AFC West: Tommy Kelly


One has been a league power broker, one wants to be.

And when the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals get together Sunday afternoon in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos (2-1) will try to knock some of the rough edges off while the Cardinals (3-0), one of just two teams to arrive to Week 5 undefeated, will try to show they are ready to be at the front of the line.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the game.

Legwold: At 3-0, how do the Cardinals see themselves? Upstart in NFC? Or team that believes it should have made the playoffs last year and is ready to take the next step to be in this postseason mix this time around?

Weinfuss: If there's one thing the Cardinals don't see themselves as, it's an upstart team. That much was instilled in them by Bruce Arians last season. Especially after upsetting Seattle at home last December, this team believed it should've been in the playoffs. And with how they played in the second half of the season, it's hard to argue with them. But the Cardinals who returned this year learned a lot from last season's first half, most notably how important it is to win those early games. What they're doing now isn't a surprise to those who pay attention to this team, and a lot of it is a direct result of Arians' demeanor. His straight-shooting personality -- curse 'em out on the field but hug 'em off of it -- has rubbed off on everyone in the locker room. It has led to this team to believe it could win for the first time since Kurt Warner was here.

Speaking of learning from last year, what was the main thing the Broncos took away from last season's loss in the Super Bowl, and how have they used it in 2014?

Legwold: The main thing GM John Elway took away was he wanted far better personnel on defense and some more receivers who could battle their way through physical play from defensive backs. The result was an offseason spending spree that reeled in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on defense to go with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also used a first-round pick in the draft on cornerback Bradley Roby and a second-rounder on wide receiver Cody Latimer. So, the 35-point loss certainly forced a roster makeover and for the holdovers it did provide plenty of incentive as they went through the offseason workouts. There is a feeling, after the overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs followed by the Super Bowl blowout, of trying to finally close the deal this time around.

In terms of roster makeover, with all that has happened to the Cardinals' defense with the injuries, etc., how have they pushed themselves into the league's top five?

Weinfuss: Nobody expected Arizona to be among the league's top five defenses this year after losing the likes of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington before the season and then Darnell Dockett during training camp and John Abraham in the first few weeks of the year. But credit must be given to the Cardinals' front office. The brain trust has done a good job of finding veterans who still have gas in the tank, such as linebacker Larry Foote and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. But the biggest reason for the defense's success is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His single-gap scheme revitalized this defense last year and all he has been doing is adding wrinkles here and there to adjust to his personnel. For example, Arizona is running a lot of nickel and dime packages because it gets rookie safety Deone Bucannon on the field. For as good of an offensive mind as Arians is, Bowles is his equal on the defensive side.

Have the additions to the Broncos' defense been paying off? Or is it too early to see a difference? Do you think they'll be the difference between another ring and a consolation prize?

Legwold: The new arrivals have all had impact in the season's early going. Ware leads the team in sacks (2.5), Talib has been every bit the No. 1 corner they hoped he would be and Ward is one of two players on defense who have played every snap in the first three games, having been used in a variety of roles. The Broncos have seen enough from Roby. They've tossed him into the deep end of the pool as the rookie and he has matched up with some of the league's front-line receivers. All of that said, however, the Broncos still haven't consistently shown the kind of play they'll need to hoist a trophy, particularly on third down. As linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who both had ACL injuries last season, continue to work back to full speed, the Broncos should continue to improve. Also, linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was the team's leading tackler last season and who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia in training camp, will play in his first game of the season Sunday. It will mean the Cardinals will be the first team to face the revamped defense with all of the starters in place.

Sticking to defense, Manning heads into this game with 499 career touchdown passes. Between the two of them, Cardinals' assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore and head coach Bruce Arians have seen many of those up close as former Colts assistants. To that end, with that kind of up-close-and-personal knowledge, how do you think the Cardinals will defend Manning and the Broncos' offense?

