Don't Expect Branden Albert to be a Chief Much Longer
By Eric Paolini
After the Kansas City Chiefs’ train wreck of a 2012 season ended, left tackle Branden Albert was slated to enter free agency unless the two sides agreed to a new contract. The five-year pro (at the time) was due a hefty raise. Albert never saw free agency after Kansas City assigned the franchise tag to him.
Kansas City then spent the rest of the offseason fluctuating between trading Albert or signing him to a long-term deal. Neither scenario happened. Now a year later, Albert and the Chiefs face the same situation, with one big difference. The franchise tag is not an option this year. If Kansas City opts to use the tag again on Albert, the tackle will receive a larger one-year deal for being franchised two years in a row. Kansas City would have to pay Albert approximately $12 million.
In all likelihood, Albert will hit the free agent market with a strong possibility of changing addresses. While team hasn’t issued any official statements, reports from Kansas City suggest this is inevitable.
Kansas City does have apparent replacements already on the roster: Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson. Taken first overall just last year and coming off a rocky rookie season, Fisher is the much more known player. Fisher is chock full of upside and potential, and his inaugural professional season isn't cause for concern.
Stephenson was taken in the third round in the 2012 draft. Playing the “swing” tackle role, Stephenson has gotten on the field fairly often in each of his two professional seasons, starting seven games each year.
How Kansas City decides which one of these players will start at left tackle remains to be seen. Even though Fisher played on the left side in college, he played the entirety of last season on the right side. Stephenson played games at both spots last season. I would assume Fisher gets the job on the left side. With Fisher the better prospect with more money invested in him, it would make sense to put him at the most important tackle position.
The consensus seems to be that Albert will most assuredly not be a Chief next season.
After already cutting Dunta Robinson, the Chiefs don’t have too many other obvious cap-casualty prospects to clear up the cap room needed to bring Albert back.
If Albert does indeed reach free agency, he’ll be one of the premier left tackles on the market. The Pro Bowler’s price tag will most likely be on the higher end of contracts given out this year. His services will surely be in demand, even if his current team has shown very little interest in keeping him around in the past year.
Unless Fisher takes a step forward in 2014, the Chiefs will feel Albert’s loss. The ends of the offensive line will be manned by youngsters with limited experience. While Stephenson performed adequately last season and Fisher is still the top prospect he was only a year ago, two very important positions are being controlled by players whose production next season is up in the air.
However, the Chiefs’ disinterest in Albert is not necessarily a mistake. If Fisher develops the way the organization expects him to, having both him and Albert on the roster in a few years would not be wise. The Chiefs have a roster filled with large contracts and that will only increase in future years. If Fisher can duplicate Albert's production, or close to it, over the life of his rookie contract, the Chiefs can use the difference to address other weaknesses on the roster.
Teams generally don’t like losing Pro Bowl players in their prime, but that’s what will probably happen with the Chiefs this offseason.