Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC West

by Ed Macey

Denver Broncos

When In Doubt, Blame the Coordinator

The Broncos have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and one major reason is incompetence from their defensive coordinators. Bill Parcells famously complained about cooking without shopping for the groceries. Mike Shanahan has added a third step: If you buy the groceries, but the meal still tastes bad, the problem is clearly your sous-chef.

The Broncos featured a consistently successful defense from 2003 to 2007, but after last season's team fell short of the playoffs, Shanahan axed defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. He hired as a replacement the well-respected Jim Bates, who had been a very successful defensive coordinator in Green Bay and Miami. (Coyer, meanwhile, became a defensive assistant for the Buccaneers, who had a defensive renaissance this season.)

The Broncos' defense continued its decline, and the team had its worst defensive DVOA since our stats begin in 1996. The defense featured a weak tackle rotation that completely compromised their ability to stop the run, and an injury to the aging John Lynch further hampered the team.

The weakness of the individual players was certainly not the problem, so Bates "resigned" after only one season. Perhaps Bates and Shanahan had a personality conflict or philosophical problem, but that, of course, would make the firing of Coyer even more irresponsible. Two playoff misses and two defensive coordinators let go in two years is sort of an ugly pattern.

The new defensive coordinator, for at least one season, is Bob Slowik -- who, ironically, preceded Bates as defensive coordinator in Green Bay. Slowik, technically, was Denver's defensive coordinator last season, but he clearly answered to Bates, the "assistant head coach, defense." Slowik oversaw abysmal defenses in Green Bay in 2004 and in Cleveland in 1999, while overseeing consistently below-average defenses in Chicago throughout the 1990s. For an organization that seems to take the opinion that the coordinator is more important than the talent, the decision to stick with Slowik is exceedingly bizarre.

Who Could Leave?

Long-time left tackle Matt Lepsis has decided to retire, which leaves a huge hole on the left side of the line. Lepsis was no longer the player he once was, but he was certainly still a capable tackle. His retirement may not be the last. Lynch is said to be strongly considering retirement, and like Lepsis, he is a former Pro Bowl talent who still is an asset, although no longer in his prime. Center Tom Nalen is another past-his-prime Pro Bowler who has to decide if he wants to come back from a torn biceps.

The Broncos have very few notable unrestricted free agents. Fullback Cecil Sapp is a good player, but the Broncos do not play a ton of I-Formation. Safety Nick Ferguson is adequate, but his loss would not be the end of the world.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $16.77 million)

The Broncos have serious issues on both their offensive and defensive lines. The defensive line has recently been addressed in the draft, so while a player like Chuck Darby would help at defensive tackle, do not expect a major move there. On the offensive line, the Broncos could consider going after Jordan Gross. A variety of big names are available at center if Nalen retires, but most are on the downside of their career. The Broncos would be better off building their interior line through the draft. If Lynch leaves, they could go after Ken Hamlin to provide a better run defense presence. One move the Broncos should consider is getting a true middle linebacker and allowing D.J. Williams to shift back to the outside. Unfortunately, the options are thin there, and the Broncos again may have to wait for the draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

Keep the Checkbook in the Pocket

The Chiefs have been desperately trying to stay competitive with veteran additions, even though they only made the playoffs twice this decade. Now is the time to rebuild, and rebuilding does not generally include expensive forays into the free agent market.

This team, particularly on defense, is filled with veterans who were acquired through free agency. Ty Law, Patrick Surtain, Donnie Edwards, Napoleon Harris, Alfonso Boone, Ron Edwards, and Kendrell Bell have all been acquired in recent years to fortify the defense. Now, the team is coming off a 4-12 season and needs to start developing its own players.

To compete next season, the Chiefs have to upgrade their biggest weakness: the offensive line. The group is old, a shell of the dominant unit that made Derrick Blaylock look like a great back, and could potentially lose two starters to free agency. Continuing to find stopgap solutions like John Welbourn and Damion McIntosh means ignoring the reality that this team is at the bottom of the team development curve. Both players are adequate solutions, but not building blocks.

The Chiefs should ignore the free agent offensive linemen and instead mimic the Packers of recent years: Draft a gaggle of offensive linemen and work on developing them for the future. Brodie Croyle and Dwayne Bowe are the the future, and the Chiefs should let an offensive line grow with them.

The tenor of this section obviously indicates my sense that the Chiefs are a few years away from returning to the playoffs. The life of an NFL running back is exceedingly short, and backs generally begin to decline after age 28. Larry Johnson will be 29 next year, and he's coming off a fractured foot. His injury and enormous contract make him untradeable at this point. There are two options here: either their star running back will sacrifice his prime to rebuilding, or the Chiefs' ascension will be delayed in repeated attempts to go 9-7 while they still have a weapon like Johnson.

Who Could Leave?

The Chiefs are coming off their worst season since 1979, and to add insult to injury, their best defensive player is an unrestricted free agent. Jared Allen emerged as an All-Pro defensive end and will almost certainly be franchised if a long-term deal is not reached. Cap room is not a problem, so the Chiefs should be able to work out a long-term deal.

The damage does not end with Allen. Center Casey Wiegmann, tackle Chris Terry, wide receiver Sammie Parker, and H-back Kris Wilson are all free agents. Wiegmann is one of the last links from the great Chiefs' lines of earlier this decade. He poses the most interesting question about the direction of the Chiefs. He remains a solid center but will be 35 before next season. He likely will not be productive the next time the Chiefs are an effective team.

Terry, meanwhile, is an example of how the Chiefs have been running the team in recent seasons. The Chiefs signed the journeyman during the 2006 season. The team has been constantly looking for quick fixes. He competed for playing time last year with Kyle Turley, another veteran on the downside of his career.

