The 2010 season promises to be a very interesting battle for supremacy in the NFC West. Several new faces have come into the division.
This report will focus on the trades and incoming free agents that will play a key role in the race for the NFC West title. Draft picks are not a part of this analysis, as they have been discussed at length in other reports.
Who are the top 10 new additions that will have the biggest impact in the NFC West this season?
The Arizona Cardinals have won the division for the past two years, including a Super Bowl appearance in the 2008 season. The Cardinals have lost several key players from last year's 10-6 team. Have they added enough to maintain their stronghold atop the division?
Which division foes have improved the most this off-season?
The San Francisco 49ers are poised to make a playoff run in 2010. This is Mike Singletary's second full season at the helm, and he will try to improve on last year's 8-8 record.
The Seattle Seahawks made a number of off-season moves, following a disappointing 5-11 season. The Seahawks were hit hard by the injury bug last year, and are hoping the moves they made this off-season will help them turn things around.
The St. Louis Rams are in a rebuilding mode, following an NFL worst 1-15 record. In addition to No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford, the Rams made several off-season pickups. These new additions should improve the Rams, but they have a long way to go before they will be in a position to challenge for the division.
A.J. Feeley was acquired as a free agent this off-season for two primary reasons. He was expected to be a short-term starter for the Rams, as they develop the 2010 top overall draft pick, Sam Bradford.
Bradford is the QB of the future for the St. Louis Rams, but due to a thumb injury to Feeley, he may well open the season as the starter. Feeley's other main benefit to the Rams will be as an experienced mentor to Bradford.
Feeley is very familiar with head coach Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, during his time with the Eagles. This familiarity with the coaches creates a comfort zone and will be an asset as Feeley works with Bradford.
Feeley is a 10-year NFL veteran and provides experience for the Rams. Whether he plays or not is not as important to St. Louis, as Feeley's main benefit will be in the tutelage of their prized rookie, Sam Bradford.
Derek Anderson, who signed a two-year agreement with Arizona, is an excellent free-agent pick up for the Cardinals. Anderson, entering his sixth NFL season, has a career 52.9 completion percentage, with 46 TDs, and 45 Ints. Anderson was a Pro Bowl quarterback, while in Cleveland, in 2007.
Matt Leinart will be the starter for Arizona, replacing Kurt Warner. Leinart has been with the Cardinals for four largely mediocre seasons, and has not been the regular starter since early in the 2007 campaign.
If Leinart cannot handle the starting role or gets injured, Derek Anderson gives Arizona a solid replacement. Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt has got to be pleased with this acquisition.
Ted Ginn Jr. was acquired by the San Francisco 49ers this off-season in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. Ginn has great speed and is expected to help stretch the defense, opening up more space in the 10-20 yard range for Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
In 2009 with the Dolphins, Ginn had 38 receptions for 454 yards and one TD. Ginn will likely start the season as the third receiver for San Francisco, but will likely have his playing time challenged by Dominique Zeigler, Jason Hill, and Kyle Williams.
In addition to Ginn stretching the field for the 49er offense, he is also expected to help the team returning kicks. The top priority for head coach Mike Singletary in the punt return game is to ensure that the return man catches the football. Ginn has had some difficulties in this area, so expect to see him returning kickoffs only.
Defensive lineman Chris Clemons was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles this off-season. The Seahawks have installed Clemons as a starter at the left defensive end position.
Clemons is heading into his seventh NFL season and the Seahawks are his fourth team. He is being counted on to improve the Seattle pass rush. The Seahawk defense amassed only 28 sacks last year, which was tied for 26th in the league.
Clemons had his best season in 2007, as he collected eight sacks with the Oakland Raiders. In the past two years, as a member of the Eagles, Clemons only had a total of seven. If Clemons can revert back to his 2007 form, he will be a welcome force for the Seattle defense.
The biggest off-season move by the San Francisco 49ers was the signing of free-agent running back Brian Westbrook. He spent the previous eight seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Frank Gore is the acknowledged No. 1 back, but Westbrook should see plenty of action. Westbrook is a big play threat anytime he touches the football. He will contribute in both the running game, and is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Westbrook, who played in only eight games last year due to injury, has a career rushing average of 4.58 yards per carry and has averaged 53 receptions over his eight seasons. The veteran Westbrook is also a good blocker and very solid in blitz pickup.
The signing of Brian Westbrook was deemed necessary when last year's No. 2 rusher Glen Coffee abruptly retired a few weeks ago. This is the type of move that playoff teams make, and the 49ers were thrilled when Westbrook agreed to join the team.
Many people may think I have rated Charlie Whitehurst too high. The former San Diego Charger comes to Seattle as the backup to Matt Hasselbeck, who is entering his 12th NFL season.
After all, in four years with San Diego, Whitehurst has never even thrown a pass in a regular-season game.
Although Hasselbeck played in 14 games last year, at age 34, he's very fragile and a definite injury risk. In the 2008 season, Hasselbeck only played in seven games.
Hasselbeck no longer has the mobility to avoid a heavy pass rush, which subjects him to a lot of hits. In addition, Hasselbeck's effectiveness has diminished over the past two years, as he has thrown 27 interceptions, compared with only 22 touchdowns.
