clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Looming offseason choices could drastically alter long-term fate of NFC West

Will Seahawks draft a QB with top pick? Who will Cardinals hire as head coach?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s paradoxical to think that the Los Angeles Rams might be the most stable from year-to-year coming off of a 5-12 season. The Rams were the worst defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history. Usually drastic changes occur when a team falls miles short of their expectations, but Los Angeles seems poised to re-roll and re-enter the contention conversation in 2023. Sean McVay is set to return at head coach after a brief hiatus to contemplate his future. Matthew Stafford will be back under center, and likely behind a reinforced offensive line. Stars Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald will also have a full offseason to recover from significant injuries.

The Rams are banking on the roster staying the same and crossing their fingers that a new year brings a cleaner bill of health. Their plan for this season hinges on players returning to form after losing time with injuries, though general manager Les Snead will pick his spots to be aggressive if he can balance short-term gains with long-term investments.

But the rest of the NFC West division is at a crossroads.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Arizona Cardinals still don’t know who will be their head coach, though they’ve interviewed Sean Peyton and Aaron Glenn and plan to interview the Cincinnati Bengals Lou Anarumo and Brian Callahan as well. The team moved on from general manager Steve Keim and hired Monti Ossenfort from the Tennessee Titans.

Kyler Murray has to be part of the future plans based on the sizeable contract extension he received last offseason, but it’s unlikely he will be healthy in time for the season opener after tearing his ACL late last year. JJ Watt was the Cardinals’ best player in the front seven, though he’s headed to retirement. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins is also likely on his way out of Arizona as he’s been a hot name on the trade market.

The outlook of the roster in Arizona may be bleak, which could make it difficult for the Cardinals to find the right head coach. Whoever they hire will play a significant role in the fate of the NFC West for years to come, whether that be in a positive or negative light.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks surprised everyone by outpacing both the Rams and Cardinals en route to the playoffs. Equally as surprising is the catastrophic return on the Russell Wilson trade for the Denver Broncos that is sending the fifth overall pick back to Seattle. Geno Smith was impressive in his first year as the Seahawks’ starter, but the offense sputtered over the second half of the season.

And now Smith is headed towards free agency. The Seahawks must decide whether they pay Smith like a starting quarterback or start over and build around a player on a rookie contract.

Either way the Seahawks have a rebuilt offensive line, a talented stable of running backs, and a productive receiving corps - which makes them a favorable landing spot for a young quarterback or team capable of winning immediately with a veteran. Seattle has to get this decision right or they could be facing a rebuild sooner than later, especially with Pete Carroll now on the other side of 70.

NFL: NFC Championship-San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the NFC West team facing the most uncertainty this offseason are the San Francisco 49ers. It seems almost certain that DeMeco Ryans will earn a head coaching role in 2023, whether that be with the Houston Texans or potentially the Broncos. Kyle Shanahan will have to hire his third defensive coordinator in four years after also losing Robert Saleh to the New York Jets in 2021. Star defensive end Nick Bosa will probably command a record-setting contract extension this offseason.

But the bigger looming question looms on the offensive side of the ball for the 49ers - who will be the team’s starting quarterback next year? Jimmy Garoppolo has been a winner since the day he arrived in San Francisco, but he seems to be on his way out with an expiring deal. Trey Lance hasn’t shown much as a starter, though he has all the potential in world. Perhaps the time lost to injury has allowed him an opportunity to learn the mental aspects of the pro game.

It’s amazing to think that Brock Purdy would offer the franchise the most stability in his second year despite being the last player chosen in the entire 2022 NFL Draft. Purdy won his first nine games as a starter before injuring his elbow with only four passing attempts in the NFC Championship game. While Shanahan’s offense deserves a lot of credit for helping the young, unheralded quarterback shine, Purdy has also demonstrated the ability to extend plays in a way Garoppolo didn’t in his time as the starter.

It will be tough for the 49ers to watch Garoppolo leave in free agency for greener pastures. While Purdy seems like the safe option as a starter, Lance offers the most upside. Can San Francisco keep a player - one that cost them three first round selections in order to trade up - on the bench to instead start a former seventh round pick? Not unlocking Lance’s ceiling could eventually put a cap on the long-term prospects of the 49ers, especially if Purdy doesn’t take a step forward as a producer rather than a facilitator.