Which free-agent signing will have the biggest impact in the division?
Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos: Impact free agents will be in the eye of the football beholder, as AFC West teams made minor splashes, signing players who met an immediate need. But two players who could have significant impacts in their new surroundings will be guard Ronald Leary in Denver and tight end Jared Cook in Oakland. Leary was quietly one of the best players on the open market in terms of age, performance and room to grow. Many personnel executives believe he’s better than the player the Cowboys moved ahead of him on the depth chart: La’el Collins. Cook is a difficult matchup athletically for defenses. He has had four seasons with at least 44 receptions, including two 50-catch seasons in his time with the Rams.
Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs: Tight end Jared Cook gives the Raiders another threat in the passing game. Derek Carr should be able to get more production from Cook as the primary tight end than he did from Clive Walford last year. Cook's addition might cut into the number of passes that go to wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but having a presence such as Cook in the middle of the field should make Oakland more efficient in the passing game. Cook was mostly a default choice because the AFC West wasn’t otherwise a division for high-impact signings. For the Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos, the biggest free-agent additions were linemen.
Eric Williams, Los Angeles Chargers: Unless the Raiders somehow figure out how to finagle Oakland native Marshawn Lynch from the Seattle Seahawks or the Denver Broncos land Tony Romo, for now I have to go with the Raiders' signing return man Cordarrelle Patterson. The Tennessee product has five career returns for touchdowns and led the league last season by averaging 31.7 yards per kick return. Patterson should put Derek Carr and Oakland’s offense in good field position most times as the team’s main punt and kick returner. The Raiders averaged 20.5 yards per kick return last season, No. 22 in the NFL.
Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders: Until Marshawn Lynch comes out of retirement and joins the Raiders or the Raiders sign Adrian Peterson, this is a fairly dull division when it comes to big-splash free-agent signings. Ronald Leary might not light up your fantasy team -- he is a guard, after all -- but if the Broncos hope to get themselves right, it starts in the trenches. Leary, by all accounts, after starting 47 of his career 48 games with the Cowboys, could have the biggest, albeit quietest, impact in the AFC West. If not, then let’s go with the Raiders’ Cordarrelle Patterson, a three-time All-Pro returner for the Vikings who will get Oakland’s return game going.