That development will allow the Chiefs to at least start their preparations for the season with all of the key components of their pass rush intact. The Chiefs have Houston and Tamba Hali, two of the league's premier pass rushers, at outside linebacker. They also have first-round draft pick Dee Ford, who showed great promise in his ability to get after the opposing quarterback during offseason practice.
"We're going to get it rocking again, Sack City," Hali said after he checked into Scanlon Hall, the player's dormitory at Missouri Western State. "Whatever happened in the offseason, we put all of that behind us and he's here to play football just like every other man. That's our concern, to get to the quarterback."
The Chiefs are going to need every bit of pass-rush ability they can muster this season. After releasing cornerback Brandon Flowers and losing free safety Kendrick Lewis to free agency, the Chiefs promoted last year's backups into the starting lineup and are perilously thin in the secondary.
The Chiefs had the pass rush going during the first half of last season, when they were on pace to set an NFL record for sacks. They cooled off dramatically in the second half in part because Houston missed the final five games because of a dislocated elbow, and the Chiefs had no other edge pass rusher capable of adequately complementing Hali.
The Chiefs drafted Ford this year partly to protect themselves against a lengthy holdout by Houston and partly to protect themselves against an injury to either Houston or Hali.
"We're trying to take pride in what the Chiefs organization has done in drafting guys that can get after the passer," Hali said. "Each year we're bringing in better guys.
"The more guys that can get to the quarterback, it's going to alleviate a lot stress."
It should be disturbing to Chiefs fans that Kansas City has just one player on the ranking of the top 48 players under 25. One possible factor is that the Chiefs haven't had a second-round draft pick since 2012. They traded their second-rounder in each of the past two drafts to the San Francisco 49ers in return for quarterback Alex Smith.
The Chiefs also drafted a project with the first overall pick in 2013 when they selected Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher. Fisher, 23, had a rough rookie season but still projects as a solid left tackle. If he makes as much progress from his first season to his second that Poe did, Fisher should make this list next year.
Other young Chiefs players who could make the list next year are tight end Travis Kelce, 23, and linebacker Dee Ford, 23. The Chiefs have plans for Kelce in the passing game, and he could have a breakthrough season if he stays healthy. Ford should play in passing situations and showed promise as a pass rusher during offseason practice.
The list includes only players who are under 25. If it included players who are 25, linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry would have made the list.
It seems like a football eon ago that then-Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels sized up the potential AFC West race and called the San Diego Chargers “kind of the measuring stick.”
That statement came before the 2010 season as the Chargers had won the previous four division titles. It’s also right about the time the winds of change began to roar in earnest in the division, when the foundation was set for what has happened since.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the division in '10. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired McDaniels after a 4-12 season marred by Spygate and hired John Elway as the Broncos’ top football executive.
Since then, the Broncos have won three consecutive division titles, one featuring the national phenomenon that was a Tim Tebow-led read-option offense, and two with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. And the Broncos' crushing February Super Bowl loss notwithstanding, they are coming off a record-setting 2013 with Manning returning and a free-agency haul that included pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos are poised to be in the league’s championship conversation again.
The Chiefs think they are ready for more, the Chargers were the only team in the division to beat the Broncos last season, and the Oakland Raiders, after a flurry of offseason moves, believe -- at least LaMarr Woodley believes -- they can be a playoff team.
NFL Nation reporters Jeff Legwold (Broncos), Eric D. Williams (Chargers), Adam Teicher (Chiefs) and Paul Gutierrez (Raiders) look at how the AFC West division race will shake out this season.
What will the Broncos' record be and why?
Jeff Legwold: Look at the Broncos' depth chart, and on paper -- yes, the dreaded "on paper" distinction -- they are better than they were when they finished 13-3 and played their way into Super Bowl XLVIII last season. After the crushing loss in the title game, they didn't go quietly into the offseason. They put together a solid draft class with two potential immediate contributors in cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer. They were also one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, reeling in Ware, Talib, Ward and Sanders. If Ware and Talib, in particular stay healthy (Talib has never played 16 games in a season), Denver's defense will be vastly improved alongside a record-breaking offense that figures to again pile up points. The Broncos finished with five defensive starters on injured reserve last season, and many of the players who were starting on defense down the stretch will be backups this season. Their trek through the NFC West to go with road games against the Patriots, Jets and Bengals gives them a potentially brutal schedule. They could be better than they were last season and not have the record to show for it. That is why 12-4 would be a quality piece of work.
