In the most important week of the NFL offseason before the 2016 draft, the Oakland Raiders appear to be the league’s biggest winners. After signing arguably three of the 10 best players available, the perennial losers have put themselves in a position to compete for the AFC West title.
The 2015 season marked the 13th consecutive season in which the Raiders failed to finish better than third in the division. That trend has a chance to end in 2016, however, with Oakland improving and the rest of the AFC West teams failing to do so. Oddsmakers at Sportsbook.ag have given the Raiders the same odds of winning the division as the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos, while the Kansas City Chiefs are now the AFC West favorites.
Jack Del Rio's squad took a major step by winning seven games last season after totaling just 11 victories in the previous three years combined. The Raiders were led by second-year quarterback Derek Carr and rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper, but the team still needed to get better. In the first two days of free agency, the Raiders addressed three important needs.
Most importantly, the Raiders upgraded their secondary. Oakland needed to do so after struggling against the pass in 2015 and losing their best defensive back, Charles Woodson, to retirement. The Raiders gave former Kansas City Chiefs’ cornerback Sean Smith a four-year contract worth $40 million.
In addition to signing the best cornerback in free agency, Oakland got arguably the best linebacker and offensive lineman available, as well. Bruce Irvin was an important contributor to the Seattle Seahawks’ defense, and Kelechi Osemele is a versatile offensive lineman who should strengthen the passing game.
Only the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the offseason with more cap space than the Raiders, and general manager Reggie McKenzie seized on the market. The Raiders are reportedly paying more than $40 million in guaranteed money to their top free-agent signings as they look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Even after their big signings, McKenzie might not be done. Safety Eric Weddle is the best free agent available, and the Raiders are reportedly one of the favorites to land the former All-Pro. The Raiders also have the No. 14 pick in the upcoming draft, and eight total draft picks.
As the Raiders keep getting better, the Broncos continue to lose key players from their championship roster. The Broncos don’t have a starter at the most important position on the field with Peyton Manning retiring and Brock Osweiler joining the Houston Texans, and a reliable quarterback may not be available this offseason. Denver had the league’s top-ranked defense in 2015, but Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan are headed elsewhere. Running back C.J. Anderson has also signed with another team.
The Chiefs are coming off three straight winning seasons, and their roster largely looks the same, though Oakland was able to take a key member of their secondary. The San Diego Chargers are the favorites to finish in last place after winning four games in 2015.
Shortly after last season ended, the biggest story surrounding the Raiders was the possibility of them moving to Los Angeles or another city. Now, it’s the team’s improved roster that has been brought to the forefront.