AFC West News: March 9-15

What's the competition up to for the week of March 9th, 2003 through March 15th, 2003? Chargers Update takes a look into the brewings of the AFC West division, including the courting of free agents, signings and more information not found anywhere else. Could Emmitt Smith 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!

Oakland Raiders

Situation clearer, a long road back
March 9, 2003

The Barret Robbins situation became a bit clearer this week. The Pro Bowl center wants to mount a comeback, he is back to work, but he's still a long way from making it all come true. And there is no assurance when he does suit up for a game, he will do it as an Oakland Raider. Robbins went public Wednesday without actually becoming available. In a statement released through his agent, Drew Pittman, Robbins made his first statements since his Super Bowl hiatus that ended with him being banished from the team on the eve of Super Bowl XXXVII. "I love the game of football and while it is going to be hard for me to face my teammates and the public, it is something I have to do," Robbins said in the statement. "I will continue to receive ongoing treatment and will remain on medication to treat my bi-polar disorder. I understand my sincerity will be judged by my actions, not by my words. I hope that everyone can appreciate that first and foremost I have to focus on my health and on restoring relationships." Relationships will be no small part of the issue of Robbins' future in Oakland. Teammates Frank Middleton and Mo Collins (currently a free agent) were highly critical of Robbins' disappearing act in San Diego. The issue is whether his teammates can ever feel comfortable about trusting Robbins to be a reliable teammate in the future. "To comment on the statements and feelings of my teammates regarding my situation is not productive," Robbins said, volunteering the information. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion." Line mate Lincoln Kennedy acknowledges this. "In this game, unlike any other in professional sports, you have to deal with 10 other guys at one given time," Kennedy said. "Along with 10 other guys, you have 10 differences of opinion. everybody looks at it differently. "Whereas a lot of people will put the blame on and point to finger at Barret, I don't. I only hold Barret responsible for his actions as one adult to another. That is the only thing." Asked if he could play with Robbins again, Kennedy answered in the affirmative. "I can play with anybody ... as long as he goes out on the field and takes care of business." Kennedy said he simply hopes the issue does not become a longtime distraction. "It was a sore subject. but at the same time, if Barret truly does have a problem, it needs to be addressed and corrected -- not only for his own person but for his family's sake. "It was sore because everybody wanted to make a big deal about it. But then there were a number of things people wanted to make a big deal about (in the aftermath of the Super Bowl loss). It wasn't just that one." According to Pittman, Robbins spent 30 days in a treatment facility for his bi-polar disorder and alcohol abuse. He has since been seen at the Raider facility, however he has not addressed his teammates. The Raiders are non-committal about his Raider future. "I've seen him and met with him, but we're not going to discuss the things we talked about," Raider senior assistant Bruce Allen said. "There are a lot of other things to be concerned with right now other than football." Robbins said he would make a live public statement "in due time ... through the medium my wife and I decide is best. "You never think something like this can happen to you but it did. I intend to do what I can to help others who suffer from this disease and raise public awareness of mental illness. It is not something I am proud of, but it is not something I am ashamed of either. No longer can this disease be ignored. I hope some good can come from what I went through and continue to deal with."

Gutsy CB signs with Bengals
March 10, 2003

The Cincinnati Bengals have reached an agreement with former Oakland cornerback Tory James on a four-year contract. James will earn $3.6 million per year and is expected to take over a starting role. The 29-year-old has played in 94 NFL games with Denver and Oakland and has 19 career interceptions, including nine in the past two seasons with the Raiders. James (6-2, 190) played in one game last season with a broken leg and had a plate inserted in the leg to play in the Super Bowl. In 2002, James had 45 tackles and four interceptions. He joins free safety Mark Roman as former LSU Tigers on the Cincinnati roster.

Affordable for three years
March 12, 2003

The Raiders continued to work on paring their salary cap numbers into a workable figure through restructuring of contracts -- specifically those of wide receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. Rice's contract was extended through 2008, however the deal is structured in such a manner that the team can afford him for the next three years -- with salaries of $1.05 million, $1.35 million and $1 million through 2005. After that, his deal jumps to $7 million, $8 million and $9 million. He received a signing bonus of about $1 million in his extension. "Last season didn't end the way we wanted it to, but I feel like we are going to have a team that can get back to the Super Bowl," Rice said. "That core group is going to be back."

