AFC West: Derek Anderson

The idea of getting a second chance has long driven Romeo Crennel.

Getting back in the head-coaching chair he fought so long and hard to get into in the first place, has fueled Crennel -- long respected as one of the NFL’s best defensive minds -- since he was fired as the head coach in Cleveland in 2008 after four seasons.

[+] EnlargeRomeo Crennel
Denny Medley/US PresswireRomeo Crennel completed his stint as the Chiefs' interim coach with a 2-1 record, including a win against the unbeaten Packers.
Now that he has secured that second chance, Crennel said he hasn’t had much time to reflect on the opportunity. He is too busy diving into his role as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Time spent congratulating himself on achieving his goal would be time wasted.

“I have 1,000 things to do to get this thing going,” Crennel said. “This is an opportunity that I want to take advantage of … I am happy to get that second chance and there were times I didn’t think it would happen.”

Thus, when the door opened for Crennel, his determination to earn a second chance was evident. Crennel, who took a season off after being fired in Cleveland, became the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator in 2010. When he was named the interim coach after the Chiefs fired Todd Haley with three games remaining this season, there was talk Crennel had a chance to become the permanent coach.

In Crennel’s first game as the head coach, the Chiefs knocked off the Packers. It was Green Bay’s only loss of the regular season. After losing in overtime at home to the Raiders in Week 16, the Chiefs won in Denver in a game the Broncos could have clinched the division title outright with a win. Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity.

Kansas City conducted some other interviews after the season, but the inevitable happened Jan. 9 when Crennel officially got his second chance. At the age of 64, Crennel wasn’t exactly counting on being a head coach again. He is now the second-oldest active head coach in the NFL behind the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin, who is 65.

Now that he has received his second chance, Crennel is determined to prove he isn’t another name in the “good coordinator, bad head coach” bin.

Crennel, who was bypassed by six teams in 2003 after interviewing for head-coaching jobs when he was the Patriots' defensive coordinator, was 24-40 in Cleveland. The Browns did go 10-6 in 2007 under Crennel, but didn’t make the playoffs.

“We had a 10-win season there and I knew we did some good things there,” Crennel said. “I want to prove what we can do given this opportunity.”

Crennel said he has already applied lessons learned in Cleveland in his short time in Kansas City. Crennel’s first act as the interim coach was to replace quarterback Tyler Palko with Kyle Orton. Crennel struggled with a quarterback controversy in Cleveland between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. He was determined to avoid one this time.

Another reason Crennel is fueled for his second chance is he knows he is in a better situation. He acknowledged that the talented Chiefs’ roster is better than the roster he inherited in Cleveland.

“This is a passionate group of players,” Crennel said. ”We want to develop a good team chemistry and we think we have a good nucleus here.”

It starts with Crennel. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt has said one of the reasons he hired Crennel is his competitive nature. Hunt was impressed when Crennel told him he wanted to be the Chiefs’ head coach because he wanted to win the Super Bowl.

If the performance of the Chiefs' players under Crennel in the final three games of the season is any indication, they are ready to make a Super Bowl run under Crennel’s guidance.

“I represent four players on the team,” said Joe Linta, Crennel’s agent. “All four of them are thrilled that Romeo got the job. His players love him.”

Crennel is known for his genial way and his patience. Crennel is a steady hand, who is always there for an encouraging word. His four Super Bowl rings (one with the Giants and three with the Patriots) earned as an assistant coach doesn’t hurt his credibility, either.

“I’ve been very fortune to be around some great players and great coaches like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick,” Crennel said. “I have had a long history and I wouldn’t change anything as I prepare for this job.”

There is a strong chance this will be Crennel’s final job. It has been an incredible journey for the Lynchburg, Va., native who played offensive and defensive lineman at Western Kentucky. As he begins his second chance, Crennel reflected on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this week. Crennel was a 20-year-old college student when King was killed.

“It was an emotional time.” Crennel said. “As a minority, I was worried about the progress Dr. King made would be stopped because of his death, but the movement kept going and I’m sure he would be very proud of it. I’m pleased it kept going and I’m very appreciative of every chance I’ve gotten because of his hard work.”

Wrap-up: Broncos 17, Chiefs 10

November, 13, 2011

A look a game with major AFC West implications:

What it means: The Oakland Raiders control the AFC West. Oakland, which beat San Diego on Thursday, is 5-4. The other three teams in the AFC West are 4-5. With the victory, Denver stayed in the division race.

Tomorrow’s talker: It’s all about Tim Tebow. The Broncos won despite Tebow's completing just two passes. He was 2-of-8 for 69 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it marked the first time in history the Broncos won a game completing two or fewer passes. The only other team in the past 25 years to win a game with two or fewer pass completions and have only one quarterback attempt a pass was the Browns in Week 5 of 2009 at the Bills. The quarterback was Derek Anderson, who went 2-for-17. Denver is 3-1 with Tebow as their quarterback this season.

Broncos’ running backs are banged up: Denver lost both Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno to injuries. Yet, Denver ran for 244 yards. Lance Ball had 96 yards on 30 carries. Tebow added 43 yards on nine rushes. Denver has led the NFL in rushing the past five weeks.

