NFL free agency hit like a tidal wave last week, as some of the league’s best players headed for news homes with better paychecks.
The AFC West was at the forefront of the dealing as the Raiders, Los Angles Chargers and Denver Broncos do whatever they can to close the gap between themselves and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
So, as NBC Sports Bay Area Raiders insider Scott Bair and I discussed on the latest edition of The Raiders Talk Podcast, let’s grade how each AFC West team did and see where the Silver and Black now stack up against their rivals.
Additions: Marcus Mariota, Jason Witten, Cory Littleton, Eli Apple, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jeff Heath, Carl Nassib, Nelson Agholor, Maliek Collins, Daniel Ross and Nick O’Leary.
Subtractions: Tahir Whitehead, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley
The Raiders’ defense got a lot better with the addition of Littleton and Kwiatkoski, two three-down, play-making linebackers who can cover tight ends. Littleton, 26, is a great athlete, a sure tackler and adept at rushing the passer. Those additions were made to help combat Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce who has been a nightmare in the pattern. The addition of Apple, should he become consistent, gives the Raiders a physical corner to put on the likes of Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins to try and slow down the track team in KC.
Grade: A-minus. The Raiders got loads better on defense. While they whiffed on Byron Jones and Chris Harris, they still made wholesale improvements and the additions at linebacker should allow them to better defend the Chiefs — in theory.
Additions: A.J. Bouye, Jurrell Casey, Graham Glasgow, Melvin Gordon, Nick Vannett, Sam Martin Jeff Driskel
Subtractions: Chris Harris, Joe Flacco, Conor McGovern, Will Parks
I really like what the Broncos did on defense. They traded for Bouye, giving them a No. 1 corner and a healthy Bryce Callahan should help them lessen the blow of losing Harris in the slot. They then somehow got the Titans to trade them Casey, who still is a productive player.
Adding Glasgow is a good addition to what was a suspect offensive line last year. There’s still no reason why they should have given Melvin Gordon $8 million a year, when they have Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Gordon looked slow, unathletic and couldn’t hold onto the ball last season. Maybe I should try out for the Broncos?
Grade: B. I love the defensive additions and if Bradley Chubb returns healthy this will be one of the better defenses in the NFL. They didn’t get another receiver opposite Courtland Sutton and appear to be convinced Drew Lock is the guy. Best of luck.
Kansas City Chiefs
Additions: Mike Remmer, Antonio Hamilton
Subtractions: Kendall Fuller, Emmanuel Ogbah, Stefen Wisniewski
The Chiefs’ roster is stacked and they know the bill for Mahomes is coming due soon. They lost one corner in Fuller and the other starting corner Bashaud Breeland currently is a free agent. That’s a big issue for a defense that started to come on toward the end of the season.
But they franchise-tagged Chris Jones and were able to retain Mike Penne and Anthony Sherman. They’ll have a decision to make with Sammy Watkins, who currently is the highest-paid player on the roster, but the champs did well to keep most of the group together.
Grade: B-minus. Losing both starting cornerbacks hurts. But they still have Mahomes and the most dynamic offense in the league.
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Los Angeles Chargers
Additions: Chris Harris, Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Linval Joseph and Nick Vigil
Subtractions: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Thomas Davis, Russell Okung, Derek Watt, Travis Benjamin and Adrian Phillips
The Bolts were wheeling and dealing. They waved goodbye to franchise quarterback Philip Rivers and took a swing at Tom Brady. They missed. So they currently are planning to go into the season with Tyrod Taylor as the starter. It’s not great. They should give Cam Newton a call whenever they can get him in for a physical, but that could take some time due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Adding Harris and Joseph to a defensive unit that already includes Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Casey Hayward means this could be one of the best units in football if healthy.
They also franchise-tagged Hunter Henry and kept Austin Ekeler around. It’s a complete roster except for the most important position in sports.
Grade: B-plus. This has room to go up if they sign Newton or give the keys to Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa in the draft. Taylor is a solid NFL backup quarterback. But this roster is loaded and that defense has the parts to at least combat the best weapons the Chiefs have. Just have to find a quarterback.
The AFC West is one of the deepest divisions in the NFL.
The three teams chasing the Chiefs each made moves to try and stake claim to the No. 2 spot in the division and a shot at the wild-card spot.
The Raiders did well to bulk up their defense and surely will add more important pieces come draft time. Their offensive line when healthy can hold up against the best rushers in the division. With improved quarterback play from Derek Carr or a relief appearance from a reborn Marcus Mariota, the Raiders have the pieces to be the second-best team in the AFC West. They still are a couple of leagues behind the Chiefs, but that will happen when you are chasing a generational talent who has yet to enter his prime.
I expect the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos to beat up on each other in what looks like a relatively even AFC West after the Chiefs.
The Silver and Black are on the rise. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have a clear plan and are executing it, choosing to play the long game in a multi-year rebuild. They’ve checked some boxes and have more holes to fill — most notably wide receiver and cornerback — but I expect them to compete for eight or nine wins and a wild-card spot if things go right.