Adam Teicher: 12-4. It's a bit much to expect the Broncos to match their 13-3 record of last season. A schedule that includes two games against the Chiefs and Chargers and singles against all teams from the NFC West plus New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati almost guarantees that Denver won't get to 13 wins. But a slightly diminished regular-season record doesn't mean the Broncos won't win the AFC or play in the Super Bowl again. From this vantage point, it's an upset if any team but the Broncos represents the AFC in the Super Bowl this season.
Paul Gutierrez: Sure, no one takes a Super Bowl beating like the Denver Broncos, whose five losses on Super Sunday are by a combined score of 206-58. But in the modern world of the rich getting richer, the defending AFC champs simply got better. Adding a trio of big-name free agents in Ware, Talib and Ward will only make the defense more sound. And the addition of Sanders, who will replace the departed Eric Decker, should help the Broncos' record-setting offense continue to hum along under the direction of Manning. The Broncos are primed for another division title with a 12-4 record, with tough games at Kansas City, at San Diego (the Chargers won in Denver last season), at New England (the Patriots won in OT last season) and at Seattle (remember that 43-8 pasting the Seahawks put on the Broncos in the Super Bowl?).
What will the Chiefs' record be and why?
Legwold: There is an air about this team; the Chiefs seem comfortable with where the roster was at the end of the 2013 season going into 2014. They were not all that active in free agency, though they took some swings at a wide receiver or two, including Emmanuel Sanders. If they are the team that went 9-0 before the bye last season, then standing pat is just fine, but if they are the group that went 2-5 down the stretch, then they are not catching the Broncos. They have shuffled the offensive line and seem likely to lean on running back Jamaal Charles again on offense, but they lack pop on the outside, especially if receiver A.J. Jenkins can't lift his game. The defense is solid in the front seven, but in a division with quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, cornerback Brandon Flowers' release might be the move that eventually stings the most, especially if young cornerback Marcus Cooper, a player Manning targeted repeatedly last season, is not up to the challenge. It all has the look of a step back from last season's 11-5 to 9-7 with the NFC West on everybody's schedule in the division.
Teicher: 8-8. Kansas City faltered down the stretch last season, winning two of its final eight games. The Chiefs then watched several significant regulars leave through free agency. The Chiefs have holes at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield that they failed to adequately address. That doesn't mean they won't be playoff contenders. Despite the lousy record, the Chiefs quietly finished last season as one of the NFL's better offensive teams. They might be able to score enough points to overcome a shaky defense that couldn't hold a 28-point lead in last season's playoff loss against Indianapolis.
Gutierrez: Are the Kansas City Chiefs the team that made history by becoming the first in NFL modern annals to follow up a two-victory season by winning its first nine games the following season, or are they the club that lost six of its last eight, including a heartbreaking 45-44 wild-card loss to the Indianapolis Colts? Momentum being what it is, and with the Chiefs having a so-so draft coupled with departures of the likes of Albert, defensive end Tyson Jackson and receiver/returner Dexter McCluster, plus a tough schedule, they seem to be on the way back down. As in a 7-9 record. Tough stretches that include games at Denver, against New England, at San Francisco and at San Diego early, and against Seattle, at Oakland, against Denver, at Arizona and at Pittsburgh late will truly tell the Chiefs' tale, even as Charles continues his ascent as one of the game's best all-around backs.
@adamteicher 9-7 would be a great accomplishment. Schedule is nails, but if OL gels and backend D is in place, it's doable. O will score— Lou Montagna (@LouMontagna) July 21, 2014
What will the Chargers' record be and why?
Legwold: In his first year as Chargers coach, Mike McCoy helped get quarterback Philip Rivers back on track -- though Rivers never really conceded to being off track -- and the Chargers were able to fight through injuries, hand the Broncos their only home loss of the season, and earn a playoff spot. McCoy figures to try to keep Rivers cocooned in a low-risk approach on offense -- their leading receivers in terms of catches last season were a tight end (Antonio Gates) and a running back (Danny Woodhead) -- with a heavy dose of starting running back Ryan Mathews if he can stay healthy. Defensively, new cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers should help the secondary. As they continue their makeover in the second year of the current regime, most personnel people in the league believe the Chargers are still lacking enough athleticism, especially on defense, to make a significant push in the division race. Add up four games against the NFC West to go with New England and Baltimore and it looks like a 7-9 campaign.
