Matt Williamson of ESPN.com did an insider article the other day that graded out the NFC West for their free agency moves and he gave Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis each an "A" and Arizona a "D". I'm not going to grade each team's haul but I did want to just take a look at them now that the major signings, for the most part, are in the rear view.
Key additions: S Dashon Goldson (franchised), QB Alex Smith (re-sign), CB Carlos Rogers (re-sign), WR Mario Manningham, LB Ahmad Brooks (re-sign), WR Randy Moss, RB Brandon Jacobs, QB Josh Johnson, CB Perrish Cox, WR Ted Ginn (re-sign), LB Tavares Gooden (re-sign)
The Niners, like Seattle, briefly pursued Peyton Manning before re-signing Alex Smith to be their quarterback in 2012. They also signed QB Josh Johnson to back Smith up along with their 2nd round pick from last year, Colin Kaepernick. To add some offensive weapons, ostensibly to open up the vertical game, the 49ers also signed WRs Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. They re-signed kick return specialist Ted Ginn Jr as well. To bolster their backfield, they signed veteran RB Brandon Jacobs.
Meanwhile, they lost WR Josh Morgan to the Redskins and G Adam Snyder to the Cardinals.
On offense, at least on paper, the Niners got marginally better. The loss of Josh Morgan wouldn't be all that concerning in the first place, but was buoyed by adding Mario Manningham, a steady receiver for the Giants the last few years. Manningham had 39 catches and four touchdowns in 2011 in 12 games, 60/944/9 in 2010, and 57/822/5 in 2009. I'm actually a lot higher on the Manningham signing for the Niners than I am about the Randy Moss addition (though the Moss signing had a lot more fan fare), because the former Michigan Wolverine is younger (25), more versatile (I think), and more dependable than Moss.
Moss has played in 16 games over the last three seasons and 28 receptions and five touchdowns in that time. Not only has he proven to be a locker room cancer the last couple years (or, all years), his fit with Alex Smith at QB questionable. Moss is a vertical, deep threat and Smith is a WCO, short-to-intermediate passer with limited vertical talent. The Niners might make this marriage work, I suppose, but right now it seems a bit strange. They certainly would like to improve their vertical passing game over last year, and Moss is one of the better deep threats in NFL history, but I'm not holding my breath right now that this addition will prove to be effective for San Francisco.
Brandon Jacobs is another curious addition and I've already seen quite a few 49ers bloggers speculate that he won't even make the final 53-man roster. He's ostensibly a backup to oft-injured Frank Gore when it comes to goal-line work and short yardage. His YPC was 3.8 last year and he's now over 30. Regardless, he's a stop-gap veteran signing for the Niners.
On defense, the Niners return most of their elite defense in 2012 by re-signing CB Carlos Rogers and franchise tagging S Dashon Goldson. They re-signed LB Ahmad Brooks and added CB Parrish Cox, who was out of football last season while fighting a legal battle.
All in all - the Niners didn't hurt themselves in free agency and managed to retain the three most important free agents they faced losing - Alex Smith, Carlos Rogers, and Dashon Goldson. I like the Josh Johnson signing and I'm going to be extremely pissed off if he ends up starting some games and playing well, because I would have loved to see the Seahawks show a little interest in the former Buccaneer. Keeping Ted Ginn should help their field position battle and further bolster their already elite special teams units. On paper, the 49ers remain the favorites for the division, but they'll have trouble repeating their ridiculous +28 turnover ratio and at this point I don't think they got significantly better in free agency.
Key losses: CB Richard Marshall, G Rex Hadnot
The Cards were pretty quiet in free agency apart from their courtship of Peyton Manning. They franchised DE Calais Campbell, which was their number one priority, and added former Steelers' cornerback William Gay, who is now reunited with Arizona DC Ray Horton Jr as he installs the Steelers' style of blitzing defense in the desert.
They retained a weapon for Kevin Kolb in Early Doucet and dropped, then re-signed Levi Brown, saving themselves a bunch of money going forward. They signed G/T Adam Synder. While they didn't do a whole lot in FA, I don't think the Cardinals necessarily had a bad offseason there. Added a few interesting players, kept Campbell, now they'll move forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton after losing out on Peyton Manning.
Losing CB Richard Marshall was buoyed by adding William Gay, and Red Hadnot was replaced by Adam Synder. They didn't get significantly better anywhere, so I suppose that's why some may grade their work poorly.
The Rams added Cortland Finnegan and Kendall Langford to their defense, both of whom should help to improve the overall performance of the unit. I don't know enough about either player to speculate too much on how big of impacts they'll have, but I know that Rams fans in general are pretty happy about the additions. With the injury issues the Rams had at corner last year, Finnegan will be welcomed with open arms.
C Scott Wells was a Pro Bowler with the Packers last year so should be a nice addition to the Rams o-line this season. Steve Smith is a flyer addition, and assuming he can get healthy and on the same page with Sam Bradford, could make a big impact. I've liked Smith for some time and thought the Seahawks might take a look at him,
In his last full season -2009- Smith had 107 catches for 1220 yards and seven touchdowns so you know he's got some ability. He's only played in 9 games each in 2010 and 2011 after coming back from an ACL injury, but should soothe the loss of Brandon Lloyd in the Rams' receiver corps. In general, St. Louis still needs to upgrade at receiver, but with the addition of Jeff Fischer and a few key signings, and improved Sam Bradford and whoever they pick up with the bounty of picks they've accumulated by trading out of the #2 spot, the Rams shouldn't be overlooked going forward.
The NFC West is definitely getting better. It should make for an interesting season.