Chiefs are inept: After winning four straight games to go 4-3, the Chiefs have reverted to the poor play of the early season. The Chiefs were particularly out of sorts on offense. If Kansas City doesn’t quickly regroup, it could fall out of the division race again.

Back-to-back bliss: The Broncos have won two straight games for the first time in 29 games. It breaks the NFL’s current longest streak with back-to-back wins.

Cassel sinking: Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel has not been good the past four games. He has completed 67 of 129 pass attempts for 768 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. He threw for just 93 yards Sunday.

UPDATE: The Kansas City Star is reporting Cassel left the stadium with a cast on his hand. He said he expects to play next week.

What’s next: Denver has a quick turnaround as it hosts the New York Jets on Thursday. The Chiefs begin a brutal five-week stretch at New England on "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 21.

AFC honors Shaun Phillips

October, 6, 2010
It was an easy call for the AFC defensive player of the week. How could it be anyone other than Shaun Phillips?

The San Diego Chargers’ outside linebacker was dominant in a 41-10 win over Arizona on Sunday. Phillips had four of San Diego’s nine sacks. On the play after his second sack, Phillips intercepted Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson while in coverage and returned the pass 31 yards for a touchdown to give San Diego a 28-7 lead in the second quarter. Anderson didn’t return to the game as he was placed by rookie Max Hall.

Phillips finished with six tackles. It was the first time since 2007 that a San Diego defensive player won the honor. Phillip’s big performance was timely since the Chargers’ linebacking crew was ravaged by injury.
» NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 4.

[+] EnlargeShaun Phillips
AP Photo/Denis PoroyChargers linebacker Shaun Phillips terrorized Arizona's QBs.
San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips was all over the field Sunday in a 41-10 Chargers victory against visiting Arizona.

Phillips had four of San Diego's nine sacks. He also made his impact felt on the scoreboard with an incredible two-play sequence late in the second quarter.

On the first play, he brought down Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson for his second sack of the game. On the next play, Phillips dropped back into coverage and hurt the shell-shocked Anderson again. Phillips caught an errant pass and darted 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Chargers a commanding 28-7 lead. Anderson never saw the field again as he was replaced by rookie Max Hall.

Phillips made Hall pay too, with two more sacks.

Phillips stepped up big when his team needed him. The Chargers had only four healthy linebackers as fellow outside linebackers Shawne Merriman (calf) and Larry English (foot) were out of the game. But in the end, Phillips more than made up for the two linebackers’ absence.
Philip RiversStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers and the Chargers bounced back from a Week 3 loss with a resounding win over Arizona.
SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Gates equates his professional athletic path to the simple numbers game of romantic logic.

Even after a wildly successful NFL career, Gates -- a college basketball player-- admits hoops was his first love and desired game. Still, Gates said he did the prudent thing. He looks at it this way: Basketball was the girl he pursued, while football was the girl who pursued him.

“I went with the girl who wanted me,” Gates said Sunday after he once again showed why he is the premier tight end in the NFL in San Diego’s easy 41-10 win over Arizona.

It has been a perfect marriage.

Once again, Gates showed that he is the No. 1 target of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers -- and he showed why the Chargers’ offense is playing at a high level even without holdout Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson.

“We would be better with Vincent,” Rivers said. "And no disrespect to him, but we are moving along with the guys we have … Obviously, it all starts with Antonio.”

Gates celebrated a key milestone --500 receptions -- in an unlikely NFL career Sunday in a big way. Gates, who signed with the Chargers in 2003 as an undrafted player, didn’t play college football. He was a standout on Kent State’s basketball team.

Gates had seven catches for 144 yards as San Diego jumped all over Arizona and improved to 2-2 after they were once again questioned for their slow starts under coach Norv Turner. The Chargers lost two very sloppy road games at Kansas City and at Seattle.

However, Gates set the tone for a big win Sunday. He caught all seven passes Rivers targeted him on. Rivers was 15-of-20 passing for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his touchdown passes were to Gates. One touchdown was for 33 yards and the other was for 26. Gates was wide open on both plays.

On the 13 Rivers passes not intended for Gates, Rivers targeted six receivers. No other receiver was targeted more than three times.

Rivers said the beauty of leading the San Diego offense, which compiled 239 yards through the air and another 180 yards on the ground, is all the options he has to play with. San Diego entered the week with the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL, and Sunday’s dominance should merely reaffirm that status.

“Every week, it could be another guy,” Rivers said.”Legedu [Naanee] had one catch this week. Next week, he may be the main guy.”

[+] EnlargeAntonio Gates
AP Photo/Denis PoroyAntonio Gates is clearly Philip Rivers' favorite target.
Still, Gates -- who has 24 catches for 386 yards and six touchdowns in four games -- is the one constant. He is the first option Rivers looks for. That was the case last year when Gates had a career year with 79 catches, 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns. Gates, who signed a new five-year contract to make him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL, is playing even better this year as he takes on the added responsibility of playing without Jackson, who had 68 catches and averaged 17.2 yards per catch in 2009.

