We have one more division to go before we are done with our NFL free agency previews, and it’s the NFC West. This division has an obvious top dog in the Rams, but both the Seahawks and 49ers are teams to watch out for in free agency. Meanwhile, the Cardinals should also be interesting; they’ll need to overhaul their roster for new coach Kliff Kingsbury. Outside of maybe the AFC South, this is definitely the most interesting division to watch this offseason. Let’s take a closer look at the NFC West, highlighting each team’s biggest needs, and who they should sign in free agency.
Los Angeles Rams
Top Needs: EDGE, ILB, S
The Rams have arguably the most well-rounded roster in the NFL. Their offense remains a juggernaut, while their defense is strong despite a few small needs. One is at edge rusher, where Los Angeles lacks depth or talent to complement defensive tackle Aaron Donald. With Donald drawing the attention on the inside, any edge rusher the Rams could pick up in free agency would likely thrive. Inside linebacker is also an issue after cutting Mark Barron. Cory Littleton was fine last season, but Los Angeles should look to pair him with a high-caliber linebacker, one with the ability to cover receivers out of the backfield. Plus, with safety Lamarcus Joyner likely out of the Rams’ price range (they have to start saving for a Jared Goff extension), they should also look to find a cheaper replacement. After that, the Rams are set, and with around $30 million in cap space, they’re in good position to make the necessary impact signings as long as they are on short-term deals.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: EDGE Matt Longacre
The 27-year-old quietly thrived in a limited role last season, ranking above average with a 68.5 grade from Pro Football Focus. While he likely cannot be trusted to take on the starting role, he did have 5.5 sacks in 2017, and would provide depth as a rotational piece for Los Angeles next season. Plus, he’s likely to be able to be re-signed at a bargain price.
Top Free Agent Target: DE Cameron Wake
Despite being 37 years of age, Wake was still amazing with the Dolphins last season, ranking as the 15th best edge defender with a terrific 81.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. He remains a terrific option as a pass rusher with 16.5 sacks in the past two seasons, and will be available on a one-year contract given his age. He also may be attracted to the Rams as a way to make a Super Bowl run before his career is over, so the interest should be mutual. This makes too much sense for it not to happen.
Top Needs: G, CB, LB
Thought to be in rebuilding mode, the Seahawks shocked the world last season, making the playoffs with a 10-6 record. However, this is a team with many flaws, so reinforcements are needed. That starts on the interior of the offensive line; both JR Sweezy and DJ Fluker were awful last season and are pending free agents anyway. Seattle seems to have finally fixed their issues at offensive tackle with Duane Brown and George Fant, so upgrading at guard would finally round out what was constantly been a weak offensive line. After that, the Seahawks would be wise to invest at the cornerback position. Shaquill Griffin was liability last season, ranking as the 111th corner, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Tre Flowers was average, while slot corner Justin Coleman is a free agent. Therefore, the Seahawks must improve at cornerback and should walk away with at least one starting-caliber player at the position. Linebacker is also a need for Seattle with KJ Wright set to leave as a free agent and with Barkevious Mingo failing to impress last season; they really need two new linebackers to pair with Bobby Wagner. There’s a lot of moves to be made, but $33 million in cap space is enough for that to happen, and after a successful season, there’s no excuse for the Seahawks not to splurge in the free agent market to try to make another playoff run next season.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: CB Justin Coleman
The 25-year-old Coleman finished with an above average 67.3 grade from Pro Football Focus and brings a lot to the table as one of the league’s better slot cornerbacks. As mentioned, Seattle is thin on corners; Coleman was their top player at the position last season. There’s zero logic behind letting him leave, and retaining him has to be a priority for the Seahawks.
Top Free Agent Target: CB Pierre Desir
When we discussed the Tampa Buccaneers’ approach to the offseason, we mentioned that Pierre Desir was a solid fit for them based on his ability to play press coverage combined with his solid recovery speed. An even better fit for the 28-year-old corner would be in a zone-heavy scheme, similar to what the Colts ran last year. Playing mostly zone coverage, he ranked as the league’s 15th best cornerback, essentially coming out of nowhere to have a breakout season. Luckily for the Seahawks, they run a zone-heavy scheme and are known for their ability to “coach up” their defensive players. Therefore, they’re the perfect team for Desir to build on his breakout season if he hits the open market, and don’t hesitate to add him if they have the opportunity to do so. Plus, Desir is unlikely to command as massive a payday as some of the top corners on the market want, which would allow Seattle to either add another corner after Desir or address another need. It’s a perfect situation for both Desir and the Seahawks; this is a terrific fit for both player and team.
