AFC West: Daniel Fells

AFC West free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Denver Broncos

Key additions: QB Peyton Manning, CB Tracy Porter, TE Joel Dreessen, TE Jacob Tamme, S Mike Adams, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Andre Caldwell.

Key losses: DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR, Eddie Royal, TE Daniel Fells, QB Tim Tebow, QB Brady Quinn, TE Dante Rosario.

Did they get better? The Broncos added Manning and that move changes the course of the entire division. Denver is instantly the favorite to win the AFC West again because of this addition. Yes, there are risks as the 36-year-old Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury that required several surgeries. Denver is convinced Manning is fully recovered and has been cleared to play.

If the 2012 Manning is anything like the Manning we last saw, Denver will be in good shape and the offense will be dangerous. The key is on defense. It has improved greatly and the Porter and Adams additions should help, even while losing Bunkley will hurt. Overall, this team made huge strides in the offseason.

What’s next: Denver’s biggest need areas are at defensive tackle (the Broncos may need two), running back, safety, receiver and linebacker. However, much of that need is for depth purposes.

Denver’s only true glaring hole is at defensive tackle. Expect the Broncos to use their No. 25 pick on the position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team’s second-round pick is used on a running back unless the Broncos like one of the remaining veterans on the market.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key additions: CB Stanford Routt, RT Eric Winston, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, QB Brady Quinn.

Key losses: CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Demorrio Williams.

Did they get better? Had it not been for the Manning blockbuster, everybody would be taking about what the Chiefs did. I think the Chiefs’ work in free agency was among the best five in the NFL.

Instead of giving quarterback Matt Cassel serious competition, the Chiefs further committed to him by giving him some strong pieces on offense. Hillis will team with Jamaal Charles to make a dangerous running tandem. Winston is one of the league’s better right tackles and Boss and Tony Moeaki will give opposing defenses fits in double tight end sets. This will be a varied offense that will have many weapons. The Chiefs are solid on defense and Routt is a veteran who is comparable to Carr, but more experienced and is less expensive.

What’s next: The Chiefs could use a nose tackle, help at inside linebacker, secondary depth and offensive line depth. They will get a good player with the 11th pick and I think they will try to solidify the middle of the defensive line with someone like Memphis’ Dontari Poe. If the Chiefs can add an impact defender with that pick, it will complete an outstanding offseason.

Oakland Raiders

Key additions: G Mike Brisiel, CB Ron Bartell, CB Shawntae Spencer, CB Pat Lee.

Key losses: LB Kamerion Wimbley, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, CB Stanford Routt, TE Kevin Boss, DT John Henderson, RB Rock Cartwright, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, CB Chris Johnson.

Did they get better? It’s difficult to argue this team improved. Just look at all the losses. It’s a pure fact of numbers, Oakland lost much more than it brought in. This team has more questions than it did at the end of last season and it has more holes. With limited cap space and the fact Oakland doesn’t pick in the draft until No. 95, the Raiders will have a difficult time adding any more impact players. Depth can be an issue.

I understand why this has happened. The new Oakland regime had to get things in order, and sometimes, before a team can make major steps forward as an organization, it may have to take a step back. There is still a lot of talent in Oakland, but it is clear the other three teams made more impactful additions.

What’s next: Oakland will be challenged to find impact players, but it will need to add depth at several places after finding a starting outside linebacker. Oakland needs depth at linebacker, the secondary, offensive line, running back and at quarterback. I think we will see Oakland be patient and add at spots all the way up into the season.

San Diego Chargers

Key additions: WR Robert Meachem, LB Jarret Johnson, WR Eddie Royal, FB Le’Ron McClain, QB Charlie Whitehurst, S Atari Bigby, TE Dante Rosario, LB Demorrio Williams

Key losses: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert, G Kris Dielman, S Steve Gregory, QB Billy Volek.

Did they get better? I’ve talked to a lot of scouts who believe the Chargers improved. The truth is they lost two good players in Jackson and Tolbert and so did not improve as much as Denver and Kansas City did. But the Chargers did get creative and added a lot of pieces for the price it would have cost to keep Jackson. They also retained key offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Jared Gaither. Meachem and Royal give quarterback Philip Rivers some interesting weapons.

Johnson will help the defense and he will make it tougher. The Chargers may have gotten a little deeper while losing some star power.

