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NFC West Free Agency Update
West coast, best coast?
|WEST IS BEST|
A look at the combined records and winning percentages of each NFL division from the 2013 regular season:
NFC West (Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis): 42-22 (.688)
AFC West (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego): 37-27 (.578)
AFC East (Buffalo, Miami, New England, N.Y. Jets): 34-30 (.531)
NFC South (Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay): 31-33 (.484)
AFC North (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh): 31-33 (.484)
NFC North (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota): 28-34-2 (.453)
NFC East (Dallas, N.Y. Giants, Philadelphia, Washington): 28-36 (.436)
AFC South (Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee): 24-40 (.375)
It was true a season ago, when the NFC West posted the best combined record (42-22) across the NFL’s eight divisions. The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers represented the conference in January's NFC Championship, and as we all know, Seattle was awarded the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy with a 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Of course, one look at a map and you'll quickly see that not every club in the division is actually based on the left-most side of the United States (thanks, St. Louis Rams). But I really wanted to start the article that way.
We’re just over a week into NFL free agency and there's been plenty of movement around the League. In the rapidly-changing, ever-unstable, 140-character tweet-driven landscape that is the NFL's open market, we push pause long enough to take a team-by-team look at which players have joined and departed football's most-dominant division (all transactions reported via NFL.com's free-agent tracker as of March 21, 2014):
Arizona Cardinals (10-6 in 2013)
Welcome Back: TE Jake Ballard, K Jay Feely, DE Frostee Rucker, LB Marcus Benard, LB Matt Shaughnessy, DB Bryan McCann, NT Alameda Ta’amu
Nice Knowing You: CB Javier Arenas (Atlanta Falcons), LB Jasper Brinkley (Minnesota Vikings), LB Karlos Dansby (Cleveland Browns), LB Dontay Moch (Cincinnati Bengals), TE Jim Dray (Browns), WR Andre Roberts (Washington Redskins), CB Antoine Cason (Panthers), RB Rashard Mendenhall (retired)
New Faces: T Jared Veldheer (Oakland Raiders), CB Antonio Cromartie (N.Y. Jets), TE John Carlson (Vikings), WR Ted Ginn (Carolina Panthers), RB Jonathan Dwyer (Pittsburgh Steelers), G Ted Larsen (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Still Unsigned Or Released: SS Yeremiah Bell, G Daryn Colledge, T Mike Gibson, TE Jeff King, TE Richard Quinn, TE Kory Sperry, T Eric Winston
What It Means:
The addition of rising left tackle Jared Veldheer from the Oakland Raiders will bolster an offensive line that has seen inconsistent play at the position in recent years. The 6-foot-8, 320-pound 26-year-old tackle gives the Cardinals solid protection against the League's premier pass rushers, several of which hail from the defensive-minded NFC West.
Seahawks fans should remember the name Ted Ginn, who brought back a kick return and punt return for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in a game against the Seahawks as a member of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. In addition to his skill set as a returner, Ginn provides another speedy option in the passing game for quarterback Carson Palmer.
And tight end John Carlson, a reliable pass catcher for the Seahawks not long ago who battled unfortunate concussion issues during his time with the Vikings, provides Arizona with some needed depth at the position.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4 in 2013)
Welcome Back: WR Anquan Boldin, K Phil Dawson, CB Eric Wright, FB Bruce Miller
Nice Knowing You: SS Donte Whitner (Browns), WR Mario Manningham (N.Y. Giants), RB Anthony Dixon (Buffalo Bills), CB Tarell Brown (Raiders)
New Faces: SS Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis Colts), CB Chris Cook (Vikings), QB Blaine Gabbert (via trade with Jacksonville Jaguars), T Jonathan Martin (via trade with Miami Dolphins)
Still Unsigned Or Released: QB Colt McCoy, CB Carlos Rogers, C Jonathan Goodwin, WR Kassim Osgood
What It Means
The Niners traded a sixth-round pick to the Jaguars for the services of former first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert, who after falling short of expectations in Jacksonville now looks to back up Kaepernick - the player chosen 26 spots behind him in 2011.
The loss of strong safety Donte Whitner to the Browns looked to be a blow to what was the NFL's No. 5-ranked defense at the end of the season. But the signing of strong safety Antoine Bethea from the Colts quickly poured quality back into the position.
And the re-signing of kicker Phil Dawson provides a reliable leg that bested the Seahawks late last season at Candlestick Park. Dawson connected on 32 of his 36 field goals a year ago.
St. Louis Rams (7-9 in 2013)
Welcome Back: LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, G Rodger Saffold
Nice Knowing You: QB Kellen Clemens (San Diego Chargers), CB Cortland Finnegan (Dolphins), TE Mike McNeill (Panthers), G Shelley Smith (Dolphins), G Chris Williams (Bills), SS Darian Stewart (Ravens)
New Faces: N/A
Still Unsigned Or Released: G Harvey Dahl, FS Matt Giordano, QB Brady Quinn, LB Will Witherspoon
What It Means:
The Rams re-signed versatile offensive lineman Rodger Saffold in one of the most round-a-bout ways possible, after the former second-round pick was reportedly headed to the Raiders in free agency before a failed physical made him available again to St. Louis. Saffold has a history of injuries having missed 17 games the past three seasons, but his return to the club should be seen as a positive after the team lost fellow O-linemen Chris Williams (Bills) and Shelly Smith (Dolphins).
With the free-agent market drying up, look for the Rams to turn their attention toward May's NFL Draft - an event that should fill several of the club's needs. The team is loaded with quality picks, owning the No. 2 and No. 13 overall selections thanks to the Redskins' 2012 pursuit of quarterback Robert Griffin III.