Breakdowns

Offseason Outlook: AFC West

For the fifth straight year, Kansas City once again owns the AFC West divisional crown. Kansas City’s core remains in place as the team attempts to make its third straight Super Bowl appearance. Las Vegas improved its record under Jon Gruden in 2020, but has yet to make the playoffs in Gruden’s second stint with the team. Los Angeles will begin to rebuild around promising QB Justin Herbert and new head coach Brandon Staley. Finally, Denver and head coach Vic Fangio will look to return to the playoffs for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in 2015.

 

(Note: Cap figures as of March 23.)

I cannot rule out a QB in this year’s draft based on the inconsistent play of Drew Lock (78%). Lock has flashed upside, but it’s hard to ignore his issues when evaluating the young offensive talent on this roster such as WR Jerry Jeudy (75%), TE Noah Fant (68%) and WR Courtland Sutton (3%). It was surprising they let hometown kid RB Philip Lindsay hit free agency (25%) after he had been a productive player for the team. If Lindsay is productive elsewhere, the decision last year to sign RB Melvin Gordon (58%) will age poorly. The team appears set at offensive line, but could add some depth along the interior.

 

I liked the decision to franchise and then extend S Justin Simmons (100%) and re-sign S Kareem Jackson (100%). Head coach Vic Fangio’s defense took a step backwards last season, but should return to being a strength next season. The decision on EDGE Von Miller (0%) was likely a difficult one, but I still believe he is an impact player when healthy. Having a healthy Miller opposite a healthy EDGE Bradley Chubb (0%) will help this defense return to form. The team rebuilt its cornerback depth chart with the signings of CBs Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. But as Fuller is only on a one-year deal, I would not be surprised if the team adds another corner in the draft.

 

Kansas City once again owned the regular season, but fell short in their bid to repeat as Super Bowl champion. Despite QB Patrick Mahomes’ (93% of snaps in 2020) best efforts, the team’s patchwork offensive line doomed its prolific offense against Tampa Bay. In the Super Bowl, the Chiefs were without both starting tackles Eric Fisher (95%) and Mitchell Schwartz (32%) due to season-ending injuries. Given what we saw in the Super Bowl, it is somewhat surprising the Chiefs chose to release both Fisher and Schwartz. The team followed up those releases by signing two guards, Joe Thuney and Kyle Long, who have some guard-tackle flexibility. Yet, expect Kansas City to continue to address their offensive line through this year’s deep draft class. Kansas City has done an incredible job identifying their core as offensive stars WR Tyreek Hill (82%) and TE Travis Kelce (82%) remain in place around Mahomes. Now the Chiefs will need to be proactive about adding young skill players before Mahomes’ cap hit jumps to $35 million in 2022 and becomes $40-50 million thereafter. I expect the team to add a WR after the free-agent departures of WRs of Demarcus Robinson (65%), Sammy Watkins (78%) and Byron Pringle (22%).

 

Kansas City has its defensive core in place as well, with S Tyrann Mathieu (91%), EDGE Frank Clark (70%) and DT Chris Jones (64%) still under contract. The team did re-sign free agents S Daniel Sorensen (82%) and CB Charvarius Ward (73%), but CB Bashaud Breeland (64%) is a free agent. Given that Mathieu’s deal expires after the 2021 season, the Chiefs will likely look to add more secondary pieces to the roster. Another need for the team is finding a productive EDGE opposite of Frank Clark.

 

Before this week, Las Vegas’ two highest cap hits belonged to QB Derek Carr (93%) and backup QB Marcus Mariota (6%). The team successfully convinced Mariota to take a significant pay cut, reducing his 2021 cap hit from $15 million to $3.5 million with incentives. Despite that successful move, the Raiders have made a few puzzling moves this offseason, specifically with their offensive line. The team traded three key offensive line pieces — C Rodney Hudson (100%), G Gabe Jackson (98%) and OT Trent Brown (26%) — to save cap space and received only one third- and two fifth-round picks in return. After trading Khalil Mack in 2018, the team attacked the 2019 offseason, spending a combined $105 million guaranteed on big signings like Trent Brown, WRs Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams (0%), and CB Lamarcus Joyner (62%). Now all of those players are no longer with the team and three-fifths of their strong offensive line is gone. The Raiders have added offensive weapons WR John Brown and RB Kenyan Drake through free agency, but it’s unlikely they will move the needle. I expect the team to look to rebuild their once strong offensive line through the draft.

 

The team has yet to figure out the defense during Gruden’s tenure and it does not help that 2019 fourth overall pick EDGE Clelin Ferrell (42%) has not panned out the way the team had hoped. With only 6.5 sacks in 26 games as a pro, its clear the team is still searching for the pass rush they traded away with Mack. Las Vegas did sign EDGE Yannick Ngakoue and DT Solomon Thomas in free agency to bolster their defensive line. Ngakoue was cheaper than expected and could be an impact player, but he is now on his fourth team in three seasons. With the release of the disappointing Joyner, I expect the team to add multiple secondary pieces in the draft.

 

Los Angeles immediately went to work this offseason addressing their biggest need, the offensive line, with two potential impact signings in C Corey Linsley and OL Matt Feiler. The team was also smart to save cap space with the release of G Trai Turner (46%). With three other offensive line departures in Gs Dan Feeney (100%) and Forrest Lamp (100%), and OT Sam Tevi (87%), I would not be surprised if the team adds another piece in the draft. OT Bryan Bulaga (38%) will return from last season’s injury, but the team’s number one priority should be protecting promising QB Justin Herbert (93%). It was a mild surprise Los Angeles chose to keep former seventh overall pick WR Mike Williams (68%) under his $15 million fifth-year option. The team must believe Williams is primed for bigger production with Herbert under center. The Chargers also lost a good player in TE Hunter Henry (78%), but I like the cost-effective signing of TE Jared Cook. I would expect the team to look to add a TE in the draft as Cook joined only on a one-year deal.

 

Given that the Chargers brought back Williams, it is surprising they chose to cut CB Casey Hayward (76%), who was a second-team All-Pro in 2016 and 2017. I suspect Hayward’s age (32 next season) must have been a big factor in that decision. Los Angeles should attack its need at corner opposite CB Michael Davis (92%) in the draft, potentially with their first pick. I also wonder how they answer the question of who will be opposite EDGE Joey Bosa (53%) as the team let EDGE Melvin Ingram (35%) hit free agency.

 

Tyler Brown contributed to this story.

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