Wyman: NFC West coaching changes will have as much to do with how Seahawks fare as anything
When assessing how the gains and losses in the 2021 NFL free agency period will impact the Seahawks, you have to dig deeper than just the players lost and found in the NFL’s most competitive division, the NFC West.
So far, the transactions in the NFC West stand here:
• Key Seahawks acquisitions: CB Ahkello Witherspoon, TE Gerald Everett, OG Gabe Jackson, DE Kerry Hyder Jr.
• Key Seahawks losses: CB Shaquill Griffin, RB Carlos Hyde, WR David Moore, TE Jacob Hollister.
• Key Rams acquisitions: QB Matt Stafford, WR DeSean Jackson.
• Key Rams losses: RB Malcolm Brown, TE Gerald Everett, WR Josh Reynolds, DL Morgan Fox, DE Derek Rivers, LB Samson Ebukam, DT Michael Brockers, CB Troy Hill, S John Johnson.
• Key Cardinals acquisitions: WR A.J. Green, C Rodney Hudson, DE J.J. Watt, K Matt Prater.
• Key Cardinals losses: RB Kenyan Drake, WR Trent Sherfield, TE Dan Arnold, DL Angelo Blackson, LB Haason Reddick, CB Patrick Peterson.
• Key 49ers acquisitions: C Alex Mack, LB Samson Ebukam, WR Trent Sherfield, CB Emmanuel Mosley.
• Key 49ers losses: WR Kendrick Bourne, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, DL Solomon Thomas, DE Kerry Hyder Jr.
Two of the most important components of any NFL team, however, are the quarterback and the coaches.
With Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are still ahead of the game as the only team in the division with a true franchise quarterback. You can talk about completion percentage, touchdowns, interceptions, and fourth quarter/overtime comeback wins all you want, but what really matters are total wins, and Wilson has more in his first nine years than any quarterback in NFL history.
The rest of the division’s QBs all have questions about them. Though the Rams paid a premium to trade for Matthew Stafford, he comes to Los Angeles with a 0-3 playoff record. Jimmy Garappolo helped San Francisco reach the Super Bowl, but he has missed 10 or more games due to injury in two of his three seasons with the 49ers. And while Kyler Murray has a bright future in Arizona and made the Pro Bowl in 2020, the Cardinals have yet to break through to the postseason in his two pro seasons.
Something else that is just as important is coaching, and that’s not limited to head coaches. There have been a lot of additions and subtractions to the NFC West teams’ coaching staffs that will have an impact in 2021.
While Arizona had some minor changes, it was nothing earth shattering. I would call them sideways moves. But the Cardinals are the outlier.
Seattle fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and lost special teams coach Brian Schneider to Jacksonville. They hired offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and running game coordinator Andy Dickerson, giving them promotions from their previous roles with the Rams. Possibly an upgrade – we’ll see.
San Francisco suffered a major loss with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh going to the New York Jets as their new head coach. He inherited a 49ers defense in 2017 that was dead last in yards given up the previous year (406 yards per game). By 2019, when the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl, he had coached them up to the No. 2 defense in the league with a 125-yard improvement from 2016 (281 yards per game). His enthusiasm and knowledge of the game makes his departure to the Jets a huge one.
The Rams suffered big coaching losses, as well. The aforementioned departures of Waldron and Dickerson to Seattle may not be seen as a coaching void because, after all, it is head coach Sean McVay’s offense in LA. But the loss of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who went across town to become the Chargers’ new head coach, could be huge considering what he built defensively.
Consider these numbers and the turnaround Staley executed on the defensive side of the ball in just one year:
• 2019 Rams defense:
Total defense: 340 yards per game (13th in the NFL)
Points allowed: 23 per game (17th)
Pass defense: 226 yards per game (12th)
Run defense: 113 yards per game (19th)
• 2020 Rams defense:
Total defense: 282 yards per game (first)
Points allowed: 18.5 yards per game (first)
Pass defense: 190 yards per game (first)
Run defense: 91 yards per game (third)
In my mind, Staley is special. He accomplished these numbers in just his fourth year coaching in the NFL, and it wasn’t just because he had Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald on his team.
We tend to focus on the players lost and acquired, but I suspect that the coaching changes that involved the Rams and 49ers this offseason will make a huge difference in the NFC West in 2021.