Three-fourths of the NFC West wanted a shot at Peyton Manning this offseason.
The Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll and John Schneider flew to Denver in a failed attempt to catch Manning before the quarterback departed for Arizona.
The Cardinals met with Manning at their facility.
The San Francisco 49ers then emerged as a surprise finalist for Manning, with Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh flying to watch Manning work out in North Carolina.
Manning was a special case, to be sure, but those teams' interest also reflected on relatively weak quarterback situations in Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco. The position has stabilized within the division since Manning signed with Denver, providing an opportunity to bring in Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. for thoughts on where teams stand.
Mike Sando: Let's begin with the Seahawks, the only team in the division to bring in a new likely starter from the outside. Does Matt Flynn improve the situation?
Matt Williamson: Yes, and that is the best word. When free agency hit, I wasn't huge on Flynn. I thought people would be beating down his doors, and he worried me. I think he's good, not great. I would not use the term 'franchise quarterback' for him. But he improves them and I can't be critical of any team that gets better at QB.
Sando: What limits your enthusiasm on him?
Williamson: His overall talent, his ability to throw the football, his size and strength -- they're all just a little above average. He was a seventh-round draft choice for a reason. You have to keep him ahead of the chains, you need the running game. He doesn't take the team on its shoulders if things fall apart around him. If you manufacture offense, know what he is capable of doing, minimize turnovers, I think you can win a lot of games that way. In the end, he is an upgrade. And they did not spend a fortune for him.
I look at Seattle like the arrow is going up, they are getting better in all areas and they are young. This is a nice signing. Tarvaris Jackson played well and he was injured, and he exceeded my expectations, but that is as good as he is going to play. He is still a liability more than an asset. Flynn can get to a point where he can be more of an asset than a liability.
Sando: You said we've seen the best from Jackson. A lot of people think we've seen the best from the 49ers' Alex Smith as well.
Williamson: I agree. I really think it's going to be Colin Kaepernick's job not far down the line. They are going out and getting vertical guys, guys who can really run. That doesn't fit Alex Smith. Yes, it will open up room for Frank Gore and Vernon Davis, but after a while, people are going to realize they don't have to take away the deep ball. I think Harbaugh wants Kaepernick out there. He wants a guy to use the whole field.
Sando: The contract Smith signed was for three seasons and can max out at $33 million, but the 49ers can easily exit the deal after one or two years and a lot less money.
Williamson: Everyone realized that offense was easy to play against last year because they had no weapons on the outside to scare you deep. Harbaugh knew that, so he was really creative with his big-body personnel, using a lot of six-man line sets, double tights, heavy formations. They did a lot of odd things and had to coach up points. I think he wants more explosiveness for sure and more verticality, and Kaepernick has those traits much more than Smith. They traded up to get Kaepernick for a reason. You don’t use a second-round pick for a quarterback who is very toolsy without looking at him as the starter.
Sando: Smith did go 13-3 last season. He did make the winning plays against New Orleans in the wild-card round. Is the trajectory pointing up on him?
Williamson: Smith minimized the negative plays and will never be any better than he was doing that. He may get more confident, may make a few more throws, but what we saw in that one playoff game will be few and far between. He is an OK player, but has a real low ceiling.
Sando: Cardinals fans are hoping that comment doesn't apply to Kevin Kolb as well. Kolb had trouble staying on the field last season, missing extended period with toe and head injuries. He struggled when he was on the field as well.
Williamson: I look at Kolb like I look at the rookies last year. The lockout, those guys got thrown into the fire in an unfair manner. Any quarterback changing teams, especially a QB with limited experience, never got the minicamps or the things they needed. But man, I didn't like anything I saw from Kolb. I think their quarterback situation is the worst in the league right now, right there with the Browns and the Dolphins and a few other teams.
Sando: Arizona saw enough to pay a $7 million bonus to Kolb, keeping him on the roster. The alternative was heading toward the draft with John Skelton as the only starting prospect. That would have been rough. What about Kolb bothered you the most last season?
Williamson: I just didn’t see anything to get excited about. Didn’t see tools or the willingness to hang in the pocket. Maybe he was just uncomfortable. A couple guys who floundered last season could step up big after having a regular offseason. I just did not see anything. Kolb does not stand as firm in the pocket as I would like. I'd like to see him more willing to take hits to deliver the football.
Sando: Kolb did that well on a deep pass to Larry Fitzgerald at Washington early in the season, absorbing a crushing hit to complete a game-changing pass. But that play was an exception. Kolb did bail from pressure too frequently, and he could not stay on the field.
Sando: Any discussion about quarterbacks getting hit should include the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford. He took 36 sacks in 10 games last season. Bradford has a new offensive coordinator, Brian Schotteneheimer, and a new head coach promising to protect him.
Rams WRs: Career Totals
Williamson: I am a Bradford guy who had no problem with their decision not to take Robert Griffin III. The Rams have had as good an offseason as anyone. The more I look at last season -- mix in Bradford's injuries, the bad line, having no weapons -- it was an impossible endeaver. Throw that away. Jeff Fisher is smart and has a history of bringing along guys slowly, of running Eddie George and playing defense. Schottenheimer did a ton of that with the Jets, maybe even too much, but he had to.
Sando: Right. Schottenheimer was trying to take off pressure from Mark Sanchez, at least until last season.
Williamson: Sanchez isn't close to Bradford. My concern with the Rams would be two years from now, if Bradford still does look like the first overall pick, will they take the reins off? Harnessing him back now, I have no problem with that. Win some games, lean on others. But will they allow him to be great when he is ready? They are conservative by nature.
Sando: Shorter term, the Rams haven't done anything to help Bradford in the playmaker department. They've actually gotten worse in that area after losing Brandon Lloyd to free agency.
Williamson: They will end up with Trent Richardson or Justin Blackmon in the draft, but it would have been nice to add some kind of veteran. Maybe Mario Manningham. At least a No. 2 type. They do have a lot of young guys from last year and maybe someone steps up, but it's not real exciting. I would not have paid what Pierre Garcon got, though. Robert Meachem got good money too. St. Louis is not the most attractive free-agent landing spot for a receiver right now. But the team is set up for the long term, at least. They will get a top-10-type stud wideout in the next year or two.
Sando: Thanks for the conversation, Matt. I'll be on the lookout for you next Football Today podcast, which posts right here each week. The next one goes live Monday.