From his home in Texas, Eric Winston followed the Chiefs’ offseason developments with a lot of interest for someone just one season into a four-year contract.
Once the team was able to retain its other starting tackle, Branden Albert, with the franchise-player designation early this week, Winston sensed his time in Kansas City might soon be finished.
His hunch was confirmed Wednesday when the Chiefs called him to say he would be released.
“Anytime you have a new (administration) come in, it’s a possibility,” said Winston, who returned to Kansas City on Thursday to take his exit physical with the Chiefs. “They’re going to take a hard look at everybody. They wanted to go in another direction. They felt like the best path for them as a football team was to go another way.
“I think it was a philosophical thing. They probably wanted to get a little younger.”
Perhaps to save some money as well. By placing the franchise tag on Albert, the Chiefs are committing almost $10 million to him. Winston was scheduled to make a salary of $4.9 million this year.
Winston said the Chiefs did not ask him to accept a reduction in pay.
“Anytime they commit a lot of money to a guy on the (offensive) line, they’re not going to keep a bunch of money out there,” he said. “That’s kind of how they’re structuring the salary cap. I thought with Branden being tagged it was going to be me or him (to go). It was kind of a 50-50 shot, and they decided to go with Branden.
“They didn’t say this, but I’m sure the (NFL) draft has something to do with this, too. As many highly rated tackles as there are, that’s probably a logical way for them to go. You’re not going to pay three guys a bunch of money. If the draft maybe was different, my situation would be different. If they had let Branden test the free-agent market, maybe my situation would be different.”
The Chiefs have options for what last year was Winston’s starting spot at right tackle. They could select Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M or Eric Fisher of Central Michigan with the first overall pick or another tackle prospect later in the draft.
Or they could acquire a free agent after the signing period begins next week. Or they could go with Donald Stephenson, their third-round pick from last season who wound up starting seven games as a rookie.
Whatever they do, they will move on without Winston, who said he intends to play somewhere next season.
“I’ve got a few more good years left in me,” Winston said. “I’m going into year eight. My goal has always been to try to play 10. We’ll see if I can get there or not. I don’t know what kind of market there will be for right tackles.”
Winston played just one season for the Chiefs, but his time in Kansas City will be remembered for years. His signing last year as a free agent from Houston was widely hailed by Chiefs fans as a good move at the time.
On the field, Winston’s level of play was probably about what the Chiefs expected. But he became a polarizing figure in Kansas City when, after an early-season game against Baltimore, he was critical of some Chiefs fans for what he said was cheering after an injury to quarterback Matt Cassel.
Had Winston played more than one season, he may have eventually been able to win over Chiefs fans. But, as it stands, that will be his legacy in Kansas City.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” he said. “I look back and still feel I did the right thing. A lot of people I respect not only in the league but in life have come up to me and said the same thing. I know I’m not alone in that assessment. I actually don’t think I’m in the minority in that assessment.
“I never wanted to imply it was every single person in the stadium, or every Chiefs fan. I said what I said. I still mean it to this day. I still feel that way and I’ll probably always continue to feel this way.”