NFC West Preseason Grades
Key Acquisitions: QB Josh Rosen, QB Sam Bradford, OG Justin Pugh, CB Jamar Taylor, OT Andre Smith, WR Christian Kirk, WR Brice Butler, QB Mike Glennon, DE Benson Mayowa, CB Bene Benwikere, FB Derrick Coleman; WR Greg Little
Key Losses: QB Carson Palmer, S Tyrann Mathieu, WR John Brown, WR Jaron Brown, OT Jared Veldheer, RB Adrian Peterson, LB Karlos Dansby, DT Frostee Rucker, CB Tramon Williams, LB Kareem Martin, TE Troy Niklas, OG Alex Boone, S Tyvon Branch, OG Earl Watford, QB Blaine Gabbert, QB Drew Stanton, QB Matt Barkley
For the second consecutive offseason, the exodus from Arizona was a bit alarming. Carson Palmer’s retirement was not a surprise, and Tyrann Mathieu’s cap number was too high to bring him back without a paycut, but several contributors on both sides of the ball were allowed to leave.
But the Cardinals rebounded, especially at quarterback after the slate was wiped clean at the position. Sam Bradford’s price tag ($20 million for one year, plus a 2019 option) was steep, but if healthy (a serious variable given his history), he might have been the best quarterback available this spring. More important, Arizona found a way to land Josh Rosen -- who may prove to be the best quarterback in the draft and is likely the most pro-ready -- while giving up only a third-round pick. The offense also got much-needed reinforcements up front in Justin Pugh and Andre Smith, while second-rounder Christian Kirk and free agent signee Brice Butler padded a thin receiving corps.
Fewer additions were made on defense, where youth will be counted on to replace lost pieces, like 2017 second-rounder Budda Baker assuming Mathieu’s role. After failing to come away with a prominent cornerback in the draft, GM Steve Keim swung a trade with the Browns for the quietly effective Jamar Taylor to help opposite Patrick Peterson.
Offseason grade: B
FLM Take: How it will come together under new coach Steve Wilks is unclear, but the Cardinals could have done much worse. Bradford’s health or Rosen’s quick development would soothe a lot of concerns.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Key Acquisitions: DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, WR Brandin Cooks, LB Ramik Wilson, OLB Obo Okoronkwo
Key Losses: CB Trumaine Johnson, DE Robert Quinn, WR Sammy Watkins, LB Alec Ogletree, LB Connor Barwin, S Maurice Alexander, WR Tavon Austin, CB Kayvon Webster, S Cody Davis, TE Derek Carrier
The Rams were anything but satisfied with a seven-win improvement last season, putting together one of the more aggressive offseasons in recent memory. The talent increase is undeniable, as three trades and one signing brought aboard three All-Pros and a three-time 1,000-yard wideout.
Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib give L.A. a tremendous cornerback pairing, allowing coordinator Wade Phillips all sorts of options. Their presence, along with Ndamukong Suh’s arrival next to Aaron Donald, will help obscure an unproven linebacking corps that lost Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree to trades. The defense also retained center-field safety Lamarcus Joyner (franchise tag) and slot corner Nickell Roby-Coleman (extension), though Donald remained unhappy with his contract as a holdout entering training camp.
The offense didn’t require much tweaking, but center John Sullivan was extended, and the newly acquired Brandin Cooks might prove to be an upgrade on Sammy Watkins as Sean McVay’s X-iso wideout.
Though getting Cooks and Peters meant sacrificing their top two picks, the Rams wisely used a series of trade-downs to come away with an 11-man class, betting on quantity instead of quality. Obo Okoronkwo could earn a role early as a situational pass-rusher. The Rams also deserve credit for making so many impactful additions while netting two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 in return for the departures of Watkins and Trumaine Johnson.
