The NFL offseason is officially upon us. Teams are already beginning to address their needs for 2014. They will continue to do so throughout the offseason, especially as we approach the 2014 NFL Draft. We have already looked at the biggest needs for the AFC East, and NFC East. Today we look at the AFC West offseason needs.
AFC West Offseason Needs: Denver Broncos
Biggest Needs: Cornerback, Depth.
The Denver Broncos will still be stinging from their tough Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks. However, the team were one of the best throughout 2013, and their main focus for the 2014 offseason will be to make sure that they are able to keep up their 2013 form into next season.
In the main, this will mean keeping their team together. Their biggest free agents are Eric Decker, who was a top target for Peyton Manning throughout the year, as well as running back Knowshon Moreno and corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They have some cap space, but the projected $12.8 million will not stretch much further, once they have addressed these three. Several cuts will need to be made to make the room they would want. Champ Bailey, Chris Kuper, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen could all find themselves on the chopping block.
None of these players are so integral to the team that there isn’t already someone in line to step up and fill their spot, but it will certainly leave the team thin at a few key positions. They can address depth through the draft, but would be well served to add a few key free agents, to address key areas of need, too.
Brent Grimes, Vontae Davis, Sam Shields could all be in play for the Broncos to help ease their cornerback woes, while Marcus Roberson could be a potential target in the first round of the draft.
Though the Broncos had one of the best receiving corps in recent memory in 2013, don’t rule out them making a play at a big name receiver like Anquan Boldin either, especially if, as expected, Decker chooses to test the market.
AFC West Offseason Needs: Kansas City Chiefs
Biggest Needs: Wide Receiver, Tight End, Safety
Without a doubt, the Kansas City Chiefs were the biggest turn around in 2013. Under Reid’s capable tutelage, they managed to transform themselves from the owners of a league worst 2-14 record in 2012, to 11-5 playoff contenders in 2013. What’s more impressive is that he did so with only a hand full of incoming big-name free agents and trades.
In 2014, they will seek to build on this, but will be greatly limited in their ability to do so. Historically, the Chiefs have been very frugal when handing out salaries, and have cap space to burn. In 2014, they find themselves in the unusual, and uncomfortable position of having only around $2.5 million in cap space coming into the offseason.
Certainly, contracts will be renegotiated, and players cut to cut their cap number. But as it stands, the team do not even have enough space to sign all of their draft picks. They will need to tread very carefully in free agency.
Fortunately, they have very few free agents in 2014 who would be considered must sign. About the biggest name is left tackle Branden Albert, who has already signaled his intent to test the open market, and they have enough depth on the offensive line to reshuffle their current lineup, and not be much worse off.
Their main offseason target is likely to be at wide receiver, with Dexter McCluster and Donnie Avery both possibilities to leave as free agents. The team could easily make enough cap space to make a play at one big name receiver. Possible targets could include Jeremy Maclin, who played under Reid in Philadelphia, or Golden Tate. However, the team may decide that there is enough depth at receiver in the draft to forgo this option, and instead pursue another position.
Perhaps the most likely candidate in this case would be Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd. An outside shot, for sure, but he would instantly cement the Chiefs secondary as a top five unit for years to come.
Other needs, especially at tight end, will be addressed in the draft, Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech a near perfect match for the team.
AFC West Offseason Needs: Oakland Raiders
Biggest Needs: Quarterback, Cornerback, Defensive Line, Offensive Line
The Oakland Raiders probably the most pressing needs of any team in the AFC West, if not the NFL. They are without clear-cut starters under contract at almost every key position.
Fortunately, with more than $63 million in cap space, they are in the best position, by far, of any team to find them.
Their biggest need is at quarterback, where neither Terrelle Pryor nor Matt McGloin have done anything to prove that they are a franchise guy. The team could pursue one of several free agent quarterbacks, including Josh Freeman or Michael Vick. However, either of these guys are elite, long term prospects, and would need to be supplemented by a young passer early in the draft.
After this, they would still have more than enough left over to re-sign their own key free agents, LT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, FS Charles Woodson and either or both of their free agent RBs Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings.
Even with these re-signings, the Raiders will still be in a position to make a play at two or three top-tier free agents.
The targets most often linked with them are center Alex Mack, defensive end Jared Allen, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, and corner Alterraun Verner. Amazingly, with the right contract structuring, all four of these players could be signed by the team, though in reality, most of these players would likely look elsewhere before signing with a struggling team like the Raiders.
Even still, their unbelievable levels of cap space, and significant needs ensure that one way or another, they will be in play for almost every significant free agent in the market. No matter what, expect the team to be vastly improved in 2014, even before they hit the draft, where early picks will make sure they can grow still further.
Do not count out a Kansas City Chiefs-esq turnaround for the Raiders in 2014.
AFC West Offseason Needs: San Diego Chargers
Biggest Needs: Cornerback, Pass Rusher
The San Diego Chargers ended 2013 as one of the league’s hottest teams. They were unbeaten in December, and rode that momentum into the second round of the playoffs, beating number three seeded Chicago Bears on the way. They progressed further than the Chiefs, who finished ahead of them in the regular season, and were only beaten by the Super Bowl bound Broncos.
In many ways all the Chargers need to do is carry that momentum into 2014. In practice, that could be easier said than done. Coming into the offseason, the Chargers are already nearly $1 million over the projected salary cap for 2014.
They find themselves in the unfortunate position of knowing they need to gut their successful 2013 team just to get under the cap, before they can even think about re-signing any veterans or seeking out the services of outside free agents. In advance of the draft, the Chargers will be more focused on damage limitation and not growth or improvement.
They have a some key players, including Special Teams captain Darrell Stuckey and Donald Butler, who they will need to make cap room for, no matter what.
As a result, their offseason focus will largely be geared almost exclusively towards the draft.
Cornerbacks Marcus Roberson or Loucheiz Purifoy are both hotly tipped cornerback prospects whom the Chargers could select in the first round. Additionally, pass rusher Michael Sam, who has seen his draft stock plummet in the wake of his announcement that he is gay, would be a great addition for the team in later rounds.
The team arguably has more work to do, per dollar available, than any other team, but GM Tom Telesco, is sure to find a way to make it work.