The NFL’s free agency is euphoric. Tracking signings, and evaluating their respective impacts is a thrill. Free agency completely reshapes the league and its divisions every year; possibilities are endless. Before last season the AFC West was considered one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. Things went a little wayside in the 2017, and most expectations were not met. On March 14th the Free Agency period began, and the GMs and coaches of the AFC West started working to improve their teams. This article will break down the significant additions and losses the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, and Chargers have experienced this offseason, and will expand on their implications for the 2018 season.
The Oakland Raiders are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 season in a big way. What better way to do that then by hiring Jon Gruden…? This is a man who hasn’t coached an NFL team in nine years, but to his credit, he bleeds football. Football has changed drastically since he was last at the helm, and there is, understandably, a lot of concern about how his coaching philosophy will match that of the rest of the League. To say the least, the Raiders have been one of the more intriguing teams to watch throughout free agency.
Before diving into the individual players who were either acquired by or left the Raiders, it’s important to first highlight their new offensive coordinator, Greg Olson. Not to be confused with Panthers’ tight end, Greg Olsen. Raiders fans are quite familiar with Greg Olson. He was their OC in 2013-2014, and called plays during Derek Carr’s underwhelming rookie season. Since then, Olson was the OC in Jacksonville for roughly two seasons, and then spent last season with the LA Rams as McVay’s QB coach. To Olson’s credit, he helped develop Goff into a franchise QB. Olson’s offenses are inspired by Gruden’s old schemes, so his hiring makes sense. He relies heavily on his quarterbacks and the passing game, but the running game tends to suffer under Olson’s leadership.
The Raiders took this offseason to completely overhaul their wide receiver core with the additions of Jordy Nelson & Martavis Bryant, and the release of Michael Crabtree. Jordy was one of those players who you thought would ride off into the sunset with Aaron Rodgers. He had four seasons with the Packers of at least 1,250 receiving yards, and three of those with at least 13 touchdowns. He’s expected to step into Michael Crabtree’s former role in the Raiders. Crabtree has had three seasons with the Raiders; two of which were very successful, with nearly 1,000+ yards receiving and averaging 8.5 touchdowns.
We know from Gruden’s past offenses that he loves to highlight his star receiver. That is clearly Amari Cooper. Nelson’s most significant contribution on the Raiders will be as a veteran mentor to Amari Cooper. If Jordy can help develop Cooper into a more consistent option at wide receiver, then his signing will have been worthwhile. Given Cooper’s underwhelming performance last season he could be one of this year’s best steals in fantasy drafts.
Now, at just 26, Martavis Bryant is looking bounce back on the Raiders. He was edged out by Juju Smith-Schuster on the field, and the Steelers frankly had enough of him. His athleticism and game breaking ability with the ball in his hands cannot be overstated. That said, his outlook is hard to pinpoint given how tumultuous his career has been thus far. If he can keep out of trouble with the NFL and the Raiders’ coaching staff he could be in for a turnaround season.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the Oakland Raiders acquired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB, Doug Martin. The Muscle Hamster’s six year career has been quite the pendulum. He’s put up two 1,400+ yard seasons in 2012 & 2015. Since 2015 Martin has been unable to break 3.0 yards per carry (ypc). He’s struggled and battled through an addiction which caused him to serve a 4 game suspension, and he was benched for three games last season for Peyton Barber. Now Martin is coming into a crowded backfield with Marshawn Lynch, DeAndre Washington, & Jalen Richard. We’ve seen Martin’s capacity for greatness, but it’s been too long since any of that greatness has translated on the field. The Raiders will likely use Doug to lighten Marshawn’s workload so they can rely on him more heavily as the season progresses.
The Raiders had some big holes to fill on the defensive side of things this offseason. They cut CB David Amerson to create cap space, they cut veteran CB Sean Smith who is currently serving a prison term for felony assault, and they lost their most valuable CB, TJ Carrie, to the Browns in free agency. Prior to these moves, the Raiders’ defense was nothing to write home about. They were ranked 20th in points allowed in 2016-2017 and 26th & 23rd in yards allowed during that same time span.
