AFC West: D.J. Williams.
No, Urlacher is not close to signing with a team in the division. But a longtime AFC West figure is replacing him in Chicago.
Longtime Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams has signed a one-year deal to replace Urlacher as the Bears’ middle linebacker. He was recently cut by Denver. Williams is a versatile linebacker who has experience at middle linebacker. Williams was Denver’s first-round pick in 2004.
In other AFC West notes:
Florida defensive tackle Sharriff Floyd reportedly had a strong pro day workout Friday. He also had a strong combine. He is a possible target of Oakland with the No. 3 pick. Yes, the Raiders were at the workout.
The Kansas City Chiefs re-signed linebacker Edgar Jones. He is a backup who had 10 tackles last season.
Williams, a first-round pick in 2004, simply wore out his welcome. He was suspended for a total of nine games in 2012, and when he returned, he was merely a backup.
Wesley Woodyard received the chance to play full time thanks to Williams’ suspension. Williams had a solid overall career in Denver, but he had too many off–field problems for it be worthwhile to keep him.
Williams, 30, will likely get some interest around the league. Williams is very versatile, so he can play virtually any linebacker spot and could probably start for the next couple of years. A potential landing spot could be Oakland, because the Raiders need a linebacker and Williams played for Oakland coach Dennis Allen when Allen was the Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2011. Also, Williams is from the Bay Area and could be interested in a return.
Denver also cut quarterback Caleb Hanie. Denver saved $6 million by cutting Williams and $1.5 million in cutting Hanie. The Broncos are still trying to cut back Elvis Dumervil's pay. If Dumervil doesn’t agree -- and he has been hesitating -- the pass-rusher could be released.
As for as Hanie goes, his release was expected. He was the No. 3 quarterback. The Broncos like second-year quarterback Brock Osweiler as Peyton Manning’s backup. Expect Denver to add a young, cheap No. 3 quarterback.
In other AFC West notes:
The Chiefs are reportedly interested in Seattle’s Jason Jones. He’d probably play inside in a 3-4 defense and be a rotational player.
Beanie Wells, cut by Arizona on Monday, fits the Chargers' mold for a running back. But I’m not sure we’d see a Ken Whisenhunt-Wells reunion.
Cap Status: The Broncos are in decent position to make some additions. They do have to account for $9.7 million for the franchise tag of left tackle Ryan Clady. Denver will also get more cap room if it cuts defensive end Elvis Dumervil. He is due $12 million this season and the team is trying to pare down his contract. Linebacker D.J. Williams also is expected to be cut.
Strategy: I expect the Broncos to be fairly busy in free agency. There has been some speculation Denver could be big players in free agency and get a high-profile player such as New England receiver Wes Welker. The team reportedly has interest in trading for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. But Denver has a lot of wants, so it may be reluctant to spend too much in one place. Denver may look to add at defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, safety, the offensive line, receiver and running back. So there is a chance we'll see a lot of midlevel-type players. Among the players already connected to Denver are Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall and Colts pass-rusher Dwight Freeney, if Dumervil is cut.
Cap Status: The Chiefs have done a lot of spending already. They still have some room and will get more with the expected cut of quarterback Matt Cassel.
Strategy: No NFL team has been busier than the Chiefs thus far. The new regime found a way to keep three key free agents: receiver Dwayne Bowe, punter Dustin Colquitt and left tackle Branden Albert. But the Chiefs also kept defensive end Tyson Jackson with a much more manageable contract, traded for quarterback Alex Smith and signed cornerback Dunta Robinson. The team is also reportedly close to keeping defensive end Glenn Dorsey. So the new brass is clearly interested in keeping the core of this team while adding at key positions such as quarterback and cornerback. I expect the Chiefs to strike a couple of more times on the open market. But there is no doubt the heavy lifting has already been done.
Cap Status: The Raiders have about $8 million in cap room. More can come with the expected cut of defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. Quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey could also be cut if they don't take pay reductions in the coming days.
Strategy: The Raiders are in a tough spot. They have massive holes throughout the roster. They don't have a ton of cap room, but they also have an impatient owner in Mark Davis. He wants to see the team improve. But the Raiders have been in salary-cap jail for years. There is light at the end of the tunnel for next year. But Oakland has to be smart. McKenzie restructured the deal of safety Tyvon Branch (that McKenzie did last year) just to get some immediate relief. But there is now dead money in future years. Oakland cannot repeat its vicious cycle. But it does have to get some things done now. The good news for Oakland is that this is a deep free-agent class and not a lot of teams are going to spend much. There could be some decent bargains out there. I expect Oakland to pick up a few solid players. Cornerback is certainly a strong position that Oakland will try to improve at.
Cap Status: The Chargers should have about $17 million to spend after the expected cut of defensive tackle Antonio Garay.
