AFC West: Matt Stafford

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

There were two developments Thursday that could have some bearing on the Jay Cutler situation in Denver.

First, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford had an excellent performance at his pro day. He displayed great accuracy and command and the showing could help him become the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Detroit Lions, who own the top pick, were, of course, present.

If the Lions were blown away by Stafford, they could decide to use their top pick on him. Detroit has been linked to talks about Cutler. It would likely take a package that included the No. 1 pick for Detroit to get the disgruntled quarterback. Perhaps Stafford's pro day performance will make Detroit decide that drafting him would be their best bet.

In Cleveland, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers has skipped the first few days of the Browns' offseason workout program. An Ohio newspaper has already suggested that perhaps the Browns will trade Rogers and quarterback Brady Quinn for Cutler. With Rogers staying away from the Browns' offseason program, which Cutler is also doing in Denver, it could make the Browns consider dealing him.

Rogers certainly fits Denver's needs. The team has long been searching for a dominant anchor for the defense. The Broncos tried to acquire Rogers from Detroit in 2008 before he was sent to Cleveland.

This development could be a step closer to putting Rogers on the trade market, along with a certain quarterback in the Rocky Mountains.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

It's all out in the open now.

What folks close to Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler have been saying privately for the past 16 days is now public.

Cutler wants out of Denver after the team botched a trade to acquire Matt Cassel. Cutler is not in Denver with the rest of his teammates for the start of the offseason workout program and the start of the Josh McDaniels era.

The problem is real, and it's not going anywhere.

The Broncos have to address it. As it has since the drama broke wide open Feb. 28, Denver has two choices: It can try to fix the problem with Cutler or trade him and move on from this unbelievable mess.

OK, the Broncos may have only one course to take: They may have to trade Cutler.

Cutler wanted out as soon as he heard the Broncos had tried to trade him in a move to get Cassel on the second day of the free-agency season. Cutler tried to make nice because he is close to his teammates. But he and McDaniels couldn't come to an accord, after meeting once by phone and once in person.

Cutler wanted Denver to ensure him any trade talks are off the table; those close to him confirm that getting a new contract in Denver (he has three years remaining on his deal) would be a sign of good faith by the team. The Broncos, it seems, just want it all to go away.

The Broncos feel they have been truthful with Cutler. They want him to come and play.

That doesn't seem as if it's going to happen. The rift is bigger than it ever has been. Cutler is on the record about a trade request and he is staying away from team functions. It doesn't seem as if communication is going to change this situation.

In fact, Cutler and the Broncos have agreed on only one thing in the past 16 days -- they want to pursue a trade. Except Denver doesn't want to pursue a trade any longer now that Cassel is in Kansas City. And Cutler didn't want a trade before the Cassel talks.

If the Broncos were to trade Cutler, it would create another problem: Who would replace Cutler as the quarterback in Denver? Chris Simms, who was just signed to be Cutler's backup? Or would it be a free-agent stop-gap signee such as Jeff Garcia?

These are not strong options, especially for a team that had a happy 25-year-old Pro Bowl player as their quarterback less than three weeks ago.

One possibility would be to trade Cutler in a package to the Cleveland Browns for Brady Quinn. At least then they'd have a quarterback who could potentially become a legitimate NFL player. Or the Broncos could try to trade Cutler for a high draft pick and then take Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez. Still, those players come with no guarantees and it would set the Broncos' program back while the quarterback developed, which is exactly what Denver just did with Cutler, who was the No. 11 pick in 2006.

No, those trade options don't look good. But the idea of Cutler and McDaniels coming to a middle ground doesn't look good, either.

Whatever happens, it needs to happen soon. It has gone well beyond whose fault it is.

This situation is hurting everyone involved. Until this saga, Cutler was never looked upon as a problem player or a controversial figure. He is quiet, but he wasn't considered an unhappy player in the Mike Shanahan era.

The situation also is hurting McDaniels. Badly.

McDaniels, 32, already has doubters. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a coach in NFL history who has been in such a pressure situation two months into his tenure. If he doesn't remedy the situation with Cutler, McDaniels will have to have instant success with whomever Cutler's replacement would be or he'd face an incredible backlash in Broncos-crazed Colorado.

What is going to happen? We aren't sure, but now everyone is sure that the Jay Cutler-Josh McDaniels rift is very real and very much alive.

AFC West combine concerns

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
1:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

With the NFL combine going on for the next several days in Indianapolis, here is a look at the key goals of each team in the AFC West. Free agency (which begins Feb. 27) and the draft (April 25-26) are looming.

Denver

The Broncos cut five defensive starters earlier this week and carved several million dollars in salary-cap room, so the team is at the combine in full reload mode.

The combine is supposed to be about the draft, but it is just as much about free agency. With free agency a week away, many teams spend the time in Indianapolis finalizing their game plans for free agency. That's what Denver surely is doing.

