AFC West: Reggie Wayne
And initially those plans were what offensive coordinator Adam Gase called "picking on him a bit … a welcome-to-the-NFL type deal," if that's what folks can call pointing a Hall of Fame quarterback in the league's only 600-point offense with the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver toward a first-year cornerback over and over again.
"Hey, he's covering Demaryius Thomas, he's covering Wes Welker in practice, he's covering Emmanuel Sanders in practice, so why not?" safety Rahim Moore said. "...We're keeping eyes on him. At the end of the day he's here for a reason, he wasn't a first rounder just for the heck of it. I'm proud of (him)."
"I've seen (Colts quarterback Andrew Luck) on tape," Roby said. "Last year against Kansas City, he came back from down a lot and won a playoff game. You never count guys like that out. You've just got to keep going, keep fighting."
And it was Roby who knocked away Luck's fourth-down throw toward Wayne with 1 minute, 57 seconds to play Sunday night. The play, one of many where Roby found himself solo against a receiver with eight 1,000-yard seasons in his career, finally allowed the Broncos to stop the Colts in a quarter where Indianapolis had taken ownership of momentum.
On the night Roby won some, he lost some and he had one illegal contact penalty. But the Broncos saw what they hoped for when they selected him, despite some scouts' concerns around the league about Roby's maturity, when the No. 31 pick rolled around last May.
The Broncos had done their homework, believed Roby had simply been coddled some because of his talent and needed some no-nonsense, tough love to have impact in a defense that needs, and wants, him to play as a rookie. That came in the form of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio telling him to "earn your way" on Roby's first day and his tour under the Peyton Manning microscope early on in camp.
"First of all, he's very talented -- that's why he was picked where he was," said Broncos coach John Fox following Sunday's win. "We felt really good about his talent, but there is so much more to be a professional athlete than just talent. So what has impressed me most with him ... it's how he has gone about and improved."
"I could tell a couple times he was a little bit nervous," Moore said. "I tried to give him a couple calls and he was talking to somebody else and I was literally talking to him myself right then, but you know what? He persevered, he made plays (Sunday) ... after a while he was just confident, his swag was up."
Only linebacker Brandon Marshall, with nine tackles, finished with more than Roby's seven in the win. In the end, Roby played 63 of the defense's 74 snaps. Roby also knocked down three passes, including the fourth-down play against Wayne which tied Aqib Talib for the team lead.
"Wins … that's all that matters -- just get the Ws," Roby said. "...I want to be part of wins, be somebody who helped us get some wins."
1. Containing Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs running back finished with 106 yards on 13 carries in the first matchup between the two teams on Dec. 22. But those yards don't tell the whole story. Charles gained 37 yards on Kansas City's opening series. That means the Colts held one of the NFL's premier all-around players to only 69 yards the rest of the game. Indianapolis will have to do the same again because Charles has proved that he can run the ball -- he ran for 226 yards against the Colts in 2012 -- and he had 195 yards receiving against the Oakland Raiders in Week 15 this season. Charles finished the season with 1,287 yards rushing, 693 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns.
2. Do it on defense. Yes, Andrew Luck is the Colts' most valuable player, but they'll need their defense to play well. They're heading into the playoffs with the defense getting 11 sacks and forcing eight turnovers during their three-game winning streak. The Colts sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith four times to go with four turnovers in the game. Indianapolis held Kansas City to 287 yards of total offense.
3. Continue to protect the quarterback. The offensive line has done a good job protecting Luck. He was sacked only three times in the final three games of the season. The ability to keep the young quarterback on his feet has helped the Colts' passing game, as he was 26-of-37 for 282 yards in the season finale against Jacksonville on Sunday. Luck also completed 67 percent of his passes to receivers with six touchdowns and only one interception in the final four games of the season. He had completed only 50.5 percent of his passes to his receivers in the first five games without Reggie Wayne.
You know what you're going to get out of receiver T.Y. Hilton. But fellow receivers Da'Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen are about to step into unfamiliar territory. The three have developed a nice continuity with Luck. The playoffs aren't the time for them to have a setback by showing their inexperience. The Colts won't be able to run their no-huddle offense if Luck can't depend on them to get open and catch the ball.
“I thought overall, it was OK,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. “I think, when you look at it, he had a couple opportunities to make some plays and he was just off just a little bit. So I think D.J.’s going to be fine.”
