The teams may not be playing football, but come Tuesday, the offseason comes to an end. With free agency kicking off on Tuesday (and teams allowed to talk to all players on Saturday), the NFL is about to get red hot.
While paying attention to the happenings around the entire league is always a good idea, the first order of business is knowing what is going on around you. The AFC West was one of the best divisions on football last year sending three teams to the playoffs. The one team that didn't qualify, the Oakland Raiders, have over $60 million in cap space.
So, what will our three biggest rivals be looking for? Let's dive right in:
Oakland is a bad team, but that could change rapidly. General manager Reggie McKenzie has seen the Raiders go 4-12 in each of his first two seasons at the helm, but that was by design. After being in salary cap hell for years, Oakland is now flush with cash. Without question, the Raiders are going to be major players this offseason with almost double the cap space of any team in the NFL.
They have plenty of holes, but some of the biggest needs include defensive line, wide receiver, guard and cornerback.
Could be the most sought after free agent cornerback this year. He is young and very talented with his best years ahead of him. Verner started every game for the Titans the past two seasons. After a solid first season as fulltime starter in 2012, he took it up a notch and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl. He had an impressive 5 interceptions and 23 passes defended. He's always had great tackle numbers as well, averaging 69 tackles per season. For a team which struggled with tackling last season as the Raiders did, that's an important skill.
One of the most underrated guards in football the past few years. He came to Kansas City as an unheralded free agent (though I called for him last off-season as well) and by week 12, he took over as the starting right guard. That's no small feat as Asamoah is not too bad in his own rite.
Speaking of whom, Asamoah is also a free agent. The Chiefs must decide between him and Schwartz. One of them will be available and either would be an upgrade at left guard for the Raiders. The fourth year guard was the Chiefs' every day starter the past three years (until late last season, that is).
However, the Chargers have a bevy of holes to plug. San Diego general manager Tom Telesco will be focused on his defense, which was one of the more porous units around. The defense did improve late in the season, but with the recent releases of Johnny Patrick and Derek Cox, it's obvious the group is a work in progress.
Heading into free agency with around $8 million in cap space, Telesco will be scouring the market for corners, interior offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and outside linebackers.
My personal favorite. Could've been on the squad last year for a second round pick and instead they.... Either way, now the Chargers have a chance to get a very good player. Shields' PFF grade doesn't do him justice. He was asked to play on an island a lot, and shadowed other teams #1 receivers quite a bit. He allows coordinators to do so much more. He's 26 and is already developed quite the skill set. He's 5'11, with long arms and ran a 4.37 40 yard dash.
Shields is comfortable in press man, where he can use his length, or in off coverage, where he can use his quickness. Another guy that plays the ball well when it's in the air. He is active in the run game, though he will miss his fair share of tackles, but is where he needs to be. Along with his cover skills, that is more than enough for me.
Of course, Denver is the team everybody in the AFC West is chasing. The Broncos still have Peyton Manning, so any kind of issue is nothing but a minor bother. Manning will cover up almost any flaw, until the playoffs. Then he becomes average. Go figure.
In the Super Bowl and throughout much of the season, Denver's defense was exposed as mediocre. It will be the main focus of general manager John Elway's time as he tries to get his Broncos back to the big game.
Few teams have more key free agents hitting the market, including Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker, Wesley Woodyard, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips and Zane Beadles. After cutting corner Champ Bailey, the team has approximately $26 million in cap space to make moves.
Elway's position targets will include cornerbacks, safeties, receiver, guard and linebacker.
Allen hasn't specifically mentioned the Broncos as a potential landing spot, but another free agent defender, safety Jairus Byrd, has. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, Byrd is about to hit free agency after earning three Pro Bowl berths in his first five seasons with Buffalo. Earlier this week, Byrd spoke highly of Denver.
The Broncos desperately need a safety and Byrd is a youthful 27 years old. Like Allen, Byrd wants to play for a contender. Denver fits the bill.
Many targets of the Chiefs' three rivals are the same players Kansas City is either aiming for or trying to re-sign. It should be a very interesting free agency period with John Dorsey and co. trying to build a Super Bowl champion, but first, a division champion.