AFC West: Ryan Harris
The Raiders claimed three players and cut three players, including cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, who was a fourth-round pick last year and who was expected to be in the playing mix this year. I expect Chekwa to get interest elsewhere.
Oakland claimed defensive back Phillip Adams from Seattle, linebacker Keenan Clayton (a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2010) and former Washington tackle Willie Smith. Going with Chekwa out the door in Oakland are cornerback Bryan McCann and the team waived injured defensive tackle Jamie Cumbie. He will likely be put on inured reserve if he clears waivers.
McCann was a candidate to return punts for the Raiders.
In other AFC West news:
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Seattle has cut tight end Kellen Winslow. The Raiders could use a tight end. Still, there is baggage that comes with Winslow. I’m not sure the Raiders would bite. I think they could take a chance on oft-injured Chris Cooley, recently cut by the Redskins, before Winslow, but that’s just a guess.
Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel told reporters Saturday linebacker Derrick Johnson (ankle) should be ready to play and he is hopeful cornerback Brandon Flowers (foot) can possibly play in Week 1 against Atlanta. However, safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) is likely not going to be able to play.
The Denver Post reports former Denver quarterback Adam Weber will join the Tampa Bay practice squad. The Broncos cut Weber on Friday. The Denver staff liked Weber, but there wasn’t much room for him.
Also, Denver safety Rafael Bush was claimed by New Orleans and released tackle Ryan Harris signed with Houston.
If the Chiefs are looking for a temporary pass-rushing burst with Tamba Hali out for Week 1 with an NFL suspension, they could turn to former Chief Wallace Gilberry. He was cut by Tampa Bay.
There are no surprises. Below are the inactive lists for each team for a game that will be played in chilly, but clear conditions:
S Brian Dawkins
FB Austin Sylvester
FB Spencer Larsen
LB Mike Mohamed
T Ryan Harris
TE Julius Thomas
DE Derrick Harvey
RB Mewelde Moore
S Ryan Clark
CB Cortez Allen
C Maurkice Pouncey
LB Mortty Ivy
DE Al Woods
T Jamon Meredith
Denver has signed tackle Ryan Harris after putting guard Chris Kuper on the injured reserve with a broken leg. Denver believes Kuper will definitely be ready for training camp.
Harris signed with Philadelphia as a free agent and he was later cut by the Eagles. Harris will provide depth Sunday against Pittsburgh in a wild-card game.
In other Denver playoff notes:
- Injured Denver safety Brian Dawkins spoke to the team on Monday to let them know the importance of being in the playoffs. Dawkins’ availability Sunday is in question because of a nagging neck injury.
- Denver fullback Spencer Larsen suffered a sprained MCL in his knee and he is likely out for Sunday’s game.
- Denver signed defensive tackle Jeremy Jarmon to a future contract for the 2012 season. He was acquired in a trade with Washington for receiver Jabar Gaffney. He was later cut.
- Denver coach John Fox implored Denver fans not to sell their tickets to Pittsburgh fans on Sunday. This is what Fox said Monday: “We’ve got unique fans here. I would encourage all of them to keep their seats, so to speak, and not sell them to Pittsburgh fans, so our stadium remains as active and loud as it’s been -- more blue and orange as opposed to yellow and gold.” When the Steelers beat Denver in the AFC title game in the 2005 season, the stadium was teeming with Terrible Towels. It did not sit well inside the Denver organization.
Key pickups: Running back Willis McGahee, defensive tackle Ty Warren (he could be out for the year with a triceps injury), defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, defensive end Derrick Harvey, tight end Daniel Fells.
Key losses: Offensive tackle Ryan Harris.
Story of camp: There has been quarterback news nearly at a daily clip. The fallout is this: Kyle Orton is the starter, Brady Quinn looks like he has the edge to be the backup and second-year quarterback Tim Tebow is currently the third-stringer after a less-than-spectacular training camp. Don’t expect Denver to trade or cut Tebow. He should be in Denver this year, but perhaps being nothing more than a special-package player. Give credit to both Orton (who was nearly dealt to Miami in the days right after the lockout ended) and to Quinn. Both have played well during the tumultuous time at the position.
