Two of the AFC West’s teams could turn to new full-time starters in 2020. Drew Lock looks ready to take over in Denver, and Los Angeles needs a successor to Philip Rivers. The Raiders are still doing Raider things. Realistically, no matter what happens in free agency, this is Kansas City’s division to lose.
Before getting into the article, a few terms need to be clarified. UFA refers to unrestricted free agents who hit the open market and can sign with any team they want. RFA refers to restricted free agents. RFAs can receive offer sheets from new teams, but their old franchises may match those sheets and retain the player.
ERFA refers to exclusive rights free agents who must sign with their current team if the organization extends an offer. ERFAs may not negotiate with other teams as their current clubs hold exclusive rights over them.
Those explanations about UFAs, RFAs, and ERFAs, skim over a lot of detail, but that’s enough information for readers to understand the implications discussed in this article.
Biggest free agent- Justin Simmons S (UFA)
Denver could focus on reloading, or the team may enter full rebuilding mode in a few years. This offseason could sink the Broncos, as some of the team’s best players will leave in free agency. Notably, Simmons and cornerback Chris Harris may seek paydays elsewhere.
Simmons could return to Denver next season. The Broncos can play with their $58-62 million in cap space, but Simmons needs a massive deal. The former third round pick took his game to another level in 2019, and the Associated Press selected him as a Second Team All-Pro.
The Broncos paid Simmons $2,201,355 last season. He could ask for up to $14 million per year on a new contract. Simmons’ backup, Will Parks, is also a pending UFA.
Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Harris also needs a new contract. While the 30-year-old may be past his prime, Harris can still command between $10-12 million per year.
Along the defensive line, Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris, and Derek Wolfe are pending UFAs. If all three players sign with new teams, which seems likely, then Denver needs to either promote their backups or entirely rebuild the defensive line.
The Broncos also hold team options on Todd Davis’ and Von Miller’s deals. If Denver picks up Miller’s option, which is basically a guarantee, he will make $25,625,000 in 2020. The former Super Bowl MVP owns Denver’s all-time sack record (106). The Broncos could save some money by declining Davis’ option, but the veteran should stick around for another year.
Denver’s offense should mostly stay together. The unit’s only UFA starter is center, Connor McGovern. Ron Leary’s contract has a team option for 2020. The veteran guard joined Denver in 2017.
Denver should also pick up Brandon McManus’ 2020 team option. The kicker made 85.3% of his field goal attempts in 2019.
Kansas City Chiefs
Biggest free agent- Chris Jones DL (UFA)
The defending Super Bowl champions can prepare for a repeat by re-signing one of the best defensive tackles in football. Over the past two seasons, Jones produced 76 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, 49 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, and nine passes defensed. In Kansas City’s Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers, Jones swatted away three passes.
Losing Jones would take the teeth out of the middle of Kansas City’s defense. However, the big man could ask for $17-21 million per year on a new deal. With Patrick Mahomes’ contract looming, the Chiefs may not be able to keep their stud defensive lineman.
Also on the defensive side of the ball, Darron Lee and Terrell Suggs, who served as rotational players, are UFAs. Reggie Ragland gives the team yet another linebacker entering free agency, which makes it extremely likely the team will pick up Damien Wilson’s (ILB) team option.
On offense, guard Stefen Wisniewski and fullback Anthony Sherman need new deals. Backup quarterbacks, Chad Henne and Matt Moore, also need new contracts. Kansas City will likely only keep one of the former Miami Dolphins.
In the backfield, both LeSean McCoy and Spencer Ware will enter free agency. Considering Ware’s overall lack of production and McCoy’s limited action late in the season, the Chiefs will probably let both running backs walk and pick up Damien Williams’ team option for 2020.
Los Angeles Chargers
Biggest free agent- Melvin Gordon (UFA)
The Chargers could continue their descent into the basement of the AFC West this offseason. While most of the team’s key defensive players are under contract, the offense will undergo significant changes that will limit its potential in 2020.
After his unproductive holdout into the 2020 season, Gordon can finally chase a big check. Unfortunately, the holdout and his poor play in 2019 likely damaged his value. However, knowing Gordon’s aspirations, he could demand a deal worth more than $10 million per year.
If the Chargers decide they don’t want to pursue Gordon, expect them to go all-in on Austin Ekeler. The backup running back produced 1,550 yards from scrimmage in 2019 and should make the transition for Rivers’ successor much easier. The team will fight for the RFA running back but expect there to be some stiff competition.
Often-injured tight end Hunter Henry is a UFA. The 25-year-old averaged 4.6 receptions and 54.3 receiving yards in 12 games last season. While he didn’t explode in 2019, some teams view Henry as a future Pro Bowler and the missing piece of their offenses. Henry joins fullback Derek Watt and seldom-used receiver Travis Benjamin in the free agent market.
Los Angeles already made it known they plan to move on from Rivers. With several viable options in free agency and the draft, Los Angeles could bring in his replacement or roll with Tyrod Taylor.
The already damaged offensive line must worry about the pending departure of right guard, Michael Schofield. Schofield started all 32 games for Los Angeles over the past two seasons.
While the Chargers will retain most of their defensive contributors, the team may miss Adrian Phillips. In 2018, the Associated Press selected Phillips as a First Team All-Pro special teams player. Phillips also appeared inconsistently as a starter at safety. Injuries limited Phillips to seven appearances in 2019.
Las Vegas Raiders
Biggest free agent- Daryl Worley CB (UFA)
It comes as no shock that Jon Gruden’s squad seems at odds with the rest of the AFC West. While other teams will chase their big-name free agents, Las Vegas’ best player hitting the market is Worley. The former third round pick started 15 games for the Raiders last season.
Also on that side of the ball, defensive end Benson Mayowa is a UFA. The 28-year-old didn’t start a game for the Raiders last season, but he did record a career-high seven sacks. Mayowa joins a questionable class of Las Vegas free agents, including Vontaze Burfict, Will Compton, Karl Joseph, and Curtis Riley.
Of that group, Joseph looks like the most likely candidate to find a starting job in 2020. Gruden never showed enough patience with the former first round pick, and injuries ended Joseph’s 2019 campaign after nine games.
The team’s most notable RFA is Nicholas Morrow, who started half of the season at linebacker.