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Offseason report: NFC West
Better. It was an old school game of tit-for-tat between the 49ers and Seahawks this offseason, and I think the defending NFC champions won the battle. Note the word battle.
There’s actually a season to be played. The rich got richer and San Francisco beefed up any holes on the roster, while adding depth at key positions and replacing the valuable contributors that they lost in free agency.
Dashon Goldson goes to Tampa Bay? They draft Eric Reid, the talented safety out of LSU in the first round. Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sopoaga both left this offseason, but they brought in Glenn Dorsey and drafted three rookies: Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial and Corey Lemonier. Anquan Boldin has at least another great year in him and they only gave up a sixth round-pick to acquire him. Nnamdi Asomugha for $3 million is a great pickup, too.
What I love most about this 49ers offseason, though, is how hard the quarterback is working to get even better. Colin Kaepernick’s dedicated his offseason to football, not photo shoots or dating models, and has taken a few of his younger, unproven wide receivers under his wing. 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins and Kaepernick spent the offseason working out in Atlanta. This team is loaded with talent and they'll only get better this spring.
Better. The Seahawks were a last-minute Matt Ryan game-winning drive away from the NFC Championship Game a season ago.
Instead of standing pat, they went out and brought in several veteran reinforcements to help them get over the hump in 2013.
They exchanged a first-round pick and a big-money contract for Percy Harvin prior to the start of the NFL’s free-agency signing period. Then they brought in pass rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Harvin is a gamebreaker who'll open up a wide-open Seattle offense even more, but I think the Avril and Bennett signings could potentially impact this team even more.
The defensive backfield, arguably the best in the league, now has two additional players in the front seven who will apply pressure to the quarterback. This was a very good team a season ago. With the additions they made this offseason, they’re in position to be great.
Better. While the 49ers and Seahawks dominated the headlines this offseason, the Rams quietly upgraded their roster, too. I love the signings of both Jared Cook and Jake Long and I think the Rams had one of the best draft classes in the entire league.
Tavon Austin is a guy several teams wanted. The Rams were able to trade up to get him and still land Alec Ogletree, the top inside linebacker in this draft class, at 30th overall. Third-day selection Zac Stacy, a dynamic running back out of Vanderbilt, could not only make the team, but compete for the starting job in training camp. The loss of Steven Jackson's leadership and consistency will hurt and Danny Amendola was a go-to player when he was on the field. But I think the Rams offense, with the additions of Cook, Long, Austin, Stacy and even third-day pick Stedman Bailey, will offset those losses.
The defense was good already. The Rams went 1-0-1 against Kaepernick last year. (The first game, a 24-24 tie, was the game Kaepernick replaced an injured Alex Smith and took over the job for good.) The defense got better this offseason. You won't hear much about them because of all the noise around the Seahawks and 49ers, but I love the direction the Rams are headed.
Better. It’s tough to grade the Cardinals objectively without looking over their shoulders and seeing what their NFC West cohorts did this offseason. It’ll be a steep, uphill climb for head coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim, but they made several under-the-radar moves that are steps in the right direction.
The Cardinals offense was a nightmare last season, primarily on the offensive line.
They addressed the interior with Jonathan Cooper — a player some folks had as the top talent in this draft — at seventh overall, but I’m not sure they did enough outside of Cooper this offseason.
Carson Palmer, if healthy and happy, is an upgrade from the hodge podge they had at quarterback last season. But if he’s not protected by a serviceable offensive line, I fear for his safety. Drew Stanton and Brian Hoyer are solid backups. I like Kevin Minter, the linebacker out of LSU, a bit more than Tyrann Mathieu, the player who’ll generate all the headlines.
Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of an 8-part series, grading each division on the offseason.