College football has begun which means we are only one week away from the start of the 2017 NFL regular season. The best of the best will be playing three days a week. Those Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays can’t come soon enough.
With the great days ahead, The JR Report thought will break down each division going into 2017. Let’s begin out west with the NFC West.
The Seattle Seahawks look like the easy choice to win the division as they’ve played into the postseason every year since 2012, with three division crowns in that span.
Seattle’s biggest questions will come with their offensive line that had a tough time protecting quarterback Russell Wilson a year ago. Wilson was sacked 41 times in 2016 and it’ll be interesting to see if the offseason additions of Luke Joeckel (former No. 2 overall pick) and 2017 second-rounder Ethan Pocic (NFL draft) will help Wilson and Co. get back on track offensively.
The team has a new bruising running back to replace Marshawn Lynch in Eddie Lacy. The former Packer has been given new weight incentives to keep his weight down and his speed up. The defense looks to improve upon last season as Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are both healthy and will be as ferocious as ever.
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After a great 2015 season in which the Arizona Cardinals made it to the NFC Championship game only to lose to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the team took a step back last season finishing 7-8-1.
David Johnson had the best year of his career last season and will look to duplicate his success starting Sunday on the road against the Detroit Lions.
Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald should still be a feared duo as long as Palmer throws it up to one of the best wide receivers in NFL history.
After Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL in 2015, a shoulder injury forced him to be shut down after 10 games in 2016. He’s finally back and healthy alongside Patrick Peterson, where the Cardinals hope to reestablish their top-notch secondary.
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Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams had a miserable season in 2016. First-round pick Jared Goff looked downright awful in the games he did play in (7) and threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns (7 to 5). Head coach Jeff Fisher was finally fired after he set the record for most losses of any head coach in NFL history.
On the other hand, the 2017 season should provide a little more hope for the team playing by Hollywood.
Sean McVay, one of the brightest offensive minds in football, was hired to replace Fisher. McVay was the offensive coordinator who helped turn Kirk Cousins into an elite quarterback and Rams fans are hoping McVay does the same to Goff.
Todd Gurley is primed for a rebound season after his disappointing sophomore slump. Sammy Watkins was added via trade and should be the top target that Goff needs to feel confident in throwing the ball deep.
Look out for Cooper Kupp to be a sneaky wide out that Goff throws to a lot since Kupp looks to be comfortable in McVay’s new offense.
After a 4-12 season, the Rams look like they might be finally getting on the right track as long as Aaron Donald ends his holdout.
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San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers had a laughable year in 2016. Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick were the two quarterbacks for a 2-14 team that looked just horrendous all season long.
Chip Kelly was fired and now the team has a brand new head coach in Kyle Shanahan as well as new general manager John Lynch.
Shanahan came to the West Coast after being the offensive coordinator of the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. He will look to get started right away with Brian Hoyer, who he coached back in Cleveland in 2014.
Lynch and Shanahan both wanted to redefine the franchise and have made that evident as the team cut Ahmad Brooks, Quinton Dial, and Jeremy Kerley. The Niners offense has two new starting receivers, Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garçon, as well as rookie tight end George Kittle.
The defensive line looks like it will get back on track as DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Tank Carradine, and Solomon Thomas will try to put the fear in opposing offensives’ quarterbacks.
Shanahan and Lynch appear to know what they’re doing but the team is still years away from competing.
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Division Champion: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks will take the NFC West in 2017. Wilson is too great of a quarterback to lose enough games to rip Seattle out of contention.
Will the Seahawks win the Super Bowl? Probably not, but the team appears destined for another NFC West title, especially with the defense regaining health.
Any team that has Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and now Sheldon Richardson on defense is going to be ruthless.
Oh and that’s not to mention Doug Baldwin and the beast Jimmy Graham on offense. If the offensive line can step up, and Eddie Lacy can be productive (both big if’s), this team could make a very deep run in January.
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Dark Horse: Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are my dark horse to win the NFC West in 2017. Before you squint or think I’m crazy, my logic comes in believing in Sean McVay. He took a backup quarterback in Kirk Cousins and made the former fourth-rounder into one of the game’s premier quarterbacks.
When Cousins becomes a free agent next summer, tons of teams will come calling and McVay is a big reason why.
Also, Jared Goff has shown flashes of brilliance before. I could see him completing 65 percent of his passes along with 25 touchdowns in 2017.
Moreover, Gurley has the pure talent to get back to being one of the game’s best running backs and Watkins is waiting to finally have the monster-type year that has been expected.
In a relatively weak division, don’t be shocked if the Rams win a few surprise games and challenge the Seahawks for the crown.
Rob Werner is a contributing writer for The JR Report. For more news follow him on twitter @robwerner28.
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Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith has the fourth highest cap hit on the Raiders’ roster in 2017, yet he is obviously not the fourth best player on the team and comes nowhere close to cracking the top 10.
Smith’s $9.5 million cap hit, per Spotrac, lands him in dangerous waters. He is due No. 1 cornerback money, but will probably be the No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback on the team this fall. Moreover, Oakland ranked just No. 24 against the pass in 2016, so being third or fourth on the depth chart is nothing to get excited about.
The Raiders will be moving on from Smith at some point. Whether it is this year or next year, we do not know.
If Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie wants to see Smith in a new uniform in 2017, here are McKenzie’s options.
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Cut Raiders CB Sean Smith
Many of Raider Nation might clamor for Smith to be cut, however, that would make zero sense for the football team.
If McKenzie chooses to cut him, he would only save the franchise $250,000 since $9.25 million would still count against the cap as dead money, via Spotrac. Therefore, there is absolutely no benefit to seeing Smith cut this season.
Oakland would also not be able to find an equally talented replacement for $250,000. In addition, Smith has performed poorly, for his price tag, but is still a decent starting cornerback in the NFL as long as the team plays around his weaknesses.
If no cap space is to be gained from his departure, it is safe to say he will be on the roster come Week 1 of the NFL regular season unless McKenzie surprises the NFL by making a trade.
Lastly, the Raiders can cut Smith in 2018 without penalty since there would be no dead money by releasing him then.
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Trade Raiders CB Sean Smith
A trade scenario is extremely unlikely since McKenzie has never been eager to make trades and no team would want to take on Smith’s contract without getting something in return.
Regardless, here is a hypothetical trade scenario that would help out two teams and send Smith out of Oakland.
First and foremost, the Raiders must find a team that is not expecting to win this season and has cap space to spare.
If Smith came in, he would immediately become a starter Day 1 and could give valuable leadership to the young pieces in San Francisco. After Smith’s one year with the Niners, the organization could release him without any penalty and would have accrued an extra sixth round selection to help build the team for the future.
In regards to Oakland, McKenzie would be extremely hesitant to part ways with a sixth round draft pick, but he would save the team $5.25 million, via Spotrac.
With Carr and Jackson’s recent contracts and Mack’s future contract, $5.25 million could go a long way in helping keep the Raiders’ young core together. In essence, the $5.25 million could be more valuable than having one sixth round pick in 2018.
Maybe, that $5.25 million will help bring Raiders tackle Donald Penn to training camp.
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What McKenzie should do
Personally, parting ways with any assets is not the smartest move for the Raiders.
Oakland should keep Smith on the 53 man roster and cut him the following season. Then, they can have his services for 2017, not lose any draft picks and move on from him in 2018 when they can do so without hurting the team’s cap space.
Ryan Lipton is the founder of The JR Report. For more news and JR Report updates follow him on twitter @rytime98.