What’s next: The Chargers still haven’t addressed their greatest need outside of keeping its offensive line intact. San Diego will no doubt use its No. 18 pick on the best available pass-rusher to help Johnson is not a great pass-rusher.

Other needs include a big backup running back, offensive line depth and some more depth in all layers of the defense.

Tight ends split from Denver

March, 19, 2012
It looks like Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario could see the writing on the wall.

As news broke that Peyton Manning will sign with Denver, Fells signed with the New England Patriots and Rosario signed with the San Diego Chargers. Tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme may be on their way to Denver for a Colts’ reunion.

Rosario will add depth in San Diego, and his signing continues a trend of intra-AFC West movement. He clearly thought he better get a new job because of Clark and Tamme’s potential arrival in Denver.

The Broncos currently have Julius Thomas and Virgil Green at tight end. They were rookies last season. Green will serve a four-game NFL suspension to start the season for using banned substance. The team expects Thomas to make strides in his second season whether or not Manning gets to play with some familiar faces.

Denver to become Indy West?

March, 19, 2012
As expected, Peyton Manning will likely not be coming to the Denver Broncos empty handed.

NFL Network reports center Jeff Saturday is coming to Denver for a visit and veteran receiver Brandon Stokley may sign. They both played with Manning in Indianapolis. The other former Colts who could sign in Denver are running back Joseph Addai and tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme.

If Saturday signs, that would mean Denver would either trade J.D. Walton or make him a backup. Walton is a good, young player, but Manning and Saturday have had a long relationship and have great chemistry. Stokley is a former Denver receiver who would probably be a No. 4 receiver with the Broncos. Manning stayed at Stokley’s house when he visited Denver earlier this month.

In other AFC West news:

The contract between Denver tight end Daniel Fells and New England is done. He signed a three-year deal.

The Boston Herald reported that that former San Diego defensive lineman Luis Castillo visited with the New England Patriots. He has already visited Kansas City,

Tennessee is visiting with pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley. He was cut by the Raiders on Friday.

Former Oakland guard Robert Gallery will not be coming back to the team. He reportedly has signed with New England. Oakland cut Gallery last summer and he was with the Seahawks last season.
San Diego running back Mike Tolbert is in Carolina visiting with the Panthers, according to a league source.

If the visit goes well it is not out of the question that Tolbert signs with the Panthers in the next 24 hours. Unless there is a dramatic change of direction, it appears Tolbert’s days with the Chargers are over.

He was one of the team’s priorities, but talks have stalled. If the key backup leaves San Diego, the Chargers could turn to Kansas City’s Jackie Battle or Oakland’s Michael Bush to back up Ryan Mathews.

In other AFC West news:

Denver tight end Daniel Fells is visiting New England on Monday.

The Broncos have re-signed middle linebacker Joe Mays. He was a serviceable starter in 2011, starting 12 games. The team would like to see Nate Irving become a starter. If so, the 26-year-old Mays will still have value as a special-teamer.

Free-agent offensive lineman Samson Satele was arrested in Hawaii (where he lives in the offseason) on disorderly conduct charges, a petty misdemeanor. Satele played last season for Oakland, which may not bring him back in 2012.

Evening AFC West notes

March, 12, 2012
Here’s another indication that the Raiders will soon cut pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley. reports that it will be done Tuesday. Wimbley’s release has appeared to be a foregone conclusion for days; expect San Diego to be in play once he becomes free.

Matt Leinart has been cut in Houston. He could be a candidate to join the Raiders. He played in Houston under new Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. The Raiders will very likely be in the market for a backup quarterback, so it is very plausible that Leinart could back up Carson Palmer — just as he did when both were at USC.

The Chiefs gave inside linebacker Jovan Belcher a second-round tender. Thus, the restricted free agent will likely be with the team in 2012 and it could preclude Kansas City from being interested in Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly with the No. 11 pick in April's draft.

With the Raiders suddenly in the market for a reliable veteran tight end, one option could be Houston’s Joel Dreessen. He played for Knapp in Houston. thinks former Denver receiver Brandon Lloyd could be in play in San Diego. If Vincent Jackson leaves, Lloyd could be an interesting fit. The Chargers will have a need.

The Chargers are holding onto two key exclusive-rights free agents.

A Denver columnist thinks Peyton Manning has slayed Tebow-mania in Denver.

New England could be a possible landing spot for Denver free agent tight end Daniel Fells.

AFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 7, 2012
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.
With free agency just three weeks away, we will continue to look at potential pairings in the AFC West.

Here is one possible fit that may not stop San Diego Chargers' fans in their tracks, but it is one move that could improve the offense. It would also weaken a division opponent.

The Chargers could potentially making a play for Denver Broncos tight end Daniel Fells.

Fells, 28, came to Denver last season as a free agent from St. Louis and started 15 games for the Broncos last season. He had just 19 catches for 256 yards. But with the Rams during the 2010 season Fells notched 41 catches and showed he can be a receiving threat.

Denver quarterback Tim Tebow struggled to find the tight end last season even though Fells was open often. He did have value as a strong blocker. If Fells stays in Denver, he will likely be the starter.

Starting San Diego tight end Antonio Gates has missed a total of nine games in the past two seasons, so the Chargers may be interested in adding a reliable backup. The Chargers often use multiple tight end sets, so Fells would likely be on the field often. His strong blocking ability would help in the running game as well.

The Chargers have a lot to do in free agency, so finding a role tight end likely won’t be a top priority. But Fells will be affordable and he could be attractive to the Chargers if Denver does not keep him.
Here are some highlights from our AFC West chat, which was held earlier Thursday:


Daylon from Wyoming: Fox has never been a big on receiving TE's, but I think one would help Tebow immensely. You see Fox going after one after drafting two duds (so far) last draft?

Bill Williamson: They have a solid on in Daniel Fells and they are high on Julius Thomas. Hitting the tight ends is something Tebow will have to improve on. Fells was open a lot last season.


Scott from Oregon: If the chiefs don't sign Bowe would they consider V. Jackson of the Bolts?

BW: I think that could be a possibility. What about Wes Welker. Make Baldwin the deep threat and Welker (who knows Pioli well) a possession guy. Still, that might be a pipedream because I have a hard time seeing Welker leaving the Patriots.


John from CA. Do you think the raiders should have hired the DC of a top 5 defense (Chuck Pagano) instead of the DC of the 20th ranked defense

BW: I'm not sure if a coach should be hired simply on rankings. The big picture here is Allen immensely improved the worst defense in the NFL and he has a big upside. Don’t you think the Ravens have better talent on defense than the Broncos do?


Nick W. from Indianapolis: What does San Diego need to do to get to a Super Bowl?

BW: Better pass rush, better health and better ball security.
A theme developed in the divisional playoff round: the dominance of the young, athletic tight end. Whether it was New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, or San Francisco’s Vernon Davis or New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, the tight end took over.

It is clear a way to offensive success in the NFL is having one of these types of players. Let’s take a look at each AFC West’s teams situation at tight end:

Denver: The Broncos have an interesting crew of tight ends. It has veterans Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario and youngsters Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. Fells is a good blocker and receiver and the team would like to re-sign him. But they are excited about Thomas (who like Graham was a college basketball player) and Green. Thomas was a fourth-round pick and Green was a seventh-round pick. Green is further along than Thomas right now, but the team believes Thomas -- who was bothered by an ankle injury all season -- has Graham-like potential.

Kansas City: The Chiefs have a young stud in Tony Moeaki. They just need him to get healthy and to stay healthy. Moeki set some Kansas City rookie tight end records in 2010 (yes, the great Tony Gonzalez was a Chief rookie at one time), but missed all of the 2011 season with a knee injury. He is improving and the team is excited about his future.

Oakland: The Raiders signed Kevin Boss after Zach Miller shocked the team by signing with Seattle last summer. Boss has big-play ability, but he has some limitations. The Raiders could like to see more plays and better health from Boss in 2012.

San Diego: Antonio Gates is one of the best tight ends the NFL has ever seen. He has been dealing with injuries the past few seasons and he is likely on the back nine of his career. Still, he will be an impact player in the immediate future. Watch for San Diego to look for an eventual replacement fairly soon.
Tim TebowDavid Butler II/US PresswireTim Tebow's memorable run in the 2011 season ended with a 9-for-26 passing performance.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Denver Broncos lost two games by a score of 45-10 this season. They were two lopsided bookends in an unpredictable journey that ended Saturday night.

In between not looking anything like a playoff team during an Oct. 30 home loss to Detroit and a season-ending thumping at the hands of the much better New England Patriots, the Broncos reinvented themselves and became a team with hope for the future.

