AFC West: Alphonso Smith

The fine folks at ESPN's Stats & Information group have confirmed what many have long thought about the 2009 NFL draft.

There were many scouts and personnel folks in the league who didn't like what they saw on that draft board in the weeks and month before they had to make those picks and they've all tried to dig out of it over the five drafts since.

Turns out their instincts were right with the benefit of some quality hindsight.

Of the 256 players selected that year, there are almost as many out of the league -- 122 -- as there are still on one of the 32 teams -- 134. However, just 38 of 256, or a not-so-sizzling 14.8 percent, remain on their original teams.

For the Broncos, the grand total of 2009 players selected in the 10-player draft class who still has a spot on the depth chart is one. As in safety David Bruton, the first of two fourth-round selections that year.

And while that was clearly a difficult draft board for the entire league to figure out, it was a dismal year for the Broncos since they had more premium picks in it than they've had in any draft since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

The Broncos had five selections in the draft's top 64 picks that year, two first-round picks and three second-round picks. Handled the right way, it should have been the foundation of what they have now, but none of those five top 64 picks remain with the team and of those five only running back Knowshon Moreno started more than 10 games in multiple seasons.

Moreno just had his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2013 to go with 60 receptions in the Broncos' high-flying offense. It was easily his best overall season with the team, but concerns over his long-term health -- he had multiple knee procedures, including to repair a torn ACL, to go several other soft-tissue injuries in his time in Denver -- led to the Broncos to decide not to re-sign him in free agency. Moreno signed a one-year deal in Miami.

Robert Ayers, taken at No. 18 overall that year, had the same number of sacks in 2013 -- 5.5 -- as he had in his first four seasons combined, including none as a rookie when the Broncos tried to fit him into their 3-4 defense under Josh McDaniels. The Broncos let Ayers sign elsewhere, too, and he signed with the New York Giants earlier this year.

McDaniels used a second-round pick (No. 64 overall) on Richard Quinn, a tight end who had all of 12 receptions in his career at North Carolina. McDaniels' hope Quinn would be a factor as an on-the-line blocking tight end simply never materialized at any point after Quinn arrived.

McDaniels also traded a first-round pick, in 2010, to move up in the second round to select cornerback Alphonso Smith and then traded Smith, to the Detroit Lions, a year later. And safety Darcel McBath (No. 48 overall) showed some potential, but had injury issues with the Broncos and ended up playing in a Super Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers with just one career start in the league.

It is a draft that has left a substantial hole in the Broncos' developmental plans to be sure, but the Broncos can take heart there. They were obviously not alone.

And the wait continues

August, 31, 2012
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Some nuggets as we await cuts from around the AFC West. A warning: it might be awhile before we get all four team in:

San Francisco reportedly will cut running back/special teamer Rock Cartwright. He left Oakland as a free agent. Oakland could use Cartwright on special teams. It will be interesting to see if the Raiders make a push for Cartwright, who I’m sure would be interested in returning to the Raiders.

Alphonso Smith continues to flop. Detroit reportedly cut the cornerback. Smith was traded from Denver to Detroit two years ago; a year after former Denver coach Josh McDaniels traded a future No. 1 pick to take Smith at No. 37 in the 2009 draft. Smith is one of the poster children of McDaniels’ disastrous era in Denver.

The Chiefs are reportedly keeping undrafted rookie running back Nate Eachus. He had 197 yards rushing in the past two games. The Colgate product could potentially play on special teams as a rookie.

U-T San Diego reports, as expected, tackles Mario Henderson and Anthony Davis, will be cut. Expect the Chargers to try to find offensive line help in the coming days.

As expected, U-T San Diego reports, veteran defensive lineman Jacques Cesaire has been cut. He had a long career in San Diego and he was known for being a star in the locker room in addition to be reliable on the field. San Diego’s defensive line is much younger and Cesaire was an odd man out.
Say good-bye to the final piece of the Denver Broncos' three-player second round class of 2009.

Denver waived safety Darcel McBath on Sunday. To replace him Denver signed cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. Wilhite is a fourth-year player who had nine starts for the New England Patriots before being cut. He was a fourth-round pick from Auburn in 2008.

McBath was taken along with cornerback Alphonso Smith and tight end Richard Quinn in 2009, during Josh McDaniels’ first year in Denver. Denver traded its 2010 first-round pick in order to pick Smith.

Smith was traded to the Detroit Lions last season and Quinn was waived/injured this summer.

Denver also announced its eight-man practice squad. Here it is:

Player Pos. College Exp.

Jeremy Beal DE Oklahoma R

D'Andre Goodwin WR Washington R

Adam Grant T Arizona R

Jeremiah Johnson RB Oregon 2

Kyle McCarthy S Notre Dame 2

Eron Riley WR Duke 1

Austin Sylvester FB Washington R

Adam Weber QB Minnesota R

A Carolina reunion in Denver?

September, 4, 2011
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Carolina has reportedly waived defensive end Everette Brown, according to Sirius NFL radio. The Panthers traded a future No. 1 pick in 2009 (yes,the same thing Denver did with flameout cornerback Alphonso Smith that year) to take Brown in the second round. It will be interesting to see if the Denver Broncos (coached by former Carolina coach John Fox) claim Brown. Denver has the No. 2 claiming priority in the league behind Carolina. Thus, the Broncos will get first crack at Brown. For a team looking for the right mix on defense, I could see the Broncos making this move if Fox believes Brown can play.

In other AFC West related-news Sunday:

Well, we can forget the notion that Brandon Meriweather could reunite with Scott Pioli in Kansas City. The safety has signed with the Bears. He was cut by New England on Saturday.

As a result of the 53-man roster Saturday, the Chargers are the third oldest team in the NFL. Signing veteran defenders Takeo Spikes, Bob Sanders and Na'il Diggs (who was added Saturday) certainly helped add to the Chargers’ age tally. Rebuilding Denver is the youngest team in the division.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that former Chiefs guard Brian Waters has agreed to terms with New England. Waters, a face of the organization for the past 11 years, was cut in Kansas City this summer. Best of luck to Waters, who was always generous with his time with me in the Chiefs’ locker room.