Coach says Stubby a good addition
March 12, 2003

"We've always had great respect for him as a person, leader and player," Raiders head coach Bill Callahan said. "He will add instant character and leadership that has been vital in our recent success."

March 12, 2003

Former 49ers DT Dana Stubblefield won't have to go far to get to his new team after signing with cross-bay rival Oakland. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Breakdown of new deal
March 14, 2003

The continuing salary cap moves pushed the Raiders' wiggle room to around $6 million and allowed them to re-sign running back Zack Crockett and reserve lineman Brad Badger. Crockett, who has scored 25 touchdowns over the last four years as the club's short yardage and goal line back, received a seven-year deal worth $12 million after being released a week earlier. He had been scheduled to make $4 million this year. Under his new deal, he will receive a modest signing bonus of $400,000 and salaries of $655,000 in 2003 and $660,000 next year before his salary jumps to $2 million in 2005 and remains there through 2009.

Texans first stop; Cowboys, Raiders next
March 14, 2003

Free agent RB Stacey Mack visited Houston this week, as the Texans were his first stop on his tour, which is expected to also include Dallas, and Oakland.

Denver Broncos

Would have worked with Denver
March 9, 2003

Free agent safety Rodney Harrison would have preferred to end up in Denver. Denver did not feel the same.

"The Broncos didn't return our calls, which really disappointed me," Harrison said. "I was really set on going there. I thought they would give me an offer. If they thought I was too expensive, then I told my agent, I can work with them. I said any team that I would like to go to, I will work with them."

Colts counting on upside
March 9, 2003

A second-round draft pick by the Broncos in 1999, DT Montae Raegor is being brought in to help solidify Indianapolis' run defense. Although he only started two games for Denver, the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder appears to have a big upside. He will be coached once again by former Broncos' pass rush specialist John Teerlinck, who is now the Colts' defensive line coach.

Shanahan finally speaks
March 9, 2003

After months of speculation, coach Mike Shanahan finally spoke publicly about the imminent departure of Brian Griese. Griese started the past four years, but fell into disfavor and will be released June 1. Shanahan didn't use the word mistake, but he admitted things just "didn't work out" with Griese and that it was "best to move in another direction."

Of interest to Bears
March 9, 2003

Although they are unlikely to give up anything of value for him in a trade, the Bears are interested in Broncos quarterback Brian Griese. "We've had conversations about Griese, (but) we're not doing anything right now," G.M. Jerry Angelo said. "We haven't made any decisions, nor have (the Broncos), but we're going to explore every avenue, and that's one of them."

Visits New Orleans Saints
March 10, 2003

Former Denver defensive end Kavika Pittman visited the New Orleans Saints on Friday and could receive an offer from them this week, according to the Denver Post.Pittman may also take visits to the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.

Will visit Jacksonville
March 10, 2003

Former Broncos cornerback Denard Walker is scheduled to visit Jacksonville today, according to the Denver Post. Walker is also being considered by the Vikings.

Could come in for a visit
March 10, 2003

The Denver Broncos gave Brian Griese permission to seek a trade, but the fact that the team would take a $9.26 million cap hit this year makes the chances of him getting released after June 1st the more likely scenario spreading the money over two years.

However, Ralph Cindrich, the agent for Griese, wants to bring his client to Halas Hall for a visit this week. The meeting would include a physical and talking about a contract.

Whether, this is going to be allowed by the NFL is still up for debate. Either way the Bears are thinking of Griese as a possible solution to their quarterback woes.

Leaning toward Vikings
March 10, 2003

The Minnesota Vikings may have the edge in obtaining Denver cornerback Denard Walker's services, according to Walker seems to be leaning towards the Vikings, plus they have the most salary cap money available among the Jaguars, Rams and the Titans, the other teams which have expressed an interest in Walker.