Keep an eye on: Denver’s defense. The Broncos took a hit with Warren’s injury. He was the team’s big-ticket pickup and he was signed to give stability at the team’s weakest area. But the Broncos seem to have made some strides on defense this summer. The unit, which was No. 32 in the NFL last year, seems more aggressive and it has some playmakers. Pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil (back from missing all of last season with a pectoral injury) and No. 2 overall pick Von Miller look like they could give this unit life. It's clear new head coach John Fox has already positively impacted this unit.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: "Denver may be better than people realize. I don’t love the offense, but it will be OK. Defensively, I think they will be much better. I think the front office had a promising offseason as they rebuild.”
Key pickups: Receiver Steve Breaston, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, fullback Le'Ron McClain, offensive tackle Jared Gaither, linebacker Brandon Siler (he is out for season with a torn Achilles).
Key losses: Defensive linemen Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith
Story of camp: The defending AFC West champions had a nice, quiet, productive camp -- until the final days of it. The Chiefs built great momentum after adding several key veterans to an already-impressive roster. The only controversy was whether or not coach Todd Haley was taking a chance by taking camp slowly as a precaution because of missed time during the offseason due to the lockout. Then, the bombshell hit. It was reported that first-round pick Jon Baldwin and veteran running Thomas Jones had a locker room fight. Baldwin hurt his hand as a result and he is expected to miss the rest of the preseason. The Chiefs aren’t talking about it, but it is a strike against Baldwin, who had character concerns at Pitt. The Chiefs took Baldwin to help them win right away. This event isn’t a devastating blow, but it has to raise concerns.
Keep an eye on: Of all of the Chiefs’ moves, the signing of Gaither may be the most intriguing -- and the most promising if he can stay healthy. Before he missed all of last season with a back injury, Gaither was considered one of the better young left tackles in the NFL. Assuming he can play, Gaither could play either left tackle or right tackle. If he plays left tackle, Branden Albert would move to right tackle. He could further solidify a good line.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: “I think Kansas City is the second-best team in the division. Give the Chiefs credit. They have surrounded Matt Cassel with every possible weapon to help make him successful. They are also solid on defense. I just don’t think they are as good as the Chargers.”
Key pickups: Tight end Kevin Boss, quarterback Trent Edwards, quarterback Terrelle Pryor
Key losses: Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller, guard Robert Gallery
Story of camp: The Raiders lost some big names and they added some big names as they began the Hue Jackson era. However, a late-round pick from Tennessee stole the show in camp. It has been all about receiver Denarius Moore. He made headlines virtually every day in camp with one spectacular catch after another. Most importantly, he has played well in preseason games and he looks polished. Expect the Raiders to give this kid a chance to contribute right away once the regular season starts.
Keep an eye on: The Raiders’ health has been an issue all camp. Several players have missed serious time. Thus far, though, it doesn’t look like many key players will miss time in the regular season other than receiver Louis Murphy, who had surgery on an undisclosed injury, and young linebacker Travis Goethel is likely out for the year with a knee injury. The team said he won’t play at Denver on Sept. 12, but it hasn’t said how long he will be out. Other players such as Boss, receiver Chaz Schilens and cornerback Chris Johnson all could be back for the opener, which is part of an ESPN “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. Thus far, most of the injuries have been nagging and fairly minor. But sometimes the injury bug hits a team and doesn’t stop all season. For now, this is mostly a preseason nuisance.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: "There are things I like. I love the front seven. I love Darren McFadden. But Jason Campbell is an average quarterback on a good day and the offensive line is in flux. Overall, inconsistencies make this the third best team in the division.”
Key pickups: Linebacker Takeo Spikes, safety Bob Sanders, pass-rusher Travis LaBoy
Key losses: Running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Kevin Burnett, receiver Legedu Naanee.
