And finally, to the west of the NFC and a look at the division pertaining to the current conference champs
Lets start with the very same conference champs. As is well documented, the Rams have a number of high profile veterans heading towards free agency, particular on the defensive side of the ball where a lot of money was spent last year with quarterback Goff still on a relatively cheap rookie deal. Goff is still on that rookie deal but 2019 is likely the last year that that will be the case. So, will the Rams stock up for another run at the Super Bowl?
Ndamukong Suh, LaMarcus Joyner, Dante Fowler Jr, Dominique Easley and Sam Shields are the defensive highlights that are heading into the yonder, unless deals can be made. Of all of them, I think that the Rams might make a run at keep Suh, probably on another year long deal. Fowler will likely be too expensive and an edge rusher can be found in the draft, despite picking late in the first round. The safety market is quite cheap so a veteran can be bought in to replace Joyner who was paid $11m last year. The Rams need a good inside linebacker as well. Wade Phillips’ system doesn’t put much emphasis on the linebacker position but the Patriots, with Edelman showed how vulnerable the Rams can be in the middle or the field and on intermediate routes.
The biggest question mark on offence continues to be the fitness of stud running back Todd Gurley. The Rams are still quiet on the subject despite backup CJ Anderson saying the injury was worse than many (including Gurley himself) realised at the time. Whatever happens with that, the Rams will need a backup running back if Anderson isn’t retained. Either though free agency or the draft, this shouldn’t cost too much. The Rams will be keen to get Cooper Kupp back from injury. More important will be finding an adequate replacement for guard Roger Safford if a new contract can’t be reached. The key to this offence is keeping the line in peak form and Safford has been a mainstay of that for the last two seasons.
The Seahawks performed above expectations last year but there are still many a hole to fill. On defence the Seahawks are likely to franchise tag Frank Clark if a new deal can’t be reached. They’ll need to find reinforcements in the backfield – specifically a new leader at safety as Earl Thomas is more or less definitely out of the door following his premature end to the season and a one finger salute to the Seahawks bench.
Whilst it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would or could be, I still think that the offensive line needs work. JR Sweezy and DJ Fluker are both on the way out and whilst neither are of a star calibre, it’s experience leaving that will be hard to replace. Because of the general drought of quality offensive linemen, they’re rarely making it to free agency so the Seahawks need to see what they can find in the draft. Keeping Frank Clark could allow them to spend their first round pick on a quality lineman. Even in the second round, they may be able to pick up someone like Yodny Cajuste from West Virginia. A good tight end who could be a genuine red zone threat would also be useful. Whilst Jimmy Graham didn’t get the yards in 2017 he did provide a a good touchdown catch more often than not. At running back it looks as though they’ll continue with a committee of backs and rotate in whoever is hot – with Mike Davis heading to free agency then finding some more stock here late in the draft would be beneficial.
Where do you start? This is a proper rebuild job. At the very least they have a young quarterback in place – but even that seems under threat with rumours that the new coaching staff would favour drafting Kyler Murray! For the sake of argument, lets carry on with the thought that they’ll carry on with Josh Rosen.
Quickest way to turn around the fortunes of this team would be to solidify the offensive line. It would both help keep Rosen upright and also increase the production of the running game, particularly David Johnson who looked a shadow of his former self. Old man Fitzgerald is going on for another year but they need a replacement for him in the slot for the long term. The best friend of a young quarterback, a good tight end should be high on the shopping list.
With where they are in the draft, there’s a very good chance they’ll select edge rusher Nick Bosa. It would be somewhat of a luxury as they have a good pass rusher already in Chandler Jones. Adding someone like Quinnen Williams for the interior of the line is another option. What would be best would be to trade down and get more picks to fill the multiple holes this team has. They’ll still get a decent player in the first round and then can bring in help at linebacker and safety to ensure that this defence remains decent.
San Francisco 49ers
Last but by no means least, the 49ers. Many would say that the 49ers would have won between 7-10 games last year with a fit Garoppolo. That loss has resulted in them having a high draft pick which I fully expect them to use on an edge pass rusher. If the Cardinals do the unthinkable and skip on Nick Bosa then it’ll be he. Otherwise I really like the production that Josh Allen from Kentucky could offer. A linebacker to run with Fred Warner and a new safety would be other needs on the defence. The defence has the pieces on it but it did not play up to the level of talent it has. Coordinator Robert Salah has been kept on and we need to see improvement in this unit in 2019.
With the (right) decision to let Pierre Garcon leave, the 49ers will be hunting a big bodied receiver to play alongside the likes of Goodwin and Pettis. There’s a good chance that such a player could fall to them in the second or third round of the draft. The interior of the O-Line could use reinforcements. Both Lynch and Shannahan have made calls for guard Joshua Garrett to make a step up in his play and fitness in 2019. If he continues to suffer the injury bug then someone to step in will be needed. Presuming that said injury bug (now being kept at bay we hope by a new strength and conditioning team) has also left running back McKinnon then there’ll be little need to bring in a starting back but maybe someone to back him up as Alfred Morris leaves the Bay Area.Embed from Getty Images