AFC West: Zach Thomas

You pick it responses

October, 9, 2009
10/09/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


We had a shutout this week in our “you pick it” feature.

The winning story was Denver receiver Brandon Marshall’s big day Sunday. He scored the game-winning touchdown with less than 2 minutes to go on an unbelievable 51-yard catch against Dallas. After the play, Marshall and Denver coach Josh McDaniels had an emotional embrace.

Marshall and the Broncos had been at odds for months. He asked to be traded and he was suspended in August after he was filmed making a mockery out of a practice.

The other candidates this week were former Oakland quarterback Jeff Garcia ripping the team and quarterback JaMarcus Russell in a radio interview, and former Kansas City linebacker Zach Thomas filing a grievance against the team over lost salary.

I agree with the readers. The story of the week is the Marshall story. The Garcia story is juicy, but the Marshall story was big. It showed he is willing to help Denver win and he can be happy there. Is this a happy ending to the saga? That’s too early to tell, but he is on the right track and a month ago that seemed unlikely.

Here are some of your responses. Thanks to everyone who participated:

Rorry from Colorado Springs: I think Brandon Marshall is the story of the week. Here's a guy that has all the talent in the world, but couldn't commit to a philosophy of team when Josh MacDaniels arrived. He's starting to buy into it and what benefits he can realize. Work hard, know your role, perform, that's it. Personally I didn't think he'd get it for quite a while, but w/confidants like Rod Smith taking an interest in him and advising him, I think he's taken it to heart and we might just have scratched the surface with B-Marsh in the Cowboys game.

Patrick from Cheyenne, Wyo.: The storyline of the week has to be Brandon Marshall coming alive. This revelation could swing this Broncos team from Playoff contender, to AFC West favorite. If Marshall has started to find his groove with this offense this team could be one of the most dangerous in the league. The top defense and now a blossoming offense could take this team very far.

Rich from Denver, Colo.: I vote for Brandon Marshall, he is worhty of the same press as T.O. Off the field he is still an inmature lil kid. On the field he is clearly one of the best receivers in the league.

Scott Seals from Fresno, Calif.: Marshall comes alive - My pick for storyline for the week.

You pick it: AFC West storylines

October, 7, 2009
10/07/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


The candidates are:

Garcia rips Raiders, Russell: Former Oakland backup quarterback and current free agent Jeff Garcia criticized the team and quarterback JaMarcus Russell in a radio interview.

Marshall comes alive: Denver receiver Brandon Marshall made a terrific catch-and-run on a 51-yard touchdown to help Denver beat Dallas and move the team's record to 4-0. Marshall had previously asked to be traded from Denver and was suspended by the team.

Thomas files grievance against the Chiefs: Linebacker Zach Thomas, who was with the Chiefs for four months and who was a final cut, is seeking his lost salary from Kansas City because he believes he was waived while injured.

Hit my mailbag with your choice for the story of the week. I will post some of your responses later in the week.

Early AFC West news and notes

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
2:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER -- I’m just getting settled in the press box at Invesco Field at Mile High and wanted to catch up on some AFC West notes as I prepare for the Broncos-Cowboys game. By the way, it looks like there will be a large group of Dallas fans here.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen has an interesting story on linebacker Zach Thomas filing a grievance against Kansas City over his salary.

This is a rough ending to the short Thomas-Kansas City relationship. He was signed on Easter weekend to be a leader and help the Chiefs transition into a winner. A nasty divorce wasn’t the plan. This grievance could hurt the Chiefs in the eyes of players around the league. If a player as respected as Thomas had a problem with Kansas City, potential free agents could look at that as a deterrent to signing there down the road.

Fox Sports reported that the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Oakland coach Tom Cable could still face a suspension based on information from the Napa, Calif., police investigation. Oakland defensive assistant Randy Hanson has reportedly told police that Cable assaulted him and he suffered a broken jaw in the incident during training camp. Cable could face felony charges.

If the case proceeds, Cable could face a lengthy suspension.

Oakland receiver Javon Walker is a healthy scratch again for the Raiders. It’s starting to look like he’ll never make an impact for Oakland.

