AFC West: Michael Bush

Mid-week mail call:

Andrew from Chicago wants to know if I think Denver could be interested in Detroit free-agent defensive end Cliff Avril.

Bill Williamson: I doubt it. Denver has some strong pass-rushers and Avril be heavily sought-after. I think the Broncos will have other needs (starting on the interior defensive line) and Avril will get better offers.

Andrew Luna from Los Angeles wants to know if I think the Chargers could take Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in the second round of the draft.

BW: I like Ball a lot. I think he is going to be a standout runner, and that he could be an intriguing idea for San Diego. But I also think the Chargers could find a complement to Ryan Mathews in free agency. I can see this pairing working in the right situation -- but I’m not sure if it is likely.

Dan from Mansfield, Pa., wants to know if I think the Raiders could take injured South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in the middle rounds, similar to what they did in drafting an injured Michael Bush in 2007.

BW: I wouldn’t necessarily connect the dots here. This is a different regime than the one that drafted Bush. Oakland will likely add a running back in some form, but I wouldn’t necessarily say the Raiders are a favorite to land Lattimore.

NAPA, Calif. -- There is no doubt Darren McFadden is 100 percent healthy, now the Oakland Raiders must hope the premier running back keeps his health all season.

McFadden looked fantastic on Monday as the Raiders opened training camp. His performance Monday followed up a strong offseason program in which he displayed his health. He missed the final nine games of last season with a foot injury.

After his first training camp practice as the Raiders’ head coach, Dennis Allen dropped an understatement while discussing McFadden: “We all understand that he’s an explosive playmaker for us, and we need him to be healthy for the entire season.”

The Raiders are inexperienced behind McFadden since Michael Bush departed to Chicago in free agency. The team has Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones as McFadden’s backups. Allen reiterated the team’s confidence in McFadden’s backups.

Yet, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Raiders jumped on a veteran running back at some time. The team has talked to Cedric Benson, but there is a reason why Oakland hasn’t signed him yet. If the Raiders were really interested in signing Benson, he’d be signed by now.

I think Oakland is going to evaluate the position often to see if it needs to upgrade, but right now, it is standing pat as it hopes McFadden can stay healthy.
Weekend mail call:

Pheng Vue from Fresno, Calif., wants to know if I think the Raiders’ starting receivers will be Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore.

Bill Williamson: That’s how I see it, with Jacoby Ford as the No. 3 receiver. Now if fifth-round pick Juron Criner is the same player in the regular season as he was during organized team activies, he will soar up the depth chart. But for now, I think the starting focus is on Moore and Heyward-Bey and that’s a potentially solid paring.

JDM from Canon City, Colo., wants to know if I think Denver rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler has a future as a starter.

BW: I think he was worth taking in the second round this year. The Broncos are high on Osweiler and taking him now, at the beginning of the Peyton Manning era, was the right call. Denver will be able to watch Osweiler develop in the preseason and in practices for about three years before making a decision to start him. If he is not the answer, Denver will have plenty of time to find another option. It’s worth a second-round gamble.

Fred Brush from Richmond, Ind., wants to know if I think the Raiders should have kept backup running back Michael Bush.

BW: Of course the Raiders would have been well served to keep Bush. He was a fine backup option to the oft-injured Darren McFadden. But it was all about money and the Raiders just didn’t have the salary-cap means to keep Bush, who ended up in Chicago. There was virtually no chance that he was coming back once he hit unrestricted free agency.
I have been waiting for months for this one to develop.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Oakland Raiders are showing interest in free agent running back Cedric Benson.

I’ve long thought this is a logical pairing. The Raiders lost backup Michael Bush to Chicago in free agency, and while starter Darren McFadden is a star, he is not durable.

McFadden’s backups are Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones. Goodson didn’t have any carries with Carolina last year and Jones is more of a change-of-pace back. If signed, Benson would provide terrific experience as a backup and as an injury replacement.

Benson, 29, had 1,067 yards last season. He has not garnered much interest in free agency but Schefter reports that some other teams have been looking. Oakland has shown the most interest. At this point, Benson will likely have to sign a modest contract and Oakland should pursue him.

In other AFC West news:

New Kansas City right tackle Eric Winston regrets that the players allowed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell absolute power in decisions such as player discipline.

Former Denver quarterback Tim Tebow won the annual Good Guy award from the Pro Football Writers of America for his cooperation with the media while with the Broncos in the 2011 season.
The running back class was one of the slowest to develop in the early stages of free agency, and there are still a few capable players available on the market.

