Five possible deals just waiting to be made.
As much as I hate to acknowledge it, it does seem to be a fact that the Chiefs’ starting left tackle, Branden Albert, is on the trading block. In hopes that it will mollify my/AP’s confusion and disappointment over this issue, I thought I might think out loud about the trade scenarios that might work for both the Chiefs and prospective trade partners. This will be pure speculation on my part, of course, but it might give us an idea of what will go down when the NFL Draft takes place. Oh, and as is my habit, this post is too long. It does have headings, though, so it should be easy enough to navigate.
Setting the Table, Part 1: the Quality of Albert’s Play
Branden Albert wants to be paid like a top-5 tackle, but is he worth it? Many people have written intelligently on this topic, so I’ll just link to some posts, add some choice quotes, and let you decide.
"While Albert has to do what's best for him -- seek elite money at a potentially league-wide overpaid position -- the Chiefs also have to do what's best for them: not overpay. For anything."
"I don’t know how to describe his pass blocking technique except to say that it’s never the same thing twice. He’ll get hunched over, on one foot, or sometimes completely turned around. But no matter what his body position looks like he always keeps the rusher away from the quarterback, and at the end of the day that’s what the job is."
"This year, I’m not sure that there are five better left tackles in the AFC, and since the NFC tackle core is shockingly thin, that may extend to the entire NFL. Duane Brown and Ryan Clady are the only two that I would put ahead of him."
Setting the Table, Part 2: Contracts for Left Tackles in 2013
The data come from www.overthecap.com and are derived by sorting on the ‘total value’ of the contracts and then calculating the average and median values for each category. Amounts are shown in millions of dollars.
|Total Value||Avg Per Year||Total Guaranteed||Guaranteed Per Year||Percent Guaranteed|
|Duane Brown||7 years, 2012-'18||53.40||8.90||22.08||3.68||41.40%|
|Matt Kalil||5 years, 2012-'16||19.77||4.94||19.77||4.94||100.00%|
|Sam Baker||6 years, 2013-'18||41.10||6.85||18.25||3.04||44.40%|
I added the contracts for Duane Brown, Matt Kalil, and Sam Baker as possible benchmarks for what a contract for BA might look like. Brown started on his second contract in 2012, and it’s at the high end of the range that Branden Albert might get. Baker’s extension kicks in this year and represents the low end of Albert’s scale. Kalil was a rookie last year, and his contract represents what Joeckel or Fisher will likely get.
Whilst there’s a vast difference in terms of the total value and the average per year (APY) between the vets and the rookie, the guaranteed money is a lot closer. As we should all know by now, it’s the guaranteed money that counts, no matter the length and total value of a contract,. In this regard, Kalil’s guarantee ranks 4th amongst all NFL tackles, and he is already being paid like a top 5 player!
Viable Trade Partners
As the contract overview demonstrates, teams that want an established left tackle will have to pay for the privilege, whether the player is a rookie or not. So trading for Branden Albert makes at least as much sense as trading up to draft Joeckel or Fisher. Any team that makes this trade will likely meet each of 3 criteria:
1. The team has a strategic need for a top-tier tackle. It’s not enough for a team simply to want to upgrade. Instead, the team must also feel some urgency, either because it is on the verge of making the playoffs or because it is well into its championship window and wants to make the most of the opportunity.
2. The team has the cap room to sign BA to a long-term deal. As we’ve seen with the Dwayne Bowe contract, this could mean that the team needs to clear just enough space to pay Albert’s salary for 2013.
3. The team has tradable assets, either in the form of draft picks or players. I’ve identified 5 teams that seem to meet these conditions and I’ll discuss them in order of their 2013 draft position.
The Lions made the playoffs in 2011 and regressed badly in 2012 when a tougher schedule exposed their flaws. Then they were caught off-guard by the decision of the incumbent left tackle, Jeff Backus, to retire. Since they have the 5th pick, they could just draft a pretty good tackle from that position. However, this would come at the cost of ignoring other needs, and I believe the team is maneuvering to jump back into the playoffs immediately. Detroit has run more pass plays than any other team in the last two seasons, and for good reason: the Stafford to Johnson connection is the best in the league. Trading for an established tackle whose strength is pass-protection is such a no-brainer that I can’t believe it hasn’t already happened. Their 2013 cap figure is currently at $107m, leaving plenty of room to sign both Albert and their rookies. Though they are not exactly flush with them, they do have draft picks available in 2013 and 2014 to make a deal.
