Not every need can be met via the draft. So what's a team to do? Thankfully, the free agency period will be here soon. To help get you ready for the opening of the NFL's annual talent marketplace on March 11, Elliot Harrison is taking a division-by-division look at all 32 squads' biggest priorities, continuing with the AFC West below.
Top priority in free agency: Defensive back.
Working on "NFL AM" with Clinton Portis on Thursday, I had to remind myself that he once was traded for Champ Bailey. I mean, it seems like forever ago that Portis was playing -- and to think, Bailey came into the league three years before Portis did! Well, Champ is done in Denver. And although the 12-time Pro Bowl pick's play had fallen off, his release still diminishes Denver's defensive backfield. And remember, the Broncos' best cornerback from last season, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, is a free agent. Additionally, Denver's safety play still leaves something to be desired. Simply put, this secondary could use a fresh infusion of talent. Another area that merits attention: defensive end. Shaun Phillips, the club's best pass rusher from last season, is a free agent. Moreover, Derek Wolfe missed the last couple months of last season after a scary hospitalization following seizure-like symptoms. He recently promised to return "bigger, faster, stronger" in 2014. This remains to be seen, but Denver clearly has some questions at DE. People snickered at me last season when I suggested on NFL.com/Live that the Broncos should make a trade for Jared Allen -- turns out that was indeed kicked around before the deadline. Now, Allen is a free agent, and should be a relatively affordable one, too. He would be particularly effective as a pass-rush specialist on a pitch count. And the Broncos have the spending money to bolster this position, with Allen or someone less heralded. One last thing: Portis says Denver is the right destination for potential Titans cap casualty Chris Johnson -- it's safe to say that would be more shocking than the Portis-Bailey trade 10 years ago.
Other areas of interest: Defensive end, middle linebacker, wide receiver.
Kansas City Chiefs
Top priority in free agency: Wide receiver.
The Chiefs did very well in trading a couple of picks for Alex Smith last offseason. Unfortunately, they didn't provide him with many adequate weapons in the passing game. Dwayne Bowe is still unreliable, as evidenced by his spotty production and eight dropped passes last year. Donnie Avery would be a third option for most teams, not a WR2. While Junior Hemingway made some plays in Year 2, no one knows what to make of 2012 draftmate A.J. Jenkins at this point. Long story short: Kansas City must address receiver -- in free agency or the draft. Unfortunately, the Chiefs lack the massive cap space of a number of AFC counterparts who also figure to be in the WR market (Raiders, Browns, Jaguars, Colts, Jets). So the Chiefs might have to avoid any type of bidding war on a high-profile guy. Emmanuel Sanders could be feasible. One way or another, K.C. would be wise to add someone with a little speed and hands reliable enough to catch more than 40 balls on the perimeter. Meanwhile, on the subject of the aerial attack, tight end Travis Kelce's recovery from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2013 season bears watching. The Chiefs would certainly benefit from this third-rounder developing into a threat in Year 2.
Other areas of interest: Offensive line, safety, inside linebacker.
Top priority in free agency: Running back.
OK, stay with me here ... The hope is that the Raiders, with the fifth overall draft pick and around $70 million in cap space, are able to acquire as many talented players as possible this offseason. If that includes trading down from the No. 5 spot, so be it. It's not hard to imagine a QB-hungry team offering Oakland a king's ransom for the pick. I'm not convinced the Raiders are dead set on drafting a first-round QB at this juncture, so trading down to an interested party -- like, say, a team that would like to provide some competition for Andy Dalton ... -- could make sense. Then, use free-agent dollars to lure in Josh McCown, while continuing to see what Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin can do. Or use the wealth of cap space to fortify corner (hello, Aqib Talib) and safety (Jairus Byrd would be nice). Then GM Reggie McKenzie should re-sign left tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston -- if not both. But wait, what about running back, the "top priority"? Yes, I did ask you to stick with me ... Oakland needs a back, as Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings are both eligible for free agency. The NFL might be a passing league, but considering Oakland's uncertainty at QB, the team must build a ground game. At the end of the day, Oakland clearly has plenty of needs, but that doesn't mean owner Mark Davis has to spend all of his available funds in a single offseason -- i.e., the team does not have to overpay the Hakeem Nickses of the world. Smart spending, not reckless spending. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Other areas of interest: Offensive line, quarterback, defensive back.
San Diego Chargers
Top priority in free agency: Cornerback.
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Given the play of San Diego's secondary last season, it's truly remarkable this team made the playoffs. As any Chargers fan will tell you, the corners were just a hair shy of terrible. Free-agent acquisition Derek Cox, he of the $20 million contract, was an absolute bust. Richard Marshall, another offseason addition, didn't fare much better. In fact, each of the Bolts' top three cornerbacks -- Cox, Marshall and Shareece Wright -- yielded a 100-plus passer rating to opposing quarterbacks. Cox was released and Marshall's due to hit free agency. So, at the moment, defensive coordinator John Pagano is staring at a starting tandem of Wright and last year's fifth-round pick, Steve Williams. Perhaps Williams turns out to be a player, but it's not unfair to say this position group could use some help. Question is, will the front office take another shot in the free-agent CB market after getting burned (badly)? San Diego doesn't have much cap room, but perhaps they could sign a mid-tier corner like Captain Munnerlyn.
Other areas of interest: Offensive guard, defensive line, wide receiver.