The NFL offseason brings a sense of renewed optimism for each team, but sometimes as fans we have trouble seeing the forest for the trees.
Most teams that go on spending sprees in free agency come to regret their splash signings. Even first round draft choices are only fifty-fifty propositions in some years - and the likelihood of a “hit” decreases with each subsequent round.
This is the time of year to analyze how each franchise can pull their pieces together to reach the top of the mountain, but at the end of the day only two teams can make it to the Super Bowl.
What could be the fatal flaw that spells the downfall for each of the NFC West divisional rivals?
Has the NFL figured out Kyler Murray?
The star quarterback has gotten off to a hot start each of the last two seasons, only for he and the Cardinals to fall off a cliff down the stretch. Murray was especially abysmal in the Rams’ 34-11 rout of Arizona in the 2021 wildcard round - attempting 34 passes but only accumulating 137 yards. He also threw 2 interceptions, including a 3-yard pick-six to David Long, Jr.
When his team needed him at his best, Murray wilted under the Monday night primetime lights - ending the Cardinals’ season.
In order for Arizona to make its first post-season push under Kliff Kingsbury and in the Kyler Murray era, they will need their signal caller to maintain a high level of performance for a full season - including into the playoffs.
Los Angeles Rams
While general manager Les Snead has re-tooled the LA roster in preparation for another Super Bowl run, he has neglected investing in a backup to Matthew Stafford.
Stafford had an injection to his throwing elbow this offseason and is not throwing during OTA’s. There’s no reason to be concerned with the star quarterback’s health at this time, but he is 34 years old.
If Stafford misses a substantial amount of time due to injury, the Rams probably don’t have much of a shot in 2022 - and realistically neither would the majority of teams in the NFL. LA’s fatal flaw could be Stafford missing just 2-3 games, which could be enough to leave them on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
Are John Wolford and Bryce Perkins capable of winning 2-3 spot starts in 2022? This could easily become the difference between finishing atop the NFC West or finishing third behind the Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. As the Rams learned the hard way in 2019, just having a winning record is not always enough to earn a spot in the postseason tournament.
The Rams could regret a lack of investment in the backup QB position.
San Francisco 49ers
In the two seasons where he’s been able to play the majority of his team’s games, Jimmy Garoppolo has helped his team reach the NFC championship game - and they made it to the Super Bowl in 2019.
Garoppolo’s lengthy injury history is likely the most significant factor in why Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers elected to trade two first round draft choices in order to select Trey Lance in 2021.
Lance played sparingly during his rookie year, and it’s yet to be seen what the 49ers have in the young quarterback. Could they be left with buyer’s remorse next offseason?
If Trey Lance suffers significant growing pains during his second season, it’s unlikely that San Francisco will playing for a Super Bowl berth again in 2022.
Seattle decided to move on from franchise cornerstone Russell Wilson - shipping him to the Denver Broncos this offseason.
Could the Seahawks instead have opted to move on from head coach Pete Carroll, whose steadfast commitment to a conservative approach on offense resulted in Wilson’s departure?
Carroll and the Seahawks have watched their championship caliber roster - which once featured a historically good defensive unit, the Legion of Boom - deteriorate at a rapid rate in recent years.
Wilson’s elite play of late hid many of the flaws on the roster and in the conservative offense scheme, but now he’s gone and the curtain has been pulled back. The Seahawks are in full rebuild mode, but this transformation cannot take place until there is change at the top.
At age 70, the clock could be winding down on Pete Carroll’s time in Seattle.