AFC West advice: Broncos, Chiefs face decisions at quarterback
With free agency starting March 9, USA TODAY Sports is looking at all eight NFL divisions and what could be in store for teams this offseason, as well as the moves they should make. Today, the AFC West:
Prominent free agents: OLB DeMarcus Ware, DT Sylvester Williams, CB Kayvon Webster
Cap situation: Projected to have $31.9 million of cap room, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: The biggest task for new head coach Vance Joseph and his offensive coaching staff is fixing a group that finished 27th in yards gained last season — and that starts with deciding who will play quarterback. Will 2016 starter Trevor Siemian, a favorite of former head coach Gary Kubiak, win the job again, or will the Broncos decide it’s time for 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch to play in a system drawn up by new coordinator Mike McCoy? Or will GM John Elway make another huge offseason splash and try to sign Tony Romo? Other issues the Broncos must address include improving the offensive line (which could include finding two new tackles) and adjusting to new defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
Our advice: While Elway might be tempted by the idea of Romo (given the success he had last time he signed an aging veteran quarterback, Peyton Manning), the Broncos should focus on the development of their two young quarterbacks, particularly Lynch, who could thrive under the coaching of McCoy and Bill Musgrave. That will leave Denver with enough money to be active on free agent market as Elway once again looks to restock the offensive line and bulk up the defensive front seven to improve their run defense.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Prominent free agents: S Eric Berry, DT Dontari Poe, LB Josh Mauga
Cap situation: Projected to have $5.1 million of cap room, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: The Chiefs won the highly competitive division last year but failed to reach the AFC Championship Game. The biggest question they face now is how to make the next step — and if QB Alex Smith is the player to lead them there. Kansas City also has two big free agents to try to re-sign in Berry and Poe and might not have the money to keep both.
Our advice: The Chiefs should also stay out of the Tony Romo sweepstakes and stick with Smith — though it could be time to invest a high draft pick in a quarterback for coach Andy Reid to start developing. The tough move that the organization should make is releasing veteran RB Jamaal Charles, who is schedule to count $6.1 million against the cap in 2017, the final year of his contract.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Prominent free agents: ILB Manti Te’o, S Jahleel Addae, RB Danny Woodhead
Franchise tag: OLB Melvin Ingram
Cap situation: Projected to have $20.2 million of cap room, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: The Chargers are going through major changes this offseason, from the process of moving from San Diego to Los Angeles, to hiring an almost entirely new staff led by first-year head coach Anthony Lynn. The roster also figures to change a lot in the coming months, with 13 unrestricted free agents. That’s a lot of turmoil for a team fighting to make up ground in what was the most competitive division in the NFL last year.
Our advice: With quarterback (Philip Rivers), running back (Melvin Gordon) and No. 1 receiver (Keenan Allen) set, the Bolts should focus their efforts on fixing an offensive line that has been problematic for years. On defense, it was smart to tag Ingram, who could thrive under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, while playing opposite breakout rookie DE Joey Bosa.
Prominent free agents: RB Latavius Murray, LB Malcolm Smith, S Nate Allen, CB D.J. Hayden, RT Menelik Watson
Cap situation: Projected to have $43.9 million of cap room, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: The Raiders took a major step forward in 2016, thanks in large part to an offense led by QB Derek Carr. Nearly all of the offensive starters are under contract for 2017 — the notable exception is Murray — but the team will likely have to spend time this offseason without Carr, who suffered a broken ankle in late December. Most of the team’s key free agents are on defense, and that’s the side of the ball where the Raiders need to make the most changes.
Our advice: The top spots GM Reggie McKenzie needs to address are linebacker and cornerback. Now that the Raiders are competitive, he should be aggressive in trying to land top free agents, like New England Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower if he's in fact available once the signing period opens. Oakland faces a tough decision on Murray, who has been a key part of the young offensive core. But with two other talented young backs (DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard) in place, McKenzie should let Murray test the open market first.