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Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

06 Mar 2014

Under the Cap: NFC West

by Rivers McCown

Arizona Cardinals

Cap Space as of March 5th: A little under $18 million. (All monetary figures courtesy of Over The Cap. This is based off the $133 million salary cap.)

Unrestricted Free Agents (16, UFAs and RFAs culled via NFL.com): Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Roberts, Jim Dray, Jeff King, Kory Sperry, Eric Winston, Mike Gibson, Marcus Benard, Frostee Rucker, Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason, Bryan McCann, Yeremiah Bell, Jay Feely

Restricted Free Agents (2): Jake Ballard, Alfonso Smith

Jake Ballard in Cold Shadow: This new SNES sidescroller follows the adventures of one Arizona Cardinals tight end trying to do something, anything, to be relevant. All buttons on the controller just make him block. The Arizona Republic reported that the Cardinals will try to bring him back, so apparently there actually is a market for this game.

Alfonso Smith has been hanging around the bottom of the Arizona running back depth chart for awhile now, and they keep trying to bring in new guys, and those new guys keep disappointing. So, hey, probably not worth any real tender amount, but he could stick around again.

Franchise Tag: The Cardinals did not use their franchise tag. In a world where Karlos Dansby hadn't already been franchised, he was probably the best use of the tag. But now we've gone one theoretical world too far, and oh no, Kevin Dyson DID score that game-tying touchdown. I'm afraid I'm going to have to put this capsule to sleep. It's too dangerous to let it live on.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Jerraud Powers ($2,750,000 saved against 2014 cap), Daryn Colledge ($2,725,000)

Neither of these players were necessarily bad last season, but there has been speculation that both could go. Phoenix radio reporter Mike Jurecki reported that Colledge could be a cap casualty, even if it would only save a few million for the Cards. Designating Colledge as a post-June 1 cut would offer more savings. ESPN's Josh Weinfuss made the case for a Powers release on his Cardinals blog.

I would tend to think Colledge's $7.275 million cap number is harder to deal with than Powers' $4.75 million. That said, guard is one of the weaker positions in free agency this year. There is merit to either move, but it depends more on what the Cardinals think of their potential in-house replacements than what we as outsiders can forecast.

Flexibility: Arizona already used their big play when Larry Fitzgerald restructured his contract to a base salary of just $1 million, freeing up tons of cap space. Others who could negotiate in this manner include Carson Palmer ($9 million base salary), Darnell Dockett ($5.5 million), and Calais Campbell ($5.5 million).

Overview: Arizona's priorities depend a lot on how they feel about their internal options. They've collected a pretty deep team at most defensive positions, and 2013 second-rounder Kevin Minter could be a possibility to step in for Karlos Dansby. On offense, rumors have tied them to Branden Albert for awhile, and tackle is still the obvious spot that needs to be solved.

Arizona also could replace Andre Roberts in free agency -- someone like James Jones would make sense -- but it could be cheaper to just stick to a draft class that seems rich in wideout talent. Tight end is another option: how many more years can Rob Housler be given to "break out"?

Finally, a Patrick Peterson extension is in the best interest of both sides as he heads into the last guaranteed year of his rookie deal.

St. Louis Rams

Cap Space as of March 5th: A little over $10 million.

Unrestricted Free Agents (10): Kellen Clemens, Brady Quinn, Adam Henry, Rodger Saffold, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Will Witherspoon, Matt Giordano, Darian Stewart, Shelley Smith, Chris Williams

Restricted Free Agents (1): Mike McNeill

A lower-string tight end that probably wouldn't be tendered in any normal situation. However, given Brian Schottenheimer's tendency to use extra-big sets last year, we can't rule anything out. Yes, that includes Brian Schottenheimer running a wildcat set with McNeill as a back.

Franchise Tag: The Rams also did not see anyone worthy of the franchise tag in their free agent class. The closest was probably Rodger Saffold, and the Rams would have had to pay an exorbitant amount for a player they consider a guard to pull that one off, so it makes plenty of sense.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Sam Bradford ($10,420,000), Scott Wells ($4,500,000), Harvey Dahl ($4,000,000)

OK, OK, the Rams aren't going to release Sam Bradford. They're just not going to do it. Even though they could let him go and select his replacement with the second overall pick. As much as I disagree with the move, you have to admire the way they've gotten out front with the messaging on the issue. Nobody has ever doubted that they would keep Bradford, and general manager Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have probably noted that they will keep him three or four times already this offseason.

