“Brook’s School” Examining The NFC West’s Offseason 2018
Last week we took a microscope to how the AFC West has been affected by the offseason thus far. This week we’re back at it focusing on the NFC West. This division was in a state of flux last season. The Rams took the division title for the first time since 2003, the Cardinals and Seahawks fell apart, and the 49ers made some great strides under Kyle Shanahan’s leadership. This article will address how each move this offseason has affected the NFC West.
As the era of the ‘Legion of Boom’ is drawing to a close, the Seattle Seahawks struggled this offseason to retain their identity. The loss of CB Richard Sherman to their division rivals, the 49ers, was a devastating blow to the team and the fans. He was released to save $11 million this season with the hopes of being able to bring him back for a smaller contract. Things did not go according to plan. Though he suffered a season ending Achilles injury last season, the loss of Sherman’s elite coverage ability will be noticeable in the Seahawks’ backfield this upcoming season. The offseason losses kept piling up from there.
The other significant losses for the Seahawks’ defense were DE Michael Bennett & DT Sheldon Richardson. Bennett was traded to the Eagles for a fifth-round pick and WR Marcus Johnson. The Seahawks couldn’t afford to keep Bennett on the roster given his price tag, and the dip in his performance over that past few seasons. Despite this dip he was still a key piece to Seattle’s defense. His departure is another loss to the team’s core identity. Sheldon Richardson’s departure was a big blow to the Seahawks. They had given up Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick to acquire him from the Jets just to use him as a one year rental. At just 28, he had the most promise going forward on the Seahawks’ defense. Richardson was signed by the Vikings for $8 million.
The Seahawks plugged the holes left by Bennett and Richardson by signing DT Tom Johnson & re-signing DE Marcus Smith. Tom Johnson is coming to Seattle on a one-year deal after spending the last four seasons on the Vikings. He is coming in to fill the void left by Richardson’s departure. At 33 years old he has none of the upside Richardson brought to the positions, but with 7 seasons under his belt, he’s a veteran with valuable experience as a starter. With Bennett’s departure and Cliff Avril’s future in jeopardy, due to a serious neck injury, Seattle’s depth at DE is shallow. The re-signing of Marcus Smith was important to ensure depth at defensive end position. Seattle continued to address this concern in the draft with their second pick, USC product DE Rasheem Green.
TE Jimmy Graham, TE Luke Willson & WR Paul Richardson were the three major losses for Seattle’s offense this offseason. Graham is a difference maker for the offense. In 2016 he hauled in 65 receptions for 923 yards and 6 touchdowns. Even last season, which was a down year for Graham, he managed to snag 10 touchdowns ending the year as the TE #6 in PPR scoring format. He was signed by the Packers for a three year, $30 million dollar contract. Graham’s TE counterpart, Luke Willson, signed with the Detroit Lions leaving the TE position barren in Seattle. Though he wasn’t nearly as flashy as Jimmy, the absence Luke Willson’s reliability as a blocker and sure hands as a pass catcher will be evident this upcoming season.
Ed Dickson is Seattle’s answer to their loss of Graham and Willson. He was the Seahawks’ most expensive acquisition so far this offseason with a three year contract valued at $10.7 million. Dickson, 30, is a short term answer at the position, but is instantly their best TE on their roster. Last season the Panthers relied on Dickson to step into a larger role when Greg Olsen went down with a foot injury. He caught 30 passes for 437 yards and a touchdown. If no other TE is signed coming into the 2018 season, the Seahawks will rely heavily on Dickson as a pass-blocker and pass catcher.
Former Seahawks WR, Paul Richardson, got paid this offseason by the Redskins. To be frank, I’m not sure why Washington decided to shell out a five-year, $40 million contract. He’s coming off a career season with 44 receptions for 703 yards and 6 touchdowns. In his three seasons prior to last year Richardson combined for only two touchdowns. Those numbers don’t scream ‘big money’. The Seahawks signed former Arizona Cardinal WR Jaron Brown & WR Brandon Marshall from the NY Giants to address their need for depth at the wide receiver position. Brown is a similar comp to Richardson. He’s coming off of his own career season starting only 8 games, with 31 receptions for 477 yards and 4 touchdowns. Marshall was placed on IR last season, and will be eased into a role in the offense as he recovers from surgeries to repair his toe and ankle. This is an offense that will rely on the passing game, so if he’s able to get back to 100% Marshall might be worth looking at as a last round pick.
