AFC West: D.J. Williams.
Crowded quarterback room: The Raiders are keeping four quarterbacks. The team kept both fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and undrafted free agent Matt McGloin of Penn State. It would be highly unusual for a team to keep four quarterbacks. Some just keep two. That’s three players who most likely won’t be playing on game day. That is not ideal for a team with major depth issues. McGloin outperformed Wilson and became the No. 3 quarterback. But the decision to keep Wilson comes down to the Raiders not waiting to give up on a quarterback who was a fourth-round pick. I understand. It would be admitting a huge mistake, and perhaps Wilson (many thought he could push to start as a rookie during the offseason) will figure things out. Keeping four quarterbacks adversely affects this roster. The truth is, none of the current quarterbacks in Oakland -- including Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor -- may be the ultimate answer for the franchise. But the Raiders are reluctant to make any decisions now.
What’s next: The Raiders are thin and will likely look for players for the next several weeks. I would not be surprised if this team adds four or five players this week. Prime need areas are tight end, the offensive line and pass-rusher. There are a lot of interesting tight ends available, including Tony Moeaki (talented, but injured), D.J. Williams (who was in Green Bay with Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie) and Clay Harbor. Possible offensive line targets include Jake Scott and Danny Watkins.
Players cut: DE Andre Carter, LB Omar Gaither, CB Joselio Hanson, T Tony Hills, S Reggie Smith, DL Ryan Baker, DE David Bass, LB Billy Boyko, CB Chance Casey, G Jason Foster, TE Richard Gordon, WR Greg Jenkins, S Shelton Johnson, TE Brian Leonhardt, G Lamar Mady, K Justin Medlock, DT Kurt Taufa'asau, LB Chase Thomas, WR Conner Vernon, RB Deonte Williams and T Willie Smith. G Tony Bergstrom was put on injured reserve. WR Andre Holmes is serving a four-game NFL suspension.
Kansas City’s Tony Moeaki has tweeted he is leaving the Chiefs and the Packers are reportedly cutting D.J. Williams. Moeaki is immensely talented, but he is oft-injured and is dealing with a shoulder injury that could keep him out for an extended time.
However, Oakland doesn’t have much at the position and perhaps it would be worth claiming Moeaki. When healthy, he is far and away better than any tight end on Oakland’s’ roster. The Raiders have the second waiver claim priority after Jacksonville on Moeaki.
The team also could look at Williams. Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie was in Green Bay when it drafted Williams. He isn’t a great player, but he might be worth a look.
Also, it has been reported the Raiders are cutting their seventh-round pick, defensive end David Bass. Oakland coach Dennis Allen had said the Raiders were counting on Bass. The team badly needs pass-rush help. If he makes it through waivers, Bass would likely go to Oakland’s practice squad.
With plenty of road traveled since then, Woodyard is still with the Broncos, he's still fast, smart and a respected leader. And six seasons later, Woodyard is still carving out a bigger role with the team seemingly with each passing season, finding ways to fill needs and solve problems, as the guy who saves the day after somebody else's trouble.
Last season Woodyard, who had been special teams ace and spot player on defense, became a full-time starter at weak-side linebacker when D.J. Williams was suspended for the first nine games of the season. By the time the year was over Woodyard had put together a remember-when season and was just the 12th player since the sack became an official statistic in 1982 to finish with at least 100 tackles, at least five sacks and at least three interceptions in the same year.
Woodyard was the first do that in the league since Brian Urlacher in 2007. Woodyard's athletic enough that Shanahan once played him at safety and such a rock-solid guy in the locker room he’s been a team captain for three different head coaches -- Shanahan, Josh McDaniels and John Fox.
“I’ve always believed I could play this game,’’ Woodyard said. “But it’s about getting the opportunity and being ready for the opportunity. Last season I got it and I made sure I was ready for it.’’
This season another suspension has pushed the Broncos defensive plans off the drawing board as they wrestle with the prospect of Von Miller missing the first six games of the season because Miller violated the league’s substance abuse policy. So, now as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio plays the mix-and-match game to deal with the loss of his best defensive player, Del Rio has moved Woodyard to middle linebacker as the first step.
“Wesley can play multiple spots,’’ Del Rio said. “He’s done that for us here. We’re looking for combinations. We’ve been moving guys around a lot ... but Wesley showed last year he’s a good football player. (He) played a lot of snaps for us and (was) very productive for us. We’re going to get the best combinations of people on the field when we can and put a plan together to utilize them to the best of their abilities and go from there ... Wesley is one of those guys who gives you a lot of options because of all he can do.''
Given Woodyard has practiced at middle linebacker this week and figures to start there Saturday night against the Rams -- the third preseason game when the starters are expected to play into the third quarter -- Woodyard is on track to get the start there against the Ravens in the regular-season opener. Woodyard is also in the final year of his contract -- with a $3 million base salary -- so the Broncos will face a decision at the end of the season about the long-term future of a player they have called upon once again to fix a defensive dilemma.
“I’ve always just wanted to be a guy that didn’t pout, didn’t complain no matter what was going on. And if you’re really a leader and not a guy that just says you’re a leader, you come to work no matter what with the idea you’re going to help the team win a Super Bowl, no matter where they put you. That’s just how I look at it.’’
But with Monday morning's revelation from ESPN NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter that Miller faces a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, the Broncos will now have to grapple with the idea of opening the season without their ultratalented linebacker. In fact, the Broncos’ thoughts on the likelihood and severity of the suspension may be previewed by how they use Miller in practice this week.