Story of camp: I didn't sense this team scrambling to make up for lost time following the lockout. For the most part, the key components of this team are in place and several players worked out together locally during the length of the lockout. The Chargers had seemingly a zillion free agents and they kept the players they wanted. So, it has been a smooth camp in San Diego as continuity has been the key.
Keep an eye on: A lot has been made of the arrival of Spikes and Sanders to the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. But don’t discount impact of No. 18 overall pick Corey Liuget. The Illinois product has been outstanding. He has taken over the preseason games at times. He is an explosive defensive end who quickly gets into the backfield. The game doesn’t seem too big for Liuget. Expect him to be an instant starter and have a chance to be a premier player early in his career.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: “I think San Diego is clearly the class of the division. I don’t think people are paying enough attention to this team. I love the offense. Philip Rivers is good as it gets. He has great weapons. Defensively, this team has added playmakers at every level. If the special teams can improve even marginally, they are going to win a lot more games. This could be the year. I think they are a sleeper team that could win it all.”
No, it’s not your imagination. The Eagles actually are signing everybody.
Harris was a third-round pick by Denver in 2007. He played well in Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, but he fell out of favor after dealing with injuries under former coach Josh McDaniels.
The Broncos did not make signing Harris a priority. The Broncos will use second-round pick Orlando Franklin at right tackle this season.
A look at the free-agent priorities for each AFC West team:
1.Trade Kyle Orton or name him the starter: The Broncos need to make a decision at quarterback quickly. There will be some teams in need of a veteran quarterback and the Broncos will surely field calls about Orton. If they get a decent offer in return (second or third-round pick) I could see Denver trading him and going with second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. If Orton is not traded early in the new league year, we’d have to assume Denver is going to give him the opportunity to hold off Tebow.
2. Sign a defensive tackle: The Broncos have long had a major hole at this position. It needs to upgrade its defense, which was ranked 32nd in the NFL last season. It begins at this position, which Denver bypassed in the draft. Potential free-agent targets include Seattle’s Brandon Mebane and San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin,although he is a better fit for 3-4 teams.
3. Sign a running back: New Denver coach John Fox recently said signing a running back is the team’s top free-agent priority. I think the above-mentioned projects are more pressing, but there’s no doubt Denver needs help at the position. It needs a veteran to pair with third-year running back Knowshon Moreno. We could see the Broncos trying to reunite Fox with former Carolina back DeAngelo Williams.
Top free agents: Tackle Ryan Harris and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas.
Kansas City Chiefs
1. Sign a nose tackle: The Chiefs have a few needs and more than $30 million in salary-cap money to play with. They can get to work. The team could use a stout anchor for the 3-4 defense. The Chiefs tried to sign Shaun Rogers prior to the lockout and they want a veteran. Franklin could be the answer.
2. Sign an offensive tackle: If the Chiefs get an upgrade at tackle, they should have a very strong line. They could sign a right tackle (a position they considered in the draft) or they can sign a left tackle and move Branden Albert to right tackle. Possible names to consider include Matt Light (who has New England ties to Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli and quarterback Matt Cassel) or New Orleans' Jermon Bushrod or a right tackle like Tyson Clabo or San Diego’s Jeromey Clary.
3. Sign a receiver: The Chiefs are a dangerous offensive team. But they could use a slot receiver to do along with No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe and first-round pick Jon Baldwin. A name to keep an eye on is the Cardinals’ Steve Breaston. He played for Kansas City coach Todd Haley in Arizona.
Top free agent: Center Casey Wiegmann.
1. Re-sign tight end Zach Miller: Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is the best free agent in the NFL. But it will be difficult for Oakland to keep him. The Raiders must do what it takes to sign Miller. He is one of the game’s best young tight ends and he is arguably the team’s most important offensive player. He is the team’s most reliable receiving target. The Raiders love Miller and tried to sign him to a long-term deal prior to the lockout. Signing him before he hits the market will be and should be the team’s top priority.
2. Sign a couple offensive linemen: The Raiders’ offensive line is in flux. It has some interesting young players, but it needs to find a way to add some veterans somewhere -- despite the team’s salary-cap limitations.
