David Eulitt / Contributor

The biggest reason the Kansas City Chiefs were pummeled into submission in Super Bowl LV by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was their inability to protect former league and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, who was running for his life in the rematch at Raymond James Stadium. This was because the Chiefs were without not one, but both of their starting offensive tackles, with Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher sidelined due to injury. The 2021 reload in Kansas City was expected to feature the team attempting to shore up depth behind their First-Team All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler, but is instead beginning with a wildly unexpected surprise.

Both Schwartz and Fisher have been released, the team announced on Thursday, in moves that appear driven by their attempt to get into salary cap compliance -- seeing as they arrived just one day after the NFL set the 2021 salary cap at $182.5 million. The Chiefs will save a total of $18 million toward the cap by pushing Schwartz and Fisher out the door, to the tune of $7 million and $11 million, respectively. As it stands, they remain approximately $3 million in the red. 

Fisher took to Instagram to issue a statement after receiving the news, solemn in tone:

"Catch and release. Time to complete the second part of the play call. At the time, I thought the 'catch' part of the play was going to be the hard part. Six months later that thought has changed. 

"I have been released. Rewind eight years, and there are a whole lot of memories that I'll be blessed to take with me from my time in Kansas City. I'll never forget landing at MCI the day after the draft and smiling because it felt like home. I'll never forget running out of the tunnel for the first time to the loudest fans in the world. 

"I'll never forget the struggles that I faced that eventually built me into the man, and player that I am today. I'll never forget bringing a playoff win home for the first time in twenty two years. I'll never forget going on winning streaks that would make history. I'll never forget the three AFC championship games in a row in Arrowhead Stadium. 

"I'll never forget the clock hitting zero and that feeling of achieving the ultimate goal in football. I'll never forget hearing, 'Touchdown Kannnnnsas City' with the ball in my hands. That list could go on and on because we really did something special in those eight years. I wouldn't change a thing. Mentally, I'm leaving knowing I have grown to be who I need to be. Physically, I'm leaving with my head held high, beat up but not down for the count. 

"Spiritually, I couldn't praise God enough for blessing my life in ways that I couldn't have wrapped my brain around in a million years. Unfortunately, I knew this time would come at some point. Sooner than I would have chose, but another opportunity to beat the odds. All good things must come to an end.

"Thank you Kansas City."

Fisher is working to recover from a torn Achilles that occurred very late in the season, and it's undetermined if he'll be ready to take the field come training camp or the start of the regular season with any team he signs on with. A former first-overall pick of the Chiefs in 2013, he's not only been integral in protecting Mahomes en route to a Super Bowl victory and two Pro Bowl honors, his most recent nod being awarded in 2020 for the work he did in 15 starts. Having turned 30 in January, he's still got plenty of tread left on his tires -- assuming the recovery continues to go well -- and will garner plenty of interest on the open market, even if it does initially come attached to teams wanting to get more medical information. 

At worst, teams might wait until he's a full go, but it's expected he'll play this coming season.

As for Schwartz, a former second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns who joined the Chiefs in 2016 on a five-year, $33 million deal that made him one of the highest-paid at the position, his recovery from a back injury that required surgery has reportedly gone as planned as well, and it's likely he'll command a lot of attention as well -- the 31-year-old joining Fisher in a free agency market that is supremely thin with intriguing and proven talent at offensive tackle.

The Chiefs next move will not only to free up more space to get in compliance and attempt to be players in free agency, but now to also replace two starters who helped them to a Super Bowl and the subsequent AFC Championship, and who likely could've helped them stave off the Buccaneers onslaught in early February. They couldn't get anyone to step up in any respectable capacity at the offensive edges to protect Mahomes in the absence of Fisher and Schwartz but, this time they have several months to figure it out. 

And in a division that features Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Joey Bosa -- the sooner, the better.