The Kansas City Chiefs own the AFC West -- winning the last five division titles is proof of that -- and they don't appear ready to give up the throne any time soon. It helps that Kansas City has arguably the game's best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, and did everything possible to make sure he has all the tools available to succeed in 2021. Kansas City didn't land its top prize in Trent Williams, but still drastically improved the offensive line.
While Kansas City was dominating the offseason headlines in the AFC West, what did the other teams in the division do to potentially close the gap? The Los Angeles Chargers have a franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert and also have a new head coach in Brandon Staley, who is looking to mold the defense into one of the top units in the league (similar to what he did in his one season as defensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams). The Denver Broncos are still looking for a quarterback while the Las Vegas Raiders are trying to break the .500 plateau with Jon Gruden -- making the most roster moves of any team in the division.
Kansas City is the clear leader of the AFC West offseason race, as the other teams look toward the draft to shrink that advantage.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Biggest addition: Joe Thuney, guard
The Chiefs landed the best guard on the free agent market this offseason in Thuney, a major upgrade to an offensive line that couldn't protect Mahomes in the Super Bowl. Thuney signed a five-year, $80 million deal to go to Kansas City after anchoring a New England Patriots offensive line to two Super Bowl championships.
Unless Thuney suffers a severe injury, this is the best signing in free agency in the NFC West. Thuney has allowed just three sacks in 1,733 snaps over the last three years and has never missed a game. The Chiefs were serious about beefing up their offensive line and making sure Mahomes gets more than one Super Bowl. Thuney will do.
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Biggest loss: Sammy Watkins, wide receiver
This was a toss-up between Watkins and Damien Williams, but the Chiefs didn't have Williams last season (he sat out due to COVID-19). Watkins, who has signed with the Ravens, was the veteran on the Chiefs' loaded wide receiver group, someone who could allow Tyreek Hill to make plays downfield and take some pressure off him and tight end Travis Kelce. The Chiefs tried to upgrade from Watkins with JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he want back to the Steelers on a one-year deal. Josh Reynolds turned down Kansas City to sign with the Tennessee Titans, so the Chiefs are still looking for that No. 2 wide receiver to pair with Hill.
The Chiefs need Mecole Hardman to step up this year, adding more to his arsenal than a dynamic return man. Perhaps Kansas City finds that No. 2 wideout in the draft, but they need to find someone to help out Mahomes. He can't throw to Hill and Kelce all the time.
Top draft priority: Right tackle
Kansas City added Thuney to play guard and Austin Blythe at center, but striking out on Trent Williams left a major void on the line. The Chiefs were able to find a starting left tackle heading into the draft, landing Orlando Brown from the Baltimore Ravens. Brown, a two-time Pro Bowler, played on the right side in Baltimore but wanted to switch to left tackle and get paid like one. The Chiefs will try to work out a long-term extension with him.
Now that Brown is at left tackle, who will play on the right? Newly signed Kyle Long is a candidate to play right tackle, especially if Laurent Duvernay-Tardif can reclaim the right guard spot after sitting out a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chiefs also didn't rule out bringing Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz back, the bookends on their offensive line for the past five years. Fisher is rehabbing from a torn Achilles and Schwartz from a back injury that cost him his season in October. But Kansas City is preparing for neither to return, so drafting a tackle in the early rounds is under consideration -- should Kansas City choose to go that route.
Kansas City has the No. 58 overall pick in the draft after the Brown deal. Drafting an offensive tackle isn't the highest priority, but still an option the Chiefs have to consider.
Where Chiefs stand heading into 2021
Kansas City has Patrick Mahomes as its quarterback and Andy Reid is the head coach. This team is bound to make deep playoff runs and compete for championships for the next several years. Mahomes, Kelce, and the top players restructure their deals so the Chiefs can bring in more talent and remain at the top of the conference.
The Chiefs just need to find a No. 2 wide receiver and they'll be setting themselves up to make a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. Kansas City is that good.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
Biggest addition: Corey Linsley, center
The Chargers were committed to rebuilding the offensive line and protecting their franchise quarterback, so adding Linsley was a huge get. An All-Pro in 2020, Linsley allowed a career-low 1.7% pressure rate for the Green Bay Packers last year (per Pro Football Focus) -- and has only given up 18 career sacks for the Packers on 4,584 passing snaps.
The Chargers paid Linsley $62.5 million over five years to be the most trusted man on the offensive line for Herbert. While that's a lot for a 30-year-old center, the price to get a quarterback on the offensive line -- and protecting Herbert -- is worth the investment.
Biggest loss: Hunter Henry, tight end
Los Angeles was hoping Henry -- their franchise player in 2020 -- would return this offseason. Instead, he signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the New England Patriots, leaving the Chargers thin at tight end. Los Angeles did sign Jared Cook to replace Henry, but it will be hard to replicate what Henry provided them over the past few seasons.
Henry finished with a career-high 60 catches for 613 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games for the Chargers last season -- ranking eighth at his position in receptions and 13th in yards. No matter how well Cook plays, that is some big shoes to fill in the Chargers offense.
Top draft priority: Offensive tackle
See a pattern with these AFC West teams? The Chargers added Matt Feiler in free agency, but lost Sam Tevi to the Indianapolis Colts. Los Angeles has Bryan Bulaga at one of the tackle positions, but still needs help protecting Herbert's blind side. The Chargers will be hunting for a tackle in the first round of this draft, and should be a candidate to trade up for the left tackle they want.