What’s the difference between the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals? About a hundred points or less than a touchdown per game. Cincy’s offense scored 103 more points than their Dolphin counterpart, and the Bengal D gave up just 3 more points than Miami. The Dolphins lost 5 games by a margin of 5 points or less, so those 100 points largely explain the difference between 10 and 7 wins and between making the playoffs and staying home. Miami used free agency to improve at WR and TE, but in losing Jake Long to the Rams, they have taken a step backwards on the offensive line. The recent seasons in Philly, Arizona, and Chicago should all serve as a warning to Miami: the most dynamic players can’t help you much if you can’t protect your QB. The team has the draft assets – extra picks in rounds 2 and 3 this year and a full slate of picks next year – to solve their problem. The question is whether they will trade up to draft Joeckel or Fisher or deal for Branden Albert. KC could use the same arguments with Miami as with Detroit: trade for the experienced player at left tackle and use that first round pick on the explosive Tavon Austin.
The New Orleans offensive line has a tougher job than most. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), quarterback Drew Brees held the ball longer than 2.6 seconds for 54.6% of the 696 times he dropped back to pass. That’s more drop-backs than all but Andrew Luck. In 2011, Brees held the ball for 49.5% of such instances. This isn’t a large sample size, and the data only goes back to 2011, but it’s still a pretty safe assumption that Brees has held the ball dangerously long for about half of his snaps while playing for Sean Payton. What’s more, the Saints’ starting left tackle in 2012, Jermon Bushrod, just signed with Chicago. New Orleans did sign the draft bust from 2009, Jason Smith, they have salary cap problems, and they don’t have a second round pick in this year’s draft (remember bounty-gate?), so they appear to be an unlikely trade partner. However, the Saints still need a bona fide left tackle, and they do have restricted free agent rights to Chris Ivory, a very promising young running back. "Where there’s a will, there’s a way;" this trade could happen.
Max Starks, the man who played every snap at left tackle for the Steelers in 2012, was a free agent at this time last year and became a free agent again this year. He still has not been signed, and that tells us what we need to know about him. Given that the Steelers have 3 OTs on their roster, that 2 of them ended up on injured reserve last year, and that Ben Roethlisberger is getting a leeetle too old to take the pounding (PFF reports that he suffered 29 sacks, 29 hits, and 175 overall pressures in 2012, 9th worst in the league), you could argue that Pittsburgh could use some more help at the position. They have the cap room, believe it or not, and they have the standard set of draft picks. What isn’t clear is whether they think Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert will endure and perform in 2013, or whether the team feels sufficient urgency to invest in a franchise tackle. This much is obvious: the Steelers’ championship window is closing and it behooves them to do what they can to prop it open while their Hall of Fame QB still has a working right arm.
I know, I know. Green Bay is ever the donor and rarely the buyer when it comes to shopping talent. This off-season is no different: the team has signed only one free agent off another team’s roster. Obviously, Green Bay has gotten by pretty well with serviceable tackles in Marshall Newhouse and Brian Bulaga. Nevertheless, I feel that the Packers are tempting fate. Newhouse has given up 16 sacks, 14 hits, and 71 hurries in the 2 years since he entered the starting lineup. And that comes when "protecting" a mobile Aaron Rodgers. What happens if Rodgers gets a little gimpy and can’t run so well? He’ll be a sitting duck. Yeah, I’m working pretty hard here to amp up the urgency needed for the Packers to make a trade, but they do have to worry about how long their championship window will remain open with Rodgers at QB. Peyton Manning is considered a bit of a disappointment for his lack of playoff success, and Green Bay fans have to be anxious about the same thing happening to Rodgers. Green Bay has the money, the draft chips, and the Dorsey connection. Maybe this will be the year they make a deal.
This Is the End
There you have it: five possible deals just waiting to be made. Of course, any team that trades for Albert will want some assurance that they can sign him to a longer term contract. Up to this point, Albert has talked like he believes he’s a top-5 tackle and will insist on being paid as such. Having done all of this research about left tackle contracts, I’m less skeptical now that a top-5 payday is within BA’s reach. I wish him and the Chiefs the best of luck. The opportunities are there, they just have to know how to get to yes.