Is Branden Albert truly an upgrade?
This last week has been a total whirl wind for the Jacksonville Jaguars roster. The front office has been wheeling and dealing, signing, releasing, and trading. In all the Jaguars have declined one players contract option, re-signed four players, released another one, restructured a contract, traded one player away in exchange for a draft pick, and traded a 2018 draft pick away in exchange for another player. The first and the last Jaguars roster transactions mentioned are what we are here to talk about.
Last Wednesday was the deadline for the Jaguars to pick up Kelvin Beachum's four year, $40 million contract option. The Jaguars decided not to pick up Beachum's option, which lead to a vacancy on the Jaguars offensive line at left tackle. Enter Branden Albert, who the Dolphins were ready to release before the Jaguars came a calling. Now, the Jaguars have agreed to send a 2018 7th round pick to the Dolphins in exchange for Albert. The deal want be official until the start of the new league year on March 9th.
Since the Jaguars decided against retaining Beachum in favor of pursuing Albert, that must mean the Jaguars feel Albert is an upgrade over Beachum.
The question is, how much of an upgrade is Branden Albert really?
The answer is not so easy. There are many different factors to consider.
Level of play is THE most important factor. And Branden Albert, despite what Pro Football Focus might have you believe, played well in 2016. Now, he did miss four games during the Dolphins playoff campaign last season, but Albert showed when fully healthy he can be a very, very good left tackle in this league still. Kelvin Beachum was no slouch himself, and was still recovering from a knee surgery last season. Despite battling through a recovering knee, Beachum missed only one game (due to a concussion - nothing to do with the knee). However, despite not missing any time due to his recovering knee, Beachum regularly sat out of practice during the week to rest the knee. Despite all this Beachum played admirably and was far better than what the Jaguars had deployed at left tackle dating back to the days of Eugene Monroe.
All things being equal, which is the better left tackle in terms of level of play?
It's not really close. Beachum is a solid left tackle that excels in pass protection. But he is on the smaller side when it comes to LTs and is far from a physically dominant player. Branden Albert on the other hand is a prototype left tackle. He is a physical specimen standing 6'5'' and weighing in at 315 lbs. Albert is a MAN. He also displays excellent use of his hands, nimble feet, high football intelligence, and truly impressive balance. Taking away all other factors, and just looking at level of play Branden Albert is the far superior player.
But unfortunately for Albert and the Jags, level of play is far from the only factor.
Let's talk about Albert's age. Branden Albert is 32 years old, while Beachum is just now 27. So in terms of age, you would much rather have a 27 year old than a 32 year old. But how much longer can Albert play? He looked nimble and powerful in 2016 and by all accounts he still has a hunger to prove his detractors wrong. But at 32 years old you just don't know how many more years of good play you've got. Optimistically the Jaguars would be lucky to get 3 good years out of Albert.
Then there is the injury concern. The oft injured Albert has missed 20 games since the start of 2012, but he did show the ability to stay healthy early on in his career. During Albert's first four seasons in the NFL he missed only four games total. So, has age made Albert injury prone, or has it just been a string of bad luck? Only time will tell.
Albert made the Pro Bowl as recently as 2015, but injuries have changed the narrative on Albert. If he can stay healthy for the Jaguars and can play for at least two to three more years, then the Jaguars have pulled off one hell of a move. IF Albert stays relatively healthy in Jacksonville he will be the most talented left tackle to lace it up for the Jaguars in at least 10 years, and maybe dating back to the days of Tony Boselli.
Will this trade work out? Or will it blow up in the Jaguars face?
Only time will tell, but it would be wise for the Jaguars to begin investing some draft picks in young offensive lineman, especially at the ever important left tackle position.
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