San Francisco 49ers
Top Needs: EDGE, WR, LB
Don’t let their 4-12 record last season fool you; the 49ers are on the rise and could contend for a playoff spot as soon as next season. To do so, however, San Francisco will need to put their $66 million in cap space to good use. That starts on the edge, where the 49ers desperately need an impact pass rusher to compliment with interior lineman DeForest Buckner. While they likely will be able to add Nick Bosa out of Ohio State with the second overall pick to fill that need, they’d still be wise to add an additional pass rusher to either pair with Bosa or to provide insurance in case he’s not available. Meanwhile, San Francisco has two speedsters at receiver with Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, but they lack a true difference maker on the outside, and should aggressively pursue anyone that they feel can fill that void. After that, releasing Reuben Foster mid-season created a void at linebacker, and although Fred Warner showed some promise, there aren’t a lot of appealing options at the position. This is not a perfect team by any means; the 49ers have a lot of holes to fill, especially on defense. Still, the 49ers have all the assets to make with plenty of cap space and picks in order to fill those holes with established, productive players.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: P Bradley Pinion
The 24-year-old Pinion has established himself as a very solid punter, and has helped formed one of league’s better special teas in San Francisco. If it isn’t broken, why fix it? It wouldn’t take much for the 49ers to retain him, and doing so would help bring stability to a very underrated aspect of football. Being able to hurt the other team’s field possession is extremely important, and better to re-sign Pinion than to rely on a rookie.
Top Free Agent Target: LB Jordan Hicks
Hicks is undoubtedly one of the best linebackers in football, ranking as the 10th best according to Pro Football Focus with a 80.7 grade. It’s rare for a player of his caliber to hit the free agent market, but the Eagles are tight with cap space and will have to let him walk in free agency. As mentioned, the 49ers have a huge hole at inside linebacker, and Hicks’ athleticism combined with his all around play would help transform San Francisco’s defense. This has to happen; Hicks is exactly what the 49ers need, and they have the money to bring him in.
Top Needs: OL, WR, LB
Are the Cardinals building around Josh Rosen, or Kyler Murray? Either way, the Cardinals need to bring in a better supporting cast. That starts at offensive line; Rosen was downright abused last season. Every position despite right guard should be upgraded, and Arizona would be best suited bring in reliable veterans over rookies in the trenches to provide more stability on offense. Outside of the trenches, the Cardinals also have a massive need at receiver, since Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk profile more as inside/slot receivers than dynamic #1 threats. If I was in charge of this team, I’d spend all my assets on offensive talent, but the Cardinals could also use some help at linebacker. Back in a 3-4 scheme, Arizona is set at outside linebacker with Chandler Jones and Haason Reddick, but they could use two inside linebackers to fortify their defense. It’s not the type of need that should overlook the offense, but it’s still a position that could be invested in.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: FS Tre Boston
The 26-year-old Boston once again shined last season, earning a 74.1 grade from Pro Football Focus. Now that DJ Swearinger was added to the mix, re-signing Boston would also allow young defender Budda Baker to move into a role as a nickelback, where he’s best suited anyway. Arizona needs to be building a young core, not letting players walk away in their prime. Before they worry about splurging on outside free agents, retaining Boston should be the priority, even if it costs more than the $1.5 million it cost last offseason.
Top Free Agent Target: T Ja’Wuan James
James continues to improve, with a 70.8 grade from Pro FootbalL Focus last season. He would be a tremendous upgrade for the Cardinals at right tackle, and is solid as both a pass blocker and a run blocker. There’s no doubt that Arizona needs to bring in quality offensive lineman, and none are more appealing in free agency than James. This is a really obvious fit, and it’s a signing that needs to take place for the Cardinals.