AFC West Team Needs: Offseason Analysis
With Superbowl LV in the books and teams mostly solidified with their coaching and front office staff, we can start to look at team needs as we enter the off-season. For the AFC West, we see a division that had Superbowl runner-up Chiefs making the playoffs. The rest of the division has some catching up to do if they want to compete with the Chiefs. With the Broncos (2015), Raiders (2016), and Chargers (2018) all experiencing playoff droughts, that turn around won’t come easily. The Raiders and Chargers seem better positioned to make a playoff push in the coming season.
The following will breakdown the overall team needs heading into the off-season. I will explore potential fits in free agency and potential draft targets. I will also look at potential trade candidates where applicable. Coaching scheme and play style will be taken into account when referencing these targets, for example, a zone-blocking run scheme should not be targeting a mauling blocker. With the basics covered, let’s delve into the division winner needs to kick us off.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs returned to the Superbowl with the hopes of repeating as champs. Unfortunately, some injuries along the offensive line proved too tall a task for Maholmes and Co to overcome. They will look to continue their divisional stranglehold as they return a large portion of their core players. The coaching staff remains intact as well after numerous teams decided not to wait for offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, a head coaching candidate, to finish the Chiefs postseason run.
Team needs: IOL, OT, LB, IDL, WR
Draft capital: 1:31, 2:63, 3:95, 4:138, 4:146, 5:177, 5:183, 7:260
Pending FA’s: Le’Veon Bell, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mike Remmers, Austin Reiter, Kelechi Osemele, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Mike Pennel, Damien Wilson, Brashaud Breeland, Daniel Sorensen
Salary Cap space: (4.4 million)
The offensive line will be a focus for the Chiefs as they enter both free agency and the draft as protecting their $124.4 million dollar man should be a priority. To get closer to the cap floor the Chiefs made some surprising a lot of people by cutting starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. Cutting additional players (Anthony Hitchens will save $6.4 million) or restructuring some players will need to happen to sign some free agents.
They will also look to add a wide receiver with Watkins and Robinson set to test the market. Players like Alex Leatherwood, Liam Eichenberg, and Jackson Carman could all be offensive line targets with the Chiefs first-round pick.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders opened their inaugural season in Las Vegas without the fanfare that both they and the city envisioned would be present due to the coronavirus pandemic. Under head coach Jon Gruden’s tutelage they have played a hard nose style of football with a focus on power running and a strong defensive front seven.
They have lacked a dynamic wide receiver on offense under Gruden, though 2020 1st round pick Henry Ruggs III will hopefully fill that position with a healthy 2021. On defense, the team has been searching for an answer in the secondary to help what has become a porous back end even though they have invested first-round picks (Abrahms in 2019 and Arnette in 2020) over the last two drafts to address the issue.
Team needs: EDGE, IOL, IDL, DB, LB
Draft capital: 1:17, 2:48, 3:81, 4:123, 5:164, 6:204, 7:249
Pending FA’s: Nelson Agholor, Denzelle Good, Takk McKinley, Vic Beasley Jr, Jonathan Hankins, Maliek Collins, Nevin Lawson, Nicholas Morrow, Daryl Worley, Erik Harris
Salary Cap space: 17.9 million
Look for the Raiders to continue investing in their secondary, both in the draft and via free agency. Such is the recipe for success when you face Mahomes twice a year. Gruden seems to be comfortable with David Carr under center, so I anticipate he and GM Mike Mayock to continue beefing up the interior of the offensive and defensive lines via the draft.
Some cuts will be needed (Lamarcus Joyner and Jeff Heath would save almost $12 million in cap space) as well as restructuring or trading some players (Trent Brown has been moved to the Patriots and Marcus Mariota is the most likely next) would help open up money for free agency.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers had mixed success in 2020 before finishing with a 7-9 record. That record was not good enough to keep offensive-minded Anthony Lynn at head coach and the team has since hired defensive guru Brandon Staley to revamp a defense that tended to get gradually worse each year under Lynn. Staley inherits ROTY Justin Herbert who should man the offense for at least the next decade.
Team needs: OT, IOL, EDGE, DB, LB
Draft capital: 1:13, 2:47, 3:78, 3:98, 4:120, 5:161, 6:199, 6:206, 7:242
Pending FA’s: Tyrod Taylor, Hunter Henry, Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Sam Levi, Melvin Ingram, Denzel Perryman, Michael Davis, Rayshawn Jenkins
Salary Cap space: 26.6 million
Coach Staley is positioned to mold the Chargers defense to his liking this off-season. The Chargers have a good amount of cap space, even after they take care of some of their free agents, to pursue a stalwart player or two on defense. What they are unable to fill in free agency they will look to add in the draft, particularly on the offensive line to protect Herbert well into the future. Christian Darrisaw or Alijah Vera-Tucker could be targeted with their first pick.
The Broncos season never seemed to take off last year as they experienced brutal injuries to defensive captain Von Miller just before the season and quarterback Drew Lock in week 2. This injury trend continued with a large portion of their roster throughout the year. After a few years of roster misses, team president and former GM John Elway ceded control of roster decisions and hired George Paton to take over as GM. Head coach Vic Fangio returns for his 3rd season at the helm and hopes to build a defensive powerhouse.
Team needs: QB, EDGE, DB, IDL, LB
Draft capital: 1:9, 2:40, 3:71, 4:116, 5:154, 6:192, 7:238, 7:240, 7:255
Pending FA’s: Demar Dotson, Shelby Harris, Justin Simmons
Salary Cap space: 32.3 million
The Broncos have a talented enough roster, when healthy, to compete with anyone in the division. They will need to address a few holes on the defensive side if they hope to supplant the Chiefs at the head of the division. The first step was locking up Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons for the foreseeable future. They will continue to work towards a long-term deal, but have already applied the franchise tag if no deal can be reached.
After that, they will need to invest heavily in free agency and the draft on defense. That is if they are unable to pry disgruntled quarterback Deshaun Watson from Texans. Doing so would deplete a majority of their draft assets and cap space. With Paton in control and Elway backing him, I wouldn’t put it past them to rescue Watson from Houston.