NFL Nation: Jonathan Baldwin

As if it wasn't bad enough for the Kansas City Chiefs that a former first-round draft pick, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, was a bust, they are still paying for their error. Baldwin, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers, will count almost $1 million against the Chiefs' salary cap this season because of bonuses the Chiefs gave to Baldwin when he played in Kansas City.

Baldwin
The Chiefs' new administration of coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey tried to distance themselves from the mistake last summer when they sent Baldwin to San Francisco in return for another former first-round draft pick, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. He, too, was considered a bust by his former team. Jenkins, in limited playing time for the Chiefs, caught eight passes for 130 yards in 2013. But he also delivered a big 27-yard catch on third down in the fourth quarter of the playoff game against Indianapolis, allowing the Chiefs to continue what was their final scoring drive.

Jenkins probably won't become a starter or big producer for the Chiefs, but they should feel better about those chances or Jenkins' ability to deliver the occasional big play than they would have with Baldwin. And then there's this: Jenkins is costing the Chiefs about the same as Baldwin is this year, $1.02 million. His salary is guaranteed, so the Chiefs will likely keep Jenkins at least one more season.

Baldwin, in two seasons with the Chiefs, caught 41 passes for 579 yards and two touchdowns. He played in seven games for the 49ers in 2013, catching three passes for 28 yards and no touchdowns.

Baldwin isn't Kansas City's leader this year in dead money, so called because the team is accounting for players no longer on the roster. The Chiefs saved more than $3 million against their cap last week when they released cornerback Dunta Robinson. But Robinson still counts $2 million against their cap.

Robinson and Baldwin make up most of the Chiefs' total of $3.5 million in dead money. They also have cap obligations ranging from $228,000 for former wide receiver Devon Wylie and $107,000 to former cornerback Jalil Brown, to $1,334 for wide receiver Frankie Hammond, who was released last year and has since re-signed.

Chiefs Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
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NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL

One thing I'm certain of: The pressure is on Matt Cassel. The Chiefs enter training camp feeling highly confident after a strong offseason. Kansas City added several key pieces, and even though it has the youngest roster in the NFL, it has one of the best rosters in the AFC.

Yet, they aren’t getting much national attention and it’s because of Cassel. Few folks believe in him. Fortunately for Cassel, some of the people who believe in him are the Kansas City brass. Instead of replacing Cassel, the Chiefs built around him. And the Chiefs expect Cassel to respond with a strong season. It begins in training camp. All eyes will be on Cassel as we wait to see if he will hold Kansas City back or if he will push them forward.

One thing that might happen: We could see major strides made by Jonathan Baldwin. If so, it will erase memories of a horrible first NFL summer for the 2011 first-round pick. Baldwin’s rookie season was defined (and soiled) by a reported late-training camp fight with then teammate Thomas Jones. Baldwin broke his thumb in the reported incident.

Baldwin, who entered the NFL with some red flags, missed the first five games of the season. He ended up with 21 catches and he flashed some of the superior athleticism that got him drafted in the first round. Baldwin had a good offseason and the Chiefs want him to take a major step in training camp. Let’s see if Baldwin is ready to make training camp positive experience this year.

One thing we won't see: The Big Three will not be overworked in training camp. The Chiefs’ 2011 season was ruined by torn ACL injuries suffered by tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles within a two week period last September.

The Chiefs expect all three standouts to be ready to play this season, but the team will be cautious. So, don’t expect Moeaki, Berry and Charles to practice full go every day in camp. The team will play it smart and have all three players ready for Week 1 of the regular season.
The Denver Broncos chose Peyton Manning over Tim Tebow and so have NFL fashionistas.

According to NFL.com, the new Denver quarterback’s jersey has been more popular than the former Denver quarterback’s new jersey. From the period of April 1-May 28, Manning’s Denver No. 18 jersey is the biggest selling jersey in the NFL. Tebow’s New York Jets’ No. 15 jersey is the second-best selling jersey.

Denver signed Manning on March 20. The next day, Tebow was sent to the Jets.

The fact that Manning’s jersey is selling better than Tebow's shows substance over style may be winning. Manning is one of the most decorated players in league history, while Tebow has created a stir in the NFL without becoming a true throwing quarterback.

We all know by now who John Elway preferred, and it seems the jersey-buying public agrees.

In other AFC West news:
  • San Diego linebacker Larry English has a groin injury. He should be back next week. Missing OTAs in the late spring is no big deal, but English has to find a way to stay on the field once training camp begins. Thus far, injuries have robbed the No. 16 overall pick of the 2009 draft of trying to have a solid NFL career.
  • Receiver Jonathan Baldwin -- the Chiefs’ first-round pick in 2011 -- has been the talk of the OTAs this spring. I expect to see Baldwin make big strides in his second season. He showed flashes last year after he missed a big chunk of the season because of a broken thumb he reportedly suffered in a fight with running back Thomas Jones.
  • The Chiefs reportedly may host the Arizona Cardinals during training camp.