Wilson is the one player, besides Allen, who the Chiefs should definitely bring back. He is a young player who is effective both as a fullback and a tight end. He clears holes well for Larry Johnson and can also set up a balanced two-tight end formation with Tony Gonzalez.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $20.27 million)

Kansas City should avoid free agency at most positions, but not at wide receiver. Parker's potential departure leaves the Chiefs exceedingly thin at wideout. Eddie Kennison is likely retiring, leaving only Bowe and Jeff Webb. Signing a veteran wide receiver like Ernest Wilford will cost minimal amounts of money and help with this team's most important task: developing Brodie Croyle into a winning NFL quarterback.

Oakland Raiders

Remember When the Raiders Were Not Embarrassing?

Since reaching the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, the Raiders have become a laughingstock. They have gone a league-worst 19-61 in the past five seasons. The woeful crosstown 49ers have managed to win 24 games in that same period.

The Raiders are now on their fourth coach since 2003, and apparently owner Al Davis wanted to move onto his fifth. Boy Wonder Lane Kiffin showed some promising signs in his first season as a head coach. The offense improved markedly, particularly the running game. The oft-criticized offensive line suddenly appeared competent. Still, Davis reportedly wrote a resignation letter for Kiffin and asked him to sign it in an effort to save a few million dollars. Kiffin understandably refused. Davis may keep his millions, but he has completely undermined his coach.

To add to the confusion, well-respected defensive coordinator and part-time Wookie Rob Ryan was rumored to be fired and headed to the Jets. Gossip was that Kiffin wanted him out, to be replaced with Kiffin's father Monte. Davis kept Ryan and also was rumored to hire receivers' coach James Lofton without Kiffin's knowledge. The story was vehemently denied by everybody in Oakland, but the mere fact that it was deemed plausible shows how dysfunctional this once-proud organization has become.

Who Could Leave?

As if this circus was not enough, how often does a 4-12 team have many its best players reach free agency at the same time? The Raiders need to worry about two veteran quarterbacks, their starting running back, their top wide receiver, their center, a starting defensive end, and most importantly, their single best defender.

The good news is that since the Raiders have very little talent on their team, they have plenty of cap space. They started using this money Wednesday by re-signing running back Justin Fargas. Fargas emerged as a quality back and was light years better than LaMont Jordan running behind the same line.

Top wide receiver Jerry Porter is not nearly as good as his reputation. Porter emerged in 2002 when he was a slot receiver covered by nickelbacks while playing with Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Since he has emerged as a starter, he has caught a low percentage of passes, only topping 50 percent in one single year. Porter would be a great third receiver, but he likely will command way too much money and should be sent packing.

The quarterback situation is not particularly worrisome because the Raiders are planning to go with last year's first overall pick, JaMarcus Russell. Keeping Josh McCown as a backup is a reasonable option. Daunte Culpepper will likely be on his way to some other quarterback controversy after not exactly recapturing his early-decade form.

The one must-keep for the Raiders is Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the five best cornerbacks in all of football. He is the best cornerback on the market, Asante Samuel included, and the Raiders are correctly planning to franchise him. Of course, the franchise tag could create one more combustible situation in a team that's already smoldering.

Also gone is Warren Sapp, who retired after the season. The future Hall of Famer was useless last season, among the worst defensive tackles in football. Whether it was Father Time or disinterested play or a bad fit for scheme, Sapp was a disaster. The Raiders will be better off for his decision to retire. Sapp's retirement makes re-signing Tommy Kelly imperative, but the talented defensive lineman is coming off a torn ACL.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $25.98 million)

The Raiders' primary need is in the middle of their defensive line. Albert Haynesworth will likely be franchised. The Raiders could make a run at Chuck Darby but may end up with a mediocre solution like Randy Starks from Tennessee.

With the likely departure of Porter, the other area the Raiders should explore is receiving help. Ronald Curry is an underrated player, but he is not exactly elite. The Raiders should pursue D.J. Hackett or Bernard Berrian with the hopes of landing a solid starter in free agency.

If Center Jeremy Newberry bolts in free agency, the Raiders will need help in the middle of the offensive line. They could make a run at one of the Colts' two offensive guards, Jake Scott or Ryan Lilja, although few Colts linemen who have left that system have been successful elsewhere. Still, the Raiders should emphasize young players with upside over proven players on the downside of their career. They are assuredly at least a couple years away from being competitive.

San Diego Chargers

Sitting Pretty

Much virtual ink was spilled on the merits of replacing Marty Schottenheimer with Norv Turner. I'll spare you a rehashing of those arguments here, but one thing is entirely clear: If A.J. Smith and Schottenheimer were not capable of working together, the Chargers are lucky to still have Smith on board.

As general manager, Smith has done a remarkable job amassing talent without sacrificing San Diego's financial situation. The Chargers are fresh off a trip to the AFC Championship game, have almost no free agents of note, and feature gobs of cap space.

In addition, this is a relatively young football team. Most of their best and most important players are still comfortably in their prime. The one notable exception is Jamal Williams, the venerable nose tackle who started to show a little bit of age this year. Williams is not even very old, only 32 next season. A research project FO did for ESPN Magazine last year suggested that defensive tackles decline at a later age than any position except for quarterback, punter, and kicker.

The Chargers are actually at a point where free agency is somewhat anticlimactic. They have better players at most positions than many of the available free agents. This off-season should be spent converting the cap space into front-loaded contracts for those players who will be approaching free agency in the coming seasons. Smith needs to identify which of his core players are truly irreplaceable and start locking them up to long-term deals. A good place to start would be star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman or left tackle Marcus McNeill.

Who Could Leave?

The Chargers could afford to keep everyone, but that does not mean that they will. The Chargers are likely to let Michael Turner leave in free agency. The talented backup to LaDainian Tomlinson will command starter's money in the free agent market.