Strategy: The Chargers will be interesting to watch. This is a new brass, and thus far, it's been awfully quiet. But things should change once the open market starts. Truth be told, San Diego has to get a lot of work done. It has major holes on the offensive line and at cornerback. Between those two areas, the team may need to add up to five players. But the needs don't stop there. The Chargers also can use a safety, an inside linebacker, a running back and a receiver. Telesco has a strong reputation for being a talent evaluator. We will quickly get a look at how he can add pieces to his new team.
The Denver Post reports the team will try to trade him, but I wouldn’t think they’d get much on the market for him. Williams’ off-field issues and his lack of relevance in Denver will make him difficult to deal.
The paper counts the Raiders as a possible suitor for him on the open market if he is cut. It makes a lot of sense. The Raiders need help at the position, Williams is from the Bay Area and he was coached by Oakland head coach Dennis Allen.
If Williams doesn’t get a better offer (and with his history he may not), Oakland might be able to swing something here.
Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: Who will be each team’s biggest salary-cap casualty this offseason?
Denver Broncos: There aren’t many players in Denver who are in danger of being cut. One player to keep an eye on is linebacker D.J. Williams. He served a two-tiered nine-game suspension last season and finished the season as a rotational player. Williams has been good in Denver, but his off-field headaches coupled with the emergence of Wesley Woodyard have made him expendable.
Kansas City Chiefs: It’s going to be quarterback Matt Cassel. His release will reportedly save the Chiefs more than $5.8 million and his time in Kansas City is simply up. He was benched last year and the regime that brought him to Kansas City with the hopes of him becoming a franchise quarterback has been fired. This is a new era in Kansas City and there is no room for Cassel.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are the team in the division that potentially cuts the most players as they try to create some salary-cap space. I’m going with defensive tackle Tommy Kelly as being the most significant cut. Oakland could reportedly save up to $7 million by cutting him. He has been a solid player, but he has seen his better days. At this point, he will be best used as a rotational player, but his price tag is way too high for that.
San Diego Chargers: While the Chargers probably won’t cut too many veterans, one who appears assured to be shown the door is left tackle Jared Gaither. He signed a hefty contract last year and was a disaster. Gaither played only four games last season and there were heavy rumblings that many teammates and coaches thoughts Gaither wasn’t as injured as he claimed to be. There is little chance he will be brought back.
The Broncos have inactivated standout guard Chris Kuper with an ankle injury. He was downgraded to questionable Thursday morning and he was ruled out after trying to work on his injury prior to the game. Manny Ramirez takes Kuper’s place.
Wednesday night, starting linebacker Wesley Woodyard was ruled out with an ankle injury. D.J. Williams and Danny Trevathan will play for him.
Receiver Brandon Stokley was healthy enough in pregame warm-ups to be activated. He missed last Sunday’s game with a hip and wrist woes.
For Oakland, there are a couple of mild surprises. Running back Jeremy Stewart and receiver Derek Hagan are inactive. Stewart ran well Sunday and Hagan has been one of Oakland’s most reliable receivers.
Stewart is down partly because starter Darren McFadden is back after missing the past four games with an ankle sprain. For the second time this season, second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor is active. I wouldn’t be shocked to see some packages designed for him, perhaps in the red zone.
His outstanding replacement, Wesley Woodyard, is doubtful to play Thursday at Oakland. Woodyard, who leads the division with 100 tackles, was hurt Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Williams has been active for the past three games after serving a nine-game NFL suspension. Williams was a mainstay of the Denver defense until this season. Also, receiver Brandon Stokley is questionable with hip and wrist injuries. He missed the Tampa Bay game.
Update: The Broncos have ruled Woodyard out of the game.
For Oakland, defensive tackle Richard Seymour will miss his fifth straight game with knee and hamstring problems. As expected, Oakland coach Dennis Allen returned to the team Wednesday. He left the tem Sunday night to be say his final goodbyes to his father, Grady Allen. Grady died Tuesday at the age of 66.
In other AFC West news:
Here are the Chargers’ tackle options for Sunday at Pittsburgh: Reggie Wells, Kevin Haslam and practice squadder Kevin Hughes. Two will start with starters Jeromey Clary and Mike Harris out. I’d guess Haslam at left tackle, Wells (who was signed Wednesday) at right tackle, and Hughes is promoted and is a backup. Yes, it is going to be a tough, tough situation at Pittsburgh.
In an Insider piece, Pro Football Focus has a look at the NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidacy of Denver linebacker Von Miller.
Elizabeth Merrill’s Hot Read on the tragedy in Kansas City is a must-read. Meanwhile, the Chiefs attended a memorial service for starting linebacker Jovan Belcher on Wednesday. He killed himself at the team facility after killing his girlfriend, Kasandra M. Perkins on Saturday morning.
- Last month, the Broncos scored the final 35 points to beat the Chargers 35-24. The Chargers led 7-0 but the Broncos scored the rest of the points of the half.
