Free Agent Duel: Bowe or Albert?
Andy Reid has just begun his reign as Kansas City Chiefs czar, and he is already tasked with a difficult decision. With two of his top offensive players due to hit free agency, he may have to choose between keeping Branden Albert or Dwayne Bowe. Should he stick with the elite pass protector, or the frustratingly talented wide receiver? PFF analysts Pete Damilatis and Gordon McGuinness argue both sides in another edition of our Free Agent Duels.
Why it has to be Albert
By Gordon McGuinness
New Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has just come from a situation in Philadelphia where he saw his starting left tackle miss the entire season due to injury. He saw the drop-off from Jason Peters to the combination of King Dunlap, who didn’t fare terribly but struggled at times, and Demetress Bell, who was downright awful in all but one of his starts. So with that in mind, I think the Chiefs will be smart enough to realize what they have in left tackle Branden Albert.
Drafted out of Virginia with the 15th overall selection in the 2008 draft, not many people expected left tackle to be Albert’s position long-term with a move to the right, or inside to guard predicted. However, through four seasons at the position he has continued to grow, leading to a very consistent past two seasons where he has graded out at +14.7 and +13.8, respectively.
The Chiefs may not have their franchise signal-caller yet, but when they do they’ll want to keep him upright. In that respect there are few players at his position out there better than Albert. Allowing just 17 total pressures from 378 pass blocking snaps in 2012, he finished the year with a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) rating of 96.6, a mark which was tied for seventh among offensive tackles. Through the past two seasons he has allowed Chiefs quarterbacks to be hit or sacked just 16 times from 926 pass blocking snaps — working out to be quarterback knockdown allowed just once every 57.8 pass blocking attempts.
As a run blocker he hasn’t done much to get you excited, though he hasn’t been awful either, with the Chiefs averaging 4.13 yards per carry on runs either side of left tackle in 2012. That shouldn’t be enough to stop them making him their top re-signing priority however, especially with the free agent market looking deceptively full. There are plenty of good offensive tackles set to hit the open market, but most of them are predominantly right-sided players and the top left tackle available, Denver’s Ryan Clady, is highly unlikely to see the open market, with the franchise tag a near certainty if they can’t agree on a long-term deal. After Clady I don’t think there’s a better option out there than Albert and, if the Chiefs are smart, they’ll recognize that and make sure he stays in Kansas City.
Why it Shouldn’t be Albert
By Pete Damilatis
There are some teams who are desperate for a great blindside pass protector like Albert. The Chiefs however are not one of them. Albert’s -3.7 run block grade this season didn’t help a team whose best offensive weapon, Jamaal Charles, is a running back. Don’t forget the back spasms that repeatedly sidelined him this season raise concerns about his long-term health. Also, unlike most teams, the Chiefs are in the perfect position to replace Albert with someone younger and cheaper thanks to their draft position.
Given the disastrous health and performance of their quarterbacks the past two seasons, Kansas City would love to take a franchise passer with its top pick. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s a passer in this draft worthy of that selection. Instead, the top talent on most draft gurus’ boards right now just happens to be a left tackle, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel. Even if Kansas City passes on Joeckel, this draft is deep enough at tackle that they could find Albert’s replacement early in the second round. Thanks to the rookie wage scale, the Chiefs could draft and sign Joeckel, or another quality prospect, for less than $6 million per year, whereas negotiations with Albert would start with his $9.6 million franchise tag number. Most teams would love to have Albert. However, most teams don’t have the ability to replace him as cheaply as the Chiefs do.
Why it has to be Bowe
By Pete Damilatis
I’ll admit that at this time last year, I declared the 2012 season would be Bowe’s final one in Kansas City. I thought they gave him the franchise tag to buy one more year to groom Jon Baldwin as their new No. 1 receiver. Of course, things did not unfold that way. Baldwin played just over half the Chiefs’ offensive snaps and gained just 325 receiving yards with 1.09 Yards Per Route Run. Steve Breaston’s production also plunged from 784 yards in 2011 to just 74 this season. A year after the Chiefs declined Bowe a long-term deal, he is still by far their biggest threat in the passing game.
Bowe’s tenure in Kansas City hasn’t been a smooth ride by any means. He produced nearly 1,000 yards as a rookie despite holding out for part of training camp. He found himself in Todd Haley’s doghouse in 2009 before leading the league with 15 touchdown catches in 2010. This season his production dipped under 1,000 yards again before he was placed on Injured Reserve in mid-December. Although these ups and downs seem like the case of another enigmatic receiver, they are more an indication of the Chiefs’ struggles under center.
Kansas City quarterbacks had a 69.1 passer rating when targeting Bowe this season, which looks bad until you see that Kansas City quarterbacks had a 63.9 quarterback rating overall. Of the 107 passes thrown to Bowe, only 65 were catchable. That 60.7 percent rate was 71st out of 82 receivers who saw at least 50 targets. Chiefs quarterbacks have a combined -33.6 PFF grade over the past two seasons, and even starter Matt Cassel has never earned a positive PFF grade in his four seasons in Kansas City. The last time Bowe had a healthy quarterback for a full season, back in 2010, his 118.4 WR Rating was the best of anyone with over 100 targets. Even in this seemingly lost season, Bowe still managed his third straight year with 2.00 YPRR, and he cut his once-awful drop rate to a career-low 9.23 mark.
Any Philadelphia Eagle fan will tell you that Reid loves to pass the ball, for better or worse. Whether it be Terrell Owens or DeSean Jackson, temperamental wide receivers have never scared the Chiefs’ new head coach. Throw in a draft class that’s stacked with offensive tackles and light on elite wide receivers, and it’s clear that Kansas City should make Bowe a part of its future.
Why it Shouldn’t be Bowe
By Gordon McGuinness
I’ll agree with Pete when it comes to the level of quarterback play Bowe has had to deal with in Kansas City — perhaps only Larry Fitzgerald has had it worse in recent times — but that’s just not enough for me to think he needs to be kept by the Chiefs. His Drop Rate was indeed much improved this past season, however, since we began grading in 2008, Bowe has ranked 35th, 49th, 26th, 30th and, this season, 14th among all qualifying receivers in that regard and, for me, that’s just not good enough for a guy you are debating committing a substantial amount of money toward.
I understand where Pete’s coming from in terms of saving money and bringing in Albert’s replacement, but the truth is you just don’t know what you’re getting from the draft. What’s to say that the top offensive linemen in this class will perform well as rookies? Players like Robert Gallery were once considered “safe” prospects who could slot in at left tackle for 10 years straight out of college but, as Gallery highlights, it doesn’t always work out like that. Yes, Albert is little more than an average run blocker, but he’s a Top-10 pass blocker in my opinion, and I just can’t justify letting that level of talent leave if I’m trying to rebuild a franchise.
If only one can be kept, who should it be? Let us know which of these players you’d opt to keep around if you had to make the call.