AFC West: Mike Tolbert

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece will play for Team Sanders in this weekend's Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

Reece
Reece, the lone Raiders player selected to the NFL's re-imagined all-star game, was one of two fullbacks selected, along with Carolina Panthers All-Pro Mike Tolbert. And when Team Rice selected Tolbert, Reece went to Deion Sanders' team.

“That's who we want,” Sanders said on the NFL Network's broadcast of the Pro Bowl Draft's Day 1 Tuesday evening. “We love him because he's not getting the ball. All we want him to do is block, for that man over there.”

Sanders pointed to team co-captain Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Reece, who is making his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, garnered a more positive scouting report, of sorts, from Jerry Rice.

“Marcel Reece, I feel like he can do everything,” Rice said. “He can come out of the backfield, he can catch the ball, he can run the ball, he can do all those things. But then when it comes down to really blocking guys, I feel like Mike Tolbert, he's the guy.”

Indeed, Reece is the more versatile offensive threat, with 549 yards from scrimmage this season, including four touchdowns as the only Raiders player with a score by ground as well as by air.

Tolbert, meanwhile, rushed for 361 yards and five TDs on 101 attempts and led the Panthers with seven scores.

The Indianapolis Colts' staff, with coach Chuck Pagano, will coach Team Sanders while the Carolina Panthers and coach Ron Rivera will head up Team Rice.
A few years ago, when asked my thoughts on San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers, I would give this stock answer: He’s the best player in the NFL without a Super Bowl ring.

Rivers
Circa 2008-2010, that was not an unreasonable response. Rivers was on the cusp of being an elite player quarterback. However, things have changed in the past couple of years. Rivers’ turnover rate has gone out of control and several talented quarterbacks emerged and overshadowed him.

I still think Rivers, 31, can be a top quarterback. It is not his fault the previous San Diego regime let skill-position players like Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert leave. It is not his fault his offensive line was ravaged by injuries. Rivers needs help. If he gets it, he can be terrific again.

But I can’t say I don’t have a big problem with Rivers not being on ESPN.com’s list of the top 100 players on offense. There are 15 quarterbacks on the list, which shows this is a golden age for NFL quarterbacks.

So, tough decisions have to be made. Rivers’ recent play doesn’t give him much equity. Of the 15 quarterbacks on the list, perhaps the only one I think I’d put Rivers over at this point is Chicago’s Jay Cutler, who is ranked at No. 97.

The new Chargers’ brass is excited about Rivers moving forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if his national reputation soars again, but because of the last two years, his omission from this list is understandable.

Chargers' decision a year late

December, 31, 2012
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Dean Spanos made the right decision Monday.

It’s too bad it was a year too late.

Time is precious in the NFL and the Chargers will never get back the 2012 season, which goes down as an unnecessarily lost season.

The Chargers can look at their AFC West rival Denver Broncos as an example of making a harsh decision at the right time. Denver dismissed Josh McDaniels before his second season with the team was complete in 2010. The Broncos didn’t worry that it was too soon. Now, two years later, the Broncos are as healthy as any franchise in the NFL. It all began with the McDaniels firing.

Last year, Spanos kept general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner because they were good football men. He liked them and the players liked them. But their time was up. They were no longer effective in their roles. Instead of making the decision to move on, Spanos waited until the Chargers went 7-9 in 2012.

San Diego badly needs an infusion of new blood. It needs to become a healthy franchise.

Smith and Turner did some good things. But the program got stagnant and the talent base has dried up some. Smith was with the team for 10 years and Turner was there for six years.

Four years ago, this was one of the NFL’s best rosters. That is no longer the case. Several free agents, such as Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert, have left and the program has suffered. Smith has been unable to keep up the roster because of free-agent and draft decisions that didn’t work.

He will never be forgiven by the fan base for passing up Clay Matthews in favor of Larry English in the first round four years ago. The 2010 blockbuster trade to get running back Ryan Mathews is looking shaky as well.

The decisions have shown on the field. The Chargers' offensive production has suffered a steep decline in the past three seasons. After starting 32-16 in San Diego, Turner finished 24-24.

Smith and Turner were given more than enough time. They were given a year’s worth too much time.

What’s next for them?

Smith could interest some teams. There will be a lot of front-office change, so he could be in the mix.