Jackson is expected to hold out for the entire season if he isn’t traded on Oct.18 or 19. But Gates' performance Sunday showed the Chargers are in fine shape regardless of how the Jackson saga ends.

“We are an explosive offense,” Gates said. “We’re doing a lot of good things.”

Other key aspects to San Diego’s win Sunday:

Don’t forget the defense: Even San Diego’s offense is not stealing the show it has been terrific. San Diego’s defense has allowed four touchdowns in four games. Arizona’s only points Sunday came via a fumble recovery and a 53-yard yard field goal with three minutes to play.

San Diego pressured Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson and Max Hall (the rookie replaced Anderson late in the second quarter) all day. The Chargers had nine sacks. Linebacker Shaun Phillips had four sacks and returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown. Can you say “AFC defensive player of the week?”

“We’re playing at a high level,” San Diego linebacker Kevin Burnett said. “”We’re making a lot of plays out there.”

San Diego on the run: The Chargers’ run offense is well again. It was ranked 31st in the NFL last season. While LaDainian Tomlinson is enjoying success in New York, the Chargers are doing fine without him. San Diego had 180 yards on 38 attempts.

Human bowling ball Mike Tolbert had 100 yards on 16 carries; it was his first 100-yard game of the season. Tolbert carried the load again as the Chargers eased No. 12 overall pick Ryan Mathews back into the offense after he missed six quarters with an ankle injury.

Mathews had 55 yards on nine carries and added a catch for 13 yards. He scored on a 15-yard run late in the third quarter.

“It’s really nice that we have this balance,” said Rivers, who lauded his offensive line for strong pass protection and run blocking. “You can do a lot of things well when you have both parts of the offense working.”

Special teams improve: A big reason why San Diego was 1-2 going into Sundays’ game was poor coverage on special teams. It had allowed three return scores in two losses.

San Diego made some personnel tweaks on the coverage units during the practice week as it tried to fix the issues. It worked well.

“I thought we made great strides there,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said. “We’ll end up being one of the better coverage teams in the league by the time we continue through.”
SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Gates and Shaun Phillips are having big days as the San Diego Chargers are routing Arizona 28-7 at halftime.

Gates had two touchdown receptions from quarterback Philip Rivers. He scored on plays of 33 yards and 26 yards. Gates was wide open on both plays.

Gates has a game-high 106 receiving yards on five catches. His fourth catch of the day was his 500tth career NFL catch. Rivers is a tidy 8 for 10 passing or 138 yards.

Meanwhile, San Diego is playing much better on kick coverage units. It allowed three return scores in its two losses this season.

Phillips is also having a good day. He scored on a 31-yard interceptions return late in the second quarter to give San Diego a 21-point lead. Phillips’ interception return came one play after he registered his second sack of the game. San Diego had five sacks in the first half.

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt took starter Derek Anderson out after Phillips' interceptions and replaced him with rookie Max Hall.
The NFC West is accustomed to catching its share of grief, and then some.

The St. Louis Rams own six victories over the past three seasons, the Seattle Seahawks own nine over the past two and the San Francisco 49ers haven’t posted a winning record since Mike Rumph was a promising rookie cornerback for them (2002). The Arizona Cardinals have been better lately, but now they’re reduced to Derek Anderson versus Matt Leinart.

No wonder AFC West blogger Bill Williamson thinks the new-and-improved Oakland Raiders would win the NFC West. But would they? NFC West blogger Mike Sando would put them third, behind the 49ers and Cardinals, even with Jason Campbell under center in Oakland.

[+] EnlargeCampbell/Russell
AP Photo/Ben MargotJason Campbell (8) is in, JaMarcus Russell (2) is out and that alone should make the Raiders a better team in 2010.
Bill Williamson: Advocating for the Raiders is neither easy nor perhaps sane. After all, the Raiders have been the bastion of football futility for much of the past decade. Oakland has lost 11 games or more for the past seven seasons. That is an NFL record for bad, bad times.

The misery has to end sometime and this year may be the year Oakland finally emerges from the dregs of the league and becomes a legitimate, competitive team. The horrendous JaMarcus Russell era has ended. Jason Campbell is far from an elite player, but he is an established NFL quarterback who knows what he is doing. That alone should allow Oakland to be much more productive on offense. This is a team that scored just 17 offensive touchdowns in 2009. Campbell could help the team score 20-25 more touchdowns this season.

Mike Sando: Let’s say Campbell posts a passer rating in the mid-80s and the Raiders back him with a defense ranked in the top 10. The Raiders would take that scenario, no questions asked. The reality, though, is that Campbell’s passer rating last season was 86.4 and the Redskins -- his old team -- fielded a defense ranked 10th in yards allowed. It all added up to a 4-12 record against a weak schedule. I like some of the Raiders’ talent on defense, but 25 teams allowed fewer yards per game last season. It’s a stretch to pencil in Oakland for a No. 10 ranking on defense in 2010 and a greater stretch to say they'd win the NFC West.

Williamson: The defense in Oakland is going to improve. The Raiders have added two potential stars in middle linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Lamarr Houston, both in the first two rounds of the draft. The run defense has been horrible in recent seasons, but it should be much improved.

Sando: I watched Frank Gore carry twice against the Raiders’ starting defense Saturday night. He gained 58 yards on those runs, and Mike Iupati, the 49ers’ rookie left guard, took out McClain pretty easily on one of those Gore carries. Preseason isn’t much to go on, but Gore probably could have had 150 yards if the 49ers had left him in the game.

Williamson: I can see why the 49ers removed Gore from the game. He’s always getting nicked up and that probably will be the case again this season. Follow me for a minute here. Oakland should easily compete to win eight games. Sure, it is not the stuff of playoff dreams -- at least in a real division -- and it won’t be enough to unseat San Diego in the AFC West, but this isn’t about the Raiders’ division. It’s about the NFC West, which managed a league-low 12 victories outside the division last season (the AFC West had 18). There is no anchor team in the NFC West, unless you count the sinking Cardinals. San Francisco? Come on. These teams are not markedly better than the Raiders. Arizona is a mess as it enters the post-Kurt Warner era and San Francisco always seems to fall short of its potential. Put Oakland in the NFC West and you’d have your 2010 division favorite.

Sando: There’s no way Campbell would hold up in the NFC West behind that horrible offensive line. The 49ers roughed him up Saturday night (Campbell has a stinger and wrist injury as a result). A week earlier, the 49ers roughed up Brett Favre (the Vikings had to yank him after only four plays). The Cardinals’ defensive front also would mangle Campbell. They feasted upon the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler when both teams’ starting units were on the field Saturday night. Cutler had zero points, four sacks and two interceptions in five drives. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell would feast on the Raiders’ offensive line. It'll happen soon enough. The teams meet in Week 3.

Williamson: Let’s get back to the quarterbacks. No legitimate contender in the NFC West has one better than Campbell. Matt Leinart's career is on life support in Arizona and his replacement, Derek Anderson, is the quintessential stop-gap solution. Alex Smith is as fragile as a porcelain vase. Matt Hasselbeck is very much on the back nine of his career and Sam Bradford is just not ready to carry a team on his back. Not this year, at least.

Campbell is the most reliable of all of the above-mentioned quarterbacks heading into this season. He is a smart game manager who is not going to lose games. He will trust his young receivers and his potentially strong running game.

Sando: Granted, the whole Leinart-Anderson debate isn't helping the NFC West's credibility. But the coaching in Arizona is solid and the team still has good talent throughout its roster. Jason Campbell might be an upgrade for the Raiders, but the Redskins did bench him during an ugly loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Last time I checked, the Chiefs weren’t good, even by AFC West standards.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
AP Photo/Matt SlocumAlex Smith threw 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 11 games last season.
Williamson: Campbell might not win games alone, but nine times out of 10, he won’t lose them alone, either. The Kansas City game was an aberration. Campbell posted a passer rating of at least 90 in nine regular-season games last season. Kurt Warner did it eight times despite playing with a far superior supporting cast. Campbell has the potential to lead Oakland to around 20 points a game while throwing 20-25 touchdown passes and limiting his interceptions to under a dozen or so. Can any quarterback in the NFC West say that this season? In a league where quarterbacks reign supreme, Campbell would be the best quarterback in the NFC West. He'd give Oakland a strong chance to be the best team in the division.

Sando: The 49ers had a chance to go after Donovan McNabb and they chose Smith instead. I didn’t think it was the wisest move, but it’s no stretch to think Smith will finish the 2010 season with better numbers than Campbell will post in Oakland. Smith had 18 touchdown passes with 12 interceptions in 10-plus games last season. Campbell was at 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions over a full season. Smith has a clear edge over Campbell in available weaponry, and he's finally getting comfortable. Don’t tell Al Davis this, but Michael Crabtree was a better choice than Darrius Heyward-Bey. Crabtree had more catches in 11 games last season (48) than any wide receiver for Oakland, and his total would have ranked tied for third on Campbell's Redskins. Better yet for Smith, Crabtree isn’t necessarily the best option in his arsenal. Vernon Davis is a first-team Pro Bowl tight end, Josh Morgan is a decent No. 2 and newcomer Ted Ginn Jr. looks like he’ll provide a welcome speed element on the outside. It’s ironic that the 49ers have the pure burners -- Ginn and Davis -- Oakland usually covets.

Williamson: Smith and Campbell have both faced tough circumstances in recent seasons. They've gone through coaching changes, gotten knocked around and faced criticism. Campbell has persevered far more impressively. He’s held up physically and finished with more touchdown passes than interceptions in each of the four seasons he has played. Smith has done it just once -- last season -- and never as a full-time starter. He couldn’t even beat out Shaun Hill heading into last season.

Sando: Drawing the NFC West as part of the NFL's scheduling rotation is going to help Campbell, but it’s not like the Redskins played a tough schedule last season. I heard Mike Shanahan call it soft during a recent radio interview. He's right. With Campbell at quarterback in 2009, the Redskins lost to the Lions, Panthers, Chiefs and Giants (twice). They barely beat the Rams, 9-7. They scored 17 points or fewer in 11 of 16 games. That doesn’t look very good on a quarterback’s résumé.