There were some interesting numbers-related nuggets gleaned from the 53-man rosters. The Raiders have among the fewest linebackers (six) in the league. Kansas City is tied for the fewest amount of offensive lineman (seven) while San Diego is tied for the most linebackers (10) in the league. Perhaps these numbers are indications of where teams could look to add or look to cut from in the next few days.

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 17, 2011
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For a franchise that was accused of turning stale a few years ago, the Denver Broncos have become pros at taking fresh approaches.

For the second time in three training camps, Denver has a new head coach. John Fox takes over after the disastrous 23-month Josh McDaniels regime. From 1995 to 2008, the Broncos were the picture of coaching constancy. It was the Mike Shanahan show. Everyone knew it.

But the Broncos have been in flux and have gone from one of the better-run organizations in the NFL to a team that is grasping for an identity. Denver hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2005 season. It hasn’t had a winning record since 2006.

In comes Fox, who is experiencing a rebirth himself after spending the past nine seasons in Carolina. Fox’s biggest task in Denver is to restore normalcy after the rocky McDaniels era and rebuild a winner.

“There has been instability here, good, bad or indifferent, that’s just the way it has been,” said Fox, whose team will be on its sixth defensive coordinator (former New Orleans secondary coach Dennis Allen) in six seasons.

“We have to build our program here. But I think it can be done. There are good pieces here.”

Many Denver players have raved about Fox. They appreciate his professionalism, his structure and his attention to detail. They believe there is a plan in place, and they trust Fox’s experience. The players also seem to appreciate the fact that Fox is simply in Denver to coach. The front office is run by legendary Denver quarterback John Elway and general manager Brian Xanders. Both Shanahan and McDaniels made personnel decisions.

“I get a great feel for Coach Fox,” star cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He’s one of the better coaches I’ve been around ... I like it that he is focused on coaching us on the field. That’s where he wants to be.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRookie Von Miller will need to play well right away if Denver's defense is going to improve this season.
1. Fix the defense. While the Tim Tebow-Kyle Orton competition has garnered much attention, the real key issue in Denver’s camp has been the defense. This unit was ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season and was generally awful in every major statistical category. Fox and his defensive staff have taken a hands-on approach to improve this group, which is a mix of veterans and youngsters.

If the reconstructed defensive front plays well and rookie linebacker Von Miller makes an instant impact, this group has a chance to improve quickly. It seems to be working early. Denver’s defense has been capable in camp and it looked solid against Dallas in the preseason opener Thursday. Injuries to defensive tackles Ty Warren (who signed to a two-year, $8 million deal) and Marcus Thomas create more uncertainty at a key spot for Denver. It needs to get help there by Kevin Vickerson, Brodrick Bunkley, Jeremy Jarmon and Derrick Harvey in the rest of the preseason. Warren could be out for a long period and Thomas will miss the rest of the preseason.

2. Clarity at quarterback: The Broncos’ camp has been about getting the first-team ready to go with Orton. There is no question Orton is the starter now. If the team struggles, Tebow could enter the picture, but players love playing with Orton and the team thinks he currently gives them the best chance to win now.

Of course, the lack of clarity was team-induced. It spent the immediate days after the lockout trying to trade Orton to Miami. After that fell through, Orton took control of the offense quickly and has given Denver no choice but to make him the starter, TebowMania be dammed.

3. Establish a ground game: Although Fox is a defensive-minded coach, he has a strict philosophy on offense. He believes in stuffing the ball down an opponent’s throat and killing the clock. Denver struggled to run the ball under McDaniels, and Fox said adding a veteran tailback was paramount.

The Broncos jumped on Willis McGahee when he was cut by the Ravens. Expect McGahee and third-year player Knowshon Moreno to combine for plenty of carries. They have worked well in camp, and they combined for 40 yards on six carries in the preseason opener at Dallas. This camp has been spent getting these two involved in the offense as much as possible.

ELVIS IS BACK IN THE BUILDING

The Broncos are raving about the play of Elvis Dumervil. After leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 and getting a contract worthy of that performance, Dumervil tore a pectoral muscle in early August last year and missed the entire 2010 season.

There was concern that his rust and a move back to the 4-3 under Fox could hamper the smallish Dumervil. He flourished in McDaniels’ 3-4 system after being a solid player in Shanahan’s 4-3 defense. Dumervil beefed up to more than 260 pounds, and he‘s been impressive under Fox.

The Broncos expect Dumervil and Miller to become one of the better pass-rush tandems in the league.

RELYING ON THE ROOKIES

[+] EnlargeRahim Moore
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Broncos will also be looking to rookie Rahim Moore to shore up Denver's secondary.
One of the most exciting aspects of this camp for Denver has been the play of its rookies. The Broncos thought they drafted well in April, and after three weeks, they are thrilled with what they see.

“I think we had an excellent draft,” Fox said.

Added Dumervil: “This is the best group of rookies I’ve seen here in awhile.”

Leading the way is Miller, who was the No. 2 overall draft pick. The Texas A&M product has been as advertised. Teammates rave about his speed, explosiveness and his ability to make plays. They expect instant success.

Second-round pick Rahim Moore is vying for a starting spot with Kyle McCarthy at safety and has shown he is ready for NFL play. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, middle linebacker Nate Irving, tight end Julius Thomas and safety Quentin Carter are all expected to be major contributors. This is exactly what this 4-12 team needed -- a solid group of youngsters to build around after a couple of shaky years of drafting by McDaniels.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Safety Brian Dawkins may be turning 38 this year, but the Broncos are still getting a lot out of him. He works well with Fox’s staff, and his leadership has been uncanny during camp.
  • Defensive end Robert Ayers has been getting chances to break out in camp, but he has been slow to show progress. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
  • Receiver Brandon Lloyd has been slowed by swelling in his knee. Still, the team expects him to contribute. Lloyd had a breakout season in 2010 -- 77 catches for 1,448 yards.
  • The second-round draft class of 2009 has been a bust. Tight end Richard Quinn is hurt and could be the odd man out. Safety Darcel McBath has yet to develop, and cornerback Alphonso Smith (who Denver traded its 20101 first-round pick for) was shipped out to Detroit last year. This was supposed to be the nucleus of future success, and Denver hasn’t seen results.
  • The Broncos’ passing game struggled in red-zone and third-down situations. That has been a point of emphasis during this camp.
  • Veterans Joe Mays and Mario Haggan are competing to hold off Irving at middle linebacker.
  • Franklin has struggled in pass projection. Still, the team is committed to him.
  • Denver is excited about second-year receiver Eric Decker. Expect Decker to get a chance to contribute a lot.
  • The Broncos like what they have in new tight end Daniel Fells. He is solid as a receiver and as a blocker. He should help in both phases of the game.
  • Right cornerback Andre' Goodman has been steady, and the team is confident he can play well in 2011.
  • Second-year center J.D. Walton continues to improve, and he has shown strong leadership for a young player.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 17, 2011
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Denver Broncos

