AFC West News: March 15-22

What's the competition up to for the week of March 15th, 2003 through March 22nd, 2003? Chargers Update takes a look into the brewings of the AFC West division, including the courting of free agents, signings, kicker news, and more information not found anywhere else. Could Junior Seau end up in the AFC West? Find out here! This is a weekly premium feature at Chargers Update that tackles the latest issues within the division!

Denver Broncos

Did Denver's Shanahan mess with Oakland's chances?
March 15, 2003

If the abortive Rodney Harrison-to-Oakland tale is any indication, the AFC West continues to be nothing if it is not a cut-throat division The San Diego free agent safety was in Oakland for a visit Monday. Earlier, Harrison had indicated an interest in Denver, among other teams, but had given up on that notion when the Broncos didn't so much as express an interest. The Raiders did, and so, according to his agent Steve Feldman, things looked good for Harrison coming to Oakland. However, while Harrison was in Oakland, he got a call in his hotel room from Denver's Mike Shanahan. Shanahan, who may have heard Oakland was about to cut a deal, was apparently eager to scotch that deal. He told Harrison that the Broncos' lack of interest was, in reality, an administrative oversight ... that a return-our-call message was never passed on to him. Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, Harrison left Oakland to return to his home in Atlanta to ponder his options. Less than 24 hours later, he signed a deal with the New England Patriots. For their part, the Raiders downplayed Harrison's escape. "It was just that, a visit," Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen said. "We wanted to give him a physical and see where he was ... he went through a tough season." "We feel really good about (former first round pick) Derrick Gibson," Allen said.

Not worried about Dad's footsteps in Miami
March 16, 2003

While appearing at a Super Bowl XXXVII function in January, Bob Griese said he would love for his son Brian to join the Dolphins. But Bob Griese also was worried about Brian having to follow in his sizeable footsteps. Bob Griese helped the Dolphins win two Super Bowl titles during a Hall of Fame career that spanned from 1967 to 1980. Brian Griese said Monday that he wasn't worried about such pressure and that he has a strong interest in joining the Dolphins if released by Denver after June 1 as expected. Turner spoke with Griese about such a possibility this week as the Dolphins seek to upgrade their backup quarterback spot after Ray Lucas' poor performance in 2002. The Broncos have given agent Ralph Cindrich permission to seek a trade, but such a move is unlikely because Denver would take a $9.2 million cap hit under such a scenario. By releasing Griese after June 1, the Broncos would save $2.4 million in cap room this season but take a $6.9 million hit in 2004. After having to replace John Elway in Denver, Brian Griese laughed when told of his father's concerns about joining the Dolphins. "It can't be any harder than what I've been through out here (in Denver)," he said.

Despite words, expect him back
March 16, 2003

Shannon Sharpe now insists he hasn't made up his mind. Don't believe it for a minute. Could it be the veteran tight end just wants a little love (or more money), and some begging from coach Mike Shanahan. Sharpe already told several people close to him that he was returning for one more season, and he told several Broncos coaches. He's not working out every day just for fun.

Knows scrutiny will be intense
March 20, 2003

Reporters haven't started keeping track of how much Jake Plummer tips or whether he prefers carrots to peas, but he knows the scrutiny will be more intense than what he experienced in Arizona. Many inside the organization, however, expect a smoother transition for the newest Broncos leader, mainly because of Plummer's outgoing style. It certainly is nothing like what teammates experienced under introvert Brian Griese. "I think it will only help as far as guys getting to know him and believe they understand where he's coming from," backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein said. "The issue a lot of people had with Brian is they couldn't get a read on what he was thinking or feeling. Maybe I didn't see it as much because I was around him more. "But there's no doubt Jake is more of an outgoing guy, a guy who isn't afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. I think guys will respond to that." The biggest question surrounding Plummer, who signed a seven-year, $40 million free-agent contract, is whether he's ready for the Broncos playbook. "The first thing you do as a coach is find out how much overlap there is," offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said of identifying terminology and plays with which Plummer is familiar. "The great thing is, we do have some time from the standpoint of just football. We have April, May and June. And here's a kid saying 'I'd like to get started tomorrow.' "We've got a willing participant, and we've got time." Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Pat McPherson put together a book that will help them determine what Plummer already understands, what he's comfortable with and what they must spend time working on. Without having seen the Broncos playbook, Plummer said he expects there will be carry-over from every system he has played in - and he has played in a lot. The Arizona Cardinals went through three offensive coordinators in six years, and Plummer had four different quarterbacks coaches at Arizona State. "I'm a pretty bright guy when it comes to offenses. I played in almost every style," he said. Beyond that, Plummer knows he has to develop a close bond with his teammates. Plummer will be back for the start of the Broncos' off-season conditioning program March 31. "I'll be here full force," Plummer said. "That's part of the whole thing, learning the guys. I'm going to be here every single day. I'll probably be the first one here and the last one to leave, because there's a lot I'm going to have to do. But it's fun work, exciting work. I'm absolutely thrilled to be doing this type of stuff because it's moving in the right direction." Whereas Griese seemed uncomfortable at times around his teammates and only began making a concerted effort to get to know them last off-season, Plummer said he's eager to meet everyone as soon as he can. But he knows developing chemistry and timing will take time. "You can't force something like that; that just has to develop. It won't be at full force until we play together and they get a chance to see what kind of determination, what kind of grit I have, the courage I have standing in there and doing whatever it takes. That will happen," Plummer said. Beuerlein said the hardest part would be trying to learn a new offense and new receivers. "If you've got less to learn, from that aspect, it's a lot easier to make the adjustments to the new receivers and learn all their idiosyncracies and quirks," he said. He called it an advantage that Plummer has played in a variation of the West Coast offense and will be working with veterans such as Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. "They're as good to work with as anyone. They'll spend extra time talking to him and tell him what they're thinking and ask him what he's looking for," Beuerlein said.

