November 18, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tackle Branden Albert (76) is injured in the second half of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bengals won 28-6. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Branden Albert's Back Is The Key To The Entire Chiefs Offseason

As I watched Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick do battle in the Super Bowl yesterday I was reminded once again of something we all know all too well, the KC Chiefs REALLY need a quarterback. Whenever a team needs a new QB it seems that nothing else matters. Its all the fans can talk about. It’s all the media wants to talk about. It’s almost all that us sports bloggers can write about. I agree that the decision of who will play QB for KC next season is probably the most important decision. However, there is another decision that KC must make first that will have a huge impact on who KC gets to play QB for them. That decision is what to do with starting LT Branden Albert.

Now, before I go any further, let me be 100% clear. If the Chiefs have no doubts about Branden Albert’s long term health then it would be foolish to not re-sign him. However, most KC fans seem to be taking Albert’s health for granted. Blogs and KC talk radio shows are filled with fans saying that it would be ridiculous to draft a LT at #1 overall when you can just re-segn the perfectly good LT you already have. The problem with that line of thinking is that back problems can be a BIG problem for offensive linemen if they become chronic. That is why the state of Branden Albert’s back is so important to the Chiefs offseason.

Now before you start flooding the comments section with things like “I heard it’s not that serious”, “Albert said he is 100% healthy”, and “I saw pictures of him on Twitter doing squats, his back is fine now.” Let’s just all be reasonable and say that none of us know what the long term condition of Albert’s back is. We don’t know if it’s 100% healthy and no more likely to get injured next year as any other NFL player or if he has a degenerative condition that will progressively get worse and worse until it causes him to retire. We don’t know. We haven’t seen his X-Rays. Of course Albert and his agent are going to say its fine, they want to sign a big, fat, long term contract. It’s also in the Chiefs best interest to voice concerns about his back (even if they aren’t worried) in hopes of driving his asking price down. So I don’t see any point in debating if Albert’s back is fine or a problem, because it’s all speculation.

I will say, once again, that if they feel his back is fine then they should sign him long term and put an end to the Luke Joeckel draft speculation once and for all. That is what I’m hoping for. I think most of you regular readers are already aware that I am firmly in the “Draft Geno Smith” camp at this point.

However, I do want to discuss what might happen if Albert’s back is deemed to be too risky by the Chiefs organization. As much as we’d all like to brush his injury aside, re-signing Albert with serious questions about his back could be a huge mistake for KC. Look at this last season with the Chargers and Jared Gaither. Jared Gaither missed the entire 2010 season with a bad back. Then in 2011 he signed with our own Chiefs where he never started a game and was released after ten weeks. He then signed with SD and started their final 5 games and looked great. So they signed him to be their starting left tackle for last season. Guess what happened after only 4 games though? That’s right, his season ended with back problems and the Chargers were left with a huge hole at LT which caused problems for their offense all season long. That’s the thing with these back injuries, a guy can be healthy for a while but eventually it could come back to bite you. Gaither looked great at the end of the 2011 season and I’m sure Chargers fans were clamoring to re-sign him the same way KC fans are clamoring to re-sign Albert now. Albert could be able to play a game today, but that doesn’t mean there might not be long term concerns about his back. Granted Gaither had a much bigger history of back problems than Albert currently has, but KC should do their due diligence in checking out his back before committing a lot of years, money, and the safety of their next starting QB to him.

Finding a left tackle is important for any team, but this offseason it is especially important for KC because it will shape what they do in the draft. Many like myself would like to see them take a QB with the first pick. However, if they don’t like what they see when they look at Albert’s back then it will be hard to pass up Luke Joeckel at #1 overall when he seems to be the consensus best player on the board. Do I want them to pick Joeckel? No, I don’t, but if they don’t feel they can trust Albert’s health then I would understand it. Especially since there doesn’t appear to be anyone that they could draft in the 2nd round that could walk in and start at LT on day one.

There are only three LT prospects that most agree could be starters as rookies: Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. All three are now seen as early to mid first round picks. So if they are looking for a new LT for next season the only pick in the draft that they could fill it with is their first round pick. Otherwise, they would have to look to free agency.

In Green Bay (where new GM John Dorsey comes from) they didn’t sign big name free agents. They built through the draft almost exclusively (Charles Woodson being the one exception). So going out and signing a LT like Jake Long would be out of character for our new GM. It could happen, but it seems less likely than drafting one to me. There are a few other LTs that could hit free agency if they don’t agree to new deals with their current teams. Those names include Atlanta’s Sam Baker, the Giants’ William Beatty, the Saints Jermon Bushrod, and the Broncos’ Ryan Clady. None of those players will come cheap (although all will probably be cheaper than Jake Long). So the question again is if Albert’s back is a problem, do you see an answer in free agency? Long may be available, but he’ll be VERY expensive and has some injury problems of his own. The other players may not even hit the open market. I just don’t see a great (or likely) solution in free agency and I certainly don’t like the idea of drafting a QB at #1 overall and protecting his blind side with Donald Stephenson.

So needless to say I’m anxious to see what happens with KC and Branden Albert. If they don’t re-sign him, I will assume it’s because of health concerns, not because they just want to pass on their own solid LT to draft another one. I’m thinking that before we get our answer on who the Chiefs QB will be, we will probably get the answer to what is going on with Albert. That answer could very well tip their hand on what they will do early in the draft. It should be very interesting.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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