More interesting is the question about whether or not they will part ways with fullback Lorenzo Neal. The Chargers de-emphasized the fullback position in their first year under Norv. Tomlinson was slightly less effective last season, but that may not be solely the result of Neal's decreased role. Neal is definitely old; he blocked for somebody named Mario Bates in his first full season as a fullback all the way back in 1994. Neal is no longer the player he was, but if the Chargers do let him go, he will likely find a seventh home with a contending team that will be happy to watch him lead a high-profile running back through the hole.

(Ed. note: Mario Bates is also known as "The guy in the early years of our PBP database who is not Michael Bates.")

The only other free agent of note is cornerback Drayton Florence. The Chargers defense improved dramatically when Florence was moved out of the starting lineup for Antonio Cromartie. Florence is a decent nickelback, but he likely will command too big a salary on the free market to be retained for that role.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room $40.9 million)

The Chargers are really a team without any major needs. Their safeties are not the best tandem in the NFL, but they are serviceable. Every other position on defense is at least above-average. The trade for Chris Chambers and the potential return from injury of Eric Parker means they have no holes on offense either. Any improvement would therefore require a massive investment for some of the very best players in free agency. That simply seems unlikely. If they do add a free agent, it will be for depth, perhaps a middle-tier cornerback such as Jacques "The Human Target" Reeves or Terry Cousin.

One question is what the Chargers will do about their backup quarterback situation. Philip Rivers' knee injury makes a backup an important part of next year's team. They may hold on to Billy Volek, or they could let Charlie Whitehurst assume the second-string duties. They could get involved in grabbing someone at the Daunte Culpepper/Cleo Lemon/Josh McCown level if they are too concerned about Rivers' prognosis.

*All projected cap numbers courtesy of These numbers are "ballpark" and are subject to change. The intention is to give an approximate idea of each team's available resources before free agency and the draft begin.


89 comments, Last at 23 Feb 2008, 2:49pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Really good point about front loading contracts for years when you have cap space. I've wondered for a while why it wasn't more prevalent. Since a team can't roll over cap space to future seasons, there's no reason to avoid using it to get the pain of future contracts out of the way. Extensions for Merriman, Phillips, McNeill, Rivers, Castillo etc. are a much better move than locking up limited free agent talent at high prices, and create a positive loop where they'll have additional room in future seasons.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


You can in fact both move cap room to the next season and use it all up ahead of time. If you put an 'Unlikely to be Earned Incentive' (ULTBEI) into a contract for say five million dollars if Jamal Williams gets 15 sacks or 20 special teams tackles then when he (miraculously) fails to get anywhere near it the five million is credited to the next season's cap. You have to have the room spare under the cap to do it though.

One note of caution regarding front-loaded contracts is that the team has very little recourse should the standard of a players performance or effort fall below expectations as tey will have pocketed a lot of the money already. It is only sensible to avoid pro-rating any bonuses due in the first year of a contract, not moving too much of the base salaries due forward.

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

"Top wide receiver Jerry Porter is not nearly as good as his reputation. Porter emerged in 2002 when he was a slot receiver covered by nickelbacks while playing with Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Since he has emerged as a starter, he has caught a low percentage of passes, only topping 50 percent in one single year."

But does FO ever seem to notice this as it happens? I remember hearing about how Patrick Crayton was one of the top receivers according to DPAR with no qualifiers. I'm sure that eventually someone (who is much better at statistics than me) will devise a system that takes account of where a player is playing, with who and within which system. Until then I'll just have to ignore slot recievers with good DVOAs (AND SO SHOULD YOU!!!).

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

SD is $40M under the cap with that roster? Jeebus... they're a Madden Franchise.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Every team in need of recieving help is advised to go after DJ Hackett here, but FA recievers have to have the lowest success rate of any acquisition. Outside of the true elites (TO, Moss), I don't think it makes sense to go after a upper-middle class reciever. Too many Darrell Jackson/Justin McCareins stories.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Your analysis of the Broncos problems at defensive coordinator is pretty weak. Larry Coyer was let go because he wouldn't adjust. Sure the system was consistently good under him that is until it came to the end of the season. He was brilliant in laying out a plan he just wouldn't change it when other teams figured it out.

Bates wasn't the sous chef that you are describing. He's the one who brought in the tackles that couldn't stop the run. He's also the guy who got rid of Gerrard Warren. He took the fall because he's the one at fault.

I'm not anymore excited about Slowik than anyone else but Champ and the rest of the defense have been saying good things about him, so I'm certainly willing to give him a chance.

Also don't be surprised if they bring in some new DT. They still have to make up for losing Warren, because the idiot Bates let him go.

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

RE: #6

Bates wasn’t the sous chef that you are describing. He’s the one who brought in the tackles that couldn’t stop the run. He’s also the guy who got rid of Gerrard Warren. He took the fall because he’s the one at fault.

I can't think of one single instance where a DC has more personnel power than the HC or the GM. Let's not get carried away with deflecting blame from Shanahan, who is, after all, a .500 coach when he doesn't have a hall of fame QB.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

And even though I'm clearly a homer, you have to say that right now it certainly looks like the Bolts have to be one of the top 3 SB XLIII favorites.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Yeah, and Belichick's a sub-.500 coach without a Hall of Fame QB. Can them both!

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


Except for the part where Shanahan's winning % without Elway is .575, better than the Chargers over that same span and with more playoff appearances. I'm too lazy to look further but I bet it's also better than all AFC teams other than NE, IND, and PITT.

And I believe Fan In Exile's point was Shanahan listened to Bates on who was the best fit. Sure, Shanahan made the final decision but it was based largely on Bates' input.

