Six months from now, we might be writing a column about this very week in Donald Stephenson's life. That's because he could be looking forward to a major payday, courtesy of Andy Reid.
The Kansas City Chiefs head coach made the decision to roll with Stephenson at left tackle for the team's opening game against the Houston Texans on Monday, moving former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher to the right side, at least for the foreseeable future. It's hard to tell how permanent of a move this is. It's likely that Reid himself doesn't know it. But even just one week's reps will make at least some amount of difference in Stephenson's future earning power.
The free agent market will always reward certain positions more than others, and offensive tackle is certainly one of those positions. It's nearly impossible to find a nice starting option on the open market in the first place, at least without significant risk, and those few players are richly rewarded Chiefs fans will certainly remember Branden Albert reaching for the big bucks in free agency from the Miami Dolphins.
Left tackle Bryan Bulaga signed the biggest deal on the open market last year. The lineman could have tested the market, but used the leverage to re-up with the Green Bay Packers to the tune of a 5-year, $33.75 million contract. Bulaga is a very capable tackle, but comes with considerable question marks about his durability considering he's had two season-ending injuries in his short NFL career, including a torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season. Yet there's an even better comparison for Stephenson in right tackle Jermey Parnell.
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Parnell away from the Dallas Cowboys last March to a five-year, $32 million deal with $14.5 million guaranteed -- to keep him at right tackle. Parnell came into the league as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints in 2009 before bouncing to the Miami Dolphins and then again to the Saints in 2010. The Dallas Cowboys were convinced he could be an offensive tackle after the Saints attempted to use Parnell at tight end and along the defensive line, but even Dallas couldn't make it work. After five seasons in Dallas, Parnell still had only seven starts at right tackle.
All of this is very good news for Stephenson who comes with considerable question marks of his own. The talent has always been evident since the Chiefs first took him in the third round back in 2012, but a four game suspension kept Stephenson from helping to replace Branden Albert along the line. Even after his return, Stephenson failed to start a single game in a season for the first time in his career.
This season, however, is a blank slate. On Sunday, Stephenson is going to get a full game's worth of reps at the coveted left tackle position. If he performs well enough, even if that duty is limited with further changes from Reid, it should be enough to open the wallets of other NFL owners (or maybe Clark Hunt) to reward such promise. The Jags saw enough in seven starts from Parnell to set him up for life and yet they even kept him at right tackle.
If Stephenson shows above average starting ability on the left side, some team, including the Chiefs, will pay him to do just that. He might want to send Reid a thank you gift when and if that time comes.