NFC West Team Needs: Offseason Analysis
With Superbowl LV in the books and teams mostly solidified with their coaching and front office staff, we can start to look at team needs as we enter the off-season. For the NFC West, we see a division that had the Seahawks and Rams making the playoffs and the Cardinals narrowly missing out. Last year’s divisional winner, the 49ers, ran through a rash of injuries and covid cases accounting for 49 players hitting the IR, PUP, or covid list during the season.
The following will breakdown the overall team needs heading into the off-season. I will explore potential fits in free agency and potential draft targets. I will also look at potential trade candidates where applicable. Coaching scheme and play style will be taken into account when referencing these targets, for example, a zone-blocking run scheme should not be targeting a mauling blocker. With the basics covered, let’s delve into the division winner needs to kick us off.
The Seahawks enter the off-season as the division winners, but with numerous questions after an early exit from the playoffs. This is a team used to postseason success after reaching the playoffs in 8 of the last 10 years and accounting for one Lombardi trophy during that tenure.
Not all is rosy in the Pacific Northwest though, franchise quarterback Russell Wilson recently publicly expressed his displeasure with the team’s lack of urgency in keeping him upright and clean. This was a shocking revelation as Wilson has normally been a team-first player, “Go Hawks!” being his go-to motto. Wilson is not incorrect in his assessment though and, rightfully took what he viewed as the steps necessary in his call for help.
Team needs: OT, IOL, DB, IDL, EDGE, TE
Draft capital: 2:56, 4:131, 5:169, 6:209
Pending FA’s: Shaq Griffin, KJ Wright, Quinton Dunbar, Mike Iupati, Ethan Pocic, Chris Carson, Luke Willson, Jacob Hollister, David Moore, Benson Mayowa
Salary Cap space: 17.9 million
Seattle has a few holes to fill and not many resources to get it done with. The simplest pathway for most teams is through the draft as those players come in under cost-controlled contracts. The Jamal Adams trade set this team back with the rest of its roster flexibility going forward as the two 1st round picks would have come in handy.
The best way forward for the Seahawks is to renegotiate/extend some existing contracts to free up additional cap space on top of resigning some of their free agents like Shaq Griffin, Chris Carson, and possibly Mike Iupati. With that cap space, they can target a mid-tier OL and DL (Forrest Lamp, Pat Elflein, Ryan Kerrigan, Derek Wolfe).
In the draft, they might be best served trading out of the second round in the hope of getting a few 3rd rounders. Doing so would allow them to plug a few more holes with players potentially ready for a starting role.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams made the playoffs as a wild card and topped the division-rival Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs before succumbing to the Packers. They are another team with a recent playoff history, making it in 3 of the last 4 years. We’ve already seen some off-season movement from the Rams with the Stafford trade in an attempt to shore up their quarterback position.
In doing so they find themselves in a familiar position, light on draft capital. Familiar because since the 2016 first-round pick of Jared Goff, the Rams have traded away each subsequent 1st rounder. The Rams do seem to develop their young players as many have elevated up the depth chart in recent years.
Team needs: LB, Edge, OT, IOL, CB
Draft capital: 2:57, 3:102,3:105, 4:143, 6:210, 7:254
Pending FA’s: Josh Reynolds, Gerald Everett, Austin Blythe, John Johnson, Leonard Floyd, Troy Hill
Salary Cap space: (33.1 million)
The Rams are one of the few teams that find themselves in post covid salary cap hell. Ranking 32nd out of 32 teams in regards to cap space, they are 33.1 million on the wrong side of the cap. Much like the Seahawks, their best bet might be to restructure some existing contracts to free up enough to sign roster depth, cutting Michael Brockers and A’Shawn Robinson would save just over $10 million.
Don’t anticipate them making a big splash in FA, that was the Stafford trade for them along with the Goff dead cap hit of 22.2 million. Look for them to address positional needs in the draft and for them to move out of one or both of their first two picks.
The Cardinals flirted with their first playoff appearance since 2015 last season, narrowly missing the expanded playoffs due to tiebreakers vs the Bears. The team is positioned for future success with young talent on both sides of the ball. None more talented than their soon-to-be third-year QB Kyler Murray. With a few more upgrades along the defensive side of the football and by adding some complimentary offensive pieces, the Cardinals team is primed to return to the playoffs.
Team needs: Edge, RB, DB, TE, IDL
Draft capital: 1:16, 2:49, 3:80, 5:162, 7:245
Pending FA’s: Kenyan Drake, Larry Fitzgerald, JR Sweezy, Kelvin Beachum, Haason Reddick, Markus Golden, Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Joseph, Chris Banjo
Salary Cap space: 21.4 million
The Cardinals made an early March splash with the signing of free agent JJ Watt. He immediately fills the team’s need at the interior of the defensive line. The team might still target an IDL in the draft to groom under Watt. With salary-cap space and a decent amount of draft capital, the Cardinals are positioned to add to their young core of players.
I see them adding additional talent at Edge and TE position either early in FA or during the draft. A talented TE (Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Kyle Rudolph) will allow Murray to be less Deandre Hopkins dependent when things get tough as defenses cued on this down the stretch of the season. Edge and DB should be filled via the draft and the RB position during FA.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49er’s myriad of injuries this past season is well documented, often what is not is the talent they missed on both sides of the football. This was a 49ers team coming off a Superbowl appearance with expectations to return and win. They are a team that faces potential questions at the QB position as they have been linked to nearly every pseudo available QB whose name has popped up. When healthy the 49ers are a formidable opponent for any team, by shoring up a few areas on each side of the ball they can quickly find themselves back in the conversation as a Superbowl favorite.
Team needs: DB, QB, IOL, RB, S
Draft capital: 1:12, 2:43, 3:103, 3:104, 4:119, 5:157, 5:174, 5:182, 6:195, 7:231 7:241
Pending FA’s: Kyle Juszczyk, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Williams, Ben Garland, Solomon Thomas, Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, Jaquiski Tartt
Salary Cap space: 24.8 million
The 49ers are best positioned to improve the most when compared to other teams in the division. Here’s how the 49ers can get back in the hunt for their 6th championship. It seems like they will continue throwing smoke screens regarding drafting a QB at #12 and ultimately pivoting to select a replacement for Richard Sherman. In the second round, they will have the option to trade back or pick the best available QB/IOL.
In FA I see them targeting a secondary DB, safety help, and a plug-and-play RB to take the load off of Mostert and Wilson Jr. A real wildcard here is in the FA QB market with Mitch Trubisky entering the market. Something tells me that Shanahan is the type of coach who would be able to maximize Mitch and he would probably sign on a team-friendly deal.