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NFC West Free Agency Grades

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For the past few seasons, the NFC West has been a two-team division between Seattle and Arizona. With free agency three weeks in the books, let’s see if San Francisco or Los Angeles have done anything to close the gap.

Arizona Cardinals 

Grade: A –

Key acquisitions – DE Chandler Jones, G Evan Mathis and S Tyvon Branch

Key retentions – QB Drew Stanton, RB Chris Johnson and TE Jermaine Gresham

Key losses – OLB Dwight Freeney, T Bobby Massie, S Rashad Johnson and G Jonathan Cooper

For the first time since 2009, the Arizona Cardinals hold claim to the NFC West crown, after yielding an impressive (14-2) record. Also, the Cardinals defeated the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs before getting embarrassed by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.

As the Cardinals look to take the next step, one of their areas of concerns came on the defensive side of the ball. Pass rush to be exact, which is why they traded for former Patriot Chandler Jones. 

“I was shocked,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians emphatically said. “[Cardinals general manager] Steve Keim did an unbelievable job working with them and finding the right fit in the trade. We went into the offseason wanting to improve our pass-rush. Free agency wasn’t what we were looking at as far as dollars for certain guys. [The Jones acquisition] cured us for a long time. They got something they needed. We got something we needed. I think it was a great trade for both sides.”

As a team, Arizona totaled only 36 sacks, which placed them 20th in the league. This past season, Jones led New England with 12.5 sacks and considering he’s only 26, the best could be yet to come.

Despite losing the likes of Jonathan Cooper and Rashad Johnson, Arizona should be fine after picking up Evan Mathis and Tyvon Branch to replace them.

Also, it’s important to not overlook the re-signing of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. With Carson Palmer not getting any younger, it’s vital to have a capable backup in place just in case Palmer gets hurt again.

Seattle Seahawks 

Grade:  C – 

Key acquisitions – T J’Marcus Webb, T Bradley Sowell and DL Sealver Siliga 

Key retentions – DT Ahtyba Rubin, WR Jermaine Kearse and CB Jeremy Lane

Key losses –  RB Marshawn Lynch, LB Bruce Irvin, OT Russell Okung, G J.R. Sweezy and DT Brandon Mebane 

After going to back-to-back Super Bowls, the Seattle Seahawks took a step backwards last season, as their season came to end against the Panthers in the divisional round.

Many are wondering if this is the beginning of the end of an era.

We’re unable to answer that question just yet, but it sure does feel like it, especially when you have guys like Marshawn Lynch hanging up the cleats and fan favorites such as Bruce Irvin and Russell Okung going elsewhere in free agency.

To make matters worse, general manager John Schneider hasn’t particularly made a splash in free agency. His biggest acquisition thus far has been former Raiders offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb, who started all 16 games in Oakland last year.

With that being said, just like last season, offensive line will be a major concern heading into the 2016 campaign. Seattle allowed 46 sacks in 2015, which was tied for sixth most.

On the bright side, Seattle still features one of the most talented rosters in the NFL.

Los Angeles Rams 

Grade: C

Key acquisitions – CB Coty Sensabaugh and DE Quinton Coples 

Key retentions – CB Trumaine Johnson, S Mark Barron, DE William Hayes and C Tim Barnes

Key losses – CB Janoris Jenkins and S Rodney McLeod 

The Rams are no longer in St. Louis, but don’t expect to see a drastic change in performance next season. For the past four years, this franchise has been hovering around .500.

Based on what they’ve done in the off-season thus far (or lack thereof), there’s no reason to believe they aren’t in for another mediocre campaign. Yes, the Rams were able to retain defensive backs Trumaine Johnson and Mark Barron, but in that same breath, they lost Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.

As far as the other side of the ball goes, there’s plenty of hope surrounding running back Todd Gurley, but outside of him, who else scares you?

In a league that’s centered around the quarterback position, there’s way too many question marks concerning who’ll be the man under center in LA.

Case Keenum?

Nick Foles?

Quarterback in the draft?

For a franchise looking to take the next step, it’s never a good sign not knowing who your quarterback is moving forward.

San Francisco 49ers 

Grade: F 

Key acquisition – G Zane Beadles 

Key retentions – DT Ian Williams, TE Garrett Celek and K Phil Dawson 

Key losses – G Alex Boone and WR Anquan Boldin

For a team that’s tremendously limited talent-wise, San Francisco has done nothing in free agency to get their fans excited about. Like, literally nothing.

Okay, they signed guard Zane Beadles, who has regressed dramatically during his last two seasons in Jacksonville.

With new head coach Chip Kelly in charge, it’s pretty odd how quiet San Francisco has been considering all of the movement he made during his tenure in Philadelphia.

“I think you just have to look at who fits and who’s the right fit for the organization,” Kelly stated. “I don’t know if it’s let big money deals go or not go, it’s just what exactly are you looking for. Our guys do a great job of targeting what we want the San Francisco 49ers to be, and see how it works out from a contract standpoint.”

We still don’t know who will be the signal caller in the Bay Area this fall. While it sounds like the 49ers would like for it to be Colin Kaepernick, with him wanting out, who knows what will happen at this point.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.