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AFC West hopefuls face big decisions at some pivotal positions

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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When the lockout is over, it could be a mad dash for talent all over the NFL. With that in mind, we examine the most important things each team must accomplish with a division-by-division breakdown. This is a look at the AFC West.

Broncos in search of a 'gamer'
There is no doubt that veteran
Kyle Orton could be considered a "gamer," and second-year pro
Tim Tebow, at least based on his collegiate résumé, more than fits the description, Steve Wyche writes. More ...

Denver Broncos

Trade Orton: Sooner or later, the Broncos have to find out if Tim Tebow is the franchise quarterback. That time might as well be now. New coaches should not waste their honeymoon year trying to win eight games with a bunch of older veterans. Kyle Orton could bring a solid player or a good draft pick to Denver. It will not be hard to find a veteran to backup Tebow and help him learn the pro game. Sooner or later, the Browns should release Jake Delhomme and he can put on a baseball hat for a year and mentor Tebow. Keep in mind, John Elway and John Fox didn't draft Tebow and there is no emotional tie. If Tebow can't do it, the Broncos can draft a new quarterback next year.

Sign a few Panthers: Players typically follow coaches to new destinations. Fox is a players' coach, and some of the quality Carolina Panthers on the free-agent market would fit nicely. DeAngelo Williams would be the Broncos' feature back and defensive end Charles Johnson would give Denver an excellent pass rush by teaming with Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos would expect 20-plus sacks from that defensive end tandem. Both Williams and Johnson are young enough to play out long-term contracts. The Broncos can't wait any longer for Robert Ayers -- who has 1.5 sacks in two years -- to deliver.

Acquire two defensive tackles: The position is a weakness on the Denver roster. It's time for the Broncos to hit free agency for at least one veteran, but two would be even better. In a perfect world, they would add the New York Giants' Barry Cofield and Seattle Seahawks' Brandon Mebane. Cofield is a 27-year-old defensive tackle with good size at 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds. Cofield typically delivers 40 tackles and three to four sacks a season. Mebane, 26, is 6-foot-1 and closer to 315 pounds. Mebane will not have the same numbers as Cofield, but will be disruptive inside and could play more as a "one-technique." Maybe Fox would like to put the Minnesota Vikings' Pat Williams on the nose for a year, although that would fly in the face of a youth movement.

Kansas City Chiefs

Find a nose tackle: The Chiefs drafted Jerrell Powe in the sixth round out of Mississippi, and the 330-pound plugger will help in the rotation. However, if Kansas City could get its hands on a guy like the San Francisco 49ers' Aubrayo Franklin, then that would give the Chiefs a better defense. Re-signing Ron Edwards wouldn't be all bad and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Sign a right tackle: The Chiefs were the best rushing team in the NFL last year with 164 yards a game and at a clip of 4.7 yards per rush. The Chiefs want to run the ball 35 times a game, and they could be even better at it with an upgrade at right tackle. The Atlanta Falcons' Tyson Clabo would be a very good fit. The Dallas Cowboys' Doug Free would give the Chiefs flexibility for left or right tackle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jeremy Trueblood is not in the class of the other two, but he is a very physical right tackle who would fit into the Chiefs' scheme.

Go slow on Waters and get Wiegmann re-signed: Replacing talent with talent is the key to personnel moves, and rumors about guard Brian Waters being done in Kansas City are out there. The Chiefs believe Jon Asamoah is ready to play, but between him and veteran Ryan Lilja on the other side, keeping Waters might be a very good idea. In 16 starts, Waters had two penalties and gave up one sack in 2010. In fact, in his last 47 starts Waters has given up four sacks. As for Casey Wiegmann, the team needs him for one more year to get rookie Rodney Hudson ready to play.

Oakland Raiders

Bring in at least one offensive lineman: At this point, the Raiders would be starting two rookies on the offensive line, Stefan Wisniewski at center and Joe Barksdale at right tackle. They also plan to replace guard Robert Gallery with untested Bruce Campbell. Those three things can't happen if the Raiders are going to move forward as a team. The Raiders believe in these young players, so they probably head to free agency looking for a few veteran bargains to come in and hold the fort down.

Re-sign Miller and make an offer to Asomugha: Tight end Zach Miller is a key to the offense. If the Raiders lose him in free agency, both the running and passing games suffer. Miller averages about 60 catches and four touchdowns a season, plus he helps establish a point of attack for the run game. There is no one in free agency who can replace what Miller does. As for the star corner, Nnamdi Asomugha, he probably is headed to another team, especially after the Raiders gave Stanford Routt a new three-year deal before the lockout started. The Raiders have paid Asomugha lot of money over the years and inflated his value financially. Asomugha's a fine player, but his market value makes it next to impossible for the Raiders to bring him back. That being said, the Raiders should make an offer, or at least ask Asomugha to give them a chance to match what he is offered by another team. Losing Asomugha is a step backwards for a team trying to turn its fortunes around.

Put a young quarterback in the mix: Coach Hue Jackson is very good with quarterbacks, and I think he should have a young prospect on the roster behind starter Jason Campbell. Oakland should consider Terrelle Pryor if we ever get to a supplemental draft. I don't think they would have to put in a first- or second-round selection, but a third-rounder might do it. Oakland just drafted CB DeMarcus Van Dyke from Miami (Fla.) in the third round and he was on the Hurricanes' bench by the end of last season. Pryor is less of a risk than that and he could develop nicely.

San Diego Chargers

Re-sign Weddle and Burnett: Kevin Burnett has quietly become a very good linebacker for San Diego after coming over from the Cowboys in 2009. Last year, Burnett was in on 95 tackles, six sacks, two interceptions and forced two fumbles. There will be teams interested in him, but San Diego needs to keep Burnett. He will be 29 in December, so the contract length could be a bit tricky. However, when you realize James Holt and Kion Wilson are penciled in as starters, it's a no-brainer to get a deal done with Burnett. As for Eric Weddle, his name pops up all over the league as a guy teams want. He's from San Diego and told me he would like to stay, but I got the sense he's ready to test the market. Weddle played for Ron Rivera over the past few seasons and really likes his old coordinator, who is now the coach in Carolina. The Chargers added often-injured Bob Sanders in the offseason and might be preparing for life without Weddle.

Acquire a veteran wide receiver: Vincent Jackson continues to play on the franchise tag. Unless they strike a long-term deal with Jackson, this might be his last season in San Diego. Patrick Crayton is projected as the other starter and the Chargers drafted Vincent Brown in the third round. This team could use another solid receiver. San Diego has always liked tall targets and I could a Braylon Edwards being very productive with Philip Rivers throwing him passes. It's possible the Chargers re-sign either Malcom Floyd or Legedu Naanee if the lockout limits the amount of preparation time teams have to get ready for the season. Maybe the Chargers think about either Steve Smith (Giants or Panthers).

Find a swing tackle: There is always a reason to add a versatile offensive tackle who can play both sides. It's a hard player to find and maybe the Chargers add a starting tackle for the right side and let the competition play out. Picking up a player like the Buccaneers' Jeremy Trueblood would help the depth up front.

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