NFL Free Agency Updates: AFC West


Courtesy of BellyUp Sports

Zack Goodrow, Staff Writer

DENVER BRONCOS: The Broncos had an excellent offseason. John Elway and company took advantage of a couple low priced veterans in trades to solidify head coach Vic Fangio’s defense. First, Denver called the Jacksonville Jaguars and sent over a fourth round draft pick for cornerback A.J. Bouye. Bouye is two years removed from his best season with six interception seasons in 2017 and should thrive in Denver. The former Pro Bowler’s play should improve with a stronger defense that improved to rank twelfth in yards allowed per game.

Denver giving up a fourth round pick for Bouye was a steal, but sending a seventh to Tennessee for defensive lineman Jurrell Casey was an even bigger steal. Casey has made five straight Pro Bowls and was a key member of the Titans defense that made it to the AFC Championship game. Casey will be a major contributor to the Broncos defensive line, pairing with the re-signing of defensive tackle Shelby Harris who had a career high six sacks last season. Fangio will be in his second year commanding Denver’s defense and should now compete for one of the best in the league.

The Denver Broncos also made it a priority to improve the offense and give second year quarterback Drew Lock more explosive weapons. Denver signed running back Melvin Gordin to a two-year , $16 million dollar deal from division rival Los Angeles Chargers. Gordon’s holdout for an extension at the beginning of last season didn’t work in Gordon’s favor, as he regressed from missing time with the team and rushed for a career-low 612 yards. Gordon should pair nicely with RB Phillip Lindsey on the Broncos and could potentially be one of the most dangerous running back duos in the NFL. In the draft, the Broncos made it a priority to get dynamic receivers for Lock to target. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy from Alabama fell into the Bronco’s lap at pick 15. Then again, Denver spent their second pick on another wide receiver in K.J. Hamler from Penn State. Jeudy and Hamler will combine with  Courtland Sutton to make one of the most improved wide receiving corps in the offseason.

Other signings the Broncos made were giving deals to two former Detroit Lions. Denver signed offensive guard Graham Glasgow to a four year $44 million dollar deal. They also signed punter Sam Martin to a three year deal. Denver lost DE Derek Wolfe, CB Chris Harris, center Connor McGovern, OG Ron Leary, and safety Will Parks, but Denver covered every one of these loses with free agency signings and have severely improved their offense and defense. If Lock can develop into a consistent QB this season with new weapons, the Broncos may have a chance for a wild card spot. STOCK UP.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Kansas City didn’t make any huge signings, but it’s not like they needed to. The reigning Super Bowl champs prioritized bringing back their own players to make another Super Bowl run. The Chiefs re-signed CB Bashaud Breeland, WR Demarcus Robinson, and RB Damien Williams. Kansas City did lose a key player in the secondary however. CB Kendall Fuller signed with Washington and the Chiefs lost their number-one cornerback. Fuller was a hero in last year’s Super Bowl, deflecting passes on critical plays and recording an interception on the 49ers final drive to seal the Chiefs victory. Kansas City will have to look internally to replace Fuller’s production.

The rich only got richer in the NFL draft for Kansas City. With the last pick in the first round, the Chiefs selected RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU. Edwars-Helaire will be a perfect fit in Kansas City’s juggernaut offense. Edwards-Helaire is a real receiving threat out of the backfield and played in the slot on occasion at LSU. Running back wasn’t a need for the team but this pick will make the offense even more explosive. The team will miss Fuller in the secondary and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who signed with the Miami Dolphins. The defense will take a step back but the offense will still be one of the best in the league as long as quarterback Patrick Mahomes is under center. The team did lose roster talent this off-season with multiple free agency and slim cap space but are still the front runners to be the Super Bowl champs. Their stock is down, but just barely. STOCK DOWN.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: The Raiders are looking to make a statement in the league in the inaugural season in Las Vegas. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock made a point to improve both the offense and defense and add speed to the roster.

The Raiders addressed the wide receiver position in both free agency and in the draft. With their first selection at pick 12, Las Vegas surprisingly took Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama to be the first receiver off the board. Ruggs III was primarily the third receiver at Alabama and it was a bit of a shock that he went ahead of teammate Jerry Jeudy. Regardless of draft value, Ruggs III is an absolute burner in the slot and on the outside, and gives QB Derek Carr a new weapon to target. The Raiders also signed WR Nelson Agholor to a one year deal after a disappointing start to his career in Philadelphia as a former first round pick. Maybe Agholor can be an asset on the team. However with a player who’s most memorable moment from last season was getting burned on criticism made by a man saving babies from a burning building, the expectations shouldn’t be too high.

Las Vegas signed QB Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $17.6 million dollar deal. It’s no secret that Gruden might be willing to move on from  Carr. Mariota has a chance to play this season if Carr goes down with an injury or fails to play to Gruden’s expectations. Mariota knows a thing or two about being a backup, taking a starter’s job in Tennessee last season and perhaps could be the Ryan Tannehill of this year. The Raiders also signed tight end Jason Witten to a one-year deal. Witten caught 63 catches, 529 yards, and 4 touchdown last season, and with Darren Waller being the Raider’s No. 1 tight end, Witten’s season in Las Vegas will probably go about as well as his broadcasting career.