The offensive line play has been bad, and two veterans who were brought in to fix the situation haven't been helping. Wells may get the go-ahead to stay just because the Rams have so much potential turmoil on the line that they need someone back. Dahl has generally been less acceptable.

Flexibility: Surprisingly, there's a lot of potential wiggle room. St. Louis has four huge base salaries in Bradford ($14.015 million), Chris Long ($13.2 million), James Laurinaitis ($10 million), and Jake Long ($8 million) that could be converted into signing bonuses for the sake of new cap money. An extension for Bradford, who has two seasons left on his deal, could also clear up a little extra space.

Overview: Well, at least the Rams won't have Cortland Finnegan to kick around anymore. As long as they stick to their media plans, St. Louis actually should have a very simple offseason: keeping Bradford, not drafting a No. 1 receiver, and auctioning off their No. 2 overall pick are the knowns. The priority in recent days has been resigning Saffold, but regardless of whether that happens or not, the Rams need to spend some of their heavy draft pick capital on the offensive line. The secondary is another target area.

I'd say quarterback is one too, but I keep being assured by high-ranking team sources that it's not, despite pedestrian results.

The Rams have a real problem here, in that they continue to say they are accumulating assets, but mostly it's the supposed assets accumulating on them. Outside of Robert Quinn, there weren't exactly a lot of breakthroughs last year. What does this offense need to click? Just how many issues can a slightly better line fix?

San Francisco 49ers

Cap Space as of March 5th: A little over $10 million.

Unrestricted Free Agents (9): Colt McCoy, Anthony Dixon, Mario Manningham, Kassim Osgood, Jonathan Goodwin, Tarell Brown, Eric Wright, Donte Whitner, Phil Dawson

Restricted Free Agents (2): Perrish Cox, Demarcus Dobbs

The 49ers aren't expected to tender either player. Cox will continue to bounce around the league as a nickel/dime defensive back, while Dobbs will be defensive line depth.

Franchise Tag: The 49ers declined to use the franchise tag, meaning we still haven't seen a Franchise Kicker get quarterback money. It's a shame -- really feels like Phil Dawson should be the one to do that. And as you can tell by how often teams use the franchise tag on kickers, it truly is one of the most valuable positions in the league.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Carlos Rogers ($5,105,468)

The 49ers are already looking at some big changes in their secondary with Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner as free agents. Rogers may provide the cap savings they need to re-sign one of them.

Rogers was fairly mediocre in all facets of our charting project: 50th in yards per pass, 48th in success rate. He was targeted more often than the other two defensive backs, Brown and Tramaine Brock, but not by an outrageous amount. Still, if the 49ers are getting a jump on things, Rogers will turn 33 this offseason. With Chris Culliver also coming back off injury, it might be time to turn this position over to youth.

Flexibility: The 49ers are definitely built without much in the way of star power: they have one player with a scheduled cap figure over $8 million, and we just went over why Carlos Rogers might get cut. But they have seven different players with cap figures between $6 and $7.5 million.

What I'm getting at is that San Francisco's flexibility to make a huge change to their cap is compromised a bit because they'd need to restructure so many players to do it. Besides Rogers, only Patrick Willis has a base salary over $5 million. They could make some changes if need be, but they don't have obvious answers to do it with.

Overview: The 49ers already took care of their most important free agent when they brought back Anquan Boldin on a two-year deal. The next logical step is an extension for Colin Kaepernick. The sides have been haggling around the $16-20 million a year range, which is about market rate for starting quarterbacks of some acclaim these days. (Particularly so when every team just got a nice salary cap boost.)

Other than that, they'd like to bring Tarell Brown back. Whitner probably isn't a must-keep, though he's been fine. Jonathan Goodwin is going to be replaced by recently extended Daniel Kilgore, and it's refreshing to see a succession line like that in the NFL even if it does carry more inherent risk than plugging in a rookie.

Seattle Seahawks

Cap Space as of March 5th: A little under $18 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (17): Tarvaris Jackson, Michael Robinson, Golden Tate, Bryan Walters, Kellen Davis, Anthony McCoy, Breno Giacomini, Paul McQuistan, Jason Spitz, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald, O'Brien Schofield, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond III, Chris Maragos, Steven Hauschka

Restricted Free Agents (3): Doug Baldwin, Jeron Johnson, Lemuel Jeanpierre

We already know for a fact that Johnson was was tendered at the second-round level. It would be surprising if Baldwin didn't join him there. Jeanpierre I'd think would be less likely to get a tender, though that doesn't necessarily rule out his return to Seattle.