Don’t be surprised if some of the AFC West teams look into the position now that the draft is complete. Denver drafted San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman in the third round, and San Diego draft Michigan State’s Edwin Baker in the seventh. Oakland didn’t draft a running back. Kansas City, which drafted Cyrus Gray of Texas A&M, appears set at the position.

Yet, I could see the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders looking for a veteran with Oakland being the most likely to add a veteran as they try to replace Michael Bush, who left for Chicago in free agency. As of now, Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson are backing up the great, but oft-injured Darren McFadden

Among the best names available are Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai. Other running backs available include Tim Hightower, Justin Forsett and Ronnie Brown.

I think Benson can help any team, and I think he’d be a great fit in Oakland. He had 1,067 yards last season. He’d be a strong insurance policy for McFadden. Finances are an issue for Oakland, but, at this point, Benson would likely take what he can get.

The Addai-Peyton Manning connection from Indianapolis always makes it possible that Addai could join Willis McGahee and Hillman in Denver’s backfield. San Diego could add a veteran, and they have talked to Kansas City free agent Jackie Battle.
I know a lot of Raiders fans wanted to see new general manager Reggie McKenzie make a big splash and compensate for having less than a full slate of draft picks by trading up in the draft.

McKenzie, in his first year as a GM, made one deal as he moved down 10 spots in the fifth round and added a seventh-rounder. However, there were no bold moves.

It was the right call because the Raiders have to stop mortgaging the future. Compensatory picks can't be traded, so the Raiders could only deal their fifth- and sixth-round picks this year. Those picks have little value, so McKenzie likely would have had to include future picks if he wanted to trade up and pick higher than No. 95.

The problem is Oakland has a reduced draft class again next year, so McKenzie would have been foolish if he dipped into that class. McKenzie is not a fool.

The Raiders still owe Cincinnati a first- or second-round pick next year and they still owe Seattle a fourth- or fifth-round pick in 2013. The Bengals, as part of the Carson Palmer trade, will get the Raiders' 2013 first-rounder if Oakland goes to the AFC title game. If not, the Bengals will get the Raiders’ second-round pick.

As part of the Aaron Curry trade, the Seahawks will get either Oakland's fourth- or fifth-round pick based on Curry’s playing time.

The Raiders were bailed out by three compensatory picks this year. Don’t expect much of a comp-pick haul next season. The Raiders signed several free agents and lost Jason Campbell and Michael Bush to Chicago as free agents. So, unless Bush goes off in Chicago or Campbell has to play because of an injury to Jay Cutler, the Raiders aren’t going to get much in the way of comp picks. Yes, Oakland released several players who caught on elsewhere but released players are not part of the comp-pick formula.

Thus, Oakland is looking at a small draft class for one more year. McKenzie is playing it smart by being patient and careful. By 2014, it should pay off with a full draft class.
Peyton Manning/John ElwayJustin Edmonds/Getty ImagesThe health of Peyton Manning is the most pressing "What if" for Denver and possibly the division.

The AFC West was the tightest division in the NFL in 2011.

The Broncos, Raiders and Chargers finished 8-8 with Denver prevailing as the division winner via a tiebreaker. Kansas City was a game behind at 7-9. The Chiefs were a blocked field goal attempt against Oakland in Week 16 away from winning the division.

Each team marches toward 2012 with hopes of winning the division. While there is still some work to do in terms of the draft, let’s play the “what if” game. Below is five ways each team in the division could win the AFC West in 2012 if certain things occur. Hat tip to the reader who suggested the idea:


If Peyton Manning is fully recovered from a neck injury that kept him out of the entire 2011 season: Manning’s health is the key to Denver’s entire season. The team and Manning think he will be fine. If he is, the Broncos will be in great shape.

If Demaryius Thomas develops into a true No. 1 receiver: The third-year player has potential and showed great flashes last season. Playing with Manning should spark his career.

If Denver gets a running mate for Willis McGahee: McGahee had a great season in 2011, but he was dinged up a lot and he needs some help. If Denver can draft a player such as Miami’s Lamar Miller, Boise State’s Doug Martin or Virginia Tech’s David Wilson in the second round, they should be in great shape.

If Denver improves at defensive tackle: The Broncos need some help at the position and it is their most pressing need. Watch for Denver to take a defensive tackle at No. 25 in the first round and that player needs to contribute right away.