Hears from Shanahan
March 11, 2003

San Diego safety Rodney Harrison got a call from Denver's coach, Mike Shanahan on Monday according to a report in the Denver Post. Harrison had earlier indicated that he had contacted the Broncos but had not heard back from them. He visited the Oakland Raiders on Monday before receiving Shanahan's call.Harrison said that he had halted contract talks with the Raiders while he evaluates Denver's offer to come for a visit.

Will speak to Miami's Turner
March 11, 2003

Quarterback Brian Griese will speak with Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Norv Turner this week about the possibility of becoming the backup for Jay Fiedler, according to a report in the Miami Herald. Griese said that the Dolphins would be his first choice if another starting opportunity weren't available elsewhere. He's expected to be released from Denver after June 1.

Rams still interested
March 12, 2003

The Rams remain interested in cornerback Denard Walker, who visited recently. Walker has also been to Cincinnati and Minnesota. "The meetings went real good," Walker said. "I've got a very good feel about this place. The facilities, I've never seen anything better."

CB visits with Jags today
March 12, 2003

The Jaguars management has been very prudent so far in terms of signing players from the free agency market but the pace is starting to pick up. The Jags are receiving another visitor today.

Former Broncos cornerback Denard Walker is scheduled to visit with Jacksonville today.

In the past few days, the 6-foot-1 and 190 pound corner out of LSU has instructed his agent to exclusively deal with the Vikings.

However, the talks have been less than productive and he is starting to open things up.

According to a league source, if a deal isn't stuck with Minnesota by today, Walker would like to try and strike a deal quickly with either the Rams or the Jags.

The seven-year pro has also visited with the Bengals.

Walker, who has seven career interceptions, was waived by the Bronco's last week.

Ravens price not right
March 12, 2003

The Baltimore Sun reports that if Denver's Brian Griese became available, he would likely top the Ravens' quarterback free-agent list. But Griese's agent, Ralph Cindrich, said that his client would not consider the Ravens under their current asking price for a starting quarterback. The Ravens offered QB Jeff Blake a three-year deal worth between $1.5 to $2 million a year.

Griese can only talk to other teams about a trade and cannot discuss contract details until he is either released or traded by the Broncos, but he has been given permission to visit Chicago.

Signs with Vikings
March 12, 2003

CB Denard Walker has signed with Minnesota.

Has "great" visit with Broncos
March 12, 2003

San Francisco defensive end Chike Okeafor visited the Broncos on Wednesday.General Manager Ted Sundquist characterized the visit as "great."the team welcomed another free agent to the building, playing host to defensive end Chike Okeafor. Characterizing the visit as "great."

Okeafor has been in the NFL four seasons, all with the 49ers. He is an unrestricted free agent who had 6 sacks during his 16 starts this past season.

Owner backs move
March 14, 2003

Mike Shanahan has hitched his hopes on another quarterback. But will his dance with Jake "The Snake" Plummer pay off, or leave him red-faced like the failed marriage to Brian Griese. One thing is clear, team owner Pat Bowlen made it clear he backs Shanahan's decision. Asked if Shanahan was sticking his neck out with Plummer, and if their futures were linked, Bowlen said, "No, I don't look at it that way at all." It was Bowlen who spent time looking at videotape of Plummer before signing off on a seven-year, $40 million deal. "When we looked at the players that were out there, not just quarterbacks but players that could most impact our offense, Jake was the player we identified. He just happened to be a quarterback. A lot of people would say, 'Well, we needed a quarterback.' But we looked at the players and Jake was the guy." Bowlen said there's no question in his mind Plummer will come in and play well, but it's a matter of how well, and how well the rest of the team plays. "There's no drop-dead thing on this decision (to sign Plummer). I'm fully engaged and bought into this decision," Bowlen added. Unlike with Griese, the Broncos gave themselves an out after two years if Plummer doesn't live up to expectations. Plummer's deal includes a two-tiered signing bonus, one that pays him $7 million immediately, and gives Denver an option after two years before they pay another $6 million bonus. Asked about the safeguard, Bowlen said, "That's a sign of the times."