- Denver’s offense started slow, but it has started to pick it up, while its defense has been terrific and San Diego's offense has been anemic. San Diego has two first downs and is just 0-for-7 on third down.
- Quarterback Peyton Manning is now in second place on the NFL's all-time passing list with 421 touchdown passes. He was tied with Dan Marino but pushed past Marino when he threw a touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the corner of the end zone. It was originally ruled incomplete, but Denver challenged the call and won.
- San Diego’s score came on a deflected pass that was brought back for a short interception return for a score by safety Eric Weddle, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. That’s a skill.
- The Chargers had a punt blocked for the second straight game. It was Denver’s first blocked punt in five years. The last time was against San Diego as well.
- Broncos’ running back Willis McGahee is questionable to return with a knee injury. Chargers’ cornerback Quentin Jammer (calf) is questionable to return, and linebacker Larry English (leg) is out.
- Denver linebacker D.J. Williams has played some. His nine-game NFL suspension ended last week.
- San Diego's first-round pick, linebacker Melvin Ingram, is having a nice game.
Thus, Schefter reports, McClain will not serve any jail time nor will he face an NFL suspension. The issue stemmed from an incident in his hometown last fall when McClain was accused of shooting a gun near a man’s head during a fight. McClain was originally sentenced to 180 days in jail.
McClain, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft, has been a disappointment on the field. He has lost some playing time this season. If the Raiders get a chance to draft Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o, they’d very likely seriously consider it.
In other AFC West news:
- As expected, the Broncos activated linebacker D.J. Williams to the 53-man roster. His nine-game NFL suspension ended last week. He will likely be a substitute Sunday in some packages.
- The Chiefs put tight end Jake O’Connell on injured reserve and promoted offensive lineman Rich Ranglin from the practice squad.
- The Tailgate 32 group has video of its trip to Denver.
- Chiefs center Ryan Lilja is out Sunday against the Bengals with a knee problem. Guard Jon Asamoah is also out (thumb).
San Diego left tackle Jared Gaither missed Wednesday’s practice because of a groin injury. He didn’t play at Tampa Bay and he has missed five games this season. He will be monitored through the week as well.
For Denver, defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) and cornerback Tracy Porter (illness) did not practice Wednesday. Denver coach John Fox said Dumervil is day-to-day with a muscle strain. He still has a chance to play Sunday. Porter has been out for four games.
Denver guard Chris Kuper did practice on a limited basis after missing Sunday’s game at Carolina with a severally sprained ankle he suffered in Week 9. Still, I think Kuper may be a longshot to face the Chargers.
Fox said linebacker D.J. Williams looked good Wednesday in his first practice since serving a two-tiered nine-game NFL suspension. He will be eased back into the playing rotation.
In other AFC West news:
- Barring a setback, expect Khalif Barnes to become the starting right tackle in Oakland on Sunday. He has been out since September with a groin injury. Willie Smith took over for Barnes and he struggled.
- Add rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe (knee) to the list of the Chiefs who were limited in practice Wednesday.
- Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) and tight end Brandon Myers (shoulder/concussion) were among the limited players in Oakland’s practice.
The veteran linebacker is just happy to be back. Williams is able to practice with the Broncos again now that his two-tiered nine game NFL suspension has been lifted. He received a six-game suspension for using a banned substance and he received another three-game suspension for his second alcohol-related legal conviction in seven years.
The Broncos haven’t said what their plan for Williams is, but he is expected to be eased back into the lineup because of the rust and because the starting linebackers are playing well. Still Williams should help in the stretch run and in the postseason if the Broncos -- who are 6-3 and lead the AFC West by two games -- advance. Williams said he's open to help the team in any way it wants him to.
“I have no idea. That’s up to the coaching staff to decide,” Williams said. “I would like to jump out there Day 1, but you’ve got to earn the respect of your teammates, earn your spot back, so I’ll just be patiently waiting.”
Sounding contrite, Williams said he realized Denver could have parted ways with him.
“I’m very thankful (to be back),” Williams said. “They could have went a different route and they decided to keep me around. I’m thankful of that. Now that I’m back, I’ll just do what I have to do to help the team win.”
Williams is a good player, but he's been a major distraction to Denver for quite some time now. He owes it to the team to stay focused and help an already good defense become better.
This will be the fifth game Gaither, who has also had back injuries, has missed this season. Undrafted rookie Mike Harris will start Sunday, despite struggling some this season. San Diego defensive end Corey Liuget (hamstring) is active. He was listed as questionable on the injury report.
In other AFC West news:
The Denver Post reports the team heavily restructured the contract of linebacker D.J. Williams. He returns Monday after serving two NFL suspensions that has kept him out of the entire season so far. Williams is expected to be eased back into the defense.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Carolina Panthers are being courted for a possible move to Los Angeles. The Chargers and Raiders have been often connected to L.A. for a potential move.
