Branden Albert is one of the better left tackles in the NFL.
The Kansas City Chiefs have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and there has been much talk about what the Chiefs could do with that pick. The quarterbacks in the draft aren’t considered to be worthy of the No. 1 overall pick even if that’s the Chiefs’ biggest need. New general manager John Dorsey has also stated that the Chiefs will draft the best player available.
With left tackle Branden Albert about to become a free agent, the Chiefs have a decision to make. If the Chiefs don’t give Albert the franchise tag, they will need a left tackle badly. Franchise left tackles aren’t typically available in free agency, which would mean the Chiefs would probably have to draft one.
The Chiefs could conceivably draft Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher, but that’s a horrible waste of the No. 1 overall draft pick. Joeckel or Fisher could very well be the best players in the draft, but the Chiefs would still be better off re-signing Albert and drafting a player at a different position.
What would be the better move?
Albert is a proven left tackle, and even if he isn’t elite, he’s a very good starter who has also stayed relatively healthy during his career. Letting Albert walk in free agency only to draft a left tackle with the No. 1 pick is just trading a known commodity for an unknown commodity at a reduced price.
The No. 1 overall pick is supposed to have a significant impact on the team. Even the most elite left tackle in the league would not have made much of a difference for the Chiefs in 2012 and wouldn’t likely have a greater impact on the Chiefs in 2013 and beyond.
Albert called into The Danny Parkins Show on 610 AM in Kansas City and stated emphatically that he was a left tackle and that he wanted to remain with the Chiefs. It became pretty clear that Albert would not be switching to guard.
The Chiefs could give Albert the franchise tag at the risk of allowing Dwayne Bowe to become a free agent or try to come to an agreement on a long-term contract with Albert that would keep him in Kansas City. The Chiefs should explore all options to keep Albert around as they put the No. 1 overall pick to better use.
According to ProFootballFocus, Albert allowed one sack, four quarterback hits and 12 quarterback hurries in 2012. Only three other left tackles allowed one sack or fewer. Despite playing only 12 games, Albert graded out as the ninth best left tackle in pass protection. Had Albert been healthy for 16 games. he could have been one of the top five pass-blockers in the entire NFL.
Albert didn’t fare as well against the run, but that’s to be expected because teams were loading the box to try to stop Jamaal Charles because there wasn’t much threat of the pass. Albert graded out positively as a run blocker by ProFootballFocus in 2011, 2010 and 2008, with a neutral grade in 2009.
Considering that Andy Reid uses the short passing game to mimic the running game and the fact that Charles averaged 7.9 yards per carry off left tackle in 2012 and 6.1 yards off left end according to ProFootballFocus, it’s safe to assume that the Chiefs should keep Albert around. Clearly Charles had no trouble getting the left edge.
Donald Stephenson played four games at left tackle in Albert’s absence and gave up five sacks, seven quarterback hits and nine hurries according to ProFootballFocus. Stephenson was a solid run blocker, but he didn’t look ready to take over a starting job in a pass-heavy offense.
The Chiefs have options with the No. 1 overall pick, but drafting a left tackle doesn’t seem like the best use of the resource even if the team had Joeckel or Fisher as their No. 1 overall player. There are handful of quarterback-needy teams that might want to jump in front of Jacksonville and Oakland for their guy, and the Chiefs could trade down and acquire additional picks if they aren’t sold on Geno Smith or another signal-caller.
After trading down the Chiefs could get offensive line help by drafting offensive guard Chance Warmack, defensive line help by drafting Star Lotulelei, a top cornerback in Dee Milliner or even Bowe’s replacement in wide receiver Keenan Allen. There are no shortage of options if the Chiefs can get out of the top few picks.
Trading down is an attractive option because the Chiefs would likely add a second-round pick in the process, which would give the Chiefs the freedom to target the second tier of quarterbacks while still adding another impact player. The only question will be if the Chiefs can successfully trade down and acquire adequate compensation.
Drafting a left tackle No. 1 overall while letting Albert go in free agency is just a waste of a valuable pick, even if Joeckel turns into a great left tackle. Drafting the best possible player makes a lot of sense, but wasting a valuable commodity to replace a free agent the team had the option to retain makes no sense at all.
Re-signing Albert should be a priority for the new regime in Kansas City, with the franchise tag as the obvious fallback option. Keeping Albert gives the Chiefs the freedom to draft a quarterback or trade down and stockpile valuable picks.