Free agency in the NFL doesn’t begin until March 11, but it’s never too soon for some to speculate on the status of players who do not have contracts.
Already, the radio station 610 AM has reported that the Chiefs have decided not to re-sign Pro Bowl tackle Branden Albert, who will become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins next month.
That may turn out to be a likely scenario considering Albert, 29, played last season under the franchise tag of $9.28 million, and that figure would rise to about $11.136 million, or 20 percent more than he was paid last season, if the Chiefs tagged him again. Starting Monday, teams can apply franchise tags on their unrestricted free agents.
Neither Albert or his representatives at BTI Sports could be reached for comment, and the Chiefs had no comment on Wednesday.
“We’ll deal with that when we get to it, “ Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said in late December about re-signing Albert. “Branden has played the game very well this year. I applaud him for the consistency. As we get closer to that mark, we’ll have to sit down and have some discussions.”
The Chiefs have about $4.25 million in space under the current salary cap and have several other free agents to sign, such as guard Geoff Schwartz and defensive end Tyson Jackson. They also will be working on extensions for quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston, whose contracts expire at the end of the upcoming season.
That also doesn’t include needing about $5 million for the 2014 draft class.
Albert missed four games last season due to a knee injury and five starts in 2012 because of a back injury, and that could work against him.
The Chiefs selected Eric Fisher with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, and though he struggled some at right tackle, the eventual plan is for him to slide to left tackle, his natural position. Second-year man Donald Stephenson appears primed to claim the right tackle spot.
Stephenson made two starts at right tackle when Fisher was out with injuries and four starts for Albert and after some early difficulties, came on strong at the end of the season.
Albert, a first-round pick by the Chiefs in 2008, was ranked the No. 28 tackle in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in 2013. His pass-blocking grade of 14.4 tied for 11th among tackles, but he was graded minus-2.4 in run blocking, one of six negative grades among the top 28 tackles.
In 12 games, he allowed just four sacks, six quarterback hits and 13 hurries.