Happy offseason everyone! Free agency is a little over a month away and many fans (and rightfully so) are focused on adding a piece here and there to improve an already solid Chiefs roster. Often lost while analyzing potential additions, however, is identifying who the Chiefs may lose to free agency for the 2014 campaign.
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to break down every current Chief who is due for a new contract. Kansas City is in some cap trouble this offseason and many of these players have played their last down in the red and gold. Who should the team bring back? Who should they let go elsewhere? Let’s get started with the Chiefs’ biggest (both literally and figuratively) free agent: left tackle Branden Albert.
Player: Branden Albert
Position: Left Tackle
Status: Started 12 games at left tackle in 2013 and was voted to the Pro Bowl.
Situation: Unrestricted free agent. Albert played this past season under the team’s franchise tag.
Albert was drafted in 2009 with the vision that he could be the Chiefs’ left tackle of the future. The team was in the midst of an enormous rebuild (or as I like to call it, the “dark ages”) and was looking to fill the void left by Willie Roaf several years prior and, for the most part, Albert has delivered. He’s had a history of injuries, most notably his back troubles in recent seasons, and has only started 16 games once in a season. But, while healthy, Albert has provided stability at arguably the most important position on the offensive line and played at a very high level while doing so, culminating in his Pro Bowl nod this season.
Albert played under the franchise tag last season, making just over 9.8 million. For those of you not familiar with how the franchise tag works, it essentially acts as a one-year deal with the “tagged” player that pays him the average of the top five salaries at the tagged players position. Albert is once again a free agent, however, and the Chiefs have three options in how to proceed.
1) Sign Albert long-term
A borderline elite left tackle such as Albert will command a major payday on the open market, and I doubt he would give Kansas City much of a hometown discount. Jake Long landed a 4 year, 34 million dollar deal last season, and Albert could very well get even more.
2) Franchise Albert again
Just like they did last offseason, the Chiefs could franchise Albert again. His cap number would jump to a whopping 11.8 million, however, which would severally cripple a team already in significant cap trouble.
3) Let Albert Walk
The third, and most likely option, is letting Albert sign elsewhere. The Chiefs have glaring needs at other areas (safety, corner, wide receiver) and have other players set for a major payday (Justin Houston, anyone?). They simply may cut their losses and use the money Albert would have demanded on improving the team in other areas.
I like Albert and think he’s a tremendous player, but it may be time to move on from him. The duo of Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson is just too cost efficient to give Albert an enormous contact while the performance drop off, while noticeable, isn’t staggering. Fisher was drafted for this very purpose and if he struggles, Stephenson has proven he can hold his own. The Chiefs would be smart to sign or draft a swing tackle to fill the role Stephenson played this season in case of injury, but when it comes to Albert, he very well may of played his last game as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.