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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 29: head coach Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders objects to a failed challenge against the Denver Broncos during the second quarter on Sunday, December 28, 2019. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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Around the AFC West: Splashy moves made in free agency

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The free agency frenzy has begun around the National Football League. Teams are vying for position and we’ve seen some blockbuster deals in just a few days of players being able to change teams. There have been huge free agent signings (Tom Brady with the Buccaneers, for example), some big trades (like the Cardinals getting DeAndre Hopkins) and other transactions that are changing the landscape of the NFL.

The Broncos are in the mix, doing what they can with what they have in free agency. Their class of free agents has to be considered “okay” because of top-name players they didn’t get. However, the Broncos have been doing quality work by trading away draft capitol for experienced veteran players like cornerback A.J. Bouye or defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. How do these moves stack up to what the rest of the division is doing?

Let’s take a spin around the AFC West to see what the competition is up to.

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Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs don’t have a lot of salary cap space, so they cannot be as active in free agency as other teams. In fact, the defending Super Bowl champions have done almost next to nothing in free agency while other teams are scrambling to keep up with them.

They did tender an important player earlier this week. Chiefs running back Damien Williams’ 2020 option will be picked up. He’ll make $2.3 million this upcoming season as the lead back on the roster.

Williams had a great performance in the Super Bowl – MVP worthy – but did not win that honor with Patrick Mahomes getting the nod. The Chiefs are a pass-happy team, but when they do run the ball, it’s important to have a player like Williams on the field. He can take advantage of wide-open rushing lanes against defenses so concerned with slowing down Mahomes and his receivers. Williams can also contribute as a receiver out of the backfield and will be an important piece of the offense once again this year.

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Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders defense was terrible last year and that’s why most of their moves in free agency have been on that side of the ball. The team is going “all in” with star defensive players and have spent quite a bit of money to upgrade their defense.

This week, the Raiders have added inside linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton, defensive lineman Maleik Collins, safety Jeff Heath, defensive end Carl Nassib and cornerback Eli Apple. I think that’s all of them on the defense! As you can see, the Raiders are not messing around with improving their defense at all three levels.

It’s important to note all of these players, but I want to highlight those two inside linebackers they added. The AFC West is “tight end central” with guys like Travis Kelce (Chiefs), Hunter Henry (Chargers) and Noah Fant (Broncos). Both Kwiatkoski and Littleton can cover tight ends in the middle of the field and having both means tight ends may have a more difficult time against the Raiders defense in 2020.

In addition to all this defensive help, the Raiders secured veteran tight end Jason Witten. He’ll give the team veteran depth behind Darren Waller and Foster Moreau. It’s an interesting signing due to all the talent already at the position. The Raiders also signed quarterback Marcus Mariota in free agency. Mariota will push Derek Carr for the starting job in training camp and may win the job.

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Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers signed Chris Harris Jr. away from the Broncos. Harris will join a secondary with talented corners Casey Hayward and Desmond King. Throw in safety Derwin James and you can see that the back end of the Chargers defense is incredibly talented. Add in what they have up front with pass-rushers like Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, and opposing offenses are going to have trouble with this team.

Before the start of the new league year, the Chargers traded away left tackle Russell Okung and received starting guard Trai Turner in return. They upgraded their line even further at the start of free agency. Green Bay Packers impending free-agent offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga has agreed to terms on a three-year deal worth $30 million with the Chargers.

The team missed out in the Tom Brady sweepstakes and are moving forward with Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback. Having a much-improved offensive line will help him play better. The recipe for the Chargers is clear; they want to run the ball, play great defense and win close games in 2020. They’ve done a fine job of putting together a team to do just that this season.

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