Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each NFC West team needs to address the quarterback position.
Arizona Cardinals: The options are straightforward for the Cardinals even though solving the position will not be easy. Renegotiating Kevin Kolb's contract and his $9 million salary for 2013 would be a good place to start. There's no sense losing options at the position by parting with Kolb if the sides can find middle ground on a new contract. From there, the Cardinals should consider adding a veteran before the draft. Arizona, with a division-low seven draft choices this year, would ideally add that veteran through free agency, not by trade. Matt Cassel and others come to mind. None would project as the long-term starter, but as the Cardinals found out last season, it's not fun playing Ryan Lindley types for extended periods. The drop from backup to replacement-level quarterback can be severe. Once Arizona has its veterans, the team can approach the draft with an open mind. Selecting a quarterback would be ideal, but the Cardinals shouldn't force anything with the seventh overall choice. As Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati showed recently, it's increasingly possible to find starting-caliber quarterbacks in the second and third rounds.
St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford made it through all 16 games last season, the second time in three years he has not missed a start. That was encouraging for St. Louis because the team was short-handed on its offensive line. The coaching staff gets some credit for shielding Bradford from the level and frequency of punishment the quarterback absorbed during his one season with Josh McDaniels as coordinator. Bradford also showed better ability to escape trouble with occasional scrambles. With Bradford's durability restored following a rough 2011 season, the Rams might feel better about carrying only two quarterbacks. Austin Davis is the favorite to fill that role. Veteran Kellen Clemens could make for a fallback option. He is an unrestricted free agent and could conceivably return. But coach Jeff Fisher publicly committed to Davis recently. Davis, drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2012 but not by an NFL team, impressed during the exhibition season and could get a chance to develop behind Bradford.
Seattle Seahawks: There's clarity at the position in Seattle for the first offseason in a long time. Russell Wilson is the starter. Everyone else is pretty much irrelevant. But there is some minor intrigue surrounding backup Matt Flynn. The Seahawks appear content to carry Flynn on their roster in the No. 2 role despite a $6.5 million annual average for the former projected starter. That makes sense because the team would incur salary-cap charges totaling $4 million for trading or releasing him. The Seahawks could push half that total into the future, but Seattle has the cap flexibility to keep Flynn on the roster. Seattle should listen to offers for Flynn and see what the market might bring. And with 11 draft choices, second-most in the NFL pending disbursement of compensatory picks, Seattle should consider drafting a developmental quarterback somewhere along the way. But there's really no reason to act with urgency at the position now that Wilson is the starter.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are expected to receive a 2013 second-round choice and a conditional 2014 pick once they follow through on the trade sending Alex Smith to Kansas City. That deal cannot happen until the trading period opens March 12. The trade will weaken the 49ers in the short term by leaving them with "only" one quarterback capable of leading the team deep into the playoffs. But it was the right thing to do, and the compensation far exceeded what I thought were reasonable expectations. San Francisco is making a move it had to make under the circumstances. The 49ers should proceed by signing a veteran such as Cassel to serve in the backup role behind Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers had an NFL-high 12 draft choices pending the Smith trade and disbursement of compensatory picks. That haul puts the 49ers in prime position to draft a quarterback to compete with Scott Tolzien for the No. 3 role (or even the No. 2 role, depending on how the 49ers fare in seeking a veteran replacement for Smith).