With the AFC all set with free agent IDP predictions we move on to the NFC. Here we start with the NFC West where there are three teams in the top 11 in regards to cap space for 2019. Money should be plentiful…and spent.
The NFC West is one of the most interesting divisions is the NFL. The average age of the head coaches in the division is 44.25 years old. That number is jacked up by Pete Carroll who is 67 years old. The other three are all below the age of 40. This could lead to some new age schemes and offensive dynamic that has yet to be unleashed.
From a defensive standpoint every team in the division has holes in it, even the Rams who are set with a solid defense. There is ample cap space throughout the division though. With enough intrigue for players to come with good contracts available, free agency may be very kind to the NFC West.
Los Angeles Rams
Needs: Outside Linebacker, Defensive End, Defensive Tackle
Notable Free Agents: Ndamuknog Suh, Dominique Easley, Matt Longacre, Ramik Wilson, Cory Littleton (RFA), Sam Shields, Troy Hill (RFA), Lamarcus Joyner
Cap Space: $36,267,550 (15 most in the NFL)
The Rams are amidst a run at a Super Bowl title after being bailed out by the referees against the Saints in the NFC Championship game. Not to say they do not belong to be in the Super Bowl as they have had a great season and have a great team, that blown call was tough to swallow. With that being said, the Rams come into the middle of the pack in terms of cap space available.
Due to this Super Bowl run, the Rams are quite the free agent destination as aging star veterans may take less money to join as Ndamukong Suh did this season. Speaking of Suh, he is a free agent again after his one year contract is over with the Rams. I think, especially if the Rams win a ring, and given Suh’s age that he will be looking for the largest contract available.
If you have been reading the series I have Suh going to the Bills who have a glaring need at the position and tons of cap space. This opens up a hole next to Aaron Donald. Let’s see who the Rams could grab with possible one year cheap deals to make another push at Super Bowl LIIII.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Cory Littleton- Inside Linebacker
Cory Littleton emerged as one of the most productive inside linebackers in the NFL this season. Littleton went from a part time player in his first two seasons to an absolute stub and overall LB2 in IDP. Setting career highs across the board he was elected to the Pro Bowl..whoopee right. Look at the number though, 125 tackles (90 solo), nine tackles for a loss, four sacks, 13 passes defensed, three interceptions and a Touchdown.
There does not seem to be many holes if any in Littleton’s game. His four sacks show his ability to rush the passer as an off ball linebacker. The 13 passes defensed and three interceptions show that he is not a liability in coverage either. Watch here a well timed blitz along with great speed to come up with the sack:
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 2, 2018
Littleton seems to win at the line quite easily for an inside linebacker as he has multiple blocked kicks on special teams for consecutive seasons now:
‘11 Mt. Miguel grad Cory Littleton blocks a punt for a touchdown against the Chargers. pic.twitter.com/510HdhvU0T
— Bodie DeSilva (@SDPreps) September 23, 2018
When Littleton drops in coverage he does a great job of watching the QB’s eyes. Here you can see him with eyes on the QB and jumps the crossing route en route to a pick six:
Cory Littleton AGAIN with the INT!
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) December 30, 2018
Retaining Littleton should be the number one priority for the Rams this offseason. The fact that he is a restricted free agent makes that very easy for them as they can match any offer given to him. Even if somebody backs up the money truck for Littleton, the Rams need to match the offer.
2) Muhammed Wilkerson- 3-4 Defensive End
We are no three full seasons removed from Muhammed Wilkerson having a double digit sack season. His career with the Jets was very strong having 44.5 sacks and 71 tackles for a loss in 105 games for them at DE. The Packers signed Wilkerson to a one year deal in last offseason in hopes to add some pass rush and tackling ability to their defensive line. That did not go as planned as Wilkerson suffered a season ending ankle injury during a week 3 game.