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#7 Just because you can't think of one doesn't mean they don't exist. Bates himself said that he's the one who ditched Warren so your general statement doesn't apply in this case.

At the same time saying that I'm deflecting blame doesn't actually apply to the facts of this case. Of course I'm deflecting blame because in this case it is undeserved. The question shouldn't be what am I doing but whether he actually deserves the blame or not.

Not that I expect a Chargers fan to be unbiased about Shanahan.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

re 5:
I dunno, I mean Wes Welker and Kevin Curtis turned out all right this year and Terry Glenn in Dallas and Galloway in Tampa have done pretty well. I don't think a WR is necessarily a more risky FA acquisition.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#3 I guess I'm confused about the two incentive types. I was under the impression that an unlikely to be earned incentive (ULEI) was not counted against the current cap unless it (miraculously) happens, in which case if you go over the cap it takes away from the next year.

A Likely to be earned incentive (LEI) is the other way around, it is supposed that it will occur, and thus is counted against the current cap, but if it does not occur you get a credit later.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

With the NLTBE incentives, they take up cap on the current year and if they're earned, they're creditted to the following year.

They're also often more obscure then 3 said, with things like Brian Westbrook will lead the team in punting or Richard Seymour will have 1000 yards receiving.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

er, mistype. If they're NOT earned, that should read.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

RE: 10

Since AJ Smith took over in 2003 as GM, the Bolts have won 50 regular season games and made an appearance in the AFC CG. In that same time period, the Broncos have 1 appearance as well, with a total of 49 regular season wins. I stipulate to the fact that for the 5 years between 1999 (post-Elway) and 2002 (pre-AJ), the Bolts were awful, but the Broncos only won 34 games in those 4 years. Overall, yes, I overstated the case that Shanny is .500 without Elway - but you can't tell me that he is an elite coach at this point, and he certainly isn't making very sound personnel decisions. The overall talent level of the team is in decline, and has yet to bottom out. Face it, they're in full-on rebuilding mode.

(And yes, I know he's not the president/GM, but he is more involved in personnel decisions than the average HC)

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#14 Would that not be the coolest year ever.

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#16 All teams go through rebuilding times it doesn't mean the coach forgot how to coach. In this case it means there were a ton of injuries and some bad personnel decisions. Shanahan is an elite coach, just not a great personnel guy.

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I have no idea where the Shanahan hate comes from. He survived the transition from one franchise quarterback to another with a winning record over that period. That's more than a lot of people can do.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

19: I don't hate the guy, I have a lot of respect for his accomplishments. I also respect Carl Peterson and even (gulp) Al Davis (at least the non-Alzheimer's version). I just think that, TODAY, Shanahan is not an opposing coach that I fear in the division where my favorite team resides. I'll cop to the fact that a lot of that is personnel driven.

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#20 The Hate isn't just you, there's a lot out there look at TMQ. "Hate" here isn't being used in its personal sense but in it's athletic sense of disrespecting. When you say that you don't fear him that would be "Hate".

*sigh* I feel like such a Chiefs fan. Wait till next year then you will fear us. How sad is that?

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

re: 19
Denver wasn't exactly a passing team during those years. They were a phenomenal rushing team, and rushing took them to the Super Bowl victories that Elway alone could never get.

When Elway left, Denver still had the same OL.

I'll give Shanahan credit for a lot, but I think the Super Bowl years led a lot of people to overrate him, just as people overrated Mike Holmgren. If somebody without Shanahan's name had ditched a functioning starting QB in the middle of a playoff-bound season, as Shanahan did to Jake Plummer last year, he would be rightly roasted in the press.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#17. It's week 17. Philly needs a win to make the playoffs, and lead by 4 with 50 seconds remaining. Philly has the ball on 3rd and 26 from their own 2 yard line. It's... a direct snap to Brian Westbrook, who punts it! It sails over the heads of the shocked defense, and continues to bounce down the field until it rolls out of bounds at the 1 yard line. Westbrook breaks ROBO-PUNTER's NFL record with a 97 yard punt.

Hours later, on the west coast, the Seattle Seahawks (who cut Matt Haselbeck and Walter Jones in the offseason to aquire ROBO-PUNTER) are leading 12-6 when they intercept a ball at the 1 yard line with 10 seconds remaining. Over the objections of an enraged ROBO-PUNTER, Holmgren calls draw up the middle for a two-yard gain. The clock winds down to zero, and the season closes with Brian Westbrook as the sole owner of the NFL punting record.

25 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#22 Hey Fan in Exile, take heart - at least you're not raiderjoe :D

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

RE: the Shanahan/Broncos discussion
Denver is the best overall team of the DVOA era,when you include 1996-1998 (depending on how you measure, I used avg. DVOA, total DVOA rank, and avg. nonadj DVOA)
If you start from 1999, the first no-Elway year, Denver does drop:
to 5th in DVOA, 5th in rank, and 4th in non-adjusted DVOA. Still very good.
Sticking with 1999-2007, next is KC at around 8 or 9 in those categories.
San Diego sits around 12th-15th in all categories. (4 of 5 bad years from 1999-2003)
Oakland sits a little lower in the 15-18 range in that category.

I'm sure this could be done by the local FO guys in better detail with pinpoint accuracy for all teams, but this should give a good look at how the division has fared.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

23: Can we put to rest the notion that Plummer was a functional starting QB? He was awful, and Cutler looks like a young Peyton Manning, and pulling Plummer was obviously the right move.

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#14: For some reason, certain bonuses that are virtually impossible to be acheived are called "likely to be achieved." It is a quirk in the rules.

