But the West isn’t the only division that made big changes in the AFC. Here’s a look at the best moves of each team in the conference:
The top of Cincinnati’s draft haul (S Daxton Hill, CB Cam Taylor-Britt) brings juice to the defense, and ex-Cowboys tackle La’el Collins is the bigger name. But Cappa brings such stability to the interior of a line charged with protecting the team’s top asset, QB Joe Burrow. He hasn’t missed a regular-season start as one of Tom Brady’s most underrated blockers the last two years.
This feels like a copout, considering Buffalo literally made Miller a $100 million man to join the squad, and other pieces (RB James Cook, WR Jamison Crowder, CB Kaiir Elam) feel just as important. But if Miller brings anything close to what he brought during his peak moments in Denver and Los Angeles, Sean McDermott should feel good about his “D” helping Josh Allen make a real run.
Broncos: Trading for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
How can it be anything else? This is the move that’ll either lift them to the promised land or sink them in a few years, or both. But it was one of the very few mega gambles worth the price for a team that hasn’t had star power at QB since Peyton Manning circa 2012. Wilson may or may not still be the top-five dual threat he’s long been, but his poise and elusiveness remain elite.
Sorry, but even if new QB Deshaun Watson is a clear upgrade on Baker Mayfield and/or proves to be worth their record investment on the field, it’s very possible he won’t/can’t do that until 2023, after a likely suspension. Which leads to the bigger concern: his ongoing public and legal standing, facing 24 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault or misconduct. Cooper is a relative bargain after this year’s WR market inflation, giving whomever’s under center a bonafide No. 1 on the outside.
Brandon Staley’s defense should be much more imposing with Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson and Sebastian Joseph-Day plugged in across the lineup, but Williams’ return bodes even better for star QB Justin Herbert. With Keenan Allen in tow, the Chargers are still affording their young signal-caller an elite, explosive duo out wide as he looks to finally break into the playoffs.
Chiefs: Franchise tagging OT Orlando Brown Jr.
In a few years, we might look back and actually applaud their trade of star speedster Tyreek Hill, simply for the draft haul it may produce. And cheap replacement JuJu Smith-Schuster has the stuff to break out (again). But Brown, with or without a long-term deal, is the most important, giving Patrick Mahomes a rock-solid bodyguard for his blind side.
Wentz and Ryan arrived/departed separately, but it’s still mildly astounding how Indianapolis managed to backtrack on its Wentz investment and come out with a safer projection under center. Yes, the Colts still have long-term QB issues, and Ryan is more steady than special these days, but with another big run game and defense, they’ve got the recipe for a playoff bid.
In an offseason where Miami landed Tyreek Hill, Terron Armstead and literally three starting running backs, their new coach is the biggest reason Dolphins fans should look forward to what Tua Tagovailoa and Co. do in 2022. More than coming up under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, McDaniel just has the smarts and the spunk to elevate a contemporary locker room.
Adding Brandon Scherff to help protect Trevor Lawrence was smart, and their top rookies (DE Travon Walker, LB Devin Lloyd) should help fortify the defense. But nothing matters as much as getting it right up top after Urban Meyer instantly flamed out as the figurehead of their rebuild. Pederson’s proven, lovable approach should at least revive the spirit of the QB and organization.
It’s possible, if not probable, that their splashy draft-day additions (CB Sauce Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson) will have more long-term impact, but in terms of potential value in the short and long term, Tomlinson is a supremely underrated injection of proven blocking to a front that’ll be key to QB Zach Wilson’s development, coming off a career year in San Francisco.
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It’s been a relatively underwhelming offseason for a team looking to build off a 2021 playoff bid; is the draft-pick swap for WR DeVante Parker convincing anyone to bet on Mac Jones for MVP? Marcus Jones, meanwhile, has been compared to former Chiefs playmaker Dante Hall as a return man, and he figures to in Bill Belichick’s defense.
Raiders: Trading for Packers WR Davante Adams
Much like Russ and the Broncos, how can it be anything else? Paying up for Adams both via trade and in the receiver’s new deal may hurt them down the road, but if you’re gonna bet on Derek Carr, why not go all in to reunite him with a best friend who happens to be maybe the best pure pass catcher in the game? Vegas may not contend, but it won’t be for a lack of WR talent.
Pretty much all of their defensive moves deserve praise, as Marcus Williams should roam confidently behind a healthier cornerback room, and Day Two picks David Ojabo and Travis Jones are underrated front-seven pieces. But Hamilton’s got the range and versatility to be a hybrid linebacker/safety to bring the whole defense together under new direction.
Pittsburgh quietly had a tremendous offseason, bolstering an iffy line with ex-Bears OG James Daniels and finding another draft-day WR gem in George Pickens. But nothing matters more than QB, and while Pickett may very well project as more of a safe signal-caller than a spicy one, he’s got the hometown roots and all-around toolkit to keep Mike Tomlin in the playoff mix.
Texans: Trading QB Deshaun Watson
They’ve made a lot of questionable decisions (letting Davis Mills go unchallenged at QB? making Lovie Smith the latest placeholder atop the staff? signing/re-signing a bunch of free-agent leftovers again?), but dealing Watson was inevitable. The fact they offloaded his big contract and off-field baggage for three first-rounders and more? They’re at least set up to rebuild.
Acquiring former Rams standout Robert Woods is a hugely underrated move for the WR room, which lost A.J. Brown. But Ryan Tannehill may well not be under center beyond 2022, so Woods’ value is eclipsed by that of Willis, who is very raw but extremely enticing athletically, giving Tennessee a boom-or-bust type to develop at the most important position in the sport.