Turner is considered one of the NFL’s all-time great offensive coordinators. He will be sought after. If Mike McCoy gets a job (he is interviewing in Chicago and Arizona), I could see Denver having interest. I could see the Jets and the Ravens (if they make a hire) being interested as well. Turner should get his pick of jobs as he likely moves from his final stint as an NFL head coach.

Wrap-up: Panthers 31, Chargers 7

December, 16, 2012
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A look at another bad day for the Chargers:

What it means: In a season of lows, this game ranks up there on the disappointment level. The Chargers were completely manhandled by a team that came into the game 4-9. There was a sparse crowd, and the few fans who bothered to come out booed the home team lustfully. After an impressive win at Pittsburgh last week, San Diego fell flat again. The Chargers are 5-9 (they went 0-4 against the NFC South) and officially out of the playoff race. The Norv Turner-A.J. Smith regime has two more weeks to go in San Diego.

Tolbert bites Smith back: One reason Smith is very likely to be fired is he let too many talented free agents walk. Mike Tolbert is one of them; San Diego’s underwhelming run game misses him. Tolbert scored the first two touchdowns of the game.

Tough day for Rivers: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers’ fumbling issues were a problem again. He fumbled four times and lost two. It was a bad day for Rivers, whose offensive line is in shambles. For the fifth straight game, San Diego’s offense failed to gain 300 yards. It tallied a paltry 164 yards. It just gets uglier.

Mathews hurt: The injuries keep piling up for San Diego running back Ryan Mathews, who has been unable to take the next step in his third year. He suffered a shoulder injury and did not return. The Mathews pick in 2010 is also a reason Smith is in trouble. Update: The San Diego Union-Tribune reports Mathews broke his left clavicle and is out for the season. Mathews broke his right clavicle during the preseason in what has been a miserable year. The Chargers had expected much from him this season, but Mathews finishes with just 685 yards on 180 carries and a score.

Milestone for Gates: There was some good news for the Chargers. Star tight end Antonio Gates caught his 81st career touchdown reception. He tied Lance Alworth for most in franchise history.

What’s next: The Chargers travel to face the New York Jets on Sunday in their final road game of the season. That’s a long way to go just for pride.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 14, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

Manning and Broncos have had different Ravens results: Peyton Manning was great against the Ravens in his career while with the Colts. The Denver Broncos, his new team, have not been great against the Ravens in Baltimore. Including the playoffs, Manning is 8-2 with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions against the Ravens, and he has won eight straight games against them. Denver, on the other hand, is 0-5 at Baltimore, including the postseason. Something has to give. The Broncos will feel good about their chances of getting their first win against the Ravens on the road if the game is close in the second half. Manning has been masterful in the second half of games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning has 19 touchdowns in the second half of games this season. In the fourth quarter, Manning has thrown nine touchdown passes with no interceptions.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning is 8-2 with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions against the Ravens.
Chargers miss Tolbert: The Chargers' running game is struggling. San Diego hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher this season, and the run game has been particularly flat in recent weeks. Ryan Mathews has been just so-so, and there is a need for a back who can get tough yards. The Chargers miss Mike Tolbert and will face him Sunday. He left San Diego in free agency for Carolina but hasn’t helped the Panthers much, with 90 yards rushing on 30 carries as well as 24 catches. Tolbert was a big part of the Chargers’ offense in recent seasons. He was always there for tough yards and timely catches, and he was a special-teams star. Not signing Tolbert goes down as one of the team’s bigger recent miscues.

Oakland's draft status will be watched closely: The Raiders, at 3-10, are on pace for the No. 3 pick. But they can end up anywhere in the top 10. The Raiders’ three final games are at home against Kansas City on Sunday, at Carolina and then at San Diego. The Chiefs are on pace for the No. 1 pick, Carolina the No. 5 pick and the Chargers the No. 9 pick. Thus, each Oakland game will have an impact, directly and in tiebreakers, on determining the top 10 picks.

Chiefs are lousy in divisional games: The Chiefs hope their AFC West luck changes Sunday at Oakland. The 2-11 Chiefs are 0-4 against AFC West opponents, and the games have not been close. Heading into Week 14, the Chiefs had the worst division-game point differential in the NFL in being outscored by 53 points. However, the Cardinals let the Chiefs off the hook by taking a 58-0 drubbing at Seattle. The Cardinals are 1-4 in NFC West games and have been outscored by 103 points in division games. The Chiefs certainly don’t want to overtake the Cardinals in that category this week.

