AFC West: Dallas Cowboys

This is where your salary-cap money is going, Kansas City Chiefs fans.

Not bad, huh?

The Chiefs rocked the NFL late Wednesday night by agreeing to terms with star linebacker Tamba Hali on a five-year, $60 million deal with $35 million in guaranteed money. He is now the second-highest-paid outside linebacker in the NFL behind Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware.

Many Kansas City fans became antsy in recent days because the Chiefs, flush with cap room, weren’t doing much. Securing one of their best players for the long term qualifies as doing something. Hali was the franchised player. He hadn’t signed his tender. He can now practice Thursday.

Hali led the AFC with 14.5 sacks last season.

He is a tremendous player who is the cornerstone of a strong, young defense. Hali, 27, is in his prime, and he should be a premier pass-rusher for years. That’s why Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli locked him up.

In his two-plus years in Kansas City, Pioli has shown he is willing to give long-term deals to key players such as Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson and now Hali.

This was good use of the salary-cap money. The Chiefs have methodically added some solid, reasonably priced veterans in free agency and now have answered the Hali question.

It’s another smart move in a strong offseason for the defending AFC West champions.

Chiefs give Tamba Hali huge deal

August, 3, 2011
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ESPN’'s John Clayton is reporting Kansas City star linebacker Tamba Hali just agreed to a five-year extension.

It is worth $60 million with $35 guaranteed. He is now the second highest paid outside linebacker in the NFL behind Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware. Hali led the AFC with 14.5 sacks last season.

I will be back shortly with some thoughts on the deal.
I am a bit surprised that the Oakland Raiders have re-signed safety Michael Huff.

The consensus was that the former No. 7 overall pick would likely leave. That thought was fueled by the combination that he could have other suitors (his homestate Dallas Cowboys were mentioned often) and the fact that the Raiders wouldn’t overpay for the player who has had an up-and-down NFL career.

Yet, in the end, Huff stays in Oakland. It appears there wasn’t a strong market for him. The money Huff received hasn’t been reported yet. Huff’s signing means the Raiders have some cap room and perhaps a Zach Miller re-signing on the horizon. Miller is a much more important player than Huff.

Don’t get me wrong: Huff is a professional and his presence gives the Raiders some stability. He made strides in 2010, but he also had some issues in coverage and in pass and run support. He doesn’t always take the best angle on plays. I know many Raiders fans get frustrated with him at times. Earlier in free agency, the Raiders were connected to San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson, but his addition is not likely now.

Huff signing is part of an interesting weekend for Oakland. On Friday, the team saw its best player, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, sign with Philadelphia. Then, reports came out that Oakland would shore up its offensive line by adding massive Baltimore left tackle Jared Gaither. Yet, Saturday, Gaither wasn’t signed, likely because of medical issues. He missed the entire 2010 season with a back injury. The Raiders re-signed tackle Khalif Barnes and added backup quarterback Trent Edwards on Saturday.
The wee hours of Friday morning have passed and Nnamdi Asomugha is still a free agent.

For how long?

Asomugha entered Tuesday’s feeding frenzy as the top available prize, and after a head-spinning amount of agreements and high-profile trades around the league, Asomugha remains on the open market. The New York Jets are holding off on moving to other matters, and Oakland Raiders fans are hoping that Asomugha will, in the end, decide not to leave them.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter said on “SportsCenter” he thinks the Asomugha saga will end Friday or Saturday. He said there is an 80 percent chance Asomugha will team with fellow stellar cornerback Darrelle Revis in the Big Apple. Schefter said the Cowboys are also in it and perhaps another mystery team will step up.

Mike Lombardi of NFL Network tweeted that the Jets and Cowboys are the finalists for Asomugha and that the Raiders’ Bay Area rivals, San Francisco, are out of the running. That is, at least, some solace for Raiders fans. It would sicken many Oakland fans to see Asomugha play across the bay.

Meanwhile, the Jets are clearing more cap room in an apparent attempt to squeeze in Asomugha.

What does it all mean? More of the same. Keep pulling your hair out and wait patiently, please.

Steve Smith won't be a Charger

July, 28, 2011
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There was a lot of talk in the past two months that Carolina veteran receiver Steve Smith could end up in the AFC West. It was reported he was interested in joining either San Diego or Oakland. Then, it was reported the Chargers would monitor Smith.

