NFL Nation: Chad Rinehart

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With just under $6 million in projected salary-cap space, the San Diego Chargers are not expected to make a big splash at the start of free agency. But the Chargers could still add a few impact players at a reasonable price if the organization is patient and does its homework.

That said, we take a close look at San Diego's approach heading into free agency.

Key free agents: Chad Rinehart, Darrell Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Reggie Walker, Charlie Whitehurst.

Where they stand: San Diego already took care of the team's top offseason priority, with middle linebacker Donald Butler inked to a multiyear deal before the onset of free agency. The Chargers need help at cornerback, nose tackle, edge rusher, interior offensive line and in the return game. San Diego could look to sign a couple of their own free agents that produced in 2013, including Rinehart, Stuckey, Marshall and Walker. All four players had an impact in the team's surprising postseason run and could return at a reasonable price. The Chargers also need to find a capable backup for every-down running back Ryan Mathews, with veteran Ronnie Brown hitting the market.

What to expect: With a limited amount of cap space, expect the Chargers to be active in the secondary free-agent market, targeting veteran players with a specific skill set who can make an impact. The Chargers benefited from signing two such players to two-year deals last year in tackle King Dunlap and running back Danny Woodhead. San Diego also could look for front-line players who don't receive the type of lucrative offers they expect and want to re-enter the market after a one-year, prove-it deal.
With the San Diego Chargers locking up the team’s top priority in re-signing inside linebacker Donald Butler to a multi-year deal, the team can now turn toward bringing back some other pending free agents before the start of free agency on March 11.

Marshall
Rinehart
Two players that should receive some attention from the Chargers’ brass are offensive lineman Chad Rinehart and cornerback Richard Marshall. Both players proved their value down the backstretch of the 2013 season by producing when thrust into the starting lineup.

And bringing back both players should not break the bank and would help fill positions of need, giving San Diego a chance to find a long-term answer at offensive guard and cornerback in this year’s draft.

Rinehart, 28, missed five games with a toe injury, but San Diego’s offensive line play improved when he returned to the starting lineup during the second half of the season.

A third-round selection by Washington in the 2008 draft, the Northern Iowa product signed a one-year deal with the Chargers during the 2013 offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

Rinehart started 11 games [eight at left guard and three at right guard] and played 638 offensive snaps for the Chargers during the regular season. Rinehart also started at left guard in both playoff games.

Take a look back at some of Ryan Mathews’ most explosive runs from the 2013 season, including here and here, and you’ll find Rinehart clearing a running lane.

Marshall, 29, solidified the cornerback position after Derek Cox lost his starting job with five games left in the regular season.

A second-round selection by Carolina in the 2006 draft, Marshall signed with the Chargers in August after being released by Miami at the end of training camp. Marshall started five regular-season games and both postseason contests for San Diego.

Marshall played in 603 defensive snaps in the regular season, finishing fourth on the team in tackles with 71. Marshall also totaled six pass defections and a forced fumble.

I understand that Marshall did give up some big plays. However, for the most part he was assignment correct, and I think his experience and the way he prepares could help younger players

Chargers get well-deserved break

December, 13, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Mike McCoy said that after playing two games in five days -- including an impressive win at Denver on Thursday -- the San Diego coach will give players the rest of the weekend off so they can return to practice Monday rejuvenated.

The Chargers did not practice Friday, but players reported to the facility for treatment of minor aches and pains.

“It’s somewhat like a mini-bye to a certain extent,” McCoy said. “So it will be good for everybody to kind of take a deep breath and get their legs back underneath them. We’ve had two physical football games the last five days, and so now is for them to kind of get as healthy as possible, just rest and enjoy this big win from last night. But we’ve got to get ready to come back in and get going for the next one. That’s what it’s all about.”

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsMike McCoy and the Chargers will enjoy a "mini-bye" as they gear up for their final two games.
Speaking of injuries, the Chargers once again appeared to get through the game relatively healthy, according to McCoy.

“Like the last couple weeks, we’ve been very fortunate on the health side of it,” he said.

However, in his second game back from anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram suffered a scare in his first play of the game, limping off the field. Ingram did not reinjure his knee, suffering an ankle injury on his right leg.

Left guard Chad Rinehart suffered a lower leg injury in the second half but returned to the game. And right tackle D.J. Fluker was treated for cramping after the game but is fine, according to McCoy.

