AFC West: Carl Nicks

AFC West team needs

March, 9, 2012
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Michael BushKelley L Cox/US PresswireRaiders running back Michael Bush could be a good fit for the rival Broncos.
Offseason movement starts Tuesday, when the free-agent signing period begins. Let’s take a look at the top needs of each team in the AFC West in free agency and in the draft:

Denver Broncos

1. Defensive line: The Broncos could use a stout defensive tackle even if Brodrick Bunkley returns. They need a tone setter. Denver hasn’t taken a defensive tackle in the first round since 1997 when it selected Trevor Pryce. Perhaps this is the time that streak ends.

Possible fits: The Dolphins' Paul Soliai, Memphis’ Dontari Poe, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox, Michigan State's Jerel Worthy.

2. Secondary: Denver is too old at cornerback and too young at safety, especially with Brian Dawkins likely not returning. I think the Broncos will look to add to their secondary.

Possible fits: The Redskins' LaRon Landry, Boise State’s George Iloka, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick.

3. Running back: The Broncos want to add a running back to pair with Willis McGahee and will address this need either in free agency or early in the draft.

Possible fits: The Raiders' Michael Bush, the Chargers' Mike Tolbert, University of Miami's Lamar Miller, Virginia Tech's David Wilson, Boise State's Doug Martin.

Scouts Inc. take: "I also think that they need a lot of secondary help overall. I also think they really need a QB, but that is probably a discussion for a different day."
-- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Kansas City Chiefs

1. Offensive line: The Chiefs need a tackle. If they go for a left tackle, they can move Branden Albert to right tackle or they can get one. They might also be interested in a guard.

Possible fits: The Saints’ Carl Nicks, the Dolphins' Vernon Carey, the Eagles' King Dunlap, Stanford's Jonathan Martin, Iowa's Riley Reiff.

2. Nose tackle: The Chiefs have the makings of a strong defense, but they are missing a nasty nose tackle. They need to find one this offseason.

Possible fits: The Dolphins' Kendall Langford, the Ravens' Cory Redding, Soliai, Cox or Poe

3. Inside linebacker: The Chiefs could use one more standout linebacker to flourish in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense.

Possible fits: Boston College's Luke Kuechly, Alabama's Dont'a Hightower

Scouts Inc. take: "Right tackle is far and away their biggest need. I would say nose tackle is second."
-- Matt Williamson

Oakland Raiders

1. Cornerback: The Raiders currently don’t have any starting-quality cornerbacks on the roster.

Possible fits: The Saints' Tracy Porter, the 49ers' Carlos Rogers, the Cardinals' Richard Marshall, the Jaguars' William Middleton, Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward.

2. Linebacker: I get the sense that the new Oakland regime would like to find at least one new starter. I think they can get a cornerstone linebacker who can set the tone for the defense.

Possible fits: The Vikings' Erin Henderson, the Seahawks' Leroy Hill, the Bengals' Manny Lawson, West Virginia's Bruce Irvin.

3. Offensive line: The Raiders' offensive line is a work in progress and they may be looking for at least one new
starter.

Possible fits: Texans' center Chris Myers, Texans' guard Mike Brisiel, Miami of Ohio's Brandon Brooks.

Scouts Inc. take: "Cornerback is far and away their biggest need. I would put right tackle and interior offensive line second."
-- Matt Williamson.

San Diego Chargers

1. Linebacker: The Chargers desperately need a game-changing linebacker. It will be a top priority in the first round of the draft and in free agency.

Possible fits: The Texans' Mario Williams, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, USC's Nick Perry, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus.

2. Defensive line: The Chargers like youngsters Corey Liuget, Vaughn Martin and Cam Thomas, but could use a stud veteran in the middle.

Possible fits: The Seahawks' Red Bryant, Redding, Soliai, Washington’s Alameda Ta'amu.

3. Offensive line: The Chargers may have to make wholesale changes on the line because of Kris Dielman's retirement, and because center Nick Hardwick and left tackle Jared Gaither will be free agents.

Possible fits: Nicks, Carey, Stanford’s Martin, Stanford's David DeCastro, Wisconsin's Peter Konz.

Scouts Inc. take: "To me, the Chargers need a lot. Offensive line is a massive need. Some receivers would be nice if Vincent Jackson leaves. On defense, I think they could use a little something at every level, but their biggest two spots would be at outside linebacker and strong safety."
-- Matt Williamson.

AFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 7, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Denver Broncos

Key free agents: K Matt Prater (franchised), DT Brodrick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, TE Daniel Fells, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Eddie Royal, QB Brady Quinn, DT Marcus Thomas, LB Wesley Woodyard, P Britton Colquitt (restricted).

Where they stand: The Broncos will have plenty of salary-cap room. For a team that went from 4-12 with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to winning the AFC West and a playoff game in John Fox’s first season as coach, the Broncos are in position to improve through free agency. With Prater franchised, the team’s only priority unrestricted free agent is Bunkley.