It was a fruitless exercise. Smith told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he wants to remain in Carolina. So, if a veteran receiver is heading west, it won’t be Smith.

Meanwhile, Schefter thinks the Jets may have the cap room to be considered the favorite to land Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. However, Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network believes Houston is now in the lead. This thing is heating up fast.

Denver is interested in Dallas defensive end Stephen Bowen. The Broncos have been quiet so far and I don’t think adding Bowen would get people excited about the defense. UPDATE: Bowen reportedly agreed to terms with Washington.

Receiver Steve Breaston, who agreed to terms with the Chiefs on Wednesday, gave Chiefs coach Todd Haley a backhanded compliment in a Kansas City radio interview. Breaston played for Haley in Arizona in his first two NFL seasons.

The Football Outsiders, in an Insider piece, show that they are big fans of the Chiefs’ young talent.
The first day of teams being able to contact free-agency prize Nnamdi Asomugha has developed slowly.

Asomugha
Asomugha
The New York Jets have caused a wave by contacting Asomugha. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Tuesday the Jets and Houston could be Asomugha’s most ardent pursuers. Teams like the Ravens and Cowboys have cleared a lot of cap room and there’s speculation they will make runs at the Oakland cornerback.

The Jets’ pursuit would cause the most stir. Asomugha and Jets’ cornerback Darrelle Revis are considered to be the best two cornerbacks in the NFL, by far. If Asomugha signs with the Jets, New York would be considered a Super Bowl favorite.

Still, it’s early and anything can happen. I understand that many teams have called Asomugha’s agents, but talks are deliberate because the deal is going to be worth so much money and it will be complicated, especially with teams trying to maneuver through the new $120 million salary cap.

Expect talks to pick up the pace in the coming days.

It may be foolish, but I will not count out Al Davis re-signing Asomugha until his name is officially on another team’s roster. Still, Oakland will have a difficult time re-signing him.

Don’t be surprised if the Raiders, who have other free-agent priorities, try to clear up space by giving franchised linebacker Kamerion Wimbley a new long-term deal. The Raiders are in for more than $10 million this season to Wimbley. Thus, any long-term deal would have to be sweet for Wimbley to give up a huge initial payday.

Waiting for the onslaught

July, 26, 2011
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While the news has been cranking up in the past hour or so, the first day of NFL movement has been slower than expected.

None of the AFC West teams have even sent out their list of signed undrafted free agents. I spoke to several agents Monday and they expected Tuesday to be overrun with agreements. Teams can agree to terms with free agents from other teams, but they can’t sign them until Friday. Teams can make trades and agree to terms with their own free agents as well as adding undrafted free agents.

Yet, teams have so far spent of Tuesday planning. Many teams are cutting players as they prepare for free agency. Both Baltimore and Dallas have cut several veterans and there’s speculation they are both trying to make room to make a run at Oakland free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who’ll be the free agent prize. Several agents I spoke to Tuesday said they were surprised by the lack of agreements. But they said they sensed teams were trying to adjust to the new $120 million salary cap and that more deals will start happening, in earnest, Wednesday and Thursday.

There is also a sense of caution, several agents said. They feel teams don’t want to get spurned by players who they make agreements with now. So, teams all may be waiting to finalize agreements closer to Friday to avoid being left at the altar.

The quarterback domino is worth watching. It started when it was reported Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck will not return to the Seahawks. ESPN’s John Clayton reports Tennessee may be the frontrunner to land Hasselbeck. That could affect Denver’s attempt to trade Kyle Orton. Clayton reports Orton could be reunited with Brandon Marshall in Miami.

Yet, Clayton also said if the Broncos don’t receive a third-round pick for Orton, he could be kept in Denver and the Broncos could wait to see if a quarterback gets hurt later in training camp before trying to trade him again. I think that would not be smart. If the Broncos are comfortable with handing the keys to Tim Tebow now, they should just do it and see what happens. Keeping Orton around and having him take valuable repetitions from Tebow would be a waste.

Denver has to make a decision now. The Arizona Republic thinks the Cardinals could decide to pursue Orton over the Eagles’ Kevin Kolb. The paper reasons that the Cardinals think that Orton is not far off Kolb in terms of talent, and Orton could be enticing because he’d be cheaper. The quarterback market could start to move soon.

Meanwhile, I hear Seattle is working to bring back defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Denver has been interested in him. Still, Denver could go after Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins or San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin.