McCoy said he will watch football with his family this weekend, including games involving teams in the AFC wild-card hunt like Baltimore and Miami. But ultimately, McCoy said his focus will be on preparing his team for Oakland next week.

“We can just control what we can control here,” McCoy said. “We can’t worry about what anybody else is doing. We’ve got to try and get this team ready to play a good Oakland football team coming in, and that’s the No. 1 thing. We can’t worry about the scoreboard. Obviously, we’re interested in it, but I’m more concerned with what our football team is doing right now.”

One thing McCoy would like to see is an energized crowd at Qualcomm Stadium next week against the Raiders, something similar to the type of atmosphere fans created against despised quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

“We always talk about the players having their best game of the week or best game of the year,” McCoy said. “Well, we need the best support of the year. We’ve got to get them out there and be as loud as possible. I think coming off of this win should really energize our fans, and we’re looking forward to having a full house and get them going.”

OLB Jarret Johnson still out

November, 13, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- The line to the training room is getting longer for the San Diego Chargers.

Johnson
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who missed last week’s game against Denver with a lingering hamstring injury, remains out. Also not participating in the early portion of Wednesday’s practice were fullback Le'Ron McClain (ankle), left tackle King Dunlap (head/neck) and center Nick Hardwick (neck stinger).

With Dunlap and Hardwick unavailable, the starting offensive line working together during individual drills included D.J. Fluker at left tackle, Johnnie Troutman at left guard, Rich Orhnberger at center, Chad Rinehart at right guard and Jeromey Clary at right tackle.

Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram remains on the physical unable to perform list and was an observer at practice. New addition outside linebacker Adrian Robinson was at practice and is wearing No. 99.

Offensive lineman Mike Remmers also practiced for the first time since suffering an ankle injury against Jacksonville last month.
SAN DIEGO -- Chargers middle linebacker Manti Te’o is expected to make his regular-season debut on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Notre Dame product made it through a week of practice as a full participant after missing the first three games due to a foot injury, and is listed as probable on the team’s injury report.

Te'o
However, San Diego coach Mike McCoy stopped short of saying the rookie definitely will play on Sunday.

“He’s had a great week of practice,” McCoy said. “And it’s been great for him to kind of get back out there, and get into the flow of things. So it’s looking good today.”

For his part, Te’o says he’s ready.

“I get to play with my guys, so I’m excited,” Te’o said.

If he plays, one of the questions Te’o will face is how he performs once the opening whistle blows. Conditioning could be an issue. The Chargers attempted to replicate game speed in practice, but things always move a tick quicker once a player is on the field.

“I could go out here and play hoops against these other coaches, but if they’re going to throw me in some live action down there at San Diego State, I think it’s going to be a shock to me, first of all, because I ain’t that good,” joked defensive coordinator John Pagano. “Game speed is always going to be faster than anything else. So that’s something he’s going to adapt to very quickly.”

Fellow linebacker Donald Butler said he’s anxious to see what Te’o can do.

“It means a lot, obviously,” said Butler, who’s also probable for Sunday after practicing fully all week. Butler’s dealing with a groin issue. “They brought him in here to be an impact, and play with me. And we had a good week of practice. So I’m excited to see him go out there to see what he can do.”

While Te’o returns, the Chargers likely will be without three starting offensive linemen when they take the field against a talented Cowboys’ defensive front.

Left tackle King Dunlap (concussion), left guard Chad Rinehart (toe) and right guard Jeromey Clary (clavicle) did not practice all week, leaving their availability in doubt for Sunday.

Dunlap is listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, along with cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring). Rinehart and Clary are listed as doubtful. Center Nick Hardwick (shin) is probable. Receiver Malcolm Floyd (neck) has been ruled out.

With those three out, the Chargers are looking at a projected starting five of Mike Harris at left tackle, Johnnie Troutman at left guard, Hardwick at center, Rich Ohrnberger at right guard and rookie D.J. Fluker at right tackle.

Recent addition Stephen Schilling also could be in the mix at guard. And McCoy also could move a big body like tackles Nick Becton, Kenny Wiggins or Andrew Tiller up from the practice squad.
No matter what five guys line up on Sunday, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said he’ll have his group ready to go.

