The NFL preseason has officially begun! Which means the wait for NFL regular season games is almost over…And by “almost,” I mean 31 more days to be exact. With all jokes aside and “Who’s going to win the Super Bowl” talk delayed until at least September 6th. It’s time to take a quick look back at some of the key offseason moves made by teams in the AFC West!
AFC West – Winners And Losers Of The 2018 Offseason
In recent years, the AFC West has been as being one of the toughest divisions in all the NFL. Although, last season’s expectations from teams within the division weren’t met as a collective.
The Kansas City Chiefs took the top spot in the AFC West for the second straight season with a 10-6 record.
The Chiefs were the only AFC West team to make the 2017 playoffs, so who cares if they blew a 21-3 halftime lead at home against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Wildcard game? Well, probably Chiefs fans, but I’ll save them some heartache.
So, what moves did Kansas City make this offseason to improve their roster and chances at winning their third consecutive AFC West title?
Let’s start with the most important position in the sport. The quarterback position. Yes, Kansas City made a splash this offseason at the QB position. How big? We’ll find out soon when Patrick Mahomes II takes the field as the Chiefs projected week 1 starter. Yikes!
Getting Trade Happy
The major move Kansas City made this offseason was trading last years starting QB, Alex Smith, to the Washington Redskins for CB, Kendall Fuller, and a 3rd round draft pick. Why?
Well, the Chiefs traded up last draft to pick Mahomes 10th overall, which means they are invested in grooming his raw talent and giving him room to grow within the organization. Kansas City also saved $17 million against the salary cap by moving Smith to Washington.
The Chiefs weren’t done with the offseason trades however. They sent their former 1st round draft pick, CB Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams along with a 6th round draft pick in exchange for a 4th round pick this year and a 2nd round pick next year.
Again, why move a productive defensive player outperforming his rookie contract? Peters is a fiery competitor who mixes it up verbally and sometimes is seen as a distraction when expressing his emotions to the media. We will have to wait and see how that trade turns out.
The Watkins Experiment
So besides trading some key players from last year’s team, who did the Chiefs bring in? They managed to lure free agent WR Sammy Watkins with a huge contract. It’s worth $30 million in guarantees, and includes a $21 million signing bonus.
For the former 4th overall pick in the draft, Watkins has not lived up to the hype he had coming out of Clemson. He’s entering his fifth season in the NFL and only once has he amassed 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Watkins’ career numbers are pretty underwhelming compared to other wide receivers taken in the 1st round of the 2014 draft. Those guys include: Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin. However, Watkins has shown flashes when healthy and involved. Maybe the payday and fresh start in Kansas City will rejuvenate the talented WR.
Overall, the Chiefs’ offseason moves were surprising and it’s yet to be seen whether they will pan out. Can Patrick Mahomes start at QB in his sophomore season after just one start and lead the Chiefs and their new offensive weapons to a third division title? There are many concerns as the regular season approaches, but the interesting part will be watching everything unfold.
Chiefs Winners or Losers?
Losers. The big question is how quickly can the new pieces mesh around Mahomes? And, will he turn out to be the franchise QB the Chiefs hope he can be? All of these questions are yet to be answered!
On to the runner up in the AFC West division last season, the Los Angeles Chargers! It’s still weird even saying the LA Chargers. The Chargers finished 9-7 last season. Considering the fact that they lost their first 4 games, winning 9 of their last 12 was respectable. It also raises eyebrows on their potential and what’s possible in 2018.
If the Chargers had a decent kicker the beginning of last season, they might have pulled out wins against the Broncos (L, 24-21) the Dolphins (L, 19-17) and the Eagles (L, 26-24). That turns them into a 12 win team and theoretical division champs.
Let’s be honest, the Chargers have been in incognito mode since they last made the playoffs in 2013. Yet, QB Philip Rivers has managed to keep the team somewhat competitive over the past few seasons. Which brings us to the Chargers’ offseason moves.
Helping Phillip Rivers
This offseason, the Chargers managed to extend WR Tyrell Williams with a one year, $3 million deal. A smart move for LA, considering the lack of weapons they’ve supplied Rivers with over the last couple years.
They also signed former Broncos TE Virgil Green to a three year, $8.5 million deal. With questions surrounding Hunter Henry‘s health and Antonio Gates reaching the end of his career, Green will step in and become a consistent target for Rivers and the Chargers.
