Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
From the FanPosts. Fun read. -Joel
Amidst rumors of Alex Smith, Geno Smith, and other potential answers at QB, anyone with an eye on the Kansas City Chiefs probably believes that the team will at least consider an offensive lineman with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. There are many factors involved, most of them rinsed and repeated in any relevant discussion, but perhaps the most important issue is how re-signing Branden Albert or a drafting offensive line prospects early--or both--would impact the team's salary.
Current Personnel Contracts
First, take a look at the list of non-minimum linemen whose current contracts with KC extend past the start of the 2013 free agency period. This list omits players who have minimum or near-minimum contracts (e.g. Russ Hochstein or Bryan Mattison), as they're frequently on and off practice squads, waivers, cut, re-signed, etc. The amounts are total cap figures, to include base salary, signing bonus, and miscellaneous bonus payments, per http://www.spotrac.com/.
2013 (current figure: $11.18M, or $2.24M avg for presumed starters)
Under contract: Winston $7M, Asamoah $1.5M, Allen $1.06M, Hudson $956K, Stephenson $664K
UFA: Albert, Lilja (retired)
2014 (current OL figure: $9.14M, $2.29M avg)
Under contract: Winston $6M, Allen $1.27M, Hudson $1.12M, Stephenson $754K
2015 (current OL figure: $8.28, or $2.76M avg)
Under contract: Winston $6M, Allen $1.48M, Stephenson $844K
Under contract: NA
UFA: Winston, Allen, Stephenson
KC could go into 2013 starting those five guys I've listed, at a bargain-basement price of $11.18M (just under $2.24M per starter), and with about $2-3M for depth, it could be a decent unit that would cost less than $15M total. That's not a bad place to be, but it clearly indicates that KC has plenty of money to spend before it approaches the league average, let alone qualifies as an expensive unit. For comparison, the San Francisco 49ers' top-five earners on the OL (Johnathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati, Joe Staley, Anthony Davis, and Alex Boone) are set to earn $15.96M, a $3.19 avg. I had a hard time finding a median or mean total salary for what NFL teams spend on their offensive lines, but the per Brian Burke, the Washington Redskins' total OL cap figure of around $20M was 17th in the league in 2011. If that number was accurate, and grew for 2012 and now 2013, the league average is likely no less than $22M.
Drafting OT at #1
Thanks to the NFL's recent revisions to rookie compensation rules, the top pick in the draft is far from the crippling financial burden many once considered it to be. Regardless of who the first-overall pick is, the incremental increase over previous years' picks in the same draft slot mean that his contract's basic framework is essentially known: 4yrs. at about $22.19M, a signing bonus of about $14.52 (prorated at $3.63M/yr) and cap figures in the ballpark of $4.04 in 2013, $5.05 in 2014, $6.06 in 2015, and $7.07 in 2016. Deviations of more than a percent in any direction are unlikely to occur, not to mention impossible to predict.
With those ballpark figures, here's how adding Joeckel, Fisher, Warmack, or any other lineman at No. 1 would impact KC's OL payrolls the next few years.
2013: $15.22M for top six linemen (draft pick, Winston, Allen, Asamoah, Stephenson, Hudson)
2014: $14.18M for top five (Asamoah UFA)
2015: $14.34 for top four (Hudson UFA)
2016: $7.07 (all others UFAs)
What a free agent is worth and what his contract eventually is are sometimes surprisingly different, but predicting surprise isn't worth the time. Branden Albert's value will depend on a number of factors, but for the sake of discussion, the major factors to consider are his quality, other teams' needs, and available talent in the draft and free agency.
One way to start is to look at what last year's top UFA tackles got for the first three years of their respective contracts: Winston $5.33M, Levi Brown $5.57M, and Gaither $5.5M. Oh, and Demetress Bell at $6.32M, but one might do well to disregard that deal for the sake of analysis/comparison, as it was structured with zero signing bonus to allow Philly to release him without cap penalty after the season, if they so wanted. They so wanted. Suffice to say Andy Reid was the target of no small criticism for the Bell deal.
Also consider the other OTs on the market this off-season. This is probably the deepest OT free agency market in years, as it includes Albert, Sebastian Vollmer, Bryant McKinnie, Andre Smith, Jake Long, Will Beatty, Phil Loadholt, Sam Baker, Gosder Cherilus, and more than a few other quality players. Oh, and Ryan Clady, although he's been F-tagged and probably won't hit the market. I'm not saying all of those guys are better than Albert, but some are, and some who aren't may be more appealing to coaches with certain schemes or value-minded pro personnel staffers. Furthermore, the rookie pool is famously strong at the top for offensive linemen, particularly at tackle. Given such a glut of available OT talent, it seems unlikely that Albert will cause anyone to break the bank. That said, many people whose entire careers revolve around NFL news are predicting just that, to the tune of figures like 5yrs $37M. Given the flooded market and injury issue, my completely amateur opinion is that Winston got: 4yrs. for $22M, and that Albert wouldn't get much more on the open market . But for the sake of argument, let's say he gets a 25% premium over Winston, landing at 4yrs. $27.5M, or $6.88M avg. The cap figures for that could potentially be $4.38M in 2013, $6.75M in 2014, $7.875M in 2015, and $8.5 in 2016.
Using the above figures, here's how adding just Albert would impact the next few years' OL payrolls:
2013: $15.56M for the top six linemen on the team
2014: $15.89M for top five (Asamoah UFA)
2015: $16.16M for top four (Hudson UFA)
2016: $8.5 (all others UFAs)
A Third Option?
Many have said that the choice is between drafting a tackle first or re-signing Albert, but how would doing both impact the OL payroll? Here's how.
2013: $19.6M for top seven
2014: $20.93M for top six (Asamoah UFA)
2015: $22.22M for top five (Hudson UA)
2016: $15.57 for top two (others UFAs)
Even factoring an extra $500K-1M per reserve, this option doesn't start looking more expensive than average until 2016 at worst. The figures don't account for holdouts, major injuries, or future additions on the OL via free agency or the draft.. They also don't account for the entire team's cap figures, but the point is that anyone of these three options wouldn't necessarily make KC's offensive line an expensive one in the near-future. Whether having Albert and using #1 on a tackle could result in impacts outside the OL, such as Bowe's potential departure or weaknesses at positions of greater need, the figures illustrate that any one of the three options may well be entirely viable.