Kyle Long stepped away from football for a year, going so far as announcing his retirement, and all that year taught him was what he really wanted to do is play football. So he spent much of “retirement” working out, and when the Chiefs called with an offer, he felt ready.
The comeback hit an immediate setback — Long fractured his tibial plateau in his knee during organized team activities (OTAs) in June, a rare and serious injury that can cost players a full season.
The response, he recalls, was predictable.
You gave it a try. Good for you. But you’re done now, huh?
“Wait, hold on. No, absolutely not. I’m going to keep going,” Long said. “Here we are; six months later, I’m back on the field, So I’m happy I stuck with it.”
After missing all of training camp and the initial three months of the season, Long is finally back, now a member of the Chiefs 53-man roster. His coaches aren’t yet saying whether he will be active Sunday when the Broncos visit Kansas City. When ready, Long will likely provide depth on a much-improved offensive line.
But the point isn’t whether he’ll play Sunday. Or at least not the entire point. He’s available. He’s met his timeline. He can rest without regret.
“If I were to get hurt this past spring and walk away, I’d be sitting at home right now saying, ‘I’d be healthy by now. I could maybe help this team,’” Long said. “I don’t have that doubt — because I’m here and I haven’t missed anything.”
When describing what stood out about Long during the rehab process, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said, “his positivity.”
Easy, Long replied. Take a look at the roster. The coaching staff. It’s flush with future Hall of Famers. “If you don’t have a smile on your face, and you don’t have a positive attitude, you need to get yourself checked because I can assure you the grass is not always greener.”
Long, 32, played the first seven years of his career in Chicago, where he also battled various injuries. Made a few Pro Bowls. And then retired following the 2019 season.
When the Chiefs learned he was considering returning, the fit became obvious. They needed two starting-caliber guards. They’d signed Joe Thuney to big money to play the left side. Long could fill in on the right.
Then, the injury.
“It was a shocker,” he said. “I felt so ready to go — so ready physically and mentally to give it a go again.”
Trey Smith, a sixth-round draft pick, has taken over at right guard and played at a Pro Bowl level.
Long, meanwhile, remained present in meetings throughout the rehab, a valuable commodity in a room that opened the season with three rookies as starters. He contributed in that sense, even if it’s not the manner the Chiefs initially envisioned.
That could still come. Long can fill in at guard or perhaps tackle — wherever he’s needed. He’s ready, even if he hasn’t appeared in an NFL game in 789 days.
“You have to just lean on your preparation and have the utmost faith in yourself and your teammates,” Long said. “If you’re out on the field, you’ve done the work to get there, and you need to have faith in what you’ve done to prepare.”