In a string of ‘run of the mill’ signings, the Raiders brought on board Rashaan Melvin (CB), Marcus Gilchrist (S), and Tahir Whitehead (LB). These three players will work to shore up the Raiders’ porous defense. The Raiders spent the most this offseason on Tahir Whitehead, former LB on the Detroit Lions. He’s a reliable player, having missed only one game in the past two seasons, and he’s an efficient tackler, raking in 242 tackles and 4 fumble recoveries over the past two seasons. The Raiders will look to Melvin and Gilchrist to improve their secondary. Gilchrist is a dynamic, journeyman safety who provides much needed versatility to the position. He logged six passes defended and an interception last season as a Texan. He’s not flashy, but he is a veteran safety who will add experience to the Raiders’ secondary. CB Rashaan Melvin is a similar story. He’s a larger corner at 6’2” who assumed the role as the No. 1 cornerback for the Colts last season when Vontae Davis went down. Melvin recorded three interceptions this past season, but they were his first 3 interceptions of his 4 year career. He’ll be relied on to cover opponents’ larger receivers. While they made the right moves on defense this offseason, the Raiders didn’t make enough of a splash to completely turn things around for the upcoming season. They seem to be heading in the right direction, though.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Coming off of a pretty successful 2017 season the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t have any gaping holes to fill on both offense and defense. Despite that they made a couple ‘blockbuster’ moves. Trading away Alex Smith to the Redskins to test out their young gun, Patrick Mahomes, is a step they needed to take. The trade also came at no surprise. It cleared $17 million in cap space for the Chiefs, and Alex Smith got paid. The Chiefs’ investment in Pat Mahomes was well documented, and now the second year QB out of Texas Tech will get an opportunity to showcase his howitzer of an arm in an Andy Reid offense.
OC Matt Nagy was another offseason casualty, as he became HC of the Bears. Eric Bieniemy was quickly promoted from the RB coach to the Chiefs’ new OC. Eric was a running back early early on in his career, and has worked his way up through the ranks starting as an offensive coordinator for the University of Colorado. This will be Eric’s first run as an NFL team’s offensive coordinator, but he will not be expected to be calling plays. It takes time to earn Andy Reid’s trust, and he won’t be relinquishing playcalling to Bieniemy anytime soon.
A very new and shiny piece of the Chief’s offense is Sammy Watkins. It is fun to speculate how he will be used in their offense. Sammy Watkins has an amazing amount of potential and incredible pedigree, but he has failed to be a consistent, reliable receiver in the NFL. He’s coming off an underwhelming season with the Rams with 39 receptions for 593 yards and 8 touchdowns. Even with those underwhelming numbers, Sammy still have an efficient fantasy season. The biggest concern is obviously target shares in Kansas City. Tyreek Hill & Travis Kelce were the Chiefs’ primary targets in 2017 with 105 and 122 targets respectively. Fortunately, Tyreek has quickly become a favorite of Andy Reid, and Travis Kelce has been a staple of the Chiefs’ offense for years now. Watkins could be a sleeper in fantasy if he and Mahomes develop a rapport.
Another player the Chiefs acquired this free agency is former Dolphins RB, Damien Williams. Williams is a pass catching third down RB, and is coming to the Chiefs as insurance in the event Spencer Ware’s knee isn’t fully healed by the start of the 2018 season. The offense will still run through Kareem Hunt, and the Chiefs hope Williams will add depth and competition in the backfield for that handcuff role. At his cheap price tag his addition was a relative ‘no-brainer’.
Before last season the Chiefs had a four year run of being one of the league’s top defenses. This is in large part due to defensive guru: Bob Sutton. The pieces are there on the Chiefs, and they made a lot of key re-signings, like Jarvis Jenkins, to retain the majority of their strength. But trading away CB Marcus Peters to the LA Rams was an unexpected move. Peters was one of the league’s best cornerbacks, and the Chiefs received very little in return for their star: a 2018 4th round pick and a 2019 2nd round pick. Kansas City has struggled over the last three years with Peters’ volatile personality, and must have felt they could manage without him. That’s a heavy order, though. In the first three years of his career, Peters logged 19 interceptions and 55 passes defended. There’s no two ways about it; he is a difference maker that will be missed. The Chiefs will be relying on their new CB Kendall Fuller, who came to the team by way of the Alex Smith trade, to pick up the slack. Fuller is coming off of an impressive second year with 4 interceptions and 10 passes defended. At 23, Fuller is no Peters, but he could develop into a talented cornerback under the tutelage of Bob Sutton .
Kansas City did add some much needed help at inside linebacker with the signing of former Cowboy Anthony Hitchens. With the addition of Hitchens the Chiefs have upgraded at the LB position. They struggled against the run last season with aging Derrick Johnson, and rookie Reggie Ragland holding down the fort. Derrick was released to make room for Hitchens who brings youth and outstanding coverage to the position. Hitchens logged 84 tackles in 12 games played last season. Derrick Johnson had been a Chief since his rookie season in 2005. Now that Derrick is a Raider he will have two games this season to exact some friendly revenge on his former team of twelve years. The Chiefs will be looking to 26 year old Anthony Hitchens to inherit Derrick’s role, while providing some leadership to second year Reggie Ragland.
The Broncos had one big issue to address this offseason: Quarterback! They threw as much money as they could at that problem. As a Jets fan I can certainly relate. First year head coach Vance Joseph certainly had a rude awakening in last season. The Broncos, two years removed from a Super Bowl Championship, ended the season with a dismal 5-11 record and a -93 point differential on the season. Suffice to say, Vance will be looking to turn things around this coming season. Starting with Case Keenum.
