Green Bay Packers Running Back Aaron Jones scores a touchdown with ease. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports
Following the Los Angeles Rams’ blockbuster trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford, setting precedent, the NFC West looks primed for a major shake-up.
Here are 4 top free agents this offseason and their possible new homes on the best coast:
1. John Johnson III to the San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams Safety John Johnson III reads the offense. Photo courtesy of therams.com
Yes, the ultimate betrayal. The sneaky-good Strong Safety John Johnson III kicks off our list by switching NFC West squads. With future-HOF cornerback Richard Sherman all but packed to leave, and no real standout defensive backs, this secondary needs an anchor. That is exactly what Johnson is. He called many of the audible defensive plays last year, and led the Rams’ first-ranked defense with 105 tackles in 2020. There is no doubt about his football IQ and ability, and his market value begs a long-term contract averaging around 8-10 million a year according to spotrac.com.
Overthecap.com reports San Francisco’s cap room sitting at roughly 13 million, and projected to grow, but there are certainly other issues the Niners need to address other than safety. A whopping seven CBs are headed to free agency, and the obviously awkward air that hangs around the QB position isn’t going away soon. But given the high picks that San Francisco has in this year’s draft (picks 12, 44, and 114 are just 3 of 8 they own) and the likelihood that they trade for their next quarterback, this could be a chance to turn another former-NFC West opponent into a centerpiece weapon.
2. Jadaveon Clowney to the Los Angeles Rams
Tennessee Titans OLB Jadaveon Clowney readies himself for work. Photo courtesy of Titans Wire - USA TODAY
The Rams look like they are in a worse situation than they are. Currently 34 million dollars over the projected salary cap, and 16 players hitting free agency, alongside a completely new assistant coaching staff SOUNDS terrible. Yet they are still contenders based on the talent they DO have. The Rams are on a mission to carefully fill the holes that will inevitably be missed by those leaving in free agency.
To fill those holes left in the defense it will be important to understand those who aren’t leaving. With DPOY Aaron Donald disrupting the line and taking away blocking pressure, those outside linebackers and defensive ends that play with him boost their game above their own level. This is famously called the ‘AD-effect’. Another “effect” that may be taking form is that of CB Jalen Ramsey in the secondary. Truly, safeties and cornerbacks alike can rest easier when they play alongside Ramsey taking away elite receivers for full games. So based on their draft history and cap space, taking Jadaveon Clowney on a one-year prove-it deal for roughly 6-8 million can work after some contract restructuring. Having that added pressure to replace impending goner OLB Leonard Floyd, could be a steal for Los Angeles who have their eyes set on a Lombardi Trophy.
3. Aaron Jones to the Arizona Cardinals
Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones celebrates. Photo courtesy of packers.com
Perhaps the biggest splash since the Stafford trade could come from the inland West team. Star Running Back Aaron Jones is set to become a free agent this offseason, and so are some expensive names on the Arizona Cardinals. Of those names RB Kenyan Drake, who cost the Cardinals nearly $8.5 million last year, is included. With him and aging CB Patrick Peterson ($14 million in 2020) going on the market, Arizona could make a major addition to their offense. An offense that has been gaining steam quickly over the last few years with new adds like 2019 first overall pick Kyler Murray and star wideout DeAndre Hopkins. If they could add a top tier RB to the mix like Jones, they could well keep up with the growing competition in the West.
Two positions that MAY need more attention than the backfield, are offensive tackle and cornerback. Arizona has been lacking on the sides and already below-average T Kelvin Beachum is set to hit free agency. Also, formerly mentioned CB Peterson is one of six Cardinal secondary players up for grabs this offseason. But the high chances of resigning some of those corners, and the strong classes for both positions in the 2021 NFL Draft, bodes well for them to use their growing cap space on a phenomenal back like Jones.
4. Brandon Scherff to the Seahawks
Washington Football Team Guard Brandon Scherff recovers. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports
Washington Football Team Guard Brandon Scherff is commonly referred to as one of the best guards in football. And the offensive line is at the top of Seattle’s priorities this offseason. The NFC West is becoming more and more like a pool of piranhas, only the largest and meanest will have a chance at survival. To combat the amazing defensive units in the West, Seattle must get back to top-tier play on both sides of the ball. It’s time for the HC Pete Carroll and the Seahawks to get back to basics, build up front and work your way back. Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was sacked an insane 47 times in 2020. That’s third-most among QBs; narrowly edging then-Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz(50) and Houston Texans QB DeShaun Watson(49).
Wilson has been vocal about his frustrations with the offensive line. Usually the first place to upgrade along so-so protection is the tackle position to secure the edge. But given that the Seahawks face the likes of Rams’ Donald and San Francisco 49ers DT Arik Armstead PLUS OG Mike Iupati’s sudden retirement, the Hawks need to beef the inside, and quickly, for the 8-time Pro Bowler Wilson. Scherff has been looking for a deal too. As a league-elite, in a position in which teams can’t seem to find even average players, Scherff DESERVES a deal. WFT is contemplating a second-year franchise tag on him, but understanding his own talent and worth, moving to protect a Super Bowl champion in Wilson instead of three different placeholders a year, could be the best thing for his career. Look for Seattle to hop on that opportunity.