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Steps to a Seapeat: The current state of the NFC West

The Seahawks won one Super Bowl, but it seems like they might want to win another one for some reason. Here's how teams in the NFC West are lining up for next season, in terms of the cap.

aaaaahhhhhhhh zabenyaaaaaa!!!!
aaaaahhhhhhhh zabenyaaaaaa!!!!
Otto Greule Jr

The Seattle Seahawks opted to do a weird thing this season; Win a Super Bow- Baugh- Blow- Bool- Brawl? Am I saying it right? Well, this "Super Baul" apparently ends the season (doesn't seem smart, should have kept playing) and forces the team to make changes.

It also appears that other teams in the division must go through same changes, even though they didn't win a Superb Owl. (Honestly if that's true, why didn't the 49ers, Cardinals and Rams also choose to win a Slurpee Blowe? Kind of seems dumb on their part to not win a championship too.)

Since it matters most what opponents in your division do when compared to other teams around the NFL, the state of San Francisco, St. Louis and Arizona next year is very important. As is the current state of the Seahawks and what changes they are forced to make if they want to have a Seapete of the championship and carry this party into 2015. Because of that, let's take a closer look at the cap situation of all four teams as it stands today, the players that could get released to make more money available under the cap, and the pending free agents that will force those teams to turn around and spend that newly saved cap money immediately.

Then maybe Seattle can win another Stooper Bowel again next year. (Though it seems like this whole football thing is just a vicious cycle.)

Seattle Seahawks

Current committed cap space: $3.3 million

Cap casualty candidates: Sidney Rice, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant

The bad news is that sometimes you have to part with players and people that you like but the good news is that we are literally giving them a parting Trophy. (Seahawks won Super Bowl this year.) Rice is essentially what we would call a "no-brainer" release in that he carries a cap hit of $9.7 million, would save the team over $7 million in cap space if released, is coming off of a knee injury, and when healthy produced at the level of a second or third receiver.

Rice will be released but given that Seattle still needs more receiving help and that Rice needs an opportunity, I could see him coming back on a deal with very little, if any, guarantees. If Rice can stay healthy all season on a one year deal with the Seahawks, he knows he will have the best shot to win a Super Bowl again (get to play in it this time) and parlay that it into a better contract somewhere else.

Clemons is the next closest thing to a lock for a release, in my opinion. His cap hit is $9.6 million, fourth-highest on the team, the Seahawks would save $7.5 million to release him, knee injury a little over a year ago, one of the oldest players on Seattle, not producing at the level he once was when he signed the contract. But he gets to call himself a champion, so there's that. Clemons has been here every step of the way in the process and he's earned his right to wear that ring, but all good things must end.

Bryant is the most difficult of the three to let go. He's been here six years, which is like 30 years when you consider how much roster turnover there has been under Pete Carroll, and his career was revitalized by the new coaching staff when they moved him from DT to DE. He might not have remained in the NFL for longer than three years if not for that. He played at a higher level than Clemons, but essentially was the run-stopper to Clemons pass-rusher, and the team would love to find one guy to do that and save a roster spot. Either way, they'll likely be looking for a "new Red" at a much lower cost.

His cap hit is $8.5 million and they'll save $5.5 by releasing him.

Players like Jordan Hill, Benson Mayowa, O'Brien Schofield, D'Anthony Smith, and Jesse Williams could all still develop into something on the defensive line for Seattle. And at a fraction of the cost.

Cap space if those players are casualties: $23.6 million

They could also save more money if they really had to by releasing Heath Farwell and James Carpenter at a little over a million each. And if it got really desperate, letting go of Zach Miller would save them $5 million. Danny Kelly agreed that Miller was an interesting case and Anthony McCoy, though a free agent, would probably come back on a very cheap deal.

It's not a matter of if the Seahawks are better with Miller -- they definitely are -- it's a matter of if they are better with Miller or better without Miller but with someone like Michael Bennett and McCoy, instead. There's a good chance that Luke Willson will become the number one receiving threat at tight end next season anyway, with or without Miller.

Major free agent considerations: Michael Bennett, Steven Hauschka, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Doug Baldwin, Breno Giacomini, Tony McDaniel, Tarvaris Jackson

These aren't the only impending free agents or RFAs but they're likely the ones you'll hear most about. Baldwin gets a tender offer that essentially keeps him in Seattle for $2 million or costs another team their first or second round pick. They will give him the $2 million or possibly work out a long-term deal that keeps his cap number at $2 million anyway.