Any team with Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver would seem to be set at the position, or close to it.

But as Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. explained when we discussed receivers Tuesday, there's a reason Mario Manningham made the key reception for the New York Giants against New England in the most recent Super Bowl.

"They talked about Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl saying, 'Give them Manningham,' and then Manningham makes that crazy catch," Muench said. "That was because they didn't want Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to beat them."

The concept, explored further in the "First Take" video above, could justify any decision Arizona might make to select a wide receiver, most likely Michael Floyd, with the 13th overall choice in the draft Thursday.

A few more thoughts on the Cardinals' options, lifted from my conversation with Muench ...

Sando: You like where the 49ers stand in this draft. What about Arizona?

Muench: The Cardinals are not in a bad spot. They are going to get Michael Floyd or Riley Reiff, the way I see it. And really, I don't think you are upset about either one of those picks. To me, it's Buffalo and Arizona. What Buffalo does, Arizona will take the other player. Buffalo needs a tackle and would like to get a playmaking wide receiver. The same for Arizona.

Sando: I've felt as though improved quarterback play would be the key to maximizing the Cardinals' existing weapons. That might be the case, but your point on Manningham and the Giants resonated, too.

Muench: Kansas City tried to get Jonathan Baldwin to play next to Dwayne Bowe. San Diego had some success with Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson. It's what those guys make defenses do in coverage and also to defend the run. When you have two guys on the outside, it's tough.

Sando: Arizona used third-round choices for Andre Roberts and Early Doucet. Without a second-round choice this year, those are the types of receivers that might be available to them if Reiff is the choice in the first round.

Muench: The Cardinals haven't had that guy to draw attention away from Fitzgerald. Steve Breaston was a good complimentary receiver, a good sub-package receiver, but he was not going to force a coordinator to make a tough decision. Floyd could do that.

Sando: OK, then, let's say your theory plays out, but the Bills take Floyd.

Muench: Riley Reiff would start at right tackle from day one. I don't think he's a left tackle, but some of Matt Kalil's weaknesses are Reiff's strengths. He is a tough, hard-nosed guy -- not the most athletic, but he finds a way to get it done and is tough in the run game. Sort of like the Jon Runyans of the NFL. He immediately makes you better and starts for years.

Sando: Best-case scenario, then, which player would the Cardinals get at No. 13?

Muench: With no second-ronder, from a roster standpoint you would almost rather them get Reiff because it's a deeper receiver class and you could find some guys in the third round to come in and contribute, like a Brian Quick from Appalachian State. He has a lot to work on, but if he realizes his potential, he's going to be a starter on the outside.

The Kansas City Chiefs are giving Peyton Hillis one season to prove he is more like the 2010 version, who excelled under Brian Daboll, and not the 2011 version who struggled with several issues.

In an attempt to bolster their potentially dangerous offense, Kansas City brought the powerful running back -- who spent his first two NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos -- back to his AFC West roots. Hillis, who was traded from Denver to the Cleveland Browns in a deal for quarterback Brady Quinn two years ago, signed a one-year deal worth $3 million with Kansas City.

Under new offensive coordinator Dabol in 2010 Hillis ran for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hillis will be a complementary back to Jamaal Charles, who is expected to be back after tearing an ACL in Week 2, and provides insurance if Charles is not 100 percent by the start of the season. The Chiefs are also still visiting with San Diego Chargers free agent Mike Tolbert and there is a chance Tolbert could be added to the backfield as well.

The Chiefs are a ground-based team and Hillis is a good fit. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. loves the addition in Kansas City.

“Hillis runs with extreme aggression and also catches the ball much better than many realize since he is a big power," Williamson said. "I worry about his durability, but with Charles, he should be the complementary piece.”

Last season without Daboll, Hillis struggled in several areas. He had just 587 yards and averaged 3.6 yards a carry during a year where he graced the cover of the Madden video game.

It was a strange season for Hillis. He was questioned for missing a game when he was ill, there was a reported player’s intervention for him because of his unhappiness over his contract, he went through several agents, and he has denied a report that he thought about quitting football last season to join the CIA.

Because the Chiefs are not committing to Hills for the long term, the team is protected if Hillis does not revert to his 2010 days. I expect Hillis to play very hard as he tries to prove to the Chiefs and to the rest of the league he deserves the long-term deal he has long desired.

