An NFL organization is a lot like a garden. It takes a keen eye to know when to prune a dead or dying flower in order to allow a bud to blossom in its place.
Sometimes, one person sees thorns and weeds, while another person looks at the same bush and sees the promise of colorful and fragrant flora about to burst onto the scene.
Comparing two or three or four gardens to each other is a tricky task considering it is hard to know what each gardener planned while planting seeds months before.
In the colorful landscape of the AFC West, the four gardens comprised of the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders are far from finished products considering free agency is still in effect and the draft has yet to take place (the first round starts on April 25). But as of March 28, San Diego stands as the third-best team in the division behind the Chiefs and Broncos.
Additions: Kevin Burnett (LB), Kaluka Maiava (LB), Vance Walker (DT), Jason Hunter (LB), Pat Sims (DT), Nick Roach (LB)
Subtractions: Matt Shaughnessy (DE), Michael Huff (S), Mike Mitchell (S), Desmond Bryant (DT), Darrius Heyward-Bey (WR), Tommy Kelly (DT), Dave Tollefson (LB), Shane Lechler (P), Philip Wheeler (LB), Brandon Myers (TE), Mike Goodson (RB)
Re-signed: Phillip Adams (CB), Khalif Barnes (OT)
Un-signed: Joselio Hanson (CB), Richard Seymour (DT), Derek Hagan (WR), Andre Carter (DE), Cooper Carlisle (OG), Shawntae Spencer (CB), Omar Gaither (LB), Matt Leinart (QB), Matt Giordano (S)
The garden of the Oakland Raiders currently looks more like fertilizer than flowers at this point, and it would be a horticulture miracle for any sort of winning ways to blossom for the 2013 season.
The Raiders are a mess and have been for some time.
None of the free-agent acquisitions evoke a sense of hope for Raider fans, whereas the mass exodus of former players signals a new era is on the horizon. It still remains to be seen what that new era will look like, but if history holds to form, that new era will be on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
General manager Reggie McKenzie is trying to shed as much old baggage as possible in order to rebuild, but some of the blame lies at McKenzie’s feet. Yahoo! Sports writer Mike Silver reports quarterback Carson Palmer may be on his way out due to the organization’s ineptitude:
The quarterback's decision, according to three sources familiar with Palmer's mindset, is based on a sense that Oakland's prospects for success in 2013 are so bleak that money is no longer the predominant factor in his thought process.
The loss of Tommy Kelly, Matt Shaughnessy, Desmond Bryant and Richard Seymour means Oakland desperately needs defensive line help. If Palmer also leaves, that is one more hole needed to plug.
Chargers fans will be sad to see the former USC Heisman Trophy winner go to a different team. Palmer was 1-2 against San Diego as the Raiders' quarterback and 2-4 all time in his NFL career.
It will take a miraculous turn around in Oakland for them to finish anywhere but the basement of the AFC West. Or it will take a horrendous meltdown in San Diego for the Chargers to be behind the Raiders in the standings at the end of the season.
Additions: Wes Welker (WR), Louis Vasquez (OG), Terrence Knighton (DT), Stewart Bradley (LB), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB)
Subtractions: Elvis Dumervil (LB), D.J. Williams (LB), Caleb Hanie (QB), Jason Hunter (LB)
Re-signed: Kevin Vickerson (DT), David Bruton (S), franchised Ryan Clady (OT)
Un-signed: Brandon Stokley (WR), Justin Bannan (DT), Dan Koppen (C), Jim Leonard (S), Matt Willis (WR), Ty Warren (DT), Tracy Porter (CB), Keith Brooking (LB)
While mixing already blossomed flowers can create a beautiful bouquet, the lifespan of the bouquet is usually short.
Bringing in quarterback Peyton Manning was risky last year, but Manning “rose" to the occasion.
It is anyone’s guess how many more seasons (and hits) he can last, but he proved doubters wrong last year.
