The landscape of the NFL changes leaps and bounds every year, aside from a select few elite franchises. To see evidence of that drastic turnaround, take the NFC West, for example. For starters, this year’s winner was the upstart Los Angeles Rams, who more than doubled their win total from the previous season. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff silenced his critics all season long, and running back Todd Gurley led the league in all-purpose yards, reported Pro Football Reference. That was likely from the expert play-design of rookie head coach Sean McVay, who was nothing short of a prodigy, as he engineered the league’s best scoring offense, according to ESPN NFL Statistics. The other three teams in the division also demonstrated their share of promise going into next season, too, though.
The Seattle Seahawks, who had controlled the division in recent years, took a bit of a step back. They missed the playoffs for the first time since Russell Wilson took over as the team’s starting QB in 2012. Wilson had to carry the squad on his back all season long, and the Hawks defense is going to have to do some retooling going into next year. There’s no need to panic, though, as this team is a quality organization with a quarterback that is knocking on the door of elite.
They’ve proven they can find gems in the draft, as well as undrafted free-agent rookies, under the leadership of John Schneider and Pete Carroll, and with Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman back next year, they’re never out of the playoff and divisional picture. There is room for optimism, because of changes to the offense, which should be more balanced with their return to a physical running game.
Seattle formally announced Tuesday that Brian Schottenheimer will be their new offensive coordinator, and Mike Solari will be their offensive line coach. They will be replacing Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable, and Ken Norton Jr. will be replacing Kris Richard at defensive coordinator. These coaches, who have established themselves as promoting a physical brand of football on both sides, should tangibly help the Seahawks up front, and they’ll be more of a factor in 2018.
Now, on to the newly-exciting San Francisco 49ers and how they can make their mark in 2018.
San Francisco could be the most intriguing team to watch going into the offseason, as the 49ers had quite a turnaround of their own. Through the first half of the season, they looked to be totally talent-deprived, and were about as bad as the Cleveland Browns, who were winless the whole year. However, the Niners finished the season with five straight victories, and the execution of Shanahan’s offense was so much better with mid-season acquisition QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who was traded by the New England Patriots.
Rookie general manager John Lynch got Garoppolo for just a single 2018 second-round pick, as was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and that’s still so difficult to explain. As one could imagine, having a competent quarterback makes evaluating a new head coach, an offensive head coach at that, so much easier.
Garoppolo looked like the second coming of Tom Brady, as he passed for 1,560 yards in just those five games, and completed 67.4 percent of his throws, as per Pro Football Reference. With more talent around “Jimmy G,” and the Niners having the most cap space of any team in the NFL, according to Spotrac.com, the Shanahan-Garoppolo pairing is set to take off with more fine-tuning. In addition, it was reported by Schefter that in regards to Garoppolo contract talks involving 49ers Chief Strategy Officer Paraag Marathe and Garoppolo’s agent Don Yee, things should be pretty smooth.
“It should not be a difficult negotiation,” Schefter said, per David Fucillo of SB Nation’s Niners Nation.
Last, but not least, the Arizona Cardinals could return to relevance in the NFC West and the NFC playoff picture soon, too. Just two seasons ago, the Cardinals went to the NFC Championship, and their roster outside of quarterback is still very solid. What they do to replace Carson Palmer at QB and Bruce Arians at head coach will shape the next few years, and there are some interesting rumblings thus far.
According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, the Cardinals have been impressed with Philadephia Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo, who has worked wonders with Carson Wentz. DeFilippo was also able to produce with the Browns of all teams as their offensive coordinator in 2015, working considerable wonders with veteran QB Josh McCown.
With DeFilippo’s ability to coach up QB’s, it would seem to be a good fit, especially in a division with two other young offensive gurus as coaches. The Cardinals hopefully have runner David Johnson coming back from an early-season injury, and they still have an effective defense. DeFilippo’s expertise could work wonders with a young QB prospect such as Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, or Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, to name a few.
Seth Cox of SB Nation’s Revenge of the Birds suggested another direction in terms of the QB question for Arizona next year. This might blend well with DeFilippo, too.
“If they were to trade for an Alex Smith, or make a play for a Teddy Bridgewater, they could essentially address the position for 2018 and 2019 and give themselves an extra year at quarterback.”
Cox also acknowledged how Dan Kadar of SB Nation’s Mocking the Draft believed it would be in the cards for Arizona to take talented Southern Methodist wide receiver prospect Courtland Sutton with the Cardinals’ 15th overall pick. Here’s a bit about what Kadar touched on with Sutton, via Cox.
“Sutton isn’t the cleanest route runner, but he has good hands and size and a penchant for making spectacular receptions.”
A big-bodied wideout potentially to learn under Larry Fitzgerald and an offensive mind like DeFilippo could change things for the better in the running game as well in the desert, and the Cardinals could be back to relevance in the NFC West next year.
All of this being said, this division is going to have plenty of youth movement looking toward the next few years. Aside from Carroll in Seattle (who has still had tons of success with Wilson as a defensive coach anyway), the potential head coach-QB combinations, at minimum in San Francisco and L.A., could make this division the most entertaining and competitive very soon.
Not too long ago, Seattle and San Francisco were two of the best teams in the league, and the Cardinals had their share of success with Palmer. With the Rams now at the top of the division, and the Niners looking totally different, this division is back. Next season, it could be the toughest in the league with formidable defenses, emerging QB’s alongside Wilson, and a talented group of multi-dimensional running backs (especially if Carlos Hyde returns to the Bay Area).