AFC West: Jeff Garcia

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.

Russell
Russell
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.

Gradkowski
Gradkowski
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.

Frye
Frye
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.

Inside Gradkowski's hot start

December, 10, 2009
12/10/09
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A couple of weeks ago, I enlisted the help of Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to break down Bruce Gradkowski when he took over for JaMarcus Russell as the starting quarterback in Oakland.

Gradkowski
Williamson thought Gradkowski would help Oakland more than Russell did, but he admits Gradkowski has been better than he thought. Gradkowski is 2-1 as Oakland’s starter and both of his wins came in the final seconds. Gradkowski was named the AFC offensive player of the week after he threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns in Oakland’s 27-24 win over the Steelers.

This week, I turned back to Williamson to get his thoughts on Gradkowski. Here are some highlights:

“Bruce reminds me of Jeff Garcia. He is frenetic, he is always moving his feet and he makes plays. Bruce isn’t turning the ball over. When you do that, you have a chance to win.

“I think the next four games will tell a lot about whether Bruce can be the guy in Oakland next year. If he plays well, maybe Oakland should address other needs in the offseason and give Bruce a chance next year. But at the very least, he looks like a perennial backup now and that’s great. A few weeks ago, Bruce looked like a borderline roster guy. He’s made himself a lot of money.

“Russell looks worse than ever now that Bruce is doing well. It shows that Russell did have something to work with in Oakland. We all thought Russell had nothing to work with, but Bruce is getting a lot out of those guys. This makes Russell look really bad.”

Russell move is too early

November, 18, 2009
11/18/09
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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AP Photo/Tony Avelar Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell has been benched in favor of teammate Bruce Gradkowski.

The JaMarcus Russell experiment in Oakland is probably over.

Raiders coach Tom Cable announced Wednesday Russell would be replaced by Bruce Gradkowski and that decision was meant for the rest of the season. If Russell is being benched now, it probably means the Raiders have seen enough.

If Oakland doesn’t think Russell is equipped to finish the season, they won't want to start fresh with him as the starter next season.

I’ve never been a Russell supporter, but I think this move is premature.

Russell should have been given the next seven games before Oakland made such a dramatic move on the player it took with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007. Let him finish the season as the starter. What’s the rush?

The Raiders are 2-7, and with games coming against Cincinnati, Dallas and Pittsburgh on the road, this team is staring at a 2-10 record. It’s not as if Gradkowksi can spark a playoff run. So why not just give Russell the rest of the season to see if he can turn around his career? Why close the door on him now?

There is no doubt Russell has been terrible. He became the full-time starter at the beginning of the 2008 season and has not improved. He has actually regressed.

But the ironic thing is, Russell threw two of his better passes as a Raider against Kansas City on Sunday. They came on consecutive plays, but neither helped the Raiders. One was dropped and the other was nullified by a penalty.

Russell was also the victim of several drops in what looks like was his final start in Oakland. When Oakland benched Russell in a close game, the message was sent: The Raiders don’t think Russell can help them win.

The Raiders have a lot invested in Russell. They have virtually nothing invested in Gradkowski. It is not as if Gradkowski, considered a low-level backup who has started one game since 2006, has a future as a starter.

He is a stop-gap answer.

The move crushes any confidence Russell has left. The future is still bleak with Gradkowski, who can move around well, but doesn’t have much of an arm. And it brings Oakland back to square one regarding the future.

If the team still had Jeff Garcia, I could see the move being made. At least Garcia, who asked to be released in September because the team told him it was sticking with Russell, would give Oakland a chance to win a few games down the stretch.

Don’t be surprised if Oakland tries to make up for the Russell mistake by drafting another quarterback next spring. Among the quarterbacks who could be taken in the top 10 are Washington’s Jake Locker, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford. Expect Oakland to start analysis on collegiate quarterbacks again for the second time in three years.

The Russell choice was a mistake and the era looks to be over.

But I just think it may be over seven games too early.

Wrap-up: Jets 38, Raiders 0

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Oakland coach Tom Cable said after Sunday’s game that JaMarcus Russell will remain Oakland’s starter and he will play next Sunday at San Diego despite being benched in the second quarter against the Jets.

That’s understandable, because the Raiders want the 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick to succeed. But the decision Sunday to sit Russell can’t be underscored. It shows Oakland is willing to bench Russell if it has to. Cable indicated that Russell was out of sorts Sunday.