The reason I don't see the franchise tag going to Bennett or Tate, the two most obvious bring-back candidates, is that it will cost over $10 million on a one-year deal for either of those positions if you don't sign them to an extension. That's half of the remaining cap room and limits the ability to do much else. Which is why we've already heard rumors about new deals for both, new deals that likely carry guarantees and bonuses that save cap room short term so that they can extend players like Earl Thomas.

Ones that we absolutely can never lose.

That's also why I think Hauschka will get the franchise tag. Keep your awesome kicker for $2 million? Fine. He's one of the top five kickers in the NFL anyway.

Another interesting quandary is whether or not you might rather have Bennett over Cliff Avril. It seems like the two-o are a duo you that you never want to separate, but there might not be a choice. If it came down to either one, I think Bennett is the better get. Releasing Avril on the second of a two-year deal would save $7 million, more than enough to keep Bennett, I think. Hopefully we don't ever have to think about it, and I'm only going over a last ditch scenario that isn't likely. Given his impressive production in the playoffs as well, I am going to say that there is pretty much no way that Avril gets released.

Seattle has some cap space to work with after releasing a few players but will likely have to use almost all of it in order keep their same edge as the best team in the universe. I believe that they will definitely keep Baldwin, Hauschka, Tarvaris (he has noted on the Real Rob Report that the situation in Buffalo was enough to convince him that the grass isn't always greener on the other side), and re-sign Bennett. The trickiest situation might be Golden, due to the fact that he may convince another team to give him the contract of a number one receiver and he was always sort of a mini-version of Percy Harvin anyway.

Did they acquire Harvin with the foresight to let Tate walk this year? With Baldwin and Harvin, they're basically still better next season than they were this year with Baldwin and Tate and no Harvin. The maturation and improvement next year of Jermaine Kearse with a larger role in the offense should also make it easier to let Tate go.

Giacomini is replaceable with Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey. Damn, this team is good.

San Francisco 49ers

Current committed cap space: $7 million

Cap casualty candidates: Carlos Rogers, Frank Gore, Jon Baldwin

Probably heresy to Niners fans, but the fact of the matter is that Gore is owed $6.45 million and zero of it is guaranteed. After releasing Rogers, the team would have about $13 million in cap space, which seems reasonable if only you didn't look at some of the possible free agents.

Do I think the team will release Gore? No. They run the ball too much to just assume that Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore will be able to do what Gore can do, but it's an interesting proposition once you get down to brass tax. David Fucillo of Niners Nation told me that he would be "shocked" if Gore played next season under that deal, but that they would probably just restructure it to a two or three year deal.

It makes sense. Gore probably doesn't have another 1,000 yard season in him. He turns 31 in May and he just had a career-low 4.1 yards per carry, and that's dangerously close to the level where a running back is now hurting the team more than he's helping. Usually, 3.anything yards per carry is just plain bad, and the team has been gearing up for this moment for years now. They can give Gore a two-year deal and intersperse his carries with Hunter and Lattimore, which would probably make them a more dangerous running team next year, anyway.

Rogers is all but gone. Baldwin will save them about $1.4 million.

Cap space if those players are casualties: $18.4 million

The most critical offseason issue facing the 49ers is the impending free agency of Colin Kaepernick after next year. The three-year QB has a cap hit of just $1.6 million next year but teams typically don't let franchise quarterbacks hit free agency, and if they do, it's guaranteed that they'll slap the franchise tag on him. In the age of $20 million per year deals, that means that they would be locked into a situation where they are paying Kaepernick upwards of $15 million in a season whether they like it or not.

The team has gone to a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, he was all the rage of the 2012 playoffs, but there are still inconsistencies there that would give some franchises pause before handing over a $100 million deal. The biggest thing I've seen in regards to Kaepernick's games against the Seahawks (which are obviously the majority of the games I've seen him play in) is inaccuracy. Passes so often appear to be short, low, high, to the left, to the right, to the window, and to the wall. To the sweat dropping off Richard Sherman's balls.

Kaepernick was definitely shortchanged last year -- San Francisco's receivers outside of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis were just atrocious -- but that's not entirely on them. He missed a lot of open receivers from what I could tell and his work as a passer is still very much in progress. The other thing was his decision-making skills, and the last play of the NFC Championship says everything you need to know about that.

They were just about as successful in terms of wins and losses with Alex Smith, so is there any chance that the team will avoid paying Kaepernick like one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL?

I don't think you can convince Kaepernick to sign a team-friendly three or four year deal, it's got to be all or nothing in the world of non-guaranteed contracts. It's hard to find quarterbacks as good as Kaepernick, but we've also seen a lot of bad deals to quarterbacks, deals that look bad almost immediately. He could develop into one of the best in the game, but he's not there yet and the team also has some other big decisions ahead. The best move may be to let him play out the year on his current deal, draft a quarterback, and see how it plays out. He can't walk anyway, even if he does really good, because of the franchise tag.