“It may be hard to see it now after an embarrassing loss,” Denver tight end Daniel Fells said in a quiet Denver locker room Saturday night, “but there is something there. ... We did something this year that was unexpected, and there is something good to look forward to in the future.”

That future very likely will include Tim Tebow.

In a season in which Tebow became a household name in non-sports-centric households and in which he became a sport's lightning rod like we’ve rarely seen before, the Broncos’ season ended with Tebow not being the story.

While Tebow, who was just 9-of-26 passing for 136 yards, didn’t do much to help his team, Saturday night’s game was not a Tebow type of game. The Denver Broncos became an unlikely playoff team this season because they played smart, hard football in all three phases of the game in their victories. It became evident early Saturday that the allure of Tebow would be quickly overshadowed by the sheer brilliance of Patriots QB Tom Brady and the stunning dominance of second-year New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Tebowing became a national craze and a phrase used daily. On Saturday, though, the Broncos were sent packing because they were Bradyed and Gronked.

Brady tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes, and his 363 passing yards were a team playoff record. Gronkowski had 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. TebowMania might be cute, and it might be legitimate in the fourth quarter (and overtime) of close games. But it wasn’t that type of party Saturday night.

Brady and company were bent on letting the rest of the NFL playoff field know they are tired of being considered a postseason antique. They’re hunting for their first Super Bowl victory in seven years, TebowMania be damned.

While Denver’s season ended in a fashion that usually would sting an organization, there wasn’t a sense of despair in the locker room. It seemed the players knew this was a season of progress and it was a success, everything considered.

When Denver introduced John Fox as its coach a year ago Friday, there was no way anyone could have imagined the Broncos would advance to the final eight and beat the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. This was a team that had the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft. The rebuilding project seemed like it would take years.

That assessment didn’t change when Denver started the season 1-4 before inserting Tebow at quarterback.

“People wanted to close the book on the Broncos,” receiver Matthew Willis said. “But we kept fighting.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaIn his first season as Broncos coach, John Fox, left, adjusted his approach to Tim Tebow's talents.
It all changed after the home loss to Detroit when Fox adjusted his offense to Tebow’s skill set and used the option offense. The Broncos’ offense transformed through the season and adjusted on the fly.

Now, the ride is over and the Broncos must look toward the future.

Tebow said Saturday night that he must become more accurate and consistent, and he plans to soon start working on what will be his first full offseason as an NFL player. Legendary Denver quarterback John Elway, who is now the Broncos’ football leader, has said he plans to personally work with Tebow in the offseason, focusing on improving the youngster’s footwork.

Elway was in Denver’s locker room after the game and appeared satisfied with the season. He wasn’t ready to chat about the future and has yet to confirm the Broncos will ride with Tebow as their quarterback in 2012. Don’t be surprised, however, if the Broncos commit to Tebow soon.

That’s the direction the players want the team to take. Several Denver players said Saturday night that they believe Tebow will continue to make strides and he is the answer at quarterback.

“He’s our guy,” Denver rookie safety Rahim Moore said. “Our team jells around him. He is only going to get better.”

That could be said of the entire Denver roster. This is a work in progress. Brady and New England’s offense showed there is still much work to be done in Denver defensively. The Patriots compiled 509 yards of offense and took their foot off the gas in the second half after leading 35-7 at halftime.

Denver needs help on both sides of the ball. But there is no denying this is a well-coached team that tasted unexpected success in a season that might just be scratching the surface of TebowMania, if that’s even possible.
Brandon Flowers has been honored for his day of redemption in Oakland.

The NFL has named the Kansas City cornerback the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his outstanding play in the Chiefs' 28-0 win at Oakland in Week 7. Flowers had two of the Chiefs’ six interceptions in the game, including one he took back 58 yards for a touchdown. He added five tackles and four passes defensed. The fourth-year player is having another strong season. He is tied for the AFC lead with four picks.

Flowers had one of the roughest days of his NFL career last November in Oakland as then-rookie Jacoby Ford roughed-up Flowers in Oakland’s comeback win. This is Flowers’ first player of the week honor.

In other AFC West nuggets Wednesday:

The Chiefs re-signed tight end Anthony Becht. Receiver Jeremy Horne was cut Tuesday.

Chiefs coach Todd Haley gave his team an early-season history lesson that may be now be paying off.

Denver rookie safety Quinton Carter knows he has to do all he can to stay a starter.