The biggest issue for the Seahawks to address this offseason was their offensive line. They were ranked 27th overall for the 2017 season by Pro Football Focus. For reference the Bengals were #28 in that list. The offensive line woes caused the Seahawks’ run game to be one of the worst in the league, and failed to protect Russell Wilson. They fired former offensive line coach, Tom Cable, and brought onboard former New York Giants’ offensive line coach, Mike Solari. If this hiring is an upgrade, it’s marginal at best. Seattle only made one addition to the line in free agency by signing G D.J. Fluker, and drafted the Buckeye, Jamarco Jones. Coming from the Giants, Fluker has clear ties to Seattle’s new o-line coach, Solari. He’s a strong run blocker, and at 27 he still has room to improve his game. It’s still yet to be determined if the Seahawks have done enough this offseason to right the ship for their 2018 campaign.
San Francisco 49ers:
The trade for Jimmy ‘GQ’ Garoppolo coupled with their strong 5-0 finish has the San Francisco 49ers primed with momentum that they plan to carry into the 2018 season. That didn’t stop the 49ers from starting their offseason with a bang. Signing CB Richard Sherman away from the Seattle Seahawks was an incredible way to set the tone for their offseason. Sherman is coming off a tragic Achilles injury that ended his 2017 season after only nine games. He’s expected to be fully recovered by training camp, but it could still be some time until he is back to his former, pro-bowl caliber self. Regardless of health, his addition to the 49ers provides much needed mentorship to a young defensive secondary. He will instantly be a leader in this defense.
The 49ers addressed another need on their defense with the signing of DE Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu has spent the last three seasons with the San Diego Chargers, but has struggled with injuries limiting him to start just 14 games over that three season span. When the Chargers drafted Melvin Ingram & Joey Bosa, Attaochu’s playing time fell off a cliff. He’s coming to San Fran on a one-year prove it deal, where the 49ers hope that they can put him in a position to bring out his full potential. In 2015 Attaochu flashed for six sacks. It’s a small sample size, but it shows that he has the talent and ability to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Kyle Shanahan is an offensive guru. Naturally he values his offensive line above all else. So it was no surprise when the 49ers signed free agent OL Weston Richburg to a five year $47.5 million contract. Richburg is coming from the Giants after having played center there for the past four seasons. The 49ers seem to be elated with this Richburg signing. One month prior the 49ers had re-signed their veteran Center, Daniel Kilgore, to a three year deal. But, just one day after signing Richburg to their team, they traded Kilgore away to Miami. It’s understandable why they’re so excited about Weston. He’s a very athletic, intelligent guard with incredible versatility at the position. For a little history lesson, in 2016 Kyle Shanahan’s largest splash signing on the Falcons was center, Alex Mack. History may be repeating itself in San Francisco with the signing of Weston Richburg.
The 49ers lost OL Brandon Fusco to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. He was with the team on a one year contract, but started all 16 games of the 2017 season at right guard. That kind of consistency and reliability cannot be understated. The 49ers will look to replace him with OG Jonathan Cooper, former 2013 first round draft pick to the Cardinals, who they signed in free agency for nearly $5 million on a one year contract. Cooper is coming from the Dallas Cowboys after playing a career high 13 starts at left guard. He underwent postseason surgery after suffering a sprained MCL in last season’s final matchup against the Eagles, but is expected to be fully recovered by mandatory mini-camps.
One of the more newsworthy losses for the 49ers this offseason was RB Carlos Hyde to the Cleveland Browns. Even though he was San Francisco’s primary running back he’d failed to break that 1,000 yard benchmark in his four seasons with the team. Plagued early on with injuries that kept him from the field, Hyde failed meet his potential on the 49ers. To counter his departure, San Francisco signed former Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon stepped up to the plate when rookie Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL for 991 all-purpose yards for 5 touchdowns. The exciting aspect of McKinnon’s signing is the 49ers’ investment in him. With a four year, $30 million contract, and $15.7 million guaranteed, McKinnon quickly became one of the NFL’s highest paid running backs. Clearly Shanahan was impressed with what he saw out of McKinnon in the run game and passing game. Given Shanahan’s history of forging top level running back talents, the mind can run wild with speculation for McKinnon’s 2018 season outlook. At just 5-9 & 205 lbs. his size and durability as the lead back for an offense over a 16 game stretch is his biggest concern. He’s not exactly a steal in drafts, but if McKinnon hits he will win people their leagues.
