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Around the AFC West: Finding ways to dethrone the Chiefs in free agency

Kansas City’s rivals are getting ready to find new ways to get the best of the Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Let’s return to our weekly trip around the AFC West!

With the NFL’s 2023 league year getting underway next Wednesday, wild things could happen with all of the Kansas City Chiefs’ division rivals. Will it be as wild as it was a year ago — when division rivals made big moves that they hoped would dethrone the Chiefs? We’re about to find out.

Denver Broncos

With Sean Payton now serving as the Broncos’ head coach, we can assume that many players will be flocking to Denver to play for him. This is no longer Russell Wilson’s team from last year. Payton brings the Broncos upside that we haven’t seen since Peyton Manning.

Still, offensive tackles and guards who can keep Wilson upright will be what Denver needs in free agency. Left tackle Garett Bolles will likely be the only offensive lineman the Broncos will retain; he has two more years of team control remaining on his contract. Elite right tackles in free agency are scarce — unless a team is willing to pay players like George Fant or Mike McGlinchey to start a training-camp position battle.

If Payton can persuade Bolles to shift to right tackle, that could open the door for free agents like Orlando Brown Jr. or Taylor Lewan. Unfortunately for Denver, the team has only $9.7 million in cap space. In order to sign either of those tackles, many contracts will need to be reworked. So the Broncos’ best bet will be to draft more offensive linemen.

Another position of need is running back, where Denver has had a rotating carousel of backs for some time. Acquiring Latavius Murray and Chase Edmonds during the second half of the 2022 season was interesting — but the Broncos need an every-down back.

One player who could fit in Payton’s offense would be Jamaal Williams — especially coming off his 17-touchdown season. Denver would love to have that production from a running back — except that in Week 1, Williams will be 28. Running backs of that age generally don’t pan out under a new contract.

Free Agent Fits

  • RB Jamaal Williams
  • RB Kareem Hunt
  • G Trai Turner
  • G Matt Pryor
  • RT George Fant

Las Vegas Raiders

As they search for a new franchise quarterback, the Raiders are entering a new chapter in their long history. But quarterback isn’t the only position Las Vegas needs to address. The team’s secondary — in fact, the whole defense — needs a lot of help.

Let’s start with quarterback Derek Carr, who has now signed with the New Orleans Saints. Before Carr took the reins in 2014, Terrelle Pryor (before he switched to wide receiver), Matt McGloin and Matt Flynn all started games during 2013. It seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

So what happens now? Will the Raiders trade for Aaron Rodgers, Mac Jones or Jimmy Garoppolo? Or will they draft a rookie like Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson? If Las Vegas doesn’t trade for a veteran next week, the team will likely be looking for a new starter in the draft.

On defense, last season’s addition of cornerback Rock Ya-Sin was supposed to spark a big turnaround — but the former Indianapolis Colts cornerback underperformed expectations. So did edge rusher Chandler Jones. AFC West teams — which face Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert for two games each season — must have a solid pash rush. While the Raiders’ pass rush started to show signs of life at the end of last season, their secondary was a mess. Las Vegas gave up 4,129 receiving yards — ranking 29th — and opposing quarterbacks had a 98.8 passer rating against the Raiders. That was the league’s worst figure.

The Las Vegas defense also allowed 4.5 yards per rushing attempt — which ranked 19th — and gave up 20 rushing touchdowns, which ranked 25th. The battle in the trenches was often lost. The Raiders will be looking for help throughout the defensive unit.

Free Agent Fits

  • DT Dalvin Tomlinson
  • DT Sheldon Rankins
  • CB Anthony Brown
  • CB Sean Bunting
  • S Eric Rowe
  • S Jabrill Peppers

Los Angeles Chargers

In 2022, the Chargers lacked defensive depth. This was demonstrated when Joey Bosa went down early in the season — continuing his pattern of being hurt in one season and fully healthy in the next. (But the good news for Los Angeles is that Bosa should be healthy in 2023). On the other end of the defensive line, Khalil Mack is now 32 years old — so we could see his production drop.

So improving the Chargers’ pass-rushing depth should be a high priority. Perhaps Los Angeles will do what many other teams already do: rotate its pass rushers to keep everyone fresh and healthy through an 18-week season. Maybe Bosa and Mack can play a full season together before they are gone.

The Chargers also need more pass-catchers. Appearing in only 10 games last season, Keenan Allen’s numbers dipped last year. Mike Williams was injured in the regular season’s final game — and Los Angeles needed him badly in the first round of the playoffs against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We learned that when either Williams or Allen is unavailable, Joshua Palmer isn’t the answer.

The Chargers could assess this through the draft or free agency — but free agents like D.J. Chark, Jakobi Meyers and JuJu Smith-Schuster could all be easy fits in the Los Angeles offense.

Free Agent Fits

  • WR D.J. Chark
  • WR Jakobi Meyers
  • WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
  • DE Clelin Ferrell
  • DE Poona Ford
  • DE Arden Key

Which of the free-agent players we’ve discussed would be among the ones you don’t want to see in the AFC West?

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