Hayden did not start -- he was not expected to -- and mostly saw time coming in as a third cornerback in Oakland’s nickel defense, playing left corner with Tracy Porter sliding into the slot.
Still, while Hayden was credited with three solo tackles, they came on completions he allowed … for a total of 37 yards.
What stung was when they came … all three were third downs the Colts converted.
Perhaps the most glaring completion Hayden surrendered was the first … because it was to former Raiders first-rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey (remember him?), and it was a 16-yard pickup, on third-and-5. And it was the fourth play in the Colts’ eventual 10-play, 89-yard scoring drive to open the game.
The second completion came on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter, when Hayden gave up a 12-yard completion to T.Y. Hilton.
Later in the same series, Hayden was beaten by Reggie Wayne for a nine-yard completion on third-and-2.
The last two completions came during the Colts’ game-winning drive.
“D.J.’s going to have to continue to learn, continue to improve, continue to get better,” Allen added. “For the first time out, not bad. But there’s a couple of plays in there you’d like to see him make.
“As he continues to grow, I think you’ll see him make a few more of those plays.”
Mike Wells: So much was made about who the Raiders would start at quarterback earlier this week. It looks like it’ll be Terrelle Pryor. Does he give Oakland the best chance to win, and if so, what makes him so dangerous as a quarterback?
Paul Gutierrez: It appears as though it will be TP2 Time for the Raiders in the opener. And really, it should be. Now, that’s not necessarily an endorsement, but with this team, at this moment, Pryor does at least represent some semblance of hope, what with his skill set. His ability to run should keep the Colts' front seven honest and they won’t be able to simply pin their ears back and rush, like they could Matt Flynn. I believe Flynn is probably a better NFL quarterback at this stage, but with the deficiencies around Oakland’s pocket -- leaky line, inconsistent receivers, injury-prone running back -- Pryor gives the Raiders a better chance. And being that this is a quarterback-driven league, how has Luck dealt with stepping into those huge shoes left by Peyton Manning, and how can Luck avoid the sophomore jinx?
Wells: I’m sure you probably watched Luck one or two times out there in the Bay Area while he was at Stanford, so you know his work ethic should never be questioned, and his demeanor doesn’t allow him to get caught up with the hype. The offensive weapons the Colts put around Luck will make it difficult for him to struggle. Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Oakland’s favorite former receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at receiver; Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen at tight end to go with the duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard at running back. So the words “sophomore slump” and “Andrew Luck” shouldn’t be on anybody’s mind. Of course that’s if the offensive line does its job and blocks. A lot is being made of Pryor’s ability to be creative with his feet, but what about Darren McFadden -- isn’t he the real threat with running the ball, especially with the Colts being near the bottom of the league in rush defense last season?
Gutierrez: No doubt, especially in a perfect world for the Raiders' offense. If all is working right, and opposing defenses have to at least respect the quarterback’s ability to take off, they can’t key on the quarterback. And that sets up the play-action pass. But for the Raiders to have any success offensively this season, it all starts and ends with a guy who has yet to play more than 13 games in a season.
Yeah, Run DMC had been more Limp DMC of late, but when he’s right, he’s nice. Two years ago, he was playing like a league MVP candidate. Then came the Lisfranc injury that ended his campaign after just six-plus games. And last year, in perhaps the greatest failing of the Raiders’ new regime’s plans, they changed the offense on McFadden from a power scheme to the zone-blocking philosophy. McFadden’s average yards per carry went from a career-high 5.4 yards to 3.3 yards. McFadden is also entering a contract year so yeah, he has something to prove as the Raiders return to the power running game. Speaking of something to prove, you mentioned him earlier: The artist formerly known as DHB around these parts left a lot to be desired after four nondescript seasons in Oakland. Hey, it wasn’t his fault he was drafted so high. How has he adapted to a change of scenery, and how strong is his desire to prove something to the Raiders after they cut him this spring?
Wells: I thought Heyward-Bey would come to Indy with a chip on his shoulder because, well, he did play for the Raiders, where more bad than good comes out of that organization. But Heyward-Bey has only good things to say about the Raiders. He blames himself for a lot of his struggles during his four years in Oakland. He also knows he needs to produce to get rid of that “bust” label. As you know, Heyward-Bey has an incredible work ethic.
