AFC West: John Abraham

One has been a league power broker, one wants to be.

And when the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals get together Sunday afternoon in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos (2-1) will try to knock some of the rough edges off while the Cardinals (3-0), one of just two teams to arrive to Week 5 undefeated, will try to show they are ready to be at the front of the line.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the game.

Legwold: At 3-0, how do the Cardinals see themselves? Upstart in NFC? Or team that believes it should have made the playoffs last year and is ready to take the next step to be in this postseason mix this time around?

Weinfuss: If there's one thing the Cardinals don't see themselves as, it's an upstart team. That much was instilled in them by Bruce Arians last season. Especially after upsetting Seattle at home last December, this team believed it should've been in the playoffs. And with how they played in the second half of the season, it's hard to argue with them. But the Cardinals who returned this year learned a lot from last season's first half, most notably how important it is to win those early games. What they're doing now isn't a surprise to those who pay attention to this team, and a lot of it is a direct result of Arians' demeanor. His straight-shooting personality -- curse 'em out on the field but hug 'em off of it -- has rubbed off on everyone in the locker room. It has led to this team to believe it could win for the first time since Kurt Warner was here.

Speaking of learning from last year, what was the main thing the Broncos took away from last season's loss in the Super Bowl, and how have they used it in 2014?

Legwold: The main thing GM John Elway took away was he wanted far better personnel on defense and some more receivers who could battle their way through physical play from defensive backs. The result was an offseason spending spree that reeled in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on defense to go with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also used a first-round pick in the draft on cornerback Bradley Roby and a second-rounder on wide receiver Cody Latimer. So, the 35-point loss certainly forced a roster makeover and for the holdovers it did provide plenty of incentive as they went through the offseason workouts. There is a feeling, after the overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs followed by the Super Bowl blowout, of trying to finally close the deal this time around.

In terms of roster makeover, with all that has happened to the Cardinals' defense with the injuries, etc., how have they pushed themselves into the league's top five?

Weinfuss: Nobody expected Arizona to be among the league's top five defenses this year after losing the likes of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington before the season and then Darnell Dockett during training camp and John Abraham in the first few weeks of the year. But credit must be given to the Cardinals' front office. The brain trust has done a good job of finding veterans who still have gas in the tank, such as linebacker Larry Foote and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. But the biggest reason for the defense's success is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His single-gap scheme revitalized this defense last year and all he has been doing is adding wrinkles here and there to adjust to his personnel. For example, Arizona is running a lot of nickel and dime packages because it gets rookie safety Deone Bucannon on the field. For as good of an offensive mind as Arians is, Bowles is his equal on the defensive side.

Have the additions to the Broncos' defense been paying off? Or is it too early to see a difference? Do you think they'll be the difference between another ring and a consolation prize?

Legwold: The new arrivals have all had impact in the season's early going. Ware leads the team in sacks (2.5), Talib has been every bit the No. 1 corner they hoped he would be and Ward is one of two players on defense who have played every snap in the first three games, having been used in a variety of roles. The Broncos have seen enough from Roby. They've tossed him into the deep end of the pool as the rookie and he has matched up with some of the league's front-line receivers. All of that said, however, the Broncos still haven't consistently shown the kind of play they'll need to hoist a trophy, particularly on third down. As linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who both had ACL injuries last season, continue to work back to full speed, the Broncos should continue to improve. Also, linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was the team's leading tackler last season and who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia in training camp, will play in his first game of the season Sunday. It will mean the Cardinals will be the first team to face the revamped defense with all of the starters in place.

Sticking to defense, Manning heads into this game with 499 career touchdown passes. Between the two of them, Cardinals' assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore and head coach Bruce Arians have seen many of those up close as former Colts assistants. To that end, with that kind of up-close-and-personal knowledge, how do you think the Cardinals will defend Manning and the Broncos' offense?

Weinfuss: One thing the defense has stayed consistent on this week is that they don't want to tip their hand to Manning before the snap. With that being said, I think they'll blitz him constantly -- all three of his sacks this season have come off the blitz, which, I can imagine, was good news to Bowles. But they won't blitz Manning like they'll blitz other quarterbacks because he's so good at adapting so quickly. Arizona plans on giving Manning the same look every snap. But guys who have played Manning know he'll wait until the very last second to make a decision because the defense will have to show their blitz by then, but the Cardinals will try to hold their disguise as long as possible.

With Manning coming up on such a historic mark, has it been a distraction for this team in the sense of more non-football attention has descended upon them? Are they ready for Manning to pass Brett Favre so they can just get back to focusing on football?

