Neither relaxed nor content provides an accurate description of Chiefs lineman Austin Reiter’s demeanor when he spoke with reporters on Friday. If anything, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Florida native was at ease with the fact that he’d found an organization that valued him enough to invest in him on more than a day-to-day basis.
Reiter, 27, has spent time with three organizations since entering the NFL as a late-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in 2015 (seventh round, 222nd overall). He’s bounced back and forth between practice squad and being placed on the 53-man roster. A season-ending knee injury in what should have been a career benchmark, the first start of his career, wiped out an entire year with the Cleveland Browns.
This week, the Chiefs signed Reiter to a two-year contract extension worth up to $5.5 million that included a $1 million signing bonus. It also served as a sign that the Chiefs, who claimed him off waivers at the end of the preseason, see him as part of their future.
“I really enjoy it here, and I’m glad they feel the same way about me,” Reiter said. “I like winning. I love the environment here. Everybody here, since I’ve got here — from the coaches to the players — they’ve all welcomed me with open arms and really helped me along.”
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After having spent time on both the practice squad and the 53-man roster with Washington in 2015, the Cleveland Browns signed Reiter off the Washington practice squad to their active roster in September 2016. His first career start in the NFL came in October 2016 against Washington, but he suffered a torn knee ligament in that game.
Cleveland released him at the end of preseason this year. The Chiefs claimed him off waivers and released Bryan Witzmann in order to add him to their roster.
“I think as an offensive lineman you’re just taught to work,” Reiter said. “It’s a pretty selfless position, and ever since the start of my pro career, I’ve just been told by numerous people around me, ‘Work, keep your head down and just do the best you possibly can and your opportunity will come.”’
Reiter was inactive for the first five games of this season, but he started games against Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams after injuries sidelined starting center Mitch Morse, starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and backup lineman Jordan Devey.
“I learned about the kid,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “The kid takes a tremendous amount of pride in working hard. He takes a tremendous amount of pride in not taking anything for granted in the classroom. He takes detailed notes, understanding that playing the center position there’s a lot of communication that you have to learn and have to learn real fast and be able to spit it back to others.
“One thing I do know, the kid is very cerebral and he does not take anything for granted. Those are the types of kids that we want.”
Morse, who had been in the NFL’s concussion protocol, stepped back into the starting lineup last weekend against the Oakland Raiders, which put Reiter back on the bench.
Reiter’s first extended playing time as an NFL starter only served to validate his confidence in his ability to perform. The contract extension and pay raise — Reiter made $630,000 in base salary this season — let him know the Chiefs view him as more than exclusively a fill-in or stop-gap player.
From the Chiefs’ vantage point, the deal provides at worst a reliable insurance policy if injuries hit the offensive line in the future and at best a player who could be a potential starter in the future.
“I think (what that means) for me is to just keep doing what I’ve been doing, be ready to compete, be ready to play,” Reiter said.