The AFC certainly was a gauntlet this past season, even with the Kansas City Chiefs proving their conference superiority by winning Super Bowl LVII -- their second championship in four seasons. Even with a strong AFC full of franchise quarterbacks, teams are still trying to figure out how to beat the Chiefs and reign superior over the rest of the conference.
Free agency is finally here yet teams are (again) waiting to see what Aaron Rodgers decides to do for the 2023 season. What about Lamar Jackson's contract situation with the Baltimore Ravens? Even with the franchise tag, will Jackson reach a new deal with Baltimore or will he bolt for another franchise? Wherever Jackson winds up could shift the balance of power in the AFC.
The Chiefs are clearly the best team in the conference, while the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills aren't far behind. The Jacksonville Jaguars appear set to challenge the top three sooner rather than later, while the Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers hope to emerge into the upper echelon of contenders.
Finding the right free agent fit is paramount toward competing for a championship, a player each team will be highly pursuing this week. Here's a free agent fit for each AFC team in the days leading up to the most exciting period of the NFL offseason.
Note: Lamar Jackson playing on the non-exclusive tag was excluded from the list, even though teams are free to negotiate with him. Technically, Jackson isn't an unrestricted free agent.
Baltimore has to address the wide receiver position, whether it decides to bring back Lamar Jackson or not. Unfortunately, this wide receiver class isn't strong -- with Meyers clearly being the best player on the open market.
Rashod Bateman is the No. 1 in Baltimore, but Meyers would be an excellent complement in the slot. While the touchdown numbers haven't been great in his career, Meyers does have 1,670 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over his last two seasons.
A great route runner and lethal in the slot, Meyers can put up huge numbers if Jackson returns.
The Bills could use a guard with Rodger Saffold hitting the free agent market. Why not sign a younger and more versatile option in Seumalo, who can play left guard, right guard, and center (he even started a game at right tackle).
The protection on the offensive line would improve with Seuamlo (who allowed just one sack and 17 pressures last season at right guard). Seumalo will be in high demand, but he's what the Bills need to have a more consistent offensive line and make a deep playoff run.
The Bengals are going to have to address cornerback with Eli Apple hitting free agency. Cam Taylor-Britt had a promising rookie season and could be in line to start next to Chidobe Awuzie, but why not bring in some veteran competition for one of the cornerback jobs?
Moseley is coming off a torn ACL, yet he's an excellent cover corner. He allowed a 43.6 passer rating in his five starts last season, with no touchdown passes allowed. Just 26, Moseley has allowed only one touchdown over the past two seasons with a passer rating of 63.2.
Cleveland could certainly use a left tackle this offseason, especially given Jedrick Wills' struggles. Wills has allowed 17 sacks over the past three seasons, including eight last season (with 37 pressures allowed). A veteran upgrade is needed here, so why not bring in the recently released Lewan?
Injuries over the past three seasons have really limited Lewan (who is 31), but he still has some good football left in him. Allowing four sacks and 22 pressures in his last full season (2021) is enough to bring in veteran competition for Wills' job.
If the Broncos are going to succeed with Russell Wilson, they need to do a better job protecting him. Losing Garett Bolles was a major blow to the tackle position, so the Broncos need another tackle to compliment him. While Dillard can only play left tackle (the position Bolles plays), Denver could move Bolles to the right side and make that side of the line a massive strength.
Dillard is a starting tackle in his league, even if the former first-round pick was blocked by Jordan Mailata. He just needs an opportunity to play 17 games and showcase his talents. Dillard won't be cheap, but the Broncos won't need to break the bank for him either.
The Texans need help everywhere on the roster, so let's start with getting a pass rusher on the edge. Clowney once was a star in Houston and is looking for employment after having just 29 pressures and two sacks last season in 12 games.
Houston had just 39 sacks last season, but now has DeMeco Ryans as head coach to make the pass rush a strength. Adding a veteran like Clowney on a one-year, incentive-laden contract could immensely benefit a defensive line that has to get to the quarterback in order to win games.
Another team that significantly needs offensive line help after allowing 60 sacks last season, the most in the NFL. Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith aren't going anywhere, but Indianapolis could use some help at right guard. While Risner has played left guard throughout his career, a switch to right guard would certainly help out the Colts -- especially with him sandwiched between Smith and center Ryan Kelly.
Risner allowed four sacks and 29 pressures last year, but a chance of scenery could be good for him. If Indianapolis wants to protect its young quarterback, the Colts have to get better on the interior of the offensive line. That's where Risner comes in.
