”
Well, if the Chiefs can't find a replacement for Austin Reiter, he just might have to. They could still find an offensive lineman in the upcoming NFL draft, but they also have holes to plug at wide receiver, linebacker and in the secondary.
As for Long, the Chiefs hope he can be the durable Pro Bowl standout he was his first three seasons with the Bears and not the player waylaid by injuries entering his prime. He hurt his ankle in 2016, his neck, shoulder and elbow the following year, had a foot injury midway through 2018 and landed on injured reserve in 2019 with a foot injury.
All told, the 32-year-old Long has played in just 30 games since 2015.
“I've been in one place my entire career and it was home for me,” he said, “and the opportunity to come to a place like this — I wanted to schedule it early in free agency, because I know there are a litany of players that want to come into a building like this and play for a coach like this. ... I knew right away when I was let go in Chicago that I would be back, and I needed to do everything in my power to get back to where I could come in and play at a level I know I can play.”
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