AFC West: Calvin Johnson

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whenever a name from the Denver Broncos' hefty list of prospective free agents has been tossed toward John Elway, the team’s executive vice president of football operations/general manager has almost always answered the same way.

Something on the order of, "Sure, we want (insert free agent’s name here) back," but then Elway added -- every time -- something about how the open market would set the price tag for the player.

He would then add something about how difficult it is to sign a player before the market value for the player has been established, and how difficult it is for a player to sign before he knows how much he can get. In short, he has characterized it as: How much you want? I don’t know, how much you got? I don’t know.

He has said that about every prospective Broncos' free agent except one -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas isn't going anywhere, and the franchise player tag is proof. The Broncos know what they have in Thomas, they know what he means in their offense, and they want him to stay.

Now, they have to close the deal. The franchise player tag essentially keeps Thomas on the roster.

It’s a one-year deal for $12.797 million guaranteed the moment Thomas signs it. And there is the rub.

A player, especially an elite player like Thomas, would always prefer a long-term deal with guaranteed money.

A franchise player tender is a hefty bag of change, but it’s not a long-term deal. And long-term deals for a player like Thomas look like the seven-year, $113 million deal Calvin Johnson signed in 2012 that is significantly back-loaded and includes $48.8 million in guaranteed money.

Or the seven-year, $67.8 million deal that Andre Johnson signed in 2010, or Mike Wallace's five-year, $60 million deal ($30 million guaranteed) signed in 2013.

Elway has said he could easily see a scenario where the Broncos used the franchise player tag, then the sides agree to a long-term deal after free agency opens.

After free agency opens the market will dictate what the likes of Randall Cobb. Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree receive, and those would only be handy reference points for where the Broncos will have to go on Thomas.

For Thomas, the team has tinkered with a five-year deal. So, start at the $12.787 million of the tag (UPDATE: the actual amount based on the confirmed 2015 salary cap is $12.823 million) -- the Broncos have already shown they believe Thomas is worth that -- and multiply by the years on any prospective deal, and bump it a bit.

So, the Broncos are likely looking at a deal averaging more per year than the recent deals for elite wide receivers, save for Calvin Johnson's $16 million per-year average.

Despite the temporary relief the Broncos get from the franchise player tag, at least in terms of keeping Thomas off the open market, it’s still eats a little less than half their current available salary-cap space, and it's still best for all involved to get a long-term deal done.

They have spent the past few weeks outlining to quarterback Peyton Manning how a new offense, with a new playbook and at least some new terminology, would be of benefit to him. And they have also likely outlined what they could do if they were to get some salary-cap relief by tweaking his contract.

Thomas is Manning’s No. 1 receiver, and as a quarterback who has long extolled the virtues of repetition in developing the on-field chemistry, Manning wants to throw to that No. 1 receiver -- a lot.

Thomas doesn’t have to sign the franchise tender any time soon, until Week 10 of the regular season in the most extreme of cases. The Broncos have until July 15, roughly two weeks before training camp opens, to sign Thomas to a long-term deal. If that deadline passes, they'd have to wait until they’ve played their last regular-season game in ’15 to try again.

Most players who receive the franchise tag don’t sign the tender early because they want time to work on a long-term deal. And those players usually, at minimum, take a pass on the team’s offseason work if no new deal is done.

That’s not something Manning would be excited about; that’s not something a team trying to put in a new offense should be excited about; and it’s not something that would help anyone on any side of the equation. The Broncos have had success in this position before, having used the franchise tag on tackle Ryan Clady and kicker Matt Prater in previous years before signing each to long-term deals before the start of training camp.

So, it means when free agency opens, the Broncos will really need to get down to the business of signing the guy they’ve already shown is their top priority.

NFLN survey/feared player: Broncos

January, 9, 2014
There are two words that most NFL people are usually highly averse to during a football conversation.

Folks don’t often like the word "surprised," as in, "Were you surprised by [insert whatever was an issue in the previous game here]?"

And folks don’t like the word "feared." So when a selection of the Broncos were asked about the league’s most feared player, virtually all of them -- nine of 10 to be exact -- took it to mean a playmaker who was difficult to deal with down to down, not somebody who intimidated them.

