NFC West: Key Free Agents in Contract Years for Each Team
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With one-year contracts now chic in the NFL and top-tier players coming available season after season, there is always a glut of free agents. Teams improve via free agency, but in order to do so, they must retain their own top players.
All four NFC West teams have a handful of key players entering contract seasons.
How these players do in the final years of their contracts will go a long way in determining whether they remain with their current teams or move on in an attempt to find greener pastures.
Taking a look at the division's teams from top to bottom, we’ll explore which players are worth keeping around and which could go.
San Francisco 49ers
Randy Moss hasn't played since 2010.
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Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has been more dangerous as a kick returner than a receiver, but he’s got plenty of value on special teams. Ginn has been dinged up the last couple years, but can still make plays. It’d be wise of the 49ers to try to keep him around, assuming Ginn has another solid season.
Running back Brandon Jacobs is 30 years old and wants to prove to the rest of the league that he can still play. He may only last one season in San Francisco, considering how crowded the 49ers backfield is, but Jacobs would like to make it a successful one.
Tight end Delanie Walker has been very good for the 49ers and he benefits from playing opposite Vernon Davis. Walker should want to remain in the bay as much as the Niners should want to keep him.
Defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois has been all right for the 49ers, but isn’t a difference maker and can be easily replaced.
Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga is a big, strong behemoth that the Niners should try to retain.
Linebacker Tavares Gooden is a special teams stud, but just a role contributor on defense. This is another replaceable player and the Niners should not place too much priority on keeping him.
Greg Toler would like to bounce back from a torn ACL.
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Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling is a very good third-down back, can spell either Beanie Wells or Ryan Williams, and is a dangerous return man. Once the season is over—or even during the season—the Cardinals should try to get Stephens-Howling to re-up.
Tight end Todd Heap is reaching the end of his career. He’s had a great career, but only started four games last year. With Rob Housler emerging, Heap will become expendable.
Defensive end Vonnie Holliday is another aging player who isn’t even a lock to make the team this year—his 15th in the NFL. He did not record a single sack last season.
Cornerbacks Michael Adams, Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson are all entering the final years of their respective contracts. Any of the three could win a starting job opposite Patrick Peterson. Whichever player wins that job is the one the Cardinals should keep.
Each of the trio can use 2012 as a springboard to a big contract with another NFL team. Toler would like to prove that his ACL has fully healed. He was starting prior to his injury. Jefferson spent most of 2011 as the starter and hopes to keep his job with Adams, Toler and William Gay beating at his door. The Cardinals could even keep two of the three, but one will surely be playing elsewhere in 2013.
Safety James Sanders came to Arizona on a one-year contract. Rashad Johnson was a third-round pick in 2009 and has been serviceable. Both can be sent on their way without any hard feelings after 2012.
The one safety the Cardinals should keep is veteran Kerry Rhodes, who comprises one of the league’s best safety tandems with Adrian Wilson. The two are not getting any younger, but both can still play at a high level and they play extremely well together.
Tarvaris Jackson will likely be going this way or that way at season's end ... or sooner.
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Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson just can’t seem to keep a starting job. Just when he thinks he’s going to be the starter in Minnesota, the team brings in Brett Favre. He goes to Seattle, where he should be the guy and the Seahawks sign former Packers backup Matt Flynn. Jackson must really hate Green Bay. Flynn will be the guy in Seattle. The Seahawks paid him a lot of money and that will mean the end of Jackson’s tenure in Seattle.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch is big and plays hard, but he’s also a role contributor. Branch is in the final year of a two-year deal and it wouldn’t hurt either party for him to re-sign. It would also be understandable if the Seahawks felt they could upgrade by letting Branch go.
Defensive lineman Jason Jones inked a one-year deal last spring. He was recruited by the Rams and Jones’s former head coach, Jeff Fisher, in Tennessee. The Rams could come after Jones again next season. Jones has 15.5 sacks over four years and would like to sign a long-term deal with Seattle.
Inside linebacker Barrett Ruud came to Seattle from Tennessee on a one-year deal. Ruud finished the 2011 season on injured reserve, so his health remains a question. When healthy, Ruud is a tackling machine.
Outside linebacker Leroy Hill has been with the Seahawks since they picked him in the third round of the 2005 draft.
Hill has 17.5 sacks and started every game last season. He was voted to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but has had multiple legal issues over the last three years. That’s a headache the Seahawks probably don’t want.
Cornerback Marcus Trufant has been to the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl since getting drafted by the Seahawks in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft. Trufant was born in Tacoma, is a team leader and—entering his 11th NFL season—would like to remain in Seattle.
St. Louis Rams
Brandon Gibson (11) celebrates a 2010 touchdown with Danny Amendola. Only one of the two will likely be in St. Louis this season and beyond.
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Quarterback Kellen Clemens knows the system of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Even if the Rams just keep Clemens around for one more year, having a player with knowledge of the system to help Sam Bradford would be invaluable.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola was the team’s leading receiver in 2010, but suffered a horrible elbow injury in the 2011 season opener. Bradford missed having his security blanket and the Rams offense suffered. Until Bradford is comfortable with the other receivers, keeping the very likeable Amendola—whose toughness and work ethic are unquestioned—is a must.
Wide receiver Brandon Gibson has had flashes here and there, but is far too inconsistent and can’t create separation. With the additions of rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens and veteran Steve Smith, it’s unlikely Gibson even makes the opening day roster.
Wide receiver Steve Smith signed a one-year contract after leaving the Eagles. He led the NFL in receptions in 2009 and would like to prove that he has returned to form. His one season in St. Louis could just be a tryout for the rest of the league.
Defensive tackle Trevor Laws left Philadelphia and signed a one-year deal with the Rams. How he does in St. Louis this year will determine whether either side wants to negotiate for future seasons.
Defensive end Williams Hayes is in the same boat as Laws. Hayes left Tennessee to reunite with former coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.