Best choice: Elvis Dumervil, defensive end/linebacker.The Broncos have had an uneven drafting history in the past five years. Many of Denver’s better picks are no longer with the team. Dumervil was a safe choice. He has been a very productive player since Denver took him the fourth round in 2006. Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009. He missed all of last season with a pectoral injury. But he is considered a cornerstone of Denver’s defense as it begins the John Fox era.

Worst choice: Alphonso Smith, cornerback. There are a lot of candidates here, but I had to go with Smith. He edged out 2007 No. 17 overall pick Jarvis Moss, who was cut last season. Smith is the choice because he lasted one season in Denver and he cost the Broncos the No. 14 overall pick in 2010. Former Denver coach Josh McDaniels fell for Smith when he dropped to the second round in 2009. McDaniels, running his first NFL draft, traded the team’s first-round pick in 2010 to take Smith. He was replaced four times as a rookie, including by an undrafted rookie. Denver finally dumped him off to Detroit on the final cut-down day last year.

On the bubble: Knowshon Moreno, running back. There are a few choices here, but Moreno has to make immediate strides. The No. 12 overall pick in 2009 has had a slow start to his career. He’s had his moments, but he’s been plagued by injuries and an overall lack of productivity. If he doesn’t progress in 2011, the Broncos may have to make other plans at tailback.

Kansas City Chiefs

Best choice: Jamaal Charles, running back. Charles was a wonderful parting gift from the Carl Peterson era. He was part of Peterson’s final draft in Kansas City and was he a doozy. He was taken in the third round, with the No. 73 overall pick in 2008. The pick was acquired from Minnesota in the Jared Allen trade. Charles has developed into one of the best running backs in the NFL. He is a big reason why the Chiefs were a worst-to-first story in 2010.

Worst choice: Turk McBride, defensive lineman. The Chiefs haven’t had many overtly horrible picks in the past five years. I’m going with McBride because he was a second-round pick, No. 54 overall, in 2007. The defensive lineman spent his second season on the injured reserve and was cut in 2009.

On the bubble: Tyson Jackson, defensive end. Jackson had potential to make Kansas City fans forget about McBride. The defensive end was the No. 3 overall pick in 2009. He hasn’t done much in two seasons. Still, the Chiefs are hopeful that the earnest Jackson will develop into a good player. He will have time to prove himself, but he will be watched closely.

Oakland Raiders

Best choice: Zach Miller, tight end. The Raiders’ 2007 draft will always be remembered for the colossal JaMarcus Russell mistake. But the Raiders did find a gem with their very next pick. They took Miller in the second round with the No. 38 overall choice. Miller has developed into one of the better young tight ends in the NFL. He is a top offensive weapon.

Worst choice: JaMarcus Russell, quarterback. I didn’t have to do much debating on this one. Russell is considered by many league observers to be the worst draft pick of all time. He never improved and the Raiders gave up on him last spring at the age of 24. Russell is still out of the league.

On the bubble: Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver. The No. 7 overall pick in 2009 needs to start producing on a consistent basis and he needs to show he can catch the ball. If not, Heyward-Bey will fall further behind Oakland’s other, more productive young receivers. Heyward-Bey has only 35 catches in 26 NFL games.

San Diego Chargers

Best choice: Marcus McNeill, left tackle. The Chargers have some solid picks in the past five years, but I’m going to go with McNeill. He is not an elite left tackle, but he is a very solid player who is a strong anchor to the offensive line. He is the long-term answer for San Diego at a key spot. San Diego is getting a lot of value for the No. 50 overall pick in 2006.

Worst choice: Buster Davis, wide receiver. The Chargers haven’t whiffed badly on a lot of picks in the past five years. But it looks as if Davis may not ever pan out as a Charger. He was the team’s first-round pick in 2007, No. 30 overall. His biggest issue has been staying healthy. He finally showed some promise last year, but he missed the final nine games with an injury. He has played only 26 games in four seasons.

On the bubble: Larry English, linebacker. English is the fourth 2009 first-round pick to make this list. Like the other three players, it’s time for English to show he can help his team. The Chargers took the Northern Illinois linebacker at No. 16 because of his high motor and ability to rush the passer. English, who already is 25, has only five sacks in two NFL seasons. He missed eight games because of injury in 2010. The Chargers probably will draft a pass-rusher in the first round, so English will have to fight for playing time in 2011.

2009 AFC West draft rewind

February, 11, 2011
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This is the second in a three-part series of an examination of the past three draft classes of each AFC West team leading up to the NFL scouting combine at the end of the month. Last week, we looked at the 2008 class.

Our second part is the 2009 class:

Denver

First pick: No. 12, running back Knowshon Moreno

Total picks: 10

Stars: No player has stood out yet. First-round picks Moreno and defensive end/linebacker Robert Ayers, have not established themselves. Both could end up being good players, but there is also a bust possibility for each.

Duds: Again, Moreno and Ayers need to show something soon. Second-round pick Alphonso Smith was a disaster (more about him in the next section). Fellow second-round picks safety Darcel McBath and tight end Richard Quinn, have done very little as well. Moreno, Ayers, Smith, McBath and Quinn were all taken in the first 64 picks, partly because of the Jay Cutler trade. Yet, Denver has gotten very little out of this group.