Teicher: 8-8. The Chargers might be the division's most interesting team. San Diego is the team most capable of catching the first-place Broncos, but also has the best chance of getting caught by the last-place Raiders. If Rivers plays as well as he did last season, it's not out of the question that San Diego wins the AFC West. Like Denver, San Diego might have a better team than it did last season. Signing Flowers filled a big need. But a tougher schedule will keep the Chargers out of the playoffs this time.
Gutierrez: San Diego, under a rookie head coach in the offensive-minded Mike McCoy, won four straight games to end the regular season and sneak into the playoffs at 9-7, and another 9-7 campaign seems to be in the works, even if the Chargers look to be better in 2014. Some of McCoy's moves did have many fans scratching their heads, but there is no debating he was instrumental in Rivers' NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award-winning season. The Chargers added bruising running back Donald Brown to join lightning-quick Ryan Mathews and are excited to see what their receiving corps, highlighted by second-year wideout Keenan Allen, can do if Malcom Floyd is healthy. No, it's not the halcyon and high-flying days of Air Coryell, but with tough games at Arizona, Oakland, Denver, Baltimore and San Francisco, and with New England coming to San Diego, the Chargers will take it.
@eric_d_williams 11-5 & make the playoffs if we stay healthy, 9-7 & miss the playoffs if we don't. And we'll beat Denver.— Shea Duggan (@SDsportskid86) July 22, 2014
What will the Raiders' record be and why?
Legwold: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has the look of a potential foundation player in the Raiders defense. If things go as the Raiders hope, he should be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year because he's going to get plenty of snaps. But overall this team has put its immediate fate in the hands of veterans with far less of their career in front of them than in their past, led by quarterback Matt Schaub. Raiders coach Dennis Allen keeps saying Schaub is a top-10 passer in the league, but Schaub has always seemed to lack that kind of confidence in himself. But front-seven additions LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew are certainly risk-reward moves the Raiders need to work. Tuck is 30, Woodley is 29 and Jones-Drew, who has missed 11 games combined in the past two seasons, just turned 29. The depth chart is still thin, particularly on defense, and an injury or two will have a ripple effect. The schedule's second half also includes two games against the Broncos, two against the Chiefs, and games against the 49ers and the Rams. It all looks like a potential 5-11.
Teicher: 6-10. The days of hopeless desperation are coming to an end in Oakland. The Raiders won't be the pushovers they were last season. But they are still not ready to compete with their AFC West rivals. Schaub won't be the answer at quarterback. Instead, he will be another in a long line of failures. Going to rookie quarterback Derek Carr won't solve their problems, at least not this season. By 2015, the Raiders will be a factor in the AFC West race. But despite a major free-agent spending spree, they will still drag the bottom in 2014.
Gutierrez: In the immediate aftermath of the NFL schedule being released back in April, I saw a 5-11 season for the Raiders. Now, after the draft, organized team activities and minicamps? I'll go 6-10. Doesn't sound all that impressive, I know, but it would, technically, be improvement for third-year coach Dennis Allen after consecutive 4-12 seasons. Yes, the Raiders did rebuild both lines with talent and, on the defensive side of the ball, championship pedigree. And they are going with a new quarterback in the battle-tested Schaub. Plus, the veterans Oakland brought in via free agency all have chips on their shoulders. Truly, this is the most talent Allen has had at his disposal. Still, Oakland has the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, and until it proves differently, it's hard to imagine the Raiders winning more than six games. Where might they scratch out six victories? Let's start with home games against Houston, Miami (in London), San Diego, Arizona, Kansas City and Buffalo and go from there.
@PGutierrezESPN 8-8 because they have a tough schedule and with the talent they have will improve a bit..DA gets fired & Gruden in 2015— AK (@AaronK510) July 21, 2014
They signed two veterans, offensive tackle Ryan Harris and linebacker Josh Mauga. They released one rookie free agent, linebacker DeRon Furr, and placed another, running back James Baker, on the did not report to camp list.
