Which free-agent signing will have the biggest impact in the division?
Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals: Forget his age. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth will have the biggest impact in the NFC West next season simply because of the running back he’ll be blocking for, Todd Gurley. In the case of the Rams, who made a strong run at most improved through free agency this year, adding Whitworth will cause a domino effect throughout the offense. He’ll give Jared Goff more time to throw, which, in theory, should help the passing game. Because defenses are looking for the pass, the running game should develop. It’s a cycle that will be sparked by Whitworth, who’s still one of the best left tackles in the NFL at age 35.
Alden Gonzalez, Los Angeles Rams: I’m going to go with the addition of Andrew Whitworth, for one very simple reason: The Rams went from one of the very worst to one of the very best at one of the game’s most important positions. By signing Whitworth to a three-year, $33.75 million contract, the Rams added one of the NFL’s premier pass-blockers at left tackle and bought themselves the freedom to potentially move the struggling Greg Robinson to right guard, where he can more freely use his 6-foot-5, 332-pound frame to maul interior linemen. Will it make the Rams a playoff team? Probably not. Will it make their offense respectable? Even that is a stretch. But adding Whitworth creates a ripple effect that could make a world of difference for Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Tavon Austin and Robinson -- the team’s top picks from each of the past four drafts.
Nick Wagoner, San Francisco 49ers: There were some intriguing additions made around the NFC West, but none figure to have the significant long-term impact of the Arizona Cardinals re-signing pass-rusher Chandler Jones. Jones instantly upgraded Arizona's pass rush to a league-leading 48 sacks after coming over in a trade with New England last year. Jones finished with 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and 44 hurries. After losing Calais Campbell to Jacksonville in free agency, Jones will have to shoulder more of the load to keep the Cardinals' pass rush humming in 2017 and beyond.
Sheil Kapadia, Seattle Seahawks: NFC West teams spent a lot of money in free agency on mediocre players and guys with question marks. But Chandler Jones was an exception. In the past four years, his 41 sacks are fifth most in the NFL, and Jones will be just 27 at the start of next season. When the Cardinals acquired him from the Patriots, they obviously had a plan for keeping Jones in Arizona for a long time. Elite pass-rushers are expensive (five years, $83 million in this case), but Jones gives the Cardinals another defensive building block for years to come. Arizona might have trouble repeating its defensive performance from 2016, but Jones gives the Cardinals a dangerous pass-rusher in his prime whom opponents have to account for on a weekly basis.