What are apparent strengths and weaknesses in the NFC West, even knowing that a lot could change between now and Week 1? Well, that’s why we’re looking at these categories.
What should change?
The fourth-best quarterback in the division right now has a 24-8 record as a starter and helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl only a year ago. If the Niners do end up getting a Jimmy Garoppolo upgrade, then the division’s quarterbacks only get that much better. And there’s a decent chance that John Lynch will do whatever it takes to help Kyle Shanahan because they might not be able to survive San Francisco posting a losing record for the fourth time in five years.
Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson clearly lead the division at this position, but Kyler Murray might be a popular pick among writers who want to find a “sleeper” to win MVP next season. In this case, that sleeper being a recent number one overall pick who scored 37 total touchdowns last season and is increasingly difficult to tackle.
No other division in the NFC even has an argument for having more quarterback talent, while Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan are realistically much closer to retirement than the top three quarterbacks in the West. There really isn’t another division even close. The AFC West maybe, if the Broncos do something.
On that note, the fourth-best head coach in the division might not have a strong resume yet, but he was one win shy of taking the Cardinals to the playoffs and Arizona sure looked like the fourth-most talented team in a talented division.
The other three head coaches have each reached the Super Bowl, including two of the last three, and the NFC West is the only division in the NFL to have not made a head coaching change in the last two years.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
The only notable free agent in the division at receiver is Larry Fitzgerald, and he’s not notable for most of the reasons that matter in 2021.
DeAndre Hopkins, Deebo Samuel, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Brandon Aiyuk headline a group that also has Christian Kirk, Van Jefferson, Richie James, and Andy Isabella as developmental “maybes.”
The tight ends aren’t as strong but it wouldn’t make sense to not include George Kittle here. Tyler Higbee and Will Dissly have done a few things in the past though and we should expect at least the Seahawks to make a push for adding a notable tight end given recent reports.
Jalen Ramsey might be the only corner in the division who is under contract for 2021 that is expected to remain under contract. That is exacerbated by how talented the receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks are in the division. Not only that, but Sean McVay essentially has his stamp on two offenses now with Shane Waldron calling plays in Seattle; Kyle Shanahan has a good reputation for offense; Kliff Kingsbury could maybe do something too.
I expect these teams to fight to keep their corners, for the most part, (Shaquill Griffin, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Troy Hill, Quinton Dunbar among them) but a lot of shuffling could and probably will happen.
The Rams and Seahawks both have starting centers set to become free agents. The 49ers have dealt with injury issues for Weston Richburg and could decide to cut him. Mason Cole is not a high-end starting center for the Cardinals.
This may be an area, unlike corner, where upgrades are valued over retention.