Hillis is another interesting component to Kansas City’s offense. An offense featuring Charles, Hills, receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin and tight end Tony Moeaki is powerful. It has the potential to both wear down opponents and to score quickly. The Chiefs are trying to make it even better. They are trying to sign Tolbert and former Houston standout right tackle Eric Winston. Plus, the team is bringing in former Oakland tight end Kevin Boss to pair with Moeaki.

Instead of trying to replace quarterback Matt Cassel, it seems that the Chiefs are bent on giving him as much help as possible. Potential Cassel competitors Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton and Chad Henne have all signed elsewhere.

With a defensive-minded head coach in Romeo Crennel, it is clear the Chiefs believe pumping up the offense is the team’s biggest priority and securing Hillis to a team-friendly deal is a solid start.
Manning/MontanaUS PresswireWill the Chiefs go after Peyton Manning following an injury as they once went after Joe Montana?

The Peyton Manning saga will surely be the story of the NFL offseason. The question in the AFC West is, will the Kansas City Chiefs be the story along with the legendary Indianapolis Colts quarterback?

As of now, we have to think it is a real possibility that the Chiefs will heavily pursue Manning -- who may be cut by the Colts as soon as next week -- if he becomes a free agent. Manning, who will turn 36 on March 24, missed all of last season with a neck injury and there is no certain date when he will be 100 percent, although there have been reports he will be ready to play in 2012.

If the Chiefs end up signing Manning, it won’t be the first time the organization brought in a living legend at the end of his career after he suffered a serious injury. The Chiefs traded for San Francisco’s Joe Montana in 1993.

The Chiefs have been connected to Manning in recent weeks. A Kansas City radio station has even reported that the team has had multiple conversations with Manning’s agent about finances and that the Chiefs feel comfortable about what Manning may want. That would constitute tampering and it is highly unlikely any team would talk finances with Manning before giving him a physical and knowing more about his recovery timetable. Still, the Chiefs have a load of salary-cap room and they can easily construct a deal for Manning in addition to making other improvements.

Of course, Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel did nothing to take the scent off a potential Chiefs-Manning pairing when he said this at the NFL combine last Saturday: “With a talent like that, I would be crazy not to consider it if he’s available. I’ll leave it at that.”

The Chiefs are not necessarily looking for a new starting quarterback. At the combine, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli wouldn’t say the job is open. He said the starter is Matt Cassel. However, there will be competition at every position. The translation is the Chiefs expect Cassel to be the starter, but if a better option comes along, they will consider it. There’s no doubt a healthy Manning would be a better option.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Matt Cassel
Dak Dillon/US PRESSWIREMatt Cassel may find himself backing up Peyton Manning next season if the Chiefs make a move.
If the Chiefs do want to go deep into the Manning sweepstakes, they will have competition, likely beginning with Miami and Washington. There will surely be other teams that show interest in the player who many consider one of the greatest NFL players of all time.

In addition to their interest and financial means, here’s another reason the Chiefs could be favorites to land Manning: They may be the best team interested in him. That would surely appeal to Manning when he is making his choice. I’m not sure many of the interested teams can offer Manning a better supporting cast.

The Chiefs have a strong running game and Manning would have plenty of receiving options. No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe is expected to be franchised, 2011 first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin is a potential game-changing deep threat and Steve Breaston is a solid possession receiver. Tight end Tony Moeaki is expected to be healthy after missing the 2011 season with a knee injury. He was terrific as a rookie in 2010.

In addition to appealing offensive weapons, the Chiefs have the makings of a strong defense. A healthy Manning would immensely help any team. But Manning could be a difference-maker in Kansas City. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said adding Manning would make the Chiefs -- who finished 7-9 in 2011 despite major injury issues -- “the clear favorite to win the AFC West” in 2012.

Putting Manning in the Heartland would make many teams in the AFC nervous.

I would think Manning would also be fine with working with Crennel and Pioli. He is close with New England quarterback Tom Brady and Brady won Super Bowls with both men. I’m sure Brady would give Manning glowing reports on both of his potential bosses. And don’t think Manning would have trouble working with a defensive-minded coach like Crennel. Remember, the man Manning won his Super Bowl ring with, Tony Dungy, was a defensive-minded coach.

Cassel is also a factor in this scenario. Because Manning will be signed before there are any guarantees he’ll be ready to play, any team that signs him must have a good fallback plan. There are fewer better fallbacks than Cassel.

If Manning is signed and he has a setback, the Chiefs can rely on Cassel, who shined as Brady’s injury replacement in 2008. While Cassel wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of backing up Manning, I’m sure he’d understand the Chiefs taking advantage of a rare opportunity to pick up a future Hall of Fame player.

