The 2023 NFL offseason is about to ramp up with free agency only a few days away. Legal tampering, when teams can start talking with pending free agents, begins on March 13. Trades can become official two days later. All four teams in the NFC West division have made the playoffs in the last two seasons, meaning any of the four could only be a few moves away from making real noise in 2023.
The Cardinals have a top three pick and a fair amount of cap space to retool their roster under their new regime of head coach Jonathan Gannon, formerly the Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, and general manager Monti Ossenfort, formerly the director of player personnel for the Tennessee Titans. The Rams, while lacking in draft picks and cap space, could return to form with better injury luck for their stars. The Seahawks could make the biggest leap forward of any team, making the playoffs a year ago and now in possession of two first-round picks as well as plenty of cap space. The 49ers should once again be one of the division's best teams with a little bit of cap space and one of the best rosters in football.
As we approach the free agency frenzy, here's where all four NFC West teams stand and what they could do to improve their roster before the 2023 NFL Draft.
Note: Projected cap space is per Over the Cap.
Team needs: OG, C, EDGE, CB, LB, RB, OT
Cap space: $28.6M (7th)
Top draft picks: No. 3, No. 34, No. 66
Making a regime change in the NFL, bringing in a new general manager and head coach, usually means a team is in rebuilding mode. Not the Arizona Cardinals. Their approach appears to be aiming to win now as some of the first words Gannon said to face-of-the-franchise quarterback Kyler Murray were "Let's go, let's go win!" If the intent was to shift to more of a youth movement, Gannon likely would've stuck to low-key pleasantries with something along the lines of "Looking forward to working with you," etc.
With that win-now approach in mind, the Cardinals pursuing a top-flight CB1 in addition to ideally retaining Byron Murphy to bolster what was the 24th-ranked passing defense makes sense. Especially since Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, whose 44.5 passer rating in coverage was the best in the NFL in 2022 among 49 players with 75 or more passes thrown their way, is set to hit the open market. The defense could also continue to improve quickly under Gannon with the selection of one of the top edge rushers in the draft, Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. or Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson. Retaining their own in 25-year-old defensive end Zach Allen, who's coming off a career year, shouldn't be too much of a financial burden.
Offensively, the only key needs are on the line and at the backup quarterback spot. Cardinals quarterbacks had an average time to throw of 2.58 seconds, the third-quickest in the NFL. That statistic can be indicative of few things, positive and negative. It can be a positive like in the case of the Cincinnati Bengals, whose team 2.55 average time to throw showcases Joe Burrow's supreme confidence in his arm and his team's scheme. The other two in the top three in 2022, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2.44) and the Cardinals (2.58), illustrate a quarterback afraid to get hit and getting the ball out of his hands as fast as he can at age 45 (Tom Brady) and mostly a number of fill-in quarterbacks locking in on their first read while attempting to avoid being sacked (Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley, and David Blough).
Arizona's quarterbacks were still taken down 46 times, tied for the ninth-most sacks allowed by any team. Fortifying its front and finding a veteran who can hold things down until Murray can return from his torn ACL during the season will be priorities.
Potential veteran targets: Arizona Cardinals DE Zach Allen, Philadelphia Eagles CB James Bradberry, Miami Dolphins QB Teddy Bridgewater, Philadelphia Eagles G Isaac Seumalo, New York Jets T George Fant, New York Jets Connor McGovern, Washington Commanders G Wes Schweitzer, Miami Dolphins LB Elandon Roberts
Los Angeles Rams
Team needs: OG, TE, EDGE, CB, DT, QB
Cap space: -$16.0M (28th)
Top draft picks: No. 36, No. 69
The good news for the Super Bowl champions of yesteryear is they still have Cooper Kupp missing eight games (ankle), All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald missing six games (ankle) and the majority of their offensive line missing significant amounts of time. An average amount of injury luck could result in the 2023 Rams looking more like the teams McVay is used to, ones that regularly win at least 10 games and reach the postseason.back in the fold after there were retirement questions floating around. If is , this could be a team back in NFC playoff mix. The Rams also can't possibly have any worse injury luck than they did in 2022 with Stafford missing eight games (neck), 2021 Offensive Player of the Year
Restructuring some contracts could provide enough cap space for Los Angeles to be able to sign a few veterans on one-year, prove-it deals along the line and in the secondary. The draft will be difficult as the Rams don't possess their own first-round pick until 2024. Selecting a mid-to-late-round quarterback could be key for McVay to start grooming a new, long-term successor in place of the injury-plagued Stafford.