So while Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got the nod as the league’s most feared player in the NFL Nation Confidential, Suh got just one of the votes from 10 Broncos who responded to the question.

The winners among the Broncos were 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, with an emphasis on his playmaking and the ability to affect games, and Suh’s teammate in Detroit, wide receiver Calvin Johnson. A lot of people agreed with the Broncos leaguewide, given Johnson finished just behind Suh in the survey and Willis was fourth.

Two of the Broncos went with quarterbacks as their most feared players because, as one of the players put it, "They take everything from you," with Peyton Manning getting one vote and Tom Brady getting one vote.
Moore-Streater USA TODAY SportsDenarius Moore (left) and Rod Streater could be the vanguard of a receiving rivalry in Oakland.
One of the bigger issues for the Oakland Raiders in their decadelong malaise has been the inability to develop a dynamic group of receivers.

Oakland, which has not had a winning record since the 2002 season when it went to the Super Bowl, bypassed future superstars Larry Fitzgerald (2004) and Calvin Johnson (2007) high in the draft in favor of busts Robert Gallery and JaMarcus Russell. The Raiders made a blockbuster trade for Randy Moss. He essentially took a two-year vacation when he was in Oakland before re-energizing his career after he was dealt to New England.

Particularly in the past five years, Oakland has drafted a slew of young receivers in hopes of striking it rich. Promising players such as Chaz Schilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy have all come and gone without making a major impact.

Although the receivers in Oakland’s current stable are young and, for the most part, unproven, there is hope for a franchise that is perpetually waiting for receivers to reach their potential. The Raiders enter the 2013 season hopeful the wait is nearing its end.

“It’s as green as grass,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen recently said of his group. “But there is all kinds of talent here.”

I asked Allen whether he could see himself waking up one morning in the near future and proclaiming that his group of receivers has finally arrived.

“Absolutely,” Allen said. “It’s coming. We just need the guys to step up.”

Oakland has done a nice job of drafting promising receivers late in the draft or adding them as undrafted free agents. All of the receivers projected to make the Raiders’ 53-man roster have potential to be impact players. But they also have to show they can be consistent threats.

The focal points of Oakland’s receiving group are third-year player Denarius Moore and second-year player Rod Streater. They are expected to be the starters. Moore was a fifth-round pick in 2011, and Streater was an undrafted free agent last year. Although both were training camp stars and have shown glimpses of their potential, neither has proved he is an impact player.

A lot of that has to do with their youth. Moore was a bit inconsistent last year, and he had some hands problems. Streater was incredibly fluid for an undrafted rookie, but, as to be expected, he didn’t always show up. Moore ended up with 51 catches for 741 yards and seven touchdown catches. Streater had 39 catches for 584 yards and three TDs. Oakland is hoping both players will make significant strides in 2013.

“I think we have a chance to be a good group,” Streater said. “There are a lot of good athletes in this group. We all are trying to get better together.”

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson likes the potential of Moore and Streater as a long-term starting tandem.

“I am really high on Moore, but he needs to stay healthy and be more consistent as a route runner,” Williamson said. “[Can he be] a true No. 1? That might be a bit of a stretch, since I rarely throw that term around, but he’s right on that cusp in terms of talent. Streater is a good complement to Moore, as he is bigger and more physical. He’s a possession guy to Moore’s explosiveness.”

Although the Raiders’ receiving success starts with Moore and Streater, the group has more to offer. Jacoby Ford has shown he can be a dynamic No. 3 receiver with explosive big-play ability. But he has had trouble staying healthy. He missed nearly the past season and a half with foot problems.

Juron Criner, a fifth-round pick last year, impressed on a daily basis last summer with one phenomenal catch after another. Yet he was pretty quiet in the regular season. Oakland added two more prospects this year with seventh-round pick Brice Butler and undrafted rookie Conner Vernon. Vernon is a prototype slot receiver who looked good in the offseason camps.

All of these players will have the time to develop together and show they belong on their own merits. New quarterback Matt Flynn thinks positive results are possible this season.

“We have some weapons on this offense that I think we can really take advantage of this season,” Flynn said.
The details of Dwayne Bowe’s new deal in Kansas City are out, and I know they look eye popping.