“Let me say this: they have a good front and are playing well together,” Whisenhunt said, when asked about the Cowboys defensively. “It’s never easy. We have different guys that we’re not exactly sure where it’s going to shake out for Sunday. There’s not much we can do about it. We’re still going to play. We’re still going to kick off at 1pm. We just have to prepare our guys the best we can and know in that situation we’re going to battle. Our guys have done that. They have battled, so that’s what we’re expecting to do on Sunday.”
SAN DIEGO – Even after practice ended, Manti Te’o still wanted more work.

So while teammates exited the field, Te’o focused on form tackling and explosion with a tackling pad.

Te'o
“You guys should get a picture of that,” fellow linebacker Bront Bird told a line of photographers as he walked to the locker room.

Inactive for the first three games due to a foot injury, Te’o was a full participant in practice for the first time since suffering the injury in the team’s first preseason game. He appears ready to play in his first regular-season game on Sunday.

“That’s the goal,” Te’o said. “So once coach [Mike McCoy] gives me that green light, I’ll be ready.”

Te’o said the hardest part has been putting in the work on the practice field during the week, only to have to watch his teammates go out and play on Sundays without him.

“Sundays are the time to have fun,” he said. “You do all your work throughout the week during practice, you get all of your mistakes out and you grind during the week. And Sundays are that celebration at the end. So I finally get to go out there now.”

Right guard Jeromey Clary said he suffered a clavicle injury during the opening quarter against Tennessee, but played through it in part because the Chargers didn’t have anybody else to put in. Left tackle King Dunlap and left guard Chad Rinehart also had left the game with injuries, leaving San Diego with no backup offensive linemen.

“I didn’t feel great,” Clary said. “But I was still able to go, so I finished it out. At times maybe there were things that I couldn’t do as well as I wanted to, and it was evident on my part – I don’t know if anyone else noticed. But I wasn’t happy with what was going on. But it was the best thing to do.”

Clary said he is day-to-day, and he doesn’t know if he’ll play on Sunday.

“I’m going to go home and get some rest,” Clary said. “Hopefully I’ll sleep really good tonight, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Along with Clary, Dunlap (concussion) and Rinehart (toe) did not practice. Center Nick Hardwick (shin) was a limited participant in practice, as was pass-rusher Dwight Freeney (not injury related).

Full participants for the Chargers included Te’o, middle linebacker Donald Butler (groin) and right tackle D.J. Fluker (concussion), who returned to the field after missing last week’s game.

Receiver Malcom Floyd (neck) and cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring) also did not practice. After meeting with doctors to evaluate Floyd’s situation on Tuesday, McCoy said the team still is figuring out the right plan of action.

“We have a good idea what’s going on with him,” McCoy said. “But we’ve just got to make sure we’re doing exactly what’s right for him and his situation. And we’re looking for him to get back out here as soon as he can.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is really high on the San Diego Chargers’ interior offensive line.

The trio of left guard Chad Rinehart, center Nick Hardwick and right guard Jeromey Clary have been quite good so far at giving quarterback Philip Rivers time to work.

Casey
“When you watch them on film, (the interior line) is like a fortress for him and he’s standing back there, and if no one’s getting close, he’s making all the throws,” Gray said. “...The last two games, they’re not letting anyone come in there.”

But the Titans' top interior rusher, Jurrell Casey, doesn’t necessarily see things the same way.

“I’ve been looking at them, they’re decent," Casey said. “I wouldn’t say they are anything different than the other players that we’ve played against so far. Coaches are going to do what they do, pump them up, pump them up. But I look at every guy the same, they’re just another person in front of me. There should be no reason we don’t get push up the middle.”

If the Chargers' interior line plays the way Gray says its played, the Titans will need consistent pressure from their edge rushers: Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley.

There could be a weak spot at right tackle.

San Diego's rookie starter D.J. Fluker missed Thursday’s practice with a concussion. His backup is Michael Harris, a second-year player who came into the league undrafted out of UCLA.
SAN DIEGO -- Gone is the omnipresent GM lurking from the large deck that hovers over the practice field.

Gone is the comfortable head coach who went at his own pace.

It’s a new day for the San Diego Chargers. There is new energy in America’s Finest City.

Change was badly needed. The Chargers arguably had the best roster in the NFL five years ago, but it never paid off. The lack of success finally cost general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner their jobs after another lackluster season in 2012.

The Chargers’ fans demanded new leadership for the stagnant franchise. They got their wish. The Chargers now have some of the youngest, freshest leaders in football as the team moves past the stale days of the Smith-Turner era.

