NFL Update: News and Team Needs for the AFC West

Here is a look at the AFC West, approaching free agency and the draft. Cap figures are per our friend Jason Fitzgerald at Over The Cap.

 

Denver Broncos

2013 Record: 11-5; AFC champions
Playoffs: Three straight post-season appearances
Estimated current cap space: $24,988,429

 

Key Free Agents

John Elway has stated that the club will not approach their own free agents with offers right out of the gate, and will instead let them test the waters first. The Denver general manager and director of football operations said that “I think they have to hit the market, the market sets those (contract prices). Especially where you look where we are and what we have coming up. Both Thomases (Demaryius and Julius) are up next year. Wes (Welker) is too. All that plays into it. Fitting pieces. The hard part is you’re doing it with personalities. You’re dealing with people. That’s the hard part.”

ILB Wesley Woodyard had a down year at due to in part to a neck injury, and the Broncos may let their six-time captain walk. Denver worked out middle linebackers D’Qwell Jackson (before he signed with the Colts) as well as Lofa Tatupu, perhaps a sign that they have already moved on. Woodyard was a weakside linebacker prior to 2013 but the Broncos are now set there with Danny Trevatahan, leaving him as the odd man out on this team.

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played much better in 2013 with Denver than he did previously with the Eagles, but he still seems to have occasional mental lapses. That inconsistency will drive head coaches and general managers crazy, and the Broncosmay want to move on – even though Champ Bailey has been released and Chris Harris is coming off ACL surgery. Harris was Denver’s best corner and the surgery was relatively minor as the ligament was not torn all the way through; he is expected to be 100% when the season begins. If Denver lets DRC walk then they could try to trade for Darrelle Revis or sign Aqib Talib, or any one of the other free agent corners on the market that Patriot fans are also eyeing in case Talib walks: Alterraun Verner (Titans), Sam Shields (Packers), Vontae Davis (Colts), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers), Tarell Brown (49ers), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks), etc.

RB Knowshon Moreno had a great season after a less than stellar start to begin his NFL career. Ronnie Hillman was handed the starting position but couldn’t hold on to it, and the most memorable part of Montee Ball‘s rookie season was whiffing on a blitz pickup that resulted in a hit that Peyton Manning must have felt for a week. Moreno had been injury prone and unproductive in his first four years in the NFL – he missed 20 games the three previous seasons – something Elway will surely remember when it comes to a decision to re-sign Moreno or let him walk.

WR Eric Decker will be looking for number one receiver pay – he’s the top free agent wide receiver in 2014 – but in Denver he’s only a WR2. I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs elsewhere, and the Broncos go after his replacement in what is a draft class that is deep at receiver.

DE Shaun Phillips had ten sacks for Denver in 2013, but he will turn 33 in a couple months. The team is set with Derek Wolfe on one side (he is reportedly healthy now, after suffering a seizure in November) but Von Miller is recovering ACL surgery and unlikely to be full speed when the season begins. I wouldn’t expect Denver to pursue a top-dollar end like Michael Johnson, but they may try to get younger and replace Phillips with somebody like Lamarr Houston (Raiders), Michael Bennett (Seahawks) or Everson Griffen (Vikings).

DE Robert Ayers is a good run defender but no more than average as a pass rusher. DE Jeremy Mincey filled in nicely in the rotation, but he’s not a starter. Ayers is not expected to return, but the coaching staff would like to keep Mincey. The club does have some depth at the position: Malik Jackson played well when given the opportunity, and they also have Hall Davis, John Youboty and Quanterus Smith on the roster.

LG Zane Beadles is only 27 and is a four-year NFL starter, which will make him an attractive option to other NFL teams. With the priority for the Broncos in free agency expected to be on their defense in free agency, Beadles could easily end up elsewhere.

CB Champ Bailey was released and three restricted free agents – CB Chris Harris, CB Tony Carter and DT Mitch Unrein were tendered. Other unrestricted free agents include CB Quentin Jammer, C Dan Koppen, WR Andre Caldwell, OT Winston Justice, G Chris Kuper, ILB Paris Lenon and ILB Stewart Bradley.

 

Team Needs – CB, S, ILB, DE, RB, LG, WR

For starters Denver will need another CB or two to replace Bailey and DRC. Rahim Moore is fine at one safety, but Mike Adams is a free agent; even if he is re-signed the team needs more depth at the position. With Woodyard probably gone Denver needs another ILB – probably early in the draft. The problem for them is that C.J. Mosley will probably be gone by the time Denver is up at the podium, and the next best inside linebackers would be reaches at number 31. The situation at DE is unsettled; the club might sign a vet and hope Miller returns quickly, while one of the young backups develops. With all that attention on defense, what about the offensive side? Who runs the ball if Moreno bolts; do you trust Montee Ball to take over? Once Decker departs what happens if Welker is out for any time with another concussion – switch midstream to a two-tight end offense with Julius Thomas and either Jacob Tamme or Joel Dreesen?