If the change at defensive coordinator is smooth: With Dennis Allen now the head coach in Oakland, former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio is Denver’s seventh defensive coordinator in the past seven seasons. This change could be seamless, though, because Del Rio has previously been a coordinator on John Fox’s staff, and Fox plays a major role as a defensive coach.

Kansas City

If quarterback Matt Cassel plays better than he did in 2011: Cassel took a step back last season after a strong 2010 season. Instead of replacing him, though, the Chiefs gave Cassel more weapons. He has everything a quarterback needs to succeed. Now, he has to be a success.

If the Chiefs’ injured stars are recovered from serious knee injuries: Running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki all suffered torn ACL’s in September. All are expected back. If they are all fully recovered, the Chiefs should be fine.

If the Chiefs get an impact defender in the first round: The Chiefs have a strong defense, but they can use another stud. Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe or Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly would both be solid fits.

If Stanford Routt fits in the defense: The Chiefs opted to sign former Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt and let Brandon Carr walk. Kansas City thinks Routt will flourish as the No. 2 cornerback next to Brandon Flowers. If Routt struggles, the defense will suffer.

If Romeo Crennel’s late influence is intact: Crennel went from the interim coach to the permanent coach because he sparked the Chiefs in the final three weeks of the season. His team played very hard for him and went 2-1. Let’s see if the good vibes continue.


If quarterback Carson Palmer adjusts to the West Coast offense: Palmer is both trying to re-energize his career and adapt to playing in a West Coast offense. The Raiders and Palmer believe it is a good fit.

If receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford continue to develop: I think these three players have showed flashes. If they continue to develop, the Raiders will have a lot of firepower.

If running back Darren McFadden can stay healthy: McFadden has missed a total of 19 games in four NFL season and at least three games in all four seasons. He missed the final nine games of last season with a foot injury. With backup Michael Bush now in Chicago and Oakland sporting young backups, it is imperative the special McFadden stays healthy as much as possible in 2012.

If the defensive front can stay healthy: The Raiders’ defensive line is their best aspect of a defense in transition. It must stay healthy and be an anchor to the unit.

If rookie coach Dennis Allen can have fast success: At 39, Allen, who has just one year of experience as a defensive coordinator, is the youngest head coach in the NFL. He must prove quickly that he is up to the task.

San Diego

If quarterback Philip Rivers can avoid the interception bug: He threw a career-high 20 interception in 2011. Rivers threw a total of 22 interceptions in the previous two seasons combined.

If running back Ryan Mathews can take the next step: San Diego coach Norv Turner recently said he expects Mathews to have a breakout season in 2012, his third in the NFL. He has shown flashes, but he needs to be more consistent.

If the receivers, as a unit, can make up for the loss of Vincent Jackson: The Chargers like their receiving crew even after Jackson signed with Tampa Bay. San Diego added Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, and already has Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown. Jackson is a star and he will be missed, but the Chargers think they have made up for his loss by having a deeper rotation.

If the Chargers' defense can be better on third down: San Diego had the worst third-down defense in the NFL last season. Improving in that area is a point of emphasis for new defensive coordinator John Pagano.

If the Chargers can add an impact pass-rusher in the first round: The Chargers need a young pass-rusher to emerge. It will be their top priority with the No. 18 pick.
Reggie McKenzie’s first trade as the Oakland Raiders' general manager was another reminder the Al Davis days are over.

Friday, in a swap of backups, the Raiders shipped offensive lineman Bruce Campbell to Carolina for running back/special teamer Mike Goodson. Davis took Campbell in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He was a combine star but never developed in Oakland. He appeared in 14 games in two seasons with no starts. The Panthers indicated Campbell, 23, will be moved from guard to tackle.

Campbell didn’t fit the Raiders’ new zone-blocking scheme. While giving up depth at the offensive line, the Raiders did add depth at running back in Goodson. I think Goodson probably replaces departed special-teams ace running back Rock Cartwright more than running back Michael Bush. Both players left in free agency.

Goodson, 24, showed some flashes as being a role player in 2010 when he had 452 yards on 103 carries and he had 40 catches for 310 yards. He fell out of favor with the new Carolina coaching staff last season and did not have any carries and appeared in just four games in 2011. I think Oakland still needs to add a running back to spell Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones.

Update: I just caught up with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. He thinks Goodson has a chance to have a solid role in Oakland.

