Four Downs: AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers ER Joey Bosa
Los Angeles Chargers ER Joey Bosa
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Denver Broncos

Biggest Need: Cornerback

Denver has one good cornerback right now: Bryce Callahan, who started 10 games with the Broncos in 2020. In a league that continues to force defenses to play with three cornerbacks on the field more often than not, having just one good player at the position poses some issues. It's no wonder the Broncos finished with their worst defensive DVOA ranking since 2013.

Denver's top three cornerbacks in 2020, aside from Callahan, were veteran A.J. Bouye, third-round draftee Michael Ojemudia, and undrafted rookie Essang Bassey. Bouye did not look nearly as effective as he has in the past and was cut as a cap casualty on February 10. Ojemudia and Bassey each played like non-first round rookie corners, who tend not to play well early on. Ojemudia posted a decent success rate, but allowed over 9.0 yards per target, suggesting that he regularly got beat for big plays down the field.

While there is an argument to be made that Ojemudia showed impressive potential and could be better next season, the Broncos still need a third cornerback. They have the flexibility to pick up any kind of cornerback, seeing as Callahan is an experienced nickel corner. Unless they opt to use the ninth overall pick in a package to trade up for a quarterback, Denver is in a great spot to use their first-round pick on a cornerback. At least one of Patrick Surtain Jr. (Alabama), Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech), or Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) is sure to be available, if not all three.

Major Free Agents: Justin Simmons, S; Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB/DE; DeMarcus Walker, DE; Shelby Harris, DL

Notice a trend? These defensive free agents do not even include the club options for pass-rusher Von Miller and safety Kareem Jackson, who are technically on contract but could be released with little to no penalty.

Simmons will almost certainly be back. He is their best non-Miller player on defense and is the glue for that secondary. The depth pieces up front are where the real worry sets in. Attaochu and Walker combined for 9.5 sacks last season, while Harris was a decent rotational piece responsible for four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Potentially replacing this much depth is a daunting task regardless of the quality of players.

Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Need: Offensive line

This may feel like a reaction to the Super Bowl, but it's not. The Chiefs were missing essentially their entire Week 1 starting offensive line in the championship game; it's not fair to judge the overall state of the offensive line off that contest. What really plagues the Chiefs is that many of the players who were supposed to be starting last year will be gone.

For one, we do not know the status of guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. He chose to opt out of the 2020 season to work as a doctor (yes, really) due to COVID-19, and it's unclear whether he plans to do so again. Guard Kelechi Osemele, who missed most of 2020, as well as center Austin Reiter have expiring contracts and would need to be re-signed. The same is true of Mike Remmers, a guard/tackle fill-in who played right tackle in place of an injured Mitchell Schwartz.

Schwartz himself may also end up as a cap casualty. The Chiefs are way over the upcoming salary cap and getting rid of Schwartz would save the team just over $6 million. Left tackle Eric Fisher is probably safe, but every other position on the Chiefs offensive line is up in the air. It would not be too surprising to see the Chiefs end up with four different starters compared to their intended 2020 Week 1 lineup.

Major Free Agents: Demarcus Robinson, WR; Sammy Watkins, WR; Daniel Sorensen, S; Bashaud Breeland, CB; Damien Wilson, LB; Kelechi Osemele, G; Austin Reiter, C

As mentioned, a ton of Kansas City's offensive linemen are on their way out the door. Depth player Daniel Kilgore is also due for a new contract, but probably will not get one with the Chiefs.

Kansas City will need to do some retooling at wide receiver. With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce still in town, the pass-catching corps will still be more than fine, but surely Andy Reid would like a better No. 3 option than Mecole Hardman. It's tough to imagine a scenario where the Chiefs can fit either Robinson or Watkins in under the cap, so look for them to solve this in the draft.

Las Vegas Raiders

Biggest Need: Interior defensive line

Realistically, "defense at large" is the Raiders' biggest need. Every level of the defense needs upgrades. There probably need to be at least five new starters next season. To narrow it down, though, we can pinpoint the interior defensive line as arguably the Raiders' primary issue.

Johnathan Hankins, Las Vegas' best interior defensive linemen in 2020, is currently a free agent. Hankins was far from a superstar, but he provided some stability up front that none of his fellow interior defensive linemen could match. Maliek Collins and Kendall Vickers finished among the worst defensive linemen in the league per Sports Info Solutions' total points saved. Rotational player Maurice Hurst did not finish much better. As such, keeping Hankins should probably be a priority. No, he is not special, but they have no other stable option on the roster right now.

If the Raiders do not intend to bring Hankins back, then they had better be prepared to spend on someone else or burn their premium draft picks on the defensive line. They likely need to do the latter anyway, but it will become imperative in the event that Hankins is allowed to walk.

The first round will not be filled with many stud defensive line talents this year, but Day 2 could provide some of the answers the Raiders are looking for. Players such as Jay Tufele (USC), Daviyon Dixon (Iowa), and Tommy Togiai (Ohio State) could be some Day 2 options for the Raiders to find some starters up front.

Major Free Agents: Nelson Agholor, WR; Denzelle Good, OL; Johnathan Hankins, DL; Nicholas Morrow, LB; Zay Jones, WR; Nevin Lawson, CB

Few of the Raiders' potential losses are key players, but there are a number of decent contributors who could be on their way out. Offensive lineman Denzelle Good, for example, was surprisingly quite effective as a starter last season and would be nice to have back. The same goes for Hankins as a solid defensive line piece. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor also came on strong in his first season with the Raiders, reviving his career after a turbulent stint with the Eagles. Though the Raiders do have Henry Ruggs, Agholor would be great to retain as a field-stretcher.

