Kansas City Chiefs LT Branden Albert is running out of time to ink a long-term deal with the team.
The Chiefs used the franchise tag on Albert and will have to pay him a hefty sum this season on a one-year deal unless the two sides can reach a deal for a long-term agreement. The deadline to do so is July 15th.
If the Chiefs and Albert can’t reach a deal by the deadline, Albert will play under the franchise tag for the duration of the season and the Chiefs will not be able to strike a new deal with the LT until after the season.
While it would be terrific if the Chiefs could lock up Albert now, there is absolutely no reason for them to overpay him. The team has the advantage on a number of fronts.
1. They still hold Albert’s rights next year
That’s right. Though it is unlikely the Chiefs will want to pay Albert two huge one-year deals in a row, the team can still use the franchise tag on him one more time if they wish. That gives the Chiefs enough leverage to not panic.
2. Eric Fisher
The Chiefs just selected Eric Fisher at the top of the 2013 draft. KC knows pretty much what it has in Albert. A good, if not unspectacular, LT.
Fisher is still a bit of a question mark. The Chiefs will have him on a rookie deal for a few years but if he turns into a top player, KC is going to eventually need cap space to pay him. GM John Dorsey may want to see what he has in Fisher before he commits a massive amount of money to Albert.
3. Donald Stephenson
Andy Reid seemed pretty high on Donald Stephenson during OTAs. Keeping Albert under the franchise tag for 2013 enables the coaching staff to evaluate their other offensive tackles during the season. Remember, the Chiefs are switching to a whole new offense and the blocking schemes so we have no idea how Stephenson will perform under Reid.
4. Long-term cap security
We like to go on and on about how talented the Chiefs are and how many Pro Bowlers the team has. Well, all that talent comes with a price. Also, if the Chiefs turn things around and start winning, it will because other players step up. While it is not impossible for a team to be a Super Bowl contender with a low payroll, it is hard to stay that way for very long. Top teams have stars and stars are expensive.
Reid and Dorsey did a good job of locking in KC’s core players. Thanks to some bargain contracts designed by former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, players like Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers and Jamaal Charles are locked up as bargains.
But players like Fisher, Eric Berry and Justin Houston are eventually going very expensive (though to be fair, Berry isn’t exactly cheap) so Dorsey needs to be very careful how he spends the team’s future money.
Some moves, like locking up Dwayne Bowe, were no-brainers. KC has no depth at WR. But the offensive line is young and talented. Dorsey can afford to wait a year to see what he has.
5. Albert’s stock could drop
Nobody wants Albert to play poorly, but the LTs stock could drop in 2013 for a number of reasons. Say Albert gets injured and only plays half the season. The Chiefs might move Eric Fisher over to LT or inser Donald Stephenson. If Stephenson plays well, close to the level of Albert, the Chiefs could feel good about letting Albert test free agency.
An injury could also lower Albert’s asking price, giving the Chiefs the chance to sign him at a team-friendly deal.
I want Branden Albert back as much as anyone. But what I also want is for the Chiefs to become a long-term NFL powerhouse. Signing Albert, who has never played at a Pro Bowl level, to a long-term, big-money contract, could be dangerous for the Chiefs. Keeping Albert on the franchise tag this season ensures he will continue to play hard because he’ll want to keep his value high for next offseason. It also affords the Chiefs great flexibility, leverage and time to develop and evaluate their other young offensive lineman.
The Chiefs may get a deal done with Albert before the deadline, but if they don’t, it won’t be the end of the world.