Broncos might not be able to afford him
March 15, 2003

While the Broncos landed their top two free-agent targets, a lack of money is hurting with others. After offensive tackle Orlando Brown chose to sign with Baltimore instead and safety Rodney Harrison signed with New England, Denver's lone remaining prospect is San Francisco's Chike Okeafor. Okeafor, a defensive end who recorded six sacks in his first season as a starter, will command a signing bonus of between $2 million and $3 million. After shelling out $11 million up front for Plummer and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, Denver may have a problem meeting those demands. In that case, defensive end will remain Denver's biggest need come draft day.

Kansas City Chiefs

Might be too pricey for Chiefs
March 9, 2003

Kansas City wants to add Philadelphia defensive end Hugh Douglas -- who has averaged 10 sacks a year in his seven full seasons -- to provide the edge pass rush they haven't seen since before the death of Derrick Thomas. But even as Douglas was visiting Kansas City last Wednesday and Thursday, the Chiefs were talking like a team that didn't know if they could compete financially in the Douglas Sweepstakes. "I don't know if we're going to have the money to sign him, and I told him that," said coach Dick Vermeil. "I don't see us getting involved (at a high level). "It all depends on whether we can make it fit. Nobody has unlimited dollars, and no one wants to overpay. We have responsibilities to other players, too." Beyond that, after paying out some $19 million in signing bonuses in just the past week -- to QB Trent Green, LB Mike Maslowski, special teams standout Gary Stills, Shawn Barber and Dexter McCleon -- team president Carl Peterson is suggesting that he may be nearing the end of Lamar Hunt's free agent cash budget. "We're still in the buying mode," Peterson said after committing a $5.5 million signing bonus to Barber as part of a seven-year deal that could realize $30 million. "(There is) a little less cash, but we still have some cap room and we have some goals. (One is) to no longer be the 32nd defense." Peterson also began talking like a CEO who wasn't going to break his bank on Douglas. "I didn't think personally that the No. 1 need for this team was a pass-rushing right end," Peterson said, mindful of Vermeil's belief that it was the top offseason priority. "I felt that the Will linebacker spot was a priority. But it doesn't matter. If we sign some defensive players who can come here and help us get better this year, we've accomplished what we wanted."

Considering return to Giants?
March 12, 2003

The Chiefs are now looking at alternatives at kicker now that free agent incumbent Morten Andersen is considering a return to the New York Giants after playing one season in Kansas City. Long-time AFC nemesis John Carney will be on their list if they can't retain Andersen, who hit 22 of 26 field goal attempts last year, but again struggled with short kickoffs and ended the season on IR after needing arthroscopic surgery on his non-kicking knee.

On Chiefs' wish list
March 14, 2003

Kansas City also is looking for a new punter after releasing Dan Stryzinski after a disappointing season. Tennessee punter Craig Hentrich appears to be atop their wish list.

Flirts with many teams, but signs with Jags
March 15, 2003

In a somewhat surprising move, free agent DE Hugh Douglas signed a five-year, $27 million deal with Jacksonville. Seattle had been considered the frontrunner to land Douglas, with Kansas City and the New York Giants also strong candidates. The deal includes a $6 million signing bonus.

Chiefs might be interested
March 15, 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 Emmitt Smith and Junior Seau be far behind? Chiefs president Carl Peterson already has expressed an interest in at least talking to Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader who has parted ways with the Dallas Cowboys. "(Smith) is a guy we've talked about, as well as some other running backs who are coming loose," Peterson said. "We'll probably have a conversation with his agent." The Chiefs have an opening that might intrigue Smith, should he look further than the suddenly active Phoenix Cardinals. Not a lot of young backs would not relish the prospect of playing behind Priest Holmes, the league's most productive all-purpose back of the past two seasons. But with Holmes still recovering slowly from the tissue-and-muscle hip injury that knocked him out of the season's final two games, and with current UFA backup Mike Cloud no longer in the picture, the Chiefs need a backup this year. Might that position be appealing to an older back who no longer needs the wear-and-tear of being an every-down player? Might Smith welcome the same role played by Allen, who seemed to enjoy the productive spot duty he saw in spending the final five years of his Hall of Fame career in KC. "It really begins with what does he want to do," Peterson said. "Is he content to go someplace and be a backup or a contributor, rather than a full-time starter? We're certainly going to evaluate it."

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