The biggest difference here is that he now has a mentor. Wayne is the perfect veteran to guide him. The future Hall of Famer's professional demeanor is exactly what Heyward-Bey needs. The other thing is, Heyward-Bey doesn’t have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. Wayne isn’t slowing down any time soon, and the Colts have so many other offensive weapons, as I mentioned earlier, that Heyward-Bey can just let the game come to him. Fans will likely see a number of those weapons because the Raiders don’t have much of a defense. Will nine new starters help them from giving up almost 28 points a game again this season?
Gutierrez: That’s the plan. At least, that’s the hope for the Raiders. Yeah, they have nine new starters on defense, with the only two returning starters being defensive end Lamarr Houston, who is moving from the left side to the more pass rush-specific right side, and strong safety Tyvon Branch, who endured an injury-plagued season for the first time in his career. Of course, a million times of course, the Raiders kept their defense vanilla in the preseason ... and not just for what coach Dennis Allen would term "competitive reasons." In fact, Sunday will be only the first time the Raiders will field their entire starting defense at the same time. Injuries wreaked havoc in exhibition games.
There was a glimmer of hope, though, with the run-stuffing play of defensive tackle Pat Sims in the exhibition finale. And if Nick Roach, who will wear the green dot on his helmet, can rally the defense from his middle linebacker position, the Raiders' defense should be better this season. Emphasis on "could." Can the Raiders -- with virtually an entire new defense and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who schemed daily against Luck at Stanford -- be a detriment to the Colts? Or are they simply of the mindset that they have to worry only about themselves?
Wells: The only way the Raiders will be able to rattle Luck is if the offensive line doesn’t do its job and allows its quarterback to take a pounding all game long. And even then, that may not be enough to beat the Colts. Let’s not forget, Luck was sacked 41 times and hit more than 100 times last season. That didn’t stop him from setting a rookie record for passing yards, attempts and 300-yard games. So I don’t think the Raiders will be to do much against Luck & Co. on Sunday afternoon.
The new San Diego Chargers’ general manager did not showcase that ability much during free agency as the Chargers added several low-profile players because of salary-cap concerns. The Chargers got some nice pieces, but there were not any big splashes.
San Diego splashed like the Pacific Ocean on Friday night. After the Chargers traded up to take Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round, they then drafted dynamic Cal receiver Keenan Allen in the third.
Allen was considered a major steal. He had an injury last year and a slow performance at the combine. But he was productive and most teams rated him highly.
The Chargers took Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round. After the Allen choice, ESPN analyst Todd McShay said Telesco scored three first-round talents with his first three choices.
Fellow ESPN analyst Bill Polian was Telesco’s boss in Indianapolis. He said they studied Allen closely and Polian said he and Telesco thought Allen can be a Reggie Wayne-type receiver.
Allen is a major gift to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. The Chargers badly need skill-position weapons. The receiving crew was lacking since the 2012 departure Vincent Jackson in free agency.
Now with Allen, Vincent Brown and Danario Alexander, the Chargers have three potential standouts along with the solid Malcom Floyd.
I truly expect Allen to make an impact as a rookie. I think this pick will be remembered as the start of something nice for Telesco's tenure.
The last time the Denver Broncos were on the field, it was almost as if Peyton Manning and his two young receivers were showing off.
On a day the Broncos toyed with the Kansas City Chiefs while securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, Manning and wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker thrilled the home fans with a show that punctuated their first season together and proved that chemistry, indeed, has been achieved.
Both Thomas and Decker made spectacular touchdown catches on throws by Manning. It was all hugs, high praise and laughter.
It was also a signal to the rest of the postseason field that Manning and his receivers are ready to be difference-makers when it counts. After his health, the biggest question about Manning’s first season in Denver was how quickly he was going to get in sync with Thomas and Decker.
Manning’s game is based totally on chemistry and timing between himself and his receivers. In his heyday with Indianapolis, Manning was blessed with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. But Manning has succeeded with young, unproven receivers before. Going into the season, Thomas and Decker -- a first-round and a third-round pick in 2010, respectively -- were considered potential solid starters. But after spending 2011 with Tim Tebow, neither had the opportunity to flourish in the receiving game.
