The Kansas City Chiefs would be foolish to trade offensive tackle Branden Albert, even if the franchise is in the perfect position to take Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Despite being in a position to form one of the NFL's most formidable offensive lines in the league by allowing Albert to hang around, new head coach Andy Reid and his staff are actively shopping the veteran tackle and have named their asking price (h/t Adam Schefter):
Chiefs are seeking a second-round pick in this year's draft as well as another pick in 2014 in a trade for franchise OT Branden Albert.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 22, 2013
The asking price for Albert is not outrageous by any means. He's played at a consistently high level since being selected in the first round of the 2008 draft, and he has acted as the anchor over the years while he protected the blind side for his quarterbacks.
What will cause some hesitation with any potential suitors is his recent injury history. Albert missed three games last season with a back injury but has missed just four games overall during his four-year tenure in Kansas City.
Reid and Co. slapped the franchise tag on Albert, so he'll be guaranteed $9.828 million in 2013, according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today:
Chiefs OT Branden Albert has accepted his franchise tender. Will sign it soon. $9.828 million for this season. Smart move.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 18, 2013
Presumably, the Chiefs used the tag as a way to give themselves more time to get value from Albert's departure. Any team that wants to trade for him now also has to sign him to a long-term contract, something the Chiefs and Albert are still reportedly far apart on, according to Peter King of SI.
While the extra picks would be nice, keeping Albert around for at least 2013 is the smart play for the franchise. After all, this is the man who ranked as the No. 25 overall tackle in the NFL last season in Pro Football Focus' rankings (subscription required).
Albert was experiencing his best year as a pro last season before he succumbed to injury. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not he is fully healthy and will be the same, but Albert himself makes a very compelling argument on the matter (h/t Mike Garafolo, USA Today):
I just had nothing more than back spasms (last season). I tried to come back early and it flared up again. I haven't had any setbacks or things I couldn't do because of my back. That's the God's honest truth. If there was something wrong with my back, do you think the Chiefs would franchise me and give me $10 million?
The man has a point. He passed a physical with the team before Kansas City made the investment to franchise tag him. It's a "prove-it" deal, and the Chiefs would be wise to keep him at left tackle.
There are three possible things that happen with Albert playing in Kansas City next season. One—he can't stay healthy and the Chiefs let him hit free agency but have an elite rookie to replace him. Two—Albert plays at a high level and agrees to a long-term deal. Three—Albert plays at a high level and is traded for even more value than he would garner this offseason.
Options two and three are great. If Albert is healthy, it's a major win for the organization. It either keeps him around for years to come, or reels in an even bigger haul via trade.
The Chiefs are going to be hard-pressed to find the value they are looking for this offseason anyway thanks to his injury status. Teams such as the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins are in desperate need of a tackle, but not at the price Kansas City wants for Albert.
Furthermore, there's no guarantee that, as promising as they look, either tackle the Chiefs could land early in the draft won't be a colossal bust. The last thing the Chiefs need is to trade Albert and end up with a bust who cannot protect new quarterback Alex Smith.
Kansas City should focus its energies on trading out of the No. 1 overall pick rather than dealing Albert. The haul for trading down would be absolutely massive when compared to what the team could land in return for Albert. Not to mention quality tackles could still be found at whatever spot the team trades down to in the first.
If Reid and Co. are serious about making the best possible moves to improve the franchise this offseason, Albert needs to be in a Chiefs uniform in 2013. (The one exception is if a team gives up an Oakland Raiders-Carson Palmer-like haul in exchange, but we won't get into the ridiculousness of that move.)
Albert doesn't want to play anywhere but left tackle, and that's perfectly fine. Take a rookie with the top pick, or trade down and do the same. A year is a long time, and it's hard to tell how the situation will play out, but keeping a stellar talent around like Albert makes sense for the time being, especially if he helps the team contend for the weak division.
What's best for the franchise is to keep Albert around for the length of his franchise tag, and then make a decision after next season.
There are too many positives surrounding the Chiefs organization right now to simply trade away one of its best players at one of the most important positions in all of football.
For now, Albert has to remain in Kansas City.
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