The 2010 NFL offseason has seen its fair share of major moves in the NFC West thus far.
Pro Bowlers and Super Bowl Champions have retired; big names have left, re-signed, or changed hands. Even a very famous college coach has decided to make another run at the NFL success that has eluded him so far in his football career.
With the transactions so far already creating headlines, this article attempts to break down where each team in the division stands heading into the draft, and what they might do to improve their squad before opening day.
ls: Derek Anderson, QB
Rex Hadnot, G
Paris Lenon, LB
Joey Porter, LB
Kerry Rhodes, S
Departures: Karlos Dansby, LB
Antrel Rolle, S
Jerheme Urban, WR
Anquan Boldin, WR
Kurt Warner, QB
The Cardinals enter 2010 as the defending NFC West Champions. However, this squad will be considerably different than the team that took the field in 2009.
The Cardinals were respectable overall offensively in 2009, ranking 11th in the NFL in points per game (23.4), and 14th in yards per game (344.4). They were, however, overly reliant on the passing of Pro Bowler Kurt Warner, garnering only 93.4 yards per game on the ground, good enough to rank them only 28th in the league.
Their defense was not as strong as the offensive unit, ranking 15th in the NFL in points allowed per game (20.3) and 20th in yards allowed per game (346.4).
They particularly struggled defending the pass, giving up 233.7 yards per game through the air, ranking them 23rd in the league in that category.
This was good enough to get them into the second round of the playoffs, after slipping past the Packers in the Wild Card round in a game where neither defense showed up (though ironically the passing defense saved the Cardinals with a scoring play in overtime off a turnover by the now-departed Karlos Dansby).
Brett Favre and the Vikings ended the Cardinals hopes of a repeat trip to the Super Bowl in the Divisional round.
Since that game, the Cardinals have lost two key components that made their offense as effective as it was over the last several seasons. Kurt Warner called it a career, and disgruntled wide receiver Anquan Boldin left via trade to join the Baltimore Ravens. This leaves big holes at key offensive positions for the Cardinals.
The battle for the starting QB job will come down to Matt Leinart (who has shown little promise in limited action since entering the league as a former Heisman Trophy winner in 2006) and newcomer Derek Anderson, who enjoyed limited success in Cleveland competing with Brady Quinn for playing time. Larry Fitzgerald assumes the undisputed featured WR role with Boldin out of the picture, increasing the probability that opposing defenses will direct more attention his way.
The reduced talent and depth in the passing game stands to hamper the running game even further in 2010, as opposing teams will no longer need to focus as much attention in defending against the vertical threat. The tandem of Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower proved serviceable at best in 2009, combining for just under 1,400 yards. Part of this was due to a lack of upfront blocking their offensive line.
The cardinals have done a decent job filling the holes left by Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle on defense with the acquisitions of Joey Porter and Kerry Rhodes. Still, this was a unit that needed substantial help going into the offseason in defending the pass.
The Cardinals pick late in the first round at 26th overall. Their most immediate needs seem to be at WR and defensive back, with the running back and offensive lines being more areas of need in terms of depth rather than immediate contributors. Two interesting prospects currently projecting toward the late first round are WR Golden Tate out of Notre Dame and CB Kyle Wilson from Boise State (also a threat in the return game). I expect the Cardinals to address one of these needs in the first round and defer other needs for later.
Arrivals: David Carr, QB
Karl Paymah, CB
Departures: Shaun Hill, QB
Tony Pashos, OT
Arnaz Battle, WR
Isaac Bruce, WR
Jeff Ulbrich, LB
Scott McCloughan, GM
The 49ers enter 2010 coming off their first non-losing campaign since 2002.
Popular and respected head coach Mike Singletary enters his second full year at the helm, in what many believe will be the long-awaited return to the playoffs for this once-storied franchise. Still the team is not without questions as it approaches the start of the 2010 season.
The recent resignation of GM Scott McCloughan drew significant press and anxiety over who would lead the 49ers through the draft and what the team would look like without a GM. With no collective bargaining agreement in place for 2011, many experts quipped that this was a bad time for the 49ers to lose their GM, but the true effect of this front office departure will probably be minimal.
Trent Baalke, McCloughan’s long-time second in command will assume responsibility for the draft, and the long term responsibilities of GM seem to be capably doled out across various team officials.
On the field, the 49ers struggled offensively in 2009, despite Alex Smith having his best professional stint over the final 10 starts of the year. The team ranked 18th in the NFL in points per game (20.6) and were bottom-third in yards per game (27th at 290.8), passing yards per game (22nd at 190.8) and rushing yards per game (25th at 100.0). The offensive line was suspect, allowing 40 sacks and failing to open the holes that Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore is used to seeing.
The defense was respectable, and seems to be the verge of greatness. Emerging superstar Patrick Willis led a squad which ranked 4th in points allowed per game (17.6) and 6th in rushing yards allowed per game (97.0). They struggled at times to defend the pass, however, ending up ranked 21st in the league (229.4 yards allowed per game) leading them to a middle of the pack 15th ranking in total yards allowed per game (326.4).
The 49ers made a smart move to secure QB depth, acquiring free-agent and former first overall pick David Carr. Shaun Hill (who struggled mightily to move the offense in the first six games of 2009, before giving way to Alex Smith) was subsequently traded to Detroit.
Carr and Smith are both relatively unproven and have failed to live up to their first overall draft statuses to this point in each of their careers. They are both strong and mobile QBs, however, with the potential to run much more creative offensive schemes than Shaun Hill would be able to. They should push one another toward improvement in battling for the starting role. With developmental project Nate Davis holding down the third QB position, it is doubtful the 49ers will take a look at another QB this offseason.