Oakland coach Hue Jackson talks about his quarterback situation in a radio interview.

Denver tight end Daniel Fells -- who has been outstanding since coming over this summer as a free agent from St. Louis -- is a believer in quarterback Tim Tebow.

Oakland running back Darren McFadden has fallen off’s MVP Watch.

Denver linebacker Von Miller remains atop’s Rookie Watch.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was practicing some Wednesday despite hurting his ankle Sunday. The Lions play at Denver on Sunday.

Denver Broncos cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
Check here for a complete list of the Denver Broncos' roster moves.

Surprise move: The cuts of defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon and safety Kyle McCarthy were unexpected. Jarmon was brought in through a trade from Washington for Jabar Gaffney. He was expected to be part of Denver’s defensive-line rotation. McCarthy was working with the first-team defense for parts of camp. But in the end, 2010 draft picks David Bruton and Darcel McBath were kept over McCarthy.

No-brainers: There was talk that Derrick Harvey could be cut. But the team needs to keep him, especially with Jarmon out. The former No. 8 overall pick from Jacksonville is needed on Denver’s tenuous line. While he probably will never live up to his lofty draft position, Harvey is solid against the run and could help Denver. Also, I’m not shocked that Denver kept only rookie tight ends Julius Thomas and Virgil Green behind starter Daniel Fells. They cut Dante Rosario and Dan Gronkowski. The Broncos really like their three tight ends.

What's next: The Broncos have the No. 2 waiver priority. Expect them to use it often. Denver probably will look at defensive linemen, cornerbacks, offensive linemen and running backs on the waiver wire. The Colts cut defensive tackle Tommie Harris. DT is Denver’s greatest need, but the Broncos might be reluctant to pursue a player who has been cut by the Bears and Colts this year. Recently cut defensive linemen Jacob Ford (Tennessee) and Marcus Harrison (Chicago) could be appealing to Denver.

Late-summer AFC West checkpoint

August, 26, 2011
This unusual NFL season is about to start in two weeks. A lot has happened in the month since the lockout has been lifted. With the signing period and training camps over, let’s take a checkpoint look at each AFC West team:


Key pickups: Running back Willis McGahee, defensive tackle Ty Warren (he could be out for the year with a triceps injury), defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, defensive end Derrick Harvey, tight end Daniel Fells.

Key losses: Offensive tackle Ryan Harris.

Story of camp: There has been quarterback news nearly at a daily clip. The fallout is this: Kyle Orton is the starter, Brady Quinn looks like he has the edge to be the backup and second-year quarterback Tim Tebow is currently the third-stringer after a less-than-spectacular training camp. Don’t expect Denver to trade or cut Tebow. He should be in Denver this year, but perhaps being nothing more than a special-package player. Give credit to both Orton (who was nearly dealt to Miami in the days right after the lockout ended) and to Quinn. Both have played well during the tumultuous time at the position.

Keep an eye on: Denver’s defense. The Broncos took a hit with Warren’s injury. He was the team’s big-ticket pickup and he was signed to give stability at the team’s weakest area. But the Broncos seem to have made some strides on defense this summer. The unit, which was No. 32 in the NFL last year, seems more aggressive and it has some playmakers. Pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil (back from missing all of last season with a pectoral injury) and No. 2 overall pick Von Miller look like they could give this unit life. It's clear new head coach John Fox has already positively impacted this unit.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: "Denver may be better than people realize. I don’t love the offense, but it will be OK. Defensively, I think they will be much better. I think the front office had a promising offseason as they rebuild.”

Kansas City

Key pickups: Receiver Steve Breaston, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, fullback Le'Ron McClain, offensive tackle Jared Gaither, linebacker Brandon Siler (he is out for season with a torn Achilles).

Key losses: Defensive linemen Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith

Story of camp: The defending AFC West champions had a nice, quiet, productive camp -- until the final days of it. The Chiefs built great momentum after adding several key veterans to an already-impressive roster. The only controversy was whether or not coach Todd Haley was taking a chance by taking camp slowly as a precaution because of missed time during the offseason due to the lockout. Then, the bombshell hit. It was reported that first-round pick Jon Baldwin and veteran running Thomas Jones had a locker room fight. Baldwin hurt his hand as a result and he is expected to miss the rest of the preseason. The Chiefs aren’t talking about it, but it is a strike against Baldwin, who had character concerns at Pitt. The Chiefs took Baldwin to help them win right away. This event isn’t a devastating blow, but it has to raise concerns.

