The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers represented the NFC in the last two Super Bowls, and the Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs both years. At its best, the NFC West is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, save for the Arizona Cardinals. Let’s see how free agency will alter the makeup of this tough division.
Before getting into the article, a few terms need to be clarified. UFA refers to unrestricted free agents who hit the open market and can sign with any team they want. RFA refers to restricted free agents. RFAs can receive offer sheets from new teams, but their old franchises may match those sheets and retain the player.
ERFA refers to exclusive rights free agents who must sign with their current team if the organization extends an offer. ERFAs may not negotiate with other teams as their current clubs hold exclusive rights over them.
Those explanations about UFAs, RFAs, and ERFAs, skim over a lot of detail, but that’s enough information for readers to understand the implications discussed in this article.
Biggest free agent- Kenyan Drake RB (UFA)
The Cardinals acquired Drake from the Miami Dolphins for a conditional 2020 sixth-round draft pick last season. After flunking out of Miami, Drake came alive in the desert. The fourth-year pro averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and 80.4 rushing yards per game with the Cardinals. In his eight appearances with Arizona, Drake scored eight touchdowns and ran for at least 110 yards three times.
Arizona will work to re-sign Drake this offseason and find a way to move on from David Johnson. Johnson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2016, but he landed on injured reserve after one game in 2017. He never fully recovered and only ran for 345 yards in 2019.
Beyond Drake, Arizona could lose several other offensive contributors. A.Q. Shipley has started all 48 games at center for the last three seasons. The team’s top tight end, Charles Clay, also needs a new deal. Wide receivers Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper will also test the open market.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez is an RFA. Arizona should retain their kicker since he made 31 of his 35 field goal attempts last season.
Los Angeles Rams
Biggest free agent- Cory Littleton ILB (UFA)
The Rams got lucky when they signed the undrafted free agent from Washington. Littleton broke onto the roster as a special teams player, and the Associated Press selected him as a Second Team All-Pro special teams-man in 2018.
However, Littleton also took over as a full-time starter at linebacker in 2018. During those two years, he recorded five interceptions, 26 passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, 7.5 sacks, and 259 tackles. Statistically, he is one of the most productive linebackers in the league.
Dante Fowler Jr. also sprouted as a productive player during his time with the Rams. This past season, Fowler racked up career-highs with 58 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 16 quarterback hits. He joins long-time Ram, Michael Brockers, in the free agent pool. Los Angeles holds a team option on Nickell Robey-Coleman’s contract.
Former First Team All-Pro left tackle, Andrew Whitworth plans to play in 2020. At 38 years old, the LSU product is far past his prime. His play noticeably declined over the past two seasons. It’s unlikely Los Angeles will re-sign Whitworth. Blake Bortles could sneak into a starting quarterback job, depending on where he signs.
Surprisingly, kicker Greg Zuerlein could land with a new team this offseason. The UFA nailed 95% of his field goal attempts in 2017, but his accuracy is waning. Zuerlein made 87.1% of his field goal attempts in 2018 and only 72.7% this past season.
San Francisco 49ers
Biggest free agent- Arik Armstead DE (UFA)
San Francisco selected Armstead with the 17th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. However, the Oregon product only started 11 games during his first three seasons. Armstead did become a full-time starter in 2018, and the 49ers picked up his fifth-year option. Armstead delivered with ten sacks and 18 quarterback hits in San Francisco’s run to the Super Bowl last season.
Armstead could be a one-hit-wonder. He played alongside other talented pass rushers in 2019 and, there’s no way to predict how well he will perform in a different scenario, assuming he leaves in free agency.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers hold a team option on Kyle Juszczyk’s deal, which they will probably pick up. Several skill players, including UFA Emmanuel Sanders, RFA Matt Breida, and RFA Kendrick Bourne could also be on their way out the door. San Francisco traded for Sanders mid-way through last season.
The 49ers will also lose Ben Garland, who started several games at center for the injured Weston Richburg. Backup quarterback Nick Mullens stands out as an interesting ERFA, considering some of his heroics in 2018.
Biggest free agent- Jadeveon Clowney DE (UFA)
The Seahawks traded for Clowney before the start of the 2019 season. The former Pro Bowler moved to defensive end full-time in Seattle’s scheme, but he may only be a one-year rental. If Clowney leaves Seattle high and dry, the defense could get set back several years.
Clowney did not perform particularly well throughout the season. He only made a significant impact on three or four games, but he also battled injuries during the year. Seattle wants Clowney back for a hopefully healthy 2020 campaign.
Pete Carroll’s squad could also lose several other defensive linemen, including Ezekiel Ansah, Branden Jackson, Quinton Jefferson, Jarran Reed, and Al Woods. Mychal Kendricks will also join the mass exodus on Seattle’s defense.
Seattle faces a potential crisis on the offensive line. Starters Germain Ifedi (right tackle) and Mike Iupati (left guard) both require new deals. Joey Hunt, who started eight games at center for the injured Justin Britt, and George Fant, a versatile backup tackle, could seek significant raises this spring.