DANNY AND GALLANT
Gallant: Who’s set up best for the future in the NFC West? The Seahawks have catching up to do
Feb 4, 2021, 8:25 AM | Updated: 12:52 pm
The NFC West is the NFL’s best division. It is known.
Football 101: What if Seahawks move on without Wagner and Wright?
Half of its teams – the Rams and 49ers – have represented their conference in the Super Bowl over the past three years. San Francisco, the latter of those NFC Champs, missed the playoffs this past season due to a rash of injuries while the rest of the division finished .500 or above. And just one team – the Seahawks – had a winning record (4-2) against the rest of the division.
With competition like that, it’s easy to see why the Rams, the only NFC West team that made it to the second round of the playoffs, would be willing to swap Jared Goff (along with two first-round picks and a third-rounder) for Matthew Stafford before the Super Bowl is even played.
It’s fair to think the division will be a dogfight over the next few years. So which teams are set up best for the future?
4. The Cardinals are the odd team out with Kliff Kingsbury.
I love watching Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray play football. Unfortunately, I don’t think he evolved much as a passer in 2020.
Sure, he was in the MVP conversation for a bit. I felt that was more a result of his legs than his arm. Murray ran for 819 yards, second among quarterbacks behind only Lamar Jackson. He averaged just 7.1 yards per pass attempt (22nd in the NFL), though, in a season where he threw the majority of his passes to DeAndre Hopkins.
Murray looks the part, but Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury is the weak link of the division. He’s not furthering Murray’s development and really struggles in game management situations. Until he’s gone, I’m not taking Arizona or the rest of its roster – one that features an elite pass rusher in Chandler Jones – seriously.
3. It’s hard to see the Seahawks taking a massive step forward in 2021.
The Seahawks were a good football team in 2020. They’ll be a good team in 2021. But I have a hard time seeing them be a better team next season.
Yes, Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in the division. He’s also been the best QB in the division for the past half decade. That hasn’t been enough, which means they haven’t been good enough.
Which brings us to the Hawks’ biggest problem: I’m not sure how they get better in the short term. They’re unlikely to find it in this year’s draft without a first-rounder or a third-rounder and just four total picks. They’re not going to have a ton of money to spend in free agency, nor are they likely to spend big anyway.
The Seahawks’ defense improved in the second half of the season, but how much stock can we put in that final stretch when the best quarterbacks they played were a hobbled Kyler Murray and three shots of the now departed Jared Goff?
Meanwhile, the Hawks’ offense hit a wall in the second half of this past season. Can new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron change that? He’s sure saying all the right things, but until I see it I’ll remain skeptical.
2. The Rams have the Seahawks’ number and upgraded at QB, but time isn’t on their side.
The Rams are a bad matchup for Seattle. They always have been. And with Matt Stafford in the fold, I’ve got no choice but to put them ahead of the Hawks. Yes, even with the losses of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and Waldron, who was their passing game coordinator. Every time I disrespect the Rams, they shut me up. It’s time I learn my lesson.
Stafford is better than Goff, but how much better is he? NFL experts love to tell you how talented he is. I won’t deny that for any first overall pick. Still, I heard a lot of the same things from those same people about Sam Bradford – another former first overall pick. My gut reaction? The Rams traded away more first round picks to dump a bad salary and replace him with a quarterback who might give them one or two more wins in 2021.
Related: Seahawks rival Rams playing a dangerous game with their trades
Things get dicey for the Rams after this season. They’re about to go seven years without a first-round pick! Seven! Talents like Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are great. They’re also… wait for it… former first-round picks. No matter how much of a genius Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay might be, general manager Les Snead sure isn’t one. His disregard for draft picks and some of the bad contracts (Goff and Todd Gurley come to mind) he’s crippled the Rams with are the work of an executive with little foresight. Sure, he’s put the Rams in a better place for next season, but he may have put them back in fourth place by 2022.
1. The 49ers have picks, a defense, and… a quarterback that’s at least better than Jared Goff.
It’s notable that the 49ers were able to fight to a 6-10 record despite injuries to:
• Nick Bosa
• George Kittle
• Solomon Thomas
• Jaquiski Tartt
• Weston Richburg
• Dee Ford
• Raheem Mostert
• Jimmy Garoppolo
• Trent Williams
• Deebo Samuel
• Brandon Aiyuk
• Richard Sherman
• Javon Kinlaw
That’s an incredible amount of bad luck, and it made an impact even for a deep roster with one of the best young coaches in the NFL. Injuries happen every season in the NFL, but it’s hard to imagine the Niners being pummeled by fate like this again in ’21.
San Francisco has major contract extensions to take care of this offseason with left tackle Trent Williams and middle linebacker Fred Warner, but the 49ers are still the deepest team in the NFC West, especially on the defensive line. Plus, with the 12th overall pick, a second-rounder and a third-round compensatory pick coming after defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (who they’ll miss) was hired away, they’ve got resources to build through the draft that Seattle and Los Angeles lack.
The big question for the 49ers will always be about Jimmy Garroppolo. He’s clearly the fourth best quarterback in this division, but is he bad? I don’t think so. He’s got the support of his teammates, the trust of his head coach and an above-average skillset. Don’t forget he quarterbacked this team (without doing a whole lot) to a Super Bowl appearance just a couple of years ago.
With a roster deeper than any other in the division, I think San Francisco is set up best for both 2021 and the future after that.
Follow Paul Gallant on Twitter.
More from Paul: Three questions about new Seahawks OC Shane Waldron