What was once a boring division showcasing the talents of Tim Tebow, is now a cluster of very interesting teams. Everyone knew the Broncos would be an AFC powerhouse, but the Chiefs put together a very strong season in Andy Reids first year. Another first year head coach, Mike McCoy, made an impressive showing with a somewhat weak roster. The Raiders…well they provide color as always.
Free agent starters: OT Jared Veldheer, OT Khalif Barnes, OT Tony Pashos, RB Darren McFadden, DT Pat Sims, S Charles Woodson, CB Tracy Porter, CB Mike Jenkins
Current needs: WR, CB, OT, RB, DE, DT, S, QB
Cap Situation: This is easily the best part of the Raiders team right now; an incredible amount of cap space. With a payroll of just $67M they need to spend about $50M just to reach the salary floor range. That shouldn’t be too difficult, considering the number of starters that need replacement. They are losing all of their top 3 offensive tackles, both starting corners, and three more starters for a total of 8 players that need replacing. Although its barely worth noting, the Raiders also have an additional 2.5M in carry over space from 2013 should they decide to go completely crazy in free agency.
Free Agency: Buckle your seat belts Raiders fans, your team is going to be very active. OT is the most pressing need with Veldheer and the two guys behind him becoming free agents, but the Raiders are no guarantee to sign a high priced OT; with their draft slot, they will have a very good chance to take some quality LT’s. However they very well might want a QB so signing multiple OT’s is still quite possible. Secondary and defensive line are also pressing concerns, and this is where splashes are most likely. Brian Orakpo will be testing the market, and there is an abundance of starting corners available. With DJ Hayden logging just 353 snaps this past year, a #1 corner is still a priority. Expect splashes at OT, CB, and somewhere on the defensive line.
Outlook: Nobody wants to be a perennial top 10 pick, but unfortunately the Raiders seem to find themselves with nice draft choices quite a bit. It’s tough to say how quickly they will try to turn it around, as they need to spend quite a bit of money this year, but could also opt to build the team a little more slowly and try to carry over more cash into 2015. With so much money available, look for them to invest in long term free agent solutions.
Free agent starters: WR Eric Decker, RB Knowshon Moreno, G Zane Beadles, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, LB Wesley Woodyard, DE Robert Ayers
Current needs: CB, DE, LB, G, WR
Cap Situation: The Broncos have a lot of tough decisions to make. The easiest decision will be cutting Champ Bailey, which will a free up $10M. Additionally, cutting Chris Kuper, Jacob Tamme, and Joel Dreesen could free up 9.5M. The tough decisions begin with Wes Welker, who costs $8M this year but only $2M dead if cut. They might try to restructure, but its unclear how willing he will be on that front. With about 6.4M in carry over space, you can expect the Broncos to have somewhere around $30M in cap space entering free agency.
Free Agency: $30M+ in cap space isn’t bad, but the Broncos have a lot of starters leaving. Dominique Rodgers-Cro! was a bargain at his salary last yr, and will very likely cash in on a contract that pays at least $8M per year. If he leaves, the Broncos will still have a deep CB market in which to compete. Woodyard is a solid starter who will cost a moderate amount to resign. Eric Decker is the big question mark, as he might be trying to sign a big contract, one that the Broncos would not be able to offer. On some level they will be forced to choose between Decker and Welker, and the choice might be Welker since he is the cheaper option. While CB is definitely going to be addressed through free agency, the other offensive and defensive needs are harder to predict since the Broncos will have to look for bargains. Expect some cheap 1 year deals from veterans looking to win right now.
Outlook: As long as the Broncos have Peyton Manning, they know they will be an AFC frontrunner. Getting Ryan Clady and Von Miller back from injury will help a lot, but the porous defense still needs to be addressed. The Broncos will be hard pressed to get as much bang for their buck in free agency if they are to return to the Super Bowl next year.
Free agent starters: OT Branden Albert, G Jon Asamoah, G Geoff Schwartz, WR Dexter McCluster, DE Tyson Jackson, S Kendrick Lewis
Current needs: OT, G, WR, DE, S
Cap Situation: A talented team generally has a high payroll, and thats where the Chiefs currently stand. Their current cap number stands at $122M, with very little fat likely to be trimmed; most of their non-guaranteed money on the books is owed to players who are worth their current salaries, if not more. With only $2.3M in carry over space, there won’t be too many moves made by the Chiefs this offseason.
Free Agency: Branden Albert is a great player and will cost a great amount of money, which likely means he has played his last down in Chiefs uniform. Last years draft pick Eric Fisher will likely move over to LT, but this means RT needs replacing, along with both guard positions. Resigning Asamoah and Schwartz is very possible, as offensive line continuity is extremely important in sustaining great running games. Addressing their offensive line is likely the most news the Chiefs will make in free agency.
Outlook: This roster is loaded with quite a bit of talent in a lot of the right places. However the likely loss of Branden Albert will definitely hurt, and they already struggled to move the ball through the air towards targets not named Dwayne Bowe. As with many other teams, the Chiefs will be relying on their draft picks to push this team to the next level of competitiveness.
Free agent starters: CB Richard Marshall, LB Donald Butler, LB Reggie Walker, G Chad Rinehart
Current needs: DE/OLB, OT, CB, LB, G, WR
Cap Situation: The Chargers begin with a fairly high payroll of 122M, but much of that will be trimmed down. Jeromey Clary, Nick Hardwick, Eddie Royal, Jarret Johnson, LeRon McClain, and Dwight Freeney could all be cut for a total cap gain of $21.5M. While none of their play justified their contracts, they all have some degree of dead money if cut so there could be a lot of restructures here. Not a lot of rollover cap space from 2013 ($2.3M) so the Chargers will likely only have $15-20M in cap room.
Free Agency: While Mike McCoy did a nice job in his first year, its clear that there are some significant areas of need. Phillip Rivers needs better pass protection, and there are some OT’s worth looking at. However they will likely get priced out by teams with big pockets, so don’t be shocked if they lose out on the top of the market here. The defense has a lot of holes, one of which is newly created by Donald Butler becoming a free agent, so LB will be a definite cost. However with a very mediocre amount of cap space and so many positions worth upgrading, look for the Chargers to make low key transactions and focus on the draft in an effort to maintain competitiveness.
Outlook: Having a QB and some decent skills positions can go a long way in being competitive every game. However with the lack of talent on defense, its hard to see this team raising its level of play that far. They will need to get lucky with draft picks and free agent bargains in order to improve.