Because they are.

CBS Sports reports Bowe’s five-year deal is worth $56 million with $26 million guaranteed. That currently makes him the third highest-paid receiver behind superstars Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. But I wouldn’t get too caught up in that fact.

In a year, Bowe’s contract will probably be surpassed several times. Free agents Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings could rival the deal in a matter of a week.

New Kansas City coach Andy Reid believes Bowe will be a centerpiece of his offense and he will help new quarterback Alex Smith. The Chiefs paid Bowe what it took from keeping him off the market.

Yes, it’s steep, but that’s the way it goes in the NFL today. Teams must pay to keep their best players .

NFL honors Von Miller

November, 29, 2012
Von Miller is vying for a bigger award, but his outstanding player has recognized by the NFL.

Miller has been named the AFC defensive player of the month. The second-year outside linebacker was outstanding in November as Denver went 4-0. He had eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries. He had at least one sack in four games in November. He was the only player in the NFL to do that.

Miller is a leading candidate for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

In other AFC West news:

Here is another reason why the Raiders need to continue to give Marcel Reece the ball when Darren McFadden returns this week from an ankle injury: Reece has 400 yards from scrimmage in the past three weeks. It’s third in the NFL during the stretch behind Houston’s Andre Johnson (496) and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (490). Reece needs to keep playing.

The Chiefs claimed offensive lineman offensive lineman Hayworth Hicks (he might have the best name in the division) off waivers from the Jets. The Chiefs are banged up on the offensive line, and he will provide depth.

Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said Tamba Hali, Branden Albert and Ryan Lilja are all not going to practice Thursday. They all missed practice Wednesday. Thus, there chances of playing Sunday against Carolina may not be great.
The round of 32 in the SportsNation vote to for the next "Madden" cover was not kind to the AFC West.

There are only 16 candidates remaining. San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is the division’s last representative.

Gates, a No. 8 seed, barely beat the Colts’ Dwight Freeney, a No. 9 seed. The AFC West’s last chance, though, will be a heavy underdog in the Sweet 16. Gates faces Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, a No. 1 seed. Voting goes through next Wednesday.

Every other AFC West candidate was sent packing. Even though he was traded to the Jets last week, Tim Tebow still represented the Broncos. The No. 14 seed was barely defeated by Houston running back Arian Foster, a No. 3 seed.

Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe, a No. 11 seed, was trounced by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, a No. 6 seed. Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, a No. 3 seed, beat Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski, a No. 14 seed.

Wrap-up: Lions 28, Raiders 27

December, 18, 2011

A look at a devastating loss for the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: This defeat was absolutely crushing for the Raiders. They were poised to pull into a first-place tie with Denver, which lost by 18 at home to New England. However, a late Detroit rally kept Oakland a game behind Denver in the division. It was also a major blow for the Raiders’ wild-card chances. Oakland has now lost three straight games and is 7-7.

A man named Suh: In his first game back from a two-game NFL suspension, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got a hand on a 65-yard field goal attempt by Sebastian Janikowski as time expired. Welcome back, big fella.

Late disaster: We’ve seen the Raiders’ defense collapse like this before. But this was bad. Oakland had a 27-14 lead, but the Lions scored twice in the final 4:59, including a touchdown with 49 seconds to go. It culminated a 98-yard drive that started with 2:11 remaining in the game.

Palmer mostly good: The good news for the Raiders is quarterback Carson Palmer had a bounce-back game. He couldn’t extend a late drive, but he had a real nice day. Palmer completed 32 of 40 passes for 367 yards. He did not throw an interception. He went into the game with 13 this season.

Big day for receivers: Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson (who caught the game-winning touchdown) had nine catches for 214 yards. Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey had eight catches for 155 yards. Heyward-Bey needs to be more consistent but he is capable of good things.

Penalties a plenty: We knew this was coming. Oakland came into the game leading the NFL in penalties and Detroit was fourth. Oakland committed 10 penalties for 86 yards and Detroit was flagged nine times for 72 yards.

What’s next: Oakland plays at Kansas City on Saturday. The Chiefs beat the Raiders 28-0 in Oakland in October.