Smith was famous for watching practice from the deck of his office. New general manager Tom Telesco, 40, watches practice from the sideline. There are no messages of pecking order being sent from the general manager’s office. Telesco, in a camp-issued T-shirt and shorts, could easily be mistaken for an equipment manager.

The head-coaching switch from Turner to Mike McCoy, 41, is almost as distinctive as the change at GM. McCoy’s practices have appeared to be crisper and more detailed-oriented than in the past. There isn’t much downtime in San Diego’s practices. Everyone’s moving at all times. That wasn’t always the case under Turner.

“I think we’re getting a lot done,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Coach McCoy clearly has a plan. It’s been impressive. ... The big thing is everyone has bought in to him. The reality is we are .500 over the past three years. It was pretty easy to buy in what’s now going on here.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziPhilip Rivers threw 15 picks last season to just 26 touchdown passes.
1. The quarterback: Rivers is a major focal point of this training camp. Telesco hired McCoy, Denver’s former offensive coordinator, with an eye toward fixing Rivers. The quarterback has struggled the past couple of years, particularly with turnovers. McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the former head coach of Arizona, form a strong quarterback-coaching tandem and quarterback coach Frank Reich is also highly regarded. All three men believe in Rivers, and it seems to be paying off. Rivers has looked fantastic in training camp. His confidence is high, and his passes are accurate. It is vital for both Rivers and the Chargers that he has a good season and the team continues build around him. If not, it could be a crossroads season for both the franchise and Rivers’ career.

2. The offensive line: Because of injuries, this unit has been terrible the past couple of years. No matter how much Rivers improves, he won’t have much of a chance if he doesn't have protection. The Chargers' line has four new starters. It is not a great unit, and there will be some growing pains. But the group is getting rave reviews for being athletic and tough. Rivers is impressed and trusts the group. He thinks it’s deeper with players such as rookie D.J. Fluker at right tackle and veterans King Dunlap and Max Starks competing at left tackle. Dunlap is leading the race. But if there are injuries, this group appears better equipped to weather them than last year's squad.

3. The rookie linebacker: The Chargers are thrilled with inside linebacker Manti Te'o. He will start in the team’s 3-4 schemes. He has looked good in training camp and has fit in with the locker room. The hoax he was involved in at Notre Dame is not a factor. The Chargers love the way he works and practices. He is instinctive, and he plays faster on the field than his combine times suggested. The Chargers think Te’o is ready to make a big impact.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers are happy with the progress of second-rounder Manti Te'o, who's slated to start at inside linebacker.
The Chargers are loaded with young talent on defense. Any defense that has Eric Weddle at safety, Te’o and Donald Butler at inside linebacker and Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes at defensive end is an impressive group.

I think these players will be the core to one of the better defenses in the coming years. The Chargers are doing backflips over the combination of Liuget and Reyes. Liuget is entering his third NFL season, and Reyes is entering his second. Liuget was terrific all of last season, and Reyes showed serious pass-rush potential toward the end of the season.

While this defense has some holes, there are some exciting pieces here.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chargers are pretty thin in a lot of places. I think this team is on the rise, but it may not be a quick fix. There are too many positions where depth is an issue.

San Diego has dealt with the injury bug already. Pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, the No. 18 overall pick in 2012, suffered a torn ACL in May. Starting receiver Danario Alexander and backup linebacker Jonas Mouton suffered the same injury during camp.

