NFL: Chiefs beef up offensive line with Lilja signing
By BILL DRAPER
Associated Press Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With one move, the Kansas City Chiefs took a big step toward bolstering a shaky offensive line and making up for a gamble six years ago that came back to haunt them.
The Chiefs on Tuesday announced the signing of free agent left guard Ryan Lilja, a 59-game starter for the Indianapolis Colts who was claimed off waivers from Kansas City in 2004. Terms were not disclosed.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Kansas City native is considered a solid performer when healthy, but knee injuries kept him out of part of the 2006 season and all of 2008.
Signed by the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State in 2004, Lilja was picked up by the Colts one day after Kansas City cut him. The move was a major disappointment for the Chiefs, who had hoped that nobody would pick him up and he would then join Kansas City’s practice squad.
Lilja brings plenty of big-game experience to a Kansas City team that finished its last two seasons with records of 2-14 and 4-12. He started eight playoff games for Indianapolis, including two Super Bowls.
The Chiefs haven’t been to the playoffs since January 2007, when they lost to the Colts in the AFC wild card game.
Much of Kansas City’s focus in previous drafts — especially with its top picks — has been on the defensive side, but its offensive line has been one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses.
The acquisition of quarterback Matt Cassel last season was expected to give the offense a spark, but instead the former New England backup spent much of his time either running for his life or picking himself up off the ground after defenders dominated Kansas City’s porous line.
Cassel also will be getting extra protection next season from veteran center Casey Wiegmann, a former Chief who spent the last two seasons at Denver. Kansas City announced his signing on Friday.
Wiegmann has started 143 straight games, dating to 2001 when he was with the Chiefs. He played seven seasons in Kansas City before going to the Broncos in 2008 and earning Pro Bowl honors that year.
The biggest offseason acquisition so far for the Chiefs has been free agent running back Thomas Jones from the New York Jets.
Jones had career highs of 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, a year after being selected for the Pro Bowl following a season in which he ran for 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns.
With the return of running back Jamaal Charles, who was Kansas City’s MVP last season with 1,120 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, it marks the first time the Chiefs will go into training camp with two running backs who had at least 1,000 yards the previous season.