Weinfuss: One thing the defense has stayed consistent on this week is that they don't want to tip their hand to Manning before the snap. With that being said, I think they'll blitz him constantly -- all three of his sacks this season have come off the blitz, which, I can imagine, was good news to Bowles. But they won't blitz Manning like they'll blitz other quarterbacks because he's so good at adapting so quickly. Arizona plans on giving Manning the same look every snap. But guys who have played Manning know he'll wait until the very last second to make a decision because the defense will have to show their blitz by then, but the Cardinals will try to hold their disguise as long as possible.

With Manning coming up on such a historic mark, has it been a distraction for this team in the sense of more non-football attention has descended upon them? Are they ready for Manning to pass Brett Favre so they can just get back to focusing on football?

Legwold: One thing about this team is the swirl around them doesn't get to them very often. Last season they had Miller's suspension in training camp, John Fox's open-heart surgery during the bye week and five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they were preparing to play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl loss may have been the first, and worst, time for the Broncos not to play to the level of a game's standing last season. Before the title-game blowout, they had handled everything that had come their way without losing their edge. This time around players here simply assume Manning will hit 500 and then go on and break the record through the natural course of things. The record is nice, but they want another shot at the title and, for the most part, they see whatever happens along the way as issues that must be dealt with to get that chance.
ALAMEDA, Calif. – How different will the Oakland Raiders' defense look Sunday?

Joseph
Houston
Consider: Besides there being nine new starters, Lamarr Houston, who is making the switch from left defensive end to the right side, will be the only Raiders defensive player who had a sack last season with Oakland.

Yes, the Raiders had 25 sacks as a team last year, which ranked 31st in the NFL, and Houston tied for the team lead with four. Linebacker Miles Burris, who is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, added 1.5 sacks. And that’s it.

It’s no surprise, then, that much is expected this season of Houston, who was voted a team captain along with fullback Marcel Reece and long-snapper Jon Condo.

“Lamarr was a guy that, going into this season, we kind of pegged as a guy that we wanted to be a leader for this team,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. “He began to take a little bit of that role at the end of last year, and I think he’s continued to improve in that regard as we’ve gone through the offseason and training camp.

“I think he’ll continue to develop as a leader for this football team as we go forward.”

Selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, Houston immediately made a mark with numerous training camp scraps. But he seemed soft-spoken off the field.

“When I was younger, I had (Richard) Seymour and Tommy (Kelly) here, so I thought I was going to be ‘little brother’ forever,” Houston said with a roaring laugh. “Nah, but as the years have gone by, I could see myself being a captain now. A lot of my teammates respect me and it means a lot to me -- and I’m going to do the best I can to fulfill this role for this team.”

So what, exactly, does being tabbed a captain mean to Houston?

“It means it’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of respect,” he said. “It’s a big role to play. It means you’re a leader. You basically represent the team when you’re a captain, so it’s a great honor. But it’s more about the team.”

And still, there are questions about Houston’s skill set, and how it translates to the more pass-rush-emphasized right side.

At 6-feet-3, 300 pounds, Houston is not your stereotypical edge rusher, nor is he a bull-rusher.

“To be honest, I think my skill set fits perfect,” he said. “Pass-rushing is about technique; it’s not about who’s the fastest or who’s the strongest. I’ve been working on that a lot this offseason and it’s been showing up in this preseason a little bit and in training camp, so I’m just going to try and build on that and do whatever I can to get better at playing on that right end.”
NAPA, Calif. -- One of the players the Oakland Raiders will count on in this year of transition is defensive end Lamarr Houston.

Houston, a second-round draft pick in 2010, is moving away from being a young player to one of the most vital on the defense.

The versatile Houston will play right defensive end. He is expected to be the anchor of the defensive line. The team moved away from veterans Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. Houston will be the leader of the group.

Houston is also expected to help with the team's need for a pass-rush spark. Oakland was weak in that area last season and it did not add a reliable pass-rusher to the roster.

