Ed. Note: Every evening from now until July 26 – the day every Chiefs player is expected to report for training camp – we will countdown and discuss some of the more important questions for the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.
A journey that began back in February ends in July with the same conclusion: No long-term contract.
The debate over what the Chiefs should do with Branden Albert has been furious since Dwayne Bowe was handed a massive five-year deal and Albert was handed the franchise tag. There was no doubt the Chiefs could not afford to lose either of them this season, and the assumption was Albert would be given the long-term deal and Bowe would be tagged for the second year in a row. Of course, that’s not how it went down.
In retrospect, making Bowe the priority was the smart thing to do by new general manager John Dorsey. Finding a replacement for Bowe who was going to be able to jump right in and fill his production was not going to be as easy as finding a replacement at left tackle, especially since the best options for the Chiefs in the draft were two left tackles in Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. Overpaying Bowe to stay in Kansas City was worth it.
The inability to sign Albert made things more complex. Albert is replaceable as he is not the same kind of elite talent as Bowe is at his position. Many point to Albert allowing just one sack this season at left tackle but fail to notice the details that surround that statistic. First, Albert did not play in either game against Denver, meaning he avoided the otherworldly pass rushing skills of Von Miller. Albert also missed three full games and parts of two others due to injury, reducing his chances of giving up a sack significantly.
Second, the Chiefs rarely passed last season. Only three other teams in the NFL attempted fewer passes than KC did last year. This is likely in part due to poor quarterback play and because the offensive line as a whole could not defend the pass rush. Consider this: The Detroit Lions attempted 260 more passes than the Chiefs did last season but allowed 11 fewer sacks. KC allowed a sack on 8.2% of passing plays last season, with Eric Winston leading the way in sacks allowed with six.
Injuries and poor pass blockers meant there was little need to attack Albert’s side. Send a blitz up the middle or have your best pass rusher switch sides and go up against Winston. Why bother spending all of your energy trying to get past the Chiefs best offensive lineman?
Third, Albert’s back issues are of premium concern. Name a player in any sport who has had chronic back injuries and still performed at a very high level. That list is very short. Spending millions of dollars over a half-decade for a player with back issues is a terrible idea, especially when that player is above average when he is healthy.
With those three things said, there is still time for the situation to change.
Albert looked healthy during OTA’s in May and June and there were no reports of him aggravating anything in his back. There is always the potential the back injury was a one-time thing and Albert will be good go for the next five years without any issues.
Dorsey did end up going with Fisher number one overall in the draft, which will add pressure on the Chiefs to start him at left tackle soon in order to maximize his value. But if Fisher isn’t ready after his rookie season, then the need will be there for the Chiefs to retain Albert. A healthy season for Albert and a poor performance from Fisher could mean the Chiefs have little choice but to give in a little to Albert’s demands.
Still, a scenario that sees Albert signing a long-term contract with the Chiefs seems unlikely. Kansas City did spend the overall number one pick on a left tackle and Albert has been keen to let everyone know he is not moving to the right side. The Chiefs also have built in solutions in Donald Stephenson and Jeff Allen to play right tackle if Albert were to be let go.
As of July 16, the road between the Chiefs and Albert looks to have to paths: 1. Albert is franchised again and put back on the trading block with the Chiefs taking the same approach next offseason as they did this offseason, or 2. Albert is allowed to walk at the end of the season and enter free agency.
Albert wants long-term security and to be like a top left tackle. The Chiefs don’t have the money or the years to give him – and they shouldn’t give it to him even if they do manage to find the cap space and years. In all likelihood this will be the last season we watch Branden Albert in a Chiefs uniform.