Legwold: One thing about this team is the swirl around them doesn't get to them very often. Last season they had Miller's suspension in training camp, John Fox's open-heart surgery during the bye week and five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they were preparing to play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl loss may have been the first, and worst, time for the Broncos not to play to the level of a game's standing last season. Before the title-game blowout, they had handled everything that had come their way without losing their edge. This time around players here simply assume Manning will hit 500 and then go on and break the record through the natural course of things. The record is nice, but they want another shot at the title and, for the most part, they see whatever happens along the way as issues that must be dealt with to get that chance.

No Abraham would be a blow to defense

September, 10, 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. – It's a good thing Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn't have any hair.

If he did, he'd pull it all out after this week.

Arians got more bad news Tuesday about his defense, the foundation for last year's second-half run. John Abraham, who suffered the first reported concussion of his 15-year career during Monday night's victory over the San Diego Chargers, took a leave of absence Tuesday. He has five days to decide if he'll return to the team or hang it up for this season and possibly for good.

There's a personal side to this that renders football meaningless. A man who dedicated his life to the sport has been plagued by memory loss for more than a year, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

And, of course, there's also a football side. Without Abraham, the Cardinals' defense takes another hit, having already lost a pair of inside linebackers, Daryl Washington (suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free agency) and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (injury). Through one game, Arizona's ability to absorb the losses has been impressive.

Take those four and add safety Yeremiah Bell, whom the Cardinals didn't re-sign during the offseason, and Arizona has lost 49.9 percent of its tackles from a year ago and 56 percent of its sacks.

Losing Abraham for the year might be the knockout punch.

With him on the field last season, opposing quarterbacks had a completion percentage of 57.5 percent compared to 62.9 percent when he wasn't on the field. The Cardinals had 42 sacks, 20 turnovers and 16 interceptions with Abraham and five sacks, seven turnovers and four interceptions without him.

Sam Acho will be charged with filling in if Abraham decides not to return. With Alex Okafor still recovering from a thigh injury, the Cardinals are thin at outside linebacker. Behind Acho and fellow starter Matt Shaughnessy will be Thomas Keiser and Marcus Benard, who was added with the roster exemption given to the Cardinals in Abraham's case. Beyond that, Arizona also could use Lorenzo Alexander, who started the first three games of last season at outside linebacker but was replaced by Abraham when he got injured in Week 3.

"It's the next guy in there," Arians said. "Each guy is individual. John has his moves, which they've been pretty good for a long time. Sam has his and Sam has a high motor. Matt, even Marcus got around the quarterback during camp, so that's something that doesn't change anything you do."

Keiser, who saw more playing time Monday after Abraham went down, will have a larger role in New York against the Giants, Arians said. When a player of Abraham's caliber is on the field, Keiser said teams tend to game plan for them, which in turn helps other pass-rushers.

Combined, the group that's up next combined for 11 sacks last season -- a half-sack less than Abraham. That needs to improve if Arizona has plans of playing in January. The Cardinals were held without a sack in Week 1 for the first time since the 2013 opener, a run of 15 straight games.

"We just need production," Alexander said. "Everybody's going to be a little bit different. You don't have a whole bunch of John Abrahams just walking around here.

"Whether I get three or four sacks, Marcus gets three or four sacks, as long as we get that same type of production whether it comes from one guy or five guys, that's all that matters."
The first pick will be the last to sign in the AFC West.

The Denver Broncos announced they signed first-round pick, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. He missed Thursday morning’s first practice, but he will be able to catch up quickly. Williams, the No. 28 overall pick in the draft, is expected to be an instant contributor for Denver.

With Williams secured, the lone remaining unsigned pick in the division is Kansas City offensive tackle Eric Fisher. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft. It is no surprise he is not signed.

However, there have been reports that finalizing the deal will not be difficult, and it should be done soon. The Chiefs’ rookies started practice Tuesday, but the first full-squad workout is Friday.

In other AFC West news:

San Diego linebacker Jonas Mouton was taken off the field at Thursday’s first practice with an injury. There is no immediate word on his status. Mouton is fighting for a roster spot,

Denver executive John Elway expressed his thoughts on the recent spate of trouble key members of the organization have gotten into. The team will stay in-house when it deals with the suspensions of front-office executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert.

Pass-rusher John Abraham signed with Arizona. He has long been linked to Denver and Oakland, but nothing materialized.
Shortly after the Elvis Dumervil fax fiasco, the Denver Broncos reached out to veteran pass-rushers Dwight Freeney and John Abraham.

It seemed like Denver would replace Dumervil, the Broncos’ second pass-rushing option behind star Von Miller, with one of the two veterans.

