There is a lot of speculation about what the Chiefs plan to do with Branden Albert. It’s been suggested that Albert play right tackle or move to left guard, but he’s resisted changing positions and the Chiefs have already signed a starting right tackle.
The Chiefs can keep Albert as their left tackle, but that might rule out drafting one No. 1 overall. The other options are to trade Albert or try to force him to move to left guard. It’s usually a bad idea for a new regime to create a rift when they can avoid it, which is part of the reason drafting a left tackle while Albert is still on the roster could be tricky.
There’s no guarantee that the Chiefs even want to draft a left tackle, so all the speculation could be a moot point by the end of April. What we do know is that the Chiefs are actively shopping Albert, according to Mike Garafolo of the USA Today. Although shopping Albert would seem to indicate they want to draft a left tackle, it might just have more to do with economics.
Now that Albert has signed his franchise tender, the Chiefs are free to trade him to another team. The teams that might be interested in Albert would need a left tackle—which is surprisingly short list. Any trade partner also needs to have a second-round pick to trade, the cap space to absorb Albert’s franchise tag and the cash to give him a long-term deal.
The Dolphins lost Jake Long to the Rams.
The Dolphins have the need, the cap space, the draft picks and a general manager desperate to win immediately. There isn’t a better trade partner out there than the Dolphins, especially since protecting their young quarterback is a top priority.
What it will come down to for the Dolphins is how much they like Albert and what they do in the draft. The Dolphins will pick 12th in the first round, which likely puts them out of range to draft one of the top left-tackle prospects. They could be looking to trade up to get one, but otherwise, they will likely have to consider other options to fill the need.
The Chiefs might have to wait until after they pick in the first round to unload Albert, which would obviously kill their leverage. If the Dolphins were to swing a trade to get a tackle in the draft, the Chiefs would also have one less trade partner. The best-case scenario for Kansas City is if the Dolphins start to get desperate, which could just be a matter of time.
Miami still has plenty of cap space to add Albert, with more than $15 million in available room according to both spotrac.com and overthecap.com. The only obstacle is the Dolphins' interest level, which is totally unknown at this point.
Jeff Backus retired and the Lions don't have a viable replacement.
The pass-happy Lions have a new toy in running back Reggie Bush. If there is one thing both a quarterback and running back need, it’s a left tackle. Jeff Backus retired, so the Lions have a big hole at the position. The Lions also lost right tackle Gosder Cherilus to free agency, so they could be a plausible trade partner.
Unlike the Dolphins, the Lions are in great position to draft a left tackle should they want one. The Lions select fifth overall, so they will probably be at least one left tackle prospect available to them. The good news for the Chiefs is that the Lions have needs on defense and could fall in love with a pass-rusher or a cornerback.
The bad news for the Chiefs is that the Lions don’t have much salary-cap space and recently restructured the contracts of Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson. Part of the challenge with Albert is finding a team that can absorb his $9.8 franchise tag, even if only temporarily while they work out a long-term deal.
The Lions have less than $9 million in cap space according to spotrac.com and overthecap.com, but they might be able to make it work if they really want Albert. Would the Lions be so motivated to get Albert that they would give up a second-round pick and go through a hassle of trying to find the required cap space? It’s a long shot, but it’s more feasible for the Lions than most teams.
The Cardinals haven't had a good offensive line in years.
One of the teams most commonly linked to left tackles is the Arizona Cardinals. It makes perfect sense because the Cardinals have had a terrible offensive line for many years now, and protecting the quarterback is going to be even more important in Bruce Arians’ deep-passing offense.
If the Cardinals draft a big-armed quarterback like Mike Glennon, they will need to upgrade their protection for a rookie signal-caller. Since the Cardinals draft seventh overall, there is a good chance one of the left tackle prospects will be available. It makes the most sense for them to take a guy like Glennon in the second round.
For the Cardinals to be a good trade partner, they would need to believe Drew Stanton is a quality starter or select a quarterback in the first round. Since all the big-armed quarterbacks that fit the Cardinals can probably be drafted later, their interest in Albert is probably low.
Arizona has the necessary cap space to bring Albert in, but they are a team with many other needs to address. It’s worth making a phone call, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Cardinals aren’t interested.
King Dunlap signed with the Chargers.
Could Andy Reid be doing business with his old team? The Eagles lost King Dunlap to the Chargers and had a make-shift offensive line in 2013. Philadelphia also hasn't done a thing to address the offensive line in free agency, which could mean they are looking to the draft or exploring lower-level free agents to fill their needs.
The Eagles also have a ton of cap space according to spotrac.com, which means they could easily absorb Albert’s contract. The biggest obstacle to a trade with the Eagles is that they have the No. 4 pick in the draft. Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson could fit Chip Kelly’s offense better than Albert and would cost much less.
The fit might not be right and the Eagles might be reluctant to trade for a player Reid doesn’t want. How much interest the Eagles have in Albert might be tied to what they plan to do with their first-round pick. If the Eagles plan to use it on defense, than it becomes much more realistic for them to explore a trade for Albert.
The Chiefs might be stuck with Albert, but they knew that was possible when they gave him the franchise tag.
There are a few other teams that could use the services of Albert, but don’t have the draft picks or cap space to make it a reality. A team also has to be motivated to make such a big deal, which is a lot less likely if they have an elite quarterback that can avoid taking sacks. The Steelers and Saints are the best examples.
Even if the Chiefs were to accept a third-round pick for Albert, there might be lukewarm interest from some teams.
The most realistic option remains the Dolphins because they are the only team with the need, cap space, picks and motivation to make a big move for a left tackle. The Dolphins will probably be out of position to draft a top left tackle, and their second-round pick will be more expendable because it’s in the middle of the round.
The Dolphins also made a hard push to keep Jake Long, which means they are willing to give a long-term contract to a left tackle. In short, Miami is the only team that seems to fit all the prerequisites to be an ideal trade partner for the Chiefs, so if they don’t like Albert, the Chiefs could be stuck with him.
Getting stuck with Albert is something the Chiefs decided was okay when they gave him the franchise tag; that’s the choice the team made at the time. Clearly the Chiefs feel like Albert is worth something; otherwise, there would have been no reason to tag him.
Where it all gets interesting is if the Chiefs draft a left tackle with Albert still on their roster. Kansas would have a serious logjam at tackle and might have to drop their asking price. The Dolphins might only be willing to move a third-round pick on draft day or a future pick, which might ultimately be more acceptable than trying to shuffle three offensive tackles around for a year.