There are a lot of reasons this pairing makes sense. If it happens, the Chiefs will be at the center of the NFL universe.

Talking with Scott Pioli

February, 24, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli met with the media on Friday afternoon. In addition to talking about the team’s quarterback situation, here are some other highlights:

Pioli said the Chiefs’ three injured stars -- running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki -- are on schedule to be ready for training camp. All three suffered torn ACLs in their knees in September. Pioli said there aren’t any guarantees that all three will be ready for camp, but the team feels good about each player’s progress.

Pioli said he thinks this is a strong draft overall and he really likes the running backs. I expect the Chiefs to look at a running back fairly early in the draft or in free agency. With Charles coming back from injury and Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones being free agents, the Chiefs will need help there. One possibility, I think, is to sign New England’s Benjarvus Green-Ellis in free agency. Pioli signed him as an undrafted free agent in New England.

Pioli said he believes second-year player Rodney Hudson is ready to start at center or guard. His best bet might be at center. Casey Wiegmann is considering retirement, and the team might be ready to move to Hudson anyway.

Pioli said 2011 first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin has made progress and is expected to be a contributor in 2012.

Pioli reiterated that he wants to keep receiver Dwayne Bowe and cornerback Brandon Carr, who are headed for free agency. With the Chiefs signing cornerback Stanford Routt this week, the odds of Carr's coming back have lessened considerably.

Pioli said he was “heartbroken” to see college scouting director Phil Emery leave to become the Bears’ general manager. Pioli praised Emery extensively and said he will make the city of Chicago proud.

AFC West combine primer

February, 23, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Let’s take a look at what AFC West each team may be seeking during the NFL combine, which starts Thursday:

Will the Raiders still love speed? It became a combine ritual. The Raiders would draft the fastest, or one of the fastest players, at the combine. It happened several times in recent years: Stanford Routt, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and DeMarcus Van Dyke. No team in the NFL valued speed more than Al Davis’ Raiders. Davis died in October. Will the Raiders be married to speed now that Reggie McKenzie is the general manager? I’m sure the Raiders will stick to Davis’ values somewhat, but I think it will no longer be automatic to connect the fastest combine runners to the Raiders.

Will the Chargers get their pass-rusher? The Chargers took defensive end Corey Liuget at No. 18 last year and bypassed several pass-rushers in a deep class. This year’s class is not nearly as deep, but the Chargers still need a pass-rusher. Once again, San Diego has the No. 18 pick.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMISafety Mark Barron is one of several Alabama defenders that AFC West teams may take a look at.
Will the Alabama defense roll into the AFC West? Alabama won the BCS championship last season on the strength of a dominant defense. There are several key Alabama defenders who will go early in the draft, starting with linebackers Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. I could see all three players drawing interest in the AFC West. I think San Diego would jump on Upshaw if he somehow fell to No. 18, and it could take Barron if it doesn’t address safety in free agency. If Kirkpatrick drops, Denver could take him at No. 25.

Will the Broncos look at quarterbacks? Yes, I believe they will, but it remains to be seen whether Denver makes a play for a quarterback in the early rounds. Denver looked at all the top quarterbacks last year, and I think John Elway and his group will do the same this year. In his last mock draft, Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. has Denver taking Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill at No. 25. I’m not sure Denver -- which has committed to Tim Tebow going to training camp as the No. 1 quarterback -- will take a quarterback that high, but there will be interest in the position.

Is Trent Richardson on the Chiefs’ radar? The Alabama star running back won’t compete at the combine because of a minor knee surgery. However, he will be able to run at his pro day next month. Still, perhaps the Chiefs will meet with Richardson. He has been connected to Kansas City in several mock drafts. I’d be surprised if Kansas City ended up with him because of other needs and because the Chiefs have running back Jamaal Charles coming back from a torn ACL. But it is an intriguing scenario.

Chiefs, Chargers looking at the O-line: Both Kansas City and San Diego could use their top pick on an offensive lineman. There are several players who could help their standing with a strong combine. I think Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin will be closely watched by both teams. San Diego could also look at Wisconsin’s Peter Konz if it doesn’t want to re-sign free agent Nick Hardwick.

Watch out for Luke Kuechly: The Boston College inside linebacker has a chance to be a hot name in the top half of the first round if he has a big combine. He was productive in college and his game translates well to the NFL. Kansas City will surely be interested in him and could have competition if Kuechly lights it up in Indy.