However, because of financial reasons, Denver pulled away from both players. Instead it added former San Diego pass-rusher Shaun Phillips and drafted rookie Quanterus Smith in the fifth round to help Miller.

However, the USA Today thinks a Denver-Abraham pairing could still be achieved. It looks at its top 10 remaining free agents. Abraham is No. 1 on the list. It think his best fit is Denver.

Could it still happen? I think if the price is right, sure. Denver is in win-now mode and if it thinks the veteran Abraham is a missing piece, it will pursue him.

I wouldn’t count on Abraham signing in Denver, but I can certainly see it as well.
The San Diego Chargers received terrible news Tuesday in their second day of organized non-contact drills.

The team announced 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram has a torn ACL.

The Chargers were counting on Ingram to provide a strong pass rush. He had a slow start to his rookie season, but he showed promise late. The team saw veteran edge rushers Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes leave in free agency.

Ingram was expected to be the primary pass-rusher from the edge. Defensive linemen Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget provide good pass-rush burst from the line, but the Chargers need an outside presence. Former first-round pick Larry English in on the roster, but he has shown he can’t be counted on. The Chargers drafted Tourek Williams in the late rounds last month. His route to the field may be expedited with Ingram’s injuries.

I’d think the Chargers would seriously consider pursuing veteran Dwight Freeney. He was in Indianapolis with new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco. Veteran John Abraham is also out there.

With Ingram out for the year, the Chargers will have to find help somewhere.

This will be a tough setback for a young player. His career will certainly be salvageable, but it will be such a waste to lose his second NFL season in May.

In other AFC West news:
  • The Chiefs claimed offensive lineman Matt Reynolds from the Eagles and cornerback Buddy Jackson from the Giants. Reynolds was coached by new Kansas City coach Andy Reid last season.
  • The Bills claimed tight end Mickey Shuler. He was cut by the Raiders.
The Denver Broncos are suddenly set with complementary pass-rushers for star Von Miller.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Broncos have signed San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips. He signed a one-year contract.

The Chargers had lukewarm interest in bringing back Phillips.

Phillips had 9.5 sacks for San Diego last year, but will be a situational pass-rusher for the Broncos. Yes, Denver needed a defensive end after Elvis Dumervil left. But what they really wanted was another pass-rusher. Phillips fills that role. This is a passing-down addition.

I think Phillips can help because he still has something left in the tank and he seems to raise his level of play when he is surrounded by talent. Denver had the No. 2 defense in the league.

It will be somewhat strange seeing Phillips in a Denver uniform. He was often in the middle of skirmishes between the two teams and Denver players often said Phillips was one of the mouthiest players in the league. Now, Phillips will be talking and harassing the passer in a San Diego uniform.

Denver had shown interest in Dwight Freeney and John Abraham. While anything is possible I’d be surprised if either was brought in at this point.

Remember a couple of years ago when the defensive tackle position was a problem for the Denver Broncos?

Not so much anymore.

The Broncos continued to get bigger in the middle of the defense Thursday night when they took advantage of an unexpected fall by North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.

“That is a steal in the first round,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said on the air of Denver getting Williams with the 28th overall pick in the draft.

The Williams choice was typical of the John Elway regime. The Broncos took the best defensive player on the board. Elway’s mantra is to let the board come to him, and that’s what happened when Williams dropped to Denver.

Williams, who was expected to be picked in the 18-25 range, is disruptive and athletic. He has a chance to boost Denver’s rotation immediately. Denver also signed Terrance Knighton in free agency; he and Kevin Vickerson will help, too. Denver’s run defense should rapidly improve with the additions of Knighton and Williams.

Denver was expected to take a pass-rusher to make up for the loss of Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos could take one later in the draft or sign a veteran such as Dwight Freeney or John Abraham. In the meantime, Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe will be asked to assist star Von Miller.

While Denver’s defense is not complete, the Williams pick does significantly improve the unit, which finished last season No. 2 in the NFL.
The Atlanta Falcons have not ruled out bringing back pass-rusher John Abraham, who was cut by the team last month. Denver showed some interest in him, but they did not pull the trigger. Denver may wait for the draft to take a pass-rusher to replace the departed Elvis Dumervil.

Oakland running back Darren McFadden is looking forward to playing in a new offensive scheme this season.

New Kansas City coach Andy Reid can’t wait to start working with explosive receiver Dexter McCluster.

USA Today is reporting the Seattle Seahawks will work out free-agent quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn. Leinart was the backup in Oakland last season and Quinn ended up being the starter in Kansas City. Neither team has plans of brining back the players.
The pass-rushing position has been in the spotlight in the AFC West this offseason. Let’s take a look where each team in the division stands.