Broncos, Ravens going in different directions: Denver, which is 10-3 and on pace for the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, has won eight straight games, which is the current longest win streak in the NFL. Baltimore saw its 15-game home win streak snapped against Pittsburgh in Week 13. The Ravens haven’t lost two straight at home since 2007.
In our AFC West chat Thursday, we talked about the importance of San Diego running back Ryan Mathews catching about 50 passes out of the backfield this season.

Mathews
It prompted me to do some quick research and the results show that San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers usually hits his running back in that range. In fact, Mathews caught exactly 50 passes last season. So, I’d think he could get in the 60-catch range this season as the Chargers plan to expand his workload.

Mike Tolbert, now with Carolina, had 54 catches last season out of the backfield. In 2010, Darren Sproles, who went to New Orleans last season, had 59 catches.

Rivers, who took over as the starter in San Diego in 2006, hit LaDainian Tomlinson 56 times out of the backfield in 2006, 60 times in 2007 and 52 times in 2008.

I don’t expect this trend to end now that Mathews will be the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. His fine performance catching the ball last year clearly gave Rivers and the San Diego coaching staff confidence he can succeed in the role.
The Oakland Raiders are considering upgrading their backup running back situation with free agent Cedric Benson.

It would be a good idea. I think Oakland needs to get better at that spot. Actually, I think most of the division is in less than great shape at backup running back.

I think Kansas City has the best backup running back situation with Peyton Hillis. He is a perfect complement for Jamaal Charles. Charles is a speed guy and Hillis is a power back. They both will get plenty of carries.

Denver has third-round pick Ronnie Hillman behind starter Willis McGahee and then there’s 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno, who could potentially be cut this summer. Oakland needs Benson, I think, because Mike Goodson is fairly unproven and Taiwan Jones is a change-of-pace guy.

I am nervous about the Chargers’ running back situation now that Mike Tolbert has signed with Carolina. Ronnie Brown is nearing the end. Curtis Brinkley is interesting, but is he ready? Rookie Edwin Baker and fullback Le’Ron McClain are also in the mix.

I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. what he thought of the backup running backs in the division. He has similar concerns that I do. Here is what he said:
I agree with you that Kansas City is far and away the best team for running back depth. Benson to Oakland makes sense. If/when Darren McFadden goes down, Benson would get a ton of carries. I can’t say I condone what San Diego has done at this position, considering Ryan Mathews’ injury history. It makes no sense to me. As for Denver, I don’t like Moreno, but I think Hillman can be a true No. 1 running back, making Willie McGahee a high quality No. 2.

I asked Williamson if he thinks Hillman can actually take over for McGahee this year and his answer was yes.

“I do,” Williamson said. “Hillman might not be a 300-carry type of guy in Year 1, but he doesn’t have to be. Also, Hillman is a better fit in the Colts/Manning stretch running game than McGahee.”
The San Diego Chargers have made it known that they’d add to their backfield at some point.

Friday became the time. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Chargers have agreed to terms with former Miami standout running back Ronnie Brown on a one-year deal.

Brown, 30, will be given a chance to be a backup to Ryan Mathews, who the team wants to be a workhorse. Brown is clearly nearing the end of his career.

The 6-foot, 230-pound Brown had 136 yards on 42 carries for the Eagles last season. He had 734 yards for Miami in 2010.

The Chargers are looking for a reliable backup. If Brown can’t hack the job, the Chargers feel good about Curtis Brinkley and seventh-round pick Edwin Baker. Also, new fullback Le’Ron McClain will be given a chance to carry the ball more than he has in recent seasons.

The Chargers are trying to replace the powerful Mike Tolbert, who signed with Carolina this offseason. Brown likely won’t be able to carry Tolbert’s load, but as a group the Chargers have plenty of options behind Mathews.

AFC West links: Charles holds off on OTAs

May, 28, 2012
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Denver Broncos

Defensive tackle remains perhaps the biggest question about the Broncos' defense, but the Denver Post's Lindsay Jones says Kevin Vickerson and his 50-pound weight gain are ready to fill the void at the position.

Peyton update: Approximately two months to go before fans can see Manning in training camp.

