After a magical two-year run, the Chiefs' 2020 season ended with an emphatic thud in Super Bowl LV. With Patrick Mahomes doing his best Fran Tarkenton impression, the Chiefs fought but ultimately fell incredibly short in their quest to successfully defend their title.
Kansas City's 31-9 loss to the Buccaneers showcased the areas the Chiefs needs to strengthen this offseason. The Chiefs will not only look to become the fourth team to play in three straight Super Bowls, they will also vie for their sixth consecutive AFC West division title in 2021. But unlike recent years, the Chiefs will face a much more challenging division. The Raiders started 6-3 last season before a late-season swoon kept them out of the playoffs. Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and the Chargers closed out 2020 with four consecutive wins. Denver will look to rebound following another rocky season that saw Von Miller miss the entire year with an injury.
The 2021 offseason will be an important one for each AFC West team. And with free agency and the NFL draft just around the corner, we decided to review each AFC West teams' needs while offering a preview of what they might do over the next several months.
[Note: Cap space figures provided by Spotrac, and will change once official salary cap is finalized for 2021.]
Needs: G, OT, CB, EDGE, WR, DT
The Chiefs may have to replace three starters on their offensive line this offseason. Kansas City may also have to replenish its receiving corps if Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins leave in free agency. Possible defensive departures this offseason include defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, linebacker Damien Wilson, free safety Daniel Sorensen, and cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
The Chiefs' cap situation will force them to address most of these needs via the draft. While they will likely address their offensive and defensive lines during the first few rounds, Kansas City will certainly use some picks to address its secondary and receiver positions. One name to monitor is receiver Tylan Wallace, who flourished in Oklahoma State's wide-open offense.
Estimated current cap space (top 51): -$18.1 million
CBS draft projections: DT Daviyon Nixon (Ryan Wilson), OL Jackson Carman (Chris Trapasso), LB Nick Bolton (Josh Edwards)
Free agents to watch: G Tom Compton, CB William Jackson, DE Ronald Blair, WR Damiere Byrd
Needs: G, WR, CB, EDGE, DT
While Henry Ruggs III, Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards will be back, the Raiders may have to replace soon-to-be free agent receivers Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones. The Raiders are also reportedly planning to release Tyrell Williams at the start of the league's new year. Given these losses, the Raiders will undoubtedly select a receiver during the draft -- the only question is when. That could be as early as the first round if Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith is still available with the 17th overall pick.
Like the Chiefs, expect the Raiders to make the bulk of their roster changes via the draft. That being said, general manager Mike Mayock will try to find some bargains in free agency. Possible free agent options for the Raiders include inside linebacker Josh Bynes, outside linebacker John Simon, and free safety Tashaun Gipson.
The Raiders are reportedly interested in signing former Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. While it's not impossible, the Raiders would have to make some significant cap cuts to make this happen. If they're not able to land Smith-Schuster, two more affordable options include Rashard Higgins and Isaiah McKenzie.
Estimated current cap space (top 51): -$9.7 million
CBS draft projections: DL Jaelan Phillips (Ryan Wilson), LB Micah Parsons (Chris Trapasso), WR DeVonta Smith (Josh Edwards)
Free agents to watch: ILB Josh Bynes, OLB John Simon, FS Tashaun Gipson, OL Matt Feiler, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Needs: C, G, WR, EDGE, CB, TE
Mike Pouncey's retirement has created a new need on the Chargers' offense. Along with finding a new center, Los Angeles may also be in the market for a new left guard, as Dan Feeney is a free agent. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Virgil Green are also expected to become free agents. On the defensive side of the ball, pass rusher Melvin Ingram, linebacker Nick Vigil and cornerback Michael Davis are also expected to test the open market next month.
The Chargers have a healthy amount of cap space, so they should be able to sign at least a few of their upcoming free agents. In the draft, Los Angeles is expected to use its first pick on the offensive line. The Chargers are also expected to select a pass rusher with one of their other top picks. If they're lucky, Pitt pass rusher Patrick Jones II will be there for the Chargers to take in the second round. The second-ranked EDGE player in CBS Sports prospect rankings, Jones tallied 17.5 sacks, 24 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles during his last two seasons with the Panthers.
Receiver is another position to keep an eye on as far as the Chargers are concerned. With Mike Williams entering his final year under contract, Los Angeles would be wise to add to their receiving corps this offseason.
Estimated current cap space (top 51): $33.97 million
CBS draft projections: OL Rashawn Slater (Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso), OL Christian Darrisaw (Josh Edwards)
Free agents to watch: LT Trent Williams, G/T Denzelle Good, C Alex Mack, OLB Haason Reddick, CB Shaquill Griffin, TE Gerald Everett, WR Will Fuller
Needs: CB, LB, EDGE, OT, QB
The Broncos enter the 2021 offseason with the division's biggest salary cap. Denver will probably spend most of that money on the defensive side of the ball, specifically at defensive end, linebacker and cornerback. The Broncos will also be in the market for a new right tackle, as starters Demar Dotson and Elijah Wilkinson are set to become free agents.
Denver's two biggest free agents are defensive end Shelby Harris and free safety Justin Simmons. If the Broncos keep both players, they will likely have to lean on the draft to fill their other personnel needs. And while Drew Lock does appear to be the Broncos' longterm quarterback, it would make sense for the Broncos to find a veteran quarterback who is capable of filing in on a moment's notice.
More consistent quarterback play, along with upgrades at linebacker and cornerback, should be enough to help the Broncos turn things around after a disappointing 2020 season. The Broncos have a formidable running game, a deep receiving corps and several talented defensive players, led by future Hall of Fame linebacker Von Miler if Denver holds onto him.
Estimated current cap space (top 51): $39.46 million
CBS draft projections: CB Caleb Farley (Ryan Wilson), CB Patrick Surtain II (Chris Trapasso), LB Micah Parsons (Josh Edwards)
Free agents to watch: CB Richard Sherman, LB Avery Williamson, DE Derek Wolfe, OT Daryl Williams, QB Jacoby Brissett