The offensive line is a clear area of need, particularly at OT. Re-signing Barry Sims was a key boost, as will be a healthy Joe Staley returning to action in 2010. The 49ers will also have a new offensive line coach in 2010, in Mike Solari, a former apprentice to 49er legend Bobb McKittrick, who engineered the offensive lines on each of the 49ers’ five Super Bowl Champion squads. Still, depth on the offensive line is a key consideration, as evidenced by the line’s struggles following Joe Staley’s injury in 2009.
Isaac Bruce has retired and Arnaz Battle left in free-agency to join the Pittsburgh Steelers. This suddenly leaves the 49ers with very young, fairly unproven WR corps. Michael Crabtree is fast developing into a standout at that position, and 49ers have two fast and capable TEs in Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker who can be split out wide in certain packages. Still, depth at WR will be a consideration going forward.
Defensively, the team seems set at LB with Patrick Willis developing into a perennial Pro Bowler and veteran Takeo Spikes continuing to turn in strong performances. But the 49ers need to improve in the secondary and pass rush, as evidenced by their 21st overall rank against the pass.
With two picks in the first round at 13th and 17th, I could see the 49ers going a variety of ways. Joe Haden, Trent Williams, and C.J. Spiller have been the most popular names in mock drafts. Haden may fall to 13th, and if so would be a solid pick up. Everson Griffen of USC or Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida could add punch to the pass rush around the 17th pick.
With good offensive line talent in the second round, the 49ers may be better suited to wait to address that need. Running back depth has also been identified as a consideration, but C.J. Spiller does not stand to be around for the 49ers in the first round. Toby Gerhart or Javid Best could work out, but the second round may still by a reach at running back with Gore, Coffee, and Michael Robinson all standing to make major contributions. The 49ers may look to a Joe McKnight in the mid rounds or a later option. Someone like Texas’s Jordan Shipley would also make a nice mid-round addition to add WR depth.
Arrivals: Quinton Ganther, RB
Matt McCoy, LB
Chris Clemons, DE
Chris Baker, TE
Ricky Foley, DE
Tom Malone, P
Patrick McDonald, LS
Charlie Whitehurst, QB
Pete Carroll, Head Coach
Departures: Nate Burleson, WR
Lance Laury, LB
Cory Redding, DT
Darryl Tapp, DE
Seneca Wallace, QB
Deon Grant, S
The Seahawks come off a disappointing 2009 campaign as one of the most active teams in the NFL offseason.
Perhaps their biggest acquisition was luring Pete Carroll away from USC to return to the NFL. This has many a fan and analyst in the Emerald City excited, despite Carroll’s track record of mediocre coaching success in the NFL.
Carroll inherits a team that ranked near the bottom of the league in the offense in 2009 (points per game – 17.5, 25th, yards per game 316.8, 21st, passing yards per game 218.9, 15th, and rushing yards per game 97.9, 26th). Starting QB Matt Hasselback struggled with injuries, but still managed to throw for over 3,000 yards. The running game was unimpressive, splitting carries between Julius Jones and Justin Forsett, neither of whom broke 700 yards on the season.
The defense was equally bad: 26th in points allowed per game (24.4), 24th in yards allowed per game (356.4), and 30th in passing yards allowed per game (245.4). The pass-rush was far from fearsome, registering just 28 sacks on the year.
The loss of Nate Burleson leaves Seattle without their second-leading receiver from 2009. That fact combined with a potential QB controversy brewing between Charlie Whitehurst (who cost Seattle a second-round pick in a trade with San Diego) and Matt Hasselback, this suggests the offense may carry their struggles over into 2010. The addition of Quinton Ganther may help in the running game, but his professional action is too limited to make such a determination as of yet.
They seem to have attempted to address some of their pass rush problems, but Pete Carroll still has quite a job on his hands to turn this team around.
With two early picks in the first round (6th and 14th overall), but only one between then and the fourth round (28th in the second), Seattle may chose to trade away one of their early picks to obtain more options in the later rounds to fill their many needs. If they do hold onto the 6th pick, C.J. Spiller, Russel Okung, Eric Berry, or Joe Haden could all make intriguing options, depending on who is available.
Arrivals: A.J. Feeley, QB
Fred Robbins, DT
Chris Massey, LS
Kenneth Darby, RB
Departures: Richie Incognito, G
Paris Lenon, LB
Jonathan Wade, CB
You do not go 1-15 by accident or bad luck. There is no mystery as to why the Rams have the first overall pick in the upcoming draft.
The Rams mustered only 10.9 points per game offensively in 2009, ranking dead last in the NFL. Total yards per game and passing yards per game were not much better (279.4, 29th and 167.9, 28th, respectively), though they did have the best rushing production in the division at 111.5 yards per game (20th).
The defense gave up nearly 30 points per game (27.2, 31st) and ranked 25th or worse in every major category. Their pass rush was even worse than Seattle’s, with only 25 sacks to their credit for the year.
With such wide-spread problems, there is no telling what the Rams might do in the draft. You can make strong progress toward rebuilding your team with the first pick in every round, but trading down for more picks in later rounds (or perhaps proven veterans) could also be an intriguing option if another team is craving the number one overall pick. With fairly balanced talent in this year’s draft field though, that may not be very likely to happen.
The two most likely options for the Rams if they stick with the 1st overall pick seem to be Sam Bradford from Oklahoma or Ndamukong Suh from Nebraska. Both could provide huge returns for a team so strapped for talent. The choice may come down to the immediacy of potential returns, which would tend to favor Suh. Bradford would likely play behind Bulger or Feeley for at least a year, whereas Suh could contribute from Week One.
Few first overall picks at QB have panned out into super stars, so this may further lend the nod to Suh. However, the last defensive linemen taken first overall (Mario Williams) has yet to develop into the game-dominating force he appeared to be college. Where the Rams go is anyone’s guess.