This does not mean that he cannot get back to his old self. As recent as 2017 Wilkerson still had 46 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 4 passes defensed. The year previous to that he still had 58 tackles. Wilkerson has always been a productive DE whether it be with his pass rush or run defense. The price tag should be significantly low for Wilkerson as he barely played in 2018.
He had voiced his displeasure playing for the Jets last March do to always being on a losing team. When he signed with the Packers this past season it was because he badly wanted to part of a winning team. Here he gets his real chance and has a chance to start and make an impact on a line with Aaron Donald.
3) Sheldon Richardson– Defensive Tackle
Adding Sheldon Richardson has the potential to heal the wound of losing Ndamukong Suh next offseason. Richardson is another former Jet who was a budding star. Do to his lack of motor teams have gone away from him a bit but Richardson put together a solid 2018 season. For the season he had 50 tackles (27 solo), six tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and 16 QB hits. This shows he can still get to the QB while also disrupting the point of attack.
To compare this to Ndamukong Suh’s season, who had 59 tackles (36 solo), four tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. The similarities between the two seasons are impossible to miss making the transition between the two possibly seamless.
Here you see a great series of clips from a game against the 49ers, a team the Rams play twice a year, in playing the same role that Suh plays:
Sheldon Richardson was awesome yesterday. Exactly what this defense needed at the 3T position pic.twitter.com/EvYIqAaP1l
— Josh Mensch 👿 (@JoshMenschNFL) September 10, 2018
Adding a proven veteran coming off a solid season would be smart for the Rams. Richardson is the only free agent that has the skill level to fill the void that would be left by Suh.
Needs: Inside Linebacker, Cornerback, Defensive End
Notable Free Agents: Benson Mayowa, Markus Golden, Rodney Gunter, Gerald Hodges, Deone Bucannon, Bene Benwikere, David Amerson, Tre Boston
Cap Space: $55,973,655 (8th most in the NFL)
The Cardinals are a team with holes throughout the defense but have some nice talent to start with. Add a young new coach in Kliff Kingsbury who the team is very high on and some free agents may look to join the team. With Kingsbury already noting that he wants to switch back to a 3-4 base defense it makes the free agency acquisition list change drastically for the Cardinals.
Chandler Jones will likely move back to outside linebacker for the team and Hassan Reddick seems to have made a nice transition to a possible middle linebacker slot. He played very well to end the season. Patrick Peterson still seems to have faith that the team can stay competitive and they have Antoine Bethea and Budda Baker as the hard hitting duo at safety.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Anthony Barr– Inside or Outside Linebacker
Anthony Barr has been utilized incorrectly to start his career. Coming into the 2014 draft he was one of the most feared pass rushing outside linebackers in the draft. Unfortunately for him the Vikings drafted him who play a base 4-3 scheme playing him at strongside linebacker. Though he did not play bad, it was out of position for him which goes to show how much talent he has.
Anthony Barr was able to learn from his position switch as he became a little in coverage, making more plays in the middle of the field. His motor has never been in question. Watch here as he is able to force the fumble, pick it up and return it for a TD:
As excited as I am for the #Vikings to extend Diggs soon, I am just as excited for the Vikings to lock up Anthony Barr long-term as well.
Throwback to when Barr forced, recovered and returned a fumble for a walk-off touchdown a few years back: pic.twitter.com/9EHC1NBLOT
— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) July 19, 2018
Here shows his inability to keep up with wiedouts though as Cooper Kupp just runs right by the Barr coverage:
So, Anthony Barr – who couldn't live with Todd Gurley one on one – got stuck here covering a WR one on one. Smartest thing he could have done would have been to just tackle him the second he realised what was up.
Lesser of two evils pic.twitter.com/JdT4sWvTu2
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 28, 2018
If the Cardinals can sign Barr and move him back to outside linebacker it would be beneficial both for Barr and the Cardinals. A tandem of Chandler Jones and Anthony Barr rushing on the outside could cause for some scary pass rush. Barr can take what he has learned and also mask the defense a little in dropping back, not often but could be a nice change up.
