Sometimes when I write about the salary cap and roster moves Ill use a phrase like “noose around the neck” in regards to a players (rare) control over a situation. Such is the case right now regarding T Branden Albert and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Make no mistake about it. The Chiefs never intended to have Albert on their team this season. The Chiefs were remaking their franchise this past offseason and Albert didn’t really fit in their plans. The team had the number 1 pick in the draft which they were going to spend on a Tackle and were prepared to make a number of money moves to improve the team. Just off the top of my head the Chefs traded for Alex Smith, signed Mike DeVito, Anthony Fasano, Dunta Robinson, and Sean Smith plus they re-upped star WR Dwayne Bowe. While only Bowe cost mega-money the number of mid-tier moves the team made quickly added up.
The Chiefs slapped the franchise tag on Albert primarily because they saw him as a valuable asset that could be moved to acquire more low cost pieces in the draft. What they may not have planned on, however, was the way the market for Offensive Tackles was going to shrink in 2013. Jake Long maxed out the market at a deal worth $8.5 million a year and the meat of the market is really around $7.5 million, and that’s for the left side of the line. Some think Albert belongs on the right side which brings the price down even further, between $6 and $7 million.
Needless to say Albert wants to make more than that, around $9 million a season, according to reports, and the Chiefs are in a real bind. Supposedly Albert and the Miami Dolphins had agreed on a price which I have to assume is in that $9 million a year range. However there was no way that the Dolphins were going to pay an above market price for a player and give up a 2nd round draft pick as well. They could do one or the other, not both. The trade fell through and now the Chiefs are stuck with Albert.
Since the Chiefs didn’t plan for this they find themselves in a salary cap crunch. They have around $4.3 million in cap space for their top 51 players. The team needs about $3.876 million in cap room to sign their rookies. Once the season begins the cap counts 53 players rather than 51, which is another $960,000. Just like that the Chiefs are out of cap room, sunk because of the franchise tag a fully guaranteed amount of $9.828 million. They have other options such as restructuring the contract of Tamba Hali, but does a team want to get deeper on a 30 year old pass rusher with $6 million in dead money in 2014? I wouldn’t think so.
That’s why Albert has the Chiefs “noose around the neck” so to speak. They need him to bring his cap number down. He has almost no incentive to do so. Players are taking short term deals in the hopes of a changing market in 2014. He may feel that if the Dolphins were willing to bite at his price this year another team might next year. Albert is already owed $9.828 million guaranteed in a market where multi year deals are coming in around only $17 or $18 million guaranteed. Sure he is betting on staying healthy this year, but for the most part the Chiefs are going to have to meet his price or simply deal with him for 1 season at the high price tag and then lose him next year.
Albert wants the money Duane Brown earned last season. It would be a deal that is around $9 million a year with $22 million in full guarantees. To put that in perspective that’s about 6% more per year than Long, 20% more than Will Beatty, 25% more than Jermon Bushrod, and 31% more than Sam Baker in terms of annual value. Those were the biggest deals signed by Left Tackles in 2013 I believe. A $22 million guarantee would represent an increase of 83% on Long (Long has guarantees conditional on health, a concession he made to get the higher APY), 16% on Beatty, 88% on Bushrod, and 20.6% on Baker. The way the typical contracts are structured and knowing the Chiefs cap concerns would likely mean he is on the team for the next 4 years if they re-sign him. Those are all incredible premiums to pay for a player that just two or three weeks ago you really did not want on the team.
So financially the Chiefs are really in a bind. Normally a team holds all the cards. This is one of the rare cases where they do not. Albert really calls the shots here. It becomes a very tricky negotiation for the Chiefs and it will be interesting to see just how much Albert flashes his power here to get the money he wants.