The Jaguars pass defense wasn't great last year, ranking 28th in pass yards allowed and 19th in pass touchdowns allowed. Sutton would certainly challenge for one of the starting cornerback spots from either Tyson Campbell or Shaquill Griffin (who is heading into the final year of his contract).
Sutton allowed just a 54.6 passer rating in coverage last season with three interceptions, an instant upgrade for a Jaguars secondary that needs upgrades. The Jaguars have proven they'll be aggressive in free agency. Why not target Sutton?
Kansas City Chiefs
After allowing Frank Clark to walk, the Chiefs are going to have to great creative at finding efficient options to get to the quarterback. Why not unite Graham with the head coach that drafted him in Andy Reid?
Graham is coming off a huge season at 34, having 11 sacks with 48 pressures. While Graham could return to the Eagles (he prefers to finish his career in Philadelphia), the Chiefs could use a steady presence on the edge that can get to the quarterback and help out Chris Jones and George Karlaftis.
Graham would thrive under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and he couldn't cost a fortune either.
Edmunds is set to be the premier linebacker on the market -- and the Raiders have plenty of cap space to improve at a position that was a problem last season. The Raiders could use a difference maker to help out Maxx Crosby, which Edmunds certainly has been for Buffalo since he entered the league.
Edmunds has five straight seasons with 100 tackles, always having a knack for finding the football. The Raiders could use more players like that, especially after Chandler Jones had a down year as the prized free agent signing last offseason.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers spent big in free agency last offseason, yet still couldn't plug all the holes on their roster. The run defense was atrocious, ranking 32nd in yards per carry and 28th in rush yards allowed.
Rankins isn't the biggest name available on the market, but he can get pressure up the middle for Joey Bosa on the edge and can stop the run better than any option Los Angeles had last season. Those three sacks, 25 pressures, and 8.5% pressure rate can go a long way.
With Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson set to hit free agency, the Dolphins could use stability at running back. Enter Sanders, who is arguably the top back on the market with the top players at his position getting franchise tagged.
Sanders is coming off the best season of his four-year career, rushing 259 times for a career-high 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also put up a career-high 1,347 yards from scrimmage in earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Sanders finished fifth in the NFL in rushing, the first running back to finish in the top five in rushing yards for the Eagles since LeSean McCoy in 2014.
Sounds like a perfect complement for the Dolphins' high octane pssing game. Sanders can significantly free up Tua Tagovailoa getting the deep passes off to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle if he can stay healthy.
The Patriots could certainly use an upgrade at wide receiver, whether Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor were free agents or not. While New England will be searching the trade market for a premier pass catcher, the Patriots should take a flier on Chark in free agency.
The deep ball threat New England needs, Chark had 30 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns last season (averaging 16.7 yards per catch). New England owes it to Mac Jones to get him all the pass catchers he needs, especially since he has a play caller in Bill O'Brien that actually can get the best out of him. Jones just needs the personnel to succeed now.
Getting help on the offensive line should be a priority for the Jets with Aaron Rodgers potentially coming to town. While Wylie didn't have the best regular season (nine sacks allowed, 42 pressures), his performance in Super Bowl LVII (zero sacks allowed, one pressure) is going to get him a nice contract in free agency.
The Jets could use a right tackle that can hold his own, which Wylie certainly provides. If Mekhi Becton comes back healthy, Wylie would be a nice complement on that line.
This is the AFC franchise that must protect its young quarterback, needing a massive upgrade at tackle in order to get the best out of Kenny Pickett. Enter Brown, the premier left tackle available in free agency.
Brown has been one of the best tackles in the game over the past four seasons, the only offensive tackle to reach the Pro Bowl in each of the past four years. The Chiefs left tackle allowed four sacks and 39 pressures in the regular season while allowing 10 pressures in three postseason games. Brown didn't allow a sack since Week 15 against the Houston Texans and just two sacks since Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans.
This is the player the Steelers need to protect Pickett -- and the best chance to find a good left tackle.
Whether the quarterback is Ryan Tannehill or Malik Willis, the Titans need pass catchers in the worst way. Schultz is one of the best tight ends available on the market -- and an instant upgrade for Tennessee at the tight end position.
Schultz has 135 catches (fourth amongst tight ends), 1,385 receiving yards (sixth), and 13 receiving touchdowns (fifth) over teh last two years -- showcasing how good he's been as a pass catcher amongst his peers. The Titans could use more players like Schultz on their offense as they look to erase the collapse of 2022.