Yet, with Denver three days away from hosting Baltimore in a divisional-round playoff game (kickoff is 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday), it is clear that the relationship between Manning and Thomas and Decker is flourishing. Denver is 13-3 and has won 11 games in a row. Manning is a leading MVP candidate, and Thomas and Decker are nightmares for opposing defenses.
“It’s a dream come true for those guys, I think,” Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said of the chance for Thomas and Decker to play with a legend. “This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often, and they’re taking full advantage of it, they work extremely hard. That’s the way they’ve been from day one, from the first day they’ve got here, they’re one of the first guys on the field and one of the last guys to leave every day. They understand that when we signed Peyton the opportunity presented itself to them, and they’re living a pretty good life right now.”
The good living was on display in Week 17, when Manning found both his top receivers for scores. Decker made a fine running catch; Thomas had to leap for his score in the back of the end zone. Manning was recently asked if those two plays were an indication of the connection among them.
““That’s a good question,” Manning told reporters. “Probably would have thrown them earlier, not sure if we would have completed them. It’s hard to say. There’s no question, it would be just downright disappointing if we have not improved throughout the season. ... I think we have done a good job of being the best that we possibly can in this short period of time. It just takes different types of situations, some that you can’t create in practice, some that you can only create in games.”
It's a dream come true for those guys, I think. This is an opportunity that doesn't come around very often, and they're taking full advantage of it. ... They understand that when we signed Peyton the opportunity presented itself to them, and they're living a pretty good life right now.” -- Denver offensive coordinator
Mike McCoy, on Demaryius Thomas
and Eric Decker
Manning and his receivers have been creating all season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Thomas and Decker are the first Broncos duo to register 1,000-plus receiving yards and 10-plus touchdowns in a season.
Thomas, whom many league observers believe was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, has 94 catches for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Thomas had 12 receptions of 30 yards or more -- tops in the NFL. Decker had 85 catches for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns.
To their credit, both Thomas and Decker have become consistent. That gives Manning options and keeps pressure on defenses. Thomas had at least eight catches in five games and 100 yards receiving in seven. Decker added four games of at least eight grabs, and five games in which he surpassed the 80-yard receiving mark.
Decker said he believes he and Thomas continue to gain Manning’s trust.
“I think it’s just increasingly growing as the season goes on,” Decker said. “It can get better, and that’s what we focus on, is making sure that for the particular route, maybe if there’s an adjustment, we’re on the same page. There’s a lot of stuff that we have in. The trust is there, the understanding is there. It’s just a matter of getting enough repetition, and that comes with more time, more experience, which we’re getting. ... I think in any relationship, whether it’s a significant other or a teammate, the more time you get, the better it always develops. I think the more we get on the same page, the more we understand nonverbal cues, certain routes and how to read defenses. All of those things, you can use to your advantage offensively. We’re definitely clicking more as a unit offensively. We’re following our strength, trying to do things right and cut down on the mental errors.”
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t think Thomas and Decker make the best receiving duo in the league, but considers them an upper-level duo that fits Manning. Williamson points out that Thomas (whom he thinks he is a top-five receiver) and Decker (Williamson labels him a strong No. 2) are bigger, stronger receivers than Manning was used to working with in Indianapolis.
“I think Manning’s trust in those two has increased quite a bit,” Williamson said. “But the thing with Manning is that he just loves the open guy -- no matter who that is.”
As long as Thomas and Decker keep getting open, their chemistry with Manning will continue to build.
Player: Peyton Manning, Denver
Comment: Manning leads Carson Palmer by seven yards for the division lead.
Player: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
Comment: A shining star in a bad situation.
Player: Demaryius Thomas, Denver
Comment: He trails the Colts’ Reggie Wayne by 33 yards for the AFC lead.
Player: Derrick Johnson, Kansas City
Comment: Another quiet, fine year by Johnson.
Player: Von Miller, Denver
Comment: The tally goes up every week.
Players: Brandon Flowers, Kansas City, Eric Weddle, San Diego, Wesley Woodyard, Denver
Comment: Yes, the logjam continues.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Wayne will stick around in Indianapolis and help kick-start the Andrew Luck era. Schefter reports Wayne is staying with the Colts on a three-year deal. If Manning signs with Denver, Wayne would have been a potential target just as he would have been anywhere Manning signs.
