The first overall pick in the NFL draft can change a franchise's course for decades—for better or for worse.
As the final seconds clicked off a fantastic Super Bowl and we crowned the Baltimore Ravens as world champions, eyes turned toward April and the draft. For many teams, especially those who have been effectively "out of it" for months, the draft has been a needed diversion.
Clearly, the Kansas City Chiefs have an important decision to make.
John Dorsey was brought over from the Green Bay Packers (where he served as director of college scouting) to be the new general manager and to clean up the Scott Pioli era. Andy Reid is the new head coach and hopes to rekindle some of the magic he had while he kept the Philadelphia Eagles on top of the NFC for the better part of his tenure.
While the Chiefs have a recent history of picking high up in the draft order, Dorsey and Reid do not. Both of those men would be far more comfortable (by experience alone) in the mid-to-late portion of the first round. Depending on how this pick goes, the Chiefs will hope to never be picking this highly ever again.
Which scenarios will the Chiefs be looking at for the No. 1 pick? Let's lay them out, shall we?
Trade the Pick
The first scenario for the first overall pick is that the Chiefs don't make it at all. It's also the least likely scenario, and the scenario that is almost always tearing up message boards, comment sections and sports-talk radio phone lines.
Who wouldn't like their team to end up with multiple picks in the first round multiple years in a row? Who wouldn't like a few picks, a few valuable players and a load of cap flexibility that comes with not having to take a guy first overall (even under the new rookie cap)?
Of course it makes sense!
Of course, that's why it doesn't make any sense for a team to trade up there.
Compounding the normal amount of insanity it would take for another team to want the first overall pick and mortgage their future enough to trade upward, there isn't a rock-solid No. 1 overall prospect this year. There is no Andrew Luck, and there isn't a Robert Griffin III. There isn't even a Sam Bradford.
This is the catch-22 of drafting. The moment there's a player worth trading up for, any team trading out of the pick would be crazy to do so. For every team hoping to pull a "Herschel Walker-type deal," there has to be a sucker trading away the franchise on a wing and a prayer.
Who might play the sap in this scenario? It's a long shot, but a team like the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions or New York Jets could talk themselves into being only one pick away. (Note: They are not, but good choices aren't exactly hallmark characteristics of those organizations.)
If that were to happen, it is likely Luke Joeckel would be the first pick. With Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan returning to school, Joeckel and Eric Fisher are the only elite left tackle prospects in the entire draft. If a team isn't sold on Fisher, they could view Joeckel as a must-have.
It helps the miniscule probability of this happening that Philadelphia, Detroit and New York all could use a boost in pass protection.
Again, not saying that those organizations (or any other) should make this deal, or even that they would. It's a pipe dream for lots of Chiefs fans.
So Much Depends Upon a Chief Named Albert...
Branden Albert is a free agent this offseason.
While Albert played guard at Virginia, he was chosen by the Chiefs to be an offensive tackle. There have been bumps and bruises along the way, but Albert performed admirably this season. He's 28, about to hit his physical peak and is a known commodity.
That said, Albert has a business decision to make. He doesn't want to play guard because guards don't make the kind of money that tackles do. If he's thinking about money (and, frankly, he should be), he's not coming back for cheap. In a league that is starved for pass-blocking, Albert could earn a pretty penny on the open market.
It would make life easy for the Chiefs if Albert were up to a position change or if he were interested in some sort of hometown discount, but it's his job to maximize his earnings. It may not be in the best interest of the franchise, and it may not make fans happy, but we can't begrudge the man for doing what he's supposed to do.
If the Chiefs don't want Albert to hit the open market, they will likely need to use the franchise tag on him. That would pay him like a top-five left tackle.
The problem with that is that Albert isn't a top-five left tackle. Depending on who one asks, he's likely not even top 10.
Sure, when one factors in age and ceiling, his worth is magnified. Still, if the options are between paying Albert like a top-five tackle and letting him walk, it wouldn't be crazy to think the Chiefs are planning his farewell party.
Option No. 1: Let Albert Walk, Draft Joeckel
Joeckel is the top overall prospect in this class, but it's not as clear cut as people think. He's not Joe Thomas, and he's not Jake Long (though, being the latter isn't as laudatory as it used to be).