The Broncos need five or six defensive starters and they need help at every layer of their defense. The list could include nose tackle Grady Jackson and cornerback Ronald Bartell. The draft is also of major importance to Denver, so its scouting department will be keeping a keen eye on what's happening on the field in Indianapolis.

The Broncos have the No. 12 overall pick and nine draft picks total. Like in free agency, expect defense to be the focus. Players Denver will study the most are Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji and USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Denver would likely be thrilled to draft either player.

Kansas City

The future of tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Larry Johnson are huge issues, but the new regime will be heavily focused on the draft this weekend.

Kansas City has the No. 3 pick and what it does with it will help define the early portion of the Scott Pioli and Todd Haley era.

Expect the Chiefs to seriously eye quarterbacks. The Chiefs may not take one because of the presence of Tyler Thigpen, who's a capable player, and their huge need for impact players on defense. But the Chiefs may be romanced by the memory of what last year's No. 3 pick, quarterback Matt Ryan, did for Atlanta.

The Chiefs will no doubt spend a lot of time with Georgia's Matt Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez, the top quarterback prospects. There is also the idea of trading for New England's Matt Cassel, who obviously has a history with Pioli.

Also expect the Chiefs to spend a lot of time with Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry this week. He could be the best defensive player available.

Other burning issues for Kansas City in Indianapolis include the likelihood of the Chiefs talking to teams about trading for Johnson. Because of his price tag and off-field baggage, Johnson may difficult to move. He may end up getting cut.

Oakland

The Raiders' job is fairly simple. They must pick up an impact offensive player with the No. 7 pick. Because there are about eight can't-miss offensive players, Oakland, which has failed often this decade with its first choices, has a chance to get a quality player who can make an instant impact on offense.

The Raiders will likely choose between a receiver and an offensive tackle with the No. 7 pick. The top choices at receiver are Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin. Seattle may take Crabtree at No. 4; otherwise, Oakland might be able to choose between the two receivers.

Still, Oakland needs a dominant left tackle nearly as much as it needs a game-breaking receiver. The top tackles available are Alabama's Andre Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe. One of these three tackles, at least, should be available. So, the Raiders should be able to pick between at least two of five players who could instantly help them. This week's work will help Oakland decipher what it wants to do in the draft.

San Diego

The Chargers are going to have an interesting weekend as they try to resolve the LaDainian Tomlinson situation and prepare for the future.

The team is expected to have serious talks with Tomlinson's agent. The two sides are expected to try to hash out a restructured contract that will keep Tomlinson in San Diego. If a new deal can't be reworked by Thursday night, Tomlinson will be released. But both sides want to avoid that sad scenario.

A new deal may be tricky but not impossible. The in-person talks in Indianapolis could have the team and Tomlinson come to a resolution. Also, it wouldn't be a shock if the Chargers continue talks about a long-term deal with quarterback Philip Rivers while at the combine.

As far as draft business this weekend, the Chargers, who have the No. 16 overall pick, have plenty of options. If Tomlinson returns, the team will likely not pursue a running back such as Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Ohio State's Chris Wells.

The Chargers will likely focus on linebackers this weekend, including Maualuga and his USC teammate, Brian Cushing, and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Now that the Kansas City Chiefs have replaced general manager Carl Peterson and head coach Herm Edwards with Scott Pioli and Todd Haley, respectively, there is much work to be done.

There are some difficult decisions that need to be made in Kansas City and it all starts with tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has made it clear that he wants to stay with the team to finish his career.

But he needs to be convinced that the Chiefs can become a contender soon, which may be difficult to do and he may ask to be traded again. The Chiefs don't have to deal him, and they could force him to live by the final two years of his contract if it gets to that point. But Gonzalez is a legend in Kansas City and dealing him will be difficult. The Chiefs need to convince Gonzalez they are going to win soon and he can be a big part of it.

Another decision will be what to do with running back Larry Johnson. That appears to be a much easier decision. The team is expected to try to trade Johnson in the coming weeks. But because of his age and his off-field baggage, the Chiefs likely won't get much for him, so it could come down to him being released. Either way, it doesn't look like Johnson will be in Kansas City next season.

Kansas City also has to decide what to do at quarterback. The Chiefs, who have the third overall pick in the draft, could go with a quarterback such as Georgia's Matt Stafford or Southern California's Mark Sanchez or the team could strike a deal for New England's Matt Cassel. That is a real possibility considering Pioli's ties to the Patriots. But then there's Tyler Thigpen, who did a decent job and who has a supporter in Gonzalez. Gonzalez thinks the Chiefs should fully concentrate on defense and give Thigpen another year to develop.

Kansas City has a load of salary-cap room and it will be able to do a lot in the offseason. Defense needs to be the clear area of concentration. But the idea of getting a quarterback to start the Pioli and Haley era could be too enticing for them to pass up.

Indeed, the Chiefs are going to have to spend the next few weeks and months deciding on several key areas as they try to begin this new era the right way.

Todd Haley speaks about taking over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Posted by ESPN.com'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.

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