Franchise Tag: Seattle, like every other team in the NFC West, did not use the franchise tag. Michael Bennett certainly would've been a worthy candidate, but perhaps being that tied into the cap space wasn't amenable to John Schneider and company. Steven Hauschska was also mentioned as a candidate, because every kicker who successfully completes a season should be considered one.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Chris Clemons ($7,500,000), Zach Miller ($5,000,000)

Clemons was coming off a torn ACL and was only part of the rotation with Cliff Avril and Bennett at end last year -- though that's certainly nothing to scoff at. He's the oldest member of the group, as he'll turn 33 during next season, and while a healthy and well-utilized Clemons has traditionally been worth this money, it's hard to see the Seahawks paying it out. A restructure might make more sense for both sides, though releasing him shouldn't be off the table.

Miller is a fine tight end, and has often watched his numbers suffer in the passing game so he can stay and block for a line that has needed all the help it can get. But fine tight ends generally make less than this, and it would be no surprise if the Seahawks moved on from him and tried to do better with less cap space.

Flexibility: Unless Seattle wants to re-negotiate new contracts with Avril and/or Clemons, surprisingly they don't have many restructure options on the roster. They could roll some of Percy Harvin's $11 million base salary into a signing bonus, and Russell Okung could do the same with his $8.7 million base, but with only one year left on his deal they'd probably be better off just giving him a new contract.

Essentially, Seattle is going to be more in the business of handing out extensions than straight restructures, and that's a different spot to be in.

Overview: Hey, speaking of extensions Seattle needs to hand out ... this is the last year on contracts for both Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. Those new contracts will be occupying most of John Schneider's time this offseason.

In free agency, Bennett has been a priority retain for them. There also appears to be mutual interest between Golden Tate and Hauschka in a reunion. Most of the other guys will be on the backburner while Seattle figures out the big pieces. Don't forget Russell Wilson is due for an extension after this year, as well.

Seattle probably won't spend much outside of these guys, but it wouldn't be a big surprise to see them in on offensive linemen, especially at right tackle. The draft is a possibility for that as well.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 06 Mar 2014

19 comments, Last at 09 Mar 2014, 1:41pm by Will Allen


by BretU :: Thu, 03/06/2014 - 3:29pm

Thank goodness. I thought Rivers was making up divisions just to avoid doing the NFC West. I could sworn I saw an Under The Cap: AFC Central and a Four Downs: NBA Eastern Conference.

by jtr :: Thu, 03/06/2014 - 5:23pm

I don't get Jake Ballard's appeal to NFL teams either. When he was on the Giants he ran about as fast as a terminal cancer patient, and that was BEFORE he screwed up his knee. Seems like teams would be better off just going to the heavy package; an OT is a better blocker than a tight end every time, and the average third tackle is probably as fast as Ballard.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 2:46pm

I know Bennett grades out really well. He also plays in the friendliest environment, for a edge pass rusher, in the NFL. Loudest home crowd, and artificial turf at home. Guaranteed 12 games a year on artificial turf. Plays on a team which gets a lot of substantial 2nd half leads. Great defensive backs.

I think Seahawks' management is factoring this, and are going to be willing to let him go, when somebody makes a very big offer.

by Perfundle :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 5:28pm

Seems to me all those things were true last year too, but Seattle's pass rush was highly inconsistent then. Also, Bennett's generally not an edge pass rusher on passing downs, as Avril bumps him inside.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 6:40pm

That's kind of my point. Bennett, once it is factored that he enjoyed the best pass rushing environment in the NFL, really was not all that dominant. There's a decent chance somebody pays him too much.

by Perfundle :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 7:58pm

My point is that I don't think it is the best pass rushing environment in the NFL considering the pass rush wasn't that good last year. Or even if it is, then the difference between best pass rushing environment and the worst isn't really that big. What helped out Bennett far more than the field, home crowd, score differential and other position units was Avril rushing alongside him on passing downs, and probably also being fresh from only being used on 58% of defensive snaps. But every pass rusher is helped by having another great rusher to prevent double teams, and there's plenty of teams with only one good rusher and the money to spend who should benefit massively from his play.

by tuluse :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 8:17pm

I think Will's point is that there is a 3rd category of teams that have 0 good pass rushers and will not benefit much from signing Bennett to superstar money.

by Perfundle :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 9:17pm

A team that has 0 good pass rushers should have plenty of money to spend, so either sign another rusher that's a peg below him or develop another rusher through the draft. It wouldn't be his fault he's not producing if you put him in a situation where he can get double teamed on every down, like what Clay Matthews went through in 2011 with the Packers.

by tuluse :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 9:19pm

This is what Will wrote:

"There's a decent chance somebody pays him too much."