On defense, the Raiders stuck to their same plan as usual and signed several solid veterans. Las Vegas signed a pair of linebackers, the first being Corey Littleton from the Rams. Littleton signed a three year-$36 million dollar deal and recorded 134 tackles and two interceptions last year. The Raiders got a player in Littleton who will be solid in the linebacking core for the next three seasons,. The Raiders also signed LB Nick Kwiatkoski from the Chicago Bears. Kwiatkoski has been an underrated depth piece for the Bears the past four seasons and is a great deal for the Raiders. Kwiatkoski signed a three year $21 million dollar deal. Starting eight games for an injured Danny Trevathan last season, Kwiatkoski had 76 tackles and 3 sacks. Littleton and Kwiatkoski are excellent run defenders and drastically improve the middle of the defense. Free agency acquisiton in defensive back Damarious Randall figures to start at safety, replacing S Karl Joseph who the team cut earlier this offseason.

The Raiders had another surprise selection in the NFL draft. With their second pick in the first round, Las Vegas selected cornerback Damon Arnette from Ohio State. This move was a reach by the team in terms of initial draft grades, but Arnette played well for the Buckeyes last season even though he was one of the slowest cornerbacks in the combine. Arnette is an improvement to the secondary and defense, much like the other moves the Raiders have made this offseason. Las Vegas is improved on paper, but most of these moves won’t move the needle when it comes to winning the AFC West next season. With Kansas City still dominating the league and the Broncos and Chargers improving, it will be a tough season for the Raiders. STOCK UP.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: With the departure of 16-year veteran QB Phillip Rivers, the Los Angeles Chargers will have a new identity for the first time in the past decade and a half. QB Justin Herbert will be the new face of the franchise after being selected number six overall by the Chargers. Many people are skeptical of this selection, as Herbert is talented but played in a system at Oregon that relied on many screen passes in the backfield on the sidelines. Herbert may have time to develop this season however, with fellow QB Tyrod Taylor on the roster. Taylor backed up Rivers last season and is most likely the front runner as of right now in this position battle heading into training camp, whenever that will happen. Taylor could be a perfect bridge quarterback for the Chargers, as Taylor has led the Bills to the playoffs  and does have talent. If Taylor looks shaky, however, Herbert could be thrown into the starting lineup. With strong weapons on offense, an improved offensive line, and a stellar defense, the Chargers will have a chance to win every game they play no matter who wins the starting QB gig.

Los Angeles made it a priority in free agency to bring back two key offense players. RB Austin Ekeler was re-signed to a four-year, $24.5 million dollar deal instead of RB Melvin Gordon. Ekeler is an absolute maniac in the passing game. He was seven yards shy of 1,000 receiving yards. Only seven yards shy of 1000 yards for a running back! Ekeler ended his season with 993 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns, and 93 catches. Most teams hope to get this kind of production from a number two receiver. Ekeler will be a huge part of this offense again and so will TE Hunter Henry, who was franchise tagged. Henry had his best season of his career in 2019, catching 55 catches for 652 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ekeler, Henry, WR Keenan Allen and WR Mike Williams are scary weapons for Taylor and Herbert on offense.

The offensive line for the Chargers has been abysmal for the past several seasons. Last year, the line ranked 29th in the league by Pro Football Focus and had Phillip Rivers under duress for most of last season. Rivers was sacked 34 times last season, and the O-line was a priority for the Chargers to improve. Acquired via trade, guard Trai Turner has made five straight Pro Bowls and should be a major improvement on the offensive line. The Chargers then addressed the hole at tackle, signing long time Packers starter Bryan Bulaga to a three-year, $30 million dollar deal. While the offensive line is still far from perfect, the additions of Bulaga and Turner makes this area of the team substantially improved.

On defense the Charger’s secondary has gotten even scarier. Los Angeles signed cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to a two-year, $17 million dollar deal.  Harris Jr. has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Denver and has a real chance to shine with the Chargers. The Los Angeles secondary features Desmond King, Casey Hayward Jr., Derwin James, and now Harris Jr. The Chargers defense is scary and they possibly have the most talented secondary in the league.

The Chargers also signed defensive tackle Linval Joseph from the Minnesota Vikings to a two-year $17 million dollar deal. Joseph had three sacks last season and fills a hole in the middle of the defensive line. In the draft, the Chargers traded up with the Patriots to select linebacker Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma. Murray is an all-around player who will figure to start in the middle of this defense for the next several years to come.

Los Angeles replaced most of the losses in free agency signings, the draft, or with in house players who have flashed potential. This is a new era in Chargers football and the roster is very strong. The team has improved and are a legitimate candidate to make playoffs with a wildcard spot. If Hebert or Taylor can be sturdy quarterbacks and game managers, Los Angeles can be a real threat. STOCK UP.