The NFL offseason is officially upon us. Teams are already beginning to address their needs for 2014. They will continue to do so throughout the offseason, especially as we approach the 2014 NFL Draft. We have already looked at the biggest needs for the AFC East, NFC East, and AFC West. Today we look at the NFC West offseason needs.
NFC West Offseason Needs: Seattle Seahawks
Biggest Needs: Wide Receiver, Offensive Line
Defending champions often suffer from a Super Bowl hangover the following year. This is often because to reach the Super Bowl, they have had to sign stars to one year deals, and back loaded contracts which cause issues for them down the line.
For the Seattle Seahawks, this appears not to be the case. Although they have only around half a million dollars in cap room, and one or two key free agents—namely Golden Tate and Michael Bennett—to be re-signed, the team are well positioned to make another run at the NFC West crown, if not Super Bowl in 2014.
Thanks in no small part to general manager John Schneider and his front office staff, the young Seahawks are actually set for several years to come. Those free agents they do have can easly be accounted for by making one or two simple adjustments and contract re-negotiations for older players, or by cutting some who are now surplus to requirement.
Their big priorities will be taking a little pressure off Russel Wilson with the addition of star receiver—either Anquan Boldin or Dwayne Bowe would be a great addition —and bolstering their offensive line—Andre Smith and Andy Levitre would both fit the bill here.
Their issues become more serious if Golden Tate and Michael Bennet are not willing to offer Seattle a hometown discount, but a for both men, remaining with the Seahawks may be their best option to add a second Super Bowl ring, and that certainly has value.
In the main, Seattle will aim to continue to improve the way they have over the last two or three years, by finding top talent in the latter rounds of the draft. Pay attention to anyone the Seahawks select in May, you may very well be the next great NFL superstar.
NFC West Offseason Needs: San Francisco 49ers
Biggest Needs: Wide Receiver, Cornerback, Defensive Line.
The San Francisco 49ers deep playoff run in back to back years would indicate that the teams needs are minimal. In fact, for 2015, they could quickly become very significant if not handled with care.
The team have several key free agents, including multiple wide receivers
—Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham amongst them—and secondary stars—including Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner. Unfortunately, the team only a small amount of cap space, around $5 million, and at least two, if not three of those four players who will demand at least that much each.
Worse still, however, is that even with these players re-signed, the team would still need to consider adding a free agent receiver and cornerback, as well as beefing up their defensive line to address some perceived weakness and lack of depth at these areas.
In many divisions, none of these issues would be so urgent, but in what is sure to be a toughly contested NFC west again this year, solving these issues will certainly have added impetus.
The 49ers have recently preferred to promote from within, rather than to add via free agency, so don’t be surprised if they court one or two lesser known, and therefore more affordable, free agents, or grow through the draft instead.
Still, if the team want to make that next step, and win a Super Bowl, expect them to make these positions a priority.
NFC West Offseason Needs: Arizona Cardinals
Biggest Needs: Offensive Linemen, Pass Rusher, Secondary Depth
The Arizona Cardinals were arguably the best NFL team not to play in the post season in 2013, and some would suggest better than many of those who ultimately did get into the playoffs. That said, they are a team under no illusions that they are there yet.
The NFC West is set to be the toughest division in football again in 2014, and if the Cardinals hope to compete, they will need to improve.
The biggest area of concern is at left tackle, though the entire offensive line could use improvement if the option arose. First round draft pick from 2013, Jonathan Cooper, should return from injury, which will help, but they will still have a lengthy shopping list.
Chief amongst them should be Kansas City Chiefs left tackle, Brandon Albert, but with only around $11 in cap space, the team will need to make some changes to make space for him, and their in house targets.
Those will include linebacker Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy and Antione Cason, as well as a hefty extension due to Patrick Peterson.
In the draft, the Cardinals are expected to continue to follow GM Steve Keim’s best player available strategy—which will almost certainly include a player they hope can develop into a franchise QB—meaning any outright needs will need to be addressed in advance of this.
In the main, this will involve adding depth to a team which struggled with major injuries throughout the season.
NFC West Offseason Needs: St. Louis Rams
Biggest Needs: Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Linebacker.
Of all the teams in the NFC West, the Rams may seem like the furthest away from the finished article. Their 2013 7-9 record was, obviously, the worst in the division by some distance. Yet when you consider that they achieved this without their starting quarterback for more than half of the season, and three of their losses were decided by a single score, it is hard to rule them out as a contender in 2014.
Add to that the fact that their key starters are all locked up to contracts until at least the end of the season, their only free agents are marginal guys, and their plethora of draft picks, and the Rams may be in one of the best positions in the NFL.
The Rams are right up against the projected salary cap for 2014, but this can easily be remedied by shedding some excess veteran contracts who failed to produce in 2013. Courtland Finnegan will almost certainly be expected to take a pay cut, or be axed, as will either, or both of Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells. This would, free up more than enough space to make a play for one or two lesser known free agents.
Where they are really expected to shine, however, is in the draft. They already posses two first round picks, second and 13th overall, but could easily turn this into more by trading back from two.
An first picks could be used to find an answer to their offensive line issues—Auburn’s Greg Robinson or Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews would both fit the bill—while also to bolstering their receiving corps—Sammy Watkins out of Clemson or Texas A&M’s Mike Evans could both be in play here.
Barring more unexpected injuries, however, the Rams find themselves in great position to make a serious run at, if not the NFC West crown, then at least a wild card spot.