Story of the quarter: The Kansas City Chiefs’ implosion. The Chiefs are 1-7 and widely considered the worst team in the NFL. They have been No. 32 in ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings for nearly a month. They went 0-4 in the second quarter of the season and have lost five consecutive games. It is getting ugly. Fans are calling for the firing of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel -- and ownership might have a difficult time ignoring those calls if the Chiefs’ season gets any worse. Early last month, right tackle Eric Winston called out some fans because he felt they were cheering when quarterback Matt Cassel suffered a concussion. It became a national story. Cassel was replaced by Brady Quinn. Crennel fired himself as defensive coordinator and replaced himself with linebackers coach Gary Gibbs. The team released starting cornerback Stanford Routt after eight games after signing him to a big-money free-agent deal before the season.
MVP of the quarter: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. There is no doubt, and Manning is very much in the race to be the NFL MVP. He has been stunningly good for much of the season, and particularly so in the past four games. The Broncos went 3-1 in the quarter and lead the AFC West with a 5-3 record, due in large part to Manning’s success. His lowest yardage outing in the past quarter-season was 291 yards. He has thrown a total of 12 touchdown passes (three in each game) and just three interceptions in the past four games.
Rookie of the quarter: Oakland linebacker Miles Burris. The fourth-round pick has been a solid, steady starter and appears to have a good future ahead of him. He seems to play with a mean streak and is around the ball a lot. He is a nice building block for the Raiders' defense.
Coach of the quarter: Denver coach John Fox. His team went 3-1 in the second quarter and is alone in first place. His team has improved around Manning on both sides of the ball and is poised for a strong second half of the season.
Disappointment of the quarter (team): San Diego Chargers. The Chargers went 1-3 in the quarter and stand at 4-4 overall. And those three losses were terrible: San Diego lost a double-digit lead in the second half in New Orleans, then saw a 24-0 halftime lead over Denver turn into a shocking 35-24 home loss. The following week, San Diego lost 7-6 at downtrodden Cleveland. If the Chargers don’t make the playoffs, that three-game disaster will be long remembered.
Disappointment of the quarter (player): San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. He struggled during those blowout losses to New Orleans and Denver and couldn’t do much against Cleveland. Rivers committed nine turnovers in the past quarter. He was very good in Week 9 against Kansas City, so perhaps he is ready to put his troubles behind him.
Biggest unanswered question of the quarter: Can San Diego (4-4) or Oakland (3-5) make up ground against Denver in the next four games? The Broncos (5-3) look like the best team in the division and have the NFL’s easiest remaining schedule. Denver could pull away in the next four games. The Chargers and the Raiders will be challenged to stay in the race.
Fearless prediction for the second quarter: Kansas City -- currently tied with Jacksonville for the league's worst record -- will stay in the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick. I don't see the Chiefs -- who badly need a good young quarterback -- suddenly putting it together in the next four games and taking themselves out of the race. Of course, the bad news for Kansas City is that there doesn’t appear to be a prize like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the 2013 draft. The top pick will be very valuable, but there might not be a sure thing at quarterback.
Eric from Cincinnati wants to know if New Orleans coach Sean Payton could end up coaching in the AFC West in 2013.
Bill Williamson: I’d doubt it. It sounds like he's staying in New Orleans. If he does bolt, the Dallas Cowboys have to be considered the favorite landing spot. There could be openings in both San Diego and in Kansas City, but I doubt either team would win a bidding war for Payton, who looks like he could be the coaching prize of the offseason.
Matt McBeth from El Cajon, Calif., wants to know if I think quarterback Alex Tanney has a future with the Chiefs.
BW: Probably not. He is on the injured reserve now, so the team will likely give him another look in the offseason. He doesn’t project as a potential starter, but stranger things have happened. The Chiefs will probably need to look elsewhere for a young quarterback.
Steve Blecha from San Francisco wants to know if I think D.J. Williams could be used some at middle linebacker when he returns from his NFL suspension next week.
BW: It’s a possibility since Williams can play all three spots. He is versatile and Denver will likely sprinkle him where he is needed as he shakes off the rust. Williams is better at weakside, but with Wesley Woodyard playing at a high level, having Williams get some snaps in the middle may not be a bad idea.
He was a game-time decision because of a toe injury. He is expected to start. There weren’t any other major developments on Oakland’s inactive list.
Meanwhile, the Raiders did not activate linebacker Aaron Curry from physical unable to perform list. The Raiders need to activate him by Wednesday or shelve him for the season.
In other AFC West news:
In an interview with USA Today, suspended Denver linebacker D.J. Williams opens up about his feelings regarding his nine-game suspension and what he expects to give the Broncos on the field after he is eligible to return in Week 11. The question is how much will Denver use Williams when he returns?