If you had to pick a winner in NFL free agency, it's not a player or a team, it's a division. The AFC West has dominated free agency with big signings and massive trades, even though a few stars left the division. The Kansas City Chiefs have won the AFC West six straight seasons, but is that about to change?
The Denver Broncos have a new star quarterback, the Los Angeles Chargers made several big additions on defense and then the Las Vegas Raiders hit the jackpot in reuniting Derek Carr with his No. 1 wide receiver from Fresno State. In doing so, they also broke up Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs!
With most of the big moves in free agency now behind us, let's grade how each of the four teams in the AFC West have fared up to this point.
Denver Broncos: A
Key additions: QB Russell Wilson (trade, Seahawks), DT D.J. Jones (49ers), EDGE Randy Gregory (Cowboys), CB K'Waun Williams (49ers), LB Alex Singleton (Eagles)
Re-signings: OT Calvin Anderson, DL DeShawn Williams, LB Josey Jewell
Departures: QB Teddy Bridgewater (Dolphins), OL Austin Schlottmann (Vikings), QB Drew Lock (trade, Seahawks), TE Noah Fant (trade, Seahawks), DL Shelby Harris (trade, Seahawks)
The big addition for the Broncos this offseason was clearly Wilson. They now have their first legitimate starting quarterback since the Peyton Manning days, and it automatically makes them a contender. When you examine this roster from the weapons on offense to the offensive line to the defense as a whole, Denver is poised to take a major step forward. It is worth mentioning that Wilson is now 33 and coming off of a season in which he did not look his best. His hand injury was surely a reason for this, but the change of scenery could also rejuvenate him.
In the trade with Seattle, Denver lost Lock, Fant and Harris. While Fant is a young talent, the Broncos are high on Albert Okwuegbunam's future. Harris was a defensive leader, but Denver added Jones to the defensive line in free agency -- a move considered to be one of the more underrated signings in the NFL.
Denver found a new starting pass-rusher in Gregory, stealing him from the Cowboys in what was one of the wilder stories in free agency. The 29-year-old spurned the team that has stood by him through his up-and-down career. Why? Per CBS Sports' Patrik Walker, the Cowboys front office attempted to insert contract language that was neither previously agreed upon nor "deemed palatable" by Gregory's camp at the last minute. This was a win for the Broncos, as Gregory was the top pass-rushing target for Denver in free agency, per Mike Klis of 9News.
Kansas City Chiefs: B-
Key additions: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers), WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (Packers) C Austin Reiter (Dolphins), S Justin Reid (Texans), S Deon Bush (Bears), OT Geron Christian (Texans), LB Jermaine Carter Jr. (Panthers) WR Corey Coleman (N/A)
Re-signings: QB Chad Henne, FB Michael Burton, OT Orlando Brown Jr. (franchise tag), OL Andrew Wylie, DT Derrick Nnadi, TE Blake Bell
Departures: CB Mike Hughes (Lions), DT Jarran Reed (Packers), WR Demarcus Robinson (Raiders), WR Tyreek Hill (trade, Dolphins), CB Charvarius Ward (49ers), C Austin Blythe (Seahawks)
When it comes to the Chiefs this offseason, the main headline is the loss of their most prized playmaker. After failing to agree to terms on a new deal with Hill, Kansas City traded him to Miami for five draft picks -- including a first-rounder this year. While Hill is a star and the Chiefs are worse off for losing him, it may have been the right decision. Kansas City in turn received plenty of draft capital, freed up cap space and doesn't have to pay Hill a four-year, $120 million extension that averages $30 million per year, with $72.2 million guaranteed.
The Chiefs signed Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling to replace Hill, which obviously is not enough to make up for what Hill brought to this offense. Still, Smith-Schuster could experience a rebirth in Andy Reid's offense, and Valdes-Scantling is someone who can take the top off of defenses. Coleman was a strange signing, as he hasn't played an NFL game in three years.
Another likely loss for the Chiefs is Tyrann Mathieu, who is still looking for a new NFL home but it appears it will be somewhere other than Kansas City. The Chiefs have already replaced him with Reid, who is just 25. Bush was another decent depth addition to the secondary, and Carter Jr. is an intriguing option at linebacker. The Chiefs also brought Reiter back into the fold.
Overall, the Chiefs have had an OK offseason, but the loss of Hill -- and the rest of the division having clearly improved -- hurts.
Las Vegas Raiders: A-
Key additions: RB Brandon Bolden (Patriots), WR Davante Adams (trade, Packers), WR Demarcus Robinson (Chiefs), DT Bilal Nichols (Bears), DT Vernon Butler (Bills), EDGE Chandler Jones (Cardinals), CB Rock Ya-Sin (trade, Colts), CB Anthony Averett (Ravens), LB Jayon Brown (Titans)
Re-signings: OT Brandon Parker, DB Dallin Leavitt
Departures: QB Marcus Mariota (Falcons), LB Marquel Lee (Bills), LB Cory Littleton (Panthers), LB Nicholas Morrow (Bears), DE Yannick Ngakoue (trade, Colts), CB Brandon Facyson (Colts), WR Zay Jones (Jaguars), FB Alec Ingold (Dolphins), DT Quinton Jefferson (Seahawks), CB Keisean Nixon (Packers)
The Raiders sent shockwaves around the league by sending the Packers a first and second-round pick for Adams, who has been the best receiver in the NFL over the past couple of seasons. While giving a wideout $141.25 million over five years is a ton of money, what made this addition a major win is that the new contract ruined Hill's negotiations with the Chiefs, and ultimately moved him out of the division. Adams' rapport with Aaron Rodgers was incredible, but he knows Carr well from their college days together.
The Raiders also signed one of the top pass-rushers in this free agency class in Jones, who should pair nicely with Maxx Crosby. Many wondered what would happen to Ngakoue with this move, but Vegas flipped him to the Colts for a defensive back in Ya-Sin. The Raiders also beefed up the defensive interior, signing Butler and Nichols.
Vegas had a great offseason, but the most intriguing addition they made is in head coach Josh McDaniels. He has all the pieces to lead a contender, but will he?
Los Angeles Chargers: A
Key additions: CB J.C. Jackson (Patriots), OLB Khalil Mack (trade, Bears), TE Gerald Everett (Seahawks), DT Sebastian Joseph-Day (Rams), DT Austin Johnson (Giants)
Re-signings: WR Mike Williams, QB Chase Daniel, DL Christian Covington
Departures: DT Justin Jones (Bears), LB Kyler Fackrell (Raiders), LB Uchenna Nwosu (Seahawks) LB Kyzir White (Eagles), OL Scott Quessenberry (Texans)
Brandon Staley has been head coach of the Chargers for just one season, but that makes him the second-longest tenured coach in the division. He has his franchise quarterback in place in Justin Herbert, and the front office didn't dilly-dally around building for him in free agency. L.A. was aggressive.
Retaining Williams was clearly important to this franchise, as his new AAV of $20 million ranks sixth in the NFL per Over The Cap -- and was higher before Hill, Adams and D.J. Moore signed their extensions. The Mack trade was also big. While he's coming off of foot surgery, I still see him as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Even though he played in just seven games in 2021, he recorded six sacks and 19 combined tackles. He and Joey Bosa working the edges should be fun.
The other major defensive addition the Chargers made was Jackson, who was considered by many to be the best cornerback available. He has recorded 25 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2018, which leads the league during that timeframe. While he was the headliner, L.A. made a couple of underrated additions on the defensive line with Joseph-Day and Johnson. The Chargers had the third-worst run defense in the NFL last season, and I bet it's improved in 2022.