Williamson: The Raiders are not all about Jason Campbell. Quietly, Oakland has added some very talented pieces throughout its roster. While Oakland has crashed and burned in the first round lately, it has not gotten enough credit for late-round finds. The unheralded results form the makings of a solid roster.

There are legitimate stars on this team.

Start with left cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. If league observers would take their eyes off Revis Island for a minute, they would realize there is dominant cornerback play on the left coast, sans the snazzy nickname and lengthy contract holdout. Asomugha is one of the brightest, most instinctive players in the NFL. Consider that he plays a premium position and you have a highly valuable player.

The linebacking corps has a chance to be very good with McClain and Cleveland refugee Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley showed his pass-rushing potential with four sacks in a limited role against Chicago in the second preseason game. Three-time Super Bowl champion Richard Seymour is anchoring a new-look and potentially outstanding defensive front.

Offensively, Campbell has some young, intriguing weapons to play with. Tight end Zach Miller is a blossoming star and one Campbell should utilize often. Young receivers Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and Heyward-Bey all have a chance to reach their immense potential very soon. Running backs Michael Bush and Darren McFadden could give defensive coordinators fits on a weekly basis because of their varied skills. There’s talent in Oakland that teams in the NFC West simply can’t match.

Sando: Asomugha arguably would be the best player in the NFC West, but Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Willis and Steven Jackson wouldn't be far behind. Kamerion Wimbley? I'll take Dockett, Adrian Wilson, Gore, Davis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Justin Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, Marcus Trufant -- the list goes on, and I've probably missed a few.

This debate will be tough to settle, but we can say the scheduling rotation should help one or more teams from each division pump up their records. NFC West teams eagerly can look forward to facing the Chiefs, Denver Broncos and possibly the Raiders. AFC West teams can feel the same way about games against the Rams and Seahawks, at least.

I'll be heading to Oakland in Week 2 for the Raiders' game against the Rams. St. Louis has managed only three victories over the past two seasons, but they're 1-1 against Campbell during that time, losing by two points at Washington in 2008 after suffering a fourth-quarter fumble inside the Washington 10.

If Bradford plays as well as he has recently, I won't be shocked if the Rams make it 2-1 against Campbell over the past three seasons.
The Oakland Raiders have to be, at least, intrigued by the idea of pursuing former Cleveland Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson.

He was cut Tuesday by the Browns. Anderson instantly becomes the best free agent quarterback on the market. That’s not saying a whole lot, but it might be worth it to Oakland to bring him in.

Right now, the Raiders are planning to have Bruce Gradkowski and JaMarcus Russell compete for the job. Oakland needs to throw another quarterback in the mix, whether it’s a veteran or a draft pick.

Anderson may be a worthy competitor to Gradkowski and Russell. If Gradkowski can pick up from where he left off before he was hurt in December, he could start. The Raiders’ offensive players really believe in Gradkowski. If the journeyman can show improvement, it should be Gradkowski’s job.

But the Raiders needs a backup plan. Yes, they need a backup plan past Russell. If Russell is really losing weight and working on his fundamentals this offseason, perhaps the former No.1 overall pick can salvage his career.

But Russell has proven he can’t be counted on.

The Raiders need more. Anderson is no superstar, but he may be worth a look in Oakland.
Bruce Gradkowski/Charlie Frye/JaMarcus RussellKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireBruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye and JaMarcus Russell started at quarterback for the Raiders in 2009, but looking ahead, there's no clear-cut starter for next season.
The quarterback situation in Oakland is far from settled.

The Raiders clearly want former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell to be the answer. But that is a long way from a sure thing. The Raiders will have to think of other options in case Russell proves again he is not capable of being a winning NFL quarterback.

Here is a breakdown of Oakland’s current possibilities, plus some other potential options, as the team hits the early stages of the offseason.

JaMarcus Russell

Current role: He is considered the front-runner to be the starter in 2010. But he ended the season as a backup after he was benched because of ineffectiveness.

Why he should get a shot: He is getting $32 million guaranteed from the team. The Raiders really need Russell to show something. That’s why he is still in the conversation. Oakland owner Al Davis apparently still believes in Russell and wants to give him one more shot to produce. One of the reasons Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson was hired this week as offensive coordinator was to re-energize Russell. Jackson has a history of working with young quarterbacks.

Why he may not be the best option: He has not been good at all in the NFL and he has taken steady steps backward. Russell is not a leader and his teammates are not inspired by him. If he is given a chance in the regular season in 2010 and fails, it could ruin another season in Oakland.

Prediction: Russell will go into training camp as the starter, but he will have competition. If he fails early, the Raiders will pull the plug and his days in Oakland will be over.

Bruce Gradkowski

Current role: In a lot of ways, Gradkowski has to be considered the returning starter. He replaced Russell on merit in November and then he was sidelined for the season in December with a knee injury. Had he been healthy, he would have ended the season as the starter.

Why he should get a shot: His teammates and Oakland fans love him. Gradkowski was becoming a cult hero in Oakland. He isn’t overly talented, but he has a great heart and he moved the ball. Gradkowski is full of energy and has a will to win.

Why he may be not the best option: He has been a journeyman to this point. Because of his limited ability, his success may have a short shelf life.