Alexander's and Ingram’s injuries are particularly worrisome. This team can’t afford to lose high-end talent before the season starts. Other positions vulnerable to injuries include the offensive line (even though the depth is better than in the past), defensive tackle, edge rushers and the secondary. There isn’t much wiggle room on this roster.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Chargers appear to be well-coached. The influx of offensive coaches and the return of several defensive coaches, led by coordinator John Pagano, makes for a nice mix. Most of the new blood was needed on the offensive side of the ball.
  • The team feels great about Dwight Freeney, who was signed to replace Ingram. The Chargers are convinced Freeney still has something left in the tank and will be a difference-maker.
  • The Chargers like the progress of nose tackle Cam Thomas, who they think is ready for a breakout year. Coaches and teammates are talking him up big.
  • San Diego is looking to add depth on the defensive line. Free agent Justin Bannan on is still on the team’s radar. I think we will see the Chargers be active on the waiver wire at a few positions.
  • Free-agent guard Chad Rinehart is showing solid leadership skills.
  • The team loves free-agent running back Danny Woodhead. He has been a camp star and should take pressure off starter Ryan Mathews. Expect to see Woodhead used in several different ways. He could be a poor man’s Darren Sproles, perhaps.
  • Yes, tight end Antonio Gates hasn’t had a superstar season in years because of injuries, but the team likes what they see from him. He may have another year or two left in the tank.
  • Ladarius Green, Gates’ potential successor, is still growing. But he has shown flashes. He has natural pass-catching ability.
  • While there are questions at cornerback, the Chargers feel like Derek Cox and Shareece Wright will be an upgrade over last year’s starting duo of Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.
  • Rookie quarterback Brad Sorensen has been up and down. He has a good enough arm to keep him on the 53-man roster.
  • Cornerback Johnny Patrick has looked good. He could see a lot of action in nickel situations.
  • Fifth-round pick Tourek Williams is getting looks at both defensive end and outside linebacker. The team would like for him to contribute at linebacker.
  • Robert Meachem, a big-money, free-agent bust last season, has been given new life after Alexander’s injury. Still, I have my doubts that Meachem will make much of a difference. He hasn’t been a standout in camp.
TelescoBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports"Its my job to know the league," said GM Tom Telesco. "... It's my job to study rosters every day."

When Tom Telesco received an interview for the San Diego Chargers’ vacant general manager post in January, it was considered a terrific opportunity in the career of promising young front-office man.

Telesco wasn’t considered a sure bet to be hired to pump life into a stale franchise after the 10-year A.J. Smith era. But Telesco took control of his future and essentially stole the job.

It was well known that the Chargers were focused on removing Smith and head coach Norv Turner. Longtime personnel man Jimmy Raye was widely considered as a slam-dunk to be promoted. The Chargers were fine with the front office as a whole. They figured Smith’s time with the team had run its course and that the bigger issue was finding a replacement for Turner.

Then, Telesco interviewed. Everything changed. Telesco opened the Chargers’ minds. Perhaps an outside voice to lead the front voice was exactly what the team needed. And in a big upset, the Chargers named the 40-year-old Indianapolis front-office man to replace Smith.

The surprise hiring was met with applause from around the league. Telesco was a career front-office man and a protégée of former Colts’ general manager Bill Polian. Telesco was known for a keen scouting eye and was credited with helping turn the Colts back into a playoff team by restocking the roster.

“Tom has that no-stone-unturned mindset,” said Ryan Grigson, his boss in Indianapolis last year. “Tom never stops working. That's what the Chargers are going to appreciate. If I asked Tom if this guy could play or not, an hour later I was getting a text from him or he was knocking on my door, giving me a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Tom is a bright, bright, bright guy with a great work ethic.”

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's D.J. Fluker, Manti Te'o and Keenan Allen
AP Photo/Denis PoroyESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay praised Tom Telesco's first draft with the Chargers.
Ownership was reportedly blown away by Telesco's knowledge of the Chargers' roster during his interview. The Spanos family was stunned by his vision for the team moving forward.

I asked Telesco about that, and he brushed it off.

“It’s my job to know the league,” said Telesco, polite as always. “I have to know that stuff. It’s my job to study rosters every day.”

Polian, now an ESPN analyst, wasn’t surprised that Telesco impressed the Chargers. Telesco first joined the NFL with Carolina in 1995 when Polian ran the Panthers. He followed Polian to Indianapolis in 1998.

“Tom knows the league, he does what it takes to be good at his job,” Polian said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s level-headed. He’s a great judge of talent … He will be great in San Diego.”

His first offseason in San Diego has been positive. He received kudos for tabbing heavily sought-after Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to coach the team. Chargers employees tout Telesco, who played receiver at noted NFL coaching and front-office factory John Carroll University in Ohio, as friendly. They say he has re-energized a building that lacked excitement at the end of the Smith era.

Most league observers believe the Chargers, who have gone three seasons without making the playoffs, had one of the best drafts in the NFL. The Chargers scored big in the first three rounds with the selections of Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker (first round), Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (second) and California receiver Keenan Allen (third). ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper both said during the draft that Telesco got three first-round picks with his first three choices. Telesco aggressively went after Te’o, who was falling, and traded up on the clock to take him.

Telesco was less aggressive in free agency. The cap-strapped Chargers were active, but they didn’t make many splashes. They did get several players who should help right away, starting with cornerback Derek Cox, guard Chad Rinehart and running back Danny Woodhead.