Houston is taking all of his responsibilities in stride. He said he understands a lot more will be expected from him, but he is not putting too much pressure on himself.

“It’s a new era on the defensive front,” Houston said. “But it’s just not me. The line as a unit will work to help find a pass rush. It’s a group thing.”

Houston said the key for him will be to continue to work on his technique because it is different on the right side.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Houston said. “But technique is the key for me.”

AFC West links: Chargers, McKinnie talking

April, 11, 2013
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Denver Broncos

Chris Clark, who has played a valuable role as the Broncos’ No. 3 offensive tackle/special teams contributor the past three seasons, signed his $1.32 million restricted free-agent tender, writes Mike Klis of the Denver Post.

Quarterback Peyton Manning is at Duke University this week throwing to Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Duke is where Manning did much of his rehab throwing work last year as he attempted to come back from four neck surgeries. Duke coach David Cutcliffe was Manning's offensive coordinator at Tennessee.

Manning pulled a prank on Decker.

The Broncos are keeping tabs on Oregon safety John Boyett, a potential late-round pick, writes Klis.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have a hole at inside linebacker, but could they land Manti Te'o, the draft's top-rated player at that position? Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star explores the possibility.

Reid Ferrin of the team's website profiles Alabama guard Chance Warmack as a draft prospect.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders appear close to adding running back Rashad Jennings and safety Reggie Smith. Jennings would back up starter Darren McFadden. Jerry McDonald of the Contra Costa Times has more.

New England has signed former Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. He started all 80 games for the Raiders the past five seasons, but was released on March 27.

According to a tweet by Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, journeyman quarterback Seneca Wallace will soon be a Raider. Paul Gutierrez of csnbayarea.com has more.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers are talking to free-agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who started for the Ravens in the Super Bowl, writes Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The Oakland Raiders’ salary-cap troubles have been well documented.

But after paying the price for years of wild spending, the Raiders will be paroled from salary-cap jail. Next year, after shedding several contracts and being unable to build their program by keeping their own coveted free agents, the Raiders will be in better shape.

ESPN’s John Clayton has a strong grasp on the salary cap and figures that Oakland will have about $69 million in cap space for 2014. That number will likely change based on several things, but it is clear that Oakland will have an abundance of cap room next year as it continues to rebuild its roster. For the first time since Reggie McKenzie took over as general manager in 2012, Oakland will not have to cut players to get under the cap.

Before you start fantasizing about a Pro Bowl stable of free agents coming to the East Bay, a surplus of cap room doesn’t automatically mean that team can sign all the best players. Many teams have cap space good enough to do what they wish; some don’t use their surplus just because they have it. Jacksonville, for example, still has more than $25 million remaining in cap room for this season but has completed virtually all its significant spending.

I expect McKenzie to take a measured approach next year with his newfound salary-cap good fortune. He cut his teeth in Green Bay under Ted Thompson -- who built Green Bay into an elite team by not pursuing outside free agents and keeping his best players.

That’s how McKenzie aims to operate.

So there's no reason to think that good homegrown players will leave the Raiders after the 2013 season. They don’t have a ton of core players, but there are some. Defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, offensive lineman Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski and receiver Denarius Moore are among the players who should be in line for long-term contracts as the Raiders build from within. Running back Darren McFadden is entering the final season of his contract and if he can stay healthy, Oakland will likely be interested in keeping him.

Once the Raiders identify these types of players and lock them up, Oakland will complement the roster with some outside purchases. But it starts from within for McKenzie.

Two things have hurt Oakland: past wild spending on veterans and poor first-round drafting. We’ve seen that with the departures of such players as Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Carson Palmer, Darrius Heyward-Bey and the likely release of Rolando McClain. Had those players not crippled Oakland’s cap, the Raiders would have been able to keep solid players such as Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bryant and Brandon Myers in free agency this year.

This nasty process has depleted Oakland’s roster. The healing begins next year, when Oakland won't be motivated by pure financial necessity and can start making prudent decisions to build the franchise the right way.
The Carson Palmer situation in Oakland is taking another turn.