It worked for Joe Flacco.

Aldon Smith is also nearing the time for an extension. He's also an extremely talented player with question marks moving ahead. Are they willing to commit $40 million guaranteed to a player with ongoing legal troubles that caused him to leave the team in the middle of the season? Are they willing to risk losing him? He's not a free agent yet, but an extension is looming.

Major free agent considerations: Anquan Boldin, Donte Whitner, Tarrell Brown, Jonathan Goodwin, Anthony Dixon, Phil Dawson

The Niners are just a year removed from replacing Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson with rookie Eric Reid, are they ready to do the same with Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner? And what about Boldin? He's the only wide receiver on the roster to have topped 300 yards last season and though Michael Crabtree was hurt, that still doesn't inspire confidence in the unit as a whole. Without Boldin, they've got Crabtree and Vernon Davis catching passes and still nobody else.

Players like Quinton Patton inspire very little confidence moving forward. Obviously it's a position that they will focus on during the draft and free agency, but that has not helped them in recent years with Patton and AJ Jenkins, so what's going to be different this time?

Boldin might be turning 34, but he just had a very dominating season and has now performed well for three different teams and a number of different offensive coordinators in his career. Maybe he can't get a long term deal at his age, but that's exactly why he will ask for more money in the short term. Does San Francisco have that?

On the opposite side of the ball, they needed to upgrade their cornerback position as it was, but it really hits home just how empty the unit could be as free agency settles in. The only returning player with experience might be Tramaine Brock. He's good, but who will play opposite of him? Rogers? He played poorly last year by most measures, and has the highest cap number on the entire team.

You can restructure him, sure, but that won't change the need to have to pay somebody to start opposite of Brock. Would they go after Thurmond?

Goodwin is their starting center, and 35 years old. Fucillo believes he will retire and replace him with Daniel Kilgore and draft someone else to groom for the future.

With the amount of cap space they'll have after releasing Rogers and restructuring Gore, I think the team re-signs Boldin to a three-year deal and finds a cornerback in free agency. They likely can draft a strong safety early and replace Whitner without having to spend a ton of money. They'll still have the best linebacking corps in football, a strong offensive line, and a tough defensive line. With a healthy Crabtree, a healthy Lattimore, a new corner, the 49ers could be even better next year. The biggest concerns would be the health of Navorro Bowman and the age of Justin Smith.


St. Louis Rams

Current committed cap space: $1.5 million

Possible cap casualties: Sam Bradford, Jake Long, Cortland Finnegan, Harvey Dahl, Scott Wells

St. Louis is a team that a lot of people are concerned about for next season and beyond. They surprised most people by going 7-9, their third seven-win season in the last three years, and they have the number two overall pick in the draft from the Redskins, in addition to their own (13th.) They also finished in last place in the division, despite their 7-9 record, so theoretically they should have the easiest schedule in the NFC West. (Only in theory, since teams improve every year and we don't really know who is going to be better in 2014.)

However, I would also point out that the Rams do have three seven-win seasons in the last four years. St. Louis has simply not been able to get over the hump, and more often than not they collapse to the worst record in the NFL before they go in the right direction. As for the draft: You can lead a horse to Spike Lee, but you can't force him to Do The Right Thing.

In 2008, they took Chris Long over Matt Ryan. Long is good, not great, and carries a cap hit just shy of $15 million. He's also not really releasable since they wouldn't save money by letting him go, anyway. That's a bigger cap hit than anyone on the current roster of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.

In 2009, they took Jason Smith over... well, a bunch of other players that didn't pan out, but most were still better than Smith. Even Aaron Curry... maybe.

In 2010, they took Sam Bradford first overall. That's probably what a lot of teams would have done, but not every team. Consider this: Would you rather have Bradford or any of the next six players:

Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Eric Berry, Russell Okung, Joe Haden.

Now, those misses are mostly a thing of the past. Savvy moves to acquire Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, plus future extra first round picks, have panned out for the better. Tavon Austin also flashed moments of "oh my god" a few times this year. But it's a good reminder that literally any team can end up getting a bust and that the Rams are probably just as likely to trade down this year as they were in 2012 when they dealt with Washington.

I don't like to say ahead of time whether or not a draft glass is "good" or "poor" because that's as logical as grading a draft two minutes after it happens. We don't know how these players will turn out yet. If we did, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson and-- you get the drill. However, I will say that it certainly doesn't seem to "set up well" for St. Louis based on needs.

