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  • The defending NFC champs will face stiffer competition in an improved division, especially at the bottom.
By Kalyn Kahler
June 21, 2019

The MMQB is evaluating each team’s offseason, division by division. Find all the progress reports here.


ARIZONA CARDINALS

2018 record: 3-13

New players: OLB Terrell Suggs, LB Jordan Hicks, OT Marcus Gilbert, CB Robert Alford, QB Kyler Murray, WR Andy Isabella, DE Zach Allen, CB Byron Murphy, WR Hakeem Butler

Players lost: QB Josh Rosen, QB Mike Glennon, S Antoine Bethea, TE Jermaine Gresham, G Mike Iupati

In what areas did the team improve? Last year only the Bills (271) and the Seahawks (280) had fewer completions than Arizona (283), and the Cardinals were worst in the league in gross (2,884) and net (2,523) passing yards. After Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Christian Kirk, the receiving corps was not impressive. So after picking Murray, the Cardinals spent three of their next six draft picks on receivers: Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson (all taken within the first 175 picks), and added free agent Damiere Byrd. Now, they enter the summer with a healthy position battle at what was one of the team’s weakest positions last season.

What areas still need help? Per Pro Football Focus, Arizona had the league’s worst offensive line in 2018. Health was an issue, as 11 different offensive linemen played at least 100 snaps for Arizona. Protecting the quarterback becomes even more important this season. As the thinking goes, because Murray is 5' 10" and of a smaller build, he’ll be less able to hold up to heavy hits. Arizona upgraded at right tackle by adding Marcus Gilbert from the Steelers, and if he stays healthy (he missed 11 games in 2018 for a knee injury) he’ll improve a line that saw a rotation of players at right tackle. Arizona also added guard J.R. Sweezy in free agency as part of its revamped offensive line.

Another concern for shutdown cornerback and team captain Patrick Peterson’s six-game suspension (who was suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy). His absence on the field will leave a hole in a Cardinals defense that was supposed to be the reliable unit, capable of carrying a revamped offense that might need time to meld. The Cardinals replenished their defense with veterans like Suggs, Hicks, and Alford, but this unit will have to adjust without the reliability and leadership Peterson.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? Oh boy. The Cardinals are one of the biggest storylines this season. How will the Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray experiment pan out? The combo must work for general manager Steve Keim, otherwise there’s going to be a regime change in Arizona.

Best tweet of the offseason:


LOS ANGELES RAMS

2018 record: 13-3

New players: LB Clay Matthews, S Eric Weddle, QB Blake Bortles, S Taylor Rapp, CB David Long

Players lost: DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Mark Barron, RB CJ Anderson

In what areas did the team improve? One of the Rams' biggest weaknesses last year was stopping the run—the defense finished third-to-last in rushing yards allowed and last in yards per carry. The team did not re-sign expensive defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cut linebacker Mark Barron. Suh played in a 3-4 for the first time in his career last season, and he didn’t seem to fully find his groove. Instead, L.A. drafted nose tackle Greg Gaines in the fourth round. He’s strong against the run, and is expected to play a significant role early. L.A. also signed Dante Fowler Jr. to a one-year prove-it deal. The Rams traded for Fowler to boost their pass rush just before the trade deadline last season, and Fowler came on strong late in the year. He’s a player with something to prove and I think he’ll continue to improve this season.

What areas still need help? Todd Gurley’s knee injury (neither Gurley or the Rams has confirmed arthritis or another degenerative condition) is concerning, considering Gurley’s ineffectiveness in the NFC title game and Super Bowl. When Sean McVay arrived in L.A. in 2017, he built the offense around the multifaceted Gurley, and the Rams made Gurley the highest-paid back in NFL history last offseason. The next running backs on the roster are Malcolm Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson, a third-round pick.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? Can they get back to the Super Bowl? The Rams aren’t happy with the way played in the Super Bowl—even McVay admitted he was out-coached—so the desire to get back to the big game will be there. But the NFC is competitive, and the journey back will not be easy.

Best tweet of the offseason:


SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Team record: 4-12

New players: DE Nick Bosa, DE Dee Ford, ILB Kwon Alexander, RB Tevin Coleman, CB Jason Verrett, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Deebo Samuel, P Mitch Wishnowsky

Players lost: P Bradley Pinion, DE Cassius Marsh, WR Pierre Garcon

In what areas did the team improve? The 49ers had a big need for an edge rusher, and they boosted their pass rush by drafting Nick Bosa with the second overall pick and trading for Dee Ford. Ford forced a league-high 10 turnovers due to pressure last season—the 49ers forced a record-low seven turnovers as a team in 2018. Ford is the closer that the 49ers defense needed, and adding Bosa on the opposite end of the line, with defensive tackle DeForest Buckner inside, should create a powerful defensive front.

San Francisco also improved their backfield. Running back Matt Breida returns, Jerick McKinnon should be healthy again, and the team signed former Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, who head coach Kyle Shanahan worked with and held in high regard during his time coaching in Atlanta.

What areas still need help? The 49ers addressed many holes in their roster through the draft and free agency, but free safety wasn’t one of them. San Francisco saw several players rotate into the position last season because of injuries, and they opted not to pay for a free agent option (Landon Collins and Earl Thomas were available) to improve the position. Instead, it will be a competition between the oft-injured Jimmie Ward (he hasn’t played 10 games in a season since 2016), and third-year pro Adrian Colbert, who started six games last season before landing on injured reserve. 2018 second-rounder DJ Reed is also capable of playing free safety, as well as starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt, and Antoine Exum, who is a backup option at both safety spots. The 49ers have a lot of options here, but this is an area that could have used an upgrade. Cornerback Richard Sherman can only do so much in carrying a secondary that PFF ranked worst in the league last season.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? How will Jimmy Garopollo play coming off his ACL injury? His rehab seems to be going well and he even took one rep in full team 11-on-11 drills during the 49ers' last mini-camp practice. He faced a real pass rush, which is a big milestone in his recovery process. Garopollo’s goal is to be 100 percent by the start of training camp.

Best tweet of the offseason:


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

2018 record: 10-6

New players: WR DK Metcalf, G Mike Iupati, DE LJ Collier, DE Ziggy Ansah, K Jason Myers

Players lost: DE Frank Clark, WR Doug Baldwin, S Earl Thomas, CB Justin Coleman

In what areas did the team improve? First, Seattle did the right thing and locked up Russell Wilson for the next four years. Second, reports out of Seattle’s offseason program have raved about second