Bailey preparing to face Megatron

October, 28, 2011
One of the more intriguing matchups of the Broncos’ home game against Detroit on Sunday will be between star Denver cornerback Champ Bailey and Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson.

Johnson, nicknamed “Megatron,” is a matchup nightmare because he is 6-foot-5, 236 pounds. He is having a marvelous season. He has 41 catches, is averaging 16.6 yards per catch and he has 10 touchdowns catches. Bailey is still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. While Denver will likely double-team Johnson a fair amount, Johnson and Bailey will likely have their share of individual battles.

Bailey considers this is his first real test against Johnson. The last time these two teams played was in 2007, Johnson’s rookie season. He had three catches for 37 yards in a blowout Detroit home win. But Bailey said he barely faced Johnson. Bailey expects a stiff test Sunday.

“I see a lot of guys struggling against him,” Bailey told reporters in Denver Thursday. “I think with his size, speed and strength he’s going to be tough for anybody.”

Still, when asked if he felt up to covering Johnson throughout the field, all game, the future hall of famer didn’t hesitate, but he knows that won’t be the case.

“I think one guy could be successful, but it does take a team effort to defend him all day,” Bailey said. “You can’t just matchup on him and think it’s going to work all day if he has a good quarterback throwing him the ball. There are some times when he goes up and nobody can get to the height that he reaches, so you have to be smart about it.”
I received a lot of questions about how the new, monster deal agreed to by Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald will affect San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson.

Fitzgerald agreed to an eight-year deal that could pay him up to $120 million. He’ll receive $50 million in guaranteed money. He will average $15 million a year. What kind of impact will it have on Jackson, who the Chargers gave the franchise tag to this year and who is a free agent after the season?

Well, all big contracts raise the bar for future deals at the position.

However, Fitzgerald’s is a different case and I don’t think it will affect Jackson or any other receiver (the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson and the Lions’ Calvin Johnson both could be up for new deals soon). Fitzgerald’s deal does not set set the bar for anyone but himself. He is an icon in Arizona. He is the face of the organization and he is a likely future hall of famer. The Cardinals had to give Fitzgerald this deal.

If other receivers think they are going to get a similar deal, I think they will be fooling themselves. If Vincent Jackson has a big season and stays clean off the field, he will be paid large by either the Chargers or another team in free agency.

But he shouldn’t except Fitzgerald scratch.

Draft Watch: AFC West

April, 7, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos’ top pick is No. 2 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: DT Ndamukong Suh (Lions)

2009: T Jason Smith (Rams)

2008: DE Chris Long (Rams)

2007: WR Calvin Johnson (Lions)

2006: RB Reggie Bush (Saints)

2005: RB Ronnie Brown (Dolphins)

2004: OL Robert Gallery (Raiders)

ANALYSIS: This is the Broncos’ first top-five pick since 1991, when they took linebacker Mike Croel at No. 4. The Broncos would love to have the success Detroit had last year with the pick. Suh looks like a unit changer, and Denver needs a similarly dominant defender. Detroit is the only team to have great success at No. 2 in the past seven years. Along with Suh, Johnson is a fabulous player. There are some good players on this list, though, with no flat-out duds. The Rams hope to see progress in Smith and Long, who made strides in 2010.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers’ top pick is No. 18 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: C Maurkice Pouncey (Steelers)

2009: LB Robert Ayers (Broncos)

2008: QB Joe Flacco (Ravens)

2007: CB Leon Hall (Bengals)

2006: LB Bobby Carpenter (Cowboys)

2005: LB Erasmus James (Vikings)

2004: DE Will Smith (Saints)

ANALYSIS: This is an interesting group. It shows that teams can find franchise players at No. 18 but also that they can make a major mistake with the pick. Flacco was a tremendous value for Baltimore in 2008. Pouncey looks as if he’ll be at center in Pittsburgh for the next decade. Smith has also had a terrific career and was a solid pick at No. 18. James was a terrible pick; Carpenter wasn’t worth it; and the jury is still out on Ayers. The Chargers know they have to pick smart. They took linebacker Larry English at No. 16 in 2009 and are waiting for a payoff. It’s interesting that there are four defensive ends/linebackers on this list. That’s exactly the position the Chargers will be looking for with the No. 18 pick.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs’ top pick is No. 21 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: TE Jermaine Gresham (Bengals)