The addition of Harris makes the most sense. The Chiefs aren't particularly deep at offensive tackle. Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson are the starters. Veterans Jeff Linkenbach and J'Marcus Webb are the leading candidates to become the first tackle off the bench, so it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for the Chiefs if Harris wound up winning that job instead.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs selected a running back in each of the past two drafts. They have one of the league’s highest paid wide receivers. They are hopeful a healthy collection of tight ends can make a difference in their passing game.
But no matter how they looked at it, the Chiefs would have felt the absence of running back Jamaal Charles.
And it would have hurt.
The Chiefs avoided that football calamity shortly after Wednesday’s reporting deadline for training camp at Missouri Western State University, agreeing to a contract extension with Charles, their most valuable player and their offensive engine.
“Jamaal is a third of their offense,’’ former Chiefs head coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards said. “He’s an explosive player. He’s going to generate points and he’s so difficult to defend because he’s multi-dimensional. They have nobody else capable of doing that.’’
Charles accounted for 35.8 percent of the Chiefs’ yards from scrimmage last season, the highest total in the league.
He was their leader in rushing (1,287 yards), receiving (70 catches for 693 yards) and touchdowns (12 rushing, seven receiving), the player the Chiefs leaned on week in and week out.
The Chiefs would have plugged a body into his spot, but they would have struggled to get half of Charles’ production from any one source. They drafted Knile Davis in the third round in 2013 but Davis averaged 3.5 yards per carry, or 1.5 yards fewer than Charles. He struggled as a pass-receiver and a pass-blocker.
“Davis can run the ball,’’ said Edwards, the Chiefs’ coach when they drafted Charles in the third round in 2008, “but he’s not Jamaal Charles.’’
The Chiefs this year drafted the fast but diminutive De’Anthony Thomas from Oregon in the fourth round. The Chiefs have looked at Thomas as a back and in a variety of other roles, but he’s still a rookie and an unproven commodity.
He’s also 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, and at that size unlikely to be a consistent threat for the Chiefs.
“Thomas is explosive and you can give him the ball a bunch of different ways,’’ Edwards said. “But he’s not an every-down player. He’s just not big enough.’’
The Chiefs had one of the least productive groups of wide receivers in the league last season and failed to add much in the way of proven help. They are hopeful of a bounce-back season from wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013 after signing a five-year, $56 million contract. But Bowe will turn 30 in September, so a return to form may be wishful thinking on the part of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are healthy, for now at least, at tight end after injuries ravaged them at the position last year. But, again, they’re counting on big seasons from unproven players Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris.
Despite their efforts to fortify themselves on offense to the point they can survive without Charles, the fact is the Chiefs aren’t there yet. They can’t survive without him, a fact that soon would have been hammered home had they not moved Wednesday to get Charles into camp.
Terms weren't disclosed but sources told ESPN that Charles received a two-year deal that will keep Charles in Kansas City through the 2017 season.
Charles was absent from camp at Missouri Western State University at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, when players were required to report. But the sides reached an agreement shortly afterward and Charles was en route to camp from his home in Kansas City.
The six-year NFL veteran tweeted on Wednesday afternoon before the Chiefs officially announced his contract agreement, referring to his earlier reporting status.
I had no intention on holding out...I just ran out of gas on the way to camp and my cell phone battery died. It was a long walk I tell ya.
- Jamaal Charles (@jcharles25) July 23, 2014
His previous contract, signed in 2010, had two years remaining.
The new deal, which runs through 2017, will pay Charles $18.1 million for the additional two years. He will make an extra $5.1 million over the next two seasons, including a $4.4 million raise this year, according to sources. He was scheduled to make $3.9 million this year, including a base salary of $2.65 million.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- After failing to come to an agreement on a contract extension with the Kansas City Chiefs, star running back Jamaal Charles failed to report to training camp by the team's 4 p.m. ET deadline Wednesday.
Charles participated in offseason workouts with the Chiefs but threatened to hold out from training camp absent a new deal.
The Chiefs believed as recently as Tuesday that Charles would arrive for camp at Missouri Western State University on time, but he was absent at the deadline.
