Chiefs beef up offensive line, sign OL Lilja to three-year contract

With one move, the Kansas City Chiefs took a big step toward bolstering a shaky offensive line and making up for a 2004 gamble that came back to haunt them.

The Chiefs announced Tuesday that they have signed free-agent left guard Ryan Lilja, a 59-game starter who was claimed off waivers by the Indianapolis Colts six years ago. A league source told NFL Network's Jason La Canfora that Lilja received a three-year deal.

Lilja, a 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.

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Signed by the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State in 2004, Lilja was claimed 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 up Lilja 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 an 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 Patriots 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 receive extra protection from veteran center Casey Wiegmann, a former Chief who spent the last two seasons with the AFC West rival Denver Broncos. Kansas City announced his signing Friday.

Wiegmann has started 143 consecutive games, dating to 2001 when he was with the Chiefs. He played seven seasons in Kansas City before going to Denver in 2008 and earning Pro Bowl honors that year.

The Chiefs' biggest offseason acquisition so far has been free-agent running Thomas Jones.

Jones had career highs of 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns with the New York Jets last season, one year after he was 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.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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