2009: C Alex Mack (Browns)

2008: T Sam Baker (Falcons)

2007: S Reggie Nelson (Jaguars)

2006: RB Laurence Maroney (Patriots)

2005: WR Matt Jones (Jaguars)

2004: DT Vince Wilfork (Patriots)

ANALYSIS: The Chiefs are not used to drafting this low. Kansas City has picked in the top five the past three years. However, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli is plenty familiar with having the No. 21 pick. He was with New England when it had the choice in 2004 and 2006. Pioli has seen teams score with this pick and seen teams whiff with it. Wilfork was a tremendous choice, but taking Maroney was a blunder. However, the pick has paid solid dividends in recent years. This doesn’t appear to be a bad spot to be in.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders’ top pick is No. 48 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: QB Jimmy Clausen (Panthers)

2009: S Darcel McBath (Broncos)

2008: TE Fred Davis (Redskins)

2007: LB Justin Durant (Jagaurs)

2006: DB Cedric Griffin (Vikings)

2005: LB Odell Thurman (Bengals)

2004: LB Dontarrious Thomas (Vikings)

ANALYSIS: It’s interesting that a quarterback was taken at this spot in 2010. Clausen was the third quarterback taken last year. If a quarterback such as Washington’s Jake Locker or Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett takes a similar tumble, we could see a quarterback taken at No. 48 again. This pick has been hit-or-miss, so it could be worth taking a gamble. Oakland picked at No. 47 two years ago and is still waiting for safety Mike Mitchell to develop. Last year, Oakland took defensive lineman Lamarr Houston at No. 44, and he had a terrific rookie season. In 2007, Oakland took standout tight end Zach Miller at No. 38. The Raiders know they can find talent in the second round.
Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley & Patrick PetersonGetty ImagesMarcell Dareus, Nick Fairley and Patrick Peterson are all options for Denver at No. 2.
There wasn't a debate in the Carolina Panthers’ draft room in 2002.

The Panthers’ brain trust was certain it had identified the player who best fit their needs. All they had to do was wait to see what direction the one team in front of them would take.

“It was stressful because we knew what we wanted, but we still had to wait,” former Panthers executive Tony Softli said. “At No. 2, you can almost control what you want to do, but not totally.”

Softli and the rest of the Carolina brass were overjoyed when the Houston Texans used the No. 1 pick to take quarterback David Carr. That left the Panthers to take their top choice, and they grabbed defensive end Julius Peppers. They survived their short wait.

That was John Fox’s first year as the Panthers’ coach. That experience of having the No. 2 pick ended happily for Fox. Will it happen again? In his first season as the Denver Broncos’ coach, Fox also has the No. 2 pick.

“Knowing John, he’ll want defense,” Softli said. “We’ll see what happens with picking at No. 2 again.”

The Broncos have been busy this offseason studying players at several positions in their attempt to get it right at No. 2. The only team in Denver’s way is Carolina, which has the No. 1 pick. No matter what the Panthers do with the No. 1 pick, the Broncos know they must get this pick right. The Broncos were 4-12 in 2010 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2005. They need an infusion of talent.

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox and Julius Peppers
AP Photo/Rick HavnerJohn Fox found success the last time he had the No. 2 pick in the draft -- in 2002 when he and the Carolina Panthers took Julius Peppers.
“We know that the key thing is -- and we have talked about the fact that we have to be good in the draft -- we cannot miss in the draft, especially with where we are,” said John Elway, the Broncos' new vice president of football operations. “We have to be dead on. … We cannot miss in the draft. We have to be good there.”

Added Fox: "There'll be a player there who's worth that pick in this draft. Some years you don't want to be there, but there's a lot of players there in this draft.”

Softli knows plenty about picking at No. 2. In addition to being in Carolina in 2002, Softli was an executive with the St. Louis Rams in 2008 and 2009 when they had the No. 2 pick.

“Picking No. 2 is a great place to be if there are multiple players to pick from at the spot,” Softli said. “This is a good year to be at No. 2. There are a number of high-quality players. Denver can’t go wrong.”