 

Draft Picks

Round 1, Pick 31
Round 2, Pick 31 (63)
Round 3, Pick 31 (95)
Round 4, Pick 31 (127)
Round 5, Pick 31 (159)
Round 6, Pick 31 (191)
Round 7, Pick 31 (223)

Potential first round picks: CB Jason Verrett, TCU; CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; S Calvin Pryor, Louisville; DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

 

News

Peyton Manning passed his contractually obligated physical to examine his neck, which made headlines. Ho-hum, such is life on a slow news day in the off-season… The Broncos are leaving no rock unturned in an attempt to upgrade their defense; they brought in Lofa Tatupu for a visit. Mosi’s 31-year old son hasn’t played in the NFL since 2010; he was he was released by Atlanta in July 2012 after suffering a torn pec… Restricted free agent KR Trindon Holiday was not offered a tender, signaling an end to his days in Denver. Holiday scored four touchdown returns in 2012 and began the 2013 season strong, with two early season touchdown returns: an 81 yard punt return against the Giants in week two and a 105-yard kickoff return in week four against the Eagles. However, after losing two fumbles he was relieved of punt return duties and never got out of the doghouse.

 

 

Kansas City Chiefs

2013 Record: 11-5
Playoffs: the Chiefs made the playoffs for the second time in four years with their record turnaround. However, KC lost in the first round when they were unable to hold on to a 28-point lead as they lost 45-44 to the Colts; the Chiefs have not won a playoff game since defeating the Steelers in the wild card round of the 1993 post-season.
Estimated current cap space: $9,396,444

 

Key Free Agents

LT Branden Albert, DE Tyson Jackson, ILB Akeem Jordan, and FS Kendrick Lewis were all starters last year, and Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah split time as the starting right guard. Other unrestricted free agents include WR/PR Dexter McCluster, S Husain Abdullah, S Quintin Demps, OLB Frank Zombo and WR Kyle Williams.

Albert is one of the top players in this year’s free agent class and is highly unlikely to return; Miami is rumored to have the inside track and desperately needs help on their offensive line; Arizona, and Tampa Bay are all possible destinations. Jackson has been a huge bust since being drafted number three overall in 2009, but turned things around under Andy Reid and DC Bob Sutton. He excelled against the run but is still only average rushing the passer; with his only good season coming in a contract year it’s a case of buyer beware. Jordan is another player who is better against the run than the pass, but is a favorite of Reid’s – he followed him to KC after six years in Philly – and will likely be re-signed.

Lewis struggled mightily last year and is not expected to be back. He was very good his first two years in the league but has regressed since then, in part due to injuries; a change of scenery might be beneficial. Abdullah started the last two games in his place and looked much better; KC would wise to keep him. Asamoah began the season as a starter but was replaced mid-season by Schwartz; I would expect the Chiefs to make a strong effort to keep Schwartz and let Asamoah walk.

The Chiefs will make a strong effort to re-sign McCluster, who had 53 receptions for 511 yards and two touchdowns, plus 686 yards and two more touchdowns on punt returns. Kansas City also released CB Dunta Robinson just one year after signing him to a 3-year, $13.8 million deal. Robinson will be 32 next month and he appeared to have lost a step; he was unable to keep his job as a slot corner and nickel back last year.

 

Team Needs – WR, OT, ILB, S, TE, CB

The Chiefs need to get somebody they can better depend on at WR opposite Dwayne Bowe. Donnie Avery had just 40 receptions for 596 yards and 2 TD and could be released. A.J. Jenkins is raw and unproven, and 5’8″ Dexter McCluster is more suited to the slot.

Eric Fisher will probably slide over from RT to Albert’s LT spot, but that still leaves an open spot on the offensive line. If Schwartz is not re-signed there could be a second opening as the club may not want to go back to Asamoah.

An ILB will need to be brought in to replace Jordan, and it would be a good idea to add some depth at OLB as well. In the secondary a replacement at free safety will need to be found if Abdullah departs, and the roster could use some additional depth at both safety and corner.