Chiefs: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
8:20
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Biggest surprise: The decision to cut safety Bernard Pollard. He will likely be picked up on waivers elsewhere. It was reported that Pollard was being offered in a trade Friday. Pollard did struggle in coverage and the Chiefs wanted veteran newcomer Mike Brown to start, so Pollard was expendable. Zach Thomas’ release has to be looked at as a mild surprise, because he was brought in to be a leader. But Thomas couldn’t stay healthy and the Chiefs like young linebacker Corey Mays, so Thomas was expendable.


No brainer: The Chiefs’ decision to keep four quarterbacks on the roster to start the season. That decision was forced because the team doesn’t know if starter Matt Cassel will be ready to play in the season opener Sept. 13 at Baltimore. He has a knee injury. Cassel will try to practice this week and play, but if he can’t, Brodie Croyle or Tyler Thigpen (probably Croyle) will have to play against the Ravens. The team also has Matt Gutierrez on the roster. He has a history with new Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli from their New England days and he has played well in the preseason. When Cassel is fully healthy, Kansas City will likely get rid of a quarterback (perhaps Thigpen). But they can’t do anything until Cassel’s health improves

What’s next: Expect the Chiefs to be busy. They have the third highest waiver priority in the league and I’d expect Kansa City to scour the waiver wire for help at several positions. The Chiefs will search for help on the offensive line and on at receiver in particular. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to obtain multiple players at both positions. Perhaps Kansas City will look at tackle Ryan O’Callaghan, who was just cut by the Patriots. He has seven starts and Pioli needs tackles and knows O’Callaghan. It’s been reported that Seattle would like to trade receiver Deion Branch. I wouldn’t be shocked if Kansas City showed interest.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

The Chiefs just announced their final cuts. The names of linebacker Zach Thomas and safety Bernard Pollard stick out.

I will be back with an analysis post of the Chiefs’ cuts soon.

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  G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
  Todd Haley, the new coach for Kansas City, has made his players feel his presence during the offseason and training camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

RIVER FALLS, Wis. --- The Kansas City Chiefs are tired.

And they should be.

Camp Haley has been no pleasure cruise.

The Chiefs, who break camp Thursday, have undergone a harsh transition from the cushy Herm Edwards days to the no-breaks, harsh methods of new coach Todd Haley. Mimicking new general manager Scott Pioli's humorless ways, Haley has not been easy on his troops.

Camp Confidential: AFC West
Raiders: Fri., July 31
Chargers: Tues., Aug. 4
Broncos: Wed., Aug. 12
Chiefs: Thurs., Aug. 20
Training camp index

It's all about making the Chiefs -- who have won a total of six games the past two years -- "hard to beat," Haley said.

"I think this camp had to be tough," Haley said Wednesday. "We need a mental toughness .... I've been on teams that have turned it around and each of those teams needed to get tougher."

In the offseason, Haley stressed conditioning and made his team lose weight. Then, he held a conditioning test before the start of camp. Several well-known players didn't pass, thus delaying their camp starting date. Camp practices in this idyllic Wisconsin college town have been long and hard-hitting.

Haley is often heard barking his displeasure at his team and often his media briefings smack of an unsatisfied coach.

Further getting everyone's attention, Haley broke down standout receiver Dwayne Bowe. The team's best receiver was made a third stringer. But the tough love has worked. Bowe has responded and it's been a lesson learned for the entire team.

Haley knows he has a lot of work to do with this team. The Chiefs are being reconstructed. Haley knows it's not going to be easy, but he's bent on making it work.

"I've seen good progress," Haley said. "This team is much tougher than it was a few months ago. But we have to keep on improving."

(Read full post)

Around the AFC West

August, 20, 2009
8/20/09
9:35
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Denver

Brandon Marshall's actions are being questioned.

My take: The Pro Bowl receiver ramped up the talk on Wednesday about how much he wants to leave Denver by disengaging himself from practice and admitting he doesn't know the team's new playbook. Marshall was running with the scout team. He wants to be traded. Marshall was threatening to hold out. He came to camp to avoid a fine. He has admitted that. However, if Marshall thinks he can come to work and not work, well, he might be setting himself up for a team suspension. This thing seems like it is going to get uglier before it gets better.

Kansas City

Zach Thomas is dealing with an injury.