Softli said it will help the Broncos that there is a chance the Panthers will take a quarterback at No. 1. The Panthers have been linked to Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert.

The Broncos finished last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed. The draft is stacked with top defensive prospects. If the Panthers take a quarterback, Denver would have its pick of any defensive player on the board.

“I think a great spot to be in is No. 2 and not need a quarterback if there is a top quarterback available,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “The stud quarterback is going No. 1. If you pick No. 2 and you really need a quarterback, you probably aren’t going to get him. But otherwise, it’s a solid place to be.”

There haven’t been many quarterbacks taken at No. 2 in recent history. Since 1990, only three quarterbacks have been taken with the No. 2 pick. Each time, a quarterback was taken No. 1. The last time it has happened was 1999, when Philadelphia took Donovan McNabb at No. 2 after Cleveland took Tim Couch No. 1. In the same time span, a quarterback has been picked at No. 1 12 times.

“Usually, there aren’t two quarterbacks worthy of the first two picks,” Softli said. “So, the presence of a quarterback can really make a difference between one and two. If you pick No. 1 and you need a quarterback, you usually take one. That can help the team picking No. 2.”

While the failures of the team picking No. 1 are most remembered, success at No. 2 has been far from guaranteed. There have been epic failures at No. 2 in the past 20 years. Ryan Leaf, taken by the Chargers in 1998, is considered one of the greatest draft busts in NFL history. The Colts took Peyton Manning at No. 1 that year. Other major busts since 1990 at No. 2 include Jets running back Blair Thomas (1990), Seattle quarterback Rick Mirer (1993, taken after New England drafted Drew Bledsoe) and Detroit receiver Charles Rogers (2003).

There have been plenty of draft hits at No. 2 in the time span. Some of the solid picks in that spot include running back Marshall Faulk (Colts, 1994), McNabb, Peppers, receiver Calvin Johnson (Lions, 2007) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (Lions, 2010).

Softli was with the Rams last year when they picked No. 1. Softli said he feels there is nearly as much pressure drafting No. 2 as there is at No. 1.

“It’s almost as hard,” Softli said. “I know everyone concentrates on the No. 1 pick, but an owner will look at you funny if you mess up the No. 2 pick, too.”

Shaun Phillips named to Pro Bowl

January, 24, 2011
San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips was added to the Pro Bowl on Monday. It is Phillip’s first Pro Bowl appearance. He had 11 sacks and he was a big part of the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense.

“It’s huge just because of the fact that I know the work I put in,” Phillips said in a statement released by the team. “In my eyes, I try to play at a Pro Bowl level every year. It’s just good. It will give me additional motivation to keep working and never be satisfied.”’s Page 2 has a terrific look at how team salaries compared to their win/loss records. The Broncos didn’t fare well. They were ranked No. 31 in the NFL. The Broncos spent a lot of money for four wins, which is another indictment on the failed Josh McDaniels’ era.

Al Davis’ shot at Lions’ receiver Calvin Johnson, who is on the NFC Pro Bowl roster and was named second-team All-Pro on Monday, did not play well in Detroit. I think Davis should be careful what he says. Johnson would look pretty good in an Oakland uniform. He’d look much better in the Silver and Black than JaMarcus Russell -- whom Davis took over Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 -- ever did.

The Marvin Lewis-Chad Ochocinco spat is continuing. Why is this important in the AFC West? Because if he is let go in Cincinnati, Ochocinco could emerge in Oakland. He played for new Oakland head coach Hue Jackson in the past and the Raiders have a need for a veteran receiver. Ochocinco said he would like to play for the Jets after saying he’d play for New England. He has also said he’d like to play for Jackson again. Yes, Ochocinco appears focused on doing what it takes not to be in Cincinnati in 2011.

If the Broncos want to hire Green Bay defensive line coach Mike Trgovac as defensive coordinator they must wait until after the Super Bowl, on Feb. 6. Trgovac was the defensive coordinator in Carolina for six years under new Denver coach John Fox. The Broncos interviewed New Orleans secondary coach Dennis Allen for the job Friday. In addition to Denver’s defensive coordinator job, other key coaching openings in the AFC West are the offensive coordinator job in Kansas City and the defensive coordinator job in Oakland.
Three AFC West players were named to The Associated Press’ All-Pro team.