I believe Charlie Whitehurst will be a key player for the Seattle Seahawks. I just cannot see Matt Hasselbeck staying healthy and playing effectively for an entire NFL campaign.
If Whitehurst gets the opportunity to play and does well, the Seahawks have a definite chance to be much improved this season. Matt Hasselbeck is the QB of the past, while Whitehurst is the QB of the future. The sooner Charlie Whitehurst becomes the QB of the present, the better off the Seahawks will be in the long run.
Leon Washington was a steal for the Seattle Seahawks, who acquired the all purpose back from the Jets for only a fifth-round draft pick.
Washington had a compound fracture of his fibula in the seventh game of the 2009 season. At the time, there were concerns that Washington's career might be over.
Washington now appears healthy, and ready to contribute to the Seattle rejuvenation. The Seahawks are well stocked at the running-back position with Julius Jones, Justin Forsett, and Washington, all in the mix.
Jones appears to be the starter and is more of a ball control back. Forsett did a great job last year as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield. It will be up to new head coach Pete Carroll to find a way to utilize all three backs effectively
Leon Washington is a threat to score every time he gets his hands on the ball. The Seahawks will use Washington as a situational back, relying on his skills in a multitude of ways. He can be explosive as a runner, receiver, or return man. If Seattle can get Washington the ball 12 to 15 times per game, he will definitely contribute and should remain fresh throughout the season.
The Arizona Cardinals suffered the most critical departures in the NFC West this off-season. Key players that left Arizona include Kurt Warner, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby, and Anquan Boldin.
The addition of Kerry Rhodes, acquired via trade from the New York Jets, was an excellent move. Arizona needed a quality safety to replace Rolle and they got one.
Rhodes will play alongside three-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, giving the Cardinals two proven playmakers at the safety positions.
Rhodes, at age 28 and entering his sixth year in the NFL, should be in the prime of his career right now. He has 15 interceptions in his five years in the league.
Durability has been a Rhodes trademark. He has played in every regular-season contest, starting 78 out of the 80 games in his five-year career.
A strong offensive line is the foundation of any successful offense. The Arizona Cardinals signed Alan Faneca, the former New York Jet guard, as a free agent this off-season.
Faneca is entering his 13th NFL season, and will be a stalwart on the line for the Cardinals.
Faneca is a steady, solid player, who is well-respected around the league and in the locker room. He has made the Pro Bowl nine consecutive times.
Faneca's durability is tremendous, as he has started 128 consecutive games, over the past eight seasons.
With the departure of Kurt Warner, Arizona will try to improve their rushing attack. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower give the Cardinals two backs that can carry the load for the offense. The offensive line will be counted on to open holes for them.
Protection for QB Matt Leinart will be crucial to his success, as the new QB tries to step in for Kurt Warner. Faneca, an eight-time All-Pro guard will anchor an offensive line that must consistently give Leinart time to find star receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston.
With the departure of linebacker Karlos Dansby to the Miami Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals were in search of a proven veteran to replace him. The Cardinals signed that player, Joey Porter, who has played for 11 years with Pittsburgh and Miami.
In his prime, Joey Porter was one of the fiercest pass rushing linebackers in the NFL. He still has a lot of gas left in the tank and will be a force to be reckoned with for opposing offenses.
At his best, Porter wreaks havoc with an offense, disrupting the passing game and requiring two players to block him. Even if he has lost a step, Porter will still be an impact player.
Porter has been selected to the Pro Bowl and garnered All-Pro honors on four separate occasions. In 2009, he had nine sacks, down from the 17.5 he had in 2008. Porter has 92 sacks for his career, and should reach the century mark this season.
The Cardinals lost the most talent in the division this off-season. However, with acquisitions like Joey Porter, Alan Faneca and Kerry Rhodes, they also made excellent moves to make up for it.
Perhaps the biggest off-season move that will impact the NFC West this year is not a player at all.
Pete Carroll was hired as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, replacing Jim Mora Jr., who lasted only one season. Under Mora Jr., the Seahawks had a very disappointing 5-11 record in 2009.
Pete Carroll comes to Seattle after a very successful run at USC, where he compiled a record of 97-19, including two national championships, and seven Pac-10 titles, over a span of nine years. The timing of Carroll's departure from the college ranks coincides with an NCAA investigation and penalties levied against the USC football program.
Carroll's success at the college level far outweighs his NFL head-coaching resume. In 1994, as head coach of the Jets, Carroll's team stumbled to a 6-10 record. In three years at New England,1997-99, Carroll led the Patriots to a 27-21 overall record, which included two playoff appearances. His overall record in the NFL is 33-31.
The Seahawks are a team in transition. They have a few old veterans, but several young players they're counting on to lead them out of the doldrums.
There are still question marks, especially along both lines and with overall depth. When a team is in this transition mode, you can expect some growing pains.
The players seem to like the positive motivation, which is a Carroll trademark. There is a lot of good young talent on this roster, and the Seattle management and fan base must be willing to give Carroll some time to turn this team around. Given that time, Pete Carroll will ultimately get Seattle back as a contender.