Following their 2-14 showing in 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs entered the offseason with a very pointed agenda to assure a repeat would not occur next season. From the top of the organization down, changes have been made as the entire league now shifts its focus towards the NFL draft.
Free agency is fundamental in adding impact players and depth at certain spots along the roster. The purpose of the draft, however, is to build the base for which entire franchises are constructed.
By virtue of a tiebreaker over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City owns the No. 1 overall pick and the opportunity to land one of its organizational building blocks.
Though it would have been ideal for a team that endured such poor play under center last season to select the best signal-caller the collegiate game has to offer, this year’s crop fails to possess your typical franchise quarterback—someone the Chiefs could lean on from day one.
Instead, Kansas City addressed its quarterback woes by landing Alex Smith in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers and by signing former New Orleans Saint and Drew Brees' backup, Chase Daniel, to a free-agent contract.
While not widely popular—based on the Chiefs’ history of retread quarterbacks—this particular approach was best considering that any other move would have been a reach.
Other than quarterback, the Chiefs had a handful of key decisions to make in advance of the 2013 season; Branden Albert’s future in Kansas City possibly being the most important.
Drafted in the first round back in 2008, Albert has helped anchor the Chiefs’ offensive line while providing the franchise with a stable option at one of the most important positions on the field: left tackle.
Albert was in the midst of his best season as pro in 2012—allowing one sack, mitigating penalties and making an improvement in his run blocking. A back injury limited him to only 13 games (11 starts), however, which could be the source of Kansas City's concern in investing another long-term deal on the left tackle.
The Chiefs ultimately placed the franchise tag on Albert, which he signed this past week (via USA Today). He will receive a base salary of just over $9.8 million in 2013.
The franchise tag serves many purposes, but in the case of Albert it appears it was utilized so the Chiefs could buy more time to find a trade partner.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that Kansas City will indeed listen to trade offers for Albert. And ESPN's Adam Schefter outlines what exactly the Chiefs are seeking in return.
After signing right tackle Eric Winston to a five-year deal last offseason, Kansas City seemed set at the tackle position for at least the 2013 season. Instead, Winston was released and the need to shore up the offensive line is suddenly now the Chiefs' most glaring need regardless of Albert's future with the team.
Luckily for Kansas City, this year's draft has plenty of options at the offensive tackle position, as Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson headline the group. And the Chiefs are making it clear this is the direction they plan to go with the top pick.
Kansas City has worked out all three of the top left tackle options available (via NFL.com and Schefter). As the draft approaches, however, the Chiefs will have to narrow their choice down to who they see as the player who will make the most immediate impact.
According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Joeckel is the team's best option here.
Miller notes that every move the Chiefs have made this offseason points to the team using the top pick on an offensive tackle.
Miller had this to say of Joeckel's prospects as a pro:
Joeckel is a one-of-a-kind left tackle with rare quickness and pass pro sets coming out of college. He's as NFL-ready in the passing game as any tackle I've seen in my time covering the draft. Anyone who has watched an Andy Reid offense knows he loves to throw the ball early and often, making Joeckel an ideal fit as his left tackle.
There have been three left tackles selected with the No. 1 overall pick: Ron Yary (1968, Minnesota Vikings), Orlando Pace (1997, St. Louis Rams) and Jake Long (2008, Miami Dolphins). And their track records have been very impressive.
It appears Joeckel could be the fourth player on this short list. And if he follows suit, the Chiefs' gamble with their offensive line this offseason will have paid off.
Albert would obviously prefer to stay at left tackle for financial reasons, if not to keep his pride in tact. But Kansas City must do what is best for the long-term stability of the organization.
If trading Albert is the way to go, finding the best deal possible should be tops on Kansas City's to-do list. The Chiefs could also hope that the five-year veteran is willing to do whatever it takes to help this team field the most competitive roster possible in 2013 and make a position switch.
Regardless of Albert's future in Kansas City, however, all signs point to Joeckel protecting Alex Smith's blindside next season.
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