It’s been a quiet free agency period thus far for the San Diego Chargers when it comes to signing big names. The Chargers
have resisted the urge to spend big on free agents, instead adding depth in running back Donald Brown, tight end David Johnson, linebacker Kavell Conner and quarterback Kellen Clemens. The four signings come on top of the Chargers re-signing Donald Butler, Darrell Stuckey and Chad Rhinehart.
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The first three days of National Football League free agency has seen some high profile players switch teams, including San Francisco 49ers All-Pro safety Donte Whitner. The two-time Pro Bowler returned home, signing with the Cleveland Browns. For the second consecutive offseason the 49ers will have lost an elite safety. Last offseason Dashon Goldson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 49ers replaced Goldson in the draft with LSU safety Eric Reid, who had an outstanding rookie season. Due to the talented roster the 49ers have assembled losing free agents is a fact of life in the NFL, the key replacing the talent they lose. San Francisco moved quickly to replace Whitner by signing Antoine Bethea from the Indianapolis Colts. In replacing Whitner with Bethea San Francisco essentially saved $5 million over four years. Like Whitner, Bethea is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, after the 2007 and 2009 seasons. Bethea isn’t the physical presence that Whitner was in the secondary, but possesses arguably better range and cover skills than Whitner and should provide a solid combination with the physical Reid. In addition to singing Bethea the 49ers resigned Eric Wright to a one-year contract for additional secondary depth.
The 49ers are hosting visits with a handful of other intriguing players, including Walter Thurmond of the Seattle Seahawks and Chris Cook of the Minnesota Vikings. The talented Thurmond is also visiting Jacksonville and Washington. He’d be an interesting addition to the 49ers roster, adding a capable player while subtracting a talented depth player from their chief division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks. Cook, coming off a couple of disappointing seasons in Minnesota, is a rangy and skilled player who hasn’t lived up to his potential in the NFL. Perhaps a change of scenery and the ability to play for an elite coaching staff can benefit Cook and help him reach his potential.
While the 49ers were hosting Thurmond and Cook, running back Anthony Dixon was visiting the Tennessee Titans and his former college running backs coach Sylvester Croom. Dixon is also set to visit the Buffalo Bills. Dixon is a capable backup but his potential loss could be offset by the presence of Marcus Lattimore. After missing his entire rookie season due to a devastating knee injury he suffered in college the former South Carolina star may be ready to contribute behind Frank Gore. If Lattimore can return to form the 49ers may have found the steal of the 2013 NFL draft.
In addition to the free agent signing of Bethea the 49ers made a couple of interesting, and high profile trades. The first move was sending a 7th round draft pick to the Dolphins for offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. Like Cook a change of scenery may benefit Martin after the well publicized Richie Incognito controversy. Martin didn’t perform well in his limited starts in Miami but the thought is his former college head coach, Harbaugh, can potentially help Martin reach his potential. If Martin can live up to his potential the 49ers may have picked up some good depth and a player who could be a potential starter down the road. In addition to Martin the 49ers also traded a 6th round pick for former Jaguars starter Blaine Gabbert. The former 10th overall pick never lived up to his potential, but could end up being a valuable backup in San Francisco. It’s a classic low risk move that helps boost the talent of the overall roster and gives the 49ers a potential solid backup should Colin Kaepernick ever go down for an extended period of time.
The 49ers open up the 2014 in the new Levi’s Stadium leaving their old home of Candlestick Park. Levis Stadium cost $1.2 Billion and has a capacity of 68,500. 49ers Ticket prices for their opening game of the 2014 – 2015 season have yet to be announced but with the new stadium they are expected to run from $200-$1000 per ticket. By: Chris Cabrera
Needing a win to take home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs the Denver Broncos went into Oakland and took care of business defeating the pitiful Raiders 34-14. The Broncos scored early and often, running out to a 31-0 halftime lead behind another incredible performance by soon to be MVP Peyton Manning. The Broncos veteran quarterback destroyed the NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns in a season, throwing four more touchdown passes in the Broncos victory. Manning finished the regular season with an incredible 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns. As usual Manning spread the ball around, throwing two touchdowns to Demaryius Thomas and strikes to Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno.
Where the game was won: It was all Manning once again. The future Hall of Famer completed 25 of 28 passes, the highest completion percentage in his career in a game where he threw at least 28 passes. Oakland, playing out the string in yet another tough season, provided very little opposition in the game. The Broncos had 458 total yards en route to resting Manning for much of the second half. In addition to the huge game from Manning the Broncos had another game of balanced rushing with Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Moreno combined for 129 yards rushing. The Broncos defense, without star passing rusher Von Miller, was huge early, only giving up two late garbage time touchdowns to the Raiders. After re-setting the record for touchdown passes on a season last week when Manning passed Tom Brady’s record, the Broncos quarterback passed Drew Brees’s record for passing yardage in a season. Manning’s passing efficiency rating of 113 was a full 16 points over his career average. Victory in hand the Broncos will wait to see who comes out on top in the AFC wild card round before they host a divisional round game in two weeks time. The Broncos will face the lowest ranked winner between the Bengals, Chargers, Colts and Chiefs.
Up next for Denver: Based on the wild card games the Broncos would likely prefer to face anyone but the Colts who beat them behind in Indianapolis two months ago. The Broncos swept the Chiefs this season, and split with the Chargers. If the Bengals win the Broncos cannot face Cincinnati since they are the third seed in the playoffs. The interesting matchup for Denver could be San Diego. The Broncos lost at home to the Chargers two weeks ago behind a big defensive performance for the Chargers. San Diego did the best job of slowing down the Broncos offense of any team Denver faced this season. If San Diego can manage to defeat the Bengals they’ll travel to Denver. If Cincinnati beats the Chargers the Broncos are guaranteed to play either the Colts or Chiefs. By: Chris Cabrera