Broncos will be watching running backs: The Broncos probably will add a running back early in the draft or in free agency. Denver could use its top pick on the position. It will be closely watching Miami’s Lamar Miller, Washington’s Chris Polk, Virginia Tech’s David Wilson and Boise State’s Doug Martin, among other tailbacks, this week

Is this the time for a tight end in San Diego? I expect the Chargers to look at tight ends this week. This isn’t considered a great class, but the Chargers need to consider getting younger at the position. Antonio Gates will turn 32 in June and has been dealing with injuries the past few years. The Chargers probably would have to commit a second-round pick for the top tight ends, which include Stanford’s Coby Fleener, Clemson’s Dwayne Allen (though, they could both be late first-round choices) and Georgia’s Orson Charles.

Nick Foles needs to show Denver some accuracy: There was talk that the Arizona quarterback could be on Denver’s radar last season. But he had some trouble with interceptions, which may have cooled the team on him. If he can show better accuracy at the combine. Foles could be a mid-round target of the Broncos again.

The Raiders need to pay big attention: The Raiders currently have the smallest draft class in the NFL this season. They have just a fifth- and a sixth-round pick. They will, though, probably get two or three compensatory picks next month. The earliest will be at the end of the third round. But don’t think for a moment that the combine won’t matter to Oakland. The Raiders will have to dig deep and find great value in the mid-to-late rounds to get some something positive from this class. Closely scouting the combine will be essential.

Is Brandon Weeden too old? The Oklahoma State quarterback is one of the more interesting players in the draft. He has skills that translate to the NFL, and some people think he could be a future starter. But Weeden turns 29 in October. There really isn’t much time to groom him. Is it worth spending a premium pick on a player who could be over the hill in five years? I think both Denver and Kansas City could look at him, but they would have to be comfortable with his age.

Will the coin flip the Chiefs’ way? The Chiefs will have a coin flip with Seattle to determine the No. 11 and No. 12 picks in the draft. It is set to take place Friday. If the Chiefs lose and get the No. 12 pick, it will not be the end of the world, but there’s no denying there is more value in having the No. 11 pick.

Will Mercilus impress the Chargers? One player to keep an eye on for the Chargers is Illinois pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus. He came on strong in 2011, but there are consistency questions. If he answers all the right questions on and off the field this week, I could see his being a target at No. 18.

Will Chiefs look at suspect character players? Kansas City has a reputation for taking players with sterling off-field reputations. However, last year, genearl manager Scott Pioli took Pitt receiver Jon Baldwin in the first round and Georgia pass-rusher Justin Houston in the third round. Both had character questions. Baldwin ended up missing a chunk of his rookie season because of a reported training camp fight with veteran Thomas Jones. It hurt his development. However, Houston was outstanding as a rookie. Let’s see whether Pioli takes more risks this year.

Will Broncos add players to aid Tebow? If Denver takes a running back early, adds to the offensive line and beefs up the defense, that means it is doing what it can to build around Tebow. The best way Denver can win with Tebow is with a good running game and strong defense.

Will the Broncos finally draft a defensive tackle in the first round? Denver could take a defensive tackle at No. 25. Among the players it may consider are Penn State’s Devon Still, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox and Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy. Denver hasn’t taken a defensive tackle in the first round since Trevor Pryce in 1997.

Will Arizona State linebacker impress the Chiefs or Chargers? Arizona State’s middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was considered a top-10 pick before the season. But after his production fell off and he had some character issues, Burfict is no longer considered a sure first rounder. I think he could help both the Chiefs and Chargers. His progress this week will be watched by these two teams.

2011 AFC West draft rewind

February, 14, 2012
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As each team in the AFC West prepares for the NFL scouting combine next week, let’s review the AFC West 2011 draft classes:

DENVER BRONCOS

First pick: Linebacker Von Miller , No. 2 overall

Total picks: Nine

Stars: Miller was the shining star of this class. He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and he looks like he will be a dominant pass-rusher for years to come. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, a second-round pick, performed well as a starter and safety Quinton Carter really came on toward the end of the season. Carter was a fourth-round pick.

Dud: There is concern over safety Rahim Moore who regressed as the season went on. The second-round pick was not nearly as far along as Carter at the end of the season. Moore is a hard worker and there is hope for him, but the Broncos expected more from him.

Good start for Elway era: This was the first draft class under new Denver leader John Elway. The Broncos made some good draft decisions and the process seemed very organized. It was the first sign that Elway was prepared for his new role.

What’s the future of this class? This was a good class. Third-round pick Nate Irving will compete to start at middle linebacker and the Broncos are excited about tight ends Julius Thomas (fourth round) and Virgil Green (seventh round). Regardless of what happens with the rest of this class, Miller himself makes this group a winner.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

First pick: Receiver Jon Baldwin, No. 26

Total picks: Nine

Star: The player who created the most excitement was third-round pick Justin Houston at linebacker. He had first-round talent, but character issues dropped him to no. 70 overall. He was a playmaker, had 5.5 sacks and looks like he can be a major star.