Are you saying this is impossible or unlikely?

by Will Allen :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 9:42pm

Well, Seattle is the loudest environment, which helps a pass rusher. Seattle has Fieldturf, which helps a pass rusher. Seattle had a lot of big 2nd half leads, which helps a pass rusher. Seattle has a terrific defensive backfield, which helps a pass rusher.

I'd say Seattle had the environment which helps pass rushers the most.

by Perfundle :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 10:51pm

And I'm saying you're overrating how much that environment can actually help. Can you point to data that shows that rushers have better sack and pressure totals in loud stadiums and turf stadiums? Pretty much all of the great defenses in this century have played on grass: the early 2000's Patriots, Ravens and Bucs, the Steelers, the Packers, the 49ers.

As for 2nd-half leads, I'd say that being a great pass rusher is highly conducive to getting those leads in the first place. Also, normally big 2nd-half leads lead to a lot of passes, but Seattle was an exception to this:


And to counter your final point, Seattle's snail-like pace on offense and defense certainly did not help pass rushers in accumulating bulk stats, and their extraordinary DL depth (Bennett, Avril, McDaniel, McDonald, Mebane, Bryant, Clemons, and occasionally Irvin and Schofield) didn't help even further.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 03/08/2014 - 2:36am

Er, the depth does not make the environment less friendly for pass rushing. Quite the opposite. It likely inhibits the accumulation of counting stats (perhaps not with Bennett, given his number of snaps) , but that wasn't what I was saying.
If you wish to maintain that noise is not an important factor on a pass blocker's performance, you go right ahead. Same with a consistently fast track.

by Perfundle :: Sat, 03/08/2014 - 2:43pm

If noise and fast tracks add one extra sack and three extra pressures every two seasons, would you say that makes it an important factor?

How much do you think he's worth with the current salary cap and the rumored salary cap numbers going forward and how much do you expect a GM to overpay?

by justanothersteve :: Sat, 03/08/2014 - 3:58pm

If you don't think noise is a factor that helps a pass rush, go back to the game against the Packers a couple years ago. It was so loud the Packers' tackles couldn't hear the snap count. So they had to go on a silent count. This allowed Bruce Irvin to make a mockery of Bulaga's pass blocking. Bulaga may not be a great pass blocker, but he's a decent one. I think the Seahawks had something like seven sacks in the first half. Rodgers may get sacked more than average. But these were quick sacks, which does not happen to him very often.

Seattle's stadium is widely considered the loudest in the league. I think they're even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Even without the turf, the noise alone probably contributes to at least 6-8 sacks and many more pressures for the team every year. How that distributes among players is highly variable. But I'd guess Bennett's stats have been improved by playing in Seattle.

by Perfundle :: Sat, 03/08/2014 - 5:30pm

That was by far the worst game an opposing OL has ever played against Seattle recently. How come they couldn't replicate that performance in the other games? Come to that, how come they couldn't even replicate that performance in the second half? 6-8 sacks is an absolutely ludicrous guesstimate; the back-7 coverage helps far more with sacks than the noise ever can.

Edit: Here are some numbers for you: in the last four years, Seattle has had 88 sacks in 35 road games, counting the playoffs. At home? 71 sacks in the same number of games.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 03/08/2014 - 6:38pm

I think noise has a cascading, substantial, effect on offensive efficiency. If you disagree, fine.

I don't know what Bennett will get, in good part because I don't how strong the Super Bowl winner effect remains. There have been enough flame-outs with free agents from Super Bowl champs that GMs may be less likely to overpay.

by Perfundle :: Sat, 03/08/2014 - 8:20pm

Actually, I got off track from your initial argument. I won't argue that noise doesn't have an impact, even though the sack numbers don't bear this out. But your initial argument was that Seattle's noise was more disruptive than other teams. The only thing they've influenced are false starts and delay-of-games. Quite a few QBs have said that the noise wasn't the difference maker, because they'd specifically prepared for it.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 03/09/2014 - 1:41pm

If you don't think false starts are a symptom of decreased pass blocking efficiency, again, we'll just agree to disagree.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 03/08/2014 - 2:37am