The 49ers may have suffered some notable losses in NFL free agency, but there’s still no other team within the NFC West that comes close.
For the first time under head coach Kyle Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers experienced something of a mass exodus of notable players.
The opening wave of NFL free agency in 2023 wasn’t particularly kind to Shanahan and the Niners, at least not after watching plenty of starters like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, safety Jimmie Ward, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, EDGE Samson Ebukam and right tackle Mike McGlinchey all depart for greener ($$) pastures.
In response, San Francisco added only four net-new free agents:
- DT Javon Hargrave
- EDGE Clelin Ferrell
- CB Isaiah Oliver
- QB Sam Darnold
Of those four in the first wave, only Hargrave and Oliver figure to start on day one. Ferrell and Darnold provide some much-needed depth, as that plagued the 49ers last season.
But, speaking of depth and strength, are the Niners still projected to be the top dog in the NFC West? In the wake of the opening wave of NFL free agency, are the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks or even the Arizona Cardinals legitimate threats to Shanahan and Co.?
No. Not even close. Let’s look at why.
49ers still top dogs in NFC West despite free agency losses
Let’s just get this part out of the way first.
According to FanDuel, San Francisco is a -160 favorite to win the NFC West this upcoming year. The Rams are at +310, while the Hawks are +450. Arizona, meanwhile, is way back at +2400.
This, despite the 49ers not being wholly sure who their starting quarterback will be between Brock Purdy and Trey Lance, who are both coming off serious injuries anyway.
Anyway, perhaps LA and Seattle make things interesting, but Los Angeles is in teardown mode after jettisoning linebacker Bobby Wagner and EDGE Leonard Floyd, then trading All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey for the equivalent of chump change.
Pro Football Focus dished out grades for each team after the opening wave of NFL free agency, and they gave the Rams a C-grade, pointing out the only addition was a backup tight end in Hunter Long.
Los Angeles still has quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but it appears as if general manager Les Snead is looking deeper into the future and not at the teams’ prowess in 2023.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are ushering in a new era under head coach Jonathan Gannon but lost some key pieces in NFL free agency, namely EDGE Markus Golden and cornerback Byron Murphy.
The net addition? Linebacker Kyzir White.
PFF wasn’t too impressed, giving the red birds a C-minus grade.
So, how about Seattle? The Seahawks re-signed quarterback Geno Smith after his Comeback Player of the Year campaign in 2022, and the Hawks reinforced a suspect defense with a couple of defensive linemen in Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed. While losing running backs like Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer hurt in theory, don’t expect those departures to hinder head coach Pete Carroll’s efforts on the ground.
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Interestingly enough, PFF graded out both Seattle and San Francisco with B-plus grades for NFL free agency.
If there is a team that’s close to the 49ers, it appears to be the Seahawks. Given how the Niners beat the Hawks three times last season, though (including one playoff win), it’s probably safe to say San Francisco is still very much in the NFC West driver’s seat heading into 2023.
That’s also what Niners Nation argued after the opening wave of free agency, not just in terms of the division, but the NFC West as a whole:
"In short, the 49ers’ losses in free agency have not been enough to alter where they stand in the NFC. Until either Lance or Purdy remove such concerns, they do still have unanswered questions at quarterback but, save for the Eagles and a Cowboys team that has lost back-to-back playoff games to San Francisco, the answers their rivals have at the game’s most important position are not compelling enough to make a convincing case for them overhauling the Niners."
If San Francisco is a top-two or top-three team in the NFC, then it has no trouble reigning supreme over the division entering the new season, too.
Not a bad result considering how shaky things looked in free agency for a while.