Prediction: The Raiders will re-sign the free agent. He wants to be in Oakland.

Charlie Frye

Current role: Frye was the backup to Gradkowski after Russell was benched. Frye did start when Gradkowski got hurt. But he had a difficult time staying healthy.

Why he should get a shot: Like Gradkowski, the rest of the Oakland offense responded to Frye. He is a leader and he is a student of the game.

Why he may not be the best option: He is injury prone, he makes too many mistakes, and he may be, ultimately, a poor man’s Gradkowski.

Prediction: Frye probably won’t be in the mix. Oakland probably will add to the position and he may have a hard time making the 53-man roster.

J.P. Losman

Current role: He was the fourth quarterback on the roster. He was signed after Gradkowski was hurt.

Why he should get a shot: He is a former first-round pick who has a strong arm. He is the type of player who gets the coaching staff excited.

Why he may not be the best option: He was just a late-season addition. The team is not married to him.

Prediction: Unless Oakland gets a late start on adding quarterbacks to the mix, Losman could have an early exit from Oakland.

Draft a rookie early

Possibilities: Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Texas’ Colt McCoy, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, Florida’s Tim Tebow and Cincinnati’s Tony Pike.

Why this may be an option: If Russell is deemed a bust, Oakland doesn’t have a long-term answer at the position.

Why it may not be the best option: The Raiders may not want to invest another huge contract in a young quarterback so soon after Russell was drafted. The team has other areas to address.

Prediction: I don’t think Oakland will or should take a quarterback in the first two rounds. If a standout falls to the third round who the Raiders believe fits their system, they should take him. Still, drafting a young quarterback early won’t cure Oakland’s immediate ailments.

Sign or trade for a veteran

Possibilities: Baltimore’s Troy Smith, Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb, Washington’s Jason Campbell, Philadelphia’s Michael Vick, Cleveland’s Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson and free agent Jeff Garcia. (These names are listed based on speculation on who might become available as the offseason develops.)

Why this may be an option: Oakland needs a strong insurance policy. If Russell can’t improve and Gradkowski is only a backup, the Raiders will be in bad shape. A proven veteran, even if he is a stop-gap option, would help Oakland get through a transitional season.

Why it may not be the best option: I don’t think there are any negatives in Oakland adding a quarterback who has started in the NFL this year.

Prediction: Oakland will bring in another veteran quarterback, but it is difficult to figure out now whom it will be. We’ll have to see the quarterback market develop, but expect a familiar name to come to Oakland.

AFC West mailbag

June, 6, 2009

Posted by's Bill Williamson

Weekend mail call:

Derron from Campbell River wants to know if Denver could trade for Brady Quinn this year if he loses the Cleveland quarterback battle to Derek Anderson.

BW: If so, I 'm not sure how effective Quinn would be in 2009, coming into a new system during the preseason. A quarterback needs an entire offseason to prepare, get to know the system and his new teammates and coaches. But if Quinn is the odd man out in Cleveland and neither Kyle Orton nor Chris Simms lights it up this season, perhaps a deal could be in place next year.

Michael from Iowa wants to know who is responsible for the Chiefs' transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.

BW: It's the Scott Pioli show in Kansas City. Pioli came from New England and the Patriots use a 3-4. Understandably, Pioli is going to build a team around a system he is most comfortable with it. Joining him in Kansas City is head coach Todd Haley and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. They were with Arizona last year where Pendergast used a form of the 3-4 at times. So, there is comfortably in the leadership with the scheme.

Mike from Los Angeles wants to know if Peyton Hillis will be lost in Denver's running back shuffle.

BW: He could with the team adding Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan this offseason. But Hillis is the type of player that makes coaches fall in love with him by his practice play. None of these jobs, other than Moreno's, are etched in stone. Hillis has time to show he can be a valuable player for Denver.

J from Seattle wants to know if Darren McFadden can put up LaDainian Tomlinson-like numbers now that he has former Tomlinson lead blocker Lorenzo Neal and some new offensive linemen.

BW: Tomlinson put up special numbers. I'm not sure McFadden is going to have the chance or if he is built to have that type of an impact. McFadden will likely be more of a situational player. Oakland has other backs and McFadden is not known as a pounder. So, I don't think Tomlinson-like numbers are in the future for McFadden.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

We enlisted several members of our NFL blog network to breakdown what it would take to win the Jay Cutler sweepstakes and get him from Denver.

  Dale Zanine/US Presswire
  What will it take to win the Jay Cutler sweepstakes?

