When the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos face off next weekend, the AFC West crown will be on the line. Though the Broncos can’t win the division, the Raiders need the win to clinch. Though that game is yet to be played, it’s never too soon to look towards the future.
By looking at draft positioning, cap space, and upcoming free agents, it’s possible to get an idea who will dominate the division moving forward. Who will rule the roost moving forward and who will fall from grace?
The Future of the AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are the best all-around team in the AFC West. You aren’t going to win a Fantasy Football championship with a team full of Chiefs, but they’re pretty good at just about everything. They don’t turn the ball over very often, but they take the ball away very well. They have a myriad of talented pass rushers and defensive backs, and they don’t get blown out very often.
The Chiefs swept the Oakland Raiders this year, and will be in position to win the AFC West should the Oakland Raiders lose to the Denver Broncos this weekend. However, moving forward, the Kansas City Chiefs have a serious problem.
According to Overthecap.com, the Kansas City Chiefs will actually have negative cap space next season. They’re set to have -$2,187,345 when the season starts. This is mostly due in part to massively inflated contracts. Four players are set to make at least $10,000,000, including back-up quarterback, Nick Foles.
There are ways to fix this. The Chiefs can get rid of Foles, or players like Jamaal Charles that aren’t necessarily living up to their contracts anymore. That’s not their biggest problem. While the Chiefs will struggle to manage with the players they’re retaining, they’re going to really miss the players they’re losing.
Defensive player of the year candidate Eric Berry and defensive line mainstay Dontari Poe are both set to become free agents after the season. The Chiefs are built to dominate on defense, and losing two of their best players could be devastating. Especially when Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson aren’t getting any younger. If the Chiefs can’t restructure some of these contracts, the future looks bleak in KC.
The Denver Broncos have a bigger problem. While the Chiefs are fine with Alex Smith, the Denver Broncos have a giant question mark at quarterback. Trevor Siemian has proven that he’s not a franchise quarterback, and first round pick Paxton Lynch hasn’t been incredibly impressive in his brief appearances.
As good as Denver’s defense is, they’re not getting any younger. DeMarcus Ware will likely retire after the season, and they’re slowly losing pieces of their Super Bowl defense as time goes on. Considering how complete the other three teams in the division are, the Broncos might struggle having to lean on their defense all the time.
Maybe Lynch will pan out, and maybe run-game genius Gary Kubiak will revolutionize the offense, but for now, their offense is holding them back. Peyton Manning isn’t walking through that door any time soon, and so far, they’re the only team in the AFC West without a quarterback.
San Diego Chargers
Believe it or not, the San Diego Chargers are actually in pretty good shape moving forward. They’re the worst team in the AFC West in 2016, even losing to the dreadful Cleveland Browns, but they have some great pieces on both sides of the ball.
Just think about it, the San Diego Chargers have a ton of talented young players. Joey Bosa, Tyrell Williams, Jatavis Brown, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, and Hunter Henry are all under 24 years old. Philip Rivers is 35 years old, but physically he has shown no signs of slowing down.
The Chargers have a ton of talent, and will have around $20,000,000 in cap space this off-season. They need a coach that can get them over the hump. But most importantly, they need to learn how to avoid mistakes in the clutch. The Chargers are 5-10 now, but they should be much better.
The problem with the 2016 San Diego Chargers is that they absolutely blew it when it mattered most. This year, the Chargers lost nine of their ten games by a single score or less. If the Chargers could make the big plays, they could easily be in playoff contention right now.
The loss of Derek Carr is devastating, but the Raiders will still be just as good in 2016, if not better. The Raiders will still have Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, Karl Joseph, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Kelechi Osemele, and all the other fantastic players. What’s really interesting is how the Raiders will draft. Reggie McKenzie has hit several home-runs in the last three drafts, and it’ll be fun to see how he adds to the team.
Oh yeah, one more thing? The Raiders have $41,285,487 in cap space. That’s the ninth most in the NFL. While it’s likely that the Raiders will re-sign Carr and Mack to long term contracts, the Raiders could still afford to go out and grab a big name free agent. It looks like the Raiders will only get better in 2016.
You know who would look good in that Oakland Raiders silver and black? Eric Berry. Now that’s a move that would shake up the AFC West.