DeAndre Hopkins release means 49ers, Seahawks fight alone for NFC West now

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10)
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

The NFC West is essentially going to be a two-team race between the 49ers and Seahawks, and it could be that way for a while.

The Arizona Cardinals are fully accepting they aren't going to be a good team for a very, very long time.

Already in tank mode heading into 2023 and in the first offseason after dismissing general manager John Keim and firing head coach Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona isn't just likely poised to move on from the era of quarterback Kyler Murray, but it's also tossing away assets with the knowledge that nothing is likely to come back in return.

In the latest installment of the "Let's Make Our Bad Roster Even Worse" show, the Cardinals released All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins amid his own frustrations with the team and desire to play elsewhere.

Arizona will eat more than $21 million in dead money instead of waiting until a June 1 designation; a questionable move by a questionable organization.

At any rate, the Cardinals arguably boast the worst roster in the NFL with Murray recovering from a late-season ACL tear suffered last year. Parting ways with Hopkins only makes that statement truer.

And the San Francisco 49ers couldn't be happier.

Granted, one shouldn't expect the Niners to trip over themselves in a race to sign the soon-to-be 31-year-old receiver, especially with what'll likely be a good amount of interest on the open market. San Francisco already has a stacked offense with superstars like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk all fighting for touches.

Simply put, there are probably too many proverbial "mouths to feed" to avoid having someone go hungry, and that's prior to a player like Hopkins joining.

However, with the Cardinals taking an even further step back, where does that leave the 49ers in what's now a significantly weakened NFC West?

Let's take a look.

NFC West power rankings: 49ers on top, then Seahawks before 2 bottom-dwelling teams

Doing an NFL power rankings for the NFC West would be an easy exercise right now, and the only team that could legitimately challenge the Niners for a division crown in 2023 is the Seattle Seahawks, who surprised with a 9-8 record last year and a Wild Card appearance in the playoffs despite entering last season with suspicion of being one of the worst teams in the conference.

Having enjoyed what nearly every NFL pundit and analyst considered a highly successful offseason, the Hawks will challenge San Francisco for the division crown but are still a few pieces away from overtaking the 49ers on any sort of pound-for-pound ranking.

And quarterback Geno Smith has to play at the same level he enjoyed last year.

Read more: Analyzing each NFC West team's draft class from 2023

With Arizona potentially looking at something as bad as a two- or three-win season in 2023, the only other player is a dismantling Los Angeles Rams squad that still boasts quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald but lacks depth and prowess at most other areas of the roster.

LA committed to its own semi-rebuild this offseason, too, highlighted by the trade of star cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Miami Dolphins.

General manager Les Snead certainly isn't blowing it all up down in Southern California, no. At least not as much as Arizona.

But, in all reality, Los Angeles isn't likely to be a top competitor for another year or two at the soonest, and Stafford probably isn't going to be around in that capacity, opening the door for yet another significant change in the Rams' future.

So, where do the Niners stand in all of this?

49ers must dominate NFC West in 2023, should lead division for next 2-3 years

San Francisco visits Seattle on Thursday Night Football this season, and that is realistically the only divisional game head coach Kyle Shanahan's squad could be excused for losing on the 2023 schedule.

As Niners Nation's Akash Anavarathan pointed out in the tweet above, Shanahan and Co. have zero business finishing with anything less than a 5-1 record against the NFC West, and even that's a worst-case scenario.

True, the Hawks could be a legitimate contender in 2024 after nailing down a few more pieces on both sides of the ball, while Snead's history of aggressiveness could mean the Rams turn things around faster than anticipated.

Still, the 49ers are poised to dominate the division this year and would have the best odds at doing so again in 2024, perhaps even into 2025.

Considering the NFC West is now weak and the Niners have a Super Bowl roster, all Shanahan and his team need to do is ensure they're doing what they are supposed to do.

Easily win the division.

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