Friday, May 7, 2010
Analyzing the NFC West offseasons
By Mike Sando
While every NFC West team can legitimately claim to having a successful offseason on some level, I can see why ESPN's John Clayton ranked the Seahawks' offseason as the NFL's fifth best to this point.
Seattle was dealt a strong offseason hand -- two of the top 14 picks in the 2010 draft -- and the team generally made the most of it.
My quick take on NFC West offseasons to this point:
What went right: Nose tackle Dan Williams fell to Arizona at No. 26 in the draft. ... Nine-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, a player the team had coveted, suddenly became available. The Cardinals were able to sign him at an affordable price. ... The team got value for receiver Anquan Boldin a year before Boldin likely would have left anyway. ... Darnell Dockett reported for the post-draft camp and participated, an indication he feels the team is closer to rewarding him with a long-term deal. ... The team extended contracts for coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves, buying continuity. The Cardinals also brought back highly valued strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott.
What went wrong: Kurt Warner retired. ... A poorly structured contract allowed safety Antrel Rolle to get away after the first Pro Bowl season of his career. ... Linebacker Karlos Dansby signed with the Dolphins even though the Cardinals' offer was competitive. ... The Rams released Marc Bulger late enough to make it tough for the Cardinals to consider adding a player they might have otherwise signed. ... Losing Warner and Boldin deprived the team of established leadership.
The bottom line: There wasn't much Arizona could do about Warner's retirement, but that subtraction -- followed by the departures of Rolle, Dansby and Boldin -- put the team in a tough situation. The Cardinals rebounded, adding safety Kerry Rhodes, outside linebacker Joey Porter, Faneca, guard Rex Hadnot and linebacker Paris Lenon in free agency. They felt great about landing Williams in the first round of the draft, and they had a fallback plan when talks with kicker Neil Rackers went nowhere. Those moves allowed Arizona to feel better about a tough offseason.
San Francisco 49ers
What went right: The 49ers addressed obvious issues on the offensive line through the draft. ... Mike Solari, the perfect line coach for offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, suddenly became available when the Seahawks fired Jim Mora after only one season. Solari is among the best in the game and he worked with Raye previously. ... The team found a way to extend Patrick Willis' contract despite hurdles put in place by the NFL labor situation. ... The Dolphins' acquisition of Brandon Marshall made Ted Ginn Jr. expendable in Miami, furnishing the 49ers with an option for their return game and possibly at receiver. ... Director of player personnel Trent Baalke, thrust into a more prominent role shortly before the draft, appeared to be a good match for coach Mike Singletary. The two had developed a rapport over the years when Singletary was a position coach, and that paid off immediately.
What went wrong: General manager Scot McCloughan left the team for personal reasons only five weeks before the draft. ... Willis required knee surgery to remove a bursa sac. ... Depending on your view of Donovan McNabb, the 49ers arguably missed a chance to add a quarterback capable of putting the team over the top. ... Linebacker Manny Lawson stayed away from minicamps and offseason workouts because he wants a new contract.
The bottom line: The paragraph on what went right vastly outweighs the paragraph on what went wrong. The 49ers must have had a pretty good offseason, then. They stayed the course through McCloughan's departure. On the field, they made continuity a high priority. They re-signed Willis and stood by quarterback Alex Smith. The decision at quarterback will largely determine whether the 49ers truly enjoyed a successful offseason, but no matter what happens, their reasoning was understandable. Smith made strides last season and the team was finally in position to keep the same quarterback and offensive coordinator together in consecutive years.
What went right: The draft fell favorably for Seattle, allowing the team to land left tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas in the first round. Getting Golden Tate in the second round seemed like a bonus. ... New coach Pete Carroll and new general manager John Schneider have so far worked well together. Their rapport appears uncannily strong. ... Carroll was able to land highly regarded assistant coaches, including Alex Gibbs. ... The team added depth at running back without giving up much. Leon Washington has the potential to add a needed element to the offense ... First-round bust Mike Williams showed promise during minicamps. ... Cornerback Marcus Trufant appeared healthy again.
What went wrong: The team felt compelled to hire its third head coach in less than two years. ... Age and injuries forced Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney into retirement. ... It's too early to say whether Seattle erred in adding Charlie Whitehurst, but the team arguably overspent for an untested backup quarterback. The move later prevented the Seahawks from considering Jimmy Clausen in the second round. ... Linebacker Leroy Hill suffered additional off-field problems, reducing his value to the Seahawks or any team looking to add a linebacker via trade. ... Seattle struck out in its efforts to land Marshall from the Broncos. ... Receiver Deion Branch needed another knee surgery, albeit a minor one.
The bottom line: Seattle moved aggressively to shore up weaknesses from the front office to the playing field. That's what it takes to be perceived as having a successful offseason. We should remember, however, that the Seahawks spent quite a bit of the offseason subtracting from their roster. Teams that change coaches and GMs will have roster turnover, but are the Seahawks better in the immediate term without Nate Burleson, Deon Grant, Darryl Tapp, Cory Redding, Rob Sims and even Seneca Wallace? Change comes at a price.
St. Louis Rams
What went right: The Rams had to get a quarterback and they got one in Sam Bradford. ... Bradford's shoulder checked out well enough during the offseason for the Rams to consider drafting him. ... Minority owner Stan Kroenke, a man with deep pockets and a strong track record in sports team ownership, declared his intention to keep the team in St. Louis after exercising an option to buy the franchise. ... The Rams maintained continuity of the coaching staff on offense, defense and special teams after years of turnover. Continuity was needed. ... The Rams needed veteran seasoning and they got it by adding veterans familiar with their systems. Fred Robbins, Na'il Diggs, Hank Fraley and A.J. Feeley should help even if they do not start.
What went wrong: The Rams' best player, Steven Jackson, underwent back surgery when rehabilitation alone wasn't enough to recover from a herniated disk. ... Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe's injury situation combined with two other factors -- a pending ownership change and new rules governing free agency -- to complicate the Rams' efforts to retain their former franchise player. Atogwe can become a free agent next month if the Rams do not increase their offer to him from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million. ... Ownership uncertainty made it harder for the Rams to act decisively throughout the offseason. The Rams' offseason budget lacked the flexibility it would have otherwise had. Should the team have made a play for Marshall or another big-name free agent? The Rams' hands appeared somewhat tied.
The bottom line: The Rams put in place building blocks for their future, starting at quarterback. Their offseason will be judged almost entirely on whether Bradford becomes the player the Rams thought they were getting. Simple as that.