After a fruitful rebuilding project under new GM John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid last year, the salary cap-tapped Kansas City Chiefs endured the price of that success with free agents signing elsewhere.
So, they’re counting on their rookie class to make immediate contributions to help them build off an 11-5 season. Still in search of their first playoff victory since 1993, the Chiefs also have to address the futures of quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker Justin Houston, two Pro Bowlers entering the final year of their contracts.
Atop Denver general manager John Elway’s wish list following that 43-8 blistering by Seattle in the Super Bowl was an edgier defense. Yes, like the one that had just throttled the highest-scoring team in NFL history. So, he committed more than $100 million to add free agents DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, then drafted Bradley Roby in the first round.
Denver’s record-breaking offense wasn’t spared, either. After throwing for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in NFL history, Peyton Manning had to say goodbye to wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno. Decker was replaced by Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer. Montee Ball moves up as the lead back, running behind a retooled line that sports 1,000 pounds of muscle in the middle with Orlando Franklin sliding over from right tackle to left guard.
Coach Mike McCoy was just the right fit to help turn Philip Rivers’ career around. Emboldened by a stunning win in Denver in December, the Chargers won their final four games. After defensive breakdowns cost them the chance for a playoff upset over the Broncos, the Chargers used three of their first four draft picks on defensive players. They’re also getting Dwight Freeney back. Now 34 and entering his 13th NFL season, Freeney comes off a thigh injury that sidelined him after just four games last season, his first in San Diego.
GM Reggie McKenzie enters Year 3 of trying to get old mistakes off Oakland’s books. He’s hoping the route back to respectability goes through the reclamation projects he’s added. Discarded or unwanted by their former teams, players with a history of success in the NFL have gathered in Oakland this year in hopes of resurrecting their careers and ending the Raiders’ 11-year playoff drought.
“As a whole, we’re fighting for the same thing, which is respect,” said running back Maurice Jones-Drew, no longer wanted in Jacksonville. He joins fellow NFL discards Matt Schaub, Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers.
— The Associated Press