The Smith whiff: This is one of the reasons why Josh McDaniels was fired after 28 games. McDaniels made several questionable personnel decision, and this one was particularly poor. Denver traded it 2010 first-round pick (which turned out to be No. 14) to take Smith at No. 37. Smith was replaced four times as a rookie (including by an undrafted rookie), and Denver gave up on Smith last preseason. It traded him to Detroit for backup tight end Dan Gronkowski.

What’s the future of this class? It all depends on the five players from the first two rounds. This was supposed to be a nucleus draft. But if these players don’t develop quickly, this class will be looked at as a total failure.

Kansas City

First pick: No. 3, Tyson Jackson, defensive end.

Total picks: Eight

Star: The player who has been the most productive out of this class so far was kicker Ryan Succop. He was the final pick of the entire class. Yes, the fact that Succop has been the best player of this class says a lot.

Duds: It may be too early to call Jackson a bust, but he hasn’t been overly productive. Jackson has had his moments, and he may turn into a reliable, productive player. But I’m not sure he’ll ever become a player worthy of being taken No. 3. The Chiefs may regret not taking nose tackle B.J. Raji. He went to Green Bay at No. 9 and has become an integral part of the Packers’ 3-4 defense. The Chiefs run the same defense.

Slow start to Pioli era: The first two seasons of the Scott Pioli era in Kansas City have been mostly golden. His 2010 draft class was terrific, and he has made good veteran pickups. But his first draft class doesn’t look overly impressive.

What’s the future of this class? If Jackson doesn’t develop -- 2008 top pick Glenn Dorsey came on in his third year so there’s time for Jackson -- the class will be looked at as being very weak. However, it has to be noted that the team did score linebacker Jovan Belcher as an undrfated free agent. He was a 15-game starter in 2010, and he looks like he has a fine future.

Oakland

First pick: No. 7, receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Total picks: Seven

Stars: Third-round pick defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and fourth-round pick Louis Murphy; both could be longtime contributors for the Raiders. Neither may end up being a star, but they should be productive players who ended up being good-value choices.

Duds: You have to continue to question the choices of Heyward-Bey and second-round pick Mike Mitchell. Both players were considered large reaches on draft weekend and neither has established themselves as a sure things. Both players have potential, but it may be unrealistic to think either will be stars.

Why not Crabtree? Until Heyward-Bey starts playing like a top pick, he will be compared with San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree, who was taken three picks later. Crabtree was considered a much better all-around prospect than Heyward-Bey, who impressed Oakland owner Al Davis with his great speed. So far, Crabtree has been the better pro. Crabtree has 103 catches and eight touchdowns in 27 NFL games. Heyward-Bey has 35 catches and two touchdowns in 26 NFL games.

What’s the future of this class? If Heyward-Bey and Mitchell make big strides, this will be a pretty good draft. If not, it will be remembered as one of missed opportunity. But again, Shaughnessy and Murphy are good players, and seventh-round pick Brandon Myers is a nice role player. So, at least, Oakland is getting something out of this class, and it may be the best class in the division from 2009.

San Diego

First pick: No. 16, linebacker Larry English

Total picks: Eight

Star: Third-round pick Louis Vasquez may be the best player of this class in the entire division. He has been a starter in San Diego since Day One. He looks like he’ll be a 10-12 year starter. He was a terrific value pick.

Duds: There wasn’t much value of this draft beside Vasquez. English -- like the four other first-round picks in this division --- could end up being a bust. English has been injury prone and unimpressive. He was drafted as a pass-rusher, but he has just five sacks in 24 NFL games. He is a hard worker who could still develop. But he has to show something in 2011.

Message to Merriman: The drafting of English was the Chargers’ first public indication that they were losing patience with Shawne Merriman. English was clearly taken to be Merriman’s replacement. The oft-injured Merriman was cut in 2010.

What’s the future of this class? The Chargers have hope for fourth-round picks defensive end Vaughn Martin and guard Tyronne Green. If they can develop, there will, at least, be some value in the class other than Vasquez. But if English turns out to be a bust, this class will be remembered as a failure.

Josh McDaniels forced Denver's hand

December, 6, 2010
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Josh McDanielsRon Chenoy/US PresswireJosh McDaniels finished his two-year tenure in Denver with an 11-17 record.
Can you blame the Denver Broncos for firing Josh McDaniels?

Perhaps no NFL coach in recent memory has torn down a team as quickly as McDaniels, who was hired as a 32-year-old hotshot in January 2009 and fired less than 23 months later. He will forever be known as someone who clearly got too much too soon and was unwilling to do it any way but his own.

When McDaniels took over, the Broncos were on the doorstep of the playoffs and were a team that just needed some tinkering and refreshing after the 14-year Mike Shanahan era grew stale. McDaniels leaves Denver after 28 games with the franchise in terrible shape and without a true identity.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen waffled on the coaching decision last week, but emphatically changed his mind 24 hours after his team was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-9 record and a quarter of the season remaining. His decision answered the pleas from legions of Denver fans who have been calling for McDaniels’ head since Oct. 17 -- when the Broncos lost by 45 points at home to Oakland.

The Broncos fired McDaniels before even deciding who would be the interim coach. This is not a similar situation to the recent head-coaching changes in Minnesota and Dallas. There is no legitimate spark to be made, no season to salvage. The Broncos are in the look-ahead mode and they are doing so without McDaniels.

There are, of course, two smoking guns in this situation: the recent videotape scandal and McDaniels’ 5-17 record after starting his NFL head-coaching tenure with a 6-0 record.

The word around the franchise is that Bowlen and CEO Joe Ellis were very upset about the scandal. By not waiting until after the season to fire McDaniels, perhaps the Broncos can get out of paying McDaniels his salary for the final two years of his contract. That would certainly give Denver, which also has to pay Shanahan next year, a boost in hiring a replacement in January.

The NFL concluded that video director Steve Scarnecchia acted alone when he videotaped a San Francisco walk-through the day before the 49ers beat the Broncos in London on Oct. 31. The league had no proof McDaniels knew that Scarnecchia -- whom McDaniels knew when the two were in New England -- was planning to tape the practice. But McDaniels was still fined by the league for not disclosing the incident once he found out. That may be good enough reason for the team to prove it had cause to fire McDaniels.