As an example, the Packers signed a guy off the practice squad during the season. To push cap room into the next season, they gave him a huge bonus if he blocked three kicks. But he never played on special teams, so he was not likely to block any kicks. Nevertheless, the bonus was considered likely to be acheived, and they pushed $4 million into this year.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I think the one thing missed in the Chargers review is the need on offense for a strong right tackle, with Olivea being suprisingly benched I think there is a need to upgrade that position. If we could provide Phillip solid protection and have a strong running game to both sides our offense would be quite formidable. While Florence wasn't a great starter we do need to find a capable replacement as a third cornerback. Our lack of draft picks hurts this year to fill these holes, because despite our amazing cap space, there aren't many good candidates in free agency for these holes. I sure hope AJ uses the money now to lock up the young talent for the future.

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#27 Not if you go by won-lost record.

31 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

RE: #30

But you can't compare QB's by W-L record. Thats just stupid.

Its as stupid as all the other Patriots fans saying Brady is the best QB ever because of his Super Bowl wins... it takes a team.

The defense was lights out for the weeks leading up to Plummer. They allowed very little points. Then, things started to go bad. It wasn't Plummer's fault, it wasn't Cutlers fault, it was the defense.

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#24: You've given me something to look forward to all offseason (re: Westbrook, not Holmgren).

Also I used to think Shanahan was overrated mainly because Kubiak was the secret mastermind behind Denver's plug-and-play rushing attack. But he's now in Houston, and even with only a couple years plus his Ahman Dayne strategy, I would have expected much more from the man; meanwhile the Broncos could still pound the rock with Koy Detmer at tailback.
Is McShanahan really the reason for success or is he just living off Kubiak's old system?

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I disagree about Jake Plummer, Yaguar. He has more swagger in his long hair and beard than "Little Jay" Cutler has in his whole body. Poor Jay Cutler is just too young to succeed in the NFL!

Seriously though, imagine if the Broncos had stuck with Plummer at QB and had drafted Laurence Maroney--also a position of need--even if the 20+ ints Plummer showed up in 2006 I believe that would have been a deep playoff team. Also, it should be noted, Haloti Ngata was selected one pick after Cutler in the 2006 draft. I think he was a wased high draft pick, even if he turns out to be above average, which I think is about his ceiling. They already had an above average QB named Plummer.

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Jerry Porter is not nearly as good as his reputation? Then he must be really, really, really bad (three "reallys"). That's like saying "Meet the Spartans" is not as good as the critics say.

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

34: "Meet the Spartans" actually is that bad.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Ok, as a Patriots fan, this is the Cutler situation.

In 2006, I broke it down to three separate groupings of games.

Offensive Points/Defensive Points allowed

Plummer's first 6 games

Plummer's next 5 games

Cutler's 5 games

Plummer's total games

So... whether you have Plummer or Cutler for those last 5 games, they wouldn't have been any better or worse. They would have made the playoffs had they not choked against SF in Week 17, losing 26-23.

Notice that after the first 6 games, the defense fell apart. They went from keeping teams under 10 points to allowing more than 20. When his defense worked well, Plummer was a babysitter, babysitting small leads and doing just enough not to lose while scoring 13.2 points per game.

When the defense fell apart, he needed to score, and he managed 23.2 points per game. Then Cutler stepped in, as a rookie, and scored a point higher... and you are blaming the season on Cutler??

37 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Please use the separate Plummer/Cutler/Ngata/McClure irrational debate thread.

38 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#33 - are you saying that if Plummer remained starter, then we would have witnessed Super Bowl 41, Wrecks vs. Jake the Snake? In the rain? Oh, what could have been.

39 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

SD is in the same position as the Patriots were from 03-06, they have a locked up play-off spot before the season even begins. The division is atrocious. SD then must worry about how to topple not Denver, but rather NE and Jacksonville. Perhaps another receiver for Rivers would be key

40 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Does anyone else think it would be a mistake for KC to build a team around Croyle? Not a lot of 3rd round QBs succeed, has he shown anything to indicate that he's a long term solution?

I'm asking because I haven't watched that many KC games but that is the impression I get. From Hard Knocks he seemed about as charismatic as a loaf of bread.

41 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#39 - Pete, I'm thinking that "toppling" Jax doesn't exactly equate to the idea that to be the best, you have to beat the best. I think AJ is probably setting his sights on NE and INDIANAPOLIS, but that's just me.

43 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Jesus christ, has the whole world gone mad? What is with this effort to excoriate a good coach for playing a good quarterback? Cutler already has a career yards per attempt (the best single traditional stat for QBs) of 7.5. That's Joe Montana territory. That's higher than Manning through three years, or Brady's career average. If you want DVOA type stats, he lies comfortably within Brees-Hasselbeck-Palmer territory in his first year as a starter.

The guy's downside is Palmer, and his upside is Manning. Most teams don't get that sort of quarterback when they pick first overall, much less 13th or wherever it was.

I just don't understand.

44 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

If I were still playing, we'd be going for the Super Bowl Three-peat in 2008.

45 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I'm with you Yaguar. While admittedly a Bronco homer, Cutler has looked great. Some occassional bone-head plays, but less than plummer, and they seem pretty natural for a 1st year starter. No worse than Elway as a youngster.

Plummer looked atrocious, and completely deserved to be benched. The only reason Denver even came close to playoffs that year was the Defense, and FO showed consistently early on that the success was not sustainable (and largely due to luck).

Does Denver have some holes to fill? YES! Both lines need some significant improvements. I'm more concerned about the o-line, becuase we at least have a few youngsters on D that could step up after a year of experience/return from injury. Cutler however is part of the long-term solution, not part of the problem.

The injuries last year were basically the many of same players older that are leaving/retiring this off-season. Thus, the the basic team we're taking into next season went 7-9 last year. Figure another year of maturation from Cutler and the D-Line, that puts us 8-8 or 9-7. Not great, but far from Raider/Chief territory.

