I don’t normally talk about teams cutting players, but this one is a big deal. Just two day after franchising left tackle Branden Albert, the Chiefs have cut right tackle Eric Winston. The first thing this means is that the Chiefs are almost definitely locked into one of two offensive tackles, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, #1 overall.
Cutting Eric Winston doesn’t save them much on the cap (700K) and it’s not like they were pressed for cap room anyway. Winston is more than a fine player and you don’t cut a player like that unless you desperately need the cap room or you have access to someone who can easily replace him. The Chiefs don’t seem to have anyone like that inside the organization, after 2012 3rd round pick Donald Stephenson was awful in limited action last season, so the obvious assumption is that they are planning on taking one through the draft. Of course, that’s assuming the Chiefs are being logical.
I don’t see this move as being logical at all. I agree that Luke Joeckel is the top player in this draft class and, though some in the know do feel Eric Fisher is the better player, it’s much more likely that Joeckel is the Chiefs’ guy. However, Joeckel is not far and away better than every other prospect in this draft class. He’s not someone you have to have so much that you create a need for him by cutting a very good player. Sharrif Floyd, DeMarcus Milliner, and Star Lotulelei are all “inferior” prospects by most people’s belief, but they would all have helped the Chiefs much more than Joeckel and they’re all very good prospects.
Dion Jordan is a very talented player. If the Chiefs graded him out as the top player in this draft class, should they have cut either Tamba Hali or Justin Houston to make room for him? Of course not. Those are two of the better bookend pass rushers in the NFL. The same could be said about Albert and Winston: two of the better bookend tackles in the NFL last year, allowing 5 sacks between them last year and grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 17th and 9th rated left and right tackles respectively. Albert would have been higher if he hadn’t missed 4 ½ games with injury. In 2011, when he played all 16 games, he was 12th among left tackles.
Conversely, they had a major need on the defensive line for someone like Shariff Floyd or Star Lotulelei, even after restructuring the contract of Tyson Jackson. Among Chief defensive linemen, only free agent Glenn Dorsey graded out positively last season and Jackson, while not awful, was the worst of the bunch. He can anchor against the run, but should really be taken out in sub packages. They don’t have an obvious starter opposite him either.
If they had felt DeMarcus Milliner was this draft’s top player after Joeckel, he would have made a lot of sense for them from a needs stand point as well. You need three corners in today’s NFL and with Brandon Flowers and Javier Arenas, the Chiefs really only have two. Getting rid of Winston, moving Albert to right tackle, and drafting Luke Joeckel doesn’t provide nearly as much value. Trading down, if possible, would have been ideal, as perhaps a team like Philadelphia would have surrendered a 2nd round pick to move up to grab Joeckel, allowing them to recoup the pick they lost in the Alex Smith trade.
And if you were going to let one of Albert or Winston go, why not Albert? Winston was the cheaper of the two players and you save a lot more cap space by not franchising Albert than by cutting Eric Winston, around 9 million assuming the Chiefs don’t sign Albert long term. Winston is also a more natural right tackle than Albert, who made 77 starts as a pro on the blindside and none on the right side. As far as I can tell, Albert also never made a start at right tackle at Virginia either, where he was primarily a left guard.
Right tackle may be the “easier” of the two tackle positions, but you can’t just move someone there and expect him to play at the same high level he was playing at on the left side. You also can’t expect him to be happy about the move and he’s made it known, for good reason, that he does not want to change positions. That’s not a good thing. There is also a little bit more of an injury concern with Albert than Winston, who hasn’t missed a game since his 2006 rookie season.
There’s always the possibility that the Chiefs leave Albert at left tackle, start Joeckel at right, and then part ways with Albert at the end of next season, moving Joeckel to the blindside, but why pick Albert over Winston if you’re going to part ways with him after one more season? This whole situation doesn’t make sense. The Chiefs have a lot of talent and I like the move to acquire Alex Smith, who, though unspectacular, is a massive upgrade over Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel and will let their talent shine through. However, they really seem to be bungling this offensive line situation. Winston will make his next team very happy. A return to Houston would make a lot of sense for both parties.