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With the NFL offseason upon us, we take a look at how the four teams in the AFC West can improve in 2013.
The AFC West was perhaps the most lopsided division in the NFL outside of the AFC East.
This was largely thanks to the Denver Broncos' addition of Peyton Manning. Only a couple years ago, this division was wide open, but it was the Broncos that asserted themselves. They now hold a tremendous lead on the other three teams in the division, who are a few seasons away from Denver's status.
The San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs were all at the mercy of their opponent on any given Sunday. Rarely were they ever the favorite going into a game, as the expectations for all three organizations seemed to drop lower and lower.
The Broncos ran away with it in 2012, and it will take nothing short of a miracle to make this division legitimately competitive this coming season.
Denver Broncos (13-3)
The Broncos should go into the 2013 season as heavy favorites for the Super Bowl.
In Manning's first year back in the NFL, the Denver organization made a great push. Even though it was a transitional year, there was some very real chemistry established. Manning struck an accord with new pass-catchers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
These are two incredibly athletic receivers that provide Manning with great options on game day.
The relationship between Manning and his receivers is still budding, so much of their improvement will simply come from time and experience with one another. The front office needs to continue to build around Manning, though, and should do so by keeping this offensive line in tact and adding a running back.
First and foremost, the front office should prioritize the retention of tackle Ryan Clady. Manning needs his blindside protected and Clady did an exceptional job guarding the future Hall of Fame passer. The highly decorated offensive lineman is a free agent this year and will need to be tagged or extended long-term.
The Broncos are expected to use the franchise tag on Clady to give them additional time to negotiate but as noted on Mile High Report, Clady's injury history could also play a role.
The Broncos want a longer period of time to negotiate with Clady to come up with a deal that is fair to both while at the same time hedging against possible relapse in play due to injuries. This is the second major surgery Clady has undergone in the last three years---the first being to repair the patellar tendon he damaged in a pick-up game of basketball. It also shows they value his talent and didn't want him to hit free agency.
Manning also needs to be able to hand this ball off, but with a battered running back corps, the total offensive production was limited. The Broncos could benefit greatly from drafting a running back or two. One of the names that could be a perfect fit for their system and could be an impact player right away is Montee Ball from Wisconsin.
San Diego Chargers (7-9)
This is a team that is becoming notorious for underperforming year after year.
The perception is that if you have a competent quarterback with the physical tools, it becomes easier to field a winning team. Unfortunately, one of the Chargers' biggest conundrums has been at the QB position. San Diego has seen Phillip Rivers play very good football, but under his command, the team can't seem to pull it together in the clutch.
After years of teetering on the "contender" label, the Chargers began to spiral out of control. After a disappointing end to the season, San Diego finally parted ways with head coach Norv Turner. The Chargers will be giving it another go with Rivers behind center, hoping for different results under new direction.
The Chargers new head coach is former Broncos OC Mike McCoy.
He will look to optimize the quarterback play and will likely look to fill the void left by Vincent Jackson. Rivers needs the tools to compete and has not received much help from a porous receiving corps and depleted stable of RBs. They need to be able to generate offense on a more consistent basis in order to compete with Denver.
The secondary will also need a boost. A player like Aqib Talib or Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie could come in and immediately fill a role as a starter. The Chargers will also have some work to do to keep their own free agents. As John Gennaro of Bolts From the Blue wrote, eight starters from last season are set to be free agents.
Perfection: Add a big name wide receiver, draft a running back (or two), acquire a cornerback via free agency or the draft
Oakland Raiders (4-12)
In terms of character and scheme, they have failed to establish an identity. They have had questionable moves stemming from the front office and bad luck on the football field. Their draft philosophies are questionable at best, and they seem to hit the reset button each and every offseason.
Heading into this offseason, they are looking at needs across the board, including quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver, safety and linebacker.
They have two solid offensive pieces in running back Darren McFadden and tight end Brandon Meyers. Unfortunately, McFadden has struggled to remain healthy and opposing teams have been able to hone in on Meyers as the only true receiving threat.
By means of personnel and creative scheming, the Raiders need to figure out a way to open up this offense, while moving out of the Carson Palmer era.
Defensively the Raiders are up against the cap, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't make room for the right player. Marcus Allen Krause of Silver and Black Pride wrote the Raiders should do what it takes to pursue Lions defensive end Cliff Avril.
The Raiders cap situation is ugly too but would it be worth it to figure out a way to break the bank for Avril? I believe the answer is yes. Cliff Avril is the kind of DE that can get you double digit sacks and that is absolutely what the Raiders are is dire need of.
Perfection: Draft best player available (not the fastest) in each round, draft a quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds, create cap room with cuts and restructuring
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
It did not take the Chiefs very long to start rebuilding for the 2013 season. They kicked things off with a bang by signing recently dismissed coach Andy Reid to be the new leader of their franchise. This is a team that is looking to make significant strides in this transitional year.
And although they had six starters elected to the 2012 Pro Bowl, they had one of the worst teams in the league. They finished at the bottom of the standings, and now possess the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. The downside is that there is no clear-cut No. 1 quarterback available in the draft or free agency.
The Chiefs are saddled with Matt Cassel, who has underperformed since arriving with the team. He has not been able to sustain a producing offense year in and year out, despite having a top-tier offensive line and weapons like Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles.
The Chiefs could add some help along the offensive line in the draft as Joel Thorman of Arrowhead Pride noted four players considered to be in the mix for the No. 1 pick. All four are offensive lineman.
They need a capable signal-caller to tie this team together or they should finish below .500 once again. Perhaps their best bet would be to trade for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. They could add him with a mid-to-late round pick, and still be able to build through the draft.
More on #Chiefs: Along with Bowe, KC would also like OT Branden Albert back. They've talked with his reps, too. Yes, they can sign both.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 15, 2013
Perfection: Trade for Alex Smith, take the best defensive player available at No. 1 overall, re-sign Branden Albert and Dwayne Bowe, draft a tackle, receiver and cornerback in the draft