Sam Bradford gives the St. Louis Rams a reason for optimism, but the rest of the NFC West has big questions at quarterback
By Adam CaplanFoxSports
The Cardinals proved last season that it’s hard to win without a good quarterback. The team’s plan to go with Derek Anderson after Kurt Warner retired didn’t exactly work out like they had planned, so they will have to address the position again.
The defense had a big drop-off last season. When you look at Arizona’s needs on defense, they are short at at least four positions. They need to add several players on defense to have a chance at challenging for a playoff spot.
Key Free Agents
Tim Hightower, RB — The Cardinals have gotten a ton from him through his first three seasons. Hightower, who has been a very valuable asset to the offense because of his versatility, is a player who the team needs to keep around for many years to come.
Steve Breaston, WR — Breaston did not have the season that many were expecting in 2010. However, part of it was due to injury and issues at the quarterback position.
Early Doucet, WR — He will be a restricted free agent under the old rules. Doucet is a solid, physical slot receiver.
Alan Faneca, G — He’s clearly not the player he once was, but Faneca is still capable of starting for one or two more seasons.
Deuce Lutui, G — While he’s been a bit inconsistent over his five-year career, Lutui is still capable of being a starter. The only alternative left on the 80-man roster is journeyman G Rex Hadnot.
Brandon Keith, OT — Keith will be a restricted free agent if the old free agency rules are in effect once the new CBA gets done.
Lyle Sendlein, C — He has done a yeoman's job considering he was signed as an undrafted free agent. However, the team may be looking for an upgrade over Sendlein.
QB, FB, WR, TE, C, G, RT, DE, OLB, CB
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers, like about a third of all NFL teams, need to figure out their quarterback situation going forward. And adding speed at the wide receiver position would also help. With the change to the West Coast offense, the 49ers will have to add skill position players who fit in with that scheme.
The defense remains pretty average, but new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has had success at the NFL level. What they need to do is add a few quality pass rushers.
Key Free Agents
Alex Smith, QB — It’s interesting that new head coach Jim Harbaugh continues to spend time with Smith even though he’s not under contract. Still, the first selection overall in the 2005 NFL Draft never developed into a quality starter. The 49ers need to start over at the quarterback position.
Troy Smith, QB — The former Heisman Trophy winner flashed a bit last season, but personnel evaluators around the NFL believe he’s no more than a solid backup.
Brian Westbrook, RB — The veteran back looked quite spry when he got a chance to play late last season. He certainly could handle 8-10 touches per game. The 49ers, however, seem ready to give RB Anthony Dixon the No. 2 role.
David Baas, G — Despite his injuries in recent years, Baas hasn’t missed a game since the 2007 season. The interior lineman played well when he was moved to center last season after Eric Heitmann got hurt.
Aubrayo Franklin, DT — Franklin has played well at nose tackle for the past few seasons, but the team has Ricky Jean-Francois, who has a lot of upside.
Takeo Spikes, ILB — The veteran linebacker turns 35 in December and the 49ers have two young linebackers who are ready for bigger roles.
Manny Lawson, OLB — For whatever reason, Lawson never realized his potential from being a former first-round pick. He may need a change of scenery.
Dashon Goldson, FS — He could be an unrestricted free agent depending on what the rules are in the new CBA. Goldson was not an impact player last season, so the team may not make a strong push to re-sign him if he winds up being unrestricted. However, he played at a very high level two seasons ago.
QB, WR, C, DT, OLB, FS
The Seahawks shouldn’t get hung up on the fact that they made the playoffs last season. They still had a losing record in the regular season and have numerous needs on both sides of the ball. And like two other teams from the NFC West, the Seahawks must solve their quarterback situation.
The defense really came on late, so there’s hope that side of the ball is on the way to better consistency. However, they have many needs at key positions.
Key Free Agents
Matt Hasselbeck, QB — Head coach Pete Carroll indicated before the regular season ended that he wanted to re-sign Hasselbeck. And based on the way that he finished the season, it makes a lot of sense. Hasselbeck showed that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Leon Washington, RB-KR-PR — Washington tied for the lead in kickoff return touchdowns with three last season. His performance on special teams returns was amazing considering the horrific injury he suffered during the 2009 season.
Sean Locklear, ORT — The Seahawks could choose to move backup OL Stacy Andrews over to right tackle, which is his natural position. But Andrews is not a lock to return because of his $5.25 million base salary.
Brandon Mebane, DT — He’s one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the NFL. Mebane has a terrific first step and is capable of starting for a lot of teams that use a 4-3 defensive scheme. The Seahawks could choose to use their non-exclusive franchise tag on him.
Raheem Brock, DE — Brock might have been one of the best in-season street free-agent pickups by any team in the last few years. Brock, who turns 33 in June, had a career-high nine sacks for the Seahawks last season despite not starting a single game.
Leroy Hill, OLB — David Hawthorne did a nice job of filling in for the injured Hill last season. It’s unlikely that Hill will be back considering this coaching staff inherited him.
Kelly Jennings, CB — Jennings showed improvement last season, but the team is high on 2010 fourth-round pick CB Walter Thurmond.
Lawyer Milloy, SS — The veteran defensive back showed that he still had something left in the tank last season, but Milloy turns 38 in November. Kam Chancellor could be the replacement if Milloy isn’t re-signed.
QB, LG, RG, RT, DT, DE, CB, SS
St. Louis Rams
Like the saying goes, when you have a quarterback, you have a chance. The Rams have that guy in Sam Bradford, but the problems exist with his passing targets. Upgrades need to be made at wide receiver and tight end.
The defense made some strides last season, but more talent is needed at several positions on that side of the ball.
The Rams are in arguably the worst division in the NFL, so if they can make a few upgrades, they could easily win the NFC West.
Key Free Agents
Laurent Robinson, WR — Robinson still didn’t look all the way back from the broken leg that he suffered two seasons ago, but he did make some small strides.
Mark Clayton, WR — Clayton was off to a great start before he suffered a serious knee injury during the fifth game of last season. The Rams could still look to bring him back.
Adam Goldberg, OL — The versatile veteran is capable of playing four of the five positions on the offensive line.
Daniel Fells, TE — The veteran was the Rams' best tight end over the past few seasons, but the team is very high on Michael Hoomanawanui.
Cliff Ryan, DT — Ryan only played in one game last season due to migraines. The talented interior defensive lineman is capable of starting for at least half of the teams in the NFL, but he did get beaten out for a job by Gary Gibson, who also is a free agent.