Friday, February 18, 2011

NFC West Prospects

Time to go and relax on the West Coast for a bit, as we look at the potential future for the NFC West. Starting Alphabetically with: Arizona Cardinals: Ken Whisenhunt has done a tremendous job in Arizona. With Kurt Warner at QB the Cardinals made the Super Bowl in '08. The next year they made it to the playoffs and lost only to the eventual champions. The next year Warner was gone, as was much of the Cardinals linebacking corps. The result was a 2010 season to forget. Poor Ken, undone at the seams by an unenviable personnel situation. Well guess what? It doesn't get much better in 2011. The QB situation is destined for messiness. Aaron Skelton, Derek Anderson and Max Hall are the most likely candidates for a QB competition, but even they are by no means locks for the season ahead. Old Ken might just decide to dump the lot and start from scratch, though Hall did show some promise so he might cling on in there. Anderson however...... much more likely to not be a Cardinal for 2011. Speaking of which, free agency. If you extract the players who are up for restricted and unrestricted free agency then what you're left with is about a 40 man roster, of whom 4 are quarterbacks and 4 are running backs. You have just enough players to scrape an O-line together and just enough receivers, defensive backs, linebackers and D-linemen to field a "team". God help you if you suffer any injuries. Among the names potentially off out the door include restricted free agents Early Doucet and Tim Hightower, along with unrestricted free agents like Steve Breaston, Alan Faneca, Deuce Lutui, Ben Patrick, Alan Branch & Bryan Robinson. Or in other words, a big chunk of some of the decent players that the Cardinals had left. The combination of free agent imports and the draft is going to be a very interesting time for the Cardinals. They pick 5th overall but they could need extra picks way more than they do some critical piece of the puzzle. If they lose all/most of their free agents then they have needs almost everywhere. They'll need a new quarterback. They'll need a few receivers. They'll need offensive linemen (note -men, plural). They'll probably need a new Nose Tackle (though I like young Dan Williams who was a 1st round pick). They'll need to get some impact players at Linebacker. And they'll need about 5 new secondary guys. All in all, if you're a Cardinals fan then 2011 is maybe the year to cut your budget deficit and forget about buying a season ticket. This is not going to be a pretty year. It's going to be messy as the Cardinals try to steer the ship back on course. But have faith. If anyone can fix a broken mess like the 2011 Card's, then it'll be a guy like Ken Whisenhunt. Besides, teams need their supporters more than ever at times like this. That's why you're called a supporter. San Francisco 49ers: By my reckoning, San comes before Seattle and St. At least that's the excuse I'm using. As for the team, the Mike Singletary era is over. It's all change in the staff room. Gone are the emotional speeches backed up by nothing but hot air. Poor Mike could talk a good game, but apparently he couldn't call or organise one. Fingers crossed then for Jim Harbaugh, former coach of the Stanford Cardinal (I wish they would add an "s" to that name). Maybe it's fate. The 49ers have previously hired a former Cardinal(s) Head Coach, who was also quite handy at developing quarterbacks. His name was Bill Walsh and he presided over 3 Super Bowl wins, plus essentially laying all the ground work for numbers 4 and 5. Now it falls to Mr. Harbaugh to try and follow in those immense footsteps. So what does he have to work with? Well it's a mixed bag to be honest. Among some of the names heading out of the door (potentially) are Aubrayo Franklin, Dashon Goldson, Manny Lawson, Jeff Reed, Alex Smith, Troy Smith, Takeo Spikes and Brian Westbrook. That leaves David Carr as the only guaranteed QB to return in 2011 along with a seriously depleted D-line. This then will probably take the major focus of the 49ers in the offseason. The Franchise tag is likely to fall on Franklin once more, keeping him locked up for another year, but that still leaves a lot of empty space around him, Justin Smith and Issac Sopoaga. Oh, and of course, it still leaves the team without a legitimate first string quarterback. If free agency doesn't bring in the answer, then maybe the draft will. The 49ers pick at number 7 and there is good money on it either being used for a QB or a DB. Certainly the 49ers are in a position where the overall quality of the team means they can be a bit more selective with who they want, rather than simply grabbing the best player on offer. As long as the QB question gets fixed, then 2011 promises to be a reasonable year for the 49ers. The playoffs might be a little bit of a stretch, given the rise of St. Louis, but San Francisco has a defense that can compete. All they really need to do is find that spark on offense to match the output of Patrick Willis and co. Seattle Seahawks: Having stunned the world - or at least that part of the world that watches football - the Seahawks are now preparing to build on a season that saw them become the first team with a losing record to win a playoff game. It's just a shame that their free agent list reads more like a grocery list. 24 names. Jordan Babineaux, Raheem Brock, Matt Hasselbeck, Leroy Hill, Sean Locklear, Brandon Mebane, Lawyer Milloy, Chester Pitts, Michael Robinson, Chris Spencer, Brandon Stokley, Leon Washington. The list of names just goes on and on. God only knows where the Seahawks are going in the draft. Seattle picks at 25 but they have so many holes they could be mistaken for Swiss cheese. Unless of course you believe that Charlie Whitehurst is the QB of the future, that two running backs (neither of which is a FB) is ok, that you can get buy on the dodgy O-line that the Seahawks fielded last year, that their D-line doesn't need improvement, that a 3-4 team can afford to only take 5 linebackers into the season and that new corners are not important. If that's the case then fine, but me personally, I'm worried. Well I say worried. About as worried as a 49er fan can be at the demise of the Seahawks. For that is what I foresee, using my magic football crystal ball, that has so far shown about a 55-60% accuracy rating. Honestly, I thought the Seahawks were beyond lucky to make it to the playoffs. Beating the Saints was almost inexplicable. With their core strength depleted for 2011, it looks like they're going to need their 12th man just to keep some of their games close. St. Louis Rams: St. Louis was one of the big surprise packages of 2010. Sure they had improved a little heading into the season, but guided by a rookie QB they were destined to have a rough ride. In the end they exceeded expectations and narrowly missed out on a playoff spot. This year they'll be adjusting to a new offensive coordinator. Josh McDaniels, former Head Coach of the Broncos, steps up to the plate as the man now responsible for the development of Sam Bradford. And while people are bemoaning the fact that McDaniels will be the second coordinator in young Bradfords 2nd year, there are few other people out there that you'd choose over McDaniels to guide a young QB along the path. What's more important is that the Rams free agent list really isn't that bad. It has fewer names on it than most and - importantly - has no names on it that I would consider crucial to the team. That means that the Rams are well placed for a draft in which they'll pick 14th overall. With all their key players returning for 2011, it leaves them open to pick and choose where they go, with tight end, defensive line, defensive back or running back being the more likely candidates for an upgrade. From what I've seen looking at the potential prospects and given the Rams position plus the fact that they're head coach is defense minded, I'd expect them to go Defensive Tackle. Whatever they do, the Rams are poised for one of the better seasons they've had in recent memory, since the glory days of the Greatest Show on Turf. It might not quite reach those heights, but if Bradford continues to develop at the same speed he did last year, then this team can go far.

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