KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 02: Defensive end Jared Allen #69 of the Minnesota Vikings goes up against offensive tackle Branden Albert #76 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter on October 2, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs defeated the Vikings 22-17. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
While the team has been content to turn over the starters along the interior of the line, tackle is likely to be a different story.
The Denver Broncos have some major investments to protect at quarterback starting this season with the signing of new starter Peyton Manning from the Indianapolis Colts. That task of protecting him belongs to Ryan Clady and the Broncos are reportedly hoping to lock up Clady with a long-term agreement. The sides, for now, are far apart, but they also serve as a proper lead-in to the season ahead for the Kansas City Chiefs and their own left tackle, Branden Albert, as well.
Albert is set to be a free agent this next offseason, same as Clady, and both teams are looking to protect their protectors, so to speak. Clady has been regarded as a top notch left tackle in the NFL with two Pro Bowl nods in 2009 and 2011. However in the middle of that was a knee injury in 2010 that could affect his stock -- Pro Bowl last season or not.
Despite the injury, Clady is ready to be paid as one of the elite left tackles in the league. The team reportedly offered Clady an average of $10 million per year over five seasons, but Clady wants $11.5 million. That's quite a bit of money but it's not a gap too large to overcome and the team and player will likely settle somewhere in the midst of that for the long-term.
What does this mean elsewhere in the AFC West? For Kansas City, they face their own showdown with Albert in the same offseason as several other players: Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, Dwayne Bowe and others. Jackson is not technically a free agent in 2013, but with $14 million owed him next season, this is definitely a contract year of sorts. Thus, the Chiefs have a significant number of major decisions to make -- not including facing another year of questions at quarterback if Matt Cassel cannot make a leap forward.
If Clady can turn down $50 million, what does that mean for Albert? What should the Chiefs offer a player like Albert and is he worth it? It's hard to imagine that anyone would place Albert as a top five offensive tackle in the game. However, Albert definitely deserves more accolades than most would likely give him.
Albert has started 60 games in four seasons, averaging 15 starts per year. That sort of longevity and stability is difficult to find and Albert has made strides every year as both a run and pass blocker. He's a consistent, foundational player at a pivotal position where such players are hard to find and it's hard to imagine the Chiefs would let him go, considering they just addressed tackle as a weakness on the opposite side. Now they have dependable anchors in place as they move forward.
The only downside would be if Albert simply flunked the Chiefs' transition to a zone blocking scheme and somehow Donald Stephenson was a prodigy as this year's third round choice. However, that's not likely to happen. Albert is a great athlete without any real weakness in his game, and Stephenson is a developmental prospect chosen for his ability to play the swing tackle back-up role for a team that was perilously thin at the position in 2011.
It's safe to say, then, that Albert is likely to be the priority for a team with many personnel decisions ahead. While the team has been content to turn over the starters along the interior of the line -- watching Brian Waters and Casey Wiegmann walk in successive offseasons -- tackle is likely to be a different story. The Chiefs are likely going to have to match the deal that Clady turned down -- five years at $10 million per -- to earn Albert's signature and even that might be setting things a bit low.