AFC West Notes: Broncos, Chiefs, Eluemunor

Coming off their Russell Wilson misstep, the Broncos will be taking on a chunk of their record-setting dead money ($35.4MM) this year. The more punishing hit will come in 2025 ($49.6MM), and although both numbers will be offset to a degree by the cap’s rise, Denver may need to be thriftier at quarterback. Mock drafts continue to include a Broncos QB pick or a trade-up move for a passer, but 9News’ Mike Klis writes a veteran will likely be added in free agency.

Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield are probably out of play for the Broncos, who are still $2.5MM over the cap following their Justin Simmons release. But after other cost-saving moves, the team will have a host of bridge options available. Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Tannehill, Gardner Minshew and Sam Darnold headline that list, and the volume of passers in free agency should lead to affordable options for teams looking to pair a rookie with a stopgap vet. The Broncos do have Jarrett Stidham tied to a $7MM base salary, and they plan to give him a chance. But it is possible two outside options will be joining the season-ending starter this offseason.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • Chris Jones remains the Chiefs‘ top priority, but after rumblings the defending champions could retain the likely Hall of Famer before free agency, they are running short on time. Other clubs can begin talking to Jones at 11am CT March 11. Seeking at least $30MM per year, Jones remains Kansas City’s top priority. Some uncertainty exists if the Chiefs’ the near-year-long retention effort will succeed, but the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora indicates the team is expected to devote more funds to its offense. After a wildly inconsistent receiver year, the Chiefs were believed to be interested in Mike Evans. Calvin Ridley, Marquise Brown and Gabe Davis are among the top options available, though it should also be expected the team — particularly if Jones is back on a monster contract — devotes a high draft choice to this group.
  • The Raiders appear to want to re-sign right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, per ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez, who notes the team’s stopgap right tackle starter might be the highest priority among the team’s free agent O-linemen. That would be interesting given Andre James‘ presence as a younger UFA-to-be. Eluemunor joins James and guard Greg Van Roten as Raiders starting O-linemen set for free agency. Eluemunor has signed three Raiders contracts, receiving a notable raise (to $3MM) in 2023. Showing himself to be a capable starter instead of a swingman, the 29-year-old blocker has started 34 games for the Raiders — at both guard and right tackle — over the past three seasons.
  • Releasing their longest-tenured player earlier today, the Broncos will need to make a plan at safety. As Simmons searches for a new team, the Broncos also have P.J. Locke as an unsigned starter. The team is interested in keeping Locke, according to the Denver Gazette’s Chris Tomasson. Locke replaced the twice-suspended Kareem Jackson as a starter and played well during the team’s five-game midseason win streak, holding off Jackson for the gig alongside Simmons. Caden Sterns, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1, remains under contract.
  • While Locke should be expected to return, Klis does not anticipate Lloyd Cushenberry or Josey Jewell coming back. Cushenberry’s likely high price should be viewed as a borderline non-starter for a Broncos team that has three other veterans (Garett Bolles, Ben Powers, Mike McGlinchey) on veteran contracts and Quinn Meinerz as a potential extension candidate. Jewell, who joined Simmons as a holdover from Vance Joseph‘s HC years, discussed terms with the Broncos recently. But the six-year vet may be ticketed to leave Colorado as the team regroups after its failed Wilson extension.
  • The sports betting criminal case in Iowa against the former Denver fourth-round defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike will be dropped, Tomasson adds. A rotational player in 2021, Uwazurike drew a full-season ban for gambling on NFL games. Uwazurike’s NFL future is in doubt, but he can apply for reinstatement in July.
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