3. Figure out secondary: If Asomugha and safety Michael Huff leave, the Raiders will need to get their youngsters up to speed quickly or try to find a veteran experience. I think we’ll see a mixture of both if Asomugha and Huff both leave as expected.
Top free agents: Asomugha, Huff, Miller and guard Robert Gallery.
San Diego Chargers
1. Re-sign safety Eric Weddle: The safety is a playmaker who will be very popular on the open market. The Chargers don't want him to get there. The Chargers have the salary-cap room to keep their top in-house options, and Weddle is at the top of the list. There is no reason for the Chargers to lose him and I think this key part of the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense will remain with the Chargers.
2. Figure out receiver situation: Top receiver Vincent Jackson will be franchised. No. 2 receiver Malcom Floyd is unrestricted and he could get a big offer elsewhere. Backup Legedu Naanee is also expected to leave. The Chargers could use a veteran receiver. I doubt they will spend big money on the top names available, but they could look for a bargain or swing a trade for a veteran like Carolina’s Steve Smith.
3. Figure out inside linebacker situation: The Chargers could lose inside linebackers Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler. They would like to keep Burnett. Still, I could see the Chargers trying to find another inside linebacker to compete to star. They could also look for an edge rusher at outside linebacker.
Top free agents: Floyd, Weddle, Clary, Burnett, quarterback Billy Volek, receiver Legedu Naanee, linebacker Stephen Cooper, linebacker Brandon Siler and running back Darren Sproles.
Readiness factor: The Broncos are a weird mix. They have a lot of veterans, and safety Brian Dawkins led several weeks of player workouts during the lockout. Yet they are rebuilding and will rely on young players. Denver will probably start five rookies and will be looking for several contributors in free agency. So the final makeup of this team is unknown.
Biggest challenge: The Broncos will probably be the most challenged of the AFC West teams because they are in the middle of a big transition. They are starting the John Fox era, and he has yet to see his team up close. The team is dealing with change once again on defense. Dennis Allen is the team's sixth defensive coordinator in six years.
Is it Tebow time? The biggest on-field question is who will be Denver’s quarterback. The team would like to trade Kyle Orton, but he will compete with second-year quarterback Tim Tebow if Orton is kept. The Broncos would have liked to see Tebow in the offseason, but they will have to make a decision very quickly at the most important position on the field.
Key players without contracts for 2011: Tackle Ryan Harris and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas.
This is the fifth in our series of position-by-position rankings. It is a little different this season because we’re ranking the players before free agency starts and before rosters are set. We will adjust accordingly as we go along. Onto to a solid group of offensive linemen:1. Ryan Clady, Denver: Clady was a little rusty early last season due to an offseason knee injury. He is still an upper-echelon player and a cornerstone on a weak Denver team.
2. Nick Hardwick, San Diego: Cagey, tough veteran is the anchor of a strong line.
3. Kris Dielman, San Diego: Big, tough Pro Bowler who is a lot to handle for defensive tackles.
4. Marcus McNeill, San Diego: There’s a reason why the Chargers gave him a long-term deal. He solidifies this line.
5. Ryan Lilja, Kansas City: He was a great addition last year. He helped set the tone for a strong run game and is a real tough guy.
6. Brian Waters, Kansas City: He’s aging, but Waters is still near the top of his game. He’s a great leader.
7. Casey Wiegmann, Kansas City: The Chiefs hope to get one more season out of the steady Wiegmann.
8. Chris Kuper, Denver: He’s an underrated player who gives Clady a lot of help on the line.
9. Louis Vasquez, San Diego: The young guy on the Chargers’ offensive line has been a good fit.
10. Branden Albert, Kansas City: He’s a good, not great, player who needs to improve in 2011.
11. Jeromey Clary, San Diego: Everyone wants the Chargers to replace him, but he’s a gamer.
12. Jared Veldheer, Oakland: Veldheer has a chance to zoom up this list soon. I look forward to seeing him at left tackle for a full season.