Some questioned whether he was even the best tackle prospect at Texas A&M. Fisher is probably closer to Joeckel as a prospect than those two are to Lane Johnson—the next tackle on many boards.
Joeckel is more technician than mauler. He has a prototypical left tackle build, long arms and is able to keep his back straight through his block. With a smooth kickslide, he can cut off pass-rushers from the outside, and he's athletic enough to keep them from beating him with a double move.
Immediately speaking, Joeckel may not be a better player than Albert in Year 1, but his ceiling is higher (if only based on age alone). Joeckel has all the tools to be a top-five tackle in the NFL. So does Albert, but Joeckel has more time to get there.
Keeping Albert and drafting Joeckel could be a possibility, but in the salary-cap era (especially with a static cap over the next few years), having so much money in two linemen isn't a tenable situation. Eventually a quarterback will command that money; at least any quarterback who would lead the Chiefs back to prominence.
Who would be that passer? Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn are probably out of contention. With so many legitimate Pro Bowlers on the Chiefs in 2012, it's clear that anything resembling competent quarterbacking would've led to more wins.
Alex Smith may or may not be available this offseason. Mike Vick likely won't be. Matt Moore enters the spring as the top free-agent passer, unless someone wants to take a chance on David Garrard or JaMarcus Russell.
In the short term, Alex Smith and Luke Joeckel probably aren't selling a lot of tickets, but it will win a bunch of football games with Jamaal Charles pounding the rock and that defense keeping opponent's scoring low.
Long term, it's a lot harder to find a franchise quarterback anywhere that isn't the top of the draft.
Option No. 2: Keep Albert, Draft a Quarterback
Doesn't it just seem like quarterbacks always seem to go at the top of the draft? In fact, it doesn't just seem that way; that's the reality of the situation in today's NFL.
Over the last 10 years, eight quarterbacks have gone first overall. The only other positions that have had that honor during that time frame are offensive tackle and defensive end. Historically speaking, that makes Star Lotulelei, Dee Milliner or Chance Warmack all extremely unlikely as top pick.
What about a defensive end? Well, the problem there is that the Chiefs have already put together a pretty solid 3-4 defense, and they have two of the better 3-4 OLBs in the game (Justin Houston and Tamba Hali). Reid is sticking with that defense, and that leaves guys like Jarvis Jones, Bjoern Werner and Damontre Moore without a chance.
It would be career suicide to draft a quarterback without protection, though, so that means Albert likely needs to stay. Maybe not for long—a franchise tag to make sure his career is really on the upswing—but having a guy enter the "David Carr School of Quarterbacking" isn't exactly a proven career path to success.
Who might that quarterback be? Geno Smith is the top quarterback on a lot of boards. He has the arm strength, accuracy and athleticism to succeed at the next level. He's not perfect and will need plenty of work before he reaches his potential, but Reid is likely up to that challenge.
There are other quarterback prospects with even more pockmarks that could entice the Chiefs. Tyler Wilson is a fearless competitor with all of the physical tools. Mike Glennon has the size, the arm and Mel Kiper's blessing.
Ryan Nassib has shot up draft boards now that Doug Marrone is an NFL head coach. He's the personal pick of former NFL personnel man Russ Lande (now with National Football Post).
By the way, don't come into this situation thinking the Chiefs can find their quarterback later in the draft or next year. Know what happens when you wait for a QB? One never comes along.
That QB you want your team to target in the second round, someone is probably targeting him before you. That QB you want your team to target next year, his stock could take a nosedive, or he could suffer injury before the next draft.
If a team needs a quarterback and has a chance at a one it likes, it has to take him. If not, those personnel guys better start updating their resumes—what's left of them after such a terrible mistake.
Long term, Smith and Albert are probably more valuable, but there seems to be more risk with Smith than with Joeckel. To take a QB that high means that team needs to be "in love" with that QB—like "Bieber fever" kind of love.
Over the next few months, Dorsey and Reid are going to try to find that kind of love for Smith or one of the other quarterbacks. It's an important position, and teams aren't really looking for Band-Aids in the draft.
Make no mistake about it, though: The Chiefs need a quarterback, and they certainly might need a left tackle by April. With due diligence over the next few months and a decision on Albert, the Chiefs will get to decide between Joeckel or Smith.
It doesn't look like there's really any other option.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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