AFC West: 2014 next big thing

The next big thing: Chargers

January, 22, 2014
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San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy will have to capitalize on the momentum built from the team’s surprising playoff run by continuing to improve this team through the draft and free agency in the offseason.

The Chargers have 12 unrestricted free agents scheduled to hit the market in March. Among them, retaining middle linebacker Donald Butler likely is the team’s top priority. However, key contributors like linebacker Reggie Walker, cornerback Richard Marshall, offensive lineman Chad Rinehart and special-teams captain Darrell Stuckey also make some sense to keep in the fold.

San Diego has seven picks in this year’s draft. Telesco indicated improving speed on both sides of the ball, pass-rush help and adding some juice to the team’s return game are priorities heading into this offseason.

The Chargers also need to get healthy, with edge rushers like Dwight Freeney (torn quad) and Larry English (torn pectoral muscle), along with receivers Malcom Floyd (neck) and Danario Alexander (knee) hoping to get back on the field in 2014. All four of those players finished 2013 on the injured reserve list.

The next big thing: Chiefs

January, 22, 2014
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The biggest priority for the Kansas City Chiefs in terms of strengthening their roster is to find more players who can join running back Jamaal Charles as game-breakers. The Chiefs relied heavily on Charles as both a runner and receiver, but the next step for their offense is to find additional threats who can make the Chiefs more difficult to defend.

In the longer term, top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe will turn 30 in September. It's time for the Chiefs to think about finding a receiver who can eventually step in for Bowe and become their top threat.

The Chiefs can't ignore their defensive needs either. They could use another big body to plug in at defensive end, and more help at cornerback.

Complicating matters for the Chiefs is that looking ahead to free agency, they won't have a lot of money to spend and don't figure to be winning any bidding wars. With regard to the draft, the Chiefs are missing their second-round pick, having sent it to the San Francisco 49ers as part of last year's trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith.

The next big thing: Broncos

January, 22, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos still have one game to play -- Super Bowl XLVIII -- and virtually all of the organization's energy is pointed in that direction at the moment.

But the Broncos still have to think about life after the Big Game and had a full contingent at the East-West Game last week to go with one at Senior Bowl practices this week. And when all is said and done in MetLife Stadium Feb. 2, the Broncos will be left to their offseason duties in a far more compressed timeframe.

One of their first items, and executive vice president of football operations John Elway touched on it last week in a sit-down in the days leading up to the AFC Championship Game, will be to address head coach John Fox's future.

The 2014 season is the last year on Fox's current contract and no coach wants to go into the final year of his deal and try to direct a team. Elway said the two sides will sit down when the season is over and talk about what's next. The Broncos will also be awaiting the results of an end-of-season medical exam for quarterback Peyton Manning.

Win or lose in the Super Bowl, Broncos officials expect Manning to return for the 2014 season if the doctors give him the thumbs-up to keep playing. Elway said last week that he still considers Manning "young" and at the top of the his game.

On the roster the Broncos will face a decision in Eric Decker, who is poised for unrestricted free agency, as is cornerback Chris Harris Jr., linebacker Wesley Woodyard, guard Zane Beadles, defensive end Robert Ayers, safety Mike Adams and running back Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos will also have to decide on the veterans they signed to short-term deals last offseason: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips and Paris Lenon (all are set to be free agents).

The choices they make will dictate where they look in the draft, but they'll be looking at the defensive line, inside linebacker, the interior of the offensive line, and cornerback to start.

The next big thing: Raiders

January, 22, 2014
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Now that the Oakland Raiders have answered any questions about who will be their head coach next season -- Dennis Allen is returning for his third season after consecutive 4-12 campaigns -- and we know that all but three of Allen’s top-tier assistants will return, the team’s focus turns to its own roster.

It is a three-step process for the Raiders, really, as they must decide which of their pending 18 unrestricted free agents they want to keep. General manager Reggie McKenzie has already publicly identified four in left tackle Jared Veldheer, running back Rashad Jennings, defensive end Lamarr Houston and free safety Charles Woodson.

Depending upon who they retain, the Raiders will then make runs at free agents to not fill holes, but be frontline starters. McKenzie intimated he could go after a quarterback (Josh Freeman? Josh McCown? Mark Sanchez, if and when he’s cut?) while adding that a prototypical edge rusher (Greg Hardy? Justin Tuck? Jared Allen?) is also atop Oakland’s needs. Still, McKenzie says he will not spend the Raiders’ $60 million in cap space foolishly.

Then comes the draft as the Raiders hold the No. 5 overall pick. McKenzie may have spoken too soon in evaluating Texas A&M junior quarterback Johnny Manziel, but he did call him a playmaker and the Raiders do need playmakers. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins also fits that description, no?

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