Prior to free agency, the Chargers discussed Wayne as a possible replacement for Jackson if he left in free agency. That became a reality Thursday when Jackson agreed to terms with Tampa Bay on a five-year, $55.5 million deal.
So, the AFC West teams will have to come up with different plans.
This is a blow to the Chargers who gambled by not giving Jackson the franchise tag. The Chargers need to win now under Norv Turner and A.J. Smith and this is not a good start. Those close to Jackson have maintained that he would have gone back to San Diego had the Chargers' deal been competitive.
The Chargers will now look for a new receiver. Among the names to consider are Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson and Robert Meachem.
I be back later with some more thoughts on Jackson’s departure.
If Jackson goes, the Chargers may turn to Reggie Wayne or Brandon Lloyd.
There has been other movement at receiver by teams that wanted Jackson.
Chicago traded Miami for Brandon Marshall and Colts’ free-agent receiver Pierre Garcon announced he will sign with the Washington Redskins. Another team expected to make a push for Jackson, the Buffalo Bills, are pursuing New Orleans receiver Robert Meachem.
I have gotten the sense that Denver will wait on Manning before making its major decisions. It makes sense, because Denver’s needs and salary-cap availability will depend on what Manning does. If Manning does sign with Denver, several of Manning’s former teammates in Indianapolis, including tight end Dallas Clark, receivers Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and Pierre Garcon and center Jeff Saturday could be in play, as could others who might fit well with Manning.
This approach, of course, would be a calculated risk for Denver. If Manning goes elsewhere, the Broncos will have to scramble with their non-Manning plan. Because free agency starts Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, Denver could lose out on some targets if the Manning decision takes too long.
But Denver wants Manning so badly — and might like its odds of landing him enough to take that chance.
In other AFC West news:
A frank Mike Tolbert discusses why he likely won’t be signing with the Jets in free agency. The running back’s agent, Joel Turner, said Monday that he and the Chargers are working to try get a deal done with Tolbert before free agency begins. However, there are no guarantees Tolbert will be signed by then.
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the Texans will not be interested in Manning.
The Texans did cut tackle Eric Winston, who could be among the players both the Chiefs and Chargers look at.
Add Denver to the list of teams that might show interest in San Diego free-agent safety Steve Gregory.
There have been recent indications the Chargers might not be players for Miami defensive tackle Paul Soliai. However, the Chiefs and Broncos may show interest.
The Denver Broncos have a real chance to change the landscape of their organization, and the Kansas City Chiefs better make a push for Manning if they want him. ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that Denver and Arizona appear to be the favorites to sign Manning.
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt has said the team is interested in Manning, but there haven’t been any reports that progress is being made on that front.
There is a chance Manning could make his decision in the next couple of days. The Broncos, I think, would like to see a decision made prior to 4 p.m. ET Tuesday when free agency begins. The Broncos’ needs and approach to free agency would be different if Manning is a Bronco.
While the Broncos could very well look to trade Tim Tebow if Manning is signed, Tebow could still be in Denver’s plans if the rare opportunity to sign Manning fails. Thus, Denver’s needs on offense will be completely different depending on who is the quarterback.
If Manning is signed, watch for Denver to gear up the passing game and go after receivers (Reggie Wayne, anyone?) and another tight end (Dallas Clark, anyone?). Basically do what it takes to try to win within the two- or three-year window that Manning, who turns 36 this month, would be in Denver.
For example, I think San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson -- who is from Colorado -- could suddenly be an option in Denver if Manning is signed. If Tebow is the quarterback, Jackson would not be an option. If Tebow is the quarterback, Denver will look to upgrade the running game much more than the passing game.
We will find out soon enough which direction Denver is going, but it appears it has a strong chance of moving forward with one of the best quarterbacks ever to play.
Television news helicopters followed Manning’s ride from a Denver-area airport to the Broncos facility, where Manning is meeting with team officials. It won’t be his last visit. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that Manning will visit the Cardinals; Kansas City owner Clark Hunt has said the Chiefs have interest in Manning as well.
Expect Manning to make his decision within the next several days. The veteran quarterback will weigh several options before making his decision. Let's look at how the Broncos and the Chiefs stack up in several areas:
Denver: It has already been reported the Broncos are willing to spend whatever it takes to get Manning. Denver owner Pat Bowlen has seen Manning beat his team’s brains in for years. He’d happily pay to get Manning on his side.