The videotape incident was far from McDaniels’ only issue. He made several questionable calls in his short Denver tenure that all played a role in the Broncos’ demise.

McDaniels showed his feisty side less than two months into the job when he tried to get his backup quarterback in New England, Matt Cassel, in a trade that would have involved 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler. McDaniels couldn’t score Cassel, who ended up in Kansas City, and then feuded with Cutler before shipping the quarterback to Chicago. Cutler is probably heading to the playoffs with the Bears this season while McDaniels is heading to the unemployment line.

Other famous McDaniels gaffes include trading running back Peyton Hillis to Cleveland for No. 3 quarterback Brady Quinn and trading Denver’s No. 1 pick in 2010 to take cornerback Alphonso Smith in the second round in 2009 -- only to give up on Smith this year.

McDaniels also parted ways with successful defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after one season and changed Shanahan’s patented zone-blocking running scheme to a more traditional power scheme. Denver’s run game has been at the bottom of the NFL nearly all season.

The Broncos went from one of the more attractive organizations in the NFL to one in total disarray. McDaniels will go down as one of the most reviled figures in Denver sports history.

The timing of his firing may have been a surprise, but in the end it was deserved.
The AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, 6-4, got good and bad news Thursday on the injury front as they prepare to play Sunday in Seattle.

Standout rookie tight end Tony Moeaki returned to full participation in practice Thursday after dealing with a head injury that kept him out of the Chiefs’ win against the Cardinals on Sunday. If he doesn’t have a setback, he should play at Seattle. It also looks like fellow rookie, receiver/running back/returner Dexter McCluster is on track to play Sunday. He practiced fully for the second straight day Thursday after missing four games with an ankle injury.

However, cornerback Brandon Flowers, who is having an outstanding season, didn’t practice again Thursday because of a hamstring injury he suffered against Arizona. It might be difficult for him to play Sunday. Guard Ryan Lilja (foot) and tackle Branden Albert (groin) continued to be limited in practice Thursday.

In Oakland, Raiders’ coach Tom Cable said star left cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is “90 percent” and remains on track to play Sunday against Miami, as expected. He's missed two games with an ankle injury.

Denver linebacker D.J. Williams was limited in practice for the second straight day with a concussion suffered Monday night in San Diego. The team is hopeful he'll play against St. Louis. Linebacker Robert Ayers looks to be on track to play against St. Louis. He practiced fully Thursday for the second straight day after missing several weeks with a foot injury.

Some players in Pittsburgh are not pleased that Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour didn’t get fined heavier for knocking down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. Seymour was fined $25,000. It is not being received well in Tennessee, either.

Former Denver assistant Mike Heimerdinger is going to finish his work week, remarkably, before starting treatment for cancer next week. He is the offensive coordinator in Tennessee.

It was a tough day for former Denver cornerback Alphonso Smith in Detroit’s 21-point loss to New England on Thursday. Smith gave up three touchdowns and was benched in the Lions’ loss. He has five interceptions this season. Denver traded its 2010 first-round pick (No. 14) to take Smith at No. 37 in 2009. Denver gave up on him and traded him to Detroit in September.

Midseason Stock Watch: Broncos

November, 10, 2010
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Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 22. This week: No. 29.

2010 schedule/results

[+] EnlargeJosh McDaniels
AP Photo/ Jack DempseyThe low point of the first half for Josh McDaniels and the Broncos was a 45-point home loss to Oakland.
Where they stand: Things are not good in Denver. The three other teams in the division all have hope for the rest of the season. The Broncos look like they are headed for a last-place finish. They haven’t finished last in the AFC West since 1999, when they were 6-10. Denver is 2-6 and does not have the look of a team on the rise. The Broncos are last in the NFL in rushing and they are 31st in stopping the run. The team has dealt with a lot of injuries. It looks like a team that is wearing down. Denver was competitive for the first six weeks of the season despite having a 2-4 record. But the Broncos were embarrassed in a 59-14 home loss to Oakland in Week 7 and that has become the lasting memory of this team in 2010 thus far.

Falling: Josh McDaniels, head coach: First, it doesn’t matter that McDaniels’ stock is falling. He is still fully expected to return to Denver for his third season. Denver ownership is not going to pay McDaniels, former coach Mike Shanahan and a new coach in 2011. Still, McDaniels is on the hot seat in the minds of Denver fans. There have been constant calls for McDaniels’ head since the 45-point loss to Oakland. After McDaniels started 6-0 last season, the Broncos are 4-14 and don’t appear to be headed in the right direction. McDaniels has also caught heat for several personnel decisions. It is not helping his cause that young castoffs Peyton Hillis, Ryan Torain and Alphonso Smith are excelling elsewhere.

Rising: Denver’s passing game: McDaniels deserves credit for the success of the passing game. The Broncos stayed in games early in the season through the air. Denver quarterback Kyle Orton is having a terrific season. Orton has made great strides in his two seasons in Denver under McDaniels. Orton truly has been a top-tier quarterback this season. Denver’s receiving group has been excellent as well. Journeyman Brandon Lloyd is having an All-Pro season. He's having the best season of his NFL career at the age of 29.

Midseason MVP: Orton. Name 10 quarterbacks who are better than Orton right now. It’s tough to do.

Outlook: This has all the feel of being a lost season in Denver. After last season’s collapse, the Broncos didn’t have the type of offseason that made league observers think this team could quickly climb back into contention. Then, injuries battered the Broncos in training camp and the preseason. It just doesn’t seem like Denver can come back and be a factor this season. In the end, 2010 may be go down as one of the most forgettable years in Broncos' history.
McDanielsRon Chenoy/US PresswireJosh McDaniels and the Broncos had no answers in Sunday's blowout loss to the Raiders.
Josh McDaniels is suddenly no longer being compared to Mike Shanahan, the man he replaced in Denver.

In the past five days, McDaniels’ name has been more connected to Wade Phillips.

Ouch.