There was some talk Baltimore offensive lineman Marshal Yanda could end up in the AFC West. He is heading back to the Ravens, though.

By the way, Seattle is picking up quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Leinart. Boy, that trade with San Diego for Charlie Whitehurst is looking even worse than it did last season. The Chargers moved up 20 spots in the second round last year and received a third-rounder for Whitehurst in 2011. The Seahawks then thought Whitehurst was the quarterback of the future. Clearly, that idea has changed.
San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson has been in the news for a year since his 2010 holdout began. But it seems, for now, the Jackson headlines will slow down.

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting Jackson is expected to sign his franchise tender almost as soon as he can on Friday. Jackson has been expected to sign, although he reportedly tried to wiggle out of it last week.

This is a big year for Jackson. He has to have a big year to finally get the big-money contract he has desired, whether it’s from San Diego or another team. By signing his tender immediately, it shows Jackson is ready to begin the quest.

In other wild Tuesday updates:

None of the AFC West teams have announced their full undrafted free-agent classes. But it appears San Diego has added Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien. He has a chance to stick as practice squad player. The Chargers want to re-sign free agent Billy Volek as their backup. If he signs elsewhere, San Diego will be in the market for a veteran backup for Philip Rivers.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Dallas is cutting Marion Barber. Denver could show interest.

Schefter reported Oakland was interested in Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin before he signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent. He would have been a nice get for the Raiders, who want to develop a young quarterback.

AFC West evening notes

July, 6, 2011
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It’s been discussed often on this blog, but an Arizona outlet looks at whether or not the Chiefs will pursue Arizona receiver Steve Breaston to be a slot receiver. Breaston, of course, played for Kansas City coach Todd Haley in his first two seasons in Arizona. I think it could happen. The Chiefs will be cautious and deliberate in free agency, but this could be a match.
  • The Broncos’ young offensive linemen are benefiting from their summer workouts during the lockout.
  • The Denver Post doesn’t think former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor will be on the Broncos’ radar in the supplemental draft. Makes sense to me. I don’t see the fit, either.
CBS Sportsline reports that the Philadelphia Eagles might not be big players for Oakland free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The report cites Asomugha’s expected enormous price tag and that fact that he is not a perfect fit for the Eagles’ scheme.

Asomugha
Asomugha
The Eagles have been reported, along with NFC East rivals Dallas and Washington, as likely pursuers of Asomugha. If the Eagles aren’t overly interested in getting into the Asomugha sweepstakes, I don’t necessarily think it affects Oakland’s chances of keeping Asomugha. If Asomugha and the Raiders want each other, they’ll figure it out regardless of interest from other teams.

And don’t think this report will start a trend of other teams deciding not to actively pursue Asomugha. There will be plenty of teams willing to accommodate him.

Meanwhile, ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadida connects receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Oakland coach Hue Jackson. The two worked together in the past and Oakland was connected to the receiver last summer. However, the Raiders have depth at the position, and Houshmandzadeh’s skills have been declining.

I did it again

May, 31, 2011
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For the second time in our positional Power Rankings list this spring, I cost Adrian Peterson big.

I promise I have nothing against the Minnesota running back. I think he’s a big-time player. But I think there are other big-time players in the NFL as well.

I just think there are some better players in the NFL than Peterson at the moment. That’s why I placed Peterson seventh on our list of top-10 (non-quarterbacks) offensive players in the NFL. My replacement cost Peterson big. He finished in a first-place tie with Tennessee running back Chris Johnson. Had I placed Peterson sixth, he would have been in first place by himself.

In our running back Power Rankings in March, I ranked Peterson third behind Tennessee’s Johnson and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles. It gave Johnson the No. 1 overall ranking. I used the same formula on this current vote as I did in the previous one; I had Peterson as my third running back behind Johnson and Charles.

That’s why he’s seventh on my list. Again, I like Peterson a lot and I think he’s special. Being the seventh best player on this list is pretty strong.

As for the AFC West, Charles and San Diego tight end Antonio Gates finished in a tie for 10th place. I had Charles ranked fifth and I ranked Gates ninth. In our tight end Power Rankings, I had Gates ranked first. He was edged out by Dallas’ Jason Witten. I placed Charles higher than Gates on this list based on the importance of position and the fact that Charles is just entering his prime at the age of 24 while Gates is about to turn 31.