My take: The Chiefs need him to recover quickly. Thomas is a leader on the defense and he is basically a coach on the field. The young Chiefs need his leadership.

Oakland

A local columnist says JaMarcus Russell needs to learn from a tough day.

My take: Russell needs to learn from every day. He struggled against the 49ers in a joint practice Wednesday. He threw three interceptions in the morning session. He said it "wasn't the end of the world." He's right. There's going to be bad days. But this has to show the talented but inconsistent quarterback that improvement needs to be made daily.

San Diego

The Chargers will see Ed Hochuli again.

My take: Hochuli is working San Diego's preseason game at Arizona on Saturday. It will be the first time the Chargers see him since he made a wrong call that helped cost San Diego a game at Denver in Week 2 last season. It's good that they are getting this first meeting out of the way during the preseason. Hochuli will officiate future San Diego games, so everyone is going to have to get used to that notion.

Sources: Chiefs may sign Toomer

August, 3, 2009
8/03/09
10:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Kansas City Chiefs are leaning toward signing veteran receiver Amani Toomer, according to two NFL sources.

Toomer could be signed as soon as Tuesday if the Chiefs follow through their current thinking, the sources said. Toomer was one of three veteran receivers Kansas City worked out Monday as their early training-camp work showed the team they may need more help for new quarterback Matt Cassel.

Kansas City also looked at receivers D.J. Hackett and David Terrell. Toomer is the most accomplished of the three. Despite the fact that he will turn 35 next month, Toomer can still be productive. He had 48 catches for the Giants last season, which was his 13th with the club.

Adding Toomer would be similar to what the Chiefs are doing on defense: Loading up on veteran leadership. With the core of the Kansas City roster on the young side, new general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley, are adding leadership at key spots. The team has added linebackers Zach Thomas and Mike Vrabel and safety Mike Brown. All three players are known leaders.

Earlier this offseason, the Chiefs signed veteran receiver Bobby Engram. Toomer would likely play a similar role and give Cassel another steady hand to play with. Toomer is not going to burn teams with his speed, but he will come up with some solid plays and he can help this team take the next step.

He has a reputation as being a leader who helps young players. He has 668 career catches and a Super Bowl ring to show his young teammates if he ends up in Kansas City. He is less than two years removed from winning a Super Bowl (over Pioli's Patriots). That type of veteran experience can only help.

If the Chiefs get this deal done, it won't make them an instant playoff contender. But it will be another positive step made by the new regime.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Kansas City Chiefs are clearly interested in getting as much defensive leadership as possible.

  Brown

The Kansas City Star is reporting that the Chiefs have agreed to terms with former Chicago safety Mike Brown. Brown, 31, visited Kansas City a few weeks ago. Cleveland was also showing interest.

Brown was a big-time playmaker for Chicago, but he has been decimated by injuries in recent seasons. He was healthy last season (he played in 15 games) but he played just seven games the two previous years combined. Brown showed he can still make an impact, though, last year as he had 73 tackles and two interceptions.

Brown will compete with starters Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page for playing time. Because of his injuries, Brown has lost some range and will likely be better against the run than the pass.

Brown gives Kansas City another new leader on defense. General manager Scott Pioli brought in linebackers Zach Thomas and Mike Vrabel this offseason. Like Brown, Thomas and Vrabel are players over the age of 30 known for their leadership skills.

With these three veteran players in the fold, the mostly young Kansas City defense should be brought along nicely. Brown is not a unit-changing player, but he has enough skill remaining that he should help the team if he can stay healthy.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

We are continuing our AFC West rankings with a look at the top linebackers in the division.

1. Shawne Merriman, San Diego: The Chargers are counting the days until he returns from a knee injury that kept him out of all but one game last season. Merriman is an elite pass rusher, but he is also a complete player who makes San Diego's defense go.

2. D.J. Williams, Denver: Williams is top player. The problem with him is he has moves positions nearly every year. Now, he is playing an inside linebacker position for Denver as it moves to the 3-4 defensive front.

3. Kirk Morrison, Oakland: He is a tackle machine and one of Oakland's best players on defense. He's an underrated player.

4. Thomas Howard, Oakland: Howard, too, is a top defensive player in this division. He always seems to come up with the big play.