Based on needs as of this writing, because they could always change that by releasing Bradford.

First things first: Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times tells me that Finnegan, Dahl and Wells are "pretty automatic." So let's cut the fat.

Cap space if those three are released: $12.7 million

Now for Bradford.

The QB currently rehabbing a torn ACL carries a 2014 cap hit of over $17 million and would also save the team about $10 million if released. That leaves them without their former franchise QB, and a player that has performed pretty good when healthy, but was the team actually worse off without him? Kellen Clemens is not as good as Bradford, but the team went 4-5 when he started compared to 3-4 with Sam.

The running game improved and players around the QB seemed to step their game up, perhaps because they did start to feel the pressure to perform at a higher level. Whatever it was, St. Louis seemed fine without their most expensive player.

This current class includes Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Johnny Manziel, three players that a team will likely start to try and build around as soon as this upcoming season. The Rams could even trade down a little bit and still pick up one of those three or another QB such as Derek Carr or Zach Mettenberger or, well, pick your poison.

Russell Wilson is a Super Bowl champion.

There's no reason to state for a fact that St. Louis can't win with a player currently being undervalued. And he'd cost a mere fraction of what Bradford costs, while allowing you to pursue free agents that will hopefully improve your weak spots such as wide receiver and safety.

Bradford is not worth what he's being paid but it doesn't mean that his release couldn't eventually be the worst move that the Rams have ever made. That's the risk you take with quarterbacks. I just don't see why a team would pay the 20th-best quarterback like he's the fourth-best quarterback. Especially when the Redskins have given you such a valuable gift.

Decisions: JoLonn Dunbar, Kellen Clemens, Rodger Saffold

They really don't have any major impending losses. Saffold was a jack of all trades last year on the offensive line and Clemens will probably come back to be one of the more well-taken-care-of backups. He's never going to get a starters job and he's clearly one of the better second-string QBs.

Dunbar had a huge season in 2012, was suspended for four games in 2013, and didn't come back to play at that high of a level again.

The Rams could look much different in 2014 if they make some big changes, or could look very much the same. Given that Jeff Fisher is still the head coach, they'll probably stay the course. I just think that in today's NFL, you can't assume that drafting a quarterback and starting him as a rookie is "rebuilding." It's proven to possibly be even more effective than starting a veteran.

St. Louis's leading receiver was Jared Cook, and most people don't think he's very good. Pending free agents include Boldin, Jeremy Maclin, James Jones, Hakeem Nicks, Tate, Eric Decker, and Julian Edelman. Should you restrict yourself from adding players that could help you just because you're worried that Bradford might pan out one day?

I probably wouldn't. Not when I could have Teddy Bridgewater on a guaranteed four-year deal for like $25 million total.

Arizona Cardinals

Current committed cap space: $2 million - $11.4 million

Possible cap casualties: Daryn Colledge, Jasper Brinkley

Arizona is perhaps the hardest team in the NFC West to figure out. They are coming off one of their most successful seasons in franchise history and appear to be moving in the right direction, but how much will they be able to improve next year? You can't stay stagnant in this division, you have to get better.

The Cardinals have just $2 million in cap space as it is and they don't appear to have much wiggle room. That is until just this week -- the team restructured Larry Fitzgerald's contract, saving $9.4 million against the cap. Fitz helps the team this year but now has a huge $23 million cap hit for 2015.

By releasing Colledge and Brinkley, the team would save about another $3-$4 million.

Cap space after casualties: $15 million

What does Arizona need? An offensive line, a running game, a QBOTF, don't let up on defense. In addition to having an old quarterback, the Cardinals also have an old safety, old DT, old WILL. The good news is that rookie guard Jonathan Cooper should return after missing the whole year, but they need to hit well on the draft and continue to build on some of the impressive picks of recent years.

Guys like Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Michael Floyd.

Tough free agent decisions: Karlos Dansby, Jay Feely, Yeremiah Bell, Rashard Mendenhall

The biggest guy to keep an eye on is the linebacker Dansby. He came back on a one-year deal with most thinking this would be a nice "twilight of career year" for the veteran. Instead he became the leader of the defense. He's not super young (33 next year) but he had 6.5 sacks, four interceptions, 113 tackles... you can't really let that go.

Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds told me that he's the best fit for the team and it "looks like it will happen."

Everything else for Arizona should just fall in place, but if they make one or two major acquisitions, they could definitely win the NFC West next year if everything goes right for them. That defense is not a joke. Or as the safety Bell would say:

Not a yoke.