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"All Signs" Point Towards Branden Albert Signing With the Miami Dolphins Early

Pro Football Talk reports that there is limited resistance from either Albert, the Dolphins, or other teams to the former Kansas City Chiefs Left Tackle signing with the Miami Dolphins as early as Tuesday

Peter Aiken

Amid multiple reports from The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson and Bleacher Report's Marc Kohn that the Miami Dolphins' top free agent left tackle is Branden Albert, Pro Football Talk has published a report indicating that a "league source" reports there's a belief that a deal with Albert is all but a done deal and the free agent tackle could be a Miami Dolphin as early as Tuesday.

This report isn't surprising given that in a lot of ways, this appears to be a "path of least resistance" signing by the Dolphins.

First, of all the good free agent left tackles hitting the market, Albert was unique in that his original team, the Kansas City Chiefs, wasn't expected to make a strong push to keep him given the presence of 2013 #1 overall pick, OT Eric Fisher, and 2012 3rd round pick, OT Donald Stephenson, on their roster still under rookie deals. Both of those young tackles have significant starting experience under their belts, and the Chiefs' salary cap situation, while not poor, is not especially flush with just under $10 million in cap space. It made a lot of sense for the Chiefs to move on after tagging Albert in 2013. Other teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders don't have viable options if they lose incumbent LTs Eugene Monroe or Jared Veldheer, respectively, so those teams will be aggressive in any bidding wars over those offensive tackles.

Second, other tackles like Eugene Monroe had drawn heavy interest around the NFL. Monroe reportedly is refusing offers by the Ravens averaging between $8-9 million per year because he is convinced he can earn over $10 million per year on the free agent market. Meanwhile, the only other team rumored to be heavily interested in Albert is the Arizona Cardinals, who have $22 million in cap space compared to the Dolphins' $35 million but have high priced free agents they're trying to keep, including Karlos Dansby who has indicated that he's not interested in giving the Cardinals a discount.

Third, Albert is the only free agent tackle to have agreed to a deal in principle with the Dolphins before! Last year, around the time of the NFL draft, Albert reportedly agreed that, if he were traded to the Dolphins, he'd sign a multi-year contract extension paying him between $8 million and $9 million per year. The trade talks with the Chiefs fell apart due to the Chiefs' insistence of getting at least a second round draft pick while also refusing to let the Dolphins' team doctor perform a physical on Albert first, which then-GM Jeff Ireland took as an ominous sign. Without the physical, Ireland refused to offer any valuable draft picks, so talks broke off. Since then, Albert had a good but not great season in which he was limited to 12 games by injury, so it's fair to imagine the sticking report in negotiations is how much Albert's value has gone up (if at all). Albert will argue that he made the Pro Bowl last year, while the Dolphins will argue that missing 4 games in 2013 after missing 3 games in 2012 didn't exactly ease concerns about his durability. Nonetheless, both sides have a "starting point" (last year's proposed deal) to work from in negotiations, which isn't common in free agency.

With free agency, nothing is official until it's official, but my guess is that Albert gets a deal worth around $9 million per year (give or take $1 million per year) that's similar in structure to Jake Long's deal with the Rams, which has built in financial protections in case of injury such as incentives for playing time benchmarks and Pro Bowl selections, as well as being "backloaded" with unguaranteed money, meaning the player only earns most of the money in the deal if he avoids being cut by staying healthy and productive for a couple of seasons. If Albert's demands go much higher than that, I wouldn't be surprised if the Dolphins change course and make an aggressive play for the younger and more durable Eugene Monroe, who is reportedly the Dolphins' second choice for left tackle but is almost certain to command over $10 million per year.