Analyzing Best Potential Fits for Free-Agent OT Branden Albert
In the NFL, there truly is no offseason. The dust had no sooner settled on the Seattle Seahawks' victory in Super Bowl XLVIII than teams were already casting their eyes toward the upcoming crop of free agents.
Among them, offensive tackle Branden Albert is sure to draw a ton of interest.
So to speak.
The seventh-year veteran, who started 12 games at left tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, is set to hit the open market after playing under the franchise tag a year ago.
As Danny Parkins of 610 AM in Kansas City tweeted Wednesday, the Chiefs are apparently prepared to let Albert walk, confident that 2013 first-round pick Eric Fisher can slide into his slot.
There should be no shortage of suitors for a player Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller ranked 13th among NFL left tackles entering last season.
After all, tackle is a premium position. The number of teams that need a trustworthy blindside protector is probably larger than the number of those who don't.
In the words of B/R NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter, "Branden Albert is a good pass-protecting left tackle, so Branden Albert is worth his weight in gold."
With that in mind, here's a handful of teams who definitely need to pick up the phone when free agency opens on March 11. They have the cap space to absorb a big contract and the postseason aspirations to motivate risking that cap space on an expensive veteran signing.
Most of all, they have a need at the most important spot on the offensive line.
Salary-cap data courtesy of Spotrac (subscription required).
Offensive line rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
2014 Salary-Cap Space: $33.6 million
2013 Offensive Line Rankings: 24th (run), 25th (pass)
Over the past couple of seasons, Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has shown he isn't shy about making "splash" signings.
The Colts were one of the most aggressive teams in the NFL in free agency last year. That aggressiveness carried over into the season, where Grigson traded Indy's first-round pick in 2014 to the Cleveland Browns for running back Trent Richardson.
That mentality alone is probably enough to get Albert on the Colts' radar, especially since the lack of a first-rounder this year means the Colts' best chances at an "impact" signing lie in free agency.
Add in the struggles of an Indianapolis O-line that PFF ranked 25th in the NFL in pass protection a year ago, and Albert starts making more and more sense for the Colts.
Yes, three-year veteran Anthony Castonzo was OK for the Colts in 2013. In fact, Castonzo placed one slot higher than Albert in Pro Football Focus' overall ratings at the tackle position.
However, Albert was a much more effective pass-protector. Where both players allowed four sacks on the season, Castonzo allowed three times as many hurries in 2013 (39) as Albert (13).
The Colts may want to be a power-running team, but as presently built, they're a team that will go as far as Andrew Luck's right arm takes them.
That makes protecting his blind side a rather large priority, and Albert is an upgrade on Castonzo in that regard.
New York Giants
2014 Salary-Cap Space: $12.7 million
2013 Offensive Line Rankings: 18th (run), 31st (pass)
Granted, if last year was any indication, stating that the New York Giants have postseason aspirations in 2014 is stretching the term.
Like Kevin James in a Spider-Man suit stretching it.
However, let's not forget it wasn't that long ago (all of two years) the Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after downing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
Since then, though, the team has struggled, in large part because of a leaky offensive line.
The Giants' 40 sacks allowed in 2013 ranked in the middle of the pack league-wise, but it only tells part of the story. As a unit, only the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line received a lower grade last year from PFF than New York's.
Let tackle Will Beatty was most assuredly part of the problem. The sixth-year veteran allowed an eye-popping 13 sacks last year, the most surrendered by any tackle in the league.
Beatty allowed a sack every 78.4 snaps in 2013. Albert, on the other hand, allowed one every 200 snaps.
The Giants don't have a ton of cap space (just under $13 million), which presents the biggest hurdle to New York signing Albert, but there are ways to generate more cap room.
What the Giants need to do is generate a way to keep Eli Manning off his back.
2014 Salary-Cap Space: $19.3 million
2013 Offensive Line Rankings: 22nd (run), 16th (pass)
The football gods giveth, and the football gods taketh away.
The Atlanta Falcons learned that the hard way in 2013. One year after finishing 13-3 and earning the NFC's top seed, the Falcons free-fell to 4-12 and out of the playoffs altogether.
As the smoke clears from that smoking crater, the Falcons face a number of tough decisions, including how to get better in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
The Falcons ranked in the middle of the pack statistically in both sacks allowed (41) and pass blocking at PFF in 2013.
However, of the 76 tackles ranked at Pro Football Focus in 2013, only one received a lower grade than Lamar Holmes, who made 15 starts for the Falcons a year ago.
Sam Baker, whom the Falcons handed $41 million to in the offseason last year, wasn't much better before a knee injury ended his season after four games.
The Falcons all but certainly don't see themselves as a four-win team, and with over $19 million in cap space, the team could afford Albert.
As ESPN's Vaughn McClure reported recently, Albert's name came up in a conversation about potential free-agent targets for the Falcons at January's Senior Bowl. Recently hired assistant general manager Scott Pioli also has ties to Albert from their time together in Kansas City.
Don't be surprised if this isn't the last time we hear the pair linked before all is said and done.
2014 Salary-Cap Space: $11.6 million
2013 Offensive Line Rankings: 26th (run), 32nd (pass)
As Josh Weinfuss of ESPN reports, according to Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, an upgrade at left tackle is "not the most glaring need" for the team in 2014.
Well, Arians is either sandbagging, stoned out of his mind or has never actually watched left tackle Bradley Sowell play.
Yes, to be fair, the Arizona offensive line was better in 2013 than it was in 2012.
Of course, after allowing 58 sacks two years ago, there really wasn't anywhere to go but up.
The line may have gotten better as a whole, but Sowell still stood out for all the wrong reasons.
The third-year pro ranked dead last at his position last year at PFF, while also placing last in pass-blocking efficiency, a metric that measures how effective a tackle is in pass protection on a per-snap basis.
With the immobile Carson Palmer under center, blindside pass protection carries an even higher than usual premium for the Cardinals. To have literally the worst player in the NFL at a job doing said job full time does not bode well for the Redbirds' chances of improving on last year's 10-6 campaign.
Albert would be a significant upgrade, one that's worth making room for under the salary cap in the Valley of the Sun.
2014 Salary-Cap Space: $31.5 million
2013 Offensive Line Rankings: 29th (run), 15th (pass)
What can you really say about the Miami Dolphins offensive line in 2013?
At least that can be printed?
No team in the NFL was worse at protecting the quarterback last year. The team allowed a league-high 58 sacks. Tackles Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie, who ended the season as the starters, surrendered 18 between them.
Now, Clabo and McKinnie are both headed for free agency themselves. So, probably, is youngster Jonathan Martin, who appears to have worn out his welcome with the team more and more (per Bleacher Report's Erik Frenz) with each new revelation regarding his interactions with former teammate Richie Incognito.
In other words, not only was the Dolphins O-line terrible in 2013, but those terrible players may be headed out of town.
The Dolphins need help up front in the worst way imaginable, and with well over $30 million in cap space, they can afford to get it.
The Dolphins discussed a trade for Albert last year before the draft, but the deal fell through.
ESPN's James Walker expects the new regime in Miami to take another pass at Albert:
The Dolphins had a chance to land Albert from the Chiefs last season. Kansas City drafted rookie offensive tackle Eric Fisher with its top pick and was looking to ship Albert for a solid draft pick. However, former Miami general manager Jeff Ireland was unwilling. It was a decision that proved costly. The Dolphins set a team record for quarterback sacks allowed (58) while Albert went to another Pro Bowl. Miami's next general manager has a shot to bring Albert to Miami, but it won't come cheap in free agency.
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