Expected by many due to salary cap limitations, it has been a quiet free agency period for the Chiefs thus far. Not necessarily exciting, but it’s certainly generating a lot of discussion among fans. Social media will provide you examples of both extremes, from those who are near-panic to those who are totally content. The looming situations involving Chris Jones and Sammy Watkins are undoubtedly heightening the anxiety in some, whereas others are taking the approach that things will simply work out the way they are supposed to. And let me be clear…. taking either side is perfectly acceptable as a fan. It’s also acceptable to take a neutral stance and simply observe the process as it unfolds. I’m choosing the neutral position and simply observing the process and movement throughout the league. With a glass-half-full mentality, I believe the Chiefs are being wise and cautious, and I trust the picture will become much clearer as the free agency period continues to unfold.
For those who disagree with the current inactivity from the Chiefs, it only intensifies the concern as the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders aggressively add players to their rosters. At the end of the business day on Wednesday, the AFC West brought sixteen new faces to the division; Raiders (8), Chargers (3), and Broncos (5). A handful of those players are “big names” while others are considered role players who provide depth and competition among different positions. But each signing comes with a cost and adds years to the roster. Among five of the eight players joining the Raiders, contracts totaling at least $90M are accompanying them. The Chargers will be responsible for roughly $64M in contracts with three new additions. The Broncos are on the hook for approximately $99M in contract costs while bringing five new faces to their organization. And free agency is not complete.
In addition to the contract costs, another factor with free agency is the age added to the rosters. At the start of the 2019 season, the average age of the Raiders’ roster was 25.6 years. With the addition of their free agent acquisitions, that number bumps slightly to 26.5. The Broncos began ’19 at 25.7 but have risen to 27. The Chargers see the biggest increase from 25.8 to 27.5. Those figures obviously do not include players who have since left for other teams or retired, but the numbers will be relatively close.
Considering the number of acquisitions and dollars spent by inner division rivals thus far in free agency, I’d argue the rest of the AFC West is jostling to catch up to the Chiefs. Are they succeeding? Are they improving their rosters to the point of overtaking the 4-time division winner? The Chiefs 27-3 record (90% win-rate) over the division since 2015 is the best division record over any five-year span in modern NFL history. And while they appear idle in this free agency period, they are still arguably one of the most talented teams in the NFL and an early favorite to top the AFC in 2020. Their division rivals have already agreed to nearly $253M total in contracts with new players, yet I believe the Chiefs still have a clear advantage.
I’m not slamming down my fist demanding the Chiefs remain inactive and rely solely on what they currently have. I recognize the uncertainty surrounding Jones, Watkins, and a few others, and I fully acknowledge there are holes to fill in the roster. While losing their own players to free agency, the Chiefs undoubtedly have needs and positions that could benefit from a little help and added depth. But I believe the Chiefs have positioned themselves in such a way that allows them a window to be frugal, recover from salary cap issues, and still add depth and value through the draft at far less than the rest of the division is paying in their catch-up efforts. The cap limitations are allowing them time to focus on taking care of in-house matters and perhaps more on draft preparation. Many changes could be on the horizon, but I’m confident in the direction of the organization and will remain relaxed if this silent trend continues.