Kansas City: The Chiefs are in great salary-cap shape. They can easily hang with any other team’s offer for Manning.
Supporting offensive cast
Denver: The Broncos have strong offensive linemen, a good running game and some solid receivers. There is room to get better and I’m sure the Broncos would promise Manning improvements, even allow him to make suggestions.
Kansas City: The Chiefs have a better supporting cast in the passing game than Denver. Manning would likely be thrilled to throw to receivers Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin and Steve Breaston and tight end Tony Moeaki. The Chiefs can run the ball, too. And Manning would reunite with former Colts teammate guard Ryan Lilja.
Denver: The Broncos have an improved defense and are expected to try to get better. If the six-game suspension of linebacker D.J. Williams holds up, however, it will weaken the group.
Kansas City: Romeo Crennel’s defense was fabulous at the end of last season and it has a chance to be a stellar group with a few additions. Manning would have to be impressed by this group.
Denver: Denver head coach John Fox loves veteran quarterbacks and is a noted players' coach. He and Manning would be a natural fit. Offensively, the Broncos showed last season that they are more than willing to adjust their system to their quarterback. Manning would like this group.
Kansas City: Crennel runs a New England-like ship. No opponent knows how important coaching was to New England’s success better than Manning. I think Crennel and his staff would work well with Manning.
Denver: The Broncos have something no other competitor for Manning has: a Hall of Fame quarterback running the show. John Elway would give Manning what he wanted, and he understands what it is like to be in Manning’s shoes as few others do.
Kansas City: The Chiefs don’t have a Hall of Famer running the show, but Hall of Famer Len Dawson is never too far off.
Room for friends
Denver: The Broncos could be open to signing several of Manning’s former Colts teammates, including center Jeff Saturday, receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. That would appeal to Manning.
Kansas City: The Chiefs are pretty set at receiver and tight end. I could see them making room for Saturday, however.
Ability to win now
Denver: The Broncos went from being 4-12 in 2010 to going 8-8 and winning a playoff game in 2011. With Manning and a few more pieces, the Broncos would be a threat to make a deep playoff run.
Kansas City: The Chiefs went 7-9 in 2011 despite several injuries. Adding Manning could make the Chiefs a dark-horse Super Bowl choice.
Conclusion: Both teams have strong selling points to Manning and both have the means to get it done. It will come down to a comfort level for Manning, who will also consider other teams. But there’s no doubt that both the Broncos and Chiefs will be in this chase for the long haul.
Vic Liao from San Diego wants to know which receiver -- Reggie Wayne or Hines Ward -- would be a better fit for the Chargers.
Bill Williamson: They are different receivers, Vic. I think Wayne can come into play if the Chargers lose Vincent Jackson. If Jackson leaves in free agency, I’d expect the Chargers to make a run at Wayne. Ward is a backup type, so I don’t think the Chargers would choose between them.
Kolby Vaughn from Kansas wants to who may be the best fit for the Chiefs at pick No. 11.
BW: It’s difficult to say what the Chiefs’ needs will be after free agency, but right now, I think the best bets are Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe, Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin. Then there’s Alabama running back Trent Richardson if he slides to No. 11. But right now, I’d say the Chiefs will either take Poe or Kuechly. But that can change as needs are addressed in free agency.
Brian from Denver wants to know which RB I think is a better fit for the Broncos in free agency -- San Diego’s Mike Tolbert or Oakland’s Michael Bush.
BW: It’s an interesting question. I know some teams like Tolbert better while other teams prefer Bush. In Tolbert, you get a versatile player. He can rumble, he is good in short-yardage, he can catch and he is a monster on special teams. Bush is also very rugged, but he is not quite as versatile as Tolbert. However, he is probably a better pure running back and of the two, he is likely the one who can be a primary back. I think the Broncos would probably look at Bush first, but Tolbert would also be appealing. Both players are going to cash a large check soon.
Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET
Key free agents: K Matt Prater (franchised), DT Brodrick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, TE Daniel Fells, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Eddie Royal, QB Brady Quinn, DT Marcus Thomas, LB Wesley Woodyard, P Britton Colquitt (restricted).
Where they stand: The Broncos will have plenty of salary-cap room. For a team that went from 4-12 with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to winning the AFC West and a playoff game in John Fox’s first season as coach, the Broncos are in position to improve through free agency. With Prater franchised, the team’s only priority unrestricted free agent is Bunkley.