Detractors will point out that Manning has panache for pulling out postseason losses from the jaws of victory, but it is hard to blame the quarterback for sloppy secondary play in the waning seconds of an elimination game.
General manager John Elway tried to stack the odds even more in Manning’s favor by adding slot receiver Wes Welker and guard Louis Vasquez on offense.
Peyton Manning's juggernaut Indianapolis Colts offenses ran on all cylinders when he had the luxury of an elite slot receiver, such as a young Brandon Stokley or Austin Collie. Manning now has the best slot receiver of his generation in Wes to complement Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, the only duo to post 1,000-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns apiece in 2012.
San Diego has holes in the secondary, so giving arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation arguably the best slot receiver will only put added pressure on the defense. Add the fact that Denver also grabbed one of the two offensive linemen who were any good from San Diego, and the Broncos look hard to dethrone.
The only soft spot on the team is the defense, specifically the middle linebackers. But it will be hard to exploit that deficiency when Manning and the offense are able to drive and score with relative ease.
Kansas City Chiefs
Additions: Alex Smith (QB), Anthony Fasano (TE), Chase Daniel (QB), Donnie Avery (WR), Dunta Robinson (CB), Geoff Schwartz (OG), Mike DeVito (DT), Sean Smith (CB)
Subtractions: Eric Winston (OT), Glenn Dorsey (DT), Kevin Boss (TE), Matt Cassel, Ropati Pitoitua (DT), Steve Breaston (WR)
Re-signed: Branden Albert (OT), Dustin Colquitt (P), Dwayne Bowe (WR), Edgar Jones (LB), Thomas Gafford (LS)
Un-signed: Abram Elam (S), Brady Quinn (QB), Brandon Siler (LB), Jake O’Connell (TE), Leon Williams (LB), Peyton Hollis (RB), Russ Hochstein (OG), Ryan Lila (OG), Shaun Smith (DT), Travis Daniels (S)
Kansas City very well could have been the biggest winners of free agency.
The Chiefs were able to retain Brandon Albert along the line, Dwayne Bowe at receiver and key pieces of special teams in the punter and long snapper.
Bill Williamson, who writes about the AFC West for ESPN.com, thinks the Chiefs have addressed most of the issues that plagued the team en route to last year's 2-14 record:
You never want to go too crazy about a team coming off a 2-14 season, but the Chiefs don’t have a ton of holes. They have improved in key spots and don't have glaring holes. The biggest improvement, of course, was at quarterback, where Alex takes over for Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. Smith is not elite, not even close. Still, he is far from terrible. With that problem fixed, the Chiefs might look to get stronger on the offensive line, and they also could use another inside linebacker and another body on the defensive line. But that’s average stuff. Pretty good for a 2-14 team.
The Chiefs added outside pieces that could propel them from worst to first and deep into the playoffs.
Those same additions could very easily be utter busts, and Kansas City could continue to underachieve and languish at the bottom of the AFC West.
Overhauling the entire quarterback corps was a major step.
Alex Smith is not one of the best signal-callers in the league, but he is better than Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. New head coach Andy Reid is known as a quarterback guru, having guiding the Philadelphia Eagles and Donovan McNabb to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance in 11 years. New Kansas City general manager John Dorsey is betting Reid can do the same with Smith.
While the trade to get a quarterback grabbed the most headlines, the Chiefs grabbing two quality cornerbacks in Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith will be the biggest factors in Kansas City’s turnaround.
There was a lack of quality cornerback play opposite Brandon Flowers. Adding two highly touted corners allows new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to play around with various blitz packages. With the Chargers expected to have at least two, probably three—maybe even four—new starting offensive linemen, recognizing and picking up elaborate blitz schemes will be an issue.
Where will the Chargers finish in the AFC West in 2013?
Depending on how one views Alex Smith—a rose or a thorn, a flower or fertilizer—the Chiefs should compete with the Chargers for second place in the AFC West. The acquisitions of the corners, however, push Kansas City ahead of San Diego as runners-up to the Broncos for the divisional crown.