The Arizona Cardinals have acquired their new quarterback by trading for Carson Palmer, and now the team's most pressing need is improving the offensive front so that Palmer doesn't spend the majority of his time in the desert on his back.
Most pundits believe that the Cardinals intend to target an offensive lineman with the seventh overall pick in this week's NFL draft, but a new report has surfaced that indicates that the Cardinals may have a "Plan B" of sorts in the works.
According to Mike Jurecki of 910 AM in Phoenix, the Cardinals have discussed making a trade for Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert, who is presently set to play the 2013 season under the franchise tag.
The Miami Dolphins have long been rumored to have interest in Albert as a replacement for the departed Jake Long, going so far as to discuss contract terms with Albert after receiving permission from the Chiefs to do so.
However, those talks have hit a snag. It was generally assumed that snag was a result of Albert's contract demands, but according to Rotoworld Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported on the NFL Network's Total Access that the hangup is draft pick compensation.
Whatever the reason, a trade that was once believed to be almost inevitable has now stalled, and that's opened a door of opportunity that the Cardinals need to take advantage of.
The Chiefs are believed to be seeking a second-round pick for Albert, with the Dolphins preferring to give up the later of their two such selections (54th overall) in a trade.
Well, the Cardinals' second-round pick is better than either of Miami's, which in theory would certainly seem to make them the front-runners if they chose to pursue Albert.
They should make with the choosing, for a number of reasons.
First, there's no guarantee that any of the top three offensive tackles in this year's class (Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma) will make it to the seventh overall pick.
Granted, the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers recently stated in a Los Angeles Times mock draft that the Cardinals "feel better about their tackles than outsiders do", but given that Carson Palmer isn't the most mobile of quarterbacks, improving the protection on his blind side has to be a priority.
Albert would accomplish that goal. According to Pro Football Focus, Albert ranked 11th among tackles in pass blocking a season ago. By weight of comparison, Levi Brown, who is expected to start at left tackle for the Cardinals as things stand today after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury, ranked 75th in 2011. Only one tackle in the entire NFL was worse.
Not only would Albert upgrade the Cardinals' pass protection, but it would greatly increase the flexibility with which the Cardinals can approach the upcoming draft.
If Lane Johnson would happen to still be available when the Cardinals go on the clock Thursday evening, then the team could get that second-round pick back in a heartbeat. The San Diego Chargers are beyond desperate for help at tackle. Either the Bolts or another team would almost certainly gladly surrender their second-round pick to move up and get Johnson.
Whether it's at seventh overall or later in the round, the Cardinals could then use their first-rounder to bolster their pass rush. Or they could add one of the draft's elite guards and completely overhaul an offensive front that was horrible last year. Or they could improve the secondary.
Their hands would no longer be effectively tied.
Yes, signing Albert to an extension would not be a cheap proposition, especially since the sixth-year pro is reportedly seeking between $8-9 million a season. That price tag is the reason why Somers thinks that this rumor is just that.
However, even though the Cardinals don't have a lot of cap space, it's not like the team can't backload the deal in a manner that makes it feasible. Teams do it all the time. Jerry Jones does it at least six times a week.
It's an aggressive move, and one that isn't without risk, both in the cost of the deal and given Albert's balky back.
Frankly, that's all the more reason to like it. Not only would swooping in and snatching Albert out from under the Dolphins' noses improve the team and add draft flexibility, but it also sends a message to veteran players and fans alike.
It says that the Cardinals are serious about winning now. It says that the team won't just stand idly by as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers establish a stranglehold on the division, nor will they just sit on their hands while an improving St. Louis Rams team with a pair of first-round picks relegates the Cardinals to fourth fiddle in the NFC West.
It's a gutsy play. It's the right play.
It's a deal that the Cardinals need to make happen.