“He has a lot of ability,” Williamson said. “I have no idea why he got in the doghouse in Carolina, but I see him as an excellent change of pace for McFadden and insurance for Jones. I like it, but he has fumble issues.”

UPDATE II: McKenzie issued this statement on the trade: “We wanted to acquire another player to compete at the running back position. He can do a lot of things in our scheme on offense. He’s very versatile, he has natural running skills, he’s a great receiver out of the backfield and he has kick-return ability. I’m anxious to see if he can put all that together here as aRaider.”

“We appreciate the work Bruce has put in thus far with the Raiders, and we wish him the best"

Have the Raiders fallen behind?

March, 30, 2012
Reggie McKenzie, Dennis AllenAP Photo/Paul SakumaOakland's salary-cap woes have Reggie McKenzie, left, and Dennis Allen in a tough spot.

The Oakland Raiders are one of the most intriguing franchises in the NFL these days. How will the post-Al Davis Raiders evolve?

After Davis' death in October, the much-less-involved Mark Davis turned his father’s beloved franchise over to Reggie McKenzie, a respected personnel man from Green Bay, who is embarking on his first journey as a general manager. McKenzie has entrusted former Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who at 39 is the youngest coach in the league, to be the next coach of a team that finished 8-8 last season and barely missed the playoffs.

The first focus for McKenzie has been clearing the Raiders’ roster of bloated contracts given to players as the Raiders desperately, and unsuccessfully, chased championships in Davis’ final years.

It has been a necessary exercise as Oakland begins the process of getting out of salary-cap jail. But Oakland has lost more talent than it has brought in the past month.

The question begs to be asked: Has Oakland fallen behind the rest of the AFC West for the 2012 season? It depends on whom you ask, of course. Asked this week if his team will be stronger or weaker in 2012, McKenzie, without explanation, said this: “Honestly, I envision it being stronger.”

However, many folks around the league wonder how.

“I think they have fallen behind,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “They are in a tough salary-cap position and they are paying for it now. I just don’t see the improvement.”

Added Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “I do think they have slipped.” Williamson, in an Insider piece, gave the Raiders one of the worst free-agent grades in the AFC.

It’s difficult to look at the list of players Oakland has added and lost and not come to the same conclusion. Even given the need for salary-cap repair, a loss of talent mustn’t be brushed aside.

Here are some of the key players who were either cut or departed Oakland as free agents: linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, running back Michael Bush, quarterback Jason Campbell, cornerback Stanford Routt, tight end Kevin Boss, defensive tackle John Henderson, running back Rock Cartwright, receiver Chaz Schilens, defensive end Trevor Scott and cornerback Chris Johnson.

The projected starters who have been brought in: guard Mike Brisiel and cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.

“You look who has come and who has gone, and it’s scary,” Horton said. “I like Mike Brisiel. He will help. But the two cornerbacks are just guys. They are not starters for a good team. The defense needs improvement and I don’t see it. All I see is the loss of talent. Where is the coverage coming from? Where is the pass-rush coming from?”

In addition to not having much cap room, the Raiders have a small draft class. They have five picks and their first pick is No. 95, at the end of the third round. McKenzie has said the Raiders need a starting outside linebacker. He might not know who that player is for some time.

Compounding the concern in Oakland is the fact that the rest of the AFC West has been aggressive this offseason.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesDarren McFadden is an elite running back when healthy -- but the Raiders are an injury or two away, at many positions, from serious trouble.
Denver added the big prize of the NFL offseason -- quarterback Peyton Manning. Kansas City added several players, including Routt and Boss after they were jettisoned by Oakland. The Chargers lost star receiver Vincent Jackson and key backup running back Mike Tolbert, but added several pieces and have been lauded by scouts around the league for using their resources properly and adding to their overall talent level. Speaking this week solely about his own team, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said he felt the need to improve his roster because of the improvement around him in the division.

Meanwhile, McKenzie and Allen are seemingly beginning their tenure in Oakland by taking a step back. Asked about the loss of talent while at the NFL owners meetings this week, Allen took a realistic approach.

“You know what, we knew what the situation was when we were going into it,” Allen said. “We knew it was going to be a tough situation. I think Reggie’s done a great job of managing everything as we’ve gone through this. You go through it every year. Every year, you have good players that you lose. And you’ve got to find a way to regroup and replace those guys, and that’s what we’re trying to get done.”

