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Helmet-to-Helmet: AFC offseason preview

In a conference where young QB talent is plenty, the AFC promises to bring excitement and anticipation as the offseason continues. There are a few teams who made notable moves to put themselves in better positions for the upcoming season. 

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Starting off with an anomaly, a team with a 40-year-old quarterback that always seems to headline the news — the New York Jets.

Almost a year ago, New York had their offseason aspirations skyrocket after trading for Aaron Rodgers, and were hopeful to break their 13-season playoff drought. Even though their season ended 94 seconds into Week 1 due to Rodgers’ ruptured achilles, the Jets are poised to live up to the hype this time around.

So far in free agency, they have revamped their offensive line by signing two big-time names, long-time Cowboy and All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith and star receiver Mike Williams to play opposite of Garrett Wilson, which should shift some attention from last year’s star of this offense. On the flip side, they ranked third in total defense, second in pass defense last year and third in stopping the run.

I expect coach Robert Saleh to beef up their offensive and defensive line in the draft, or perhaps add another weapon for A-Rod. The question for New York is, with a group of injury-prone difference-makers, can they stay healthy? 

From one big city to another, the Los Angeles Chargers have had a weird offseason so far. 

For starters, they let go of arguably their top four weapons: the talented receiver duo of Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, running back Austin Ekeler and tight end Gerald Everett. When you have a rockstar quarterback like Justin Herbert, you normally add skill position players, not strip him of what he has. 

Granted they were in a tough spot cap-wise, some of this shuffling was necessary, but was all of it? New head coach Jim Harbaugh said in a press conference that the team plans on running the ball and being “balanced,” and now without one of the league’s biggest producers in Ekeler, they signed a “bruiser” replacement in Gus Edwards. 

After being bottom three in pass defense, the Chargers really need to excel in the draft on both sides of the ball. In my eyes, they’ve trended backwards and will probably rely on young talent, but I trust that Harbaugh has a vision and may need some time in his return to the NFL.

Onto the other Harbaugh, John of the Baltimore Ravens. Last year felt like the year to fulfill Lamar Jackson’s promise of bringing Baltimore a ring, especially with all the expiring contracts. This offseason, the Ravens have already seen two top free agents on defense join AFC North foes in linebacker Patrick Queen and safety Geno Stone. Jadeveon Clowney left town for the Panthers, and Odell Beckham Jr. doesn’t look like he’ll resign. 

The AFC North winners haven’t stayed quiet though, as they rewarded defensive tackle Justin Madubuike for a career year with a four-year, $98 million dollar deal. They’ve also followed last year’s theme of arming Jackson with playmakers, including star running back Derrick Henry. 

I think that the defensive culture of Baltimore will partially fix the wounds caused by key departures, but it’s fair to project a slight regression for this team. I expect them to address the offensive line and the defensive back seven in the draft, but with a team known to draft well, general manager Eric DeCosta can figure things out.

Last but not least are the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had an underwhelming 2023 season. In a division with ascending quarterback stardom in Anthony Richardson and CJ Stroud, some might forget that Trevor Lawrence was regarded as one of the best prospects out of college, ever. 

Despite losing Calvin Ridley, the Jags brought in Gabe Davis to fill the void in an otherwise unchanged offense. Defensively is where the team needed to improve after finishing as the 22nd overall unit, and they are already trending in the right direction. Franchise-tagging Josh Allen and bringing in Arik Armstead from the 49ers has made this front seven a scary sight for opposing offenses.

Jacksonville also added depth on the back end by signing Ronald Darby and Darnell Savage, but I sense that they’ll continue to address a bottom seven pass defense group in the draft. In their glory days, the Jaguars leaned on their defense to make plays and win them games, and it looks like they are on their way to re-establish just that. 

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