KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Branden Albert is officially playing for 2014 now, be it a 2014 here or in climes where the sidewalks won’t melt Crocs on contact. When the worst-case scenario is a one-year contract worth $9.8 million, pity is hardly the first emotion that springs to the fore.
Albert is hunky, the Kansas City Chiefs are dory, and nobody loses. The club has the veteran left tackle right where they want him — here, for the moment, with no promises beyond that. Albert is 28, but it’s an old 28, and he’s now afforded a chance to prove to Andy Reid, John Dorsey, Justin Bieber and the rest of the free world that his back problems of 2012 were a fluke rather than a harbinger of decays to come.
As it turns out, the long-term extension that had been whispered about didn’t see the light of day, and so what? Monday’s deadline for franchise-tagged players came and went without a deal, which means the New York native will play on the one-year, $9.8 million tender he’d agreed to earlier. The world’s smallest violin plays on.
It came as hardly a surprise, either: The Chiefs are under new management, hold all the cards, and want to give a number of good, hearty kicks to several tires before making long-term investments.
The club can’t pick up negotiations with Albert until after the regular season; if they choose to tag him again, he’s reportedly due 120 percent of his previous year’s salary.
Which means, more than likely, the open market beckons. And that’s OK, too.
Because the fact of the matter is, the Chiefs already cast their lot with a left tackle of the future. Albert may have the franchise tag, but Eric Fisher wears the franchise label.
No. 1 overall picks aren’t here to play right tackle, as a general rule. Not in the long term, at least.
At Central Michigan, Fisher spent more than three years on the left side of the line, protecting a right-handed quarterback’s blind side. He’ll open the season manning the right tackle slot, partly as a means of transitioning to the next level, partly in deference to Albert.
When — and it seems like more a “when” than an “if” — Albert walks, it also means you can slide Fisher back to his natural and preferred position, and the beat goes on. If a trade involving Albert had materialized, either with Miami or somebody else, the Chiefs were ready to play Fisher at left tackle as a rookie, regardless.
Albert, meanwhile, has incentive to play nice, given the one-year tender. Trying to pout your way out of town isn’t going to win brownie points with Dorsey or Reid, nor will it with their contemporaries. One Chiefs fan we ran into during a draft watch party back in April summed up Big Albert’s situation rather neatly:
“Now that that’s over and we’re stuck with both of them, he’s got to suck it up.”
Yeah. What he said.
And yet, for all his promise, what Fisher doesn’t have, as of early Tuesday morning, is a contract. Which is starting to get more than a little disconcerting, given that rookies and quarterbacks are expected to report to preseason camp in St. Joseph, Mo., on July 22.
“When my agent gives me a call and tells me to sign,” Fisher told the NFL Network in June, “hey, I’ll be there to sign.”
On one hand, he’s hardly alone: Seven of the top 10 picks began the third week of July without a contract in hand. On the other, Jacksonville’s four-year, $21.2 million deal for the No. 2 overall pick, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, is almost a month old.
Again, you’d think the Chiefs have the bulk of the leverage here; given the rookie salary structure under the current collective bargaining agreement, slots are pretty well predetermined. It’s just a matter of hammering out semantics and making it official. Published reports have already pegged Fisher with a contract worth $22.19 million after four seasons, with a signing bonus of $14.518 million. And cue the violins again.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com