Between now and the start of the new league year in March, we’re going to look ahead at the offseason for each NFL team, division by division.
Previously in our offseason summaries, we covered the AFC — East, North, South and West — and are now looking at the NFC. We began in the East, trekked through the North and migrated down South, and finish off out west. The Los Angeles Rams were a surprise contender out of the NFC West, but the 49ers are on the rise with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The Seahawks are trending downward, while it looks like rebuild time for the Cardinals.
2017 record: 8-8 — third place
What’s new? Steve Wilks takes over for the retired Bruce Arians as head coach.
Projected salary cap space: $22 million — Just back of the middle of the pack.
Key in-house free agents: CB Tramon Williams, WR Jaron Brown, WR John Brown, LB Karlos Dansby, G Alex Boone, S Tyvon Branch.
Key needs: Quarterback (they literally don’t have one), wide receiver (the Brown twins could walk and Larry Fitzgerald is 90), offensive line (have to bolster protection for whoever they bring in at quarterback) and cornerback (particularly if they lose Williams and Justin Bethel).
Draft breakdown: Arizona selects 15th in Round 1, but doesn’t have picks in the fourth, fifth or sixth round.
Other potential priorities: Something has to be done about Tyrann Mathieu’s $14.1 million cap hit, and Mike Iupati is far too expensive as well.
Outlook: The Cardinals still have talent in the secondary and the offensive backfield, but that’s about it. This is a rebuild.
Los Angeles Rams
2017 record: 11-5 — First place
What’s new? They’re coming off a winning season for the first time since 2004, when they resided in St. Louis.
Projected salary cap space: $45 million — The 10th-highest projected total in the NFL.
Key in-house free agents: S LaMarcus Joyner, CB Trumaine Johnson, WR Sammy Watkins, OLB Connor Barwin, C John Sullivan, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Key needs: Secondary (especially if they lose most or all of the three defensive backs listed above), interior offensive line, defensive front seven.
Draft breakdown: The Rams pick 23rd, lack a second-rounder but have three selections in the sixth round.
Other potential priorities: They could hit either Watkins or Joyner with the franchise tag.
Outlook: Plenty of opportunities for a good team to get even better, although they’ll likely have to spend most of their money keeping guys. That’s fine — the core is there.
San Francisco 49ers
2017 record: 6-10 — fourth place
What’s new? Franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is locked up long term.
Projected salary cap space: $81 million — The second-highest projected total in the NFL.
Key in-house free agents: S Eric Reid, RB Carlos Hyde, G Brandon Fusco, CB Dontae Johnson.
Key needs: Guard (Fusco is a free agent and Laken Tomlinson isn’t good), wide receiver (more targets for Garoppolo) and secondary (especially if they lose Reid and Johnson).
Draft breakdown: San Francisco picks ninth or 10th (to be decided by a coin flip) and have one selection in every other round except the sixth.
Other potential priorities: The 49ers will have to decide what to do about talented young linebacker Reuben Foster, who probably faces a lengthy suspension following a second arrest in less than a month.
Outlook: Rarely do you see this much excitement about a team coming off a 6-10 season, but the 49ers have their quarterback, a ton of momentum, oodles of dollars to spend and some draft capital too. General manager John Lynch has a chance to turn this team into a contender immediately.
2017 record: 9-7 — second place
What’s new? Brian Schottenheimer takes over for Darrell Bevell at offensive coordinator, Ken Norton Jr. takes over for Kris Richard at defensive coordinator and Mike Solari takes over for Tom Cable as offensive line coach.
Projected salary cap space: $13 million — The sixth-lowest projected total in the NFL.
Key in-house free agents: DT Sheldon Richardson, TE Jimmy Graham, WR Paul Richardson, OL Luke Joeckel, S Bradley McDougald, CB Deshawn Shead, CB Byron Maxwell.
Key needs: Secondary (for once), defensive line (Sheldon Richardson is a free agent, Cliff Avril’s future is in doubt and Michael Bennett is 32), offensive line (as per usual), tight end (if Graham gets away), wide receiver and running back.
Draft breakdown: Seattle picks 18th but has no second- or third-round selections.
Other potential priorities: Richard Sherman is slated to count $13.2 million against the cap. Might they finally pull the trigger on a trade?
Outlook: The Legion of Boom could be broken up. Those guys have been dealing with injuries and the aging process and there isn’t much the Seahawks can do about that right now. With limited draft or real-world capital, they’re likely to get worse before they get better on both sides of the ball. Poor Russell Wilson.