Each offseason brings a great deal of change across both NFL rosters and in the standings. It’s not uncommon to see the “worst” make the jump to “first”, and the NFC West division seems as wide open as ever.
The San Francisco 49ers are looking to defend their division title, but they have significant questions at the most important position: quarterback. Brock Purdy is just now starting to throw after a playoff UCL injury, and Trey Lance is still wildly unproven at the professional level.
These are the best offseason moves for each of the teams around the NFC West:
Maintaining a consistent vision with an eye toward 2024
The Cardinals seemed to be in a tough place with the third overall pick heading into the draft. With Kyler Murray still rehabbing a late-2022 ACL injury and expected to miss the start of the regular season, drafting a top defender seemed unexciting for Arizona.
Instead they were able to trade down with the Houston Texans from #3 to #12, which allowed the Texans to take Will Anderson back-to-back with QB CJ Stroud. The Cardinals own Houston’s first round pick next year, which for now figures to be a top selection.
It remains to be seen whether the Cardinals intend to move on from Murray, but they are at least setting themselves up to have the flexibility to pivot and have two chances to land the first pick next year.
Los Angeles Rams
Reinvigorating HC Sean McVay
It would have been a worst-case scenario for LA’s young head coach to walk away after a challenging season in 2022. Instead the Rams have embraced a youth movement and are asking McVay to return to his 2017 roots where the team succeeded despite a lack of expectations.
Perhaps no individual took the brunt of a superstar roster more than the fiery coach. If they can identify a handful of key contributors out of rookies or previous depth pieces, they may be able to make quick work of their rebuild and bounce back with force in 2024. It’s a tall order, but the Rams are better with McVay at the helm.
San Francisco 49ers
Signing QB Sam Darnold
While the value of quarterbacks in the modern NFL continues to skyrocket, the 49ers are the one team in the league that may be able to buck the trend. San Francisco has been very competitive over the last half decade (three NFC championship and one Super Bowl appearances) with marginal talent under center.
Kyle Shanahan maximized offensive production with Jimmy Garoppolo, but ultimately the team couldn’t overcome a lack of play making ability in the postseason when the margins are razor thin. Former Mr. Irrelevant (the last pick of the NFL Draft) Brock Purdy brought a little more improv to build atop Shanahan’s scheme, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s a flash in the pan rather than someone who can sustain long-term success.
If Shanahan can make the NFC championship game with a seventh round pick under center, perhaps he can finally get the most out of a former number three overall pick in Sam Darnold. Darnold has more natural talent than Purdy and more playing experience and football acumen than Lance, but he’s been unable to put it all together at the NFL level.
Nailing their first four draft picks
I’m not sure there’s a single team that was as effective in its first four picks as the Seahawks, and their selections of CB Devon Witherspoon, WR Jaxson Smith-Njigba, DE Derick Hall, and RB Zach Charbonnet could form an impressive core for an ascending roster. The Russell Wilson trade with the Denver Broncos is already paying dividends.
Witherspoon is an incredibly heady player that will fit in well with head coach Pete Carroll. According to his draft profile, Smith-Njigba lacks long speed—but he won’t be asked to play outside of his skillset next to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
Hall brings athleticism to a lackluster Seattle pass rush, though he might not be able to fix it all himself. Charbonnet will provide an insurance policy for Kenneth Walker and take pressure off QB Geno Smith in the case he takes a step back from his breakout in 2022.