The Broncos have announced to the football world they will pursue trading Cutler. Several teams are expected to make offers. Here is a look at what it might take to get Cutler:

Carolina Panthers: It's a very long shot because a move like this would be out of character for John Fox and Marty Hurney. But they could package disgruntled defensive end Julius Peppers with a draft pick for a shot at Cutler. -- Pat Yasinskas

Chicago Bears: The No. 18 and No. 84 overall picks, cornerback Nathan Vasher and quarterback Kyle Orton. The Bears could get this done without including a third team. -- Kevin Seifert

Cleveland Browns: The Broncos would need either quarterback Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson in any type of package that could require a three-team trade and draft picks for the Browns. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers would be a tremendous sweetener, but Cleveland probably is not that desperate when everyone knows Denver must get rid of Cutler. -- James Walker

Detroit Lions: The No. 1, No. 33 and No. 82 overall picks. Plus, a third team to get Denver a quarterback to replace Cutler. The Lions aren't likely to be willing any players considering their personnel shortcomings. -- Kevin Seifert

Minnesota Vikings: Their No. 22 and No. 54 overall picks, tailback Chester Taylor or defensive end Ray Edwards, and a third team to help Denver get a quarterback in return. Edwards might appeal to the Broncos more than Taylor, who has low mileage but will turn 30 in September. -- Kevin Seifert

New York Jets: They might need help from a third team to swing a deal for Cutler, especially if the Broncos require a seasoned quarterback in return. The Jets have only six draft picks, including the 17th
overall pick. Another possibility could include future draft considerations, such as next year's first-rounder. -- Tim Graham

San Francisco 49ers: I don't know if the Broncos would do it for the 10th overall choice, given that Denver probably wants a quarterback in return. But that is what the 49ers have to offer. -- Mike Sando

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs don't have a lot of ammo after trading away a second-round pick for Kellen Winslow. They might have to package this year's first with next year's to have any shot. -- Pat Yasinskas

Washington Redskins: It would take Jason Campbell and the No. 13 overall pick to get in the conversation. And it certainly sounds like the conversation has begun. At this time Wednesday I didn't think it would happen. Now I'm not so sure. -- Matt Mosley

Podcasts: More Cutler reaction

April, 1, 2009

The Jay Cutler trade news was covered at length Wednesday morning on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike.

  • Mark Schlereth assigns 30 percent of the blame to the Broncos and puts the rest on Cutler for the situation they find themselves in today.
  • Chris Mortensen says that the Panthers could be the team most accommodating to the Broncos for Cutler because they have Julius Peppers.
  • John Clayton says that the Browns will be involved in a trade for Cutler because they have an expendable quarterback in either Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn.

I ranked the quarterbacks

March, 20, 2009

Posted by's Bill Williamson

I played along with our quarterbacking ranking feature.

It was an interesting exercise. I learned it's a pretty good league for quarterbacks these days. Some of the players I had ranked low are quality players and are winners.

Here's my list:

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis: Manning may be the best quarterback ever to play.

2. Tom Brady, New England: OK, Brady is 1b.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: Big Ben isn't pretty, but he's a winner.

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans: Brees has had his share of doubters. Not anymore. He's got the goods.

5. Philip Rivers, San Diego: Rivers is a winner. End of story.

6. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati: A good quarterback in a lousy situation.

7. Jay Cutler, Denver: He is not elite yet, but he's on his way.

8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta: What he accomplished as a rookie was astounding.

9. Tony Romo, Dallas: He may need to focus better, but he's a big-league talent.

10. Kurt Warner, Arizona: A future Hall of Famer.

11. Eli Manning, New York Giants: Peyton's little brother has proven he can win.

12. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia: He isn't perfect, but McNabb's a solid player.

13. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle: Hasselbeck is a gamer.

14. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay: He'll be a Pro Bowler by 2010.

15. Chad Pennington, Miami: A gutsy, hard-nosed player.

16. Matt Cassel, Kansas City: We'll see how he does outside of the Patriots' bubble.

17. Trent Edwards, Buffalo: He has a chance to be very good.

18. Joe Flacco , Baltimore: He has a chance to move up this list quickly.

19. Jason Campbell, Washington: This is a big year for him.

20. Matthew Stafford: Detroit may be wise to take him with the top pick.

21. Matt Schaub, Houston: I expect a big year from him.

22. Mark Sanchez: He has a chance for fast success.

23. Jake Delhomme, Carolina: He's slipping, but he's had a nice career.

24. Kerry Collins, Tennessee: He's finishing his career strong.

25. Jeff Garcia: He still has something left in the tank.

26. Brady Quinn, Cleveland: He will move up this list soon.

27. David Garrard, Jacksonville: He doesn't make many mistakes.

28. Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota: He's still raw and he needs to improve.

29. Marc Bulger, St. Louis: The end is near.

30. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland: The jury is still out, but he hasn't been impressive yet.

31. Derek Anderson, Cleveland: He needs a fresh start.

32. Kyle Orton, Chicago: He's just so-so.

33. Shaun Hill, San Francisco: Same with this guy.

AFC West mailbag

February, 21, 2009

Posted by's Bill Williamson

Weekend mail call:

KC: What is your thoughts on the Chiefs trading LJ to Cleveland for Derrek Anderson?

Bill Williamson: You know, KC, at first blush it sounds OK but player-for-player deals are difficult. If this were to happen it would be a nice deal for the Chiefs. They are getting rid of Johnson, anyway. If the Chiefs could get a player who could compete to be the starting quarterback it would be huge.

