Memo to Chargers GM A.J. Smith: Don't Worry About the AFC West...Yet

Eric GomezAnalyst IMarch 5, 2009

During his annual State of the Franchise address last week, Chargers GM A.J. Smith talked a lot, but strangely said very little in terms of what the fans are most interested about.

The status of LaDainian Tomlinson, prospective free-agent signings, and potential draft strategies went all but untouched in Smith's hour-long discourse. Instead, he dropped juicy nuggets like "All I can tell you is that [negotiations with LT are] ongoing" and "I've got to do better."

However, one of A.J.'s less yawn-inducing bits involved his comments regarding the defense of the AFC West crown and the status of divisional rivals, mainly Denver and Kansas City

While Smith also mentioned Oakland in a respectful way, ("They're a division rival and they give us problems") his focus was squarely on the Broncos and the Chiefs, terming their adoption of the Patriots' model for success as "scary".

While Denver tapped New England's former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to replace long-time coach Mike Shanahan, perhaps the "scarier" bit to Smith was personnel guru Scott Pioli switching from Foxborough to Kansas City.

Despite much of the free agency period remaining and the all-important draft more than a month away, should A.J. Smith be that worried considering the group of players and coaches he presides over? Not for 2009, at least.


Kansas City Chiefs

Already mobilizing towards potentially threatening San Diego's supremacy, the Chiefs acquired quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Matt Vrabel for one second-round pick, in what can only be termed as souvenirs from Pioli's going away party.

New coach Todd Haley will be hard-pressed to reproduce the success he had as Arizona's offensive coordinator this past season, where he had players like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Kurt Warner. In all fairness, players of that caliber make any coordinator's job that much easier.

Many have touted Cassel's acquisition as a step towards the right direction. Let's see how he responds with a supporting cast that doesn't include Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, and Benjamin Watson.

Instead, he'll have a disgruntled (and increasingly ineffective) Larry Johnson to hand off to, and an equally disgruntled Tony Gonzalez to throw to. The talented Dwayne Bowe is also in the mix.

With the third pick in the draft, it will be interesting to see what the Chiefs do to bolster their defense, which ranked 31st last season and gave up over 27 points and close to 400 yards per game.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos, on the other hand, semi-publicly bid for Matt Cassel as well and came up empty, leaving incumbent QB Jay Cutler dark and broody. With the wunderkind McDaniels at the helm, Denver has already acquired several former Patriots in Jabar Gaffney and LaMont Jordan, among others.

Despite leading the AFC West until the very last week of the season, Denver was blown out by San Diego in a winner-take-all game in Week 17, keeping them out of the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Like Kansas City, Denver's biggest problem is its defense. Ranking 29th out of 32, Denver gave up 28 points and 375 yards per game.

Unable to stop the pass or the run (ranked 26th in both categories), Denver will most likely continue to attack the free agent market as they have so far, signing Brian Dawkins, 35 years old, to a five-year contract earlier this month.

But, there are holes at linebacker, defensive line, and in the secondary that could be too numerous to fill in just one offseason.


Oakland Raiders

At the start of Week One, they'll be atop the AFC West, tied for first place. It'll probably be the last time they will. 

Years of mismanagement, bad trades, bad drafts, and bad free-agent signings have left this franchise in a state of disarray. Despite his best intentions, Al Davis has definitely slipped in his team management skills.

It will be very interesting to see how JaMarcus Russell progresses in his third season as Oakland's QB. One thing is for sure, he'll need more protection and more weapons. Oakland's defense boasts Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and not much else.

The most likely scenario will give Oakland a chance to play spoiler to AFC contenders come November and December.



Denver, while being the most legit team other than San Diego, will have to see how its QB situation plays out and how many quality defensive players they can get their hands on from here to July.

Kansas City will have an interesting mix of explosive young talent and veteran leadership, but no one should be sold on Matt Cassel—or the Chiefs defense—just yet.

Oakland. Well...there is no reason to suspect they'll be any better next season.

Hey A.J., instead of telling us how scared you are of your rivals becoming better, tell us how you're going to help the Chargers get better. Don't just tell us you've done a mediocre job the last two seasons.

We know that.