San Diego has not sufficiently addressed its biggest need yet: left tackle. Free-agent signing King Dunlap is currently expected to start there even though he is not considered a solid option. In Telesco’s defense, the Chargers never really had a great chance of adding a top option at the position because of cap issues and because the top three draft options were gone after the first four picks of the draft.

Regardless of whether the Chargers enter Telesco’s first season a finished project, he promises to continue to approach the job his way.

“(I) come into work every day trying to find the best players we can,” Telesco said. “Part of building chemistry with the team and the team process is getting to know the coaches well, getting to know the scouts, the front office. That's all part of team building for me. It's just trying to get to know everybody really well.”

AFC West checkpoint

May, 4, 2013
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Now that the NFL draft has wrapped, the rosters are essentially set for each AFC West team heading into the 2013 season. Sure, each team will make some tweaks, but the heavy lifting has been done.

Let’s take a look at the offseason and where each AFC West team stands:

Denver Broncos

What was good about the offseason? Denver went 13-3 in 2012 and followed up by adding several terrific pieces in free agency and the draft. There aren’t a ton of glaring holes on this team. The Broncos are strong in all phases of the game. And they upgraded in some big ways. Of course, the big prize was slot-receiving star Wes Welker in free agency. He makes Denver’s passing offense even more dangerous. But Denver also upgraded the roster by adding cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, guard Louis Vasquez and pass-rusher Shaun Phillips in free agency and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and running back Montee Ball via the draft.

What was bad about the offseason? The lone blemish on Denver’s offseason was the bizarre departure of pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil was set to return before the infamous fax-machine gaffe paved the way for him to go to Baltimore. Denver signed Phillips and drafted Quanterus Smith in the fifth round. Phillips will probably be a situational player and Robert Ayers will probably start in Dumervil’s old spot. Smith was leading the nation in sacks last season for Western Kentucky when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament. He is expected to be ready for training camp. The Broncos will miss Dumervil, but they think they got enough help for Von Miller.

How should they feel moving forward? The Broncos should believe they are ready to make a Super Bowl run. Is Denver flawless? Certainly not, but no NFL team is these days. Denver did enough in the offseason to be considered one of the better teams in the league.

Kansas City Chiefs

What was good about the offseason? A horrible 2-14 mark in 2012 seems like a long time ago. The Chiefs upgraded with the hiring of Andy Reid as coach and John Dorsey as general manager. Then they added quarterback Alex Smith -- the best quarterback available in the offseason, including the draft -- and several other pieces on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs' roster was already solid and it got better; what the Chiefs lacked was coaching and quarterback play. Meanwhile, the signing of cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith could, in combination with holdover Brandon Flowers, give Kansas City the best cornerback group in the NFL.

What was bad about the offseason? The situation with left tackle Branden Albert should be resolved by now. He will probably stay with the team and No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher will play right tackle. The Chiefs tried to trade Albert, who was given and has signed the franchise tag, but a deal fell through with the Dolphins. A swap could still happen but more likely, Albert comes back for a year and then leaves as a free agent. In a clean offseason, this has been the one sticky situation.

How should they feel moving forward? The Chiefs should feel great. There are few holes on this team. How many squads coming off a 2-14 season can say that? I’m not sure the Chiefs are playoff contenders. It depends on how Smith fits with the offense and how quickly the defense comes together. But this team should be much improved. Reid’s program is on the right track.

Oakland Raiders

What was good about the offseason? The Raiders had a good draft. General manager Reggie McKenzie worked the process well, turning seven picks into 10. Because this outfit is being totally rebuilt, I would not be shocked if all 10 draft picks made the 53-man roster. Oakland's first-round pick, cornerback D.J. Hayden, and its third-round pick, linebacker Sio Moore, have a chance to start right away and make an impact. Adding Hayden to free-agent signees Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins is a big upgrade at the cornerback spot. The linebacking crew has a chance to be better too.

What was bad about the offseason? Salary-cap problems made it very difficult for Oakland. It had to cut several players, including defensive back Michael Huff and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey; it traded quarterback Carson Palmer; and it saw solid free agents like Philip Wheeler, Brandon Myers, Shane Lechler and Desmond Bryant go elsewhere. The Raiders did the best they could under the circumstances, but a lot of talent left the team.