That’s what happens after one of the worst days in team history. McDaniels was in charge of the Broncos on Sunday when they were dismantled at home 59-14 by the rival Oakland Raiders. The Raiders came into the game with a 2-4 record, coming off a loss to the previously winless San Francisco 49ers and they were playing their backup quarterback.

It was a total embarrassment. The sold-out Invesco Field at Mile High crowd departed early in droves. Those who stayed until the bitter end savaged McDaniels as he left the field. It reminded longtime residents of the Rocky Mountains of the abuse Phillips took when Oakland beat the Broncos by 32 points in 1994.

That was Phillips’ second and final season as Denver’s coach. Denver owner Pat Bowlen quickly ended the Phillips era and hired Shanahan, who had a mostly good 14-year run before he was replaced by McDaniels after a late-season collapse in 2008.

McDaniels’ popularity in Denver was uneven prior to the Oakland game. He caught the ire of some fans for the handling of the departures of standouts Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. But others liked the energy of McDaniels, 34, and liked the direction he was taking the offense. In short, the jury was still out on McDaniels, whose team was competitive in the early stages of the 2010 season, even though it was 2-4.

But Denver doesn’t take kindly to being blown out by the Raiders at home. In the days since the loss, talk radio in Denver has been dominated by fans who are calling for his head. Readers have flooded my AFC West mailbag daily this week with questions about McDaniels’ job security. Adam Schefter addressed the suddenly hot-button subject this week in his mailbag on ESPN.com.

McDaniels was asked about fan frustration in his news conference Wednesday. He didn’t shy away from the subject.

“It bothers me because I understand the frustration and the passion of the people in this state, in this city and in this organization,” McDaniels said. “I think that we mirror that here. The players do, the staff does, I do -- I know that [Bowlen], [chief operating officer] Joe [Ellis] and everybody does. The best way for us to try to help remedy that is to work and to win."

The following is an examination of the pros and cons of Denver moving away from McDaniels at the end of this season.

Pros of firing McDaniels

The Oakland loss: This was a legacy defeat. It will be the signature game of McDaniels’ Denver tenure until he reaches the playoffs. You can’t be in charge of a team that has taken this type of whipping and make observers believe your team is going in the right direction.

Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. came away with this observation after the loss to the Raiders: “This thing was over in the first quarter, and the Broncos did not tackle, they did not play with any gap discipline and there was very little pride in this performance. And this kind of a loss can have lasting implications all season.”

McDaniels apologized to ownership, the team and fans after the loss. It is clear he knows the potential ramifications of the game.

4-13: McDaniels’ troubles extend beyond the loss to the Raiders. Since his team opened the 2009 season with a 6-0 run to begin his NFL head-coaching career, the Broncos have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. Denver is 4-13 since the 6-0 start.

Seventeen games is a large enough sample size to conclude that these are the real Broncos under McDaniels and not the team that started 6-0 (and ended up blowing a 3.5-game lead in the AFC West).

Another damaging statistic is that the Broncos are 0-4 at home against AFC West opponents under McDaniels. The Broncos were almost always competitive under Shanahan. That has not been the case so far under McDaniels. It is a legitimate question to ask if it will ever happen.

Questionable decisions: McDaniels is one of Denver’s primary decision-makers despite him never being in that role before.

Of course, his most scrutinized decision came before he ever roamed the sideline in Denver. McDaniels traded Cutler, a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback, after the two fought when Cutler caught wind of McDaniels wanting to trade for Matt Cassel, who excelled for him in New England in 2008. Cutler was sent to Chicago for a load of draft picks after a five-week saga.

This offseason, McDaniels traded Marshall to Miami. While Marshall and McDaniels had their issues, Marshall had plenty of problems in Denver in his three seasons in Denver before McDaniels came to town.

McDaniels has had so-so success in free agency and the draft. In 2009, McDaniels traded Denver’s 2010 No. 1 pick (No. 14) to take cornerback Alphonso Smith in the second round. After Smith struggled as a rookie and in camp this summer, he was shipped to Detroit for a reserve tight end on cut day in September.

McDaniels also has jettisoned two running backs from Shanahan’s final draft class in Denver -- Peyton Hillis and Ryan Torain. Both youngsters are playing well elsewhere while Denver has the NFL’s worst-ranked run offense. Days after tackle Tyler Polumbus was cut and claimed by Detroit this summer, the Lions flipped him to Seattle for a draft pick.

Moves such as these have all made observers question if the task is too big for McDaniels at this point of his career.

[+] EnlargeMarshall
Geoff Burke/US PresswireReceiver Brandon Marshall had three consecutive 100-catch seasons in Denver before he was traded to Miami.
Cons of firing McDaniels

Passing offense: There’s no denying McDaniels’ ability to coach offense, especially in the passing game. He has made quarterback Kyle Orton -- a throw-in in the Cutler trade -- a legitimate standout quarterback.

Receiver Brandon Lloyd has enjoyed career resurgence under McDaniels, and receiver Demaryius Thomas looks to have a future in the NFL. Denver could be explosive under McDaniels, who was the architect New England’s record-breaking offense in 2007.

Rash of injuries: Prior to the Oakland game, it was fairly impressive that the Broncos had been competitive in three of their four losses because all of the injuries the Broncos have endured.

The injuries started early in camp. The biggest blow was when Pro Bowl linebacker Elvis Dumervil was lost for the season with a pectoral injury a week into camp. Dumervil is Denver’s best defensive player and he led the NFL with 17 sacks last year.

Several players, including starter Knowshon Moreno, have dealt with injuries. It seems every week the Broncos have been dealing with a significant injury. Yes, that is part of life in the NFL, but perhaps McDaniels will buy some time because of the onslaught of injuries.

Tebow Factor: McDaniels' decision to draft Tim Tebow could end up being a reason to fire him. Or it could end up being a reason to keep him. McDaniels should get a chance to develop Tebow, whom McDaniels took at No. 25 in April after dealing three picks for the former Florida quarterback.

While Tebow was a polarizing draft figure, McDaniels had no reservations. He thinks Tebow can be a star. But it may take time for him to develop. Orton was given a one-year contract extension during the summer, so Tebow probably won’t get a chance to start until 2012.