No other AFC West player received a vote.
NFL power rankings: HelmetsESPN.com IllustrationOur writers break down NFL team helmets in the latest edition of ESPN.com's Power Rankings.
As we continue our Power Rankings series, it’s time to look beyond the player and examine what’s wrapped around his head.

Let’s blow the lid off this NFL helmet caper, shall we?

The NFL helmet has long been an obsession. Whether it’s the unmistakable star of the Dallas Cowboys, the beyond-the-gridiron meaning in Pittsburgh or the great helmet–change fiasco in San Francisco in the early 1990s, the NFL has been all about the helmet. After all, in football, we don’t look at faces, we look at logos.

Come on, who hasn’t spent a Saturday afternoon feeding countless quarters into a gumball machine full of worthless plastic all in the name of getting a complete set of NFL helmets?

So, we put our artistic eyes together (with the courtesy of professional help) and came up with our top 10 NFL helmets. Consensus? No, not even close. In a 2011 Power Rankings record, 26 lids collected votes. Eye of the beholder, folks.

Interestingly, two of the six teams that got no lid love received kudos from our guest judge. I’d take her word over mine. You should see what I’m wearing right now. Think John Belushi in "Animal House." Then take it down a few notches.

We’ve had our battles this spring when it came to ranking players, coaches and owners, but this task has to be the most subjective of all. It’s vanilla or chocolate. Or, in this case, purple or red.

Still, there were several helmets -- traditional teams seemed to catch the imagination -- that received more votes than others.

Fittingly, the winning helmet is of a team that has been scoring big during this entire series: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The black helmet received 50 voting points, cruising to an easy win. Second-place Indianapolis, and its famous horseshoe, received 41 points.

AFC North blogger James Walker was the only person to vote for the Steelers, who received top-10 votes from six of eight voters, as the No. 1 helmet. Only NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert (he received big-league redemption -- we’ll explain later) and AFC East blogger Tim Graham shunned the Steelers.

Walker explained that it was fitting for the Steelers’ helmet to win because it represents a gritty, historic city.

“Most helmets have a mascot or the team’s name or initials, but Pittsburgh’s helmet actually has in-depth meaning,” Walker said. “The colors of the diamond shapes each represent elements of steel, which was once a major industry in Pittsburgh. Also, Pittsburgh is the only NFL team with its helmet logo on one side. I think the uniqueness and tradition helps separate the Steelers.”

Here’s the rest of the top-10 list after the Steelers and Colts: Oakland Raiders (my first-place vote -- just look cool, baby), Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers, Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.

Below are some key aspects of the vote:

Walking the Runway: We are thrilled to have a celebrity presence this week. Former "Project Runway" contestant Peach Carr, a successful Chicago fashion designer and self-professed sports nut, lent her expertise this week.

Predictably, her opinion differed greatly from many of us slouches. Hey, sportswriters are rarely accused of being spiffy, snappy, hip or even presentable, so what do you expect?

The most telling of Carr’s selections was her choice of the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2. They were among the six teams shut out by the rest of us. I’d listen to the Peach, San Francisco.

Carr went with the hometown Bears as her top choice. The Bears finished ninth in our poll. Major fashion buttons to Seifert. He was the only voter to agree with the professional. Reached for comment, Seifert had this to say: “Yesssssss.”

Well said, Mr. Blackwell.

Carr placed the Houston Texans as her No. 6 helmet. It was also one of the six helmets the rest of us neglected.

You made it work, Peach. Auf Wiedersehen to the rest of us.

The Lone Vote State: In an upset, the Cowboys’ helmet finished sixth. Graham was the lone blogger to vote Dallas’ helmet first.

“I was shocked to see nobody else put the Cowboys at the top of their ballots,” Graham said. “That helmet is the most iconic of them all. The lone blue star is known immediately by grandmothers who never watch football. It's a classic look that strikes you whether you're watching from the stands or at home. There's no tiny print to read, no cluttered symbols to decipher. You see it, you know it. And it likely conjures a visceral reaction whether you're a fan or not.”

Going traditional: In addition to the 49ers and Texans, the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals were the only teams shut out by the eight voters. The 49ers are the only team in the group that has a history-rich franchise. However, the top 10 is dominated by tradition-rich teams.

NFC West blogger Mike Sando saw a trend.

