Free Agency: AFC & NFC West

Time to go West. Yup, I don’t feel good about that joke.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: Buckle up folks this could take a while. The Broncos made a huge splash in Free Agency. For starters they got rid of any contracts that didn’t make financial sense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, was a good player for the Broncos, but the 2 parties couldn’t come to an agreement. Decker had another great season, but was simply wanting more money than the Broncos were willing to pay. Champ Bailey has been a Hall of Fame quality Corner, but now he’s lost a step its time to move on. So with all these losses, the Broncos needed to make some big moves…which is what they did. For starters, they brought in ex-Patriot Aqib Talib, who is coming in on the back of an exceptional season and is a step up from any of the Corners they had on their roster last season. Add into this his size and his ability to play big matching up against the bigger Wideouts and Tight Ends and the Broncos now have a great Corner. Next to Talib will TJ Ward, who was signed from the Browns. Although playing at Safety, what the Broncos have acquired is a Defensive back that plays like a Linebacker, yet another step in the right direction. Demarcus Ware leaves the Cowboys as their all time leader in sacks and although he is getting up in age, still has a lot offer the Broncos, who now have an out-and-out pass rusher. On Offence the signing of  Emmanuel Sanders gives the ex-Steeler a chance to step out of the shadow of Antonio Brown and work with one of the best QB’s in the game. Basically the Broncos looked at their needs and addressed them in a big way. Would this team have beat the Seahawks? I’m not so sure, but they have to be out-and-out Superbowl contenders this year, along with the Patriots. All in all the Broncos are big Off-Season winners and have masterfully negotiated contracts to have skill in nearly every position.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs had a great season last year and were the real surprise package. After a perfect start to the season however they dropped off and obvious holes were exposed. Going in to a new season they seem to have lost more than they have gained, including a number of key players including: Brandon Albert, Dexter McCluster, Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, Quintin Demps, Tyson Jackson… That’s a lot of players. All of which are disposable if they can be replaced. However this hasn’t happened.  The Chiefs have brought in a few over-rated players to fill in a couple of positions. To even come close to having as good a season as last year they will need a very good draft.

San Diego Chargers: I described the Chiefs as the surprise team of last season. In truth the Chargers would have probably had a shout at that title. The Chargers are on the back of a very good season & have approached the Off-Season rather cautiously. Donald Brown is a great signing, if not a little under-whelming. What he does provide however is some much-needed back up for Ryan Matthews, who has a chequered injury history, which is the same story for Philip Rivers, who received some much-needed back up in Rams QB Kellen Clemens. It seems the Chargers didn’t improve any particular areas of need, but protected the areas where they excel. If the Chargers are to take the next step in a very tough Division they really need to improve in a number of real areas of need through the draft (Chargers, the odd corner wouldn’t hurt).

Oakland Raiders: Obviously I couldn’t get through this without mentioning the Raiders (that was for an eagle eyed follower). The Raiders started free agency with $60 million in cap space, so naturally Raiders fans expected them to make a huge splash in free agency…which didn’t happen…well not immediately. Any way the first head scratcher came from the release of Lamarr Houston and Jared Veldheer, 2 of the best young players on the roster, 1 of which could have been Franchise tagged using the vast amount of money they had to spend. After this strange move the Raiders went almost silent in free agency, whilst their Division rivals the Broncos started signing pretty much everyone. It was at this point that the fortunes changed for Oakland and they started making moves. But generally quite questionable ones. For starters they took on aging Veterans Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley and paying over the odds for players that don’t have huge amounts of time in their NFL careers. Letting Rashad Jennings go seems to be a strange move, especially since they kept hold of “made of glass”, Darren McFadden. It’s at this point though they began to make some pretty good moves that should help the team. James Jones, Antonio Smith and Austin Howard are all good signings, not to mention that they have a serviceable QB in Matt Schaub, who is due a good season after a poor performance last year.

A lot of people seem to have the Raiders taking a step back this year and that they’ve wasted a chance to reinvent themselves through a generous free agency. I however look at it differently. Reggie McKenzie has a history of being a patient when he was with the Packers. Now with the Raiders he seems to be setting them up for the long game. Last year the best thing he did was streamline the team and get rid of all the pieces they no longer need that were eating up a vast amount of cap space. Now they’re in a healthy situation where they can build through the draft, which is what the plan has been all along. Make no mistake it could be a tough season this year, but in the long run it looks like they have set themselves up to be a decent young team.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks: The Superbowl Champions were obviously very impressive this year, but the difficult part (you know aside from winning a Superbowl), is trying to keep that team together, so how have they done? Not bad. They lost Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner & Golden Tate. That seems like a lot of players, but on a team that loaded with talent, these are replaceable. Importantly the team held on to stand out Defensive End, Michael Bennett despite intense interest from the Chicago Bears. Seattle still stay strong, but they will need to pick up a few free agents to ensure they stay Super bowl contenders. Rumours of Jared Allen have been pretty strong, a player who could be another difference maker for a team of difference makers. The Seahawks have lost a number of players, but are still the name to beat for the Super bowl. the sign of an exceptional team.

San Francisco 49ers: There was very little argument that the most exciting game of the year was the NFC Championship game between the Niners and the Seahawks and that the Niners were the only team that could topple the Seahawks. With that in mind and being so close to taking the next step, this is a major off-season for the Niners. The best thing that happened so far was retaining Harbaugh after speculation that they would trade him to the Browns. The rumour is he doesn’t get on to well with the front office and they wanted rid of any conflict. As it is though the tenuous relationship looks to be workable and the Niners seem to be moving on as normal(ish). The Niners did a good job of keeping some of their more important pieces. Anquan Boldin is hugely important to this team and signing him to a long-term deal will be of huge relief to Kaepernick, who had Boldin as his top target. One player they will miss however is Donte Whitner, but replacing him with Bethea on a cheaper contract is a great move. All in all a pretty good Off Season for the Niners, who look like they can continue to keep up with the Seahawks. Lets just hope the front office can get on.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cards were ridiculously close to leap frogging the Niners in what would have been the upset of the season. As it is the Cards still did better than they were expected to. So to keep up with the rest of the Division they needed to keep the core of young players they had built up. Which they have managed with the exception of Andre Roberts and Karlos Dansby. Despite these losses however they managed to re-sign a number of important players that they need to keep hold of to take the next step. What’s more important is the players they’ve signed. To start with it is simply mind-boggling that the Raiders let one of their best players go in Veldheer. But what is the Raiders loss is very much the Cards gain and by simply plugging in this one piece, this Offence has got a lot better. Palmer should hit the ground a lot less and we should continue to see the improvement of Larry Fitzgerald who has been left in the dark in recent years. Anthonio Cromartie is another great addition, who joins an exceptional Secondary, which has now managed to get even better.

St Louis Rams: The Rams were the worst team in the Division last year…but still better than most teams in the league. As a result the Rams have to work harder than most teams, just to keep up with the Division. The biggest move this team have made however is keeping Saffold and on less of a contract as they’ve moved him to guard. Other than that, they’ve not made a great deal of moves. They have however got rid of QB of the moment last year Kellen Clemons & chippy Corner Back Cortland Finnegan. All of this means, the Rams have to improve through the draft and have enough early round picks to make a big difference and surround Bradford with weapons to discover if he really is the guy they should be backing.

One more to go folks see you soon.