A Denver Broncos fan holds a sign in reference to the team clinching the AFC West in 2012. (Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
The free agency activity in the AFC West has died down now that the NFL Draft is only a few weeks away.
The Denver Broncos certainly made the biggest splashes in free agency, both good and bad. But the Kansas City Chiefs were no slouches either. On the other hand it seems like the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have all but admitted they are still a few years away. They’ve both signed a few players, but it seems the impact guys are leaving them rather than joining.
Where the teams stand today doesn’t really mean much in regards to the 2013 season. All four will look different after they’ve navigated the draft, and there is still a lot of talent available as free agents that could wind up in the division.
With that said however, we can make some determinations based on what we’ve already seen and where it looks like these teams are heading:
The Broncos were clearly the best team in the division in 2012 when they won the AFC West by a stunningly large margin. In the offseason they’ve improved as much as any team in the league by adding difference makers such as WR Wes Welker and OG Louis Vasquez, and solid contributors such as CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and DT Terrance Knighton. The only big loss was the messy departure of Elvis Dumervil, but the Broncos will certainly be addressing the defensive end position in the draft and/or free agency before the season starts. The biggest position of need is probably at running back. If Denver can find a workhorse back with fresh legs their offense will be putting up video game numbers this season. By the way, the Broncos still have the most salary cap room left (More than $8 million) among AFC West teams.
If Denver was a scary team for opponents last year they will be giving them nightmares this year. The schedule will have a few bumps but there is no reason this team can’t find a way to win 12 games, something that is pretty typical for a Peyton Manning-led football team.
For several years the Broncos were trying to become a contender within the division. But that isn’t good enough anymore. The question isn’t if this team can win the division or make the playoffs, it’s what happens when they get there. The Broncos have a single goal in 2013: Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City has made more changes in the offseason than any other team out there, and rightfully so. To say they were an embarrassment last season would be an insult to embarrassments. They brought in a new general manager, head coach, and quarterback to completely overhaul the organization. Alex Smith is certainly an upgrade behind center, but many doubt that he is a quarterback that can take a team to the Super Bowl, including myself. Most Chiefs fans would probably be content if he could just score a few points and make them competitive.
The Chiefs brought in some help at tight end in Anthony Fasano and added some solid players to the defensive secondary such as cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. After the bigger names, they’ve gone on to sign a bunch of new players across the board. They will certainly look quite different in 2013.
I believe Kansas City will be much improved this year (Hard not to improve. I mean, they can’t possibly get any worse, right?). But when a team is starting at 2-14 a drastic improvement still doesn’t mean they will be in the running for the playoffs. I see the Chiefs as about a .500 football team right now. In the AFC West that will probably be good enough for second place.
San Diego Chargers
This is another team that’s going with a brand new general manager and head coach. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Coach Mike McCoy did not bring Peyton Manning with him from Denver. They did get Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator, a move I like, but he is a short term solution there. Look for him to be a hot head coaching candidate as early as next season.
Outside of the front office and coaching staff, it doesn’t seem like anything else will be significantly different. Has anyone taken a look at the projected starters at offensive line in San Diego? Amazingly the o-line is worse today than it was at the end of the 2012 campaign. That is staggering. Quarterback Philip Rivers has turned in two of his worst seasons as a pro in recent years and it was due in part to the fact he was constantly on his back. Hopefully he got used to it down there, because even if they address the o-line in the draft it is still going to be one of the weakest units in the league.
If they do go all in at o-line in the draft, what are they going to do with the other holes in their lineup? Let’s face it; this isn’t the 2006 Chargers anymore. There is a big time talent gap in San Diego and they can’t come close to fixing it in a single offseason, especially if they are forced to draft an entire offensive line.
Louis Vasquez, their best offensive lineman from last year, now plays in Denver. Antwan Barnes and Antonio Garay are with the Jets, and Antoine Cason now plays in Arizona. The Chargers did sign RB Danny Woodhead, but I’m certain he’s much too small to carry the team on his back.
All of this is what makes their lack of action in free agency confusing. It’s clear that they are in re-building mode and planning for the long term, but there are still going to be games played in 2013. Will San Diego be able to be competitive?
This team is worse than they were last year. Add in the fact that Kansas City isn’t going to be two automatic wins again and the Chargers are going to have a tough road. As it stands now, it looks like San Diego will finish under .500 for the second year in a row.
The nicest way to put this is that the Raiders will be an unmitigated disaster in 2013.
About a third of their salary cap is earmarked for players not on their roster anymore. Players who have escaped Oakland this offseason: QB Carson Palmer, LB Rolando McClain, DT Tommy Kelly, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, S Michael Huff, P Shane Lechler, TE Brandon Myers, LB Philip Wheeler, etc. This list actually goes on from here.
In fairness the Raiders have brought in some guys. Among them CB Tracy Porter (A Denver castoff) and T Khalif Barnes were signed as free agents and unproven QB Matt Flynn was acquired via trade. But these additions will do nothing to stem the bleeding in Oakland.
Here’s what it boils down to: The Raiders finally have to deal with the complete demolition of the franchise at the hands of deceased owner Al Davis. His credit card bills are coming due to current GM Reggie McKenzie and it’s not leaving him many options. McKenzie has been forced to start from scratch, and the 2013 season has been completely sacrificed for the future.
Even though Oakland fans are going to be calling for the firing of everyone in the organization this year, I give McKenzie credit for doing what must be done. No one in the league could win with the current situation in Oakland. After this overhaul the franchise will actually be run like a real NFL organization for the first time in a very long time.
In the meantime get ready to enjoy a couple years’ worth of cleaning the floors with the Raiders. I expect them to win somewhere in the neighborhood of two games and be a frontrunner for the #1 overall draft pick next season.