Signs with Buffalo
March 22, 2003

Free agent safety Izell Reese, who met with the Bills coaching staff on March 18, signed with Buffalo three days later. Reese, who has played in 71 career NFL games, could back up both safety spots where the Bills are thin. Last fall, he started 15 games for Denver at free safety and registered 58 tackles and five passes defensed. "I got a good feel for it," he said when asked what he learned about Buffalo's defense. "One good thing, I played multiple positions so I'm well aware of the complexity of different schemes. In my years in Dallas, we played everything from A to Z. I consider myself to be able to do a little bit of everything back there."

Kansas City

Rumor of return to Giants gains steam
March 15, 2003

The latest rumor (on a scale of 1 to 10, make this a 7) is that the Giants are interested in re-signing kicker Morten Andersen, who was allowed to escape to Kansas City last year when the Giants had an intractable salary cap problem. At the time, GM Ernie Accorsi reviewed his decision as "reluctant" and added that "we really wanted to keep Mort but we just couldn't, and he waited as long as he could to see if we could somehow make the [cap] room for him." In any case, he left, and after going through training camp with Owen Pochman, who was inconsistent at best, the Giants got lucky and found FA Matt Bryant right there in their camp, among the players head coach Jim Fassel admitted "I didn't pay much attention to." Bryant made 26 of 32 FGs, second highest production in team history, and yet somehow was always considered unsatisfactory. Now with Andersen possible available, the Giants are actually thinking of releasing a kicker who netted 108 points for them last season, the third-highest figure in team history and second best for a kicker (Ali Haji-Sheikh had 127 in 1983.

Could Chiefs be a fit?
March 16, 2003

Like a collector of vintage automobiles, the Chiefs received a couple years of good mileage when finely turned players like Marcus Allen and Joe Montana closed out their careers in Kansas City. Might Junior Seau be far behind? Seau, who learned this week that he will be released by San Diego... Well, you know how incestuous AFC West teams are when it comes to snapping up the castoffs of their division rivals. Beyond that, the Chiefs could offer Seau plenty of playing time without the day-in, day-out grind of being a full-time player.

Staying with Chiefs
March 19, 2003

Kicker Morten Andersen has agreed to a four-year deal to stay with Kansas City. He had been rumored to be considering a return to the New York Giants.

Chiefs might be an option
March 20, 2003

Shawn Bryson, a Buffalo backup whose 2002 season ended with a knee injury after six games, became the first offensive free agent to visit the Chiefs as Kansas City continues to look for a backup to Priest Holmes.

Claimed, but likely not needed
March 20, 2003

Jose Cortez, who was released by San Francisco after missing several critical field goals in game-winning situations, has been claimed off waivers from Washington, where he landed after his late-season release by the 49ers. Cortez was brought in as insurance in case Morten Andersen left as a free agent. However, Andersen has since re-signed, so it's unlikely Cortez will be on the roster at the start of next season.

Chiefs won't be in the mix
March 22, 2003

The Chiefs will not be in the market for the services of San Diego linebacker Junior Seau should he become available, as expected, following the Chargers' decision not to retain him. "We've spent the money we're going to spend on a linebacker," coach Dick Vermeil said, referring to the signing of former Philadelphia linebacker Shawn Barber. "I think he can still play and make a contribution. But if we bring in another linebacker, he's got to be a multipurpose player -- special teams, pass rusher, that kind of stuff. You bring (Seau) in, and you have to pencil him in as a starter. We know who our starters are going to be."