On the field it means Nate Irving, Stewart Bradley and Shaun Phillips will have to find a way to be all the Broncos hope they can be. And the Broncos might have to finally adjust how they conduct practice on the defensive side of the ball given Miller has taken virtually all of his usual snaps with the starting defense to this point in the preseason, including starting both preseason games -- in San Francisco and Seattle -- thus far.
Unlike last year, when the Broncos held D.J. Williams out of any work with the starting defense because Williams was facing nine games' worth of suspension, coach John Fox has kept Miller in with the starters throughout training camp and the team’s first two preseason games.
As Fox put it when camp opened, “As of right now, he’s not suspended." And with 30 sacks over the past two seasons, including 18.5 in 2012, Miller's absence would leave a significant hole in Jack Del Rio's defensive plan. And it will take a variety of players used in a variety of ways to cover for that loss.
In the base defense, when Miller lines up as the strongside linebacker, Bradley would remain in the middle, where he has moved in as the starter over the past three weeks. Irving, who spent the offseason workouts as the starter in the middle, would play on the strong side. Irving was Miller's backup on the strong side last season.
In passing situations, situations when Miller would move into a defensive end spot in the nickel or dime packages, it’s Phillips who would then be called upon. Phillips scored the Broncos' only touchdown in the preseason opener in San Francisco with a 9-yard return of a fumble caused by Irving on a blitz from an outside linebacker position.
The Broncos would like to use rookie Quanterus Smith as well in the pass-rush groupings. Smith, however, is still trying work his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last November in his final season at Western Kentucky. Smith has participated in every training camp practice thus far but was pulled out of practice Aug. 1 because of knee pain.
He has practiced since.
“I’m better every day," Smith said. “I’m working through it, I had a couple bad days, but that’s natural. I’ll be there."
It could soon be time.
Miller's appeal of his suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy will be heard today by league officials. And while throughout the process Miller has expressed confidence he would not miss the first four games of the regular season, the Broncos have considered the possibility that some or all of the suspension will stand.
Broncos coach John Fox, when faced with the prospect of Williams' suspension to open the 2012 season -- nine games in all for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and the personal-conduct policy as well -- did not let Williams practice with the starting defense or even the No. 2 defense in last year's training camp.
However, this time around Fox has left Miller in with the starting defense for most of the work in team drills.
"He's our starter, and as of right now he's not suspended,'' Fox said last week. "We're just going to let the process play out.''
With 30 sacks over the last two seasons, including 18.5 in 2012, Miller would leave a significant hole in Del Rio's defensive plan. But a look at how the Broncos have done things thus far in camp shows what the contingency plan would most likely be.
In the base defense, when Miller lines up as the strong-side linebacker, Stewart Bradley would remain in the middle, where he has moved in as the starter over the last two weeks. Nate Irving, who spent the offseason workouts as the starter in the middle, would play on the strong side. Irving was Miller's backup on the strong side last season.
"He's got strong hands at the point of attack and has that ability get rid of the blocker and get to the ball,'' Del Rio said of Irving. "And he's played there quite a bit, he knows what the job is.''
In passing situations, situations when Miller would move into a defensive end spot in the nickel or dime packages, Shaun Phillips would move into that role. Phillips scored the Broncos' only touchdown in the preseason opener in San Francisco with a 9-yard return of a fumble caused by Irving on a blitz from an outside linebacker position.
"[Phillips has] some natural rush ability, was around the quarterback, hitting the quarterback the other night,'' Del Rio said.
The Broncos would like rookie Quanterus Smith in the pass-rush mix as well, with or without Miller in the lineup, but he's still trying work his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last November in his final season at Western Kentucky. Smith has participated in every training-camp practice thus far, but was pulled out of practice Aug. 1 because of knee pain.
He has practiced each day since, although at times he has not looked to be at full speed.
"I'll be ready for whatever they want me to do,'' Smith said. "I want to be out there for whatever they give me to do."
"We're trying to get all the guys ready to go,'' Fox said. "You're always going to have things come up, that's the way this league is. You prepare and make adjustments. So we'll always make the adjustments we need to and go play.''
That was just before Elvis Dumervil couldn't find a fax machine and the Broncos had to release him to avoid paying a $12 million salary guarantee. Boom for Doom, and not only was Dumervil gone, but a $4.869 million dead-money charge was on the Broncos' books immediately after his departure.
Then the Broncos released linebacker D.J. Williams, who was already carrying a $500,000 dead-money charge for '13 because of some earlier business. And with that, another $1.832 million in dead money went on the books.
After they released running back Willis McGahee in June -- he remains unsigned -- another $500,000 in dead money was added. The release in July of linebacker Joe Mays created $3.5 million in cap space the Broncos used to help sign Ryan Clady to a long-term deal, but also added a $666,667 dead-money charge.
So, the Broncos went from having less than $100,000 in dead money to deal with on this year's cap, a remarkable piece of work given where things were two years ago, to $7.868 million in dead money. That's still not in the OMG territory some teams are operating in, but it will impact at least a few of the choices the Broncos will soon make.
It also had at least some impact on why the Broncos renegotiated guard Chris Kuper's contract -- his base salary went from $4.5 million to $1.05 million -- at the same time he was set to move off of the physically unable to perform (PUP) list Tuesday to return to practice on a limited basis.
Certainly Williams' release was a given after his off-field issues began to far outweigh his on-field production. The Broncos had significant concerns about McGahee's knee after he stayed away for much of the offseason program. And the Broncos needed cap space to sign Clady and Britton Colquitt even as Mays was going to have a difficult time making the roster when all was said and done.
But Dumervil's flip-flop from no to yes on a renegotiated deal that led to the fax snafu certainly stung when it happened. And it will sting, at least some, once again when the Broncos cut the roster to 53 players next month.
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).