KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kelechi Osemele was at a birthday party with his girlfriend in a park not long ago when his phone rang, and the two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman ducked away from the noise to find out who was on the other end.
It turned out the Kansas City Chiefs were interested in him.
They had just had starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opt out of the season, the trained physician preferring to stay in Canada and help patients dealing with COVID-19. So not only did Osemele suddenly have an opportunity to join the Super Bowl champions, he also would have the chance to slide into a starting spot protecting Patrick Mahomes.
“The first thing I thought of was playing with Mahomes," Osemele said. “I accidentally leaked his phone number — on Instagram I did a video and it had his number on there and I had to take it down real quick. Yeah, I was pretty hyped. My agent called and instantly I thought about, ‘This is a really good team. I have a chance to win a championship.’ I haven't won one. I thought immediately, ‘This would be a beautiful way to kind of cap off a long NFL career.’"
It didn't just work out well for Osemele, though. It worked out quite nicely for the Chiefs.
In fact, the Chiefs have been fortunate that the two players that they've had opt out so far — running back Damien Williams chose not to play while his mother battles cancer — are at positions that they have bolstered in a big way.
On the offensive line, Osemele joins returning backups Ryan Hunter and Nick Allegretti, veteran addition Mike Remmers and third-round draft pick Lucas Niang. At running back, the Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round and signed veterans DeAndre Washington and Elijah McGuire to join second-year pro Darwin Thompson and Darrel Williams.
“Larry and Damien are really good players,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said, “but when you go into training camp, you have things that happen that you don't anticipate. The running back, in a weird way, we were envisioning this one-two punch of Damien and Clyde, and we felt like Clyde was the best player on the board. We're very blessed that we have that right now with Clyde, and then the same thing with the offensive line. We're fortunate to have some numbers.”
Not just numbers at each position, but quality talent that ultimately could provide an upgrade.
Osemele was a second-round pick of the Ravens who became a stalwart on their offensive line before signing a big contract with the AFC West rival Raiders. He was an All-Pro in 2016 while going to back-to-back Pro Bowls before signing with the Jets, where he played just three games last season amid a dispute with management over a shoulder injury.
Osemele opted to have the procedure against their wishes, and he was released after what became a nasty spat.
He prefers not to discuss the whole ordeal these days, instead looking ahead to what is already a much better fit.
“What stood out to me the most is they were so relaxed. They were so loose, out there having fun, cracking jokes in the huddle,” Osemele said. “I came from places where everyone was so serious, so that was cool.”
Along with protecting Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, Osemele also will be tasked with carving out space for a deep stable of running backs — even without Williams, who was so crucial in the Chiefs' championship run.
Edwards-Helaire will be counted upon to help immediately, even though his offseason was limited to virtual meetings because of the coronavirus and the decision to eliminate preseason games means his first true NFL action will be Week 1.
He'll have plenty of help, though. Thompson learned the intricacies of coach Andy Reid's vast playbook last season and can pass along that knowledge. McGuire appeared in 24 games and ran for nearly 600 yards over the past two seasons with the Jets, while Washington appeared in 55 games and ran for more than 1,100 yards in four seasons with the Raiders.
“We're lucky we have a pretty good nucleus of running backs,” Reid said. “It would be great to have Damien, but on the other hand, if you have to pick a position you have some talent, that's a position we can work with. We're in pretty good position.”
NOTES: The Chiefs got rookies onto the practice field in padded shirts and helmets for the first time Tuesday. The veterans continue to go through lifting and conditioning work before joining them in about five days. ... Reid said the entire coaching staff is wearing some kind of face covering on the practice field. He went with a shield rather than a mask. “If you're a beekeeper, you'd feel real comfortable with the mask on," he said. "It's one of those things. It's different.”
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