Eric Fisher stepped to the microphone Saturday in a cheerful, upbeat mood. He wore a matching smile on his face, knowing that just a few hours earlier, he’d not only become a richer man, he’d also taken another step toward validating his lofty draft status.
On Saturday, the Chiefs announced that Fisher — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft — had agreed to a contract extension with the club. The deal is a four-year extension worth $48 million, a source told The Star, including $40 million in guaranteed money and an annual average of $12 million per year.
“I think the best feeling, you know, is all the support I’ve been getting from my teammates in the locker room,” said Fisher, who thanked the Hunt family, the coaches and the fans. “Just building these friendships and bonds over the last four years ... we’ve got a really tight-knit group here and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey with them.”
It’s a journey that has not been without its pitfalls, either. While Fisher is now firmly entrenched as the Chiefs’ starting left tackle, the Central Michigan product certainly struggled as a rookie, as he dealt with a shoulder injury, a position change (from left to right tackle) and the significant speed difference between the Mid-American Conference and the National Football League.
His second year was only a little better, though the fact he played through an assortment of nicks and pains to start all 16 games — unlike his rookie year, when he started 13 games and missed the playoff game due to injury — and finished the season relatively healthy was a big deal. This allowed him to add some much-needed upper-body strength during the offseason for the first time in his career, a difference that was noticeable last year as he played with more aggression and gained confidence as the season went along.
Against the Steelers in mid-October, Fisher was flagged for defending a teammate who was getting his leg twisted in a pile by a defender. And against the Texans in the playoffs, he was caught delivering a shot to an on-his-knees J.J. Watt that caused Watt to leave the game. Fisher was booed by the Texans’ crowd immediately after the play, but he didn’t back down, and responded with a wave and a keep-it-coming gesture.
Fisher later said the moment a turning point in his career, at least when it comes to how people perceived him as a player. Shortly before last season, Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to move Fisher from left tackle to right right tackle for the Chiefs’ season opener against the Texans, meaning Donald Stephenson — who is now with the Denver Broncos — would be starting at Fisher’s old position of left tackle. Fisher ended being a late scratch from the starting lineup for the Texans game, and though he was battling a sprained ankle at the time, Reid had said earlier during the week that he’d expected Fisher to play. The late scratch prompted some to question Fisher’s toughness, something he’s indirectly hinted at using as motivation more than once.
“Obviously, I’ve been through my ups and downs,” said Fisher, who said he heard about the extension talks when he arrived in Kansas City a week ago. “But I’m putting everything behind me. I’m only looking forward to the future.”
Fisher, obviously, believes that future is a bright one.
‘It took me a while to adjust, get comfortable,” Fisher said. “I’m feeling great right now. Strong, confident.
“(I’m) just setting high goals for myself. Now that I know I can do it, I’m feeling good doing it. I really think the sky’s the limit for me. I just need to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one year at a time.”
Given the amount of money the Chiefs just committed to him, the club made a very public statement that it feels the same way.
“It’s an important position,” Reid said. “Being able to keep your offensive line intact is one of our goals, and he’s a big part of that.”
In a statement, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said Fisher has “grown significantly as a football player in our system.”
“He’s a tough, physical presence and a leader on our offensive line,” Dorsey said. “We look forward to keeping him as a part of our organization and community.”
The fact the Chiefs got a deal done with Fisher isn’t necessarily a surprise. For one, the Chiefs have a history of working with his agent, Joel Segal, who negotiated Justin Houston’s six-year, $101 million extension last summer.
The club also exercised his 2017 fifth-year option for $11.9 million several months ago, which was an indicator of the team’s belief in his long-term potential. The option was guaranteed for injury, which means he would have been paid even if he were to be seriously hurt in 2016. In the absence of injury, however, the Chiefs could have cut him at any time before the first day of the new league year in March 2017 and eliminated his cap charge completely. That would have been an option had he disappointed, but the extension, is an indication that the team feels Fisher’s best football is ahead of him.
Fisher is now tied with Dallas’ Tyron Smith as the third-highest paid left tackle in the league behind Washington’s Trent Williams and New Orleans’ Terron Armstead. Fisher and Philadelphia right tackle Lane Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, are the only first-round picks from their draft class to sign extensions.
But for Fisher to truly join the class of the league’s best tackles — which includes Smith, Williams, Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and others — bigger and better things, like a Pro Bowl, will need to be in his future. Fisher has some areas he’s still working on — like his technique in pass protection, for instance — but he’s never been more confident about his ability to do the job, at least physically. He said recently he weighed in at 315 pounds, a far cry from his reporting weight in 2013, which hovered around 300 pounds.
“Over the years, it’s always been really hard for me to gain weight,” Fisher said. “I think now that I’m getting older in my career, it’s a little easier to hold the weight over the long season. The first couple years, man, I was dropping too much weight. So I feel comfortable where I’m at. I think I’ll be here throughout the season.”
Reid certainly wouldn’t mind seeing that, in addition to consistent, continual improvement.
“I thought he continually got better last year,” Reid said. “I still think he has plenty of room to improve, and I think he’ll continue to do that. He’s got a good work ethic, and he’s kind of growing up before our eyes. He’s a young kid coming in from a small school and, going to the National Football League, he had some games that I know he wished he had back when he was young and had a couple injuries in there. But listen, he persevered through it and got rewarded for it.”