5. Shaun Phillips, San Diego: Phillips is an emotional leader on the defense, who has big-play capability. Merriman's return will help him.

6. Larry English, San Diego: I expect an immediate impact made by the No. 16 overall pick in this year's draft. English has looked fantastic this spring. He is a pass rusher, whose presence will be helped by Merriman.

7. Stephen Cooper, San Diego: Yet another playmaker on San Diego's linebacker roster. He is a smart player, who is always around the ball.

8. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: Johnson has been good in this league. He struggled last season. Perhaps the help Kansas City has given him at the position will revive him. He has good ability.

9. Zach Thomas, Kansas City: Thomas is nearing the end, but he is a leader and he always finds ways to make tackles. He'll make his presence felt.

10. Mike Vrabel, Kansas City: Like Thomas, Vrabel is nearing the end. But he is a gritty player, who'll make his share of plays.

11. Boss Bailey, Denver: Bailey has been injury plagued and he will struggle to come back from a serious knee injury. If healthy, he is a solid player.

12. Kevin Burnett, San Diego: Burnett was brought in as a free agent to help on passing downs. The Chargers have high hopes for him.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The fact that Kansas City is looking at safety Mike Brown clearly means the team is interested in adding more leaders.

This is a trend on Kansas City's defense. The Chiefs have traded for linebacker Mike Vrabel and signed linebacker Zach Thomas. Both of those players are in their 30s and are nearing the end of their careers. Yet, they are known leaders and could help an otherwise young defense.

Brown fits this mold. The former Chicago playmaker is 31 and has been hampered by injuries. Yet, Brown is a smart, instinctive player who can still help as an in-the-box safety. Still, the most value he can bring is as a leader.

The Chiefs have decent talent at safety with Jarrad Page, Bernard Pollard and young backup DaJuan Morgan. If Brown is signed, it would to help the lead the way, which is the same reason why Vrabel and Thomas were brought in.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Maybe Jason Taylor was never a real possibility for the Kansas City Chiefs. But he should have been.

But it won't happen. Taylor is going to be a Miami Dolphin again.

I've written it before and I stand by it -- Kansas City should have gone after Taylor. The Chiefs set an NFL record for the fewest sacks in a season last year with 10. Yet, they've done little to help their pass rush this offseason.

Taylor, who will turn 35 in September, has been one of the most consistent pass-rushers in the league in recent years. Yes, he is getting older, but the new Chiefs regime hasn't been turned off by age. The Chiefs have brought in linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas this offseason. The fact that Taylor and Thomas are brothers-in-law would have been a bonus.

The Chiefs have about $30 million in salary-cap room. They could have given Taylor a big contract if they chose to. I understand that many people think Taylor is nearing the end, but he could have helped Kansas City for a couple of years.

Who else on the roster is going to give the Chiefs a stronger pass rush than Taylor? I don't know that answer. The Chiefs better figure it out, because Taylor is no longer an option.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

I know many fans of the Kansas City Chiefs are not completely satisfied with the team's offseason. Many fans wanted the Chiefs to get more defensive help and use more of their salary-cap room. The Chiefs still have about $30 million in cap room at this late date.

Still, ESPN's John Clayton thinks the Chiefs have had one of the 10 best offseason in the NFL. Fans are being asked to rank the top 10 offseasons.

The Chiefs are in the discussion after adding general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Todd Haley, quarterback Matt Cassel and linebackers Mike Vrabel, Zach Thomas and rookie defensive end Tyson Jackson.

This is your turn to give your team some props, Chiefs fans. Where do you rank them?

Around the AFC West

May, 4, 2009
5/04/09
2:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Denver

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen opened up on several topics.

My take: Many Broncos fans have been waiting to hear from Bowlen this offseason. His comments on former quarterback Jay Cutler, the first few months of the Josh McDaniels' era and his team's Super Bowl chances are particularly interesting. While it was only a taste of Bowlen's thoughts, these comments show that Bowlen clearly knows this is a time of transition in Denver.

Kansas City

The Chiefs want Zach Thomas to be a leader.

My take: No problem. That's what Thomas is -- he's a born leader. He and fellow Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel should give Kansas City's young players terrific tutelage in this rebuilding year.

