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NFL offseason preview: The NFC West could be the league’s best divsion

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Expect the division to be at the top again.

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions will be making a lot of moves over the next few months, all with the goal to win the next Super Bowl. What the teams surrounding the Lions do will have great affect upon their title hopes as well, though, and may be just as important to the teams fate this season.

Today we look at the NFC West, a division which is consistently among the league’s best, and see where their teams stand heading into 2020.

San Francisco 49ers

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Like many other teams coming off of a Super Bowl loss, the San Francisco 49ers will be expecting to reload and be right back there next year. Team’s that do not have Tom Brady at quarterback rarely, if ever, make back to back Super Bowl’s, though, and the team has to be fearing that their chance has passed them.

They enter the offseason with $19 million in cap space and can clear up another $8 million or so by cutting running back Jerrick McKinnon (who never played a snap in his two years with the team) and draft bust Soloman Thomas. Still, they will be cash strapped entering free agency and probably will not be able to afford to retain star defensive tackle Arik Armstead without seriously hindering themselves elsewhere.

While the loss of Armstead hurts, the only other important players they are set to lose are Kyle Juszczyk and Emmanuel Sanders, who both could either be re-signed for cheap or let go with out losing too much talent.

San Francisco may be the almost the exact same team entering the 2020 season. While it does mean they have a real chance to once again make the playoffs and even win the NFC West, stagnation is killer in this league and their rivals may all gain ground on them this year while they lose ground against the teams ahead of them.

Seattle Seahawks

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks were a yard away from hosting the NFC playoffs. Instead, they ended up having to play a wild card game and fell to the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau. Seattle seems to refuse to ever not be in playoff contention, though, and they have the set up necessary to compete again in 2020.

Seattle enters the offseason with nearly $60 million in cap space, though they do have a lot of players they will need to either re-sign or replace. Star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is set to hit free agency, and will most likely get a huge pay day if the Seahawks sign him. Both of their tackles, Germain Ifedi and George Fant, are set to hit the market as well. While they could survive the loss of any of these players, replacing them in free agency would be incredibly expensive.

Other than them, the main group will be back and outside of a bit of a boost to the interior offensive line there is not many upgrades the team needs either. Barring some sort of unforced error this offseason, Seattle should enter next season towards the top of the power rankings again and they should expect to make the postseason.

Los Angeles Rams

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams will serve as a warning to their rivals from the Bay. They also expected to be right back in the Super Bowl hunt entering 2019, but their defense fell off hard, and they ended up missing the postseason entirely. Now entering a new decade the team that made Super Bowl LIII feels like ancient history.

The offensive line struggled mightily after the loss of Rodger Saffold to the Tennessee Titans. Offensive stars Todd Gurley and Jared Goff both regressed. Other than Aaron Donald, basically everyone on defense regressed as well. Both of their corners, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, even got traded midseason.

It looks like the Rams’ championship window may be closed. They have only $23 million in cap space and the really have to stretch that money out. Jalen Ramsey, who they acquired midseason, will earn a deal worth over $20 million a year. Long time elite offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth is a free agent as well, and may retire. Dante Fowler, Michael Brockers and Corey Littleton are all set to hit the free market, meaning the team will likely lose three key defenders. To make matters worse, Los Angeles does not have their first round pick this season, missing their best chance to acquire a starting-caliber player in the NFL draft.

Los Angeles went all in for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and it led to a Super Bowl berth. Unfortunately, they came up just short in their one playoff run and now they are paying for their risky gamble. Expect them to fall off hard this year.

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

It might be time for the Arizona Cardinals to return to contention. With reigning rookie of the year Kyler Murray and the resources to improve upon the holes in their roster, the Cardinals have a chance to fight for a playoff spot in 2020.

Arizona has $51 million in cap space this offseason, but they do have some work to do. They have a chance to renovate their offensive line with DJ Humphires and AQ Shipley set to hit free agency. They will also most likely need both a wide receiver and a tight end. Arizona should also add a pass rusher to play across star Chandler Jones. These are all holes they could full if they choose second tier options instead of cashing out, though, and they could field a decent unit on both offense and defense. They’re roster is also very shallow, so they will need upgrades on their second units from top to bottom.

While they will not have the most talented team on the field often in 2020, they will sometimes have the best players on the field with Jones and Murray on either side. Just having those two playmakers alone on the field makes them a threat in basically every single game.

The Cardinals have a real chance to compete for a playoff spot this season as long as they do not regress or make a mess of their offseason. If they keep the core group together and increase their skill positions then they could be the surprise team of 2020.

What it means for the Lions

At least two teams in the NFC West will be playoff contenders. All four of them of potential to be in at least the wild card race come December. This creates three potential obstacles for the Lions in the playoff race, and all of them will most likely enter the season with a stronger core than Detroit. There is a real chance this division keeps the Lions out of the playoff this year.