The problem is that Oakland has more holes than it did at the end of last season. In the past couple of seasons, the Raiders were intriguing because they were young and didn’t have many glaring needs. All they needed was their young talent to continue to improve. Now, though, Oakland has holes at tight end and linebacker and depth issues at all layers of the defense, at running back, along the offensive line and at quarterback.

“What if this team gets hurt a lot?” Horton asked. “There is no depth in this team.”

Still, not all is lost in Oakland. Running back Darren McFadden is an elite runner when healthy, the defensive line is an upper-echelon unit, the interior offensive line is strong, the special teams are top-notch, the receiver crew is potentially dynamic and the team believes quarterback Carson Palmer will benefit from a full offseason in the program.

The Raiders are hopeful that their talent can withstand this necessary offseason of cap repair. In a couple of years, if McKenzie continues to be financially prudent, the Raiders should be out of cap jail.

“This team wasn’t far away when I got here,” Allen said at the owners meetings. “We’re excited about trying to build on that and develop this team into a playoff-caliber team. Obviously, we took a couple hits because of the cap situation, but we’re looking forward to trying to develop the team and the players.”

The only question: Has the rest of the AFC West left the Raiders behind in the immediate future?

AFC West free-agency assessment

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

Denver Broncos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas City Chiefs

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland Raiders

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

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

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

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

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

San Diego Chargers

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

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

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

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

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

Other needs include a big backup running back, offensive line depth and some more depth in all layers of the defense.
The high-impact portion of free agency is the books.

Who do you think had the best free-agency period in the AFC West? Please take our poll and let us know what you think?


Which team has had the best free-agency period?


Discuss (Total votes: 15,049)

The Broncos got the big fish in the NFL in the form of Peyton Manning. They also added several other pieces, including cornerback Tracy Porter and tight end Jacob Tamme.

The Chiefs made some huge key offensive pickups in running back Peyton Hillis, tackle Eric Winston and tight end Kevin Boss and they signed cornerback Stanford Routt.

San Diego made several key addition, including receivers Robert Meacham and Eddie Royal and linebacker Jarret Johnson. And kept key offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Jared Gaither. But the Chargers lost the talented Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert.

Oakland concentrated on getting under the salary cap, but had to cut seven players including Boss, Routt, Boss and Kamerion Wimbley. They lost the likes of Michael Bush and Jason Campbell in free agency, but added starters in guard Mike Brisiel and cornerbacks Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.

Take our poll and express your thoughts in our comment section below. We will review the poll results Wednesday. As always, please vote with your head not your heart.
Free agency is winding down, but there are still some players available who can help each AFC West team.

Let’s look at a good fit, in my opinion, for each team. This doesn’t necessarily mean any of these players are on the team’s radar, but I think they are a good fit:


Quarterback Billy Volek, released by San Diego

Why: Denver needs a backup for Peyton Manning. Volek would be perfect. The Broncos have had some talks with Volek, who was cut by the Chargers last week. He has backed up Steve McNair and Philip Rivers. Volek knows what it is like to be an understudy for a star.

Kansas City

Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, New Orleans free agent

Why: There has been some interest. Franklin is a solid 3-4 nose tackle who can be a solid rotational player for the Chiefs. It is one of the team’s biggest needs and the Chiefs could do worse than Franklin.


Running back Brandon Jacobs, released by the New York Giants

Why: I was going to go with Minnesota linebacker Erin Henderson. However, he has just re-signed with the Vikings. Outside linebacker is the Raiders’ greatest need. The Raiders also need a power running back and Jacobs would be the perfect replacement for Michael Bush, who signed with Chicago on Thursday. Because of a lack of money and other needs, the Raiders will likely find a lesser-priced backup. Jacobs would look great in the Silver and Black, though.

San Diego

Defensive tackle Antonio Garay, San Diego free agent

Why: It may not be sexy for the choice to be an in-house rotational defensive tackle. But Garay is a solid player and I think he is the best available AFC West free agent. If the Chargers don’t re-sign Garay, they will have to replace him. There is still a place for him in San Diego.
Here are some highlights from our AFC West chat, which was held Thursday:


Jared from DC: Denver looking for RBs only in Draft? See Any WRs for Denver coming there?

Bill Williamson: Likely look at RBs in the draft. I think the added WRS will be vets. Just signed Andre Caldwell. Stokley may be next.