Offseason Grade: A
FLM Take: Trading top draft picks and acquiring mercurial personalities is risky, but no team tried harder to improve its roster than the Rams, who might now have more top-tier players than any other NFL team.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Key Acquisitions: CB Richard Sherman, RB Jerick McKinnon, C Weston Richburg, OT Mike McGlinchey, OG Jonathan Cooper, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, LB Korey Toomer, WR Dante Pettis, LB Fred Warner, P Jeff Locke
Key Losses: OT Trent Brown, RB Carlos Hyde, S Eric Reid, OG Brandon Fusco, C Daniel Kilgore, DE Elvis Dumervil, OG Zane Beadles, OLB Aaron Lynch, DE Tank Carradine, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Leon Hall
GM John Lynch began a busy offseason by temporarily making Jimmy Garoppolo the highest-paid player in NFL history (five years, $137.5 million), a staggering price but one that’s understandable in the current QB market. As long as Garoppolo isn’t a flash in a pan, the front-loaded deal should look friendly a few years down the road.
San Francisco was aggressive from the outset in free agency, scooping up former rival Richard Sherman and targeting Jerick McKinnon and Weston Richburg. The contracts for the latter two seemed excessive ($7.5 million annually for McKinnon, $9.5 million for Richburg), but both are ideal fits for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which is built on outside zone runs and involves backs heavily in the passing game.
The offensive line saw plenty of turnover -- a combined 47 starts from 2017 are gone -- but first-rounder Mike McGlinchey fits better than Trent Brown, and the group should be solid once it builds chemistry. Elsewhere, the Niners gave Marquise Goodwin a fair extension (three years, $20.3 million) and traded up for second-rounder Dante Pettis.
Outside of Sherman, few additions were made to a defense that has a wealth of young talent in the front seven. While the unit could improve with development, the cornerback depth chart remains shaky, especially if Sherman isn’t near his old form as he recovers from a torn Achilles.
Offseason Grade: B
FLM Take: The 49ers said goodbye to a surprising amount of talent, but they resolved their long-term QB situation and continued to shape the offense to Shanahan’s preferences.
Key Acquisitions: RB Rashaad Penny, WR Jaron Brown, WR Brandon Marshall, S Maurice Alexander, OG D.J. Fluker, TE Ed Dickson, DE Rasheem Green, LB Barkevious Mingo, CB Dontae Johnson, K Sebastian Janikowski, TE Will Dissly, P Michael Dickson
Key Losses: DE Michael Bennett, CB Richard Sherman, SS Cam Chancellor, DT Sheldon Richardson, TE Jimmy Graham, DE Cliff Avril, WR Paul Richardson, TE Luke Willson, CB DeShawn Shead, CB Jeremy Lane, RB Eddie Lacy, RB Thomas Rawls, LB Michael Wilhoite, OG Luke Joeckel, K Blair Walsh
The list of losses is pretty jarring, and that’s without including free safety Earl Thomas, who remains a possible trade candidate as he seeks an extension that appears unlikely to come from the Seahawks. Even an optimistic outlook must concede that some decline is likely.
While the front five wasn’t boosted much through personnel, new O-line coach Mike Solari is charged with developing the current group -- which includes plenty of former top draft picks -- better than Tom Cable did. Likewise, Brian Schottenheimer (offense) and Ken Norton Jr. (defense) replaced coordinators Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard, respectively, furthering the feeling of a total reset.
Rashaad Penny’s selection in Round 1 signaled a return to the run-heavy approach used with Marshawn Lynch, which will be needed after the departures of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson in free agency. Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall could contribute, but the additions of blocking tight ends Ed Dickson (free agency) and Will Dissly (draft) might prove more impactful.
The defense was reset to build around linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, with Shaquill Griffin stepping into the top cornerback role. While Frank Clark remains, the pass rush could take a major hit without Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson (for whom Seattle traded a second-round pick last year) and Cliff Avril, putting more pressure on an unproven secondary.
Offseason Grade: C
FLM Take: Stripping down an aging core is never easy, but the Seahawks have yet to refill a number of the holes they’ve opened up.
--Field Level Media