Denver Broncos: The Broncos have a need here after the infamous Elvis Dumervil fax machine gaffe which concluded with him signing with Baltimore. The Broncos have star pass-rusher Von Miller, but they are looking for another option to replace Dumervil. They could still sign a veteran such as Dwight Freeney or John Abraham, if the price is right. They could also draft a pass-rusher in the early rounds. Second-year end Derek Wolfe also provides a solid pass rush and Robert Ayers may also play more.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs now possess the best pass-rushing tandem in the division in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Hali has 35.5 sacks in the past three seasons and Houston has 15.5 sacks in two NFL seasons. This duo is terrific. The Chiefs may need some more defensive line help, but they are set with their primary pass-rushers.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders badly need some pass-rushers. It was poor in that area last year and it hasn’t addressed it this offseason. None of the front seven players Oakland has signed are known as great pass-rushers. Some will help, but there are no anchors. Oakland could address the area in the draft and it could re-sign veteran situational pass-rusher Andre Carter.

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers could use some help. Antwan Barnes left this offseason and while Shaun Phillips could return, he remains unsigned. The team is hopeful that 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram takes the next step and brings consistent pressure. He showed flashes last year. The front three is solid as Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes both have strong ability. The Chargers are young at this position and it could quickly be in good shape. But if the price is right, bringing back a veteran like Phillips may not be a terrible idea.
The Carson Palmer situation in Oakland is taking another turn.

Apparently, the Oakland Raiders are still willing to pay Palmer a load of money. But he may not be interested in making a lot of money with the Raiders.

Thus, it seems if the Raiders don’t pay Palmer $13 million, he may be willing to take a lot less and even become a backup elsewhere rather than play on a team that may be among the NFL’s worst in 2013.

Yahoo! Sports reported that the Raiders simply want Palmer to take a pay cut from $13 million to $10 million. That seems fair for a 33-year-old quarterback who is on the decline.

There is little chance Palmer will be paid $10 million. There are some teams, perhaps Arizona and Buffalo, that would pay Palmer a solid rate to start, but it's likely not as much as Oakland is willing to pay. Teams would be interested in him as a backup, but at a much reduced rate.

If it is true that Palmer is reluctant to be paid well to play for a team that may not compete, Oakland should cut him right away. The Raiders need a quarterback who believes in them, no matter the challenge.

Again, we don’t know what is actually on Palmer’s mind. But I do think it may be getting clear that Oakland will have a new starting quarterback, whether it’s Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor or Geno Smith.

In other AFC West notes:

The Denver Post thinks Robert Ayers or a draft choice may be the Broncos’ choices to replace Elvis Dumervil instead of Dwight Freeney and John Abraham.

The Eagles are reportedly interested in former Kansas City right tackle Eric Winston. The Chargers are interested as well.

The NFL Network is reporting defensive tackle Tommy Kelly is getting a “ton” of interest. The Raiders cut him Wednesday.
Expect the Denver Broncos to add a pass-rusher to their list of draft needs.

Elvis Dumervil moved on after the infamous fax-machine fiasco. The team is looking for a replacement, but talks with Dwight Freeney and John Abraham are reportedly not going well. Still, I can see Freeney backing off on big contract demands because he very likely won’t get what he wants.

Assuming then that the Broncos look for a complement to star pass-rusher Von Miller in the early rounds, let’s look at some potential fits:

Tank Carradine, Florida State: He is coming off a major knee injury. He should be available when Denver picks at No. 28. He has great film.

Margus Hunt, SMU: He is raw and will be 26 when the NFL season starts. More likely a second- or third-round prospect. He does have strong pass-rush ability.

Sam Montgomery, LSU: Probably more of a second-round pick. He has a chance to be a complete player.

Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: Moore has been falling down some boards after a poor showing at the NFL combine and in interviews. But he is only 20 and has produced on the field -- so falling to No. 28 might be a stretch. He’d be a great value there and I’m sure he’d love to reunite with Miller.

Alex Okafor, Texas: He might be more of a second-round pick. He has a chance to develop into a good pass-rusher.
As soon as Elvis Dumervil agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, reports surfaced that the Denver Broncos would target Dwight Freeney to replace him.

However, according to the NFL Network, it might not be that easy. Freeney is said to want $6 million a year -- and might be willing to wait until the summer to sign. New Orleans also reportedly has interest in Freeney.

