On Wednesday’s mailbag edition of the Arrowhead Pride Out of Structure podcast, Matt Stagner and I looked at the free agent signings, trades and draft picks made by the three other AFC West teams: the Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.
We then determined whether each team has become more or less of a threat to overcome the Kansas City Chiefs for the division crown.
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Las Vegas Raiders
Headline: They didn’t get better — and the ways they tried to improve are puzzling.
The Raiders had an efficient offense in 2020 — and Chiefs fans saw this in both matchups. Las Vegas they went toe-to-toe with the Chiefs each time — beating the Chiefs in Week 5 — and averaged 35.5 points per game against Kansas City. Overall, they were top 10 in both offensive yards and points. Yet in 2021, they have traded away three of their best offensive linemen: center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and tackle Trent Brown. For skill players, they let their most productive wide receiver — Nelson Agholor — walk in free agency, adding only 31-year old John Brown and running back Kenyan Drake. With third-year back Josh Jacobs in the mix, adding Drake doesn’t make much sense.
They really needed to focus on improving the defense — and they did boost their pass-rushing unit by adding defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and interior lineman Quinton Jefferson. However, they released their most productive rusher — defensive tackle Maurice Hurst — who would’ve been cheap for another few years on his rookie deal.
Bottom line: The Raiders look like the team in the cellar of the division for 2021.
Headline: They still don’t have a quarterback — but they have a good roster overall.
Do two mediocre quarterbacks add up to a good quarterback? No.
Bringing in Teddy Bridgewater gives incumbent starter Drew Lock much-needed competition, but it doesn’t feel like this offense’s ceiling can be raised until a more proven quarterback enters the mix; maybe Denver holding out hope they can still acquire Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
That said, the Broncos’ receiving corps is talented — and will be getting wide receiver Courtland Sutton back this season to join players like Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and tight end Noah Fant. They also added one of the NFL draft’s most exciting running backs: Javonte Williams.
Their defensive secondary is notably deep; they have a lot of names — even if they aren’t all in their primes. They added Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby and first-round pick Patrick Surtain Jr. on top of safeties Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson and slot cornerback Bryce Callahan. They are also getting edge rusher Von Miller back from injury.
Bottom line: They have the roster to compete, but there’s a ceiling to a team led by either Lock or Bridgewater — and it isn’t being a playoff team.
Los Angeles Chargers
Headline: The upgraded offensive line can be a real asset for their rising star: quarterback Justin Herbert.
Towards the end of his career, the Chargers seemed to always have issues protecting Phillip Rivers — which led to Chiefs pass rushers constantly having their best performances against them. With Herbert looking ready to take the next step, the team didn’t mess around: they signed former Packers center Corey Linsley, drafted Rashawn Slater — one of the best offensive tackle prospects — and added quality starters like former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Matt Feiler. That will help Herbert dish to dangerous offensive weapons like running back Austin Ekeler and wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Their defense was already a talented group. Then they added cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in the draft — and they’ll get safety Derwin James back from injury, too. James was an All-Pro as a rookie — and could neutralize some of the Chiefs’ offensive weapons.
Bottom line: If Herbert’s rookie season is a sign of things to come, the Chargers should absolutely be a playoff team — and could push the Chiefs at the top of the AFC West.
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