Duds: Baldwin wasn’t terrible, but he was a disappointment because he suffered a broken thumb in a camp fight with veteran Thomas Jones. Baldwin didn’t debut until October. He showed flashes and I think he will be a fine player, but he hurt the team by fighting with Jones. It was a terrible start to his career.

Character questions? Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli had a reputation for steering clear of players with character issues. He changed course by taking Baldwin and Houston because of their draft value. It worked with Houston but the Baldwin fight raised more concerns. It will be interesting to see if Pioli takes any chances this year.

What’s the future of this class? I like it. Third-round pick Allen Bailey has a real chance to shine at defensive end and second-round pick Rodney Hudson may have a chance to start at either guard or center this season. Fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi had a chance to be the backup quarterback this year. It was a good group.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

First pick: Guard Stefen Wisniewski, No. 48

Total picks: Eight

Stars: Wisniewski and fifth-round pick Denarius Moore at wide receiver. Wisniewski looked like an eight-year veteran. The nephew of former Raiders’ star offensive lineman and assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski was born to be a Raider and he looks like a future star. He’s bright, athletic and he has a mean streak. Moore opened eyes in camp and made a lot of plays during the season. There were plays when he simply took over and he ended up with 33 catches for 618 yards and five touchdowns. I wouldn’t be shocked if he doubles those totals in 2012.

Duds: It would be unfair to call the Raiders' third-round picks -- cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and offensive lineman Joseph Barksdale (who Oakland traded its 2012 second-round pick to get) -- duds. But neither player made any real impact. They are projects and they have a chance to be good in the future, but they just weren’t standouts as rookies.

End of an era: This was the final draft selected by the legendary Al Davis. I have a feeling Moore may be Davis’ final gift to the Raider Nation.

What’s the future of this class? If Van Dyke, Barksdale, defensive back Chimdi Chekwa and running back Taiwan Jones can become major role players, this will be a great class. If not, Wisniewski and Moore will carry a class that didn’t feature a first-round pick. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor technically wasn’t part of the Raiders’ 2011 class because he was taken in the supplemental draft later in the summer. Drafting him cost Oakland a third-round pick in 2012. He was a rookie last season and it will be interesting to see how he develops. He was a Davis pick and the new regime may or may not like him. Either way, he is still a project.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

First pick: Defensive end Corey Liuget, No. 18.

Total picks: Eight

Stars: Liuget wasn’t great in a class that featured several impact defensive players. But he did look like somebody who will make an impact down the road. Third-round pick, receiver Vincent Brown, also showed nice progress. I think he could end up having a very solid career.

Duds: Second-round pick Marcus Gilchrist struggled at cornerback when he started. Still, his future is not lost. He could be moved to safety or perhaps he could be a nickel. The Chargers waived running back Jordan Todman. The team hoped the sixth-round pick could become the next Darren Sproles. Todman is now with Minnesota.

Back to the future? The Chargers surprisingly took Liuget even though many observers thought that San Diego would take an offensive lineman or a pass-rusher. Now, a year later, the Chargers are looking at offensive linemen and pass-rushers with the No. 18 pick.

What’s the future of this class? I think the other three classes in the division all have better potential. I’m not sure if this will ever be a great class, but Liuget and Brown can really help it. Linebacker Jonas Mouton (second round) missed the entire season with an injury. He will get a chance to play this season.
Randy Moss' 35th birthday present to himself was to announce he wants to come back to the NFL after taking last season off.

Moss' planned return has been the buzz of a slow February Monday. We will look if he fits with any team in the AFC West (I’ve received many questions about the idea Monday). Really, I don’t think there will be a push for Moss by any team in the division. He is declining and, remember, everyone had a crack at Moss two years ago. Why would there be a sudden interest now that he is 35 and rusty?

But let’s take a gander, anyway:

Denver: Can you see Tim Tebow and Moss being a good fit together? Neither can I.

Kansas City: Moss has a connection with Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli and quarterback Matt Cassel. Still, Pioli has passed on reuniting with Moss in the past. Maybe if Dwayne Bowe leaves Pioli would change his mind. Moss had a reputation for being a poor influence on young receivers. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea putting him with Jonathan Baldwin.

Oakland: Oakland needs to concentrate on developing its slew of young receiver talent. I can’t see the Raiders’ new leadership thinking bringing in Moss would be a good idea.