Russell was taken out after he was intercepted twice and he lost a fumble. Russell struggled for virtually all of the first six weeks of the season. Still, Oakland was reluctant to yank him.

Had his backup, Bruce Gradkowski, played better Sunday, perhaps Cable wouldn’t have been so quick to decide to put Russell back in next week. Gradkowski showed some spunk, but the journeyman backup couldn’t lead Oakland to a score, either.

If Oakland, 2-5, was playing better as a team, perhaps the Raiders would stick with Gradkowski or even try to reunite with Jeff Garcia (whose return is unlikely after he recently criticized the team). But it doesn’t seem like the Raiders are going anywhere. Yes, there are more problems than just Russell.

The team gave up more than 300 yards rushing to the Jets. Sandwiched between Oakland’s 13-9 win over Philadelphia last week was four defeats by a total of 134-16. Sunday’s loss was the worst loss in Oakland’s home history. Defensive end Richard Seymour, who earlier in the week predicted the Raiders would make the playoffs this season, said Sunday they couldn’t beat an Oakland high school team.

All can’t be pinned on Russell.

He needs to be given more time (I’d say the rest of this season) before Oakland decides it has to pull the plug on him for good. Still, it appears that Russell is headed toward being a failure. Sunday’s move sure smacked of a preview of the future in Oakland: The Raiders playing with a quarterback other than Russell.

You pick it responses

October, 9, 2009
10/09/09
3:00
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


We had a shutout this week in our “you pick it” feature.

The winning story was Denver receiver Brandon Marshall’s big day Sunday. He scored the game-winning touchdown with less than 2 minutes to go on an unbelievable 51-yard catch against Dallas. After the play, Marshall and Denver coach Josh McDaniels had an emotional embrace.

Marshall and the Broncos had been at odds for months. He asked to be traded and he was suspended in August after he was filmed making a mockery out of a practice.

The other candidates this week were former Oakland quarterback Jeff Garcia ripping the team and quarterback JaMarcus Russell in a radio interview, and former Kansas City linebacker Zach Thomas filing a grievance against the team over lost salary.

I agree with the readers. The story of the week is the Marshall story. The Garcia story is juicy, but the Marshall story was big. It showed he is willing to help Denver win and he can be happy there. Is this a happy ending to the saga? That’s too early to tell, but he is on the right track and a month ago that seemed unlikely.

Here are some of your responses. Thanks to everyone who participated:

Rorry from Colorado Springs: I think Brandon Marshall is the story of the week. Here's a guy that has all the talent in the world, but couldn't commit to a philosophy of team when Josh MacDaniels arrived. He's starting to buy into it and what benefits he can realize. Work hard, know your role, perform, that's it. Personally I didn't think he'd get it for quite a while, but w/confidants like Rod Smith taking an interest in him and advising him, I think he's taken it to heart and we might just have scratched the surface with B-Marsh in the Cowboys game.

Patrick from Cheyenne, Wyo.: The storyline of the week has to be Brandon Marshall coming alive. This revelation could swing this Broncos team from Playoff contender, to AFC West favorite. If Marshall has started to find his groove with this offense this team could be one of the most dangerous in the league. The top defense and now a blossoming offense could take this team very far.

Rich from Denver, Colo.: I vote for Brandon Marshall, he is worhty of the same press as T.O. Off the field he is still an inmature lil kid. On the field he is clearly one of the best receivers in the league.

Scott Seals from Fresno, Calif.: Marshall comes alive - My pick for storyline for the week.

You pick it: AFC West storylines

October, 7, 2009
10/07/09
1:00
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


The candidates are:

Garcia rips Raiders, Russell: Former Oakland backup quarterback and current free agent Jeff Garcia criticized the team and quarterback JaMarcus Russell in a radio interview.

Marshall comes alive: Denver receiver Brandon Marshall made a terrific catch-and-run on a 51-yard touchdown to help Denver beat Dallas and move the team's record to 4-0. Marshall had previously asked to be traded from Denver and was suspended by the team.

Thomas files grievance against the Chiefs: Linebacker Zach Thomas, who was with the Chiefs for four months and who was a final cut, is seeking his lost salary from Kansas City because he believes he was waived while injured.

Hit my mailbag with your choice for the story of the week. I will post some of your responses later in the week.

