AFC West news and notes

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

• The Broncos got a jump on the offseason Wednesday by cutting five players. The only mild surprises were the release of young running backs P.J. Pope and Anthony Alridge. Both showed promise before suffering season-ending injuries.

But Denver likes rookies Peyton Hillis and Ryan Torain, who also suffered season-ending injuries, and it is sure to add a tailback through the draft or in free agency.

The other players Denver cut were tight end Chad Mustard, running back Alex Haynes and receiver Cliff Russell.

• The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the Raiders are close to a long-term deal with cornerback Chris Johnson, which will keep him out of free agency.

This would be a smart move. Johnson played well in the second half of the season after he started in place of the released DeAngelo Hall. Johnson isn't a superstar, but he showed good ball skills and did a nice job. Oakland needs to retain him.

• Also, the word around the Chargers continues to be that the team is very likely to put the franchise tag on running back/return man Darren Sproles if a long-term deal can't be arranged by the Feb. 19 franchise tag deadline. The team is hoping to retain both Sproles and starter LaDainian Tomlinson.

Tomlinson will likely only stay in San Diego if he agrees to a restructured contract. Tomlinson has said he is open to that idea. Movement on that front is at least a week away.