“My thought is that success helps a brand become appealing in a lot of cases,” Sando said. “Would the Steelers' helmet really rank first if the team had tanked every year? I do not think so. Look at the Colts, Raiders, Packers, Cowboys, Browns ... all have storied histories.”

Kicking it old school: If the “throwback” helmets were allowed in the voting, I bet things would be different. My prized possession (probably says more about my collection of stuff than my sentiment) is my complete set of NFL throwback mini helmets. It is proudly displayed in my office.

There are some beauties in that collection. That’s one of the reasons I went with the New York Jets' helmet as my No. 2 choice. I like the old-style look. My favorite helmet of all time is the old-school New England Patriots helmet. I love me some Patriot Pat and couldn’t get enough of watching the Patriots when the league honored the AFL in 2009.

Put your thinking helmet on. What do you think is the most fashionable helmet in the NFL? Fill the comments section below with your thoughts.

Hot Button: Nnamdi Asomugha

May, 16, 2011
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This week’s Hot Button debate was a look at where Oakland free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha could land.

John Clayton thinks Houston is a great fit, while Pat Yasinskas believes he would fit nicely in Tampa Bay.

There will be plenty of teams that go after Asomugha, who will be the free-agent prize of the 2011 class. It is expected that NFC East teams, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington will try to land the star cornerback.

Nationally, it is being assumed that Asomugha will leave Oakland. When his contract voided in January, I thought Asomugha would end up staying in Oakland. I still think there’s a chance he will return, because Al Davis has long done what it takes to keep his best players.

However, there have been signs that Asomugha could be on the move. The Raiders secured several prospective free agents prior to the lockout, including cornerback Stanford Routt, who was given a three-year, $31.5 million deal. In January, Davis said he was interested in keeping Asomugha, but he also reasoned that he could sign two or three players for the money it would take to sign Asomugha. It seems like Oakland has chosen to keep the players it wants to keep.

Plus, the Raiders drafted two cornerbacks last month, so it appears the Raiders are preparing to move on without Asomugha. That's why so many people are looking at other options for Asomugha.

While I won’t completely believe a great talent like Asomugha could leave Oakland until he actually signs with another team, the tea leaves are indicating that will be the case.
In his mailbag, in an ESPN.com Insider piece, Adam Schefter looked at some of the possible landing spots for Oakland star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who’ll be the NFL’s top free-agent prize.

Asomugha
Asomugha
Schefter believes there will be three NFC East teams competing hard for Asomugha’s services. Schefter thinks Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington will be the top contenders to land Asomugha, who could be out of Oakland’s price range.

Other teams listed by Schefter that could be in play for Asomugha include Baltimore, the Jets, Houston and perhaps Tampa Bay.

I do know this: This is a seller’s market. Asomugha will have his choice of landing spots and I expect him to be off the market shortly after free agency begins, whenever that might be.
Jon Baldwin is not Kansas City coach Todd Haley’s first rodeo when it comes to dealing with difficult receivers.

A lot has been made about the Kansas City Chiefs drafting the receiver with the No. 26 overall pick. The Pittsburgh receiver earned a reputation for being difficult in college.

Haley has dealt with several receivers who were known for being “divas.” Thus, because of Baldwin’s potential -- he’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and can make the spectacular catch -- and Haley’s history of working with these types of players, it could be a worthwhile risk.

Here is a look at Haley’s history of working with receivers:
  • In the late 1990s, Haley coached the Jets receivers. Under Haley’s guidance, Keyshawn Johnson thrived and made the Pro Bowl. Johnson went on to have some difficult relationships with coaches later in his career, but Johnson and Haley remain close.
  • As receiver coach in Dallas, from 2004-2006, Haley had to deal with two known difficult receivers, Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens. Both players succeed under Haley despite having their issues.
  • As Arizona’s offensive coordinator, Haley had a classic sideline blowup with receiver Anquan Boldin during the NFC championship game against Philadelphia. Haley and Boldin downplayed the incident and along with star Larry Fitzgerald, Boldin excelled in Haley’s system.
  • In 2009, in his first season in Kansas City, Haley clashed with Chiefs’ receiver Dwayne Bowe in training camp. Bowe spent much of the season in Haley’s doghouse. Yet, in 2010, Bowe responded to Haley’s tough love and become a Pro Bowl player.

Baldwin is entering a situation in which he will be challenged and if he revolts, it won’t be anything new for his head coach. He’ll be able to handle it.

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