How should they feel moving forward? The Raiders should feel like a work in progress. The NFL has become a quick-turnaround league. That is not, however, likely to happen in Oakland this year -- the Raiders are probably a three-year project. McKenzie tore it down and is starting to build it up. The Raiders have made their salary-cap situation right for the future and have some promising players. But if the Raiders made a playoff push this year, it would be a major surprise.

San Diego Chargers

What was good about the offseason? The Chargers had a great draft -- arguably the best in the league. They drafted right tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round, inside linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round and receiver Keenan Allen in the third. All three were considered first-round talents and should start this fall. The franchise is headed in a new direction, and these players will have paved the way. The Chargers also added some nice pieces in free agency in the form of cornerback Derek Cox, running back Danny Woodhead and guard Chad Rinehart.

What was bad about the offseason? Yes, the Chargers did have some success in free agency, but because of salary-cap worries, they didn’t do too much. The Chargers need an infusion of talent, and free agency didn’t solve all the problems. The offensive line in particular is still a work in progress.

How should they feel moving forward? The solid draft gives the Chargers some good vibes heading into the summer. But this is not a complete roster. The offensive line is not great, and there are some concerns in the secondary. Yes, the Chargers are improving. But as with Oakland, the promise may be more long term than immediate.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each AFC West team thus far this offseason:

Denver: defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. The Broncos have made some big-ticket moves, including the signings of receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and guard Louis Vasquez. But landing Knighton should not be overlooked. He fills a big need. He is a massive hole-plugger who should make a good defense even better. He was a favorite of former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, now Denver’s defensive coordinator. Knighton will be used correctly and should instantly be comfortable in Denver’s system. A run-stuffer was one of Denver’s greatest needs after last season. The position is now a strength.

Kansas City: defensive end Mike DeVito. DeVito wasn’t a big name to the average fan, but he is a favorite of NFL scouts. He was expected to be a hot commodity in free agency and the Chiefs made an immediate, winning run at him. DeVito reunites with former Jets assistant coach Bob Sutton, now Kansas City’s defensive coordinator. DeVito is a strong run defender and a relentless player overall. He is versatile and can rotate with 2012 first-round pick Dontari Poe. This could make Poe, who played well at the end of last season, even better. Strong move.

Oakland: defensive tackle Pat Sims. The football people I’ve spoken with believe Sims has among the best upside of the players the Raiders have brought in this offseason -- affordable, young, fringe-starter types who will be asked to take the next step in Oakland. Sims has a chance to stand out. If he can stay healthy and prove he can handle the rigors of being a full-time starter -- he was mostly a rotational player in Cincinnati -- Sims has a chance to be among Oakland’s better players. He is highly skilled, and he can be disruptive.

San Diego: guard Chad Rinehart. Scouts really like this signing. Yes, the Chargers’ offensive line still has question marks and yes, seeing Vasquez go to Denver hurts. But if he can stay healthy, Rinehart has a chance to step in at guard and provide a strong, stable presence. Many scouts thought he was one of the best bargain players available in free agency. He has a chance to develop into a strong starter. He played for new San Diego offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris in Buffalo. D'Alessandris pushed for Rinehart, and there is probably good reason he did so.
Here is a list, in my opinion, of the top 10 free-agent additions in the AFC West this year:

1. Wes Welker, WR, Denver: He has led the NFL in receptions the past six years, and he's a perfect fit in Denver.

2. Sean Smith, CB, Kansas City: He’s young, big and talented. Good get.

3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Denver: Almost as good as Smith. He has big ability.

4. Derek Cox, CB, San Diego: Could be a strong impact player. Very good when healthy.

5. Louis Vasquez, OG, Denver: Understated guy. A roadgrader.

6. Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver: Another big man who will help Denver at a need position.

7. Donnie Avery, WR, Kansas City: A field stretcher who will fit Andy Reid’s offense.

8. Pat Sims, DT, Oakland: Scouts love this guy, but he needs to stay healthy.

9. Mike DeVito, DT, Kansas City: An underrated run stuffer. Should be a big help.

10. Dunta Robinson, CB, Kansas City: A fine player rounds out this list. A solid addition.

Honorable mention: Chad Rinehart, G, San Diego; Nick Roach, LB, Oakland; Vance Walker, DT, Oakland; Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each AFC West team has been a winner or a loser in free agency:

Denver Broncos: Yes, the Elvis Dumervil fax-machine fiasco will long be remembered. The Broncos may be guilty by association, but the ball was in the court of Dumervil's now-fired agent at the deadline, so Denver really was a frustrated bystander when it mattered. That incident shouldn’t sully an otherwise-terrific offseason by Denver. The Broncos had a plan and executed it well. It starts with Wes Welker. The slot receiver is a perfect weapon for Peyton Manning. Welker’s signing was affordable and hurt AFC rival New England -- a strong addition for a team that has Super Bowl designs. Former San Diego guard Louis Vasquez, former Philadelphia cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton were all smart, impact signings. This was a winning offseason.