Kansas City

Kevin from Kansas City, Mo.: With the added strength at OL and all our starters coming back off injury, can the Chiefs or any other AFC West team compete with Peyton and the Broncos over the next five years? Or should we all just take 5 and come back when the West isn't won? UGH can't stand PM why did he have to choose the AFC West?

BW: You are fine. I think Manning will be very good for three years. But the Chiefs are going to be good as well. I really like what your team did in free agency. Manning is the big fish, but Kansas City has done well.


Chuck from New York City: With Bush now in Chicago, do you envision the Raiders signing another backup RB in addition to the injury-prone Jones or trying to get another through the draft?

BW: Oakland, Denver and San Diego all need a backup. Here are some of the best players available: Cedric Benson, Brandon Jacobs, Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai, Justin Forsett, Jackie Battle and Kevin Smith. The market has been slow so some of these players could come cheaply. I think Jacobs would be a nice replacement for Bush if the price is right.

San Diego

Andrew De Fazio from Canada: Who do you think the Chargers will draft with the 18th overall pick? or will they trade up?

BW: They will probably stay put. They will have a lot of choices. However, if they far in love with someone like Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw, they may need to move up.
There is one unsigned player from the top 10 AFC West free-agent list we compiled prior to the market opening. Seven of the nine signed players have departed the division. Let’s review the free-agent season in the division:

1. Vincent Jackson, receiver, San Diego:

Status: Signed with Tampa Bay

Comment: The Chargers replaced Jackson with Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal and used the money saved for other free agents. Jackson will be missed, but he was pricey.

2. Brandon Carr, cornerback, Kansas City:

Status: Signed with Dallas

Comment: Carr was a goner as soon as Kansas City signed Stanford Routt in February.

3 . Michael Bush, running back, Oakland:

Status: Signed with Chicago

Comment: The Raiders will miss him, but there was little chance he was coming back to Oakland.

4. Jared Gaither, tackle, San Diego:

Status: Re-signed with San Diego

Comment: The Chargers feel comfortable with Gaither as their blind-side protection for Philip Rivers.

5. Nick Hardwick, center, San Diego:

Status: Re-signed with San Diego

Comment: The anchor of the offensive line is back and that’s a big deal.

6. Mike Tolbert, running back, San Diego:

Status: Signed with Carolina

Comment: The Chargers will miss this versatile back. They must replace him somehow.

7. Jason Campbell, quarterback, Oakland:

Status: Signed with Chicago

Comment: I think Campbell deserved to get a chance to start again, but he will back up Jay Cutler.

8. Brodrick Bunkley, defensive tackle, Denver:

Status: Signed with New Orleans

Comment: The Broncos will miss him and will need to find help at defensive tackle.

9. Kyle Orton, quarterback, Kansas City:

Status: Signed with Dallas

Comment: The Cowboys paid Orton handsomely to back up Tony Romo.

10. Antonio Garay, defensive tackle, San Diego

Status: Unsigned

Comment: The Chargers still hope to bring him back to be a rotational player.
We knew this was likely going to happen, and the Raiders really had no choice. But now they have to deal with no longer having a special running game.

Oakland can’t be criticized for giving safety Tyvon Branch the franchise tag over reserve running back Michael Bush. Branch is a starter and a key part of a defense in transition. He had to stay. However, that decision likely meant that Oakland's wicked run attack would take a hit.

That became official Thursday when Bush signed with the Bears, joining former Oakland starting quarterback Jason Campbell in Chicago.

Now, the Raiders have to hope starting RB Darren McFadden can somehow become durable. When McFadden went down with a season-ending foot injury in October, Bush took over. When McFadden was healthy, he and Bush were a dynamic 1-2 punch.

Currently, small and injury prone second-year player Taiwan Jones is McFadden’s backup. Jones is super fast and he is a weapon, but I see him more as a change-of-pace guy and as a third-down weapon. I’m not sure if he could hold up if he had to start for a long period of time.

McFadden has missed 19 games in four seasons and has never missed fewer than three games in a season. Fullback Marcel Reece is a terrific all-around player, but he has just 47 career rush attempts.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. believes if McFadden can stay healthy, the loss of Bush will be survived.

“I love McFadden, but he is always hurt and I think his running style lends itself to injuries,” Williamson said. “Jones is very intriguing going into his second year, but he certainly can’t carry the load. I do expect Jones to be a big-play guy this year that develops in the passing game Reece is interesting. He isn’t at all the average fullback. He just does everything, including playing a major role in the passing game.”