Logan Lockhart
BarnBurner Sports Writer


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Where Does Each Team In The NFC West Stand As Free Agency Opens And The Road To The Draft Begins?

The NFC West provided the best games, and most competition at the top of any division in 2019. Seattle and San Francisco were built for deep championship runs, and then there’s the Rams--who entered 2019 as the defending champions of the entire conference.


NFC West Power Rankings:

1. San Francisco

2. Seattle

3. Los Angeles Rams

4. Arizona


Arizona Cardinals


Kyler Murray’s rookie year in 2019 was a rollercoaster ride. His debut ended in a tie, and it became clear from the start the protection he would get from his offensive line would be minimal. Despite the lack of help from his line, Murray showcased what he’s gonna be--an elite quarterback capable of leading a team towards years of contention.


Murray completed almost 65 percent of his passes, while throwing for over 3700 yards. The weapons around him were limited, but in 2020, the once dual-sport athlete will throw to one of, if not, the best there is--DeAndre Hopkins. 


The Cardinals acquired Hopkins last week for RB David Johnson and two picks--a price Arizona will be happy about paying, considering what the Bills paid to retrieve the less effective receiver Stefon Diggs from Minnesota. 


With Murray’s mobility in the pocket, Hopkins explosiveness as a wide-out and Kenyan Drake’s resurgence in the backfield, Arizona’s offence has the potential to be as formidable as it’s been since the Kurt Warner days.


Unfortunately for the Cardinals however, the division they play in is the toughest in football. At this point in time, it is difficult to make a case Arizona will be contending at the top of it. 


The defence in the desert last year never got on track, and Murray was running for his life in pocket half the time. On the contrary, the additions the Cardinals have made in early goings of free agency should provide optimism:

  • Former Bills DE Jordan Phillips
  • Former Falcons LB De’Vondre Campbell
  • Transition Tag placed on RB Kenyan Drake

The Phillips deal in particular was eye-opening, and maybe not for the right reasons. Arizona handed the defensive end a three-year deal worth over $30 million. A big investment on the defensive line for a team that may not be ready to contend and could eat a lot of dead money in the latter years of the contract.


Arizona holds the eighth overall pick in the 2020 draft, and will be set up to potentially select former Oklahoma Sooners teammate of Murray, WR CeeDee Lamb. The reunion in Arizona would make the Cardinals even more exciting than they already are on offence. 

Los Angeles Rams

Knowing what we know about the Rams now, it’s hard to believe they were a quarter away from capturing Super Bowl 53 against New England--but it’s amazing how quickly things can change in the NFL.

Ever since signing quarterback Jared Goff to a four-year extension worth $134 prior to the 2019 season, the Rams have been handcuffed by the salary cap. But without any acknowledgment of the situation the team eventually stands in today, cornerback Jalen Ramsey was acquired from Jacksonville mid-way through last year’s campaign. As a result, the incredible depth the team possessed during its 2018 run has been diminished. 


And most notably, the league’s leading rusher from 2017 is gone--Todd Gurley. 


Gurley was released last Wednesday in a turn of events that can’t really be considered “shocking."


Darrell Henderson will now be the man in charge of the Los Angeles backfield on offence, a note worth making for fantasy football lovers. 


Along with Gurley,  the linebacker duo of Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler is history--both went to the Raiders and Falcons respectively. 


What’s next? It appears a trade for WR Brandin Cooks may happen sometime over the course of the offseason, making him another victim of the NFL’s version of “salary cap hell.” 


The Rams will look different in 2020, but trust head coach Sean McVay to keep the team afloat for the time being, and at least maintain a better record than Arizona. 


And that new logo they have--terrible.



Seattle Seahawks


Seattle’s activity in the early goings of free agency has been limited, but the team didn’t have to be busy in order to be successful in the offseason. 


Jadeveon Clowney remains unsigned, after the Seahawks were reluctant in giving him a deal that would eclipse his true market value. Clowney could very well resign with Seattle, but not at the price the former Texan had initially hoped. As the defensive end remains a free agent, it is becoming clear teams around the league are hesitant in overpaying for him, increasing Clowney’s chances of finding his way back in Seattle in 2020.


Another key defensive piece for the Seahawks in 2019 was Jarran Reed, who as like Clowney could have taken his talents elsewhere, but will remain in Seattle after the team locked him up for the next two years, paying him a total of $23 million. 


The retention of Reed was seen as significant after the fact, as DE Quinton Jefferson signed with the Bills in a move that may go under the radar, but one that will help Buffalo immensely and potentially hurt Seattle. Among other notable departures on Seattle’s end was the loss of offensive tackle George Fant.


Fant was part of an offensive line group that has been notorious for allowing Russell Wilson to see pressure in the pocket more times than not. Fant has been a member of the Seahawks since 2016, but will now reside in the opposite conference, playing for the Jets. 


Instead of going after the biggest names in free agency, the Seahawks reacted to the offseason like they usually do--efficiently and deliberately. Pete Carroll and the rest of the brass in Seattle rather build through the draft than free agency, and when moves in free agency are made, they are value based, hence why the Seahawks have been so successful. 


Seattle was part of some of the best games football fans saw in 2019, particularly the ones against the eventually division winners in San Francisco. The team finished 11-5, a record good enough to win a few divisions in football, but not the NFC West--that’s how good it is. 



San Francisco 49ers


The NFC champions from a season ago were ten minutes away from capturing its sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history in 2019. But through the way the team has rebuilt its roster from the post-mortem that was the Colin Kaepernick era, San Francisco should have plenty of more opportunities where that came from. 


The 49ers defence was dominant in 2019, and should be again in 2020 led by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and defensive rookie of the year from a year ago Nick Bosa. Despite trading DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis, the front seven of the 49ers has been built perfectly over the last four years, withstanding any adversity that comes its way. 


Due to the Buckner trade, the 49ers now hold two first-round picks, including the 13th selection from the Colts. General manager John Lynch made a statement with the Buckner trade--retooling the defence through rookie contracts acquired through the draft is the way to go. It’s quite a luxury to have the ability to lose one of your best defensive players and still feel confident about the unit repeating its dominance. 


San Francisco retention of defensive lineman Arik Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward ensure the 49ers are in prime position to rely on the defence to carry the success of the team--and that isn’t a bad thing. 


The loss of Emmanuel Sanders creates a dilemma on the offensive side of the field, and may raise questions on what the number one priority in the draft should be. But with the 49ers attempting to rush the ball 498 times in 2019, acquring weapons for Jimmy Garapolo may not be at the top of list of concerns.


San Francisco ranked second in the league for rushing attempts in 2019, mainly focusing on working the trio of Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida in the backfield. 


Garopolo threw the ball 478 times in 2019, ranking as the 29th most in football. It doesn’t happen often, but when the Niners QB wants to do so, he’s got tight end George Kittle waiting in the slot. Kittle solidified himself as a top two tight end in the league a year ago. 


San Francisco was doubted heavily by football pundits in the first half of the season after beginning the year 8-0. 


But after finishing the year 13-3, the Niners demonstrated to the football world that the rebuild was a successful one and is here to stay. They remain the best in the NFC West.