What to expect: Don’t expect a huge spending spree. The Broncos are cash conscious and I think the franchise is still recovering from some undisciplined spending during the Mike Shanahan era that ended in 2008. We will see the Broncos try to add several pieces at lower prices. Denver could address needs at safety, running back, receiver, tight end, linebacker and quarterback. Keep an eye on players such as Washington safety LaRon Landry, Seattle tight end John Carlson, quarterbacks Chad Henne (Miami), Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh) or Josh Johnson (Tampa), running backs Michael Bush (Oakland) and Mike Tolbert (San Diego), and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene Cincinnati.
Kansas City Chiefs
Key free agents: WR Dwayne Bowe (franchised), CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, LB Jovan Belcher, S Jon McGraw, C Casey Wiegmann, RB Thomas Jones, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Kelly Gregg
Where they stand: The Chiefs are in great shape on cap space even after signing cornerback Stanford Routt and franchising Bowe. They have already done a nice job in free agency with these two moves and have a good, young roster. Kansas City can become a serious playoff contender with the right moves. It is likely Carr will leave in free agency, but the Chiefs should be able to re-sign most of their other free agents if they wish.
What to expect: I’m not sure we will see the Chiefs break the bank for any of the super-hot free agents, but I expect them to do some significant shopping. I think we could see Kansas City look for help at nose tackle, linebacker, safety, tackle, running back and quarterback. Of course, the intrigue could start if the team gets in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. But they could also look at several other quarterbacks, including Orton, Henne, Jason Campbell (Oakland) or even Quinn. They could also be in the mix for Miami nose tackle Paul Soliai, Saints guard Carl Nicks and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England), Bush and Tolbert.
Key free agents: S Tyvon Branch (franchised), RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, LB Quentin Groves, C Samson Satele, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, FB Marcel Reece (restricted).
Where they stand: The Raiders are one of the few teams that must get under the salary cap. Oakland coach Dennis Allen recently acknowledged the team has work to do. The Raiders have some contracts that can be easily restructured, but they also may have to cut some players, particularly on defense. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson are among the top candidates.
What to expect: The Raiders likely face some limitations once they get under the cap, but they can add two or three starting-quality players under the right circumstances. Their primary needs are on defense, starting at cornerback and linebacker. The offensive line could be upgraded as well. I think they can be in on the second wave of cornerbacks. A player to watch is New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who previously played for Allen. There are some solid second-tier cornerbacks Oakland could be interested in other than Porter. There will be some good players available on both sides of the ball after the initial wave of free agency for short-term deals. Expect the Raiders to do some bargain picking during that time. I think Oakland will be interested in signing several of its free agents, but I expect Bush and Campbell will leave.
San Diego Chargers
Key free agents: WR Vincent Jackson, C Nick Hardwick, RB Tolbert, DT Antonio Garay, OT Jared Gaither, FB Jacob Hester.
Where they stand: The Chargers will be in decent shape and they are getting even better after cutting Luis Castillo, the retirement of guard Kris Dielman and the expected release of tackle Marcus McNeill. But San Diego still has a lot of work to do. They have the most priority free agents of any team in the division. Signing Jackson, Hardwick, Gaither, Tolbert and Garay will be a challenge.
What to expect: The Chargers will likely stick to their usual plan and concentrate first on their own free agents. But they also have other needs and they will likely spend more in free agency than they have done before under general manager A.J. Smith. I get the sense from some agents that the Chargers may spend wildy in an attempt to win back the fan base’s trust after the unpopular contract extensions for Smith and coach Norv Turner. The pair were brought back even after missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. I also get the sense from inside the organization, however, that the Chargers will not act out of desperation. Look for the team to consider pass-rushers, nose tackles, safeties and offensive linemen if Hardwick and Gaither aren’t brought back. A receiver will also become a major need if Jackson goes. The Colts' Reggie Wayne could be an option in that case. A running back such as Cadillac Williams (St. Louis) reportedly will be in the mix if Tolbert walks. Soliai could interest the team as well. Chicago special teams ace Corey Graham may also be a target. If the Chargers want to make a huge splash, they could try to get in on Houston pass-rusher Mario Williams, who is widely considered the best player on the market.