With the exception of the ongoing Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes, NFL free agency has slowed as the league’s focus shifts toward the 2020 draft. It’s been a busy month in the NFC West with all three of the Seahawks division rivals having made significant moves.
The latest Talkin’ Seahawks Podcast touched on all of the latest headlines around the division. NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco, voice of the Rams J.B. Long and Cardinals insider Darren Urban all joined the show to provide intel on the teams they cover.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco had serious decisions to make with key players in search for new deals and the inability to pay everyone. The 49ers surprised everyone, trading DeForest Buckner to the Colts in exchange for the 13th-overall pick in 2020.
“The 49ers stated goal this offseason was to keep as much of the roster intact as possible,” Maiocco said. “Everybody, myself included, always thought DeForest Buckner was kind of a non-starter in terms of getting rid of him.”
Indianapolis handed Buckner a lucrative multi-year deal worth $21 million annually. San Francisco decided the pick and cap savings was the best course of action. The 49ers were able to lock up Arik Armstead, who had a breakout season in 2019 with 10 sacks, to a four-year deal worth $17 million per year.
Keep an eye on superstar tight end George Kittle, who is a candidate to hold out if he doesn’t get a new contract. Kittle should be in line for the richest tight end contract in NFL history worth around $12 million APY. Nobody could blame him for not wanting to play out his rookie contract and make just $2 million in 2020.
As for the draft, the Buckner deal gives the 49ers extra ammunition to retool and reload a roster that made the Super Bowl in 2019.
Many 49ers fans hope the team lands Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy, but Maiocco thinks it would be wise for San Francisco to target a tackle. Joe Staley will be 36 by the time Week 1 arrives, and Maiocco isn’t positive he will play in 2020.
“Even if he does, at his age, they need to have their line of succession ready to go at left tackle,” Maiocco said.
I’m still trying to figure out how Arizona was able to land DeAndre Hopkins in exchange for David Johnson’s bloated contract and a measly second-round pick. And yet, here we are. The Cardinals showed promise in 2019 with Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, evidenced by a decisive road victory over the Seahawks in Week 16.
The addition of Hopkins gives Arizona a potential juggernaut offense with Kenyan Drake, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Murray.
“I think that’s the hope, obviously,” Urban said. “If you can get your team in a good position while your quarterback is on his rookie deal, you have a lot of flexibility on the roster. That’s kind of how they’ve approached this.”
Arizona also added defensive linemen Devon Kennard (7.0 sacks in 2019) and Jordan Phillips (9.5 sacks in 2019), as well as linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (129 tackles in 2019). Thanks to a productive free agency, the Cardinals have plenty of flexibility with the 8th-overall pick.
Don’t be surprised to see Arizona transition from rebuild to NFC West contenders in short order.
“They’re trying to ramp things up as quickly as possible,” Urban said. “Frankly, in this division, you better ramp up or you’re going to be left in the dust.”
Los Angeles Rams
Most of the Rams moves have been in-house re-signings or players moving on from Los Angeles.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler Jr., Todd Gurley (cut) and Clay Matthews (cut) are all notable departures. The Rams were able to retain left tackle Andrew Whitworth and defensive lineman Michael Brockers.
“Let’s face it, they’re living by a pretty tight budget right now,” Long said. “Every incoming has to have an outbound at this point. The Rams have certainly lost some great players, and I would put Eric Weddle, who was named to the All-Decade Team and retired earlier this offseason, on that list as well.”
Per overthecap.com, the Rams have the least cap space in the entire league at less than half-a-million dollars. Shedding big contracts was crucial, although Los Angeles won’t reap the benefits until 2021. That’s when they’ll have to pay star corner Jalen Ramsey, who will undoubtedly expect record-setting money.
With Gurley no longer in the picture, the Rams will likely deploy a running back by committee approach in 2020. Darrell Henderson (2019 third-round pick) and Malcolm Brown (third-down back and special teams ace) are the in-house options. Long also expects the Rams to target a running back in the draft.
“I would be surprised if the Rams are done at running back this offseason,” Long said.
Many mock drafts have slated Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins to the Rams at pick No. 52 in the second round.
Los Angeles only has six picks in the 2020 draft, which means they’ll have to use each wisely.