Garcia rips Raiders, Russell

October, 2, 2009
10/02/09
8:25
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Well, it seems like we can scratch the idea that Oakland could re-sign Jeff Garcia if it decides JaMarcus Russell can’t hack it as the starting quarterback.
Garcia

Garcia just criticized the organization and Russell in a radio interview.

Garcia said this of Russell: “I just feel like it’s an unfortunate situation when the entire work ethic and the entire goal of the team is really put upon one guy’s shoulder who really isn’t maybe ready for that situation or ready to take on that sort of responsibility. And I’m not saying JaMarcus can never be that guy. It’s just right now he’s still young, he has a lot of growth that needs to take place within himself from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint.”

This is what Garcia said of the organization he asked to be released from in early September: "It was to a point where I felt like guys who walked through those doors that just were there to collect a check and not really interested in putting everything that they had within themselves on to the football field. And that was the frustrating thing for me to see. There were a lot of good young guys in that locker room who really want to do whatever it takes to win, but unfortunately it’s not everybody … I just felt like it was something I really didn’t want to put myself through anymore.”

Garcia is now on the market after being cut by Philadelphia. With Russell struggling mightily (he has a pass rating of 39.8, which is the worst in the NFL), it would not be out of the question that Oakland would talk to Garcia to be the starter at some point.

But this development seems to put an end to that notion. It would be very difficult for Garcia and the Raiders to reunite after these harsh words. So, get ready Bruce Gradkowski, you really may be the best option for Oakland if Russell continues to fail.

Evening AFC West news and notes

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Oakland waived defensive back John Bowie. He was a little-used defensive back. He’ll always be remembered as the compensation Oakland received for Randy Moss from New England. The Patriots gave Oakland a fourth-round draft pick for the star receiver. Bowie was the Raiders’ choice.

So, yes, Oakland now has nothing to show for Moss, who regained his Minnesota form with the Patriots. Moss was a disappointment during his two years in Oakland.

Also in the AFC West:
  • Running back LaDainian Tomlinson practiced fully Wednesday. That is a good sign that he will be able to play Sunday at Pittsburgh. He has missed the past two games with an ankle injury.
  • Linebacker Shawne Merriman did not practice because of a groin injury. His chances of playing at Pittsburgh are up in the air.
  • In Denver, guard Ben Hamilton (hamstring) and tackle Ryan Harris (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. At this point, Hamilton may have more difficulty playing than Harris on Sunday against Dallas, but Hamilton still has a chance to play.
  • In Oakland, coach Tom Cable didn’t have much to say about his legal situation, and he didn’t exactly shoot down talk that Oakland could eventually be interested in re-signing quarterback Jeff Garcia. He was cut by the Eagles on Tuesday.
  • Pittsburgh receiver Santonio Holmes is not blown away by San Diego’s cornerbacks. Should be a fun day in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Could Oakland revisit Garcia?

September, 29, 2009
9/29/09
4:20
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Well, Raider Nation, Jeff Garcia is available again.

The Philadelphia Eagles have cut the quarterback after he was signed two weeks ago to be an insurance policy. Garcia, 39, asked to be released by Oakland in early September because he was not pleased being the No. 2 quarterback with the Raiders. The team was fully committed to quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

However, Russell has been awful in Oakland’s first three games. He has a passer rating of 39.7 in 2009. His production has dipped in each game this season. He threw for 61 yards and had two first-quarter interceptions in a 23-3 loss at home to Denver on Sunday.

Russell was the No. 1 overall pick in 2007. Monday, Oakland coach Tom Cable maintained his commitment to Russell.

However, with Garcia now available, the Raiders could be tempted to call him if they think they may be close to pulling the plug on Russell, at least for this season. The Raiders have more problems than just Russell, but he is bringing the team down.

If the Raiders think they can improve with Garcia, they could decide to call him. I’m sure Garcia would reconsider playing for Oakland if it meant he’d be the starter.

AFC West news and notes

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
8:25
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Monday night will be special for the Ellison family of Inglewood, Ca. In the early game, Keith Ellison will start for the Buffalo Bills against New England. In the night cap, rookie safety Kevin Ellison will play for the San Diego Chargers at Oakland.

San Diego tackle Marcus McNeill was listed as probable with a hand injury. Oakland running back Justin Fargas is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.