2) Tramaine Brock– Cornerback
Tramaine Brock was once given an extension by the 49ers to be their number one cornerback. Unfortunately in April of 2017 Brock was arrested in a domestic violence case and released by the team. Brock played in 2017 with the Vikings although never making a start in 11 appearances. He has since signed with the Broncos for 2018 and played in 12 games, starting five including the last three.
Looking back on Brock, the season before he was released by the 49ers was a great season. He had 58 tackles (48 solo), five tackles for a loss, 14 passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble. That was only two years ago in 2016. Though Tramaine Brock is going to be 31 years old, his legs are pretty fresh having only started in 45 games.
For a cornerback Brock plays run defense well. He sheds wide receiver blocks well and gets downhill in a hurry. In his breakout year in 2016 he had five tackles for a loss, look here as he hits Johnathan Stewar behind the line:
This was J. Stewart’s 5th & final carry. Planted right leg vs. Tramaine Brock pic.twitter.com/eZlnpaltuB
— Black & Blue Review (@BlackBlueReview) September 19, 2016
Brock brings physicality to the outside, using press coverage well and is quite strong having only a 188lb. frame. Here are a few cliups showing his strength and physicality:
Tramaine Brock is a HUGE upgrade over Trae at outside CB. Very physical corner. Pairing him with Xavier makes them one of the best tandems. pic.twitter.com/4zEEtLIz5z
— Kirk Cousins ruined my team (@QB_vision) September 1, 2017
Sticking a former number one corner just two seasons removed from a breakout season would be a smart move for the Cardinals. Brock may even feel better coming here as his best seasons of his career were in the NFC West. Not having to cover the best wide receiver on the team, as Patrick Peterson will be doing shadow coverage, it opens Brock’s ability to be more physical with number two’s.
3) Allen Bailey– 3-4 Defensive End
The Cardinals as I mentioned above are in the midst of transitioning to a base 3-4 defensive scheme. Now it is about finding the personnel. They already have the start to a solid line, Cory Peters should start at nose tackle and Robert Nkemdiche could slide over to defensive end. Now they need to add another 3-4 defensive end.
Allen Bailey has had a solid career with the Chiefs and could provide some nice veteran leadership having been one overtime period away from a Super Bowl game. Bailey became a full time payer for the Chiefs in 2014. In his time starting, outside of an injury ended 2016, Bailey has put up some solid numbers.
In 56 games, 52 of which were starts he totaled 155 tackles (103 solo), 17.5 sacks, 28 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a Touchdown. Not numbers that will blow your mind but rock solid numbers. Bailey is not a star but also is not a liability.
Bailey uses the stunt move well as he is quite athletic for his size. Here you see how he uses that speed and wingspan to wrap up the QB:
Allen Bailey isn't human. pic.twitter.com/PiRrmeOgiA
— Chiefs Central (@ChiefsCentral) August 19, 2017
Strength is probably the best trait for Bailey though. He uses his hands to gain position at the line well and forces lineman out of position with a bull rush. Here he almost puts the offensive lineman right back into his QB:
Ford, Jones, and Houston are getting all of the attention but HOLY CRAP WATCH ALLEN BAILEY KILL A GUY THEN MAIM ANOTHER GUY. pic.twitter.com/9w1aqWgDJ6
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 13, 2018
If Nkemdiche is moved out a little to defensive end from defensive tackle he will need a veteran to help teach him the position. Bailey is a tried and tested guy who can help get the best out of the pass rush abilities out of him.
Needs: Defensive End, Safety, Cornerback
Notable Free Agents: Dion Jordan, Frank Clark, Quinton Jefferson (RFA), K.J. Wright, Mychal Kendricks, Justin Coleman, Earl Thomas
Cap Space: $60,326,840 (7th most in the NFL)
The Seahawks are in a good position as they have a good roster to start the offseason and a large chunk of cash to spend. Most of this cap will be spent on the defensive side of the ball as well having the offense looking solid behind Russell Wilson. On defense the team has not looked the same since it has lost it’s vicious pass rush of a few years ago.