I’m not sure Denver’s brass will want to fire McDaniels before he proves he can make Tebow a franchise quarterback, and McDaniels’ track record working with quarterbacks is intriguing. There’s no guarantee any coach who replaces McDaniels would be a believer in Tebow.

Conclusion: I generally think an NFL coach deserves three seasons to build a program, and I think that is the case with McDaniels. I do know Denver’s ownership really likes McDaniels and trusts him. There has been silence from the top in Denver in the days since the Oakland debacle, but that is to be expected.

I think he is safe, unless, of course, there are a few more humiliations like the Oakland loss in Denver’s final 10 games. McDaniels didn’t do himself any favors with this loss, but talk of his demise may be premature at this point.

AFC West mailbag

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
4:00
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Midweek mail call:

Jeremy Climer from Louisville wants to know if I think Philip Rivers will have a reputation for not winning when it counts a la Peyton Manning earlier in his career if he doesn’t lead the Chargers to a Super Bowl.

Bill Williamson: Sure, I think every quarterback is judged on his ability to win a Super Bowl. A Super Bowl ring separates the great quarterbacks from the good quarterbacks. Rivers, in his fifth season as a starter, has had a great career, but he won’t be given full credit until he can win a Super Bowl.


Jerry from Houston wants to know what I think about Alphonso Smith's production in Detroit.

BW: It’s pretty wild and it has to be maddening to Denver. Smith has three interceptions for the Lions, including one he returned for a touchdown against the Rams on Sunday. Denver gave up on Smith and shipped him to Detroit on cut day for backup tight end Dan Gronkowski. In 2009, Denver traded its No. 1 pick in 2010 (which turned out to be the No. 14 pick) to take Smith at No. 37. He was replaced in Denver several times and the Broncos would have cut him had he not been traded. He showed nothing in Denver. Obviously, the Broncos have to be frustrated.


Mike from San Francisco wants to know what I think of Mike Mitchell's play in Oakland’s win over San Diego.

BW: The backup safety played well in the wild Oakland win. He was lauded by Oakland coach Tom Cable. Mitchell seemed very active and was solid in coverage, which is something he has had problems with. The surprise second-round pick in 2009 has a ways to go, but he looks to be making some strides for the Raiders.

You pick it responses

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
4:15
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Denver’s trade of 2009 second-round pick Alphonso Smith is our AFC West storyline of the week.

The other candidates were San Diego trading for receiver Patrick Crayton and Oakland starting rookie Jared Veldheer at center despite him having limited experience at the position and him coming from a small school.

Each story received support, but it was clear the Smith story was the biggest … and most embarrassing.

Denver gave up on Smith a year after it traded is No. 1 pick in 2010 (No. 14) to take him at No. 37. Smith never showed anything in Denver. The fact that Denver gave up on Smith so early was stunning.

Below are some of your responses. Thanks to everyone who participated:

Josh from Washington, D.C: Even though I may be biased as a Broncos fan, I'm going to have to say that Denver trading Alphonso Smith is the big story here. He was one of Josh McDaniels' first picks, and he flopped. In fact, every pick he made in 2009, except for Knowshon Moreno, looks like a bust. This is the big story because it is just another example of poor draft choices and trades over the last couple years. As for the other stories, the Patrick Crayton trade is far more important than Oakland's center. He adds the skill set an leadership that the Chargers need in their receiving corps. Anyway, when was the last time that Oakland had any personnel continuity? Coaches and players just don't survive there unless they are one of Al Davis' chosen ones, at which point they will be vastly overpaid and given too many extra chances to not play poorly.

Erik from Chicago: I am a sucker for a Cinderella Story. Veldheer played tackle last year at Division II Hillsdale. Now he is starting at center in the NFL.

Jeremy from Greeley, Colo.: By far the story has to be trading alphonso smith for a third string/previous seventh round TE. Smith and for that matter the broncos drafting ability has been a major disappointment. It really brings to mind how much of a crapshoot the draft really is and what the sacrifice Mcd is making by drafting the upper echelon of high character individuals. Along the same lines, it makes the draft fan extremely frustrated because it also calls into question the entire drafts overall performance. I don't like to think that anyone can do it, but at the time I, like most people would had already penciled in orakpo, malaluga and ron brace up until the pick was announced. Instead we end up with a injury prone RB, a LB that is struggling to contribute and a third string TE. Please don't rip me for saying I would have taken two pro bowlers in hindsight, I can send you my 2 round mock if you really want.

Marc King from Richmond, Va.: Hi Bill,While I think that the humiliating Denver move with Smith is a big story, it's not the best one. For me it comes down to the 2 positive stories out of San Diego and Oakland. I'm glad that San Diego is taking a firm position on Jackson's holdout. I hope more organizations will follow that example. The biggest story coming out of the AFC West is rookie Jared Veldheer starting at center for the Raiders. This young man, coming out of a division II school, was unheralded and looked over by much of the league. But in each opportunity he's been given (each a greater challenge), Jared has stepped up and performed well. He may end up being the steal of the draft. If Jared Veldheer and Lamar Houston both play well this year, it will make Oakland's drafters look like geniuses and signal the turning point for this struggling team.

Steve from Edmonton, Alberta: My vote for the you pick it story of the week is Denver giving up on Alphonso Smith.The way this thing played out is an embarrassment to the Broncos organization. In all my years of following the NFL, I can't remember a team trading a 1st round draft pick for a guy, then trading him a year later for Grownkowski who was a 7th round pick.That alone should put McDaniels on the hot seat this season. Turning a 1st round pick into a 7th round pick is simply astounding.

Brady from Phoenix: Hey Bill, the story of the week has to be Denver dumping Smith, which overall centers more on how well McDaniels is doing as a head coach. This is very frustrating to see as we could have used this draft pick in this years draft, which has been on of the deepest in years. I think this shows McDaniels lack of experience as a head coach, making moves on an impulse instead of sticking to a plan. However, I would rather be in this situation than keeping Cutler! No thanks to weak leadership and league leading interceptions. I think McDaniels has a lot to learn and its mistakes like these that test how well a head coach can adapt to failure. Thanks.