Palmer
Apparently, the Oakland Raiders are still willing to pay Palmer a load of money. But he may not be interested in making a lot of money with the Raiders.

Thus, it seems if the Raiders don’t pay Palmer $13 million, he may be willing to take a lot less and even become a backup elsewhere rather than play on a team that may be among the NFL’s worst in 2013.

Yahoo! Sports reported that the Raiders simply want Palmer to take a pay cut from $13 million to $10 million. That seems fair for a 33-year-old quarterback who is on the decline.

There is little chance Palmer will be paid $10 million. There are some teams, perhaps Arizona and Buffalo, that would pay Palmer a solid rate to start, but it's likely not as much as Oakland is willing to pay. Teams would be interested in him as a backup, but at a much reduced rate.

If it is true that Palmer is reluctant to be paid well to play for a team that may not compete, Oakland should cut him right away. The Raiders need a quarterback who believes in them, no matter the challenge.

Again, we don’t know what is actually on Palmer’s mind. But I do think it may be getting clear that Oakland will have a new starting quarterback, whether it’s Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor or Geno Smith.

In other AFC West notes:

The Denver Post thinks Robert Ayers or a draft choice may be the Broncos’ choices to replace Elvis Dumervil instead of Dwight Freeney and John Abraham.

The Eagles are reportedly interested in former Kansas City right tackle Eric Winston. The Chargers are interested as well.

The NFL Network is reporting defensive tackle Tommy Kelly is getting a “ton” of interest. The Raiders cut him Wednesday.
It’s unfinished business day in the AFC West.

Hours after the San Diego Chargers finally booted left tackle Jared Gaither, the Oakland Raiders said so long to defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. Both were long expected to be cut.

Kelly, 32, saw his play decline last season. He had been on the team since 2003 when he was signed as an undrafted free agent. His release reportedly saves $4.775 million under the salary cap this year. Yet, he will still account for more than $6.3 million against the cap in dead money. Kelly signed a seven-year, $50.5 million deal in 2008.

He was a solid player during his best days. He was massive and tough. But he was never a unit-changing player.

There was little chance Kelly fit with the new approach of the team. The Raiders are getting younger and cheaper throughout the roster. Several veterans are not being brought back. As the Contra Costa Times pointed out, Oakland has just seven players on the roster -- including quarterback Carson Palmer, who could be released -- who have been in the league six years or more.

The team signed defensive tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker. They could also draft Florida’s Sharrif Floyd with the No. 3 pick.

Some folks expect Kelly to get receive interest around the league. While anything can happen, I don’t see any fits in the AFC West that immediately jump out.
Monday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer is highly unlikely to accept a big pay cut. Palmer is set to make more than $13 million with a salary cap number at more than $15 million.

If Palmer doesn’t budge, the Raiders would have to either cut him, trade him or keep him. Cutting Palmer would be the most likely of those scenarios. Tuesday night, CBS Sports is reporting Oakland is one of three teams to have interest in acquiring Matt Flynn from Seattle. He was in Green Bay with Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie.

Flynn would give veteran competition to Terrelle Pryor should Palmer be moved. The report states that Jacksonville may be the favorite to get Flynn, but the Raiders and the Buffalo Bills are also interested.

The report states that Flynn would likely command a fourth- or fifth-round pick. The Raiders don’t have picks in the second and fifth rounds. They have a lot of needs and I know McKenzie wants to keep every pick he can get and he is open to trading the No. 3 pick to gain more choices.

But a veteran will be needed if Palmer is cut. Flynn is considered as a backup type. He did sign a nice deal with the Seahawks last year to compete for the starting job. But third-round pick Russell Wilson took the job and never looked back.

If Flynn does come to Oakland, Pryor will try to do the same thing. One veteran is off the table for Oakland. Former Oakland starter Jason Campbell -- the Raiders traded for Palmer in 2011 when Campbell was hurt -- signed with Cleveland on Tuesday night.