Give us a few players from the draft/FA, and Denver's a solid wildcard playoff team. Not as talented as the Chargers, but a few injuries or a Norv Turner coaching implosion could even that up. Basically, I'm not predicting a Denver Superbowl win next year, but we're in decent shape...

Oh PS- re: Charger Fan's "Shannahan doesn't scare me.." comment...
Duh, Of course not! Your team is one of the top 3, if not the, most talented team in the NFL... I estimate Denver is somewhere at about 12-15th... Vince Lombardi wouldn't scare me with that talent differential.

46 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


No, guy in post 22 in worse position. His team not win Superbowl since superbowl 4. Raiders win three Superbowls since then. Raiders also on upswing and Chiefs going down.

47 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Let me put it this way: if Cutler is not in the Pro Bowl next year (having played an injury-free season), I will be absolutely shocked. In two years' time, he will be the unquestioned third best NFL quarterback--that's how high I am on Cutler.

Problem is, I'm not as high on my Broncos. Shanahan is an elite coach...he just has a little too much power and takes unnecessary gambles with players. He is too impatient and as such ruins team chemistry by cutting and signing tons of players. I think the Broncos will be pretty dormant in the offseason, using the draft to build the OL, MLB,SS, and DT positions. That's a lot of needs, unfortunately.

On the positive side, we have the most awesome YAC receiver in the NFL, Brandon Marshall, the best CB, Champ Bailey, and Cutler. That is worth something.

Denver presents the only challenge to San Diego in this division.

48 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

you're wrong about haloti ngata. watch him play and you'll see that he's better than you think. he's 6' 4" 340 and quick. he's already among the better DTs in the game.
also, were you kidding about the broncos drafting a RB? why should they have taken mauroney when they can find effective running backs with greater ease than any team in the NFL?

49 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

re 40-
as you saw on hard knocks, brodie croyle's charisma-deficiency is not a problem...humorous herm compensates for that. croyle's lack of accuracy, though, that could be a problem.

50 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

47: "Let me put it this way: if Cutler is not in the Pro Bowl next year (having played an injury-free season), I will be absolutely shocked. In two years’ time, he will be the unquestioned third best NFL quarterback–that’s how high I am on Cutler."

I'm a Colts fan with no stake in the AFCW, and I agree with this statement entirely. I think he's the best first-day quarterback taken since Peyton Manning, with a slim lead over Roethlisberger and Rivers.

51 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

"The Raiders could make a run at Chuck Darby but may end up with a mediocre solution like Randy Starks from Tennessee."

That's some seriously confusing Chartric love. Mediocre beats should be a sub off the bench if in the NFL at all.

52 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Maybe poster is drunk. Denver is not only threat to SD. Oakland as big as threat as Denbver, but even bigger.

53 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

50 - I'd take Carson Palmer over any of 'em.

54 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

53: Palmer since his injury has looked inferior to what I believe Cutler can be.

55 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Ah yes, the fungibility of running backs. So you're saying you're completely happy with the Travis Henry/Selvin Young ineffective fumblefest? I'm not. (Combined DPAR/DVOA 4.7/-15.1) A guy like Maroney could add 600 yards/year to the totals of those two bums, IMO.

Why, oh why, Mike Shannahan, coach-for life, do you insist on pinning your career on the likes of Little Jay? You need an RB and denying it is hubris! I had defended you in sports bar and keg basement arguments for years, but now I wish the Broncos had promoted Kubiak and sent you to the tee-vee booth!

56 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Although I am a Broncos fan, I must reiterate what I have written on basically every forum here to defend Cutler and Shanahan. The Broncos offense over the last two years has had the majority player at EVERY position switch. I do not think there is any current team that has had so many injuries/inconsistancies/turnovers over that time period.

Despite that the Broncos have been a Top 10 offense last year. Cutler was playing his first full year and is already above average, and spent the entire season playing virtually identical football (by FO standards) to Rothelisburger. I dont necessarily believe he is the next Manning, but I know he is already above average.

I can just imagine 10 years from now: "Shanahan is only a .500 Coach without either of his HoF QBs." Most Coaches that have an average or worse player at the single most important position in football are lucky to be .500.

57 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#11 - in the interest of full disclosure, Shanahans win percentage (when you include his stint in Oakland) is .555
#23 - I don't really know what the ratio is for most teams, but for 1999-2005, the Broncos total net passing yards: 27621 The Broncos total rushing yards: 15819 bascially a 1.75:1 ratio.
#32 - It wasn't so much Kubiak that made the Broncos plug and play system so effective, it was primarily Alex Gibbs, the architect of Denver's cut-blocking ZBS. A man that most D-lineman in the NFL would give up a year's pay to kill. And by all accounts, Bobby Turner is one hell of a running backs coach, too.

58 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re 57:

Bobby Turner is amazing.

Alex Gibbs, yea, love him or hate him. I am very curious to see what he does in Houston.

59 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Oh, Raiderjoe, how you amuse me.

"Oakland as big a threat as Denbver (sic), but even bigger."

The only way that Oakland will be a threat to SD this year will be if Al Davis poisons the food of SD and Denver.

Oakland is at least two years away from contending. Sorry to burst your bubble.

60 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re # 9.

Yes, the Bolts are sooo talented they should be considered "favorites" to win the Super Bowl in '09. And, if memory serves, weren't they also "most talented team ever to miss the playoffs" in '05? You gotta love talent and beauty contests.

61 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I think your not giving the chiefs enough credit, I see them winning atleast 10 games next season with Gonzalez, Croyle, and Larry Johnson being healthy, I dont see another playoff appearance in the Chargers future due to the fact that Norv Turner cant coach his way out of a paper bag. I'd say the Chiefs are the dead on favorite to take the division next year, Oakland and Denver can fight it out for the second spot and the wildcard opportunity, but you cant deny that Gates, Tomlinson, Merriman, and Rivers will most definitely be plagued by numerous injuries next year. Croyle will most certainly be HOF material when he goes to retire in 11 years, mark my words.