The Chiefs are reportedly $7 million under the minimum spending line. If the Chiefs don’t reach the minimum, the difference will be split between all the players who were with the team since the beginning of training camp. The Chiefs may have difficulty getting to the limit. They can extend a few players to get there and maybe add a couple of players off the street. But $7 million may be difficult to spend at this point of the season.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Jeff Garcia asked to be released from the Raiders. It was clear Garcia knew he had no chance of supplanting JaMarcus Russell as the starting quarterback, so he cut his losses. The only chance Garcia will get a starting job at this point is if there is an injury somewhere in the league.

The Raiders don’t think Javon Walker is ready to play yet as he slowly recovers from a knee injury.

You pick it responses

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
3:00
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


In a week that featured three strong candidates for the AFC West story of the week, we had a unanimous victory.

Readers all agreed that Oakland’s trade for Richard Seymour from New England was the top story. The other candidates were Oakland’s surprise release of backup quarterback Jeff Garcia and the arrest of San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman for battery and false imprisonment.

I have to agree with the readers. The Seymour story was the big story of the week. It was a blockbuster trade. The ensuing drama involving Seymour’s reluctance to go to Oakland made the drama even more compelling.

The following is some of your comments. Thanks to everyone who participated:
Gabriel M. from Kansas City, Kansas: There is only one story here. That is 5 time Pro-bowler Richard Seymour getting traded to the Oakland Raiders. It was a desperate move for the Raiders to get a proven run stopper. The D-line looks as bad as ever. Al Davis knew if he didn’t do something to fix it; it would be another 4 and 12 season. The question now is when Richard Seymour is going to arrive to Oakland and for how long is he going to play for the Oakland Raiders?

Gus from Oakland, Ca: Da Raidaz! It's gotta be the Seymour story. Only the Raiders would swap a future first round pick, probably a top 5 or 10 pick for a player that doesn't even want to play for them. Chalk it up next to Desmond Howard, Javon Walker, Tommy Kelly, Deangelo Hall, etc. etc. etc. This organization is "clueless". Al's got nothing but "Yes-Men" in the front office. On the other hand the Patriots show another stroke of genius. Dish a plummeting layer for a huge pick! Wonderful!

Matt from Chicago, IL: Bill, the Merriman issue will likely go away, and the release of Garcia won't affect too much, but the trading of Seymour to Oakland is pretty large. The NFL should step in with some of Oakland's decisions, or put some pressure on Davis to relinquish some control. They are giving away a 1st rounder for a guy that will be on the down side of his career (or retired) by the time Oakland is a contender again. Awful trade for a team in the middle of rebuilding. And let's give the Pats some more ammo to work with. If I were an Oakland fan I would think about cheering for a team that had a clue.

Tony from New York City, NY: Seymour to Oakland (maybe) is the most interesting in my mind. As I write this, Seymour hasn't reported to Oakland yet. This could get bad for the Raiders, possibly yet another player that doesn't want to be there. That 2011 pick already has great value as Oakland is more than 2 seasons from a legit playoff run, but the value increases more if there is a rookie cap in place. Maybe it's in Al's best interest for this deal to fall through, but I see where he's coming from - We need a run stuffer now and I do more damage than good with a first round pick on my table......something like that, your thoughts?

Jared L from Seattle, WA: Richard Seymour to Oakland is a huge deal. Sure, they had to give up a first round pick, but that's probably the smartest move they've made since signing Rich Gannon. Now they can't draft and over pay another 1st round pick (Heyward-Bey, Huff, Russell, Gallery, Brayton, Gibson, Janikowski, Washington, Harris and Buchanon). They filled a need and avoided another embarrassing draft. From now on, they should trade their first pick for a third through sixth where they actually have some luck.

Alex from Pittsburgh, Pa: Has to be the Seymour trade. According to the media, it's clear the Pats won the trade by trading away a Pro Bowl caliber DL for an unknown 1st round draft pick TWO years from now. Everyone knows first round picks are locks to be All-Pro's(see Pats RB Maroney). How can the media break this trade down into a loss for the Raiders when all Oakland did was vastly improve the weakest unit on their squad? Why not sacrifice that draft pick for a proven commodity that has the chance to make the Oakland Raiders defense once again respectable.

Andrew Bird from Eureka, Calif: It has to be the Seymour trade, given that he still hasn't reported in Oakland as of this writing. This situation looks like it's going to get ugly.