If the Raiders do trade for Flynn I’d think it would end talk that they could draft West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the No. 3 pick. I’d doubt the Raiders would put so many resources into quarterbacks with so many other needs.

Meanwhile, CBS Sports also reports Oakland is expected to cut defensive tackle Tommy Kelly on Wednesday. That move has long been expected.

In another AFC West:

The Chiefs have continued to their look at potential choices with the No. 1 pick by working out Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher. The team is working out several top prospects.
The Oakland Raiders’ signing of Kevin Burnett may be a major hint that the team will, at the very least, use some 3-4 alignments this season.

Burnett is a 3-4 linebacker, and the team also has signed Nick Roach and Kaluka Maiava. The Raiders like second-year linebacker Miles Burris, who started as a rookie. I doubt the team plans to give Burris less playing time, so there’s reason to believe all four of these linebackers will have a starting role.

The versatile Lamarr Houston could be a nice 3-4 defensive end. The team signed 335-pound Pat Sims and he could be strong anchor at nose tackle. Perhaps Tommy Kelly could be kept at a reduced price to play some nose tackle as well.

Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd could be a target for Oakland with the No. 3 pick, and scouts think he is athletic enough to play end in a 3-4 defense, so that option could still be on the table if Oakland does become a 3-4 team. Perhaps a pass-rusher like Jarvis Jones of Georgia could be looked at as well.

Oakland coach Dennis Allen will likely say that his defense will be multiple and they will use both 3-4 and 4-3, but the truth is, every team has a base defense. While a team can be multiple, it will have a look that is more prevalent than the other.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says he thinks this could be the time to make a switch because the Raiders are starting in the front seven.

“If the coaches prefer the 3-4, this is a fine time to switch, but I don’t see anyone resembling a 3-4 outside linebacker or pure nose tackle on the roster,” Williamson said. “I do love Houston as a 3-4 defensive end, though.”

If Oakland moves to a 3-4, three AFC West would have three teams to use a 3-4 defense. Kansas City and San Diego also run a 3-4.
The Oakland Raiders have done a nice job by filling their starting linebacking crew in free agency. Now they must work on their defensive line, among other areas.

Oakland, which has six holes in the defensive starting lineup, has three openings on the defensive line for players to join holdover Lamarr Houston. Matt Shaughnessy, a former mid-round pick, signed a one-year deal with Arizona.

Shaughnessy had potential and played well for Oakland, but he did not play well last season and was replaced by journeyman Andre Carter late in the season. Still, the Raiders have holes on the defensive line. Richard Seymour is a free agent and Tommy Kelly expects to be cut.

Second-year players Christo Bilukidi and Jack Crawford might get a chance. Oakland might draft Flordia’s Sharriff Floyd with the No. 3 pick. The Raiders signed Cincinnati’s Pat Sims at defensive tackle, but Sims has started just one game in the past two years.

Thus, defensive line is a priority for Oakland.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chargers re-signed running back Ronnie Brown and signed Danny Woodhead on Friday. Both are different types of backs who will back up Ryan Mathews. I can still see the Chargers bringing in a running back (probably a bigger one) in free agency or in the draft.

Arizona signed former San Diego starting cornerback Antoine Cason to a one-year deal. The Chargers didn’t have much interest in bringing him back.

San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes left his visit with the Jets without a deal.
The Oakland Raiders are reportedly visiting with more defensive players.

Oakland signed three defensive players Wednesday. However, these two visitors are different because they are over 30.

The Raiders are meeting with Cincinnati cornerback Terence Newman and Detroit defensive tackle Corey Williams.

Newman, 34, has had a long, nice career, including a solid season in 2012. There are a lot of cornerbacks on the market, and Newman should come cheap. He is not near the top of the list, but he likely would have been Oakland’s best cornerback last season. The Raiders are in need of two starting cornerbacks.

