The NFC West was a disappointment in 2020. While it did provide two playoff teams, including a 12-4 division winner in the Seahawks and a divisional round appearance from the Rams, it definitely fell well short of the hype that was building around it prior to the start of the season.
Many believed that, in a newly extended playoff format, the West would be so good that all four teams could crack the postseason for the first time in NFL history. Instead, the defending division and conference champion 49ers' mountain of injuries limited them to a 6-10 record and a poor finish to the season kept the Cardinals out of the race as well. For just the third time in the last decade, the NFC championship game did not include a team from the NFC West.
Hence, the Seahawks aren't the only team in the division exiting 2020 leaving more to be desired—far from it, in fact. Overhauling their offensive coaching staff over the last few days, Seattle has been the busiest team in the NFC West so far this offseason. But there are some pretty significant rumors floating around that could have major implications on their chances of defending their division crown next year and the future of the NFC West as a whole.
Entering the 2020 season, each team in the division appeared to have their franchise quarterback locked down; now, not so much. Such is the nature and volatility of the NFL, two of the teams in the division appear desperate to move on from their current quarterback situations not even a year later.
With the potential to save nearly $24 million in cap space this offseason, parting ways with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is certainly on the table for the 49ers. Garoppolo has been serviceable under center for San Francisco, but an injury-plagued 2020 that was preceded by fairly mediocre play on a championship-caliber roster has the 49ers and its fan base legitimately questioning if the former "heir to Tom Brady" is ultimately holding the team back.
The Rams, despite being the last NFC West team standing in the 2020 postseason, are also considering a change with their signal caller. Neither their coaching staff nor their front office has been willing to verbally commit to Jared Goff in 2021 following a year in which the quarterback finished 23rd in the league in QBR (58.4). But with Goff signing a four-year, $134 million extension in 2019, moving on from the former first overall selection is a bit more complicated for the Rams than it is for the 49ers with Garoppolo.
Matthew Stafford appears to be the quarterback both teams would move off their current situations for. The 32-year old, who the Lions recently made available via trade, is reportedly attracted to the Rams and sees them as a Super Bowl contender, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. However, All 49ers' Grant Cohn has heard San Francisco currently has the "inside edge" to acquire the former Georgia Bulldog.
Of the two, the 49ers are much better positioned to wind up with Stafford. They can immediately cut ties with Garoppolo relatively unscathed, have a 2021 first-round draft pick (12th overall) to offer Detroit, and the roster to compete for a Super Bowl right away. While the Rams can also claim the last selling point, they traded their first-round selection to the Jaguars in the Jalen Ramsey deal, and getting Goff off the books is a complex task.
According to Over the Cap, trading Goff is Los Angeles' only viable option to move on. Cutting him, whether it's pre or post-June 1, would result in catastrophic salary cap ramifications a team already $31 million in the hole could not endure. Trading him before June 1 would save them nearly $13 million in cap space but would also net a $22 million dead cap hit, whereas a post-June 1 deal would only dole out $6.8 million in dead cap and $28 million in cap savings. By then, however, Stafford - or any other potentially available quarterback for that matter - should be well gone.
This doesn't necessarily put the 49ers in the driver's seat for Stafford though. Both teams are going to have some steep competition for the quarterback's services, with at least three other teams currently being linked to the discussions: the Colts, Patriots, and Broncos. Of the three, the Colts offer a very similar situation to that of the 49ers and Rams: a roster built to win now, but in a division far less daunting than the one San Francisco and Los Angeles inhabit. That could ultimately stem the tides as we reach the conclusion of the Stafford sweepstakes.
If Stafford does land in the NFC West, however, it wouldn't be very thrilling news for the Seahawks. He's been one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league, putting up huge numbers that are often overlooked due to the Lions' history of mediocrity. If Drew Brees does officially retire this offseason, Stafford would jump into the top-five in active passing yards leaders with 45,109, trailing only Tom Brady (79,204), Ben Roethlisberger (60,348), Matt Ryan (55,767), and Aaron Rodgers (51,245).
Whether it's with the Rams or 49ers, Stafford in an offense designed by Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan would be a scary sight for the Seahawks and assuredly make their path to a second-straight NFC West title significantly tougher. If you're a Seahawks fan, you should be rooting for the Colts or one of the other aforementioned AFC teams in the pursuit of Stafford's services this offseason.