Their best pass rusher is Frank Clark and they need to retain him. They also need to help him as he was literally the only pass rush presence that the team had. Earl Thomas will also be gone, he proved this by giving the middle finger to the Seahawks bench after he broke his arm.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Frank Clark- Defensive End
As I mentioned above Frank Clark need to be the top priority signing this offseason. He will be getting a raise and he deserves it. Playing at what he claims to be 60% healthy he put up monster numbers. With a career high 13 sacks and 41 tackles the Seahawks should already have an extension ready in line for him.
In 62 games, 33 of which he has started, Clark has a total of 35 sacks. During this time he has also posted a whopping 72 QB hits. Getting to the quarterback is something that comes natural to Clark. Frank Clark has such a powerful bull rush move. Watch here as he sits multiple different lineman down in effort to get to the QB:
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 18, 2019
Frank Clark is deserving of a top tier defensive end contract and the Seahawks have the cap to do it. They need to pony up and make sure this man does not leave.
2) Lamarcus Joyner- Safety
Joyner has been able to produce solid numbers with the Rams. Enough so that they hit him with the franchise tag last season. The Rams probably do not have the financials to resign for what he is worth. With a glaring need now at safety with Earl Thomas leaving, the Seahawks should offer him a contract that nobody will want to match.
In the five year career for Joyner he has played in 67 games starting 42 of them. During those games he tallied 305 tackles (236 solo), 12 tackles for a loss, five sacks, 25 passes defensed, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a Touchdown. In the past two seasons though where he has really shown his worth, he was able to do playing alongside John Johnson III who was breaking out.
Had Joyner been able to play alongside somebody with less talent than Johnson III we may be looking at an even bigger contract for Joyner. Versatility is something Joyner brings to the table with having played both safety positions as well as cornerback. His tackling is sound as you can see here:
— OSU vs EVERYONE (@castro7054) October 14, 2018
Here he shows his ability to cover as he reads the route perfectly for the pick six:
Lamarcus Joyner to the HOUSE!
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2017
Teammate Aqib Talib has compared Lamarcus Joyner to the likes of Earl Thomas, why not sign him to replace Thomas?
3) Alex Okafor– Defensive End
Alex Okafor would make for a nice complement to Frank Clark. 2018 was the first year that Okafor started every game for his team. In doing so he posted numbers of 36 tackles (25 solo), five tackles for a loss, four sacks, one pass defensed, one fumble recovery and nine QB hits. Not eye popping numbers but they may jump if put on the opposite side of Frank Clark.
Okafor had his best year pass rushing from the outside linebacker position where he had eight sacks in 2014. With the Saints playing a base 4-3 defense he slid to defensive end. At 6’4 and 261lbs. Okafor definitely has the size for defensive end. Okafor does a good job of never quitting on a play always applying pressure to opposing lineman. Watch this play takes time to develop but he stays with it and gets the sack:
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 21, 2018
Adding solid pass rush to the opposite side of Frank Clark should be something the Seahawks look for in free agency. Okafor is a very good pass rusher and sets the edge well in run defense. He should not come at a hefty price tag either.
San Francisco 49ers
Needs: Defensive End, Cornerback, Linebacker
Notable Free Agents: Mark Nzeocha, Jimmie Ward, Antone Exum Jr.
Cap Space: $46,422,179 (11th most in the NFL)
The 49ers are a team that players will want to flock too. The cohesiveness between both General Manager and Head Coach is surreal for this team. Stability and the drive to get better is something a lot of free agents look for. The 49ers have a good chunk of cap space but also have many holes to fill. They will most likely attack both sides of the ball in the draft but free agency may be where the defensive makes a leap.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Kwon Alexander– Inside Linebacker
The 49ers lost a quality linebacker when they released Reuben Foster after his second domestic abuse accusation of 2018 happened. Fred Warner is a quality linebacker but you saw his production drop when he had to run the defense. Elijah Lee has proven to be a solid linebacker but should be moved to the strongside position. Kwon Alexander is a former pro bowl caliber middle linebacker that could man this defense.
