Published On: Sun, Mar 11th, 2018

Wild, wild west: A revamped NFC West could take the NFL by storm

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It is getting wicky, wicky wild out west.

The new league year hasn’t even started yet and the NFC West is stealing headlines as free agency approaches and trades become increasingly popular across the NFL.

All four NFC West clubs – the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals – are not only setting themselves up to be major talking points through the offseason, but also the 2018 season and beyond as they each present a unique outlook for the present and future.

Rams: Aggressive expansion

It is almost as if the Rams thought Jimmy Garoppolo finished last season so strong that they needed to preemptively fuel their defense to stop him.

The Rams have already shaken up their roster in a major way, trading for All-Pro corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib while shipping linebacker Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants. They slapped the franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner, leaving Sammy Watkins to hit free agency, and finally made the decision to move on from first-round bust Tavon Austin.

Los Angeles will likely renegotiate Talib’s contract, which is currently set to carry an $11-million cap hit in 2018, but even before freeing up some money there, it sits tenth in available cap space at $36.75 million.

Related – Timeline: 13 raucous days of Rams moves

Letting go of Watkins and Austin opens up a space for offensive-minded head coach Sean McVay to add some new targets for Jared Goff that could make the young offense even more fun to watch than the 2017 version. Versatile playmakers like Jimmy Graham, Dion Lewis, Marqise Lee, and Terrelle Pryor could thrive under McVay.

The offensive explosion headed by McVay, Goff, and Todd Gurley put the Rams back on the map in Los Angeles, and now they are making sure to stay there.

Seahawks: A historic shakeup

There has been plenty of focus on the possible dismantling of the “Legion of Boom” with Richard Sherman released, Kam Chancellor considering retirement, and Earl Thomas flirting with trade talk, while the always-vocal Michael Bennett was traded away. But this turnover goes further than the players.

Related: The ‘Legion of Boom’ changed the culture of football for the better

Pete Carroll has virtually cleared out his coaching staff, firing offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Kris Richard, and offensive line coach Tom Cable, among many others.

The Seahawks have gone from one of the most consistent teams in the league, reeling off five straight double-digit-win seasons. The new regime will bring back Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and Doug Baldwin, with new leadership positions up for grabs.

Seattle has not been much of a player in the free-agent market in recent years as it’s had an abundance of in-house talent to pay, but will likely need to be much more active in order to replace the departed starters. Being one of the more unpredictable and creative front offices in the league, there’s really no telling what the Seahawks will look like in 2018.

49ers: Who wants to join the Jimmy G show?

Typically, when a team combines a top-10 draft pick with over $65 million in cap space, a first-time head coach and general manager in their second seasons, and a quarterback with only seven career starts, it’s not considered a strong free-agent destination. The 49ers, however, have made it work.

Garoppolo’s impressive five-game winning streak to conclude the season may have sunk the 49ers’ draft position, but it heightened their viability as a free-agent destination.

Any top free-agent offensive weapon – whether it be Graham, Lee, Lewis, Allen Robinson, Paul Richardson, or Sammy Watkins – should be licking their lips at the chance to get in on Garoppolo’s rise to NFL stardom.

Related – Film breakdown: Jimmy Garoppolo has all the makings of a star

The 49ers are building a strong defensive front through the draft, but need help at linebacker and in the secondary. Luckily, they have plenty of cap space to recruit top talent, and it’s already helped them land Sherman after the four-time All-Pro’s release from Seattle.

In just a year, the combination of head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch is well on its way to returning the 49ers’ culture to where it was under the great Bill Walsh.

Cardinals: The mystery team

Who are these Arizona Cardinals? So far, they’ve given little indication as to whether they are rebuilding or still just trying to get Larry Fitzgerald a ring.

While the rest of the division has been making endless noise, the Cardinals and their new head coach Steve Wilks have barely made a peep, other than a handful of players suggesting Kirk Cousins should head to the desert.

The team is lacking at many key positions, including having no quarterbacks on the roster, but has very intriguing, versatile players like Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Deone Bucannon to build around.

General manager Steve Keim is projected to have around $20 million in cap space, but has a slew of aging contracts that he could cut to create more room.

Player Position Age 2018 cap hit $ saved by cutting
Tyrann Mathieu DB 25 $14.1M $4.8M
Jared Veldheer OT 30 $10.16M $6.9M
Mike Iupati G 30 $9.7M $6.3M
Deone Bucannon LB 25 $8.7M $8.7M
Antoine Bethea S 33 $4.9M $3.57M
Phil Dawson K 43 $3.5M $3M
Josh Mauro DT 27 $3.3M $2.8M
Adrian Peterson RB 32 $2.9M $2.9M

Related: Mathieu says Cardinals asked him to take a pay cut

Wilks’ head coaching style can only be speculated upon at this point as he has not been the lead man on a staff since guiding Savannah State to a 5-6 record in 1999. Typically, a first-time head coach with a defensive background like Wilks would want a veteran quarterback, but the Cardinals seem just as likely to find a passer through the draft as free agency.

The unknown surrounding the club’s future as they look to keep up with the rest of the division could have anything in store.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(Contract numbers courtesy: Spotrac)

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