All four teams in the NFC West have come up with a strange strategy entering the 2023 season. Each team seems to be happy staring at a quarterback with obvious flaws. If the players chosen continue to develop, there is no reason the NFC West teams couldn’t compete with other strong divisions for Wild Card spots.
However, it is clear that at least one NFC West team, the Arizona Cardinals, may be willing to tank and throw the season away. The defending division champion 49ers open the season as the favorites to win the crown, but much can change over the course of 18 weeks.
Mr. Irrelevant About to Shed His Title
The 49ers double down on their support of second-year quarterback Brock Purdy. Purdy, who was selected with the last pick in the NFL Draft in 2022, has been christened San Francisco’s starting quarterback for this year. The 49ers’ trust in Purdy is enough that San Francisco felt it would be appropriate to deal away former No. 1 pick Trey Lance during the offseason.
San Francisco also saw quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo depart, which wasn’t a surprise given San Francisco’s attempts to trade him last season, so come hell or high water, this will be Purdy’s team. The 49ers made their major addition last season when they acquired Christian McCaffrey in a trade. With Deebo Samuel returning at wide receiver, San Francisco’s offense has potential if Purdy plays well.
More importantly, the 49ers saw some major players move on from the defense. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans left for Houston, while defensive back Jimmie Ward, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, and edge rusher Samson Ebukam also found new homes. The 49ers were without early draft picks to replace these positions. San Francisco was able to land defensive lineman Javon Hargrave in free agency to bolster the defensive line, while Isaiah Oliver was signed to help the secondary.
Rams’ Super Bowl Core May Have Hit the Wall
Los Angeles went from being Super Bowl champion to finishing with a 5-12 record last season. Some of that came from having many of its superstar players, including former Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, miss significant time with injuries. Donald, though, said he is ready to return and should be able to get back to playing good football.
Of bigger concern may be quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford’s arm didn’t look to have the same zip to start the season. Over the course of the year, Stafford was limited to nine appearances and only passed for 2,087 yards. If Los Angeles is going to bounce back, it will need Stafford to at least be a solid game manager. Stafford’s struggles last season weren’t helped by the injury issues of Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp. He missed a lot of time last season with injuries as well.
The Rams didn’t have much room under the salary cap in the offseason and were only able to add center Coleman Shelton as a “major” free agency splash. Los Angeles was able to add 14 players in the draft, but didn’t have a first-round pick. If the Rams can’t get their key veterans to stay healthy, it could be another difficult season in Tinseltown.
Vindicated by Trade, Seattle Tries to Double Down
Last season, many people thought the Seahawks’ best moment would be the season-opening win over the Denver Broncos and former Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. The Seahawks were thought to be doing a major rebuild. Instead, Seattle rallied around quarterback Geno Smith and made the NFC playoffs as a Wild Card.
In the offseason, the Seahawks made moves like a team that was planning for an encore. Seattle brought in center Evan Brown to bolster the offensive line. On defense, the Seahawks found an impact player by signing defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones.
During the draft, the Seahawks used their two first-round picks for help on both sides of the ball. Seattle drafted cornerback Devon Witherspoon and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Seattle also used this offseason to bring back one of the franchise’s best players. Bobby Wagner, who left the Seahawks to play for the Rams last season, decided to return to the team to take up his familiar spot at linebacker.
When it comes to what will make this team successful, it will be important for Smith to play well again under center. The long-time journeyman’s productivity over the past two seasons has been a nice story. Smith was previously viewed as a career backup, but is vital to Seattle’s plans for success this season.
Arizona Doesn’t Seem to Have a Plan, Let Alone a Good One
First-year Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon may want to keep his resume up to date. Whether Gannon will be a good or bad professional coach is uncertain. But this year will provide teams with an opportunity to see how Gannon can handle a crisis.
Former first-round pick Kyler Murray will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. That means Murray will likely be out for the first month of the season. Gannon will be forced to choose between starting Josh Dobbs, a career journeyman with a 0-2 record as starter, and fifth-round pick Clayton Tune at quarterback.
What that most likely means for Arizona is another season in the basement. The Cardinals struggled to a 4-13 record last season after having injury issues under center. Arizona also wasn’t an active participant in free agency this season.
The Cardinals’ biggest moves were adding tackle Kelvin Beachum and guard Will Hernandez in free agency. Arizona continued to build up the offensive line in the first round of the draft by taking Paris Johnson Jr. The Cardinals will need a miracle to finish above fourth place in the season this season. Gannon is just hoping to find positives somewhere to build confidence in the fanbase and locker room.