Oakland

Report: The Raiders are talking to fullback Lorenzo Neal.

My take: This would be a good move. One of the best fullbacks of all-time, Neal would be a terrific lead blocker for Oakland's three tailbacks. Even though he is nearing the end of his career, he is still effective and he would give Oakland a dose of toughness.

San Diego

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie is healthy after dealing with a hip injury.

My take: This is a big year for Cromartie. After an outstanding 2007 season, Cromartie had a disappointing year in 2008. Perhaps his slip in production was due to his injury. If Cromartie doesn't improve this year, don't be surprised if he loses playing time to 2008 first-round pick Antoine Cason.

AFC West mailbag

April, 22, 2009
4/22/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Midweek mail call:

Matt from San Francisco: Hey Bill, What are you hearing about Tony Scheffler? Are the Broncos trying to trade him for a second- or third-round pick this weekend?

Bill Williamson: The Scheffler trade talk has been fairly quiet. Denver has so many draft picks, including five in the first 84 picks, so it isn't like the team is dying for more choices. But if a huge offer, such as a second-rounder, comes in for the tight end I could see the Broncos pulling the trigger during the draft.


Hindersingaba Lal from Bakersfield: Hey, BW great job on your blogs. With the draft near, can the Raiders still trade down? If, not what is the chance Al will reach for Micheal Oher? To get that protection for Jamarcus Russell.

BW: Sure, the Raiders can trade down but it may not be easy and it may not be what the team wants. The Raiders are going to have a choice of some top players at their biggest need areas: receiver and tackle. So, I think Oakland may just stay put at No. 7 and be fine.


Ted from Pittsburgh: Mr. Williamson, I know Detroit has been somewhat satisfied with Culpeppers progress returning to form, drafting Curry now is a real possibility. That being said, I've wanted the Chiefs to take Crabtree from the moment they picked up Cassel. A lot of people out there hammer Crabtree because they think the Big 12 defenses where weak. Now I know that Crabtree was doubled and even tripled for 3 quarters of his 2 year career and still managed 231 catches, 41 touchdowns, and 3,200 yards, In two years! Would you agree with me that with the way Kansas City is set up in a new Coach such as Haley and his scheme, to go with Bowe, Gonzalez, veteran Engram, the new look Larry Johnson and Charles nabbing passes out of the backfield, that the chiefs would Bring the most out of Crabtree's game and would be a perfect fit. I like to think so, we need more possessions and more first downs and our defense would be much more successful at the same time.

BW: If the Lions take Curry -- I still think they will take Matthew Stafford -- Crabtree would be a nice addition as would an offensive tackle such as Eugene Monroe. But at the end of the day, I think Curry will be available at No. 3 and I think he should be the choice in Kansas City.


Greg: Is there any truth to the Seattle/Sanchez rumors? I hope theyre serious. That makes KC the team to trade with if youre the Jets or niners. AND...if so, would Seattle considers swapping picks with KC to prevent those trades? Maybe Pioli could swing a second round pick out of the deal??...my Chiefs get a 2nd rounder, still get Curry and lose nothing!

BW: I think Seattle is interested in Sanchez but it may be a tad nervous about taking a player so high who is going to sit for a year or two. I think Seattle, ultimately, will take a player who can make an immediate impact.


Rob from Houston, TX: Little is being said of the Chargers' need to draft a backup for Jamal Williams. If he goes down with an injury, the defense will nose dive. Why aren't the Chargers more concerned in your opinion?

BW: It's a need, sure. Williams is getting older and he has knee issues. But I don't think it is a major need. Maybe the Chargers will take a developmental nose tackle in the middle rounds.

Tom from Calgary, Canada: Hey Bill, love the column. I find hard to believe that Kansas City would take Aaron Curry in the draft now that they are stacked at the linebacker position with names like Zach Thomas and Derrick Johnson. I'm sure there have been hundreds of emails questioning the Kansas City's first round selection NOW. But I want to here your take if the Chiefs should retain interest in the most talented player in the draft or find someone who will benifet in an empty position?

BW: I don't think the Thomas signing will get in the way of adding Curry. Thomas will be 36 in September and he was signed for one season, so that will not preclude the Chiefs from taking a linebacker early.

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