Las Vegas Raiders

The State of the AFC West: Why Raiders must be aggressive this offseason

As the 2020 Scouting Combine kicks off, all teams will be seeking impact prospects to bolster their rosters. The AFC West is a division full of uncertainty behind the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. While many stated that last offseason was one of the most critical in recent team’s history, 2020 is key for the Las Vegas Raiders. Division foes are in positions of strength as the most pivotal time of the year approaches.

During the 2019 offseason, pundits and media alike proclaimed that it was essential the Raiders made the most of out their abundance of draft capital and salary cap space.

With freshly appointed general manager Mike Mayock leading the way, Las Vegas aggressively spent in last year’s free agency. The acquisitions of Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner, and Tyrell Williams alone resulted in $75 million of guaranteed money among them. With over $51 million in salary cap space as the 2020 offseason begins, the Raiders will undoubtedly be active players in the free agent market next month. With the plethora of cap space and five draft picks in the top 100, they have all the necessary means to field a contending team now. If they don’t make enough improvements, the other three teams within division have the assets to make their life miserable in the opening season in Las Vegas.

Related: Derek Carr to Bears? Something or Nothing?

The Kansas City Chiefs

2019 Division Standing: 1st & Super Bowl Champions

2019 Record: 12-4

Est. Salary Cap: $17 million

Notable FAs: DT-Chris Jones, CB-Bashaud Breeland, CB-Morris Claiborne

The Chiefs’ 2019 season was quite the ride. A top five offense in points scored and passing yards per game proved to be the answer when their team needed it the most. Against the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs, Kansas City scored 41 unanswered points after a 24-0 deficit at the end of the first quarter. They relied on their electric offense again to dig them out of a hole in the Super Bowl against the 49ers. Andy Reid’s offense accounted for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, which led to his first Super Bowl victory. The defending champions do not have many pressing needs entering 2020, but Patrick Mahomes contract extension looms in the midst, and because of it, the team’s ability to retain Jones remains in question.

Jones is the second most dominant interior defender in the NFL behind Aaron Donald and failure to sign him would be a catastrophic blow to their defense. While they don’t have much cap space, they do possess a draft selection in each of the first five rounds of the draft. Safe to say, the Chiefs will not be falling from contention in 2020.

The Denver Broncos

2019 Division Standing: 2nd

2019 Record: 7-9

Est. Salary Cap: $60 million

Notable FA’s: CB-Chris Harris, S-Justin Simmons, DL-Shelby Harris

The Raiders played their way to a 6-4 record, but despite an 0-4 start, the Broncos were the team that ended up second in the AFC West. A quarterback change to rookie Drew Lock enabled the squad to finish strong by winning four of their last five games. As they head into the 2020 offseason, they possess plenty of cap space at $60 million with few players to extend. One item on their agenda is extending All-Pro safety Justin Simmons, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in a few weeks time. As of now, no contract has been agreed upon. The team has more than enough salary cap space to offer a lucrative deal, but it’s fair to wonder if they will? When you have someone that can make plays like this, you would think a deal would’ve been struck by now.

With that being said, the Broncos also have the means to improve during the draft, an enticing total of nine selections. The order:

Round 1: Own pick (15th overall)
Round 2: Own pick
Round 3: Own pick
Round 3: via Pittsburgh Steelers
Round 3: via San Francisco 49ers
Round 4: own pick
Round 4: via San Franciso 49ers
Round 6: via Washington Redskins
Round 7: via New England Patriots

Expect Denver to be movers and shakers without having to address the quarterback position this offseason. A team with young pieces littered throughout the roster will be looking to return to contention in 2020.

The Los Angeles Chargers

2019 Division Standing: 4th

2019 Record: 5-11

Est. Salary Cap: $50 million

Notable FA’s: QB-Philip Rivers, RB-Melvin Gordon, TE-Hunter Henry

The bottom feeders of the AFC West in 2019, the Chargers season was a disaster. Despite having talented skill position players and a formidable pass rushing duo, the Los Angeles offense ultimately held them back. Three factors contributed to the their demise:

  1. An aging Phillip Rivers who clearly is on the backside of his career.
  2. Offensive line injuries combined with poor play.
  3. Their inefficiency when running the ball; 28th in the league in rushing yards per game.

Ahead of the Scouting Combine, they agreed to part ways with Rivers after 16 seasons. It’s time for change, and the Chargers are in the perfect position to make the most of the situation. They have the option to dive into the quarterback market and hold the sixth overall selection in the draft, which is high enough to obtain a top end signal-caller such as former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.

With the right man behind center, Los Angeles is still a formidable foe with elite players such as Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, and Melvin Ingram still on the roster.

What this means for the Raiders

It means that the Raiders need to put their foot on the throttle in terms of improving this team. It also means it’s time to make some hard decisions with long tenured players such as Derek Carr.

If you account for 9.77% of the team’s salary cap space, you had better be producing at a high level more often than not. If not, you will be subject to being considered a liability in a division where there is no room for error considering the bottom three teams were separated by a 2-game margin in the W/L column. Oh, not to mention the Super Bowl champions are at the top of the group.

The Silver and Black needs impact players and the front office is aware. All venues to upgrade must be exhausted, and it will prove to be an explosive time for them as they move to Las Vegas. If the Raiders sit back, returning to cellar dwellers in the AFC West, again, is a grim reality.

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