Keep an eye on: Of all of the Chiefs’ moves, the signing of Gaither may be the most intriguing -- and the most promising if he can stay healthy. Before he missed all of last season with a back injury, Gaither was considered one of the better young left tackles in the NFL. Assuming he can play, Gaither could play either left tackle or right tackle. If he plays left tackle, Branden Albert would move to right tackle. He could further solidify a good line.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: “I think Kansas City is the second-best team in the division. Give the Chiefs credit. They have surrounded Matt Cassel with every possible weapon to help make him successful. They are also solid on defense. I just don’t think they are as good as the Chargers.”


Key pickups: Tight end Kevin Boss, quarterback Trent Edwards, quarterback Terrelle Pryor

Key losses: Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller, guard Robert Gallery

Story of camp: The Raiders lost some big names and they added some big names as they began the Hue Jackson era. However, a late-round pick from Tennessee stole the show in camp. It has been all about receiver Denarius Moore. He made headlines virtually every day in camp with one spectacular catch after another. Most importantly, he has played well in preseason games and he looks polished. Expect the Raiders to give this kid a chance to contribute right away once the regular season starts.

Keep an eye on: The Raiders’ health has been an issue all camp. Several players have missed serious time. Thus far, though, it doesn’t look like many key players will miss time in the regular season other than receiver Louis Murphy, who had surgery on an undisclosed injury, and young linebacker Travis Goethel is likely out for the year with a knee injury. The team said he won’t play at Denver on Sept. 12, but it hasn’t said how long he will be out. Other players such as Boss, receiver Chaz Schilens and cornerback Chris Johnson all could be back for the opener, which is part of an ESPN “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. Thus far, most of the injuries have been nagging and fairly minor. But sometimes the injury bug hits a team and doesn’t stop all season. For now, this is mostly a preseason nuisance.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: "There are things I like. I love the front seven. I love Darren McFadden. But Jason Campbell is an average quarterback on a good day and the offensive line is in flux. Overall, inconsistencies make this the third best team in the division.”

San Diego

Key pickups: Linebacker Takeo Spikes, safety Bob Sanders, pass-rusher Travis LaBoy

Key losses: Running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Kevin Burnett, receiver Legedu Naanee.

Story of camp: I didn't sense this team scrambling to make up for lost time following the lockout. For the most part, the key components of this team are in place and several players worked out together locally during the length of the lockout. The Chargers had seemingly a zillion free agents and they kept the players they wanted. So, it has been a smooth camp in San Diego as continuity has been the key.

Keep an eye on: A lot has been made of the arrival of Spikes and Sanders to the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. But don’t discount impact of No. 18 overall pick Corey Liuget. The Illinois product has been outstanding. He has taken over the preseason games at times. He is an explosive defensive end who quickly gets into the backfield. The game doesn’t seem too big for Liuget. Expect him to be an instant starter and have a chance to be a premier player early in his career.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: “I think San Diego is clearly the class of the division. I don’t think people are paying enough attention to this team. I love the offense. Philip Rivers is good as it gets. He has great weapons. Defensively, this team has added playmakers at every level. If the special teams can improve even marginally, they are going to win a lot more games. This could be the year. I think they are a sleeper team that could win it all.”
The Oakland Tribune reports that Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell is not practicing. He left Saturday’s loss at San Francisco early and he had a concussion test. Yet, Oakland coach Hue Jackson said Sunday he expected Campbell to practice Monday.

It will be interesting to see what Jackson says after practice Monday. It's not out of the question that Campbell sits the rest of the preseason as a precaution.

The Raiders, who have been banged up this training camp, did get some good injury news. Running back Darren McFadden (broken orbital bone), receiver Jacoby Ford and pass-rusher Trevor Scott (knee) all returned to practice Monday. McFadden and Ford were hurt in camp and Scott was hurt last season. Barring setbacks, all three players should be ready to play at Denver on Sept. 12.

In other AFC West-related news on Monday evening:
  • The Broncos waived/injured tight end Richard Quinn. He will go on the injured reserve with a knee injury if he clears waivers. He was a second-round pick in 2009. He has been a disappointment. Quinn was in danger of not making the team even if he stayed healthy. The Broncos like tight ends Daniel Fells and rookies Julius Thomas and Virgil Green.