It was the biggest decision for the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason. It was, however, one they had been planning to make.
The writing had been on the wall for some time for offensive tackle Branden Albert. Despite 83 starts in 85 games for the Chiefs since KC had drafted him in 2008, he had also become an expensive player. That's to be expected when dealing with veteran left tackles, and general manager John Dorsey knew he had a major decision to make.
It was news to no one that Dorsey was going to let Albert earn his money elsewhere. After the Chiefs gave Albert the franchise tag for the 2013 season, signing Dwayne Bowe to a long-term extension instead, it was clear Albert was on the outs. Albert was only going to get more expensive if the team was going to franchise him again, and forcing a player of Albert's stature -- one that warrants an extension -- to play things out on a yearly basis doesn't exactly build good will for the long haul. Trade rumors surfaced (with the Dolphins, actually) even as mentions of a potential contract were being discussed. When the Chiefs took Eric Fisher as the No. 1 overall selection in 2013, Albert's days were officially numbered. There was no way two players with such investments (and talent) would co-exist on the same line.
Fast forward to Week 3 in the NFL, Albert will facing his former team for the first time in his career. It will be interesting for everyone to see Albert in white and aqua green, and for many fans, it will be a chance to see a former favorite. But it's also a good time to ask the question: Did the Chiefs make the right decision?
The Dolphins landed Branden Albert on the open market to the tune of a five-year deal worth $47 million. It's a healthy contract for a 29-year-old player, but Albert made the Pro Bowl last year and has only missed 13 games in six seasons. Given the other options in free agency, Albert was the best player available.
The Chiefs were likely going to have to put up a similar amount to keep Albert on the roster, and given the commitment to Bowe along with several other high priced deals for players like Tamba Hali and Eric Berry, the Chiefs had little wiggle room for further long-term moves. Remember, they already dumped Brandon Flowers and still had yet to sign Justin Houston and Alex Smith. Only one of those is done with Houston still waiting his turn.
The contract signed by Albert is easy on the current cap, with a cap hit of only $4.225 million, so the Chiefs could have potentially squeezed him in for this year and pushed back the biggest hits to later years. But given the first round investment on Fisher and the presence of another young competent starter in Donald Stephenson, Dorsey had built a scenario where it didn't make sense to keep Albert around any longer.
What if ... ?
In an alternate universe where Dwayne Bowe does not receive $56 million, you have an entirely different scenario. The Chiefs could have extended Albert for $10 million less than Bowe, franchised their top wideout and focused on finding his replacement in the offseason rather than Fisher. But clearly most teams felt a very thin 2013 draft was loaded with offensive linemen.
Fisher was just one of several offensive tackles taken near the top, along with Luke Joeckel of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles. If the Chiefs were focused on replacing Bowe and / or adding help on the outside, there was no player there to take at the top. Tavon Austin was the top wideout taken in 2013, but he's hardly resembled the predicted difference maker for the St. Louis Rams. Cordarelle Patterson would look great playing in Arrowhead, but no one knew he'd be this good.
If anything, the Chiefs would have taken another top-rated player, maybe even a tackle anyway or someone like pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah, and then addressed receiver later on in the third round. (Remember they traded the second round choice for Alex Smith.)
The (early) results
Let's just say the early results are mixed at this point. Pro Football Focus has Branden Albert as the top tackle in the NFL through two games, while Eric Fisher comes in at No. 63. Fisher didn't receive high grades for his work in Denver last week but it's interesting that several of those watching the game, myself included, disagree with that assessment.
All of this is not to say that Branden Albert isn't missed. He is. With Donald Stephenson suspended and the team's injury report, the Chiefs would be a better offense with Albert around. If we lived in our alternate universe and the Chiefs still selected Fisher, perhaps the Chiefs would enjoy great bookends with the best swing tackle in the game.
But in year one post-Albert, the Chiefs have a player with cap hits of just over $6 and $7 million over the next two years who could grow into a competent and consistent performer up front. That's much cheaper than what they'd have to pay Albert to play the same position.
Albert and Fisher show us that Dorsey's decision looks fine if -- and this is the big "if" -- the money saved is spent properly on other positions. Given the massive amount of money given to Bowe, the Alex Smith extension, and the lack of security for Houston, plotting the Chiefs finances looks a bit disconcerting.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $350,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 3's NFL games. It's only $10 to join and first place wins $30,000. Starts Sunday, September 21st at 1pm ET. Here's the link.