San Diego: Moss is not an A.J. Smith type of player, and the Moss-Norv Turner relationship wasn’t overly successful in Oakland in 2005. Maybe if Vincent Jackson leaves the Chargers would think about Moss. Still, I think San Diego would consider other options first.
For the second straight day, Kansas City quarterback Kyle Orton was limited in practice by a finger injury. Interim Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said Orton will start Sunday against 13-0 Green Bay if he is healthy.

Orton said Wednesday he is fine. He hurt his index finger on his throwing hand while making his only throw as a Chief on Dec. 4 against Chicago. If Orton isn’t ready, rookie Ricky Stanzi will play. At this point, though, it seems Orton will get the chance to play barring a setback.

Thursday, according to the Kansas City Star, Crennel said Orton will “probably” start Sunday and that the quarterback has “weathered the storm pretty good.”

Tyler Palko is now the No. 3 quarterback. He started the past four games for Kansas City after Matt Cassel suffered a season-ending hand injury. Former coach Todd Haley, who was fired Monday, stuck with Palko despite the fact he has thrown seven interceptions compared to two touchdown passes. The switch away from Palko was made quickly after Haley was fired.

Meanwhile, receiver Jonathan Baldwin and cornerback Javier Arenas didn’t practice Thursday due to illness.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 2, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

How Orton can help the Chiefs: New Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton may begin his Kansas City era Sunday at Chicago. He was claimed by the Chiefs (and the Bears and Cowboys too) last week after he was cut by Denver. He didn’t play in Week 12. While the Chiefs are hoping to get production quickly from Orton, who played in five games with Denver this season, one area in which he might see quick success is on play-action plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Orton has completed 70.3 percent of passes thrown during play-action plays, seventh in the NFL. The Chiefs also have been good in this area -- the injured Matt Cassel was 10th. Orton will need some help from an often-unreliable Kansas City receiving crew, however. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs lead the AFC West with 18 drops. Five receivers are tied for the AFC West lead with four drops each. Three play for Kansas City: Dexter McCluster, Jon Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe. The Chargers’ Mike Tolbert and Denver’s Eddie Royal are the other two players in the division with four drops.

Why Denver is winning: The Broncos, who play at Minnesota on Sunday, are winning the way first-year coach John Fox won in Carolina – with a strong ground game and a strong defense. In the past four games, all victories, Denver joined the 1971 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in NFL history to have one or fewer turnovers, 60 or fewer points allowed and 876 yards or more yards rushing over such a span. That’s a sign of a team playing complete football. Hat tip to the Broncos’ PR department for providing that stat.

Lechler’s impact: Can Oakland punter Shane Lechler dominate at Miami on Sunday as he did last week against Chicago? He averaged 54.6 gross yards on five punts, including an unforgettable 80-yard punt that neutralized Chicago star return man Devin Hester — an Raiders team record. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lechler’s big game against the Bears raised his season gross punting average to 51.47 yards per punt. If he can keep his average at that level for the rest of the season, he'd break Sammy Baugh's record of 51.4 yards per punt, set in 1940.

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesWith his job in jeopardy, Norv Turner can't afford to lose to Jacksonville, led by interim coach Mel Tucker.
Turner can’t be outcoached: San Diego coach Norv Turner has virtually has no chance of remaining the team’s coach after this season. The Chargers are 4-7 and have lost six in a row. They are three games behind in the AFC West and the AFC wild-card race. If the Chargers don’t make the playoffs for the second consecutive season, Turner will very likely be fired -- which makes Monday night's game at Jacksonville a must-win. The Jaguars just fired coach Jack Del Rio; defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take over as interim coach. If Tucker outshines Turner and the Jaguars beat the Chargers, Turner will be completely sunk. Turner has made several decisions in recent games that have been scrutinized. He needs to be on his game Monday if he has any hope of sticking around in San Diego.

Decker goes home: Receiver Eric Decker is going back to his old collegiate field on a hot streak. Decker and the white-hot Denver Broncos -- who have won five of their past six games -- visit the Minnesota Vikings in a game played at the Metrodome. It used to be the home for both the Vikings and the Minnesota Golden Gophers before the latter opened their on-campus stadium. Decker started his college career playing in the dome for the University of Minnesota. He became one of the nation’s best college players on that field, so the 2010 third-round pick and Minnesota native will be completely comfortable playing in front of many friends and family members.

