Branden Albert and the words "former Chief" are likely to become linked sometime soon in this NFL offseason after the unsurprising news broke at the Combine that Kansas City was likely to let their longtime left tackle walk in free agency (even though GM John Dorsey said they're still talking to him).
With multiple suitors looking for help along the line, Albert is in line for a large paycheck. Given the Chiefs' roster depth and financial situation, retaining Albert just doesn't make sense. We all know that by this point.
While free agency brings the promise of great rewards for players, it can also bring some uncertainty. After all, there are always veterans each year who misjudged the market and took far less in the end than desired (last year's OT market ring a bell?). What does this mean for Albert, who will turn 30-years-old during the 2014 season? It means he's in line for a major contract because he's hitting the market at the perfect time.
Albert is the top tackle to hit free agency this offseason, and several NFL teams are in need of an established anchor on the left side. Some teams will strike in a loaded draft with prospects like high-end Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews. However, the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals are two teams that will be happy to get into the conversation about paying Albert.
The market has already been set with the news that Jason Peters re-inked with the Philadelphia Eagles to the tune of five years and $51.3 million with $19.55 guaranteed. Teams also have millions more to spend in the open market given the increased salary cap space. That is good news for top-tier veterans entering the market.
How much will Albert command?
While other free agent vets like Michael Oher, Eugene Monroe and Jared Veldheer could help rein in costs, the reality is that Albert is the best tackle available. Peters locked in a $10 million yearly average despite being 32 years old and missing all of the 2012 season due to injury. For those who want to bring up Albert's age or penchant for missing a few games over the years, that point has been rendered mostly moot.
Last year, the market was set after the Denver Broncos locked up Ryan Clady to a five-year, $52.5 million deal that included $33 million in guaranteed money. Clady was 26-years-old, a three-time Pro Bowler and an iron man who had started every game through his first five seasons in Denver before signing that lucrative deal. Albert won't garner that much in guaranteed cash.
Still he should land north of most of last year's free agent crop. William Beatty signed a five-year deal averaging $7.5 million a year with the New York Giants. Jermon Bushrod signed for slightly less per year with the Bears over the same time frame. Jake Long inked a four-year, $34 million deal with the Rams, so there's an example of less security for more per year at $8.5 million.
Given the Eagles' willingness to go to five years and nearly $20 million guaranteed for Peters, potential destinations for Albert are going to have to be willing to do the same. To sign Albert long-term should require a five-year contract at an average of $10-plus million per year. Perhaps $11 million would set the new market.
Prediction: Albert gets a five-year, $54 million deal with $22 million guaranteed.