Big names could be on way out of AFC West
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The spotlight wasn't on the AFC West much in the regular season or in the postseason, but it could be in the offseason.
Some big names may be on the move from the division. At the very least, some major names will be considered for movement by their teams. The following is a look at some of the big names in the AFC West who could potentially be on their way out:
Larry Johnson, Kansas City: The Chiefs running back almost certainly will be in another uniform in 2009. After the Chiefs' miserable 2-14 season ended, Johnson said he wanted to leave.
He should get his wish. The Chiefs tired of Johnson because of his continued off-field problems last season in which he missed three games because of team and league-sanctioned discipline. Despite new leadership in Kansas City, there is little chance Johnson will return.
The Chiefs probably will pursue trades for Johnson, 29. The Chiefs probably won't get a first-day pick for Johnson because of his age and his baggage. If he isn't traded, Johnson probably will be cut. Potential landing spots for Johnson could include New England or perhaps even Denver. Johnson may be just leaving his prime but he can still help teams.
The Chargers are starting to make their plans and the future of Tomlinson, who will be 30 in June, is one of the key topics to be discussed. He is coming off two straight postseasons in which injuries seriously hampered him. He is also coming off the least productive season of his eight-year NFL career. Plus, he has a lot of money (his salary cap number for 2009 is nearly $9 million) coming to him for the four years remaining on his contract.
It is still difficult to believe Tomlinson will be elsewhere. The Chargers still need him and there has to be a way the two sides can come to an agreement that will keep the face of the Chargers in San Diego. The Chargers need to find a replacement for Tomlinson if it is the end of an era. His backup, Darren Sproles, who is a free agent, is best suited to be a change-of-pace back.
So if San Diego wants to part ways with Tomlinson, it needs to find its primary tailback through the draft (where some decent options should be available when the Chargers pick at No. 16), in free agency or a trade. If Tomlinson really isn't going to be with the Chargers, the team needs to make a move now.
But the Chiefs are moving slowly. New general manager Scott Pioli (his presence should impress Gonzalez) still hasn't decided if coach Herm Edwards will return. Gonzalez wants Edwards and quarterback Tyler Thigpen back.
It is no sure thing either Edwards or Thigpen will be back and it is no sure thing Gonzalez will be back. He wants to be on a winner. At 32, Gonzalez knows his chances of winning a Super Bowl are dwindling. He wants his remaining playing time to count. If Pioli can show Gonzalez the Chiefs are committed to winning now, he probably will want to be back.
Gonzalez is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Plus, he probably wouldn't fetch a first-round pick because of his age. When he was on the market in October, teams were not willing to give a first-day pick. It may best serve Kansas City to keep Gonzalez if he can be enticed to stay.
He was given a six-year, $55 million contract by the Raiders last year despite being cut by Denver after an injury-plagued season. His one season in Oakland was an unmitigated disaster.
Walker had only 15 catches in Oakland before his season ended with an ankle injury. Walker, 30, has had three of the past four seasons seriously affected by injury. Many league observers doubt if he will ever be an impact player again. It will hurt Oakland's salary cap, but it may cut Walker in the coming months. The team needs a true No. 1 receiver and Walker has not shown he is up to being the answer.
Despite a groin injury that cost him several weeks, Bailey will enter 2009 as an elite cornerback. If Denver declines to talk contract, Bailey could get antsy and trouble could develop. But a lot of things would have to happen in the next couple of months for it to get to the point where Bailey could leave this year.
There has been some speculation that the Broncos, who are entering a new era, could seek to trade Bailey. But the truth is he is the team's best defensive player and with a near total reconstruction needed, the team can't afford to lose Bailey.
The Broncos, who could end up parting ways with defensive starters such as tackle Dewayne Robertson and cornerback Dre' Bly, need to keep Bailey happy and keep him in Denver if his contract becomes an issue.