Wasn’t this suppose to be the calm before the storm?
The combine was over, strategies were being formulated, fans and experts were predicting April’s draft order and the rumors swirling around the free agent market were changing by the day. Broncos fans had seemingly embraced a cooler, more confident attitude towards their beloved football franchise after receiving an incredibly cruel kick in the gut only six weeks ago. Between the players Denver needed to re-sign, the players it could find in free agency and the young talent that might be acquired via the draft, the organization seemed poised to continue it’s return to championship form. Thoughts about dominance in the lowly AFC West were secondary… but should they be?
It appears that on Thursday the Kansas City Chiefs worked out a deal for Alex Smith. The team can not acquire Smith until March 12 when free agency actually begins in earnest but the Chiefs are sending a message with this move. With the signing of Andy Reid and the eminent addition of Smith, this team believes it can contend.
Not forgotten in all of this are the San Diego Chargers who took Mike McCoy away from Denver when the season ended and sent A.J. Smith packing as well. Broncos fans saw first hand how adept McCoy was at tailoring offenses to the strengths of his quarterbacks. Love him or hate him, Phillip Rivers has plenty of stengths that McCoy will be able to take advantage of this coming season.
So, are we witnessing the end of mediocrity in the AFC West?
There are a lot of questions regarding Alex Smith, of course. Prior to joining a rather talented 49ers team, he had a miserable stat line and had won only 19 out of 50 games. While in the Bay area, however, Smith managed to go 19-5-1 and really improved in the area of turnovers. It’s clear he has talent and is a respected presence in the locker room but what impact will he have on a team that just went 2-14. He is clearly not the franchise game changer that Peyton Manning is but does he need to be?
The Chiefs will most likely franchise Dwayne Bowe by this Monday, March 4 due to the tag deadline. After bringing in Alex Smith it is hard to imagine that the Chiefs will let one of the best wide receivers in the game walk away and test the market. Sure, the Chiefs have some offensive line issues but there is talent in both free agency and the draft. Andy Reid did wonders for Jeff Garcia during his stint in Philadelphia. It really isn’t a stretch to assume Smith can continue to succeed even without Greg Roman to guide him. With a defense that boasted five Pro Bowl selections and a speedster like Jamal Charles coming out of the back field, all Smith really needs to do is not make mistakes to be effective. It might be a stretch to expect the Chiefs to contend for the AFC West but they certainly appear to be on a path toward improvement.
As for the San Diego Chargers, this group simply looked as if they were suffering from Norv Turner fatigue. This is a team that has talent. Rivers spent an awful lot of time on his back last year finishing as the second most sacked quarterback of 2012 (behind Aaron Rodgers). Many people are assuming that his career is in a decline but that seems a bit rash. If the Chargers can keep him upright he will be every bit the Rivers we’ve come to expect.
Danario Alexander has been a terrific addition and among the many free agency rumors out there is that the Chargers are interested in Reggie Bush. Yes, the offensive line was, well, offensive, but that is something this team’s new management will look to correct. While it’s hard to say the Chargers defense was good, they definitely aren’t far away. A lot of that may simply have been poor coaching. I’m sure Broncos fans enjoyed watching this unit fold in week 6 but this is a unit that can get better easily.
The Oakland Raiders are the potential weak link in what could be a resurgent division. Their salary cap nightmares continue and their huge gamble on Carson Palmer has been a tremendous failure. The Raiders appear likely to go after Geno Smith. Smith is no doubt a talented player with lots of potential upside but he didn’t garner any real excitement at the combine. He was clearly the best quarterback there but no where near the best player. If the Raiders reach for him it may just be another costly mistake. The Raiders have continually proven their inability to find a quality starter and it’s really hard to see Geno Smith changing this franchise immediately if at all.
With that said, the AFC West still looks to be on the rise. The Broncos still appear to be the cream of it’s crop but Denver fans should brace for a rougher divisional road then the one the Broncos road to a 13-3 finish in 2012. The future certainly looks bright but the competition is not conceding any ground. Even with the signing of Alex Smith and the additions of Andy Reid and Mike McCoy, we are in fact still in the calm before the storm. Clearly, the competition wants to get better and is ready to make the moves necessary to do so. Get your umbrella, it’s going to be a rainy spring!