Oakland Raiders

The latest to cross the Bay
March 16, 2003

When the Raiders announced they were making their first free agent signing of the off-season Wednesday, ears perked up all over the East Bay. At last, would this be the pass rushing end they so desperately have sought ... namely Hugh Douglas, who had 15 sacks in a not-too-long ago campaign? As it turns out, they did sign a defensive lineman. And he did post a 15-sack season once upon a time. But the new Raider was not Hugh Douglas. He was not even a defensive end. He was tackle Dana Stubblefield, who won't even have to find new living quarters after having been cut by the San Francisco 49ers several weeks ago. That he was cut embarrassed Stubblefield, who was due to make $2.325 million next year but the comments by 49er general manager Terry Donahue a day later still burned in his ears. "At times he struggled," Donahue said, "particularly towards the end of the year when his weight got higher." "That really got me," Stubblefield said. "It is kind of funny he would speak on that when the night before when they released me, he never said anything to me about it. "I always left it open to him to give me an explanation why they were letting me go. He never did. But the next day in the papers, he gave the reason. If that is the reason they are going to use ... so be it." By taking his business next door and playing for the Raiders, Stubblefield clearly would love nothing better than rubbing the noses of his former team's brass in it. That may be why he agreed to such meager terms -- a one year deal for the veteran minimum $755,000. No signing bonus, just incentives ... which he has plenty of. He praised the Raider organization for being concerned for "winning and winning only." The 49ers, he said, had other agendas. "You know that ... you've seen it," he said. Stubblefield may have sealed his fate in San Francisco by being openly critical of the firing of coach Steve Mariucci. He does not regret it. "I stand behind Mooch 100 percent," he said. "He has always done that for me." In Oakland, he has a spot at left tackle waiting for him, provided his play, at age 32, merits the appointment. The departure of starter Sam Adams, released in a salary cap move on Feb. 28, means right tackle John Parrella did not have a running mate other than Rod Coleman. Coleman was the Raiders' sack leader last year but does not pack the weight to play every down. Stubblefield -- listed at 290 by the 49ers but whose weight was estimated at at least 320 by season's end -- was coveted not for all those sacks he collected in 1997 when he was NFL defensive player of the year but for his ability to jam the middle. "We (he and Parrella) are both from the Big Eight (Stubblefield from Kansas, Parrella from Nebraska) so we know how to stuff the run real well," he said. Stubblefield has collected 13.5 sacks in the five years since his 15-sack season. Consequently, the Raiders are still seeking that outside pass rusher.

A Raider
March 17, 2003

Kick returner Ronney Jenkins signed with the Oakland Raiders today replacing the departed Terry Kirby. In three seasons with the Chargers (2000-2002), Jenkins returned 165 kickoffs for 3,997 yards and three touchdowns. He set the team record for kickoff returns in a season as a rookie with 67 in 2000 and broke his own team record for kickoff return yards in a season with 1,541 in 2001. His 165 kickoff returns were the second most in team history behind Andre Coleman's 166 from 1994-96. Jenkins' 3,997 kickoff return yards is the most in team history.

Bucs interested
March 19, 2003

Former Oakland quarterback Bobby Hoying, who played four seasons under Bucs coach Jon Gruden with the Raiders, underwent a physical for the Bucs last week. Hoying has spent the last 18 months recovering from surgery on his right elbow and was placed on the physically unable to perform list prior to the start of 2002 training camp.

Bills trying to find room
March 19, 2003

After adjusting to the sticker shock of landing LB Takeo Spikes with a six-year, $32 million deal, the Bills were regrouping, presumably with the idea of going after top defensive tackle Sam Adams. A dialogue with Adams' agent, Angelo Wright, has been kept open. "I'm upbeat," Wright said. "I think both parties recognize Sam could be an integral cog in the Bills getting to a Super Bowl." What it will take is Buffalo's football department convincing owner Ralph Wilson to pony up another $5 million a year for Adams. Wilson is asking, "If Spikes is so good, and I just gave him $11 million in guaranteed money, why can't we get by with more affordable, lesser-talented bodies up front?" Good question, but Bills fans all remember how much 350-pound plus DT Ted Washington impacted Buffalo's defense during playoff runs in 1998 and '99. Buffalo's new regime realizes what a mistake it was to cut Washington and want another player like him back in the fold. The 6-3, 330-pound Adams is seen as someone capable of keeping blockers off what has now become a potentially dominant linebacking corps of London Fletcher, Jeff Posey and Spikes. Ironically, Wright represents Washington, too, along with current Bills DT Pat Williams.

March 19, 2003

Backup QB Rick Mirer has been re-signed.

March 19, 2003

Veteran FB Chris Hetherington has signed with Oakland. Terms of the deal were not released.

March 19, 2003

FB Cecil Martin has been signed by Oakland. Terms of the deal were not released.

March 20, 2003

The Oakland Raiders have re-signed No. 3 quarterback Rick Mirer.

Vikings could have interest
March 23, 2003

Viking Update has been told that the Vikings have been in contact with the agent for DT Sam Adams. If the Vikings could sign Adams, it would be a clear indication the team will trade down in the first round of the draft. If they stay at No. 7, they will almost assuredly take a defensive tackle. Adams has also received extensive interest from the Bengals and Bills.

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