Coty from Ohio: Well Richard Seymour is the big story, for one there is drama surrounding it. Two this could really have an effect on the AFC West, everyone will say what they want about the Raiders but if they can get Run Defense help which Seymour would provide this team can really make a push in this division. Everyone is quick to put them down, but I recall KC picked ahead of them last year and OVER PAID for a career backup who all of a sudden is considered a top 15 QB? Denver LOST their Franchise QB have a disgruntled WR and a young coach who may have divided the locker room already. Then there is the Chargers who by all is picked to be the best and they are good BUT they may LOSE, their All Pro LB and his stupid sack dance, LT is not getting younger, Sproles was over paid and over rated too small for an everydown back. Their WRs are decent but nothing special. Oakland actually has THE MOST YOUNG TALENT in the AFC West. McFadden, Bush, Russell, Heyward-Bey, Schilens, Miller, Murphy, Higgins KR/PR, these guys are all young. Barnes is getting healthy at RT Henderson has proved formidable at LT. Gallery found a spot at LG. C and RG are the weak spots and the DL. Add Seymour and that DL is vastly improved.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


With the NFL regular season starting this weekend, let’s look at the player on each team in the AFC West who faces the most pressure heading into the season:


Orton
Denver: Kyle Orton, quarterback: We are not sure if Orton will be able to play Sunday when the Broncos start the post-Jay Cutler era in Cincinnati. Whenever Orton begins his Denver career, the pressure will be immense.

It won’t help him that he is coming off an index finger injury on his throwing hand. Orton probably will try to gut it out and play against the Bengals. Guts may be Orton’s best attribute. The guy tries, but it may not be enough.

The Broncos got Orton from the Bears in the deal for Cutler, who was traded after he got into a major rift with Denver coach Josh McDaniels. McDaniels hand-picked Orton to be his new quarterback because he fit McDaniels’ system.

Now, Orton is in charge of making Denver a success. He will be compared to Cutler every week. That could be difficult. Cutler is much more gifted than Orton and that was evident when the two shared a field in a preseason game last month. Orton didn’t ask to be put in this position, but here he is and he’ll have to deal with it.

Orton is in for a rough season. Yes, he has some talent on offense. But his shortcomings, Denver’s uncertainty on defense and the Broncos’ rough schedule will make Orton’s first year in Denver tough sledding.


Cassel
Kansas City, Matt Cassel: Like Orton, it's not a sure thing Cassel will be at full strength or even playing Sunday. The Chiefs open at Baltimore, but Cassel could be hampered because of a knee sprain he suffered Aug. 29.

Cassel’s pressure really has nothing to do with his injury. It will be waiting for him when he’s healthy.

Cassel is the face of the Scott Pioli and Todd Haley Chiefs. The Chiefs’ ownership wants this to be a long partnership for the team that has won six games total in the past two years.

Acquiring Cassel -- who excelled as Tom Brady’s injury replacement in New England last year – was the first major move of the new regime. Cassel was given a guaranteed $40 million this summer.

There is no doubt Cassel is the centerpiece of this franchise. The Chiefs are banking their franchise’s hopes on a player was a career backup until he flourished with a stacked Patriots team.

Now, he will have to succeed with a lesser roster. There was really no pressure on Cassel in New England. There are immense expectations on Cassel in Kansas City.

This will eventually be a solid pairing, but 2009 may be less than spectacular. Cassel has a makeshift offensive line and his receivers are not a strong group. It could take a while for the player expected to bring instant dividends to Kansas City.


Russell
Oakland: JaMarcus Russell, quarterback: It’s all about Russell in Oakland this year. He needs to make big strides.

The Raiders showed their commitment to Russell when they cut backup Jeff Garcia. It became evident Garcia wasn’t in Oakland to have a support role for Russell. He wanted Russell’s job. The Raiders don’t want Russell’s job to be taken away.

They want him to succeed. Now, it’s time for him to show it.

Russell has terrific physical skills, but his first two years were pocked by inconsistencies. Russell was been up and down in training camp and in the preseason. His statistics were decent in the preseason, but there were few “wow” plays by Russell. He needs to show he can lead Oakland’s offense with authority.

Russell needs to improve his leadership and show more urgency.

