There’s been a change in the AFC West pecking order.
Following the first few major waves of NFL free agency, in which the Broncos arguably got better and the Chiefs arguably got worse, Bleacher Report listed Denver as the new No. 2 behind the burgeoning Raiders.
The new order, according to the media outlet’s updated team rankings: Oakland, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles (still weird to type).
Below are the explanations for each club via columnist Brad Gagnon.
1. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders were probably the league’s most improved team in 2016, and this offseason, they made life a little easier on MVP-caliber quarterback Derek Carr by adding talented former Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook in free agency. They lost running back Latavius Murray to the Minnesota Vikings, but he’s a replaceable talent behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. In fact, they have several good candidates already on the roster. The point? A good team got better.
2. Denver Broncos: Thus far, there’s been nothing monumental this offseason from a team that still has one of the best defenses in the league. The offensive line got a little bit better, however, with the addition of guard Ronald Leary and tackle Menelik Watson. And if the Broncos pick up Romo, they’ll likely get a lot more from the quarterback position in 2017 than they did in 2015 or 2016.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: Star safety Eric Berry is back, and Bennie Logan is a suitable replacement for the departed Dontari Poe at defensive tackle. A team that went 12-4 last year should be just as strong in 2017, but that doesn’t mean it’ll suddenly discover how to win in January.
4. Los Angeles Chargers: It’s been a remarkably quiet offseason for a team moving homes. The Chargers did add Russell Okung to replace King Dunlap at left tackle, but Okung hasn’t been good since 2012 which is the last season he graded out positively at Pro Football Focus. Elsewhere, they cut starters D.J. Fluker and Brandon Flowers. Unless Philip Rivers and/or Melvin Gordon can save L.A., a team that won just five games last season might be worse this upcoming campaign.
Gagnon, ultimately, believes “this could become the Raiders’ division in 2017,” after the team lost out last season to Kansas City, but “what Denver does at quarterback could change things.”
(Tony Romo, in case you didn’t catch his gist.)
That Oakland’s atop the division isn’t all too surprising. They’re a franchise trending way upward, with household stars (Derek Carr, Khalil Mack) dominating both sides of the ball. They had a successful signing period, bringing in tight end Jared Cook and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to help offset the loss of starting running back Latavius Murray.
The Broncos’ offensive line got a lot better with the additions of guard Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson, on-paper upgrades over Michael Schofield (and Max Garcia) and Donald Stephenson, respectively. The team also improved the defensive line by adding Domata Peko, the replacement for Sylvester Williams, and Zach Kerr, a low-cost, potential starter over DE Jared Crick. These were their biggest offseason priorities — aside from, you know, deciding on a quarterback — and they filled them solidly.
The Chiefs, though, remain lateral at best. The cap-strapped club indeed made a nice play swapping Bennie Logan for Dontari Poe, who signed with the Falcons, but their other signings (RB C.J. Spiller, Marqueston Huff) are unspectacular, to say the least. And not only did they chop longtime running back Jamaal Charles, they too axed his backup, Knile Davis, part of a veteran purge that included QB Nick Foles, ILB Josh Mauga, and DE Kendall Reyes.
Put simply, Gagnon’s ranking seems to be about right. For now.