KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It could be worse. A lot worse. Branden Albert could be a Miami Dolphin right now, the Beast of South Beach. Eric Fisher could be learning the NFL ropes at left tackle while charged with guarding Alex Smith’s blind side.
“We don’t think about that,” center Rodney Hudson says.
“It was really important for him to come back,” tackle Donald Stephenson says. “Helps us out a lot.”
It’s a fact: The relationship between Albert and his employers at present, the Kansas City Chiefs, has seen better days. The big lug wants a long-term contract; the Chiefs are in wait-and-see mode; and ne’er the twain. Since being slapped with the franchise tag (and a one-year tender for 2013) back in March, the 6-foot-5 New York native has been almost traded about seven different times, depending on your Twitter feed of choice.
He went to the NFL Network in April to ask for a “definitive answer” from the new Chiefs front office, then stayed away from the first three weeks of organized team activities.
And yet it’s scary to think where this offensive line might be without Big No. 76 right about now, isn’t it?
“He’s a veteran, so he holds a lot on his shoulders to make some calls up front,” Stephenson continues. “And to be (in) that leadership role that we need, because we are a young group.”
The metric whiz-kids at FootballOutsiders.com concur. According to the site, the Chiefs lead the NFL in adjusted line yards off of left tackle (5.42 per carry), Albert’s side of the pocket, as opposed to No. 16 in yards off of right tackle (3.55), where the rookie Fisher is holding down the fort, and No. 7 off of right end (5.44).
More fun with numbers: The 28-year-old Albert went into the Chiefs’ Week 3 contest at Philadelphia ranked ninth in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and the site credited him with surrendering just one, solitary sack last fall over 378 pass-blocking snaps.
“Obviously, when you’ve got a guy who’s played so many games, he’s seen a lot of things,” Hudson says. “It’s always important to get help from a guy who’s played a lot of games.
“We’re happy he’s here. We’re happy he’s here.”
Chiefs fans are happy, too, but it’s a measured sort of happy. While the club is off to its first 3-0 start since 2010, the offense, to date, hasn’t exactly been pulling the sled. Injuries — left guard Jeff Allen is likely to miss Sunday’s matchup with the New York Giants because of groin issues, and Albert has been limited by a bad shoulder — and inexperience have made for an uneven experience for Smith under center, despite the wins.
“We are in this together,” Albert told reporters last month. “It’s not just me; we are all in this together. We have to work together to get this done, that’s what we’re working towards. And I believe we will.”
It’s getting there. Slowly. FootballOutsiders ranks the Chiefs’ line No. 5 in the NFL in terms of adjusted line yards (4.45 per carry), which is nifty; less stellar is the No. 28 rank in terms of “power success” (or conversions on short yardage) at 20 percent, and the No. 26 slot in pass protection, with their adjusted sack rate of 9.0 percent a chunk above the NFL average of 7.1.
Meanwhile, the first three regular-season games for Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick, have felt like the ultimate roller-coaster ride: Up, then down, then up again. Against the Eagles, the former Central Michigan star was charged with a sack allowed, a hit allowed, two hurries and two penalties. ProFootballFocus.com ranks him 59th among all tackles in terms of pass blocking and 63rd in run blocking. And yet he also helped to spring running back Jamaal Charles for big gains on the ground in the fourth quarter during long, game-clinching drives late against Dallas and Philadelphia.
“(Albert) stays after him,” Stephenson says of the relationship between the franchise’s two starting tackles. “He tells him to keep working, makes sure (they’ve) got together when they’re in the film room. He pretty much gets the same treatment I got (as a rookie).”
Albert has a stake in this, too, beyond the wins and losses. In a contract year, it behooves him to play the good soldier, the company man, whether it leads to a longer deal here — or somewhere else.
“Wherever he goes, or if he stays here, he’s going to make us or them better,” Stephenson says. “I would always want to play with Brandon, he’s a good guy. But you never know how this business works.”
You never do. And it’s funny how the best trades, sometimes, are the ones that never quite pan out.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.