Charles' contract, signed in 2010, has two years remaining. He is scheduled to make $3.9 million this year, including a base salary of $2.65 million. That's a bargain for the Chiefs compared to salaries for some of the NFL's other top backs. In all, 13 running backs are scheduled to make more than Charles this season, led by the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who is due $12 million.
Here is the training camp schedule. Unless otherwise noted, practices are open free of charge. Note that the schedule is subject to change. I'll send out notices on my Twitter account (@adamteicher) of any changes. The Chiefs say they will provide updates at their website.
July 31 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 1 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 2 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 3 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 4 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 5 -– No practice.
Aug. 6 -– No practice.
Aug. 7 -– Preseason game No. 1 vs. Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium, 7 p.m.
Aug. 8 -– No practice
Aug. 9 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 10 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 11 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 12 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 13 -– Practice 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 14 -– Final camp practice, 8:15 a.m.
Likewise, running back Jamaal Charles has outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs in 2010. The Chiefs and Charles have discussed a new deal but in this case I’m going to urge the team to be a lot more cautious in handing out their money.
But the differences between the two situations are huge, and those differences make it a good idea for the Chiefs to pay Houston but a dicey one to pay Charles.
Though both players have outperformed their contracts, Houston had no choice but to sign his. He was a third-round draft pick with no leverage and no choice but to take Kansas City’s offer or not play.
Charles went willingly into the contract he signed. It wasn’t the offer he was obligated to take in 2008 as a third-round draft choice. In 2010, he opted for Kansas City’s cash up front instead of the chance to eventually become a free agent.
These last two seasons were part of that deal.
A bigger and perhaps more important difference is that Houston's new contract wouldn't be payment for things he's already done. The Chiefs can pay him for his projected production over the life of a long-term contract, as Houston is just 25 and should have several productive seasons ahead of him.
Can you realistically say that about Charles, even though he’s only 27? He’s got a lot of mileage on him. There’s no indication his production is about to nosedive, but at the same time it’s reasonable to believe that his best football is behind him.
So by giving him a fat new contract, the Chiefs would be rewarding him for what he’s already accomplished and not what he's set to accomplish in the future. That’s a dangerous way of doing business, and one that almost always backfires.
A modest raise for Charles is in order. Anything more than that and the Chiefs deserve whatever they get.
Charles has the option of holding out from training camp if a new deal is not reached before then but the Chiefs believe he will report to camp on time. Chiefs veterans were to report to training camp at Missouri Western State University on Wednesday. The first training camp practice is Thursday.
Charles, 27, has been the engine behind the Kansas City offense for the last several seasons but he had what may have been his best season in 2013. Charles led the Chiefs in rushing (1,287 yards), receiving (70 catches) and touchdowns (19), setting career highs in the last two categories.
Charles' contract, signed in 2010, is a relative bargain for the Chiefs. He is scheduled to make $3.9 million from the Chiefs this year, including a salary of $2.65 million, a roster bonus of $1 million and a workout bonus of $250,000.
The contract expires after the 2015 season. Charles is scheduled to make $6 million next year.
As comparisons, the Bears will pay Forte $6.9 million this year and the Eagles will give $8 million to McCoy.
The environment didn’t bother Fisher one bit.
The Chiefs share the sentiment. This was the plan all along for Fisher starting from the moment they drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick last year. He would play as a rookie at right tackle then shift to protect quarterback Alex Smith's blind side in 2014, after the Chiefs lost left tackle Branden Albert to the Miami Dolphins in free agency.
The plan was delayed for a few months after Fisher had two offseason surgeries, one to repair a balky shoulder and the other for a sports hernia. The surgeries limited Fisher to individual drills during offseason practice.
Despite the setbacks, getting Fisher to this point was the easy part for the Chiefs. Getting him to be the solid left tackle that Albert was last season could prove more difficult. Fisher had a rocky rookie season in large part because he wasn’t strong enough to handle the bigger, more physical defenders he faced.
Because of the shoulder surgery, Fisher’s ability to get into the weight room to remedy the problem was delayed. He insisted on Tuesday he was able to get in the necessary work anyway.
“I never really lost strength,’’ Fisher said. “I’ve been in there working. When you can’t bench, there’s other things you can do. That’s what I was doing.”
Fisher may be right. But it will be an issue for the Chiefs to monitor carefully when full-squad training camp begins on Thursday.