I can see Denver having issues with both Freeney’s financial demands and his timeline. The pass-rusher market has not been strong this offseason. Freeney is 33, coming off injuries and has been declining; I do not see Denver overpaying Freeney just to get him. It is not desperate for a top pass-rusher. And Freeney could merely be posturing at this point.

After all, the Broncos have Von Miller, who has 30 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. But they do want to get Miller help, ideally before the summer.

The report also states that Denver is “pretty well out of the mix” for Atlanta pass-rusher John Abraham. Freeney and Abraham both visited Denver last week.

Denver will likely look at pass-rushers in the draft regardless of what happens on the free-agent market.
I often get asked for updates on a potential trade of left tackle Branden Albert of Kansas City.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last week that the team is shopping Albert, who signed his franchise tag last week. The Chiefs have had talks with the Miami Dolphins. As of Monday, I get the impression that if a trade happens it could take time.

Right now, I think Miami may be the only team really in on Albert and I’m not sure if it is totally sold on the idea.

Schefter reported the Chiefs want a second-round pick this year and likely another pick in 2014. I think they’d take a seventh-round pick this year as the secondary pick. But everything is negotiable. It wouldn’t shock me if the Chiefs accepted just a second-round pick at some point.

Again, I think this process could take some time and if talks heat up, it could be closer to the draft, which is April 25-27.

In other AFC West news:

The Denver Post reports the Denver Broncos had talks with the agent of pass-rusher Dwight Freeney on Monday, but no deal appears imminent. The Broncos are targeting Freeney to replace Elvis Dumervil. He signed with Baltimore on Sunday. The NFL Network reported the New Orleans is expected to show interest in Freeney. If the Broncos don’t sign Freeney, they will likely target John Abraham.

It’s been a long, difficult nine days for both Elvis Dumervil and the Denver Broncos.

A fourth-round pick in 2006 who produced 63.5 sacks for Denver, Dumervil agreed to terms with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

It leaves Denver with a big need for a complementary pass-rusher behind star Von Miller. The team is talking to both Dwight Freeney and John Abraham. Both have already visited and I expect Denver to sign one of them soon. The Denver Post is reporting Freeney is the team’s top choice.

Dumervil is better and younger than the 33-year-old Freeney and 34-year-old Abraham. But I got the sense in the past couple of days that this was the desired path for both sides as the reality of the prolonged saga sunk in.

In the end, Dumervil gets $8.5 million from the Ravens this year. It was $500,000 more than he would have gotten from Denver had Dumervil's agent not missed the March 15 deadline on a new three-year deal. Denver originally owed Dumervil $12 million but it wanted him to take a pay reduction or be cut. The snafu caused the release and it also resulted in a lot of bad blood.

In the end, Dumervil was upset he was released. When he was able to get $8.5 million from Baltimore, he felt it was worth moving on. Denver clearly wanted Dumervil back, but not at that price. The word around the building in recent days was Denver was worried about overpaying Dumervil and was worried about having a potentially disgruntled player in the locker room.

Denver will no doubt miss Dumervil's production, but it feels like it can fill the gap with a veteran like Freeney or Abraham or through the draft.

This was a messy, unnecessary saga for Denver, which has had an otherwise strong offseason after signing Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Terrance Knighton and Louis Vasquez.

There is plenty of blame to spread around. Denver shouldn't have let Dumervil get so close to the deadline without a deal. Dumervil shouldn't have waited so long and he shouldn't have waffled. Marty Magid, Dumervil's agent, ultimately dropped the ball when he let the deadline pass. Dumervil fired him the day after the fiasco.

All these reasons are why the split was likely and, ultimately, for the best. Dumervil will go to a team that badly needs him and he will be paid well. He will feel wanted and that’s important. Denver can justify it by saying it can save some money and it can still get pass-rushing help for the upcoming season.

This was far from perfect, but now it’s time for everyone to move on and go on their separate paths.
The Elvis Dumervil saga is over. The Denver Broncos’ search for a pass-rushing complement to star Von Miller is not, though.

FaxGate has ended with Dumervil agreeing to terms with the Baltimore Ravens. Now, Denver will likely sign either Dwight Freeney or John Abraham.

We will be back with more thoughts later. Here is a statement from Broncos vice president John Elway in the meantime:

“As we have from the start of this process, we worked diligently over the last week to find a way for Elvis Dumervil to remain a Denver Bronco. Although we made multiple contract offers to Elvis after being forced to release him, we were unable to reach an agreement and are now moving forward without him.

“Elvis was a team captain and a talented player who made a great impact during his seven seasons in Denver. I appreciate all of his effort on the field and the work he did in the community.

“I wish Elvis all the best as he continues his NFL career.”