AFC West: 2014 Free Agency Week 1 Recap AFC
March, 18, 2014
By Jeff Legwold | ESPN.com
Most significant signing: The Broncos went for the big splash in the opening days of free agency, reeling in four high-profile players -- DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders. The most important addition, both on the field and in the locker room, may carry the biggest risk as well. Ware, 31, was the oldest player the Broncos signed last week, and he is coming off an injury-marred 2013 season. But Ware has 117 career sacks and has missed just three games in the previous nine years. The Broncos see him as still being an elite edge rusher worth a $30 million deal.
Most significant loss: On the field, wide receiver Eric Decker was the biggest loss. But in the locker room, it was linebacker Wesley Woodyard. The Broncos believe Sanders, if he gets up to speed quickly in the playbook, can be a more versatile receiver in their scheme than Decker was. Decker, however, is taller and had 24 touchdowns the past two seasons combined thanks to his work in the red zone. In the locker room, Woodyard was the first player since Hall of Famer Floyd Little to be a captain each of his first six seasons with the team. Woodyard's outlook, work ethic and ability to relate to his teammates will be missed.
Biggest surprise: Most in the league expected the Broncos to be active once the bidding opened last week. But they were able to reel in two players -- Talib and Sanders -- after they appeared to be heading elsewhere. The Broncos were negotiating with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie during the first hours of free agency before they zeroed in on Talib. Sanders took four team visits but signed his deal with the Broncos shortly after he arrived at the team's complex Sunday.
What's next? The Broncos were able to address some of their most glaring needs on the depth chart at defensive end, wide receiver and cornerback. It will allow them the freedom to take the best player available in May's draft, no matter the position. The Broncos will still give a long look to a deep class of receivers in the draft and will likely take a cornerback as well. They are largely done in free agency unless they see an offensive lineman who piques their interest.
March, 18, 2014
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com
Most significant loss: Left tackle Jared Veldheer. Defensive end Lamarr Houston is a close second. Veldheer gets the nod as the worst whiff because the Raiders have not replaced him (more about that later). The Raiders had the most salary-cap room in the NFL, and it was telling they couldn't keep these two good, young players. Successful teams keep their own players. For the Raiders to create holes and, in Houston's case, get older in the process is not efficient free-agency management.
Biggest surprise: The event surrounding tackle Rodger Saffold. This has been the league's strangest story of free agency. The Raiders tried to replace Veldheer with Saffold. After that deal was widely panned because Veldheer is considered a better player than Saffold, the Raiders voided the deal because Saffold failed his physical. The Rams, Saffold's previous team, were well aware of his physical condition and quickly signed Saffold. Now the Raiders, despite all their cap room, have a gaping hole at a premium position.
What's next? The Raiders reportedly have $51 million in cap room (still the most in the NFL). They still have to build their roster, so there is plenty of work to do. It is bargain time in free agency, so the Raiders should have the ability to pick and choose whom they want to sign. In addition to finding Veldheer's replacement, the Raiders are also looking at quarterbacks. Possibilities include a trade for Houston's Matt Schaub, Mark Sanchez and perhaps Michael Vick.
Most significant loss: Dexter McCluster developed into one of the NFL's top threats as a punt returner last season. He had a pair of touchdowns, including one against the New York Giants that has to be seen to be believed. The Chiefs will find that kind of ability difficult to replace. McCluster had less of an impact on offense as the slot receiver but was still third on the Chiefs with 53 receptions.
Biggest surprise: Emmanuel Sanders would have gone a long way toward solving the Chiefs' shortcomings at wide receiver. They lacked a consistent threat at the position last year. They could have used him in a variety of receiving roles, including as a slot receiver. The Chiefs believed they had an agreement with Sanders on a contract, but he didn't sign. Making matters worse, the Chiefs lost Sanders to their division rival, the Denver Broncos, and will have to play against him twice next season.
What’s next? Including the signings of Walker, linebacker Joe Mays and offensive lineman Jeffrey Linkenbach, the Chiefs have taken care of their most obvious needs. The major exception is wide receiver. The passing game won't work consistently next season without an upgrade at the position. If there's a receiver the Chiefs like who's available when they make the 23rd pick of the draft, it would be a mistake for them to pass on him.
March, 18, 2014
By Eric D. Williams | ESPN.com
Most significant signing: Re-signing linebacker Donald Butler as the long-term anchor for the middle of San Diego’s defense was the team’s top priority in free agency, so mission accomplished. The University of Washington product has had trouble consistently staying on the field. But with his athleticism and playmaking ability, Butler has the potential to blossom into a perennial Pro Bowl player.
Most significant loss: It might not be felt on the field, but Charlie Whitehurst leaving the Chargers in free agency to join former San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee will be felt in the quarterback room. Whitehurst is a close friend of Philip Rivers, and served as a good sounding board for the franchise quarterback in practice and in games.
Biggest surprise: Some league observers raised eyebrows over the Chargers signing Indianapolis Colts free-agent running back Donald Brown to a three-year, $10.5 million contract, including $4 million in guaranteed money. Critics of the deal surmised San Diego had enough depth at running back with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, and that money could have been better spent on more obvious needs such as cornerback or outside linebacker. However, the Chargers have morphed into an offense that leans on the running game. So if Mathews is banged up, San Diego needs a running back with a similar skill set to effectively run in between the tackles. Add to that the fact that Mathews and Woodhead are free agents at the end of 2014, and Brown offers some insurance in case either player does not return.
What’s next? As the second wave of free agency approaches, the Chargers still have holes to fill at cornerback, defensive tackle, interior offensive line and receiver. Players who could make some sense for San Diego include Denver Broncos free-agent cornerback Champ Bailey and, if released, New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.