Daniel from Los Angeles: With all the coverage of Jackson's holdout over the summer, I think the Crayton deal is the story this week. Crayton receives a lot of flak from Dallas fans for his number of dropped passes. I suppose it's well-deserved for Cowboys fans to complain considering the two he had vs the Giants in the 2008 postseason. However, this is two years later and Crayton is a good player. He looked better than Roy Williams last year and with a QB like Rivers, Crayton really has a chance to have a great year. Vincent Jackson is certainly a top-flight receiver, but the Chargers are stacked and ready to win without him.

Enrique Alvarado from San Diego: Crayton joins Chargers. He's know Vincent Jackson but at least the Chargers brought in a receiver people have heard about. Im a true believer that Rivers can make any receiver look better with his accuracy and because of this Crayton should fit in nicely. I think at the end of the day its just going to take time for Rivers to get comfortable with Crayton. Honestly it really doesnt matter the Chargers and especially Rivers will miss V.Jackson. This team has only took two steps back with McNeil and Jackson still not on this team.

Kevin from Lebanon, Or.: The story should be Veldheer starting in Oakland, what a great story about a small school kid showing some versatility and landing a starting spot. Congrats Jared and good luck. However, the big story is Alphonso Smith getting booted out of Denver. Proof enough for me McDaniels doesn't know what he is doing, 1st rounder for a 7th rounder in one years time. Ouch!! If he had been a Raider, Al Davis would be crucified in the media.

Christopher Merrill from Tulsa: Chargers trade for Crayton:This is a fascinating pick and one that could possibly have VJ wondering what his advisors are doing. I do consider that VJ believed that he was not replaceable. The Chargers are doing everything to counter that perspective. Many years ago John Jefferson (JJ) also considered himself irreplaceable and looked what happened and I am not convinced that Jackson was as good as JJ. VJ really needs to be careful or he will end up as JJ did. Receivers are only as good as their quarterbacks ? be careful what you wish for!

Brian from Chicago: The trading of Alphonso Smith is the easily the story of the week. As a die-hard Broncos fan, I am absolutely annoyed that Denver wasted a first round pick on Alphonso Smith. It was a poor decision by a first year coach. It is crystal clear that Smith was not worthy of any first round pick (let alone the 14th overall pick) and, beyond that, that he wasn't the worthy of making the Broncos squad even at the bottom of the depth chart. That said, I, without question, support McDaniel's decision to quickly rid the organization of a mediocre draft pick. Too many NFL organizations hold onto poor draft picks for too long and to the detriment of the team. The Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals are examples of organizations that took years to come to these decisions when, in the end, little changed from when those players entered the organization to when they were eventually acknowledged as busts.While the poor drafting needs to be acknowledged, the decision to quickly accept it and move on needs more attention. Josh McDaniel's may not be perfect as a coach thus far but he's willing to drink the accountability kool-aid he peddles to his players and that should be applauded.

Will from Harrisburg, Pa.: Denver cutting Smith shows nothing more than a big draft mistake; but in truth, it's not huge news. Smith didn't do much, and got benched for an undrafted guy.The big news in the AFC West this week is the Chargers signing of Crayton. It was only a matter of time before the Cowboys put him up. I think he should have been the #2 guy in Dallas, behind Austin, but I'm not paying these guys, Jerry Jones is, and he MUST hold on to Bryant, obviously, and letting go of Roy Williams would be a blow to his own pride. So Crayton is out, and unfortunately, he went to the Chargers. Veldheer as a center is a cool concept; looking forward to seeing how well he and Campbell work together.

AFC West mailbag

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
4:00
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Mid-week mail call:

Tony from Denver wants to know if I think the Broncos’ leadership knows what it is doing in light of curious personnel decisions.

Bill Williamson: Well, Tony, there are reasons to question Denver’s recent decisions. Jarvis Green and Brandon Stokley were released after they were given bonuses. Second-year cornerback Alphonso Smith was traded to Detroit for little in return a year after Denver gave up its No. 1 pick in 2010 (No. 14) to draft him in the second round. Last month, Denver cut tackle Tyler Polumbus only to see the Lions claim him and then quickly trade him to Seattle for a pick. These decisions alone won’t make Denver a losing team, but they are signs that the front office may have to police itself better.

Eric from Fresno wants to know if I think second-year safety Mike Mitchell is safe in Oakland.

BW: Well, he’s on the team and that’s all we can go by. We’ve all heard the talk that the Oakland coaching staff didn’t want to keep Mitchell on the 53-man roster but owner Al Davis did because he was a second-round pick last year. I think all we can do is see how much Mitchell plays and if he makes any improvements. If he doesn’t, he will eventually fade away. Maybe Mitchell will turn into an impact player, but most NFL teams had him rated as an undrafted free agent. So, it’s fair to wonder.

Nico from Alexandria, Va., wants to know if Denver coach Josh McDaniels is fired before the 2012, what happens to Tim Tebow’s future as the starter in Denver.

BW: That’s, a very interesting question, Nico. Here’s the setup: Kyle Orton is set to by the starter through 2011 with Tebow likely taking over in 2012. That will be McDaniels’ fourth season in Denver. If the Broncos flounder in the next two seasons, McDaniels may be in big trouble. However, because he has a good working relationship with Tebow, Denver ownership would be patient with McDaniels even if the team did struggle because it wanted to see how Tebow would perform. But if McDaniels were to be fired before Tebow takes over, I think the next coach would be asked to give Tebow a chance. Too much is invested in Tebow to go away from him before he is given an opportunity to lead the team.

You pick it: AFC West storylines

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
12:00
PM ET
The candidates are:

Chargers trade for Crayton: With Vincent Jackson holding out, San Diego added reliable veteran receiver Patrick Crayton in a trade from Dallas.

Denver dumps Smith: Denver gave up on cornerback Alphonso Smith, trading him to Detroit. Denver gave up its No. 1 pick in 2010 (No. 14) to trade up to take Smith at No. 37 during the 2009 draft.

Oakland starts rookie center: Third-round pick Jared Veldheer won the Oakland starting center job. The small-school bred Veldheer was drafted as a tackle and has limited experience at center.

Pick your story of the week and hit my mailbag with your thoughts. I will post some of your thoughts later in the week.

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