What to expect: Don’t expect a huge spending spree. The Broncos are cash conscious and I think the franchise is still recovering from some undisciplined spending during the Mike Shanahan era that ended in 2008. We will see the Broncos try to add several pieces at lower prices. Denver could address needs at safety, running back, receiver, tight end, linebacker and quarterback. Keep an eye on players such as Washington safety LaRon Landry, Seattle tight end John Carlson, quarterbacks Chad Henne (Miami), Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh) or Josh Johnson (Tampa), running backs Michael Bush (Oakland) and Mike Tolbert (San Diego), and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene Cincinnati.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key free agents: WR Dwayne Bowe (franchised), CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, LB Jovan Belcher, S Jon McGraw, C Casey Wiegmann, RB Thomas Jones, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Kelly Gregg

Where they stand: The Chiefs are in great shape on cap space even after signing cornerback Stanford Routt and franchising Bowe. They have already done a nice job in free agency with these two moves and have a good, young roster. Kansas City can become a serious playoff contender with the right moves. It is likely Carr will leave in free agency, but the Chiefs should be able to re-sign most of their other free agents if they wish.

What to expect: I’m not sure we will see the Chiefs break the bank for any of the super-hot free agents, but I expect them to do some significant shopping. I think we could see Kansas City look for help at nose tackle, linebacker, safety, tackle, running back and quarterback. Of course, the intrigue could start if the team gets in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. But they could also look at several other quarterbacks, including Orton, Henne, Jason Campbell (Oakland) or even Quinn. They could also be in the mix for Miami nose tackle Paul Soliai, Saints guard Carl Nicks and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England), Bush and Tolbert.

Oakland Raiders

Key free agents: S Tyvon Branch (franchised), RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, LB Quentin Groves, C Samson Satele, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, FB Marcel Reece (restricted).

Where they stand: The Raiders are one of the few teams that must get under the salary cap. Oakland coach Dennis Allen recently acknowledged the team has work to do. The Raiders have some contracts that can be easily restructured, but they also may have to cut some players, particularly on defense. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson are among the top candidates.

What to expect: The Raiders likely face some limitations once they get under the cap, but they can add two or three starting-quality players under the right circumstances. Their primary needs are on defense, starting at cornerback and linebacker. The offensive line could be upgraded as well. I think they can be in on the second wave of cornerbacks. A player to watch is New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who previously played for Allen. There are some solid second-tier cornerbacks Oakland could be interested in other than Porter. There will be some good players available on both sides of the ball after the initial wave of free agency for short-term deals. Expect the Raiders to do some bargain picking during that time. I think Oakland will be interested in signing several of its free agents, but I expect Bush and Campbell will leave.

San Diego Chargers

Key free agents: WR Vincent Jackson, C Nick Hardwick, RB Tolbert, DT Antonio Garay, OT Jared Gaither, FB Jacob Hester.

Where they stand: The Chargers will be in decent shape and they are getting even better after cutting Luis Castillo, the retirement of guard Kris Dielman and the expected release of tackle Marcus McNeill. But San Diego still has a lot of work to do. They have the most priority free agents of any team in the division. Signing Jackson, Hardwick, Gaither, Tolbert and Garay will be a challenge.

What to expect: The Chargers will likely stick to their usual plan and concentrate first on their own free agents. But they also have other needs and they will likely spend more in free agency than they have done before under general manager A.J. Smith. I get the sense from some agents that the Chargers may spend wildy in an attempt to win back the fan base’s trust after the unpopular contract extensions for Smith and coach Norv Turner. The pair were brought back even after missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. I also get the sense from inside the organization, however, that the Chargers will not act out of desperation. Look for the team to consider pass-rushers, nose tackles, safeties and offensive linemen if Hardwick and Gaither aren’t brought back. A receiver will also become a major need if Jackson goes. The Colts' Reggie Wayne could be an option in that case. A running back such as Cadillac Williams (St. Louis) reportedly will be in the mix if Tolbert walks. Soliai could interest the team as well. Chicago special teams ace Corey Graham may also be a target. If the Chargers want to make a huge splash, they could try to get in on Houston pass-rusher Mario Williams, who is widely considered the best player on the market.

Free agency: Dream signing

January, 26, 2012
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Free agency is seven weeks away. A lot will happen before it starts. Players can re-sign with their teams; teams can place franchise tags on players. But as of right now, let’s have a little fun and pick one free agent each team in the AFC West might have atop its wish list.

This is based on need and fit and not whether it is financially feasible:

Denver: Matt Forte, running back, Chicago. Forte will likely be given the franchise tag, but if he were to hit the market, he’d be a great fit in Denver. A backfield of Forte and Willis McGahee would take pressure off quarterback Tim Tebow. I’m sure Forte would be interested in going to Denver because of the team's emphasis on the run.

Kansas City: Mario Williams, linebacker, Houston. He could be tagged, too. Williams might not be a perfect fit for a 3-4 defense, but showed last season before he was hurt that he can play in the system. A Williams-Tamba Hali pass rush could be devastating.

Oakland: Cortland Finnegan, cornerback, Tennessee. Another franchise-tag candidate. But I think this is Oakland’s greatest area of immediate need and Finnegan would be an excellent fit. He is tough and brash and would go a long way in reconstructing this defense. A more realistic, and cheaper, option could be New Orleans’ Tracy Porter. He played for new Oakland coach Dennis Allen when Allen was was the Saints’ secondary coach, but Finnegan would be the dream pick.

San Diego: Carl Nicks, guard, New Orleans. He is one of the highest-rated players in free agency, and because the Saints need to take care of quarterback Drew Brees, Nicks might get loose. The Chargers are facing potential major change on the offensive line. He would be a great anchor to a changing line. San Diego usually doesn’t spend in free agency and it has to address receiver Vincent Jackson. But the Chargers have to prove to fans they mean business and this would be a nice start.

Again, it’s very premature and some of these players might be not even get to the market. Who do you see fitting into the AFC West? Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.

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