Los Angeles Rams:
Next stop on this tour down the west coast is last season’s NFC breakout team, the LA Rams. Head coach youngster, Sean McVay, developed this team from 8-8 obscurity into a Super Bowl contender. From purely a free agency activity perspective, the Rams were one of the more silent teams. They made up for that by striking some electric deals. With what could be considered as a historically elite defense and an offense that hasn’t missed a step, the Rams are in a position to make a very real Super Bowl run in 2018.
Let’s take a moment to focus on the Rams’ defense. Before the NFL’s free agency period even began the LA Rams traded for CB Marcus Peters from the Chiefs and CB Aqib Talib from the Broncos. In the blink of an eye the Rams brought two of the League’s most dominant cornerbacks to strengthen their roster. These two are going to be turnover city. Peters has snagged 19 interceptions in his three seasons, and Aqib Talib has brought in 34 of his own since 2008. The Rams were able to tie a bow on their dominant secondary revamp by re-signing CB Nickell Robey-Coleman. Robey-Coleman is the Rams’ slot cornerback. With Talib and Peters working the outside the Rams will rely on Robey-Coleman to predominantly work the slot. He was the Rams’ most expensive free agent signing this offseason with a three year, $15.7 million contract.
The Rams biggest free agency loss was CB Trumaine Johnson, arguably the league’s #1 press corner. Los Angeles had franchise tagged Johnson the past two seasons, and he signed with the NY Jets to a monstrous five year, $72 million deal. The contract was this offseason’s second most expensive signing behind Kirk Cousins. With the Rams’ former No. 2 corner, Kayvon Webster, recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered in December, they needed to add depth. So they signed former Packer CB, Sam Shields. It was an interesting signing. Shields suffered a devastating concussion in the 2016 season opener and hasn’t played a down since. Sam was a Pro-Bowl talent difference maker on the Packers’ defense though, and if he can bring anywhere near that level of play to the Rams he will be a bargain.
When the Rams were busy trading for Peters and Talib, they also traded away their star ILB, Alec Ogletree, to the NY Giants for 2018 fourth and sixth round picks. The former 2013 first-round draft pick was an absolute beast for the Rams with 231 tackles, 21 passes defended, and 3 interceptions over the past two seasons. To try to fill that gap the Rams signed ILB Ramik Wilson. Ramik was drafted in 2015 by the Chiefs, and has only started 17 games in three seasons. His signing to the Rams primarily provides depth and competition to the position. Wilson’s potential flashed in 2016 with 76 tackles, an interception, and forced fumble. If he can perform at that level he will have a real chance create a role for himself. In their flashiest free agent signing, the Rams brought onboard Ndamukong Suh, former defensive tackle from the Miami Dolphins. Attitude aside, he’s is a total monster on the line. In the past two seasons he’s combined for 120 tackles with 9.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. With Suh and Donald on the line this Rams defensive line has the makings run stopping, pass rushing juggernaut.
It’s worthwhile to point out that, on paper, the Rams have an absolutely stacked defense. They’re truthfully frightful. But Sean McVay and GM Les Snead are playing with fire. It’s no secret that Peters, Talib, and Suh are hot heads with long track records of on and off the field issues. All that matters is obviously what happens on the field, but the locker room has the makings of a powder keg. For Los Angeles’ sake I hope it pays off.
Compared to the defense not much has happened on the offensive side of things for the Rams. They parted ways with WR Sammy Watkins & WR Tavon Austin clearing up $30 million in cap space. Sammy Watkins was a member of the stacked 2014 WR draft class that took the league by storm. He was able to carve out a role for himself on the team last season despite his small target share, and hopefully he’ll be able to do the same on the Chiefs this upcoming season. To make up for the loss of their speedsters, the Rams made a trade for WR Brandin Cooks from the Patriots. The 24 year old will be playing for his second new team in as many years. That’s not exactly ideal. He’ll be Los Angeles’ deep threat, which was needed after the departure of Sammy Watkins. His stats are much more impressive than Watkins’ though. In the past three seasons Cooks has hauled in 227 receptions for 3,393 yards and 24 touchdowns. It’ll be exciting to see how Sean McVay harnesses Cooks’ raw ability.
The Rams didn’t have much to improve upon with their offense this offseason. Goff established himself as their franchise QB, Todd Gurley was transcendent last season, and their pass catchers outperformed expectations. The main issue Los Angeles needed to address on offense was bringing back last year’s outstanding offensive line. They accomplished that goal by re-signing C John Sullivan to a two-year contract worth $15 million. With this signing it’s ‘all systems go’ for the Rams’ offense.