Russell can develop into a solid NFL quarterback. But he may have continued growing pains this season. His 2009 success also hinges on help from his receivers and offensive line, two groups that have done few favors for Russell thus far in his career.


Merriman
San Diego: Shawne Merriman, linebacker: A lot is expected from Merriman. He is one of the most important players on this roster.

Of course, there is a chance of distraction after Merriman’s arrest last week for battery and false imprisonment after an incident with a woman whom he has described as an acquaintance.

The incident puts extra pressure on Merriman. On the field, Merriman is trying to show he can be the dominant player he was before he suffered a major knee injury that kept him out of all but one game last season.

Merriman, who led the NFL with 39.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons, was missed in San Diego. The Chargers’ pass defense wasn’t the same and the Chargers were pushed around without him.

The Chargers think having Merriman back for a full season will make the defense a top-tier unit again. Merriman has struggled with the injury at points this summer and recently said he will not be at full strength until a few weeks into the regular season.

If Merriman is at full strength, so are the Chargers and the sky is the limit for both the player and the team. But Merriman has to stay both healthy and hope his legal issues don’t cloud the team in what is a crucial season for him.

You pick it: AFC West storylines

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Victories may not be plentiful in the AFC West, but the division can make some news.

Here are the candidates after another wild week in the division:
  • Seymour traded to Oakland: The Raiders made a blockbuster, unexpected trade by acquiring perennial Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour for a first-round pick in 2011.
  • Merriman arrested: San Diego star linebacker Shawne Merriman was arrested for battery and false imprisonment.
  • Garcia cut: Oakland shut the door on quarterback Jeff Garcia. He was hoping to be the starter in Oakland, but Oakland has remained committed to JaMarcus Russell.

Pick your choice for the story of the week and hit my mailbag with your thoughts. I will post some of your responses later in the week.

AFC West news and notes

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
10:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Some late cut-day thoughts:

I was a tad surprised that Kansas City cut receiver Ashley Lelie. He performed well in a short period in Kansas City and the Chiefs don’t have much else at receiver.

Raiders coach Tom Cable said Chris Morris could start at center against San Diego on Sept. 14, which would make Samsom Satele a bench player. Satele was expected to be an upgrade at center for the Raiders when they traded for him in the spring. He hasn’t emerged.

Just wondering out loud: Could Denver give Jeff Garcia a call? With starter Kyle Orton (finger) and backup Chris Simms (ankle) hurting for the season opener in Cincinnati, Garcia is a proven starter whose now available. Do I think it will happen? Not really, but you never know.

I’d expect the Chiefs try to place running back JaVarris Williams on the practice squad.

The Jaguars were linked to Chiefs’ backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen in trade talks. On Saturday, Jacksonville acquired Luke McCown from Tampa Bay. Thigpen became unavailable when Chiefs’ starter Matt Cassel went down last week with a knee injury. Cassel will try to play next week at Baltimore.

Raiders: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
9:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Biggest surprise: The Raiders had some surprises Saturday. The biggest shocker, of course, was the decision to bounce backup quarterback Jeff Garcia. He signed expecting to be the Raiders’ starter. The Raiders stayed loyal to the young JaMarcus Russell and the Garcia marriage never worked. Cutting defensive tackle Terdell Sands was surprising because the Raiders paid him a $1.9 million bonus this year. But with his recent play, Sands was worthy of being released. The team also cut return man Justin Miller, who played well last season. But the team has Johnnie Lee Higgins and undrafted rookie Nick Miller stood out, making Miller expendable. Also, fourth-round pick Slade Norris was cut. That’s pretty high for a pick to get cut as a rookie. He could be claimed.

No brainers: The Raiders fell in love with undrafted rookies Desmond Bryant, a defensive tackle, and Nick Miller. It was Bryant’s play that made Sands expendable and it was Nick Miller’s play that made Justin Miller expendable. Maybe Oakland should forego late-round picks and just concentrate on undrafted players. Both Bryant and Miller could be a diamond in the rough, while Norris will go down as another bad choice. Oakland cut sixth-round pick Stryker Sulak before camp started and cut 2008 fourth-round pick Arman Shields before camp started this year as well.

What’s next: The Raiders will likely look for help on both sides of the ball. Oakland may look at veteran receivers to go with their youngsters. The team is also thin at offensive line. Oakland will also likely look for big run stuffers on the defensive front and at linebacker to help stop the bleeding against the run.

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