Another tight end needs to be brought in as well, to upgrade or compliment Anthony Fasano. Between a concussion, knee and ankle injuries the former Dolphin missed seven games; with Alex Smith not known for his downfield passing ability, this position is a vital part of the offense. Travis Kelce was drafted in the third round last year and could become the new starter, but do you want to bank on a player that missed all of 2013 because of microfracture surgery?

 

Draft Picks

Round 1, Pick 23
Round 3, Pick 23 (87)
Round 4, Pick 24 (120)
Round 5, Pick 23 (151)
Round 6, Pick 24 (184)
Round 7, Pick 23 (215)

Potential first round picks: WR Odell Beckham, LSU; WR Kelvin Benjamin, FSU; WR Allen Robinson, Penn State; G Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA.

 

News

The Chiefs have four players – Dwayne Bowe, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers – with eight-figure cap numbers, taking up a total of over $45.5 million in cap space this year. A bit of restructuring might be in order to give the team some flexibility; the lack of cap space severely hindered any chance of re-signing Branden Albert.

Rumors have been floated that Philadelphia Eagle WR DeSean Jackson could reunite with Andy Reid in Kansas City. While that may happen eventually, that’s the problem of using baseball logic to trades in the NFL. Jackson is collecting a base salary of $10.5 million this year; there’s no way that the Chiefs can afford that. The Eagles may indeed move on from Jackson at some point – they signed receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper to deals recently – but there is no incentive for Philadelphia to release or trade Jackson now.

 

 

San Diego Chargers

2013 Record: 9-7
Playoffs: The Chargers made the playoffs on the last weekend of the season, then defeated the Bengals at Cincinnati before losing to Denver. It was San Diego’s first playoff appearance in four seasons.
Estimated current cap space: $5,224,080

 

Key Free Agents

While the Chargers may be tight on cap space, they don’t have a lot of free agents to re-sign or replace either. ILB Donald Butler and S Darrell Stuckey have been re-signed. Butler was the Chargers’ top free agent, a solid every down player; Stuckey is the special teams captain as well as the primary backup safety.

FB Le’Ron McClain, CB Derek Cox and CB Johnny Patrick have been released. McClain was a starter last year but was let go due to a relatively high price ($2.5 million in cash and $3.3 million in salary cap space) for a fullback on a team tight on cap space. Cox was a huge free agent bust; he was benched for poor performance and was due $4.25 million as part of a four-year, $20 million contract signed last spring and takes up $3.9 million in dead money against the cap.

LG Chad Rinehart is a decent player but can’t seem to stay on the field; he has missed 14 games over the last two seasons. Former Patriot Rich Ohrnberger is another free agent offensive lineman; he filled in nicely in the playoff victory against the Bengals, but he too has a history of injuries. NT Cam Thomas was benched late in the year, losing his starting job to Sean Lissemore.

Other free agents include WR Danario Alexander, CB Richard Marshall, RB Ronnie Brown, ILB Reggie Walker and QB Charlie Whitehurst.

 

Team Needs – CB, OLB, WR, NT, RG, TE, RB

The Chargers need to recover from the Cox signing blunder at corner. Right now the starters would be Shareece Wright and Steve Williams; the team needs better top end talent as well as more depth at the position.

At outside linebacker the club is fine on one side with Jarrett Johnson, but Dwight Freeney is past his prime. Larry English is the depth at the position, but he has never played up to his first round draft status. Nose tackle is another position on defense that could use an upgrade.

On offense the club could use a better receiver than Malcom Floyd or Vincent Brown outside opposite Keenan Allen, and some depth at running back behind Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead would be a good idea. At some time soon TE Antonio Gates will need to be replaced, and RG Jeromey Clary is better suited as a backup than a starter.

 

Draft Picks

Round 1, Pick 25
Round 2, Pick 25 (57)
Round 3, Pick 25 (89)
Round 4, Pick 25 (121)
Round 5, Pick 25 (153)
Round 6, Pick 25 (185)
Round 7, Pick 25 (217)

Potential first round picks: CB Jason Verrett, TCU; DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota; OLB/DE Dee Ford, Auburn; G Cyril Richardson, Baylor

 

News

WR Eddie Royal restructured his contract at a reduced rate. Royal was due to make $4.5 million in base salary and would have counted $6 million against the cap; there was no way that San Diego was going to bring him back with those figures. The slot receiver had 47 receptions for 631 yards and eight touchdown catches in 2013.

 

 

Oakland Raiders

2013 Record: 4-12
Playoffs: The Raiders last playoff appearance was following the 2002 season, when they lost to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl; Oakland has not had a winning record since then.
Estimated current cap space: $63,783,470

 

Key Free Agents

Lamarr Houston is the second best defensive end in this year’s free agent class, close behind Michael Johnson. He is very productive both as a pass rusher and against the run, and deserves a big contract. The Raiders have plenty of cap space and are in need of blue chip players; I have no idea why they have not made more of an effort to re-sign him.