Potential veteran targets: Tennessee Titans WR Robert Woods, Arizona Cardinals G Justin Pugh, New York Giants G Jon Feliciano, San Francisco 49ers G Daniel Brunskill, Green Bay Packers TE Robert Tonyan, Cincinnati Bengals TE Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens CB Marcus Peters, Las Vegas Raiders CB Rock Ya-Sin
Team needs: C, S, LB, DT, WR, OG
Cap space: $23.1M (8th)
Top draft picks: No. 5, No. 20, No. 37, No. 52
The 2022 Seattle Seahawks were like finding a crumpled $20 in your jeans pocket after taking them out of the washing machine -- a pleasant surprise. After trading Russell Wilson, once their longtime face-of-the-franchise quarterback, to the Denver Broncos in exchange for three players (QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant and DL Shelby Harris) along with five draft picks (two firsts, two seconds and one fifth), it appeared as if the team was punting on the 2022 season. However, with Wilson's former backup, Geno Smith, outplaying Seattle's only Super Bowl champion quarterback in Year 1 of the divorce, Seattle snuck into the seventh and final NFC playoff spot at 9-8, becoming one of only two teams this season to reach the playoffs and have multiple first-round picks, joining the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Having the fifth overall pick and the 20th overall pick allow for the Seahawks to bank on being able to acquire two instant-impact players on the cheap given. Their treasure trove of picks and the extra cap space that comes with it will likely go toward one or two other starting-caliber veterans potentially at wide receiver or defensive line. Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have managed the salary cap so well that they still have a little over $23 million in cap space to play with even after re-signing Smith to new a . However, that may not preclude them from selecting a top passing prospect with the fifth overall pick with Carroll saying the Seahawk are " to the quarterbacks that are coming out" in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Adding 26-year-old wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, the Patriots' leader in receiving in each of the last two seasons, as well as 30-year-old defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, coming off a career-high 11.0 sacks, to their locker room would address a couple areas of need. Those signings would allow Seattle to pick the best player available early in the 2023 NFL Draft instead of having to draft for need.
Potential veteran targets: Philadelphia Eagles DT Javon Hargrave, Cleveland Browns LB Deion Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers LB Devin Bush, New England Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers, Tennessee Titans WR Robert Woods, Detroit Lions WR DJ Chark
San Francisco 49ers
Team needs: C, OG, S, DT, WR
Cap space: $6.4M (19th)
Top draft picks: No. 99, No. 101, No. 102
The San Francisco 49ers nearly reaching the Super Bowl with the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft -- quarterback Brock Purdy -- leading the charge following injuries to 2021 third overall draft pick Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo is a testament to the outstanding shape of the 49ers' roster and head coach Kyle Shanahan's wizardry as a play-caller. If San Francisco is going to get any contributions from its 2023 draft class, that will start with players selected at the end of the third round at the earliest. That's because the Niners traded away their first-round pick in order to select Lance in 2021, and their second-, third-, and fourth-round picks were part of the cost to acquire Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers.
Fortunately for the 49ers, they don't have too many gaping holes to address. Most of their offseason moves will likely be internal: deciding who will be their franchise quarterback moving forward between Lance and Purdy, extending 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa and figuring out whether or not to extend or trade 24-year-old wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Having the NFL's top scoring defense in 2022 and replacing defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, now the Houston Texans head coach, with former Panthers interim head coach and defensive play-caller Steve Wilks was a savvy move by Shanahan to keep the good times rolling on defense. If the 49ers can shore up the right side of their offensive line and keep their quarterbacks upright, there's no reason why they can't once again reach as far as the NFC Championship Game for the fourth time in five seasons.
Potential veteran targets: Arizona Cardinals G Justin Pugh, New York Giants G Jon Feliciano, San Francisco 49ers G Daniel Brunskill, Pittsburgh Steelers CB Cameron Sutton, San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds, Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos