Kansas City, Mo. The running joke around Kansas City at the end of last season went something like this: “The Chiefs are so bad” — pause for effect — “they can’t even stink in the right year.”
After going 2-14 to match the worst finish in franchise history, the Chiefs will have the top pick in the NFL Draft for the first time. But there’s no clear-cut No. 1 choice this year, and certainly no must-have franchise quarterback such as Andrew Luck on the board.
The Chiefs were in need of a QB, too, hence the joke. But they solved that problem for the time being when they shipped their second-round pick and a conditional choice in next year’s draft to the San Francisco 49ers to land a former No. 1 overall pick, Alex Smith.
Now, the Chiefs are left to choose the best available on Thursday night.
“We’re exploring our options,” said general manager John Dorsey, adding that there’s four players who the Chiefs were trying to nitpick in their final days of preparation.
“You still have to give yourself some options and kind of see how these four guys play, and watch the games as they’re played,” Dorsey said. “You understand they’re people. Now, let’s watch them play their respective position.”
Dorsey wouldn’t divulge which four players the Chiefs are considering, but common sense says at least two play the same position: Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, who are widely considered the best two offensive tackles available.
The Chiefs are almost certain to choose a blindside protector for Smith with their lone first-round pick, in part because of an uncertain situation surrounding incumbent Branden Albert.
Kansas City franchised the big left tackle after failing to reach a long-term contract with him, and Albert has made it clear that he wants stability. So the Chiefs have granted the Dolphins permission to speak with Albert’s representatives, and the assumption is that a trade could be in place for a draft pick at some point before the weekend.
Even if a deal isn’t worked out, the franchise tender that Albert signed only locks him up for next season, so the Chiefs could still be looking at a long-term solution at the position.
“Branden Albert is a good football player. We wouldn’t have stuck the franchise tag on him if he wasn’t,” Dorsey said. “It’s my job to explore all options, and that’s kind of what’s going on.”
Joeckel has been considered the top available player, regardless of position, for months after protecting Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel last season at Texas A&M. The 6-foot-6, 306-pound tackle has excellent footwork and is technically sound, and that’s what has made him stand out among a deep class of offensive tackles.
There has also been a late groundswell of support for the 6-foot-7, 306-pound Fisher. He didn’t go up against the same kind of competition that Joeckel played in the Southeastern Conference, but he has exhibited the kind of mean streak on the football field that is coveted in a lineman.
“They’re both really fine football players,” said Dorsey, who wouldn’t speak in detail on any specific players. “I think this year the offensive line position has some true prospects in it.”
The Chiefs could also use help along the defensive line, at middle linebacker and even at running back, but the consensus among most draft experts is that those needs can wait.
Their priority is to upgrade along the offensive line.
“They’ve been fairly safe picks over the years,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid added. “You evaluate the success rate with all the positions, and you’ll come back to the offensive line and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a fairly safe pick, offensive tackle.’”
It’s not the eye-catching pick that’s going to energize fans, though, even if the reality is that no such player appears available. Luck and Robert Griffin III provided that kind of appeal in last year’s draft, but there is a dearth of high-end quarterback prospects this season.
Otherwise, the Chiefs wouldn’t have such a decision on their hands.
Kansas City was also listening to trade offers in the final days before the draft, and Dorsey made it clear that he would consider moving out of the top pick for the right deal.
“You have to weigh so many variables and options for the betterment of this organization,” he said. “When you sit in this seat, you’re not only responsible for yourself, but you’re responsible for numerous other things within this organization. So, you have to weigh those factors in. At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for this organization.”