Los Angeles Chargers

Biggest Need: Offensive line

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Though it's no longer Philip Rivers quarterbacking for the Bolts, the offensive line is still a massive issue. The Chargers finished 31st in ESPN's pass-block win rate (47%) in 2020 and were one of just two teams to finish under 50%. Only the New York Giants sat below them. With some contracts in question this offseason, an already poor offensive line could get worse.

Center Mike Pouncey will be a confirmed departure. Pouncey, along with twin brother Maurkice, retired this offseason. Pouncey did not play in 2020, but it's still notable that he will be gone. However, his replacement at center in 2020, Dan Feeney, is due for a new contract. Guard Forrest Lamp is also set for a new deal, as both he and Feeney were drafted in the same 2017 class. Tackle Sam Tevi's deal is also up, but for the sake of Justin Herbert, they ought not bring him back.

The rest of the Chargers offensive line right now is made up of tackle Bryan Bulaga, guard Trai Turner, and backup tackle Trey Pipkins. Pipkins was a disaster in his handful of starts, but perhaps that is to be expected of a backup on an already poor line. The other two, Bulaga and Turner, were quality blockers in the 10 or so games each got to play when healthy.

Major Free Agents: Melvin Ingram, OLB; Hunter Henry, TE; Denzel Perryman, LB; Michael Davis, CB; Forrest Lamp, OL; Dan Feeney, OL

Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram should be the top priority as far as bringing players back. Though he is coming off a knee injury that kept him out for most of 2020, Ingram is an elite No. 2 pass-rusher to Joey Bosa. A defensive head coach such as Brandon Staley probably wants a guy like that to stick around. The other notable free agent is tight end Hunter Henry, though it's possible the Chargers ride with the cheaper, potential-laden option in Donald Parham rather than re-sign Henry.


4 comments, Last at 27 Feb 2021, 3:29pm

1 The Chiefs cap concerns aren't as bad as they look

They're currently roughly $18m over a projected $185m cap. If we roll with current projections of around $183m, that puts them $20m over. 


Mahomes has a large roster bonus that could easily be partially or totally converted into a signing bonus and prorated. Kelce and Jones do as well.


Work has to be done to make it all fit, but they have options available to free up close to $20m just via bonus conversions on keystone players (relatively risk-free guys we know will be on the roster for awhile), before even looking at reasonable cuts...they could free up nearly $40m pretty quickly if they got aggressive.

3 Your bias is showing, Chief.

That's a best case scenario.

Likely, they lose most of their O-Line and have to plug-in guys or rely on fringe FA's.

They still have issues at LB.  None of them are very good in coverage.  Sorensen was brutalized in the SB.  I saw the back of his name on way too many plays because he was getting trucked by Fournette repeatedly or couldn't cover any of the Bucs play-makers in space.  Still have images of a badly outmatched Sorensen trying to tackle Gronk on the sideline.  He looked defeated as Gronk landed on top of him.

I see major regression for the Chiefs this year.  Something like 10/11 wins due to close losses not going their way.

Loss in the AFC CG if they can even get there.  Fresh blood in the form of Baltimore, Vegas, Cleveland or Tennessee will represent the AFC.


4 Erm....just the one of us is showing bias, right?

So yes, by username, it's clear I have a fan's rooting interest in a particular team. Good job? 

That also means I have more familiarity than usual with the nuances of that team's cap situation...and that situation is not as bad as it immediately looks on paper. 

The existence of convertible roster bonuses isn't subject to's simply fact. Brett Veach has actually publicly talked about converting Mahomes' roster bonus as a way to manage the current's why they structured his contract the way they did; it's intended to be a cap flexibility tool, with the team paying a roster bonus in years they can afford it to keep future inflation down, but converting to signing bonus in the years they can't (this year is clearly one of the latter). Recognizing the same structure in Kelce's and Jones' contracts doesn't take a lot of stretching.

Yes, there will still be cap casualties, and guys they want to pursue but can't...that much is pretty obvious to everybody. 

So far as's certainly possible. I didn't characterize their likely performance this coming season one way or the other. All I did was talk about the reasons they have more cap flexibility than a quick look at Sportrac would suggest.

Given that you responded to a simple statement of "their cap situation isn't actually as bad as it looks" with essentially a "HAHA, homer! They're gonna regress!", it strongly suggests you might have some bias of your own...but I wouldn't know anything about that.

2 Chargers' Fan Perspective

Trai Turner was hurt a lot this year, and when he did play he was awful. Cutting him frees up something like $9million with no dead money -- he's gone.

The "17's" were all so bad that I would be hesitant to offer any of them backup money. Maybe keep Tevi as a swing tackle.

Bulaga was hurt a bunch too but at least he was pretty good when he did play. Cutting him doesn't save any money, so he'll be back.

The Chargers are looking at finding 4 new starters for their offensive line. They'll probably draft a LT in the first round and then sign one of the more prominent FA centers like Linsley. I think guards are pretty fungible, so sign a couple of the cheaper veterans in free agency to help there and then spend a mid round pick on an IOL. My favorite option is if Sewell falls a little -- they might be able to trade up into the 7-9 range to get him. That can only happen if the Bengals fall in love with the idea of reuniting Burrow and Chase.

For the rest of their free agents, I would be surprised if Ingram is back. The Chargers desperately need a second edge rusher to complement Bosa, but I'm not sure if Ingram can be that player anymore. There hasn't been much chatter about him coming back.

The Chargers have Mike Williams currently signed for his $15m fifth year option. I think they have to pick between Williams and Henry but won't be able to keep both. Personally, I think they should go with Henry.

One potential problem for the Chargers secondary was that both Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr reached the dreaded CB age - 31. Both of them were not all that effective this year. On the other hand, Michael Davis has shown steady improvement for the last couple of years. He was probably our best CB last year and it's pretty important for the team to be able to resign him for a reasonable amount.