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Oct. 09, 2011; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney (93) tries to get around Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert (76) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory credit: Michael Hickey-USA TODAY Sports

The Answer Is Albert

When last we spoke, Chiefs brass were headed for Indianapolis to attend the 2013 NFL Combine. It was precisely there, in Lucas Oil Stadium, where I believed the team could find answers about their future at quarterback. Seven days later, Kansas City is covered in snow and shrouded in speculation about Alex Smith. There have been rampant rumors that the Chiefs may already have a trade deal in place with San Francisco. It’s often said that where there is smoke there is fire, but the reports are far too conflicting to provide any real answers for the inquiring minds of Chiefs Kingdom.

It’s hard to make sense of all of the information available, but I’m not sure we have to. I think there’s one primary factor that will ultimately decide the course the Chiefs will take at quarterback. That factor is Kansas City’s left offensive tackle Branden Albert. It’s his fate with (or without) the organization that will determine who calls the signals at One Arrowhead Drive next season.

According to a report by USA Today, Albert did his part by passing a team physical a few weeks ago. It’s now up to John Dorsey and Andy Reid to decide if Albert is healthy enough to warrant a new contract. I suspect that successfully re-signing Branden Albert would require a six-year deal in the neighborhood of $54 million (think Duane Brown). That’s a big commitment for the front office to make and if there’s any concern about Albert’s back holding up, the Chiefs won’t pull that trigger.

Several national reports suggest that the Chiefs are quite fond of Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel. Draft experts believe he’s the best option for the Chiefs’ #1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. It may seem to be counter-intuitive to let a proven player walk for one who hasn’t played an NFL down, but he’s widely considered to be one of the best prospects at any position in this draft class. He’s certainly a safer alternative for the franchise if there are doubts about Albert’s durability.

If the Chiefs are unable to reach an agreement with Albert, they still have until March 4th to retain him by applying the franchise tag. That’s the last day a team can designate either the franchise or transition tags to retain a player. Using the tag would guarantee Branden Albert roughly $9.6 million for 2013 and give the team additional time to get him locked up to a long-term contract. Bear in mind, the tag could also be applied to retain the services of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. That seems like a less likely scenario, since Bowe was tagged in 2012. The rule requires NFL teams to pay either the 2013 number ($10.3 million for wide receivers) or 120% of the previous year’s salary. Dwayne Bowe made $9.5 million in 2012 and would be due approximately $11 million next season.

I expect Albert to be tagged if the Chiefs sign Dwayne Bowe to a new contract prior to March 4th. If the two remain untagged when the designation period ends, Albert will mostly likely hit the open market. There’s some thought that the presence of Ryan Clady, Jake Long, and three NFL-ready left tackles in the draft (Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson, and Eric Fisher) will keep the market for left tackles modest. The Chiefs will have a chance to make a fair market offer to keep Albert, but he’ll be unrestricted and free to sign with another team. If Albert defects for another NFL city, it all but guarantees that they’ll take Luke Joeckel with their top draft choice.

If the Chiefs tag or re-sign Branden Albert, Joeckel won’t be an option for the Chiefs’ #1 pick. The announcement of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei’s heart condition is expected to lower his draft stock, effectively removing him from the conversation as well. By the process of elimination, Geno Smith would quickly become the favorite to land the top spot in Kansas City’s 2013 draft class. It’s been rumored that the Chiefs are shopping the #1 pick, but a trade-down scenario seems improbable given the top talent available this year. There isn’t much of consensus about who the top five players in this draft are.

So there you have it, Addicts. Branden Albert is either the gift or the curse. The next six days are crucial to the future of the quarterback position in Kansas City. If you’re on the Geno Smith bandwagon (you should be), root for Albert to be re-signed or tagged. If you prefer another San Francisco backup or one of the alternatives in a weak quarterback class, root for the front office to let him walk. Just remember that Oakland also needs help at the quarterback position. Do you really want to see Geno Smith lighting us up for the next decade in the silver and blech? I didn’t think so.

Until next time, Addicts!

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