Two weeks ago, I made the case for why I thought the Chiefs should give DE Tyson Jackson a big thank you hug and then let him go in free agency with Allen Bailey taking over in his place.
I think the Chiefs should do the same with LT’s Branden Albert and Donald Stephenson, and reports suggest that such a move is likely.
The argument is simple: Stephenson is a starting-quality tackle and we can’t afford to keep Albert anyway. However, unlike with Bailey, who I think could star with extra snaps, the Chiefs’ approach to the LT position this offseason is more about financial necessity.
As has already been discussed on the site, Albert will hit free agency as his franchise-tag deal expires and is gone. There should be no doubt about that. If the Chiefs could not agree to a contract extension with Albert back when they were swimming in cash, there is no way that they are going to do it now that they are desperate to get squeak under the cap.
I’ve actually read a lot of angst in the comments about this reality, with many skeptics saying this illustrates a defeat on the side of GM John Dorsey. I strongly disagree.
Last year, the team was trying to shore up multiple positions at once, it was faced with a player that wanted a lucrative, long-term extension when the team knew that seeking the best value at the 1st overall draft spot was going to mean replacing that player long term. So, they chose the middle path and I think it has worked out for all sides. Albert earned himself $9.828 million under the salary cap and he gave the Chiefs a pro-bowl season and a playoff berth. He also gave the Chiefs time to develop the two guys that are lined up to replace him — neither of which were ready for the job at the beginning of last season.
In Stephenson’s first action as a starter this season, he was replacing that draft pick, Eric Fisher, on the right side, and was awful. Pro Football Focus gave him a combined score of -11.4 against the Giants and Titans in those two games, but “held his own” when replacing Albert on the right side against Washington. He also was graded positively in two more games he started at right tackle later in the season, including the second-highest overall grade for the team in the final game against the Chargers, according to PFF.
That switching back and forth with Fisher may continue to happen throughout the offseason. Like Stephenson, he was dreadful at times in the first half of the season, but came on stronger towards the end. Commentators regularly suggest that he needs to improve his upper body strength and should be greatly improved after a full offseason at the Chiefs’ facilities.
Overall, I don’t think its the worst idea to allow Stephenson and Fisher to compete for the LT slot early in the offseason. After all, I assume the team would like Fisher to end up there long term. But, it’d be good to have the tackle situation settled sooner rather than later as these two are young and their play would most likely suffer if they’re changing positions multiple times during the season.
The key to this plan is one of my “no-brainer’s” from December — re-signing Geoff Schwartz. Not only did Schwartz end up with the best PFF grade among Chiefs O-linemen at +18.6, he has experience at both guard and tackle and provides versatility and insurance should either Stephenson or Fisher struggle in a serious way. It’d also be nice if the team could bring back RG Jon Asamoah (whom Schwartz replaced late in the season), but he will likely command starter’s money in the offseason and money is something the Chiefs do not have.
It appears this is going to happen.
Again, in a perfect world the Chiefs would be able to find a way to keep all of their best players until retirement, but that’s not the way the league works and this turnover at the tackle position actually shows that Dorsey knows what he is doing. We had a guy who wanted a big pay day and a long-term deal that we wanted to replace with younger players. Those players weren’t ready, so we cut him a check for $9.8 million and he gave us a great season. Now, those cheaper, younger guys are ready to replace him and he can get paid somewhere else. That’s good management at work.