They are Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and Oakland punter Shane Lechler.

Asomugha and Lechler were not surprise first-team choices. They are perennially considered among the best at their position. Charles’ selection as a first-team All-Pro running back culminates his first season as a full-time player. After breaking out in the second half of the 2009 season, Charles was spectacular in 2010 as he shared carries with veteran Thomas Jones. Charles was second with 1,467 rushing yards. He led the NFL with a 6.4 per-carry average.

Several AFC West players made second-team All-Pro. They are: San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, Denver receiver Brandon Lloyd, Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe, Oakland safety Michael Huff and San Diego safety Eric Weddle. Huff and Weddle are among nine safeties who tied for the second team. Lloyd and Bowe were tied with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson for the second-team receivers.

AFC West notes from New Arrowhead

September, 13, 2010
KANSAS CITY -- I’m settling into the huge press box at the impressive New Arrowhead Stadium in preparation for tonight’s AFC West showdown (the battle for first place, baby) between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs.

There is a chance of heavy rain and thunder in Kansas City on Monday night. Let’s hope there will be not a delay for a game that is set to kickoff at 10:15 ET.

ESPN’s Suzy Kolber reported on SportsCenter earlier Monday that rookie Kansas City running back/receiver Dexter McCluster is expected to play. He was listed as doubtful on the injury report Saturday. I’ll update McCluster's situation when I hear something.

Meanwhile, let’s get caught up on some headlines across the AFC West:
  • Calvin Johnson’s controversial non-touchdown catch for Detroit on Sunday had to bring back some bad memories for the Raiders. Last year, on opening day, Raiders’ rookie receiver Louis Murphy had a similar touchdown play reversed. The Raiders ended up losing by four points. Like Johnson’s catch, Murphy’s catch looked like a touchdown to me.
[+] EnlargeJaMarcus Russell
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRussell won only seven games in three seasons with the Raiders.
The clouds have lifted over Oakland.

JaMarcus Russell was cut Thursday, three years after being the No. 1 overall pick.

The Oakland Raiders can finally move on from what must be considered the biggest all-time draft whiff. The team took its first step in the recovery when it traded for former Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell during the draft weekend in April. Thursday, the process was completed.

Russell was holding Oakland back. His mere presence was a painful reminder to his teammates and fans that the Raiders were clinging to the impossible hope that Russell was going to be successful.

Owner Al Davis must be given some credit for making this decision. Davis gets a lot of heat for not owning up to his errors, and many league observers thought he would keep Russell just because he wouldn’t admit the mistake. But the real mistake would have been to keep Russell. Good for you, Al.

Clearly, it wasn’t an easy move for Davis. He liked Russell and believed in him. The Raiders gave Russell one last chance at their mandatory minicamp last week. After performing well in the first practice, Russell reverted to his old ways for the rest of the camp.

Russell has a rocket arm but lacks all the fundamentals of an NFL quarterback. His work ethic and conditioning were a major problem. Although he looked to be in decent shape last week, he played way too heavy for much of his career in Oakland. The Raiders were not pleased when Russell did not show up at 260 pounds for the offseason conditioning program in March.

He also reportedly had issues paying attention. In an ESPN Outsides the Lines segment on Sunday, former Oakland teammates told tales of Russell sleeping through meetings.

Quarterbacks are supposed to lead and Russell rarely commanded his team. The Oakland offense suddenly came alive when fiery Bruce Gradkowski replaced Russell in November.

Russell ends his Oakland career with a 7-18 record. It is the worst record by any quarterback who was a former No. 1 pick. With the $3 million Oakland owes him this year, the Raiders will have paid Russell $39 million for seven wins.

There is no doubt this pick has hurt this franchise. Oakland could have taken receiver Calvin Johnson with the top pick in 2007 and addressed the quarterback position elsewhere.

But it’s finally over.

Oakland did the right thing by going to Campbell. He will make this team competitive.

Now that Russell is gone, the Raiders can continue to try to get better without the stink of the Russell failure.