It’s been five days since the crushing 45-14 loss against the New Orleans Saints, and most Arizona Cardinals fans are not over it. In a season where the Cardinals were consistently underrated by the national media, they could not turn on the magic in the playoffs as they did in 2008. The biggest difference between last year and this year? Injuries. Last year the Cardinals were extremely lucky and this year they were extremely unlucky. As the Cardinals head into the offseason, questions loom around the future of the quarterback position. If Kurt Warner retires, as many expect him to do, Matt Leinart will probably get the nod as the starting quarterback and the Cards can finally see if he was worth their first round draft pick. This decision is not only important for the Cardinals, but also the rest of the NFC West. Warner’s decision is more important than any offseason move made by the other teams in the division and will likely have implications about the pecking order next year.
Note: much has happened in the last three weeks and this is an unusually long Fly Around the NFC West article analyzing offseason personnel moves and impending draft picks.
Fly Around the NFC West has been gone since the playoffs started, so here’s a rehash of some old news. In a move hated by Trojan fans and met halfheartedly by Seahawk fans, the Seahawks were able to lure Pete Carroll from his cushy job at USC to take over their franchise’s vacant head coaching position. Carroll brings with him previous NFL coaching experience, as well as talented offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who was formerly the OC of the Denver Bronco’s vaunted passing attack. Carroll’s previous NFL stint was with the New England Patriots and came in between the Bill Parcells era and the Bill Belichik era (Yikes. No wonder he takes a beating in New England). Carroll did leave New England with a winning record, an AFC East title in 1997, and a Wild-Card berth in 1998 and is not nearly as bad a pro coach as Patriots’ fans make him out to be.
Many around the league have criticized the Seahawks for bypassing the Rooney Rule and interviewing the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as a farce, but some reports indicate otherwise. Allegedly, the Seahawks were deciding between Carroll and GM X, or Frazier as coach and Tony Dungy as president. Supposedly, Dungy indicated interest in the job but said he would only become the team president if Frazier was the coach. Many argue this is the reason Frazier agreed to the interview and when Dungy eventually decided he did’t want to come back to the NFL, the Seahawks went with Carroll. I personally am glad of the hire. Being a staunch Cal Bears supporter in the Pac-10, I have followed Carroll’s career closely and know his best coaching attribute is his ability to convince 5 star recruits to compete with and play behind other 5 star recruits. This ability will not help him in the NFL. I don’t know if Carroll can be a good NFL coach or not, or whether his defensive philosophy will work in the NFL, but I would have been much more afraid of going against Leslie Frazier and Tony Dungy for the next 5 years.
The Seahawks have also hired John Schneider as their new General Manager. Pete Carroll, who originally wanted GM duties in addition to his coaching duties, still has final say over the 53 man roster and Schneider was hired to handle the day to day GM duties. Field Gulls has a good analysis of the Carroll-Schneider relationship here.
In terms of draft selection, the Seahawks have two first round picks this year, their own pick at number 6 and Denver’s pick at number 14. Offensive line was obviously the Seahawk’s biggest problem in 2009. Walter Jones is likely too old and injured to keep playing and the Seahawks need to badly address the tackle position in this year’s draft. Defensive line and running back are also areas of concern.
The biggest move concerning the St. Louis Rams this offseason is their draft, specifically their first pick. Due to the weird rules surrounding the collective bargaining agreement next year, there are going to be fewer free agents than normal, important since the Rams QB situation is getting dire. Many in St. Louis are reporting that Marc Bulger, continuously beat up by opposing defenses for the past few years, is seriously considering retirement. This leaves the Rams with first round bust Kyle Boller or long term project Keith Null taking over as the primary signal caller next year. If the year truly is uncapped, and all indications are that it will be, then the most attractive free agent quarterback out there, Jason Campbell, becomes a restricted free agent and relatively cheap for the Redskins to retain. Though the Redskins had a terrible season, Campbell impressed many this year and new coach Mike Shanahan will probably want to keep him, for a backup if nothing else. Turf Show Times explores the possibility of the Rams selecting Jimmy Clausen with their first pick here . The idea seems crazy at first, considering that many are touting Ndamukong Suh as the second coming of Reggie White, but with no other options the Rams might be forced to take a QB in the first round. However, the article also reviews GM Billy Devaney’s past: the only QB he’s drafted in the first round was Ryan Leaf, indicating that he would be against selecting Clausen or Bradford. Although many signs point to Suh being the first pick this year, the question is could the Rams suffer through a season with Kyle Boller as their starting quarterback to draft yet another defensive lineman?
The other important news in St. Louis is the future of the team’s ownership. Majority owners Chip Rosenbloom and his sister Lucia Rodriguez are set on selling the team before the draft. Long time owner Georgia Frontiere passed away in January of 2008, leaving the team to Rosenbloom and Rodriguez. Frontiere was very important to the Rams, moving them from Los Angeles to St. Louis where they won their first Super Bowl. Both Rosenbloom and Rodriguez are eager to sell their 60% stake quickly to avoid the estate taxes issues which came with Frontiere’s death. The owners will decide between three offers, all of which are comparable to what the Pittsburgh Steelers sold for a few years ago- the $700 to $800 million dollar range. The other 40% of the team is owned by Stan Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets and Arsenal. Two of the offers are for only the 60% of the team Rosenbloom and Rodriguez own- this gives Stan Kroenke a lot of power because he can block both of those offers by "cashing out" ie wanting to sell his share. Early reports are that Kroenke will most likely just hold his 40% in that situation, but it is another unknown in the sale. The only known bidder so far is Dave Checketts, the chairman of the St. Louis Blues. Checketts created an outcry last year by wanting to include conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh in the sale, eventually ousting him because of the unpopularity of the decision. It is unlikely the deal will be too complicated, but it is yet another issue the franchise needs to settle this offseason.
While the other three teams in the NFC West have huge storylines heading into the offseason, the San Francisco 49ers have been relatively quiet. Their biggest bit of news so far this offseason is the hiring of Kurt Schottenheimer as their special teams coach, replacing Al Everest. It was a curious move the say the least since Schottenheimer, brother of Marty, hasn’t been a special teams coach in 15 years. I’m not sure anybody really knows what a special teams coach does though, so the gap might not be a big deal.
The biggest goal of this offseason for the Niners is to figure out whether Alex Smith is a legitimate NFL starter. Smith was very up and down this past season, sometimes looking poised, confident, and making the right reads, and sometimes giving away the game. Smith will really have to learn how to play in a pro style offense and not just in the spread. The spread really helps Smith out, but makes life much harder for Frank Gore, recently named to the NFC Pro-Bowl team in place of Steven Jackson.
The Niners hold the 13th and 16th picks in the draft this year and many expect them to shore up their offensive line. However, the Niners have no huge needs to fill (except quarterback) and GM Scott McCloughan proved last year that he’ll pick the best player available. Sports Illustrated’s Football Analyst Peter King predicts the 49ers will take Tim Tebow with one of their first round picks. He bases this upon Tebow’s personality and desire to win meshing with Mike Singletary. Tebow is an interesting player as he is a proven winner and leader, but nobody knows what position he’ll play in the NFL. It’s also important to note that Tebow is another system quarterback like Alex Smith, and what’s more, they both are from an Urban Meyer system. Our friends at Niners Nation do not appreciate the idea.