Decision on Branden Albert again looms for Chiefs this off-season

Branden Albert missed four games in 2013 due to injury. The Chiefs might let him walk as a free agent.

Denny Medley/Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs have several issues to address this off-season, starting, again, with Branden Albert and the left tackle position.

The date teams can franchise players is Feb. 17, still a ways away, but while the Chiefs jumped on the opportunity to tag Albert a year ago, they seem to be in a stronger position this time around.

The meaning, of course, is that they may have the depth to just let Albert walk. The Chiefs then could take that franchise tag money (projected around $11.2 million) to address other needs.

The depth is based on the rapid development of Donald Stephenson, who played considerably at both tackle positions last season and, by all accounts, was solid enough to step into a full-time starting role.

Stephenson, from Blue Springs, Mo., was the 74th overall draft pick in 2012 out of Oklahoma. He started seven games in 2012 and seven more last year.

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While coaches say Stephenson doesn’t anchor quite as well as Albert, they do like his ability to road-block in space.

The last time coach Andy Reid spoke extensively about Stephenson was after the Washington game.

"He’s gotten better every chance that he has had to play," Reid said. "You forget that he’s a second-year player. You’re going to have some ups and downs with him. We understand that (he’s a) young guy. He’s talented.

"He’s a tremendous athlete. You saw him down the field yesterday on Jamaal (Charles’) run. He led the pack down there. He has a great athletic ability, and he can play either side. He can play guard for you; remember, we did that a little bit with him at camp and I bet he could do that in games if you needed that. It’s just a matter of him just continuing to play and getting reps under his belt and develop."

The Chiefs also are much more confident in regard to their interior line now than they were a year ago, which could lead them to go young at the tackles with Stephenson and first overall pick Eric Fisher.

And although the Chiefs say they like Fisher at the right tackle spot, letting Albert go and moving Stephenson to the right side would allow Fisher to return to his natural position on the left.

Naturally, the Chiefs would have to find some veteran depth in such a scenario, which could lead them to re-sign Geoff Schwartz, who worked on a one-year, $700,000 deal last season.

Stephenson, for his part, wasn’t looking ahead to 2014 quite yet when he spoke a day after the Chiefs’ crushing loss to the Colts.

"My biggest thing coming in here this year was to be better than I was my rookie year," he said. "I think I’ve done that. I’m going to try to build off of this year and try to get even better.

"I look at this year as a building block."

Albert, who missed four games last season because of injury, drew interest from the Dolphins last season for a possible trade after he was given the franchise tag. But the Chiefs and Dolphins could not agree on suitable compensation.

Again this year there is already speculation that the Dolphins, as well as the Cardinals, have interest in Albert.

Toward the season’s end, Albert was asked about his future.

"I can’t think about that right now," he said. "Whatever happens, happens. You don’t even think about that now."

The Chiefs certainly are.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.