Rashawn Slater and Christian Darrisaw should be at the top of their priority list. Either player could instantly start for Los Angeles in Week 1.
Where Chargers stand heading into 2021
Don't be surprised to see L.A. competing for a playoff spot in a tough AFC. This is a reminder the Chargers finished 7-9 last season, yet had seven one-possession losses (fourth-most in the NFL). Herbert played well enough to lead Los Angeles to the playoffs last year, even though they didn't make it.
If Staley can turn around the defense in Year One, the Chargers will be in the hunt for a playoff berth. They need to address the offensive line and pass rush in this draft, but they will always have a chance to compete with Herbert under center.
3. Las Vegas Raiders
Biggest addition: Yannick Ngakoue, edge rusher
The Raiders have a severe pass rushing problem, totaling just 66 sacks since Jon Gruden took over as head coach (fewest in the league over that span). Their 21 sacks last season were fourth fewest in the league, which is why they give Ngakoue $26 million over two years to anchor the pass rush.
Ngakoue has a proven track record despite being traded from the Minnesota Vikings to the Baltimore Ravens after just six games in 2020. Ngakoue, Aaron Donald, and Khalil Mack are the only players to record 8+ sacks over the past five seasons. Ngakoue's 18 forced fumbles during that stretch are the second most in the NFL. The Raiders committed the third-fewest takeaways and had the third-worst third down percentage in the league last year, which Ngakoue should improve by getting to the quarterback.
Vegas has edge rushing talent. They need to start living up to that potential.
Biggest loss: Gabe Jackson, guard
Still puzzled why the Raiders moved on from Jackson? The $9.6 million salary cap charge was too much to bear in a year when the salary cap went down, so Vegas had to move on from the veteran right guard -- who didn't allow a single sack last year. Getting a fifth-round pick for Jackson instead of releasing him was a smart move, but Vegas has a major hole to fill on the right side of the offensive line.
Denzelle Good was re-signed last month and is the front-runner to fill Jackson's spot, but the Raiders will have to address the guard position in the draft. Jackson had his flaws, but it's hard to find a solid starting guard in this league. He was one of them, despite the massive contract.
Top draft priority: Offensive line
Where do we begin? The Raiders traded Jackson, starting center Rodney Hudson and starting right tackle Trent Brown this offseason -- creating a total rebuild on the right side of the offensive line. They'll have to fill those holes with their first-round pick and the back-to-back picks in the third round (No. 79 and No. 80).
Alijah Vera-Tucker would fill a major void at guard or tackle if he's available at No. 17. If he's not there, the Raiders may just have to regroup, trade down, and acquire more picks. Vegas could start two rookies on the right side of the line this year -- not ideal.
Where Raiders stand heading into 2021
Vegas is an enigma. The Raiders have a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr -- who is coming off arguably his best season -- but he isn't getting much help outside of Darren Waller. Vegas lost Nelson Agholor and Tyrell Williams in free agency, so the Raiders don't have the pass catchers from a year ago. They added Kenyan Drake to back up Josh Jacobs, even though they lost three starters on the offensive line.
We'll see what Gus Bradley does to turn around the defense, even if the secondary isn't the strongest unit on the roster. There are more questions than answers for the Raiders, but they seem to be competitive under Jon Gruden. This team's ceiling is 10 wins, while they could easily be the worst team in the AFC West come January.
4. Denver Broncos
Biggest addition: Kyle Fuller, cornerback
The Broncos were certainly committed toward upgrading at cornerback this offseason, moving on from A.J. Bouye and signing Fuller. Denver couldn't have asked for a better signing after the Chicago Bears released Fuller, who had a down year (by his standards) in 2020 yet allowed just 55.4% of passes thrown his way to be caught.
If Fuller returns to the All-Pro level of 2019, the Broncos have a bargain on a one-year deal. Fuller had his All-Pro season under Broncos head coach Vic Fangio when he was the defensive coordinator in Chicago, so it's a good bet he returns to that level of play. It helps that Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson will back him up at safety.
Biggest loss: Phillip Lindsay, running back
Allowing Lindsay to walk was a mistake by Denver, but the writing was on the wall when the Broncos signed Melvin Gordon to a two-year deal last year. Gordon is the clear No. 1 back for the Broncos, even if it should be Lindsay.
Lindsay was productive in Denver with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and an average of 4.8 yards per carry in his three years with the team. Lindsay was the first undrafted player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons to start his career, quite the production for a player who helped spark a Broncos offense without a consistent quarterback.
Denver should find a running back in the draft to back up Gordon, who will need help if he wants to continue his production in 2021.
Top draft priority: Quarterback
If the Broncos can find a franchise quarterback, they can compete for a playoff spot in the AFC. Finding one has proven to be difficult for John Elway since Peyton Manning retired. While five quarterbacks are expected to go in the top 10 of the draft, Denver is slated to get the last signal caller left with the No. 9 pick.
Denver should be aggressive in this draft and trade up top get its quarterback. Drew Lock is still raw and needs more playing time, but the Broncos have the skill players to win now. All they need is a quarterback, especially since they didn't sign one in free agency to compete with Lock.
Where Broncos stand heading into 2021
Denver has a talented roster, but the Broncos are the only team in the division without a franchise quarterback. The Broncos can easily become the second-best team in this division if they find a signal caller. Their wide receiver group is one of the most talented in the league and the offensive line has improved.
The Broncos need to upgrade at linebacker and solidify their pass rush, which plays to Fangio's strength. The No. 1 priority is finding a franchise quarterback, especially if this team wants to play football games in late January.