So much attention has been given to the NFC West this off-season and for good reason. The NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers sit atop the division, while the up and coming Seattle Seahawks are a team on the verge of Super Bowl aspirations of their own. However, many NFL analysts around the league have been dissecting each of the team’s every move, to see which of the two powerhouses has improved the most. And while many analysts believe the Seahawks have taken an early lead, I believe the 49ers are still the team to beat in the NFC West.
First, let us take a look at the Seahawks key off-season acquisitions. The Seahawks desperately needing a receiving threat, made arguably the biggest splash in free-agency in acquiring WR Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for Seattle’s 2013 first-round pick (25th), 2013 seventh-round pick, and a 2014 third-round pick. The Seahawks brass then opened up their pocket books and signed Harvin to a six-year, $67 million contract.
As if that was not enough, the very next day, the Seahawks decided to ink free-agent sack artist DE Cliff Avril to a two-year, $13 million contract. Avril, notorious for being a one-dimensional player, is a liability against the rush. I am not saying Avril’s signing was not a good one, as you can never have enough pass-rushers, but did the Seahawks get the most bang for their buck? The verdict is out.
Apparently, the Seahawks were not done there, as they clearly wanted to win the off-season. They made headlines once again by agreeing to terms with DE Michael Bennett on a one-year contract. Bennett had a breakout season in 2012, by recording 9 sacks and three forced fumbles.
The Seahawks three acquisitions was the talk of the town around the league and continues today. So with Seattle improving their skill position and pass rush, how can the 49ers counter? By taking calculated risks on low profile free-agents, loaded with an abundance of potential. The only exception being newly acquired WR Anquan Boldin, who we all know is what started the back and forth blows, between these two franchises.
The 49ers struck gold when Boldin was traded from Baltimore to San Francisco, for a measly 2013 seventh-round draft choice. It was considered a steal by many, and the 49ers finally found their big body receiver to compliment WR Michael Crabtree. However, the Niners quickly found themselves short handed along the defensive line, as they lost key players in NT Isaac Sopoaga and DE Ricky Jean-Francois.
There suddenly became a huge need along the defensive front, and the 49ers quickly acted by signing former first-round pick DT Glenn Dorsey from the Kansas City Chiefs. Dorsey is considered to be an upgrade over both Sopoaga and Jean-Francois, which is a great sign. He does not flash great pass rush ability, but is strong enough to hold the point of attack, an essential skill-set for a nose tackle.
The 49ers lost another key free-agent in TE Delanie Walker. The player known as the “Swiss army knife” because of his ability to play multiple positions, left for the Tennessee Titans. A special teams standout, Walker was arguably the heart and soul of the special teams unit. A huge blow for San Francisco, they needed to find a quick alternative, in comes LB Dan Skuta.
Skuta was a special teams ace while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. He reminds me a lot of departed Blake Costanzo who now plays for the Chicago Bears during the Tony Montana days. A big hitter, Skuta will definitely bring out a passionate, relentless attitude to the team. A spark plug that will lift the 49ers when needed.
Just like things were looking bright, the biggest blow was the loss of FS Dashon Goldson, just two days earlier. The heart and soul of the secondary had signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A move the 49ers were unwilling to negotiate, the 49ers front office decided to let Goldson walk, as they felt free-safety was not a high enough position of value, for a long-term commitment, as Goldson’s reported asking price was around $8 million per year.
GM Trent Baalke surely had a plan and was sticking to it. Just days later, they signed SS Craig Dahl from the St. Louis Rams to a three-year contract. I do not believe it was a sign to replace Goldson but rather to possibly take Whitner’s place next year, as he will become a free-agent. However, the move was a head scratcher as many Forever Faithful were asking Craig who? And although he is not a household name, Baalke felt he was the right man for a roster spot, whether that’s free-safety or strong-safety. The verdict is still out, as I believe Baalke sees something in him that we don’t. I hope he is right.
Then there’s the release of K David Akers. The former All-Pro quickly turned into the team’s biggest weakness. So out goes Akers and in comes 2012 All-Pro K Phil Dawson. The 49ers replace one All-Pro with another, talk about great management.
They seemed to fill in all holes except the most glaring one of them all, secondary. They had brought in SS Charles Woodson and CB Nnamdi Asomugha in for visits but left Santa Clara with no contract offer. Weeks went by and still no secondary help, and then boom! Asomugha signs a one-year deal with the 49ers. And the best part, they did not have to over pay for his services. Talk about a bargain!
When evaluating each of the team’s off-season acquisitions, one paid for over priced free-agents, while the other settled for low profile, high potential gamers. And although Harvin may have the most upside, he also has durability concerns, leaving me to believe the 49ers have the upper hand.
Whether you are part of the 12th man or Forever Faithful, one thing is for sure, the NFC West is now the NFC Best!