Keenum is coming off a career year with the Vikings. Leading a team to the NFC Championship is apparently lucrative. The Broncos snagged Keenum for a cool 2-year, $36 million dollar contract. Not too shabby for a QB who was averaging 58.6 completion percentage, and hadn’t started more than nine games before last season. Regardless, his arrival to Denver is an immediate improvement over Trevor Siemian (who was traded), Brock Osweiler (to free agency), and Paxton Lynch. You can be fairly certain that WRs D. Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are giddy with excitement about having a competent quarterback throwing them the ball this season. Both players are heading into the 2018 season as much safer wide receiver options for fantasy purposes.
In a move to free up $4.5 million dollars in cape space the Broncos released their star RB CJ Anderson. He was coming off his career first 1,000+ yard season, where he scored only three rushing touchdowns on 257 carries. Further evidence of just how awful the Broncos’ offense was. While the move to release Anderson makes sense, it does muddy the waters in that backfield. Devontae Booker is still young, and has shown flashes of his potential, but the Broncos’ draft investment in RB Royce Freeman further adds to the uncertainty. CJ Anderson’s departure has created one of the more intriguing training camp battles in the lead up to the 2018 season.
Losing Aqib Talib in a trade with the LA Rams can’t sit well with Broncos fans. He is an elite cornerback, and was a leader among that defense. That kind of impact is nearly impossible to replace or replicate. The Broncos still have to try and fill that gap, though. So they went and picked up former Viking, CB Tramaine Brock on a one year prove it deal. Brock is a 29 year old cornerback who has 11 total interceptions in his 8 year career. He was used sparingly during his season with the Vikings, but showed signs of promise in 2016 while playing on the 49ers. That season Brock logged 14 passes defended with 59 tackles. The Broncos believe he will have a good chance to start opposite Bradley Roby, with Chris Harris taking on the slot.
Two other signings of note for the Broncos was the resigning of ILB Todd Davis and DT Clinton McDonald. Davis’ stout run defense, grit and reliability are his main sellers. Having only missed two games in the past three seasons the Broncos were eager to sign the 26 year old Todd David after he had tested the market. Former Buccaneer, DT Clinton McDonald, was brought on to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This is a feature of Denver’s defense that has waned since Malik Jackson left the squad back in 2016. Clinton is old for the position, at 31, but he’s reined in at least five sacks in three of the past five seasons.
Los Angeles Chargers:
The Chargers are in an great spot to be playoff bound this season. Their team is well rounded and versatile, and their division is trying a lot of things out this year. Gruden is back coaching the Raiders, Patrick Mahomes will be under center for the Chiefs, and the Broncos put all of their eggs in the Keenum basket. If I’m a Chargers fan, I’m feeling confident.
The team’s only significant signing this free agency was for Dolphins’ Center, Mike Pouncey. With the addition of this three-time Pro-Bowler the Chargers’ offensive line looks primed to be one of the league’s best units: Russell Okung, LT; Dan Feeney, LG, Mike Pouncey, C; Forrest Lamp, RG, Joe Barksdale, RT. This powerhouse of an offensive line should improve the Chargers’ run game significantly. Though Melvin Gordon has been a productive fantasy football running back, his yards per carry have failed to impress since coming into the league in 2015 at 3.8 ypc. If Gordon can improve his ypc with this offensive line he would be a contender as a top five running back.
Hunter Henry’s injury is the biggest hurdle for the Chargers to overcome as we approach the 2018 season. They signed TE Virgil Green from the Broncos back in March, but he is not even close to the caliber of TE the Chargers had in Hunter. At 29 and with seven seasons in the league, Green has never had more than 25 catches and 240 yards in a season. It will be interesting to see who else the Chargers bring in at TE to try to fill the hole Hunter left. There are plenty of people speculating that the team will re-sign Antonio Gates. That signing would make for one of the more compelling narratives in the league if it happens.
As the saying goes no news is good news. And that is the case for the Chargers this season. They focused on improving their O-line, and they accomplished that goal. They were practically silent on the defensive side of the ball. Fans may be disappointed by the lack of a splash signing, but this has really been a solid offseason for the Chargers.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday June 10th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #124 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Professor Mark Rush. Mark is the Political and Legal Professor for Washington & Lee University. He is also the Chief Editor for majorleaguefantasysports.com, and also an author.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts, and Jeff Nelson live June 14th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #82 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. This is our kick of show for the 2018 fantasy football season. We will hit free agents, rookies, and fantasy football as a whole for each team for 2018. This week we will discuss everything AFC West!
Jeff is a defensive coach from White Hall who was on the coaching staff while first round pick Saquan Barkely was there and Freedom H.S. football teams. He may be taking the year off from coaching, but will be joining us on our football shows from time to time throughout the year.