Williams’ production has slipped. He was a solid player earlier in his career with Green Bay where Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie was. If Williams, 32, is signed, he would probably be a cheaper version of Tommy Kelly. Williams is expected to be cut by Detroit.
There is no doubt the Oakland Raiders are in a tough spot.

For the second straight year the Raiders are facing a tough salary-cap situation because of wild, irresponsible spending by the previous regime. The result is a second year of tough decisions.

As the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs worked to improve Tuesday, the Raiders had to hit the refresh button again.

Oakland cut safety Michael Huff, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and defensive end Dave Tollefson. The Heyward-Bey (Oakland has other young receivers) and Tollefson cuts were not surprising. But the Huff cut was. He played well at cornerback in an emergency last year and the team was moving him back to safety. He didn’t want to take a pay cut.

The team also saw linebacker Philip Wheeler (Miami) and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (Cleveland) sign lucrative five-year deals. Huff and Wheeler were among the best players on a porous defense in 2012 and Bryant is expected to have a strong future.

Oakland will likely either get a pay reduction from quarterback Carson Palmer or cut him. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and linebacker Rolando McClain are expected to be cut.

ESPN’s John Clayton reports Oakland is $14.66 million under the cap. They will be able to do some things. But the problem is that they have many holes. They have to restock this roster.

I understand all of these moves. But the truth is, this team can’t afford to lose good players. Wheeler and Huff were good players.

I expect Huff to attract interest on the open market. Heyward-Bey -- a big disappointment after being the No. 7 overall pick in 2009 -- will likely get some mild interest on the open market because of his speed.

The part of these moves that has to be a tad worrisome is the new regime is still dealing with decisions it made last year. Safety Tyvon Branch and guard Mike Brisiel did big restructures and Tollefson was cut. During a time of flux like this, the moves that are being made must work or the trouble will continue.

AFC West free-agency primer

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
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» NFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Denver Broncos
GENERAL MANAGER: John Elway
HEAD COACH: John Fox

Cap Status: The Broncos are in decent position to make some additions. They do have to account for $9.7 million for the franchise tag of left tackle Ryan Clady. Denver will also get more cap room if it cuts defensive end Elvis Dumervil. He is due $12 million this season and the team is trying to pare down his contract. Linebacker D.J. Williams also is expected to be cut.

Strategy: I expect the Broncos to be fairly busy in free agency. There has been some speculation Denver could be big players in free agency and get a high-profile player such as New England receiver Wes Welker. The team reportedly has interest in trading for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. But Denver has a lot of wants, so it may be reluctant to spend too much in one place. Denver may look to add at defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, safety, the offensive line, receiver and running back. So there is a chance we'll see a lot of midlevel-type players. Among the players already connected to Denver are Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall and Colts pass-rusher Dwight Freeney, if Dumervil is cut.

Kansas City Chiefs
GENERAL MANAGER: John Dorsey
HEAD COACH: Andy Reid

Cap Status: The Chiefs have done a lot of spending already. They still have some room and will get more with the expected cut of quarterback Matt Cassel.

Strategy: No NFL team has been busier than the Chiefs thus far. The new regime found a way to keep three key free agents: receiver Dwayne Bowe, punter Dustin Colquitt and left tackle Branden Albert. But the Chiefs also kept defensive end Tyson Jackson with a much more manageable contract, traded for quarterback Alex Smith and signed cornerback Dunta Robinson. The team is also reportedly close to keeping defensive end Glenn Dorsey. So the new brass is clearly interested in keeping the core of this team while adding at key positions such as quarterback and cornerback. I expect the Chiefs to strike a couple of more times on the open market. But there is no doubt the heavy lifting has already been done.

Oakland Raiders
GENERAL MANAGER: Reggie McKenzie
HEAD COACH: Dennis Allen

Cap Status: The Raiders have about $8 million in cap room. More can come with the expected cut of defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. Quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey could also be cut if they don't take pay reductions in the coming days.