Entering the offseason the Cardinals were in rebuild mode. Head coach Bruce Arians and QB Carson Palmer both retired leaving the Cardinals in a state of confusion. The Cardinals brought in Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator, Steven Wilks, to replace Arians as head coach. It’s a sensible signing bringing in a defensive minded head coach seeing as the Cardinals have had one of the stronger defenses in the league. Wilks brought on board Mike McCoy to head the Cardinals’ offense. Mike is coming off of a rough 2017 season when he was fired from his position as the Broncos’ OC on Nov. 20th. He does come with head coaching experience, having been the head coach of the Chargers from 2013-2016. Having that kind of experience on his coaching staff will be valuable to first time HC Steven Wilks. McCoy has a good track record for passing offenses, though, and will work with Wilks to transform the Cardinals’ offense into something productive.
The Cardinals ranked as the 31st worst offensive line in the NFL last season according to PFF. Their biggest challenge coming into this offseason, from a roster construction standpoint, was to strengthen their o-line to allow for better pass protection and run blocking. To address those needs Arizona signed G Justin Pugh & OT Andre Smith. Pugh is a big name offensive lineman coming from the NY Giants, and was signed on a five year, $45 million deal. He’s a versatile offensive lineman, and can play at both tackle and guard. There are some injury concerns with Pugh. He hasn’t played a full season since his first year in the NFL in 2013. If he manages to stay healthy, he’s easily the Cardinals’ best offseason signing. Andre Smith has spent the last eight seasons with the Bengals. Signing Smith allowed the Cardinals to trade OT Jared Veldheer to the Broncos for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick, and cleared up $6.9 million in cap space. Smith is a competent tackle, but like Pugh, suffers from a history of injuries. It could be a risk bringing him on board in place of Veldheer.
With some of the o-line woes managed through free agent acquisitions the Cardinals had the gaping hole of starting quarterback to fill. They signed QBs Sam Bradford & Mike Glennon, and traded up to draft QB Josh Rosen as the 10th overall pick. Sam Bradford’s issue has always been injuries keeping him off the field. Last season he was limited to just two starts on the Vikings because of a knee injury, and he hasn’t played a full season since 2012. That said, Bradford has undeniable talent. The Cardinals are treating him as their starter heading into camp. Should Sam go down with an injury, it will likely be Josh Rosen coming in as the backup. The signing of Glennon was to just add depth at the position as former backup, Drew Stanton, signed with the Browns.
Whoever is under center this upcoming season will be throwing to a completely different Cardinals’ WR core. WRs Jaron Brown & John Brown have parted ways with the Cardinals and signed with the Seahawks and Ravens respectively. To add depth and competition at the position Arizona signed former Cowboy WR Brice Butler. Brice has had a rather mild career thus far, but is hoping to turn things around as Phoenix’s No. 2 WR alongside Larry Fitzgerald. He’ll be competing for that role against J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams, and rookie Christian Kirk. The past two seasons Butler has combined for a meager 31 receptions, 536 yards, and 6 touchdowns. He’s confident in his abilities, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Butler fades into obscurity on the Cardinals like he did on the Cowboys.
The Cardinals suffered a major blow on defense this offseason when they lost S Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu reportedly declined a larger contract to stay with the Cardinals to go play in Houston with the Texans on a one-year deal. He’s is still young, just 25 years old, and is capable of playing all over the defense. Losing one of the NFL’s most talented safeties was certainly an unexpected blow to Arizona’s defense. The Cardinals managed to stem some of the bleeding on defense by re-signing ILB Josh Bynes to a three-year deal worth $5.6 million. The former undrafted free agent was a reliable backup on the Cardinals, and played in 14 games last season. In 234 snaps he brought in 36 tackles, a sack, and an interception. If he can play to his 2015 potential, the Cardinals may have found a new starter in Bynes.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday June 17th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #125 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live June 21st, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #83 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. We will hit free agents, rookies, and fantasy football as a whole for each team for 2018. This week we will discuss everything AFC North!
Kyle is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com going on his 5 th year. He focuses primarily on baseball, but is a fantasy football fan and analyst as well.
Most Recent Radio Show 7/15/2018, Host Brian Roach Jr, Co-Host Cole Freel, Guest Joe Iannone
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show Episode #129 Host Brian Roach Jr, Co-Host Cole Freel, Guest Joe Iannone
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