Running backs Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings are both free agents. McFadden is injury prone and averaged a lowly 3.5 yards per carry; Jennings averaged 4.5 but will turn 29 later this month. Coach Dennis Allen said that Jennings was a free agent priority, but said nothing about McFadden, so we know who Oakland does (and does not) want back.

OT Jared Veldheer missed all but four games with a torn triceps; because of that injury he should be able to be re-signed at a reasonable price. Khalif Barnes took Veldheer’s place at left tackle and wasn’t bad; Barnes has been re-signed to a one-year deal as insurance in case Veldheer does not return.

Starting corners Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter are both free agents, as is ancient safety Charles Woodson. None of the three were horrible, but by the same token none would be missed if they departed either; same holds true for defensive tackles Vance Walker and Pat Sims.

Other free agents include WR/KR Jacoby Ford, C Andre Gurode, OT Tony Pashos, DE Jason Hunter, CB Phillip Adams and S Usama Young.

 

Team Needs – QB, DE, CB, S, RB, DT, ILB, LG, WR, LT

Terrelle Pryor was inconsistent, and although he was in a difficult position with so little talent around him, I would have to think that Oakland will select a quarterback at number five if one of the big three (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel) is still on the board. Another option would be to go with a QB later (Derek Carr) and address another need with the first pick.

Assuming Lamarr Houston walks – again, I’m baffled as to why he wasn’t re-signed or even franchised – a replacement will need to be found. The club may want to pick up one in free agency and another in the draft, because they’re better off with Jason Hunter as a backup rather than depending on him to produce as a starter. Jadeveon Clowney is also a possibility with the first round pick.

Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and Phillip Adams are all free agents, and all three corners are nothing more than average. Again, a double dip in free agency and/or the draft may be in order. Last year’s top draft pick, DJ Hayden can man one side, but that still leaves an opening on the other side as well as at the slot/nickel corner position.

Safety is yet another position that could use two new starters. Charles Woodson needs to be put out to pasture, and Brandian Ross needs to be replaced. This would be normally be a top priority, if not for the glaring needs above; right now it’s just Tyvon Branch and some street free agents at the position that are on the roster.

Running back is still another position with two players possibly departing, but that is the least of the team’s concerns. If the Titans cut Chris Johnson (he’s due $8 million in salary and has a $10 million cap figure; releasing him saves $6 million in cap space) then the Raiders could go after him, and another back from the middle of the draft.

That’s plenty to revamp in one off-season, but this is just the tip of the iceberg to rebuilding the Raiders. At defensive tackle Pat Sims is a free agent, and even if he is re-signed there is still a hole to be filled at the other DT spot. The team could also use an upgrade at ILB over Kaluka Maiava or Nick Roach.

If Oakland is going to invest in a quarterback early then they should give him a top-level target; Rod Streater and Denarius Moore should be no more than WR2 and WR3 (rather than WR1 and WR2), and along the same lines a starting caliber tight end is needed as well. That may have to wait a year though, as uprades are also needed on the offensive line. LG Tony Bergstrom missed all of 2013 with a foot injury and Lucas Nix – who was horrible last year – had outplayed him for the starting position in training camp, but lost the starter’s job due to an injury of his own. There may also be an opening at left tackle, where Jared Veldheer is a free agent; with all the other positions in need of attention they may have no choice but to go with Khalif Barnes as the starter.

 

Draft Picks

Round 1, Pick 5
Round 2, Pick 4 (36)
Round 3, Pick 3 (67)
Round 4, Pick 7 (103)
Round 6, Pick 5 (165)
Round 7, Pick 4 (196)
Round 7, Pick 20 (212) (From Arizona as part of the Carson Palmer trade)

Potential first round picks: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M; QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida; WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson; DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

 

News

A year ago the Raiders finally decided to formulate a long range plan rather than continually act as if they could fix everything in one season. It painfully hamstrung the team for one season – they carried more than $50 million worth of dead money on last year’s cap – but so what; it’s not as if they were going to the Super Bowl last year. As a result they are now in a good position to genuinely rebuild the roster. Rather than once again being in a poor cap position, they have over $60 million available to maneuver with; the only dead money still on the books worth noting is $6.2 million for Michael Huff and $2.6 million for Matt Flynn. While there are holes seemingly everywhere that need to be filled, the club can formulate a plan to get better, that looks beyond the upcoming season.

 

 

 

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