62 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Maybe you need to look at rosters and realize Raiders are moving on up to the east side. Broncos stay crappy, Chargrs going down, Chiefs alreadsy down.

re61 maybe you can make Chiefs win 10 games in Madden, but real Chiefs not getting close to 10 wins in 2008. You make good point about Chargers. Coach sucks and team bound to get injuries all over team. Good chance Tomlimson gets injured for first time in career in 2008 season.

63 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


Are you a sock puppet for raiderjoe? The Chiefs win 10 games? How? "Dead-on favorite" for what division? Not the AFC West. The O-line is atrocious. LJ may never recover his form (thanks, Herm!) and Gonzo is maybe two years out from retirement.

I've been a Chiefs fan for 35 years, and I can't remember when I've ever seen them this down. This is not a one-year turnaround.

65 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

This is hilarious. I don't really have anything constructive to add.

66 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

He can't be a sock puppet for raiderjoe, at least raiderjoe uses paragraphs.

67 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

This whole forum must be on some kind of mind altering drugs to believe that the Chiefs cant pull out atleast ten wins in the upcoming season. You don't find talent at the quarterback position like Brodie Croyle just wasting away on a terrible teams. A person with that kind of god given ability forces his team to play better around him, the only reason he's been lagging these first two years is due to his young age and inexperience. He has flashed the ability to turn the whole offensive unit around. I mean, Carr was able to carry the Texans to the playoffs with a god awful offensive line and he didnt even have Larry Johnson to run the ball, and Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe to recieve for him, he just had that two bit Andre Johnson and Domanick Davis as his go to guys. That being said Carr certainly is no Brodie Croyle and never will be.

RE:63 Why do I sense all this hatred towards Herman Edwards? He's the best thing to happen to the chiefs since the signing of Len Dawson in 1962 back when they where still the Dallas Texans. His ability to coach is definitely much far superior than that touchy feely "cry at an interview" pansy Dick Vermeil. No one is going to remember Dick Vermeil's impact on the Chiefs twenty years from now, because they'll be too busy still talking about the Herman Edwards dynasty of the late 2000's!

68 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I'd pay good money to see Raiderjoe and ArrowheadAndy discuss the NFL on a live stage.

But getting back to the AFC West, while it's probably safe to say that neither the Raiders nor the Chiefs have much of a chance to make it to .500 in 08, and the Chargers have way too much talent (and young one at that. With plenty of cap space. That team is ridiculously scary. If they don't win at least a SB int he next four years or so, I'll be very surprised), the Broncos are really difficult to figure out.

Yes, Cutler is showing pretty good improvement. Yes, Denver can probably insert Ron Dayne in their backfield and make him rush for close to a thousand. But that defense is getting really old. It seems like the offense is starting to become a threat just as the D is starting a downslide. Will they meet at a high enough level to make them a serious threat, or will the two never meet, like trains in the night? The progress of both units in 08 should give us a very good clue (and I believe it's pretty much their only window of making it happen).

69 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


"This whole forum must be on some kind of mind altering drugs to believe that the Chiefs cant pull out atleast ten wins in the upcoming season."

Sure they *can* win 10 games, stranger things have happened. But what about this team has improved such that you think they are likely to win 2 and a half times as many games as they won last season? I mean, if the over\under was 9.5 games, and you had to bet your life on it, would you take the over, or the under?

"I mean, Carr was able to carry the Texans to the playoffs with a god awful offensive line and he didnt even have Larry Johnson to run the ball, and Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe to recieve for him, he just had that two bit Andre Johnson and Domanick Davis as his go to guys. That being said Carr certainly is no Brodie Croyle and never will be."

When did Carr carry the Texans to the playoffs? Actually, when have the Texans ever been in the playoffs? Unless I am remembering things wrong, the Texans have finished in last place every year except for one, when they finished in second to last place.
So isn't calling Croyle better then Carr, sort of "damning with faint praise"?

70 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I know the AFC west gets crazy rivalries, but why dont we sometimes get 49erjoes or cardinalAndys.

71 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

68 - if one train leaves the Denver offense in 1998 and begins in its return trip in 2007, and another train leaves the Denver defense in the middle of 2006, with questions about whether it's coming back or not, will they meet? If so, when and where?
69 (and others) - I'm pretty sure Arrowhead Andy is joking. Kind of like Raiderjoe, but with fewer intentional typos.

72 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Raiders do too ahev good chance to make .500. Team likely to be 11-5. You just have to take better look at Oakland roster and you will see for yourself.

73 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

7: You're sort of missing the forest for the trees. Granted, Coyer and Bates weren't perfect, but it is more than fair to question why Denver can't keep anybody in that position. And the article doesn't even mention how these are hardly the first times Shanahan has had "personality conflicts" with the guys he's hired to run the defense. (Remember Ray Rhodes' extremely brief tenure?)

74 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

73 - a very valid point, but do you remember the way Rhodes' defense collapsed like a souffle starting the night that Rich Gannon completed 600 (or so it felt in the stands) consecutive passes against it? And the fact that the scheme didn't seem to change at all from that point? I think the more pressing question than why no one can stick in the position is why these very respected coordinators come to Denver and completely fall apart. Seems likely that falls to Shanahan as well, whether through weak drafting on that side of the ball or maybe because he interferes with their work. I don't know the answer, but it seems like a legitimate question.

75 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


Oh. Well, the moral of the story is as always, I am an idiot.

