<
>

Optimism, pessimism in the AFC West

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

With free agency mostly in the books and the draft approaching, we take a look at three reasons for optimism and three reasons for pessimism for each of the AFC West teams.

Denver Broncos

Three reasons to be optimistic

  • The safeties are better. Veteran free-agent signees Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill give instant improvement to one of the worst groups of safeties in the NFL last season.

  • Mike Nolan should help. The former San Francisco head coach should improve a defense that has been awful for the past two years. Nolan is changing the team's scheme to a 3-4 defense.

  • There are plenty of running backs. The Broncos signed veterans Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan. They all should play a role.

Three reasons to be pessimistic

  • The Jay Cutler trade. This is not a good situation for anyone and it certainly is not the ideal way for new coach Josh McDaniels to begin his NFL head-coaching career.

  • The Brandon Marshall situation may not be good. After another arrest on domestic violence charges, which were ultimately dropped, Marshall could be facing a league suspension.

  • The defensive line hasn't improved. The unit isn't very strong and significant improvements have yet to be made. If Denver's defense is going to improve, the defensive front needs to improve.

Kansas City Chiefs

Three reasons to be optimistic

  • The new leadership. New general manager Scott Pioli is respected around the league and new coach Todd Haley has gotten good reviews.

  • The Chiefs got their quarterback. Matt Cassel gives Kansas City a quarterback the team's leadership is comfortable with for the long term.

  • Receiving depth. The signing of veteran Bobby Engram gives the Chiefs a good option in the receiving game. Haley's offense revolves around his receivers, so this could be a good move.

Three reasons to be pessimistic

  • The Chiefs have done very little to improve their pass rush. Kansas City set an NFL record a year ago for fewest sacks in a season (10).

  • Despite having about $50 million in salary-cap room, the Chiefs haven't added many impact players beyond Cassel, Engram and linebacker Mike Vrabel. Most of Kansas City's additions have been lesser-name, system players.

  • There is uncertainty. It is still unknown if veterans Tony Gonzalez, Larry Johnson and Brian Waters will return.

Oakland Raiders

Three reasons to be optimistic

  • The stars have returned. The Raiders have re-signed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and punter Shane Lechler to record contracts for their positions. Both were prospective free agents.

  • The team made offensive line additions, signing tackle Khalif Barnes and trading for center Samson Satele to improve one of the team's weakest areas.

  • The Raiders won their final two games under then-interim coach Tom Cable. The enthusiastic Cable has taken over on a permanent basis and has vowed to bring stability to the program.

Three reasons to be pessimistic

  • There haven't been many big additions to the team. Other than keeping their own players and signing the two offensive linemen, there hasn't been much change for Oakland.

  • There are still big receiver questions. The team will definitely need to draft a top receiving option.

  • The defensive line needs improvement. This problem area has yet to be addressed.

San Diego Chargers

Three reasons to be optimistic

  • They have the best roster in the division. Even though San Diego didn't make many moves, it still has top talent.

  • The running backs were kept. San Diego restructured the contract of Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson and franchised backup Darren Sproles. The two can be a deadly pair.

  • The Kevin Burnett signing. The usually free-agency shy Chargers did sign Burnett, an inside linebacker from Dallas. He is expected to help on third down.

Three reasons to be pessimistic

  • The team needs a defensive end. Igor Olshansky signed with Dallas as a free agent and the team could use a replacement.

  • A strong safety is needed. The team tried to sign Tampa Bay's Jermaine Phillips, but he re-signed with the Buccaneers. Safety will be an area of need in the draft.

  • The offensive line. The Chargers still may be an offensive lineman, right tackle or guard away from having a solid blocking crew.