13. J.D. Walton, Denver: He got great experience as Denver’s center last season and has potential.
14. Cooper Carlisle, Oakland: Oakland could replace him. But he always gives an honest effort.
15. Barry Richardson, Kansas City: Like Clary, everyone wants to replace him. But Richardson looks like he has another season in him with the Chiefs.
16. Zane Beadles, Denver: Like Walton, Beadles got a lot of great experience as a rookie last season. He’s not great, but he should get better.
Footnote: Veteran Ryan Harris (Denver) and Robert Gallery (Oakland) are expected to leave through free agency and that’s why they are not listed. We are not averse to listing rookies, but we are keeping promising rookies Stefen Wisniewski (Oakland), Orlando Franklin (Denver) and Rodney Hudson (Kansas City) and second-year player Bruce Campbell (Oakland) off this list. I simply want to see each of these guys play before ranking them.
Robert from Springfield, Mo., wants to know if Kansas City could sign Denver free-agent right tackle Ryan Harris.
Bill Williamson: I’m not sure he’s a perfect fit for the Chiefs even though Denver is planning to go with second-round pick Orlando Franklin at right tackle. I think Harris, if he hits the open market, will be best suited for a zone-blocking team. I could see Washington and former Denver coach Mike Shanahan showing interest in Harris.
Mikey from Oakland wants to know if I think Oakland fourth-round pick Chimdi Chekwa could make a difference at cornerback as a rookie.
BW: If Nnamdi Asomugha leaves as a free agent, Chekwa will get a chance to be a rotational player at the very least. If he has a good training camp and preseason, he could vie to be a starter. Third-round pick DeMarcus Van Dyke will also get a chance to play. However, Chewka, an Ohio State product, could have the edge for immediate playing time because he got great experience in the Big Ten.
Derek from La Jolla wants to know what I think of San Diego sixth-round pick Jordan Todman.
BW: He’s a sixth-round pick, so it would be unrealistic to think Todman will become an instant star for the Chargers. But they are excited about him, and a lot of scouts I’ve talked to were surprised he fell to the sixth round. Some thought he was a mid-round prospect because of his production at Connecticut and his strong performance at the combine. He has a chance to be a solid change-of-pace runner who can also help as a returner. If Darren Sproles leaves as a free agent, Todman could get a chance to play right away. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on.
We mentioned the Oakland Raiders family choice of Penn State offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski at No. 48.
In the first AFC West pick of the round, the Denver Broncos took UCLA safety Rahim Moore. He was the top safety on the board and he should step in as a starter at free safety, replacing Renaldo Hill. Moore is a tough, high-character kid. Nice pick.
On the very next pick, Denver took Miami’s Orlando Franklin, who should start at right tackle. He will replace free-agent Ryan Harris. Franklin is mean and nasty. John Elway wants four starters from this class and it appears he has three -- No. 2 pick Von Miller, Moore and Franklin. Denver next picks at No. 67.
The San Diego Chargers took Clemson’s Marcus Gilchrist at No. 50. He can play cornerback and safety and could be insurance if Eric Weddle leaves as a free agent. He can also return kicks, which is insurance if Darren Sproles leaves.
At No. 55, the Kansas City Chiefs took Florida State's Rodney Hudson who can play guard and center. He could easily be the center of the future. I love the pick.
San Diego, which hasn’t made a trade yet, took Michigan’s linebacker Jonas Mouton. He should be able help a weak special teams right away.
Here’s a look at each team in the AFC West:
Denver: The biggest question in Denver is if it will draft a quarterback. This affects Tim Tebow more than Kyle Orton, who could be traded after the lockout whether or not Denver drafts a quarterback. If Denver drafts a safety and a right tackle, it could mean trouble for safeties Brian Dawkins and/or Renaldo Hill and tackle Ryan Harris.
Kansas City: The way the Chiefs draft will likely shape how they pursue players in free agency. Whatever position the Chiefs draft early, they’d likely stay away in free agency. Among the areas the Chiefs will likely address in the offseason are pass-rusher, tackle, nose tackle and receiver.