Kansas City Chiefs

Though Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles won’t practice until training camp, his absence from offseason training is precautionary. Charles tweeted on Saturday that, even after ACL surgery, he believes he's the fastest on the team.

Oakland Raiders

Terrelle Pryor isn't shy when it comes to asking for help. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the former Ohio State quarterback has reached out to Raiders greats of the past, including Rich Gannon. “I called him and he gave me some wisdom on the game of football,” Pryor said.

"Hard Knocks: Chargers vs. Raiders sounds a lot better than Hard Knocks: Jacksonville Jaguars," writes the National Football Post's Joe Fortenbaugh, who makes a case for the AFC West rivalry to be featured on HBO in a "24/7" style.

San Diego Chargers

With the Chargers' backfield now free of Mike Tolbert, third-year vet Ryan Mathews will assume most of the work. Coach Norv Turner supports the plan, saying: “I personally think he’s ready to take that next step."

Until LaDainian Tomlinson lands with a team, there will be talks about whether he should return to the Chargers.
Let’s look at one player on every AFC West roster who should be paying close attention when the draft begins Thursday:

Denver running back Willis McGahee: He will likely get a backfield partner early in the draft. McGahee is 30 and was nicked up a lot last season. He was fantastic, but will be best served if the Broncos get him some help.

Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel: The Chiefs have spent this offseason building around Cassel. Still, there is a chance Kansas City could take a quarterback early. If the Chiefs take Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill in the first round, Cassel’s future is Kansas City will be short. If the Chiefs bypass a quarterback in the early rounds, it’s a strong statement that Cassel is in the team’s long-term plans.

Oakland tight end David Ausberry: The Raiders like Ausberry, a second-year player, but they have also been scouting tight ends. Oakland not drafting one would be a clear sign that Ausberry will get every opportunity to play in 2012.

San Diego running back Ryan Mathews: He has seen Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert leave via free agency in the past nine months; Mathews needs a quality backup and I think he will get one. Mathews is making great strides, but he has some durability issues -- making a strong backup a must.

Have the Raiders fallen behind?

March, 30, 2012
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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?
Matt Williamson’s grades are in.

He gives the Chiefs and Broncos high marks. The Chargers and the Raiders? Not so much.

In an Insider piece , Williamson gave both the Broncos and the Chiefs "A" grades for their work. Denver brought in quarterback Peyton Manning and the Chiefs brought in several key pieces.

Even though the Chargers brought in several players, they did lose Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert, so Williamson gave them a "C." Oakland had major salary-cap issues to deal with and Williamson slapped a "D" grade on the new regime that was clearly in a tough spot. What do you think about these grades? Fair or foul? Fill up the comments section below with your thoughts.

In other AFC West news:
  • The Broncos are one of several teams showing interest in South Carolina's Alshon Jeffrey. He is expected to be a late first-round pick. Denver has the No. 25 pick. Because of greater needs on defense, I don’t expect Denver to take a receiver with its first pick. Perhaps it will add a receiver with another early-round pick.
  • Former longtime Raiders trainer George Anderson died at the age of 82.
UPDATE: NFL.com reports the Raiders are visiting with Colts’ free agent linebacker Phillip Wheeler. He started games last season and he had 84 tackles. If he comes cheaply, he could be the player the Raiders plug into the starting lineup.

AFC West free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
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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.
Even though the San Diego Chargers are looking for a backup running back to replace Mike Tolbert, who signed with Carolina, they may already have someone to carry part of the load for starter Ryan Mathews.

According to UT San Diego, Chargers’ coach Norv Turner said this week at the NFL owners meetings that fullback Le'Ron McClain could get more touches, regardless. He came over from Kansas City. McClain had 902 yards rushing in 2008, but he has had 89 carries combined in the three seasons since.

I think McClain is a tough, smart player who cans help San Diego’s ground game. Still, I think another reliable tailback needs to be brought in either in free agency or in the draft. Mathews is a potential star, but there have been some durability questions. Like the young Curtis Brinkley, but I would like to see someone else added. Perhaps a tailback such as Oregon’s LaMichael James in the middle rounds would be a good fit.

In other AFC West news:

In a radio interview, former Denver quarterback Jake Plummer -- who was seen throwing the ball in Denver on Monday -- reiterated he is staying retired. He retired five years ago.
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?

SportsNation

Which team has had the best free-agency period?

  •  
    48%
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    32%
  •  
    8%
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    12%

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.

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