AFC West this offseason: What to expect

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
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Brandon Marshall, JaMarcus Russell and LaDainian TomlinsonGetty ImagesThe futures of Denver's Brandon Marshall, Oakland's JaMarcus Russell and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson are all hot topics this offseason in the AFC West.
With San Diego wondering what happened last Sunday against the New York Jets instead of preparing for the Colts in the AFC championship game, the 2009 season in the AFC West is officially over.

The focus is fully on the offseason. Here is a look at the most pressing issue for every team in the AFC West.

Denver

Biggest offseason issue: The future of Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, who will likely be a restricted free agent.

Why: Marshall had a tumultuous year with Denver coach Josh McDaniels. First, Marshall -- whose off-field issues continued in 2009 -- wanted to be traded and he held out of a minicamp. Then, in training camp, Marshall was suspended for 10 days after he was filmed making a mockery out of a practice. After a strong season in which he appeared to make amends with the team and caught 101 balls -- including an NFL record 21 passes in a December game -- Marshall’s problems resurfaced. McDaniels benched him for the final game of the season even though Denver still had playoff hopes. Marshall was benched after he showed up late to a rehab session to treat a hamstring injury three days before the season finale.

Predicted outcome: Marshall will be gone. The Broncos are fed up with him. The team doesn’t want to deal with Marshall anymore. If it is an uncapped year, Marshall will be a restricted free agent. Thus, the team could end up getting a high draft pick for him or essentially work out a trade for Marshall.

Other situations to watch: In addition to Marshall, quarterback Kyle Orton, linebacker Elvis Dumervil and tight end Tony Scheffler are all likely to be restricted free agents. Watch for the team to try to keep Dumervil and Orton and jettison Scheffler.

Kansas City

Biggest offseason issue: Eyes around the league will be watching to see if Kansas City will spend more in the offseason to improve a team that has won a total of 10 games in the past three seasons and was 4-12 in the first season of the Scott Pioli era.

Why: Pioli, despite a boat load of salary cap room last year, did very little last offseason. He did bring in quarterback Matt Cassel and gave him a big contract. But most of the moves Pioli made were under-the-radar additions. The Chiefs still have a lack of talent. Big-time talent is needed.

Predicted outcome: Whether it’s a capped or an uncapped year, it will affect Kansas City. If the year is uncapped, Kansas City could have trouble keeping up with some of the richer franchises. But Kansas City knows it needs talent. It added big-name coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Expect Pioli to supplement those coaching moves with some quality additions. He may not go crazy, but expect Pioli to be more active in his second year on the job.

Other situations to watch: There are sure to be some issues that will arise, but the Chiefs are fairly stable as of now.

Oakland

Biggest offseason issue: The status of quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

Why: Russell proved in 2009, his second season as the starter, that he is not up to the job. Russell -- the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007 -- regressed badly. He was benched after he failed to improve. Oakland’s anemic offense showed life with both journeyman Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye leading the offense in Russell’s absence. Still, Raiders owner Al Davis is said to want to give Russell a chance to succeed because of the team’s financial commitment to Russell and the lack of another long-term answer at the position.

Predicted outcome: Russell will be given a chance in training camp to show he can handle the job. Expect Oakland to give Gradkowski a chance as well. Don’t be surprised if either another veteran or rookie is given a chance to compete along with veterans Frye and J.P. Losman. Still, if Davis wants Russell to get another chance, he’ll get one.

Other situations to watch: Of course there is coaching staff issues and the team will likely either sign defensive end Richard Seymour to a long-term contract or give him the franchise tag.

San Diego

Biggest offseason issue: The status of legendary running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

Why: The Chargers’ run game has to get better. San Diego’s run offense was ranked No. 31 in the NFL. In his ninth season, Tomlinson’s production slipped dramatically. He didn’t have a 100-yard game all season. He averaged just 52 yards a game and he was ineffective in San Diego’s playoff loss. It is time for the Chargers to bring young legs to the position no matter how emotional it is going to be for the franchise and for the city.

Predicted outcome: There will be a new lead back in San Diego in 2010. The Chargers nearly didn’t bring back Tomlinson in 2009. Perhaps Tomlinson could be kept in a much reduced role (at a much reduced price from the $5 million he is due this season). But expect the Chargers to look for a new primary back either early in the draft or through free agency.

Other situations to watch: Free agency is huge in San Diego. Stars Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill, Shawne Merriman and Darren Sproles all must be addressed.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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