76 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Another thing about AJ Smith that the mainstream press (mock draft sites in particular) doesn't get is that he often drafts ahead of need. Some mock drafts have the Chargers going LB in the 1st round. What did AJ do LAST year? - that's it. Two LB drafted lower than they were expected to go because of injury with limited playing time this year. Remind you of anything (Cromartie)?

77 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Shanahan is an elite coach! Unfortunately his coaching abilities have been needed to compensate for many of his AWFUL personnel decisions.

In regard to the Cutler/Plummer discussion it looks like Cutler will be good. Plummer was a below average pocket passer, but probably the best play action QB I have ever seen, his winning% and games won is among (Brady,Manning,McNabb) during his tenure in Denver. Penrose 10,000 made a very good point in that Denver was a team on the verge of the SB, and Shanahan totally changed the dynamics of the team when he drafted Cutler instead of Maroney or Addai and a DL. DOn't forget Denver had two #1s that year

78 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Any division with Al Davis and Herm is going to be intersting. A few thoughts.

1. The Herm era in KC will be brief. I actually think he's not a bad coach, but telling the fans to just get used to losing is no way to endear yourself to the locals.

2. Unless the Raider players can't read and never watch TV, it's hard to imagine them giving Kiffen a great effort this year.

3. Dre Bly seemed to decline last year in Denver. If he rebounds (and they get some decent DL play) the Broncos could improve considerably on defense.

4. Chargers certainly have the most talent here, but I would be surprised to see them decline some next year. Call me a Norv skeptic.

79 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#74: The whole Rhodes thing was just weird. The Broncos were simply extatic to get him, but almost immediately he basically disappeared from public view. He wasn't talking much to the press, there were rumors of personality conflicts, etc. Then after he left some players (Trevor Pryce being one, as I recall) insinuated that Rhodes had been relieved of making final decisions, so what you saw on the field wasn't the scheme he wanted. Why wouldn't they have allowed a guy with his reputation to do whatever he wanted? To me, that speaks to it being such a poor relationship they didn't want to run the risk of him actually succeeding because that would have made it really hard to get rid of him. So, they undercut him until he decided to leave. Makes you wonder if something similar has played itself out over the last couple of years.

80 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#62 Just when I thought he couldn't get any more entertaining, Raiderjoe drops a Jeffersons reference. Bravo, Raiderjoe. Bravo!

81 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

No mention of Javon Walker in the Broncos section. He wants out of town and is due a big roster bonus, right?

82 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re 78:

Unless they like Kiffen, in which case they might play even harder to keep their coach.

83 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

It looks like the Chargers will have the reign over the division for the next few years, especially considering their cap situation. I think it would be a smart move to spend the money to keep Turner (but hope they won't), as LT has a lot of mileage and is showing signs of being mortal.

Denver has a solid offense and a very promising young QB in Cutler, but they could have the worst front seven in the NFL, only DJ williams(who is playing out of position)& Elvis Dummerville (a situational pass rusher) are quality players. The rest are either journeyman or unproven.

I think the Raiders made great progress last year and can not believe all of the stuff going on there. If they can keep the running game going the way it was last year and forget the distrations, they could surprise people. Nothing makes a QB look better than a quality running game, just ask Jake Plummer.

KC is awful, and the Croyle thing will turn out to be a huge mistake. Look for them to be in the Mark Sanchez pool, or whoever the hot QB is two years from now.

84 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Valid points in regard to Shanahan. Bates and Rhodes (two very established coordinators) failed miserably and very early in their tenure in Denver. I thought Robinson and Coyer were good def. coordinators because they adjusted their schemes to match the personnel.

In Bates case I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Denver's talent did not match the scheme. The cornerstone of Bates' system is the defensive line, and building a defense that relied on Denver's DL was a recipe for disaster. Losing Al Wilson was a hug blow that no one has brought up.

In the situation with Rhodes, I wonder if there was an issue between Rhodes and Shanahan that the Raider game made worse. Gannon played one of the best games I have ever seen a QB play. Denver's defense (and Griese) totally fell apart after that game.

85 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

If the Chargers really want to be in the running for the Superbowl, they will have to continue to improve in the secondary to beat the Colts and Patriots. I think signing a cornerback is very important. While Cromartie and Jammer are great, getting a guy like Marcus Trufant would make them that much more formidable against those two aerial attacks from Boston and Indy.

86 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

RE 85 -

While I'd love to see 3 legit CB1s on the Bolts, there's no way in hades that AJ will open up for a high priced FA like that at a position where they don't desperately need a frontline starter. They're content to build it up through the draft, and possibly add a 2nd-tier FA for depth purposes only. Besides, in my view, they're far more needy at S than CB - McCree will be released, and Hart is adequate at best.

87 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

86: Well, maybe Oliver can be the answer at S. IIRC that's where they think his future is.

88 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


I've read the same things - I remain skeptical, but if it turns out to be correct, then they're set for years in the secondary. That means their "need" picks would be at NT and OG/OT. Other than that, there are very few gaps in the roster. A solid backup/nickel corner in FA or late in the draft should cover any deficiencies in slot receiver defense.

89 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

The way I see it, the Chargers can probably grab another first-day pick by packaging Lo Neal and maybe Malcom Floyd. That would leave them with one pick to grab a nickelback/understudy CB* and one to get in on the really good-looking top echelon of the RB class as an understudy/extender/insurance policy for LT. Then, with 4 2nd day picks, they can grab a competitor Safety, two Guards and a shot in the dark at replacing Jamal Williams (good luck w/that).

They do have another year at least of Williams/McKinney at Nose Tackle, and McKinney might actually be the long-term answer (hard to say), so if they fail to get a great NT this year it's not all bad. Next year, they can drop a first-rounder on the problem, or sign a VFA and push it forward (the former probably makes more sense given the situation).

* It would be funny if the top CB on the draft board at pick #27 was Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. Would they take him?