Ryan Pavlicek and Ollie Banton-
Last season the NFC West proved to be a rising division in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers had a fantastic season and made it to the Super Bowl, and the Seahawks, led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, vaulted on to the contender scene late in the season. The Cardinals and Rams both have a lot of work left to do but they have some pieces to build around. This offseason is very important for the NFC West.
Needs: QB, OL
The Arizona Cardinals are in desperate need of a franchise quarterback. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it looks like they might have to wait another year to get their quarterback of the future. After Joe Flacco was given the most lucrative contracts in NFL history, the free agent market for QBs became very thin. There are a few solid players out there, but there isn’t that “it” guy. Many teams seem to desperately need a star quarterback, but it appears the Cardinals will be starless at QB in 2013.
QB is the most important position in football and therefore deserves the most attention, but OL is also a glaring concern for this Cardinals team. Arizona surrendered a league-worst 58 sacks in 2012, so they need to address the line problems. QB talent is thin but OL talent is rich, which makes me think bulking up the line is the route Arizona will take.
Jason Campbell and Matt Moore have both proved to be decent NFL quarterbacks throughout their careers.. Moore played well with Miami down the stretch last year and Campbell had several solid seasons with the Redskins a few years back. Either could serve as a temporary filler to the void at QB, but definitely aren’t the future in Arizona.
The Cardinals offensive line struggled all throughout 2012, and adding a free agent or two would be a great start in repairing a damaged unit. Sebastian Vollmer is a guy I’ve mentioned a couple times throughout these previews, because he is very talented. Andre Smith is another possibility. Both would make the Cardinals a lot better heading into the 2013 season and beyond.
San Francisco 49ers
Needs: DL, CB, S
The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most talented teams in the league, with an elite coach in Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh coached the 49ers to the NFC Championship in 2011, and then the Super Bowl in 2012. Rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick emerged as a dynamic threat last season which allowed the team to get a second-round pick from the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith.
Kaepernick is a dual threat with his running and passing abilities. Adding another receiver in Anquan Boldin for a sixth round draft pick with Randy Moss heading to free agency was ideal for the team. With Boldin alongside Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, Kaepernick will have plenty of reliable options to throw to.
On the defensive side of the ball, the line could use some re-tooling as they begin to age. The secondary was exploited by Joe Flacco in the Super Bowl, so look for Harbaugh to make some adjustments especially after the loss of safety Dashon Goldson.
The 49ers build through the draft, and do it as well as anyone. This is bad news for the rest of the league since they have 14 selections in April’s draft. Three of those selections come in the first two rounds, so watch out for how they use their abundance of picks to address their needs in a defense-rich draft.
But now with the Seattle Seahawks trading for wide receiver Percy Harvin, look for the 49ers to possibly use those draft picks to bring in cornerback Darrelle Revis. That move would fix their relatively weak secondary in a heartbeat, with many draft picks to spare.
I originally had wide receiver as the key need for the Seattle Seahawks this offseason. Russell Wilson proved he can play with the big boys of the NFL in 2012 and ran one of the more potent offenses in the NFC. Bringing on another reliable receiver would make Seattle that much better, and that’s exactly what they did with the acquisition of Percy Harvin. Now that receiver is no longer a pressing need, I’m going to turn to the other side of the ball and say defensive end should be the Seahawks’ focus in the coming weeks.
Seattle had a top 10 defense in terms of points/yards allowed, but finished outside the top 15 in sacks. With a dangerous pass rush, the Seahawks could have the best defense in football in 2013.
Cliff Avril is coming off a 9.5 sack season with the Detroit Lions and is arguably the best pass rushing end in this year’s free agent class. Avril is reportedly seeking a large contract, which makes me think Seattle might not want to chase after him. However, there is no denying his ability and defensive prowess. He would instantly make the Seahawks’ pass rush better. Dwight Freeney is another potential fit. Freeney is 33 years old and coming off only a 5-sack season, but he still has shown he can get after the quarterback at a high rate.
St. Louis Rams
Needs: S, RB, OL, WR
Here’s a team that doesn’t get much respect in the NFC West. The Rams do have a strong foundation in place and have showed significant improvement under Jeff Fisher. Fisher, and the rest of the front office will be able to cash in on last year’s blockbuster trade with the Washington Redskins to further improve.
With two first round picks this year at numbers 16 and 21, the Rams can address two of their biggest needs on day 1 of the NFL draft. This being at the offensive line with the likes of Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper and the safety position which features Kenny Vaccaro and Matt Elam.
In free agency the Rams will have the money to bring in a running back to replace Steven Jackson, or even potentially bring him back. They have the money to make a splash at either the running back or wide receiver position, but will be able to fill the other need during the middle of round two where lots of talent will still be on the board.