Kent Kaiser from Commerce City, Colo.: Hi Bill, Love the blog; keep up the great work! If the Broncos can sign a quality nose tackle like Grady Jackson in free agency, do you think they'd look at Malcolm Jenkins at #12? If his combine speed is a little slow, is there any chance of him falling that far? Thanks!! Kent

BW: Thanks, Kent. I think there are going to be many moving parts with a zillion scenarios. Look, Denver is going to bring in 5-7 new defensive starters. The Broncos need help in all three levels of the defense so there is really no way of knowing how they fill the holes in the draft until they start filling them through free agency. Right now, everything is a possibility.

Michael from Los Angeles: Sup BW, just wondering what you think the role of Tony Scheffler will be this upcoming year with the Broncos. To be honest, i'm a little scared he is gonna be forgotten like Ben Watson was in New England.

BW: Scheffler is a favorite target of quarterback Jay Cutler. I don't see him being phased out by the new coaching staff in Denver.

Siles From Carson: Bill, considering such quick turnarounds like the Falcons and the Dolphins, what do you think the chances of the Chiefs making a similar playoff push? They have plenty of cap room, a new GM and head coach, and not to mention the 3rd overall pick. What are your thoughts?

BW: Every year, there are teams that make quick turnarounds. The key in Kansas City is on defense. If the Chiefs can make dramatic improvements on defense, they will be competitive in a fairly weak division.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

 Jeff Gross/Getty Images
 Kansas City may have found a solution at quarterback in Tyler Thigpen.

Tyler Thigpen has no earth-shattering explanation. He wishes he had something more revealing.

But he just doesn't have a deep, well thought out explanation why he has been so efficient, productive and forceful in his past three starts compared to his first NFL start.

"I don't know," said Thigpen in a South Carolina accent as cool and relaxed as his play. "I guess I just decided to be myself. I just decided to be the quarterback who I am ... That first start, against Atlanta, I admit, I was timid and shy. I'm not anymore."

In the past three games, Thigpen has been one of the more intriguing players in the league. He outplayed Brett Favre in his second start and caught a touchdown pass in his third. He engineered a near game-winning drive in the final minute in his fourth start. The 1-8 Chiefs lost all three games, but they may have gained a future quarterback.

Thigpen has taken control of the Kansas City Chiefs. Suddenly, the Chiefs don't look hopeless anymore and don't look like they will need to go quarterback hunting in the offseason.

If the next seven games are anything like the past three, Kansas City may want to shop for an offensive lineman or an impact player on defense with their first pick next April instead of trading for or drafting a quarterback.

"Hopefully, my play takes care of that stuff," Thigpen said. "All I can worry about in the next seven games is to go game-to-game and not worry about being the future of the Chiefs. That's up to them."

If Thigpen, 24, keeps his composure and swagger, there's no doubt the Chiefs will consider making him the quarterback of the future.

Still, Kansas City never thought it would be in the position to consider Thigpen for anything other than a backup role. The team had high hopes Thigpen prior to training camp. But after a lackluster preseason, Thigpen opened the regular season as the No. 3 quarterback behind starter Brodie Croyle and veteran backup Damon Huard. If anything, Thigpen's best bet was to be a career backup to Croyle, who was being groomed to be the franchise quarterback.

Then Croyle suffered two serious injuries in two starts and was lost for the season. He was put on the injured reserve the same day that Huard was. Thigpen's crowning as the starting quarterback in Kansas City was an emergency reaction.

The Chiefs gave Thigpen a chance to show himself in Week 3 in Atlanta when Huard was banged up. Thigpen threw for 128 yards and was intercepted three times. However, since taking over after injures to Croyle and Huard, Thigpen has been a far different player. He has thrown six touchdowns and has not been intercepted in the past three games.

Using the spread offense in which he excelled at Coastal Carolina, Thigpen looks as comfortable as a five-year veteran. He is extremely accurate and moves well with the ball. Two NFL scouts recently said that they believe Thigpen has the moxie, instincts and athletic ability to succeed in the NFL.

Both scouts said the 6-foot-1, 224-pound Thigpen reminds them somewhat of Drew Brees, whose Saints visit Kansas City on Sunday.

"He's a guy that's progressed every week," Kansas City coach Herman Edwards said of Thigpen this week. "He's gaining confidence in himself and it's a tribute to him and the coaching staff that we feel he can do well. You talk about the guy who's only started four games. He still has a long way to go. He's done fairly well so far."

It's the leadership Thigpen has shown that most impresses his teammates. Kansas City Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters said he saw a different Thigpen prior to the Jets game than he saw during the Falcons game. Thigpen took charge, leading a players-only offensive meeting three days before the New York game. He was a "true leader," Waters said. After the loss to the Jets, tight end Tony Gonzalez admitted that Thigpen's poise and production surprised him, but he was thrilled to have Thigpen as his quarterback.

During the past three weeks, Thigpen has developed a terrific chemistry with Gonzalez and starting receivers Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley. Thigpen will have running back Larry Johnson back on Sunday too. Johnson has been sidelined by the team and the league for the the past four games.

While Thigpen said he is comfortable with his play in the past three games and his chemistry with his teammates, he is not satisfied.

"It's been good, but the next step is to win," Thigpen said. "It's coming. It's close .. We've come a long way, but we have to win."

If the Chiefs win in the next seven weeks, the Thigpen era in Kansas City could continue in 2009.