Now with a few offensive weapons solidified, the Chargers also made some improvements to their offensive line. They went and signed three time Pro Bowl Center Mike Pouncey to a two year deal worth $15 million and $10 million guaranteed.
Finally, the Chargers looked for a security blanket at QB, signing Geno Smith to a one year deal. With a lack of talent and consistency on the FA market at the position, Smith seems to be a decent backup if needed.
Adding a Defensive Stud
Los Angeles also had the 17th overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft, which they used to select S Derwin James out of Florida State. The physically gifted James will fit nicely into an already explosive Chargers defense that has solidified playmakers at every level.
Overall, the offseason additions strengthen a pretty loaded Chargers roster who always seems to grind out wins over the course of the regular season. They could be the AFC West’s “dark horse” who’s capable of surprising everyone this season.
Chargers Winners or Losers?
Winners. I love the offseason additions to this young and talented roster. Now we have to wait and see if the team chemistry can click together sooner rather than later.
Next up, the Oakland Raiders!
The Raiders finished last season, 6-10, and struggled to find their identity as a team.
A Flurry of Moves
The addition of a new sheriff in town, Jon Gruden, may be just the piece they need to steady the ship. In January, the Raiders pulled Gruden away from his gig at ESPN by offering him a $100 million contract over 10 years to coach the team. This makes him the second highest paid coach in the NFL despite not coaching since the 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Raiders have also broken ground on their new Las Vegas stadium which is scheduled to host games in the 2020 season.
They released WR Michael Crabtree, P Marquette King and CB David Amerson this offseason. While they added RB Doug Martin, WR Jordy Nelson and CB Daryl Worley.
But one of the most interesting moves the Raiders made this offseason was trading for WR Martavis Bryant. Oakland gave up their 3rd round pick (79th overall) to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for the talented, yet distracted playmaker. If Bryant can stay focused and is given a steady role, good, if not great things could come from him this season.
Raiders Winners or Losers?
Winners. The Raiders are definitely doing big things with a new Las Vegas stadium set to open in 2020 and a head coach with a new $100 million contract. The question is whether Gruden can get the team to buy into his culture, because this team pretty much has everything you need to be successful. They’ve got a young gunslinger in Derek Carr and weapons galore to his disposal on offense. Paired with a capable defense. No excuses for Oakland this year as they try and contend for the AFC West.
If Bryant can stay focused and is given a steady role, good, if not great things could come from him this season.
Last, but not least… the Denver Broncos had the least amount of wins in the AFC West. They finished a dismal 5-11. But they were once 5 time division winners from 2011-2015.
After winning 3 of their first 4 games before the week 5 bye last season, the Broncos fell apart and lost 8 straight. That virtually took them out of any postseason talk. Why? Well, Denver couldn’t find any consistency at QB which was their ultimate demise, even with a decent defense.
Finding a QB
So what moves did Denver make this offseason? They took a chance on veteran QB Case Keenum, signing him to a 2 year $36 million deal, with a $25 million signing bonus. It doesn’t seem like the Broncos wanted to break the bank on a Kirk Cousins type deal, but they got what they paid for. Keenum might turn out to be a solid QB for Denver this season, but he might not be solid enough to win them a Super Bowl.
The Broncos did catch a bit of a break when it came to the NFL Draft, as they were slotted 5th overall. Fortunately for them, that player happened to be defensive end and absolute beast, Bradley Chubb. Chubb was projected as the top overall player in some mock drafts and was listed as the top defensive player on many team’s boards.
The addition of Chubb to an already loaded Denver front that highlights Super Bowl 50 MVP, Von Miller gives more space for the Broncos pass rush. Opposing teams won’t be able to double team one person as often with Chubb on the field.
Overall, the Broncos did what they could this offseason without killing themselves in the salary cap department. Although I’m not sure Keenum will be the longterm fit at QB in Denver, I am pretty sure that the defense in the Mile High City will be back to giving opposing offenses nightmares week in and week out.
Broncos Winners or Losers?
Winners. Considering the limited options at QB, they brought in the best “affordable” option that gives them a chance to compete in 2018. If the defense can return to their dominant play style they’ve shown in recent years, Denver will have a real chance at making the playoffs.