Alexander is coming off a torn ACL but theses injuries seem to be getting easier and easier to come back from with modern rehab. He is a proven talent and still young having only played in four seasons, starting a full 16 in only one. In that season though he produced 145 tackles (108 solo), 12 tackles for a loss, three sacks, seven passes defensed, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a Touchdown. That is the type of production that the 49ers will be hoping to get.
Alexander does come with injury concerns but the production should outweigh that. He plays well in every level of the game. watch him drop in coverage here and jump the route to come up with an interception:
— AllThingsBucs (@AllThingsTBbucs) November 19, 2017
He plays with speed cover the field from sideline to sideline and also bursting in on his blitzes. Watch here how quickly he is able to get to the QB for the hit:
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 16, 2018
Having Kwon Alexander man the middle while putting Fred Warner on the weakside and Elijah Lee on the strongside makes this for a nice linebacker trio.
2) Dante Fowler Jr.- Defensive End
Fowler has played pretty good for the Rams, especially in the playoffs as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Fowler plays his best football when he plays defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, a scheme the 49ers run. The 49ers have been one of the worst teams at getting to the quarterback the past few years and it is time to stop experimenting with players outside their normal positions.
Fowler was a top five pick but lost his rookie season due to a torn ACL. Though he did come back to compete in every game although never cracked the starting lineup, but did come up with eight sacks. Fowler was never able to crack the starting rotation on the Jaguars, mainly because of their stacked defensive line, and was traded to the Rams.
With the Rams he has had some growing pains moving out to outside linebacker but has shown that pass rush ability in the playoffs. In the Rams two playoff games Fowler has eight tackles, three for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. Watch the beautiful spin move here to get to Drew Brees:
Dante Fowler. Monster spin move. pic.twitter.com/GelYCeOc37
— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) January 20, 2019
Fowler also had this huge hit one Ezekiel Elliot in his first playoff game:
Employing talent like this on the outside should finally give the 49ers something to work off of. If they can land Nick Bosa at the number two pick in the draft than in one offseason could change to one of the better pass rushing duos in the NFC.
3) Morris Claiborne– Cornerback
Claiborne is coming off his best season yet with the Jets, and has done so quietly. You rarely here his name in talks of the better cover corners in the league but he has been just that. Last season he had 57 tackles (44 solo), two tackles for a loss, 14 passes defensed, two interceptions and a Touchdown.
Looking for a number two corner opposite of Richard Sherman, who played real well at the end of 2018 is something the 49eres are looking for. Claiborne and Sherman in my opinion would actually be mire of a 1a and 1b corner. Both have the ability to cover number one receivers and have proven so in the past.
Claiborne does a magnificent job of playing the QB while being able to stay with his man. Here he stays step for step and rises up for the interception:
Watch here as he makes a beautiful adjustment to cover the under route and force the pass breakup:
Awesome play by Claiborne. Jets in a cover 3 look, Morris Claiborne has deep coverage responsibility but keeps his eyes on Newton and jumps the shorter route on the wolf concept for the PD. pic.twitter.com/IEduqDygFI
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) November 29, 2017
Adding the youth, skill, and experience of Claiborne to the secondary of the 49ers would be huge. Now they can go best available in the draft.
The Rams are able to add some veteran help to the team and resign Cory Littleton so they stay at the top of the NFC West. The Cardinals revamp their defense to cater to their new 3-4 base scheme. The Seahawks retain Frank Clark and add help the other side and find a replacement for Earl Thomas. The 49ers fill many of the wholes they have [roving to be a good free agent destination.
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