Kansas City Chiefs: It’s difficult to find anyone who would argue that this wasn’t a winning offseason. In fact, the Chiefs might be among the biggest winners in free agency in the entire league. The Chiefs were aggressive and addressed every big need. First, they traded for quarterback Alex Smith, answering their most glaring hole with the best available player at the position. Then, they kept three key free agents in receiver Dwayne Bowe, punter Dustin Colquitt and left tackle Branden Albert. And after that, the Chiefs jumped aggressively into free agency. The additions of Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith could give Kansas City the best group of cornerbacks in the NFL. The Chiefs added in several other areas, including field-stretching receiver Donnie Avery and run-stuffing defensive lineman Mike DeVito. The new brass is determined to move on from the 2-14 disaster that was 2012.

Oakland Raiders: This is a difficult one. For the second consecutive year, the Raiders have been strapped by lingering salary-cap issues. They were forced to cut some players and saw several others leave as free agents. The exodus of young, talented players included tight end Brandon Myers, defensive linemen Desmond Bryant and Matt Shaughnessy and linebacker Philip Wheeler. The Raiders responded nicely by adding three linebackers and three defensive linemen as they totally reconstruct their defense. Players such as linebacker Nick Roach and defensive linemen Vance Walker and Pat Sims have a chance to help immediately. And yet it is difficult to think that this team, which went 4-12, has improved. Yes, the Raiders got some good players, but many holes remain. Again, it’s just a fact of life for this strapped team, whose reconstruction is very much under way.

San Diego Chargers: It would be difficult to make a case that this team has been neither a winner nor a loser in free agency. The Chargers have just kind of been hanging around. They haven’t lost much, but they haven’t added much, at least in terms signing players sure to fill holes. But new general manager Tom Telesco is known for finding good players at a good rate. The Chargers haven’t had a ton of cap space and have been fairly conservative. They have added some good players, starting with cornerback Derek Cox and guard Chad Rinehart; both are highly respected around the league. Running back Danny Woodhead also will help the offense. Questions remain on the offensive line and in the secondary, but it seems as though Telesco is going to work selectively to build a program his way. It remains to be seen if it will help the Chargers improve immediately.
The Buffalo Bills lost starting guard Andy Levitre during the start of free agency Tuesday. On Day 2 Buffalo lost Levitre’s backup, Chad Rinehart, to the San Diego Chargers.

Guard has suddenly become an area of concern for the Bills. Buffalo lost two guards in two days. Rinehart was potentially a cheaper insurance policy for the Bills if Levitre left. But San Diego scooped up Buffalo's backup guard on Wednesday.

The Bills need quality offensive linemen to protect their new quarterback, whoever that may be, and create running lanes for dynamic tailback C.J. Spiller. The Bills have several swing players who are part-time guards, but no long-term solution to pair with starter Kraig Urbik.

Buffalo has enough cap room to seek out a replacement guard in free agency. The NFL draft also is a possibility -- even as early as the first round. University of Alabama guard Chance Warmack is viewed as one of the top guard prospects of the past 10 years. Warmack could be on Buffalo’s radar at No. 8 overall following the events of the past two days.
The Chargers signed former Buffalo guard Chad Rinehart.

He is a favorite of scouts. He has started 14 games in the past two years and will likely get a chance to start. The Chargers have two openings at guard with Louis Vasquez leaving for Denver and Tyronne Green being a free agent.

The Chargers signed tackle King Dunlap on Tuesday. He may get a chance start on the right side. The Chargers have holes on the offensive line, but they are, at least, creating competition.

Rinehart played for new San Diego offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in Buffalo. The Chargers had interest in Buffalo star guard Andy Levitre, but he signed a high-dollar deal with the Titans. Clearly, D’Alessandris thinks Rinehart, a much cheaper option, can help.

Meanwhile, CBS Sports reports the Eagles are looking at San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes.

Also, San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason is visiting the Cardinals.

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