OAKLAND, Calif. – A look at a game in which the Kansas City Chiefs got back into the AFC West race:

What it means: The Chiefs are relevant in the AFC West again. Their thumping of the beat-up Raiders improved their record to 3-3. The Chiefs have overcome massive injuries and a 0-3 start. Coach Todd Haley --- who hasn’t shaved since the team has started winning -- deserves immense credit for bringing this team back to .500. The Raiders fell to 4-3. In addition to the Kyle Boller-Carson Palmer quarterback issues, the Raiders played most of the game without running back Darren McFadden, who has a foot issue, and the entire game without kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

Tomorrow’s talker: The Raiders’ weird decision at quarterback will be chatted about often. Oakland didn’t feel like Palmer was ready to start because he practiced just three days after being traded from Cincinnati. Yet the Raiders felt it was necessary to put in Palmer when Boller landed them in a 21-0 hole. Both quarterbacks were dreadful. Each player threw three interceptions and each had one retuned for a score.

Streak over: The Raiders’ streak of eight consecutive AFC West victories is over. It was the longest current streak in the NFL. The Raiders swept the division last year. That won’t happen this year.

Chiefs' weapons: The Chiefs are starting to show real versatility on offense, even without star running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki, both out for the season with knee injuries. Quarterback Matt Cassel has been terrific during the Chiefs’winning streak and he has a nice chemistry with receivers Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston. Running back Jackie Battle is doing enough and the Chiefs even threw in cornerback Javier Arenas for a score out of the Wildcat. First-round pick Jonathan Baldwin made his debut Sunday and he looks to get more action as the season progresses. This team is getting dangerous, folks.

Flowers blooms: Last year, in Oakland, Kansas City standout cornerback Brandon Flowers struggled badly. Sunday, though, Flowers was outstanding. He intercepted a Palmer pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and he made several big plays in the game.

What’s next: Kansas City hosts first place San Diego (4-2) on Monday Night Football on Oct. 31. The Raiders have their bye in Week 8, then come back to host Denver in Week 9. If the Chiefs beat the Chargers, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West after Week 8.

Carson Palmer is active

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
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OAKLAND -- Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer is active. The Raiders have not announced who will start.

Palmer has been on the field warning up since shortly after 1 p.m. ET. ESPN’s Colleen Dominquez has reported that the decision if Palmer plays will be up to him. The Oakland coaching staff is going to let Palmer decide if he is comfortable enough physically and emotionally to play. He hasn’t played since Jan. 2. Oakland gave up a first-round pick in 2012 and a conditional first-round pick in 2013 to Cincinnati for Palmer on Tuesday, two days after starter Jason Campbell broke his collarbone.

If Palmer doesn’t play Sunday, Kyle Boller will start. Rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor is active for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski is inactive with a hamstring injury. Oakland signed Dave Rayner to kick.

Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain is active after missing all week of practice with a foot injury.

Kansas City rookie receiver Jonathan Baldwin is expected to make his debut Sunday.

Campbell is on the Oakland sideline. He had surgery Monday.

AFC West injury report

September, 30, 2011
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San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is not expected to play against Miami, because of a lingering foot injury that kept him out of six games last season and last week’s game. I could see San Diego holding Gates out until after its Oct. 16 bye. Gates will be replaced by veteran Randy McMichael.

Cornerback Quentin Jammer is also doubtful. He suffered a hamstring injury last week. Promising rookie Marcus Gilchrist is expected to play for Jammer against Miami on Sunday.

The battered Chargers listed starting receivers Vincent Jackson (abdomen) and Malcom Floyd (groin) as questionable. But they both practiced fully Friday, so that is a good sign they will play Sunday. Running back Ryan Mathews (foot) and rookie defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle) are both probable after they both practiced fully Friday.

The Denver Broncos do not know if they will have the services of two key defensive players Sunday at Green Bay.

Both cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) and defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) have been listed as questionable on the injury report. Neither has been on the field since Week 1, and both were limited all week in practice.

Denver’s defense -- which was ranked No. 32 last season -- is ranked No. 16 this season. Getting Bailey and Dumervil back should only improve the Broncos.

Running back Knowshon Moreno is listed as probable. He has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. He’ll likely back up Willis McGahee on Sunday while he shakes off the rust.

In Oakland, safety Michael Huff (concussion), defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) and fullback Marcel Reece (ankle) are all questionable to play against New England on Sunday. All three are key cogs for the Raiders. Cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring) and receiver Louis Murphy (sports hernia) are out, as expected. Receiver Jacoby Ford (hamstring) is listed as questionable, but he is expected to play for the first time since Week 1.

There are several Oakland players listed as probable, but they are all expected to play.

In Kansas City, cornerback Brandon Flowers (ankle) and safety Jon McGraw (shin) are questionable to play against visiting Minnesota on Sunday. They were both limited all week in practice. Rookie first-round pick Jon Baldwin is out. He has been limited in practice the past two weeks. He suffered a thumb injury in a reported fight with teammate Thomas Jones six weeks ago. It seems like Baldwin will play at some point, but you have to wonder how long it will take him to catch up when he does hit the field.

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