Strategy: The Raiders are in a tough spot. They have massive holes throughout the roster. They don't have a ton of cap room, but they also have an impatient owner in Mark Davis. He wants to see the team improve. But the Raiders have been in salary-cap jail for years. There is light at the end of the tunnel for next year. But Oakland has to be smart. McKenzie restructured the deal of safety Tyvon Branch (that McKenzie did last year) just to get some immediate relief. But there is now dead money in future years. Oakland cannot repeat its vicious cycle. But it does have to get some things done now. The good news for Oakland is that this is a deep free-agent class and not a lot of teams are going to spend much. There could be some decent bargains out there. I expect Oakland to pick up a few solid players. Cornerback is certainly a strong position that Oakland will try to improve at.

San Diego Chargers
GENERAL MANAGER: Tom Telesco
HEAD COACH: Mike McCoy

Cap Status: The Chargers should have about $17 million to spend after the expected cut of defensive tackle Antonio Garay.

Strategy: The Chargers will be interesting to watch. This is a new brass, and thus far, it's been awfully quiet. But things should change once the open market starts. Truth be told, San Diego has to get a lot of work done. It has major holes on the offensive line and at cornerback. Between those two areas, the team may need to add up to five players. But the needs don't stop there. The Chargers also can use a safety, an inside linebacker, a running back and a receiver. Telesco has a strong reputation for being a talent evaluator. We will quickly get a look at how he can add pieces to his new team.

Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle he expects to be released by the team. Kelly is his own agent, and he told the paper he has not had any contact with the team this offseason.

“The writing is on the wall," Kelly told the paper. "The team is going in another direction. I'm ready for the next chapter. ... They're ready too."

Quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey may have to take pay cuts to avoid being cut as Oakland tries to get enough cap room to maneuver through the offseason.

In other AFC West news:

U-T San Diego reports the Chargers have given receiver Danario Alexander the low restricted-franchise tag tender. There is a chance that a team could give Alexander a decent offer, but the truth is that he was recently on the street and has dealt with multiple knee issues. The Chargers felt it was worth the risk.

The Chargers signed long snapper Mike Windt to a four-year extension.

The Denver Post reported the Broncos visited with cornerback Dunta Robinson on Friday before he signed with the Chiefs. Cleary, Denver is in the mix for a veteran cornerback.

Pittsburgh cut pass-rusher James Harrison. His skills have been declining, and he is 34. I’m not sure there will be a huge AFC West market for him. For what it’s worth, the Chargers have a couple of the things Harrison is looking for in a new team: They play a 3-4 defense and are a warm-weather team.
The Oakland Raiders gained significant salary-cap room by restructuring the deal of safety Tyvon Branch, according to the Contra Costa Times.The savings is expected to be about $4.3 million, according to ESPN’s John Clayton. The Raiders had less than $1 million in cap room before the Branch deal.

The paper reported that Branch added two big years of contract money in 2016 and 2017. Branch signed an extension last year. While the move helps Oakland now, the Raiders need to be careful and not to do too many of these type of deals. These are the type of deals that get teams in cap trouble down the road. But it was necessary to help the team this year.

Quarterback Carson Palmer, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey are all likely facing pay cuts if they want to remain in Oakland. Defensive back Michael Huff could also get a restructuring for the Raiders.

Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said at the NFL combine he doesn’t expect to have a ton of room to bring in outside free agents. McKenzie hopes to bring in some mid-level free agents. The team has already visited with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who was recently cut by the Eagles.

In other AFC West news:
  • As expected, punter Britton Colquitt is one of the restricted free agents Denver is going to give a contract tender to.
  • The Eagles and Texans have already reportedly reached out to right tackle Eric Winston. He was cut by the Chiefs on Wednesday night. Houston cut Winston last year because of a tight salary cap. Meanwhile, Winston said in a radio interview he thinks the Chiefs will take a tackle with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
  • Oakland backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues to say the right things as he awaits his chance to play.

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