Oakland: If the Raiders pursue a cornerback and/or a safety early in the draft, it could be a sign they are not confident about re-signing pending free-agents Nnamdi Asomugha and safety Michael Huff. If Oakland bypasses those positions in the draft, it could mean it still thinks it has a chance to keep Asomugha and Huff. If Oakland drafts a tight end early it would mean it doesn’t think likely restricted free-agent Zach Miller will return. But I doubt that will be the case.
San Diego: If the Chargers draft a running/receiver who is an also a return man, it will mean they are ready to move away from free-agent Darren Sproles. There have been signs that have been pointing that way. If San Diego drafts a safety, it could be an insurance policy in case it loses possible free agent Eric Weddle.
Denver’s legendary quarterback always has something interesting to say. That was the case in a recent radio interview. Here are some topics that stands out:
"Offensive line wise, we’ve got some good players there -- you know, [Ryan] Clady coming off that knee injury and not having the year that he did the year before but still was a great player; and J.D. Walton and [Zane] Beadles who were rookies last year that played every down and played well, and they’re just going to get better; and we got [Chris] Kuper at right guard who’s a dominant guard. So offensively we feel pretty good. Obviously it hurts us to lose Demaryius Thomas to that Achilles injury but we’re hoping to get him back maybe halfway through the season."
My take: Two things stand out. The target for Thomas to return is now midseason. Previously, there was hope he’d return earlier. So, the Broncos are clearly going to have to deal with losing Thomas for a significant part of the season. Also, Elway didn’t mention Ryan Harris, who may be a restricted free agent. It could be an oversight or it could be another sign that Denver is not enamored with Harris.
On the Broncos' draft philosophy:
“Well I think we have to look at that when we get there. I think you always want to get the best player available. But obviously in our situation where we do have some holes, we’ll have to look at that awfully strongly. What we want to do is we want to get a very good base here. Obviously that’s not going to happen in one year, but we’ve got some holes to fill. But we’re not going to get back away and get just an average player if there’s a great player on the board just to fill a need. So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but I think that the more great players you can get on the team, the better off you’ll be, and they’re going to make everybody else better. Whether it be talent athletically or leadership-wise.”
My take: It makes me think Elway may be leaning toward taking a defensive tackle at No. 2, because it is a great need, but that he is also open to trading the pick to fill multiple needs.
On why the Broncos are looking so heavily at this year’s crop of quarterbacks:
“Well the bottom line is at that position, everybody realizes how important that position is. And anytime you have the draft position we have -- second in the draft -- you have to look at everybody. And we’re looking at every position, not only the quarterback position, but that seems to get the most attention because of what we have here. But obviously if there’s a guy there that’s a franchise guy there, we definitely have to look at it because we’re not sure we have a franchise guy on our team right now. So obviously we’ve got to visit that, look at it, and do our due diligence on it and then we’ll make our decision from there. But no, it’s not a smokescreen. We realize -- and I realize -- how important that position is, and if there’s a franchise guy there that we know is a franchise guy, we’d have to look at it.”
My take: The Broncos are doing their due diligence. Still, their interest in the position is intriguing.
The Washington Post is reporting that if the court system rules that the NFL must end its lockout, free-agency rules will likely revert back to the 2010 system in which there was not a salary cap.
It would mean there would be restricted free agency for four- and five-year players. That very likely wouldn’t be the case had there been a deal, or if there is a new CBA, agreed upon before free agency starts. There usually isn’t much movement in restricted free agency in which the player’s current team has matching rights and the player’s signing team must give up a draft pick or more.
While the lockout is a major mess, this development would give teams leeway with key free agents. That could be good news for the AFC West teams, particularly Oakland and San Diego.
In that instance, Oakland tight end Zach Miller and running back Michael Bush would be restricted free agents. In San Diego, safety Eric Weddle and receiver Malcom Floyd would be restricted free agents.
Kansas City cornerback Brandon Carr and Denver tackle Ryan Harris are also among the players who would be affected by this development.
Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who’ll be the best player in free agency, would still be an unrestricted free agent. Actually, this development would likely help Asomugha’s value. The free-agent class would shrink considerably and teams looking to upgrade may put extra resources into a pursuit of Asomugha, knowing that there will be fewer avenues to improve.
If he doesn’t re-sign, I could see marginal interest in the AFC West. Even though he has played in the Packers’ 3-4 defense the past couple of seasons, many scouts think Hawk is best suited to be a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 unit. The Denver Broncos, who are moving to a 4-3, will likely use D.J. Williams at weakside or middle linebacker. Hawk is the brother in-law of Denver No. 3 quarterback Brady Quinn. Still, some 3-4 teams may still be interested. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers both employ a 3-4 defense that could use inside line help.
The Broncos gave kicker Matt Prater and linebacker Wesley Woodyard second-round tenders, assuming they will be restricted free agents. Neither player would likely get interest in restricted free agency at that price tag. In case they are restricted free agents, right tackle Ryan Harris, defensive end Kevin Vickerson and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas were all given original round tenders. All could potentially leave as unrestricted free agents depending on the new collective bargaining agreement.
Denver has a very light free-agent class, so it will be able to concentrate on signing outside free agents. Denver locked up top free-agent priority Champ Bailey last week with a four-year deal.
New Denver football leader John Elway talks about the combine in a radio interview.
This is tricky for several reasons, beginning with the fact that we don’t know exactly who’ll be unrestricted or restricted once the new CBA is hammered out. These players are all potential unrestricted free agents. The list doesn’t include franchised players Vincent Jackson, Tamba Hali or Kamerion Wimbley nor does it include players who avoided free agency by recently signing long-term deals such as Richard Seymour, Champ Bailey and Stanford Routt.
In the end, this list may change dramatically, but here it is as we now stand:
1. Nnamdi Asomugha, cornerback, Oakland: Asomugha is the top free-agent prize in the NFL. After Oakland’s spending spree, it may be difficult for Asomugha to stick around. I always thought Oakland would get a deal done with him, but now I’m starting to wonder. He’d last mere minutes on the open market.
2. Zach Miller, tight end, Oakland: The Raiders took a risk by not franchising Miller. They are banking on him being a restricted free agent. The team is also trying to give him a long-term deal. If he hits the open market, he’ll be very popular.
3. Eric Weddle, safety, San Diego: The Chargers plan to keep him through restricted free agency. They’d also like to give him a long-term deal. If for some reason, he is becomes free, he’ll be a top commodity.
4. Malcom Floyd, receiver, San Diego: The same goes for Floyd. The team is hoping he’ll be restricted. If not, he could be snapped up. He’s fast and he has great hands.
5. Brandon Carr, cornerback, Kansas City: The Chiefs are hoping he will be restricted. He is an underrated player. He’d command as much as Routt (who signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Raiders) if he hit the unrestricted free agency.
6. Michael Bush, running back, Oakland: Like Miller, Oakland is banking on Bush being a restricted free agent. He hasn’t shown he can be a true No. 1 option, but he has good skills.
7. Michael Huff, safety, Oakland: He’s unrestricted and open to coming back to Oakland. If the Raiders don’t keep Asomugha, Huff could be on his way back. He’s good, not great, but he’ll find a good deal.
8. Kevin Burnett, linebacker, San Diego: A solid player. He would attract some interest in free agency. He is one of three inside linebackers in San Diego who is a free agent, joining Stephen Cooper and Brandon Siler. The Chargers like all three but probably will let at least one go and look at the position in the draft.
9. Robert Gallery, guard, Oakland: Along with San Diego tackle Jeromey Clary and Denver tackle Ryan Harris, Gallery is a quality offensive lineman who will attract interest in free agency. I chose Gallery over the other two because his current team needs him more than the other two teams need Clary and Harris, respectively.
10. Wallace Gilberry, defensive end, Kansas City: He is an under-the-radar player. But he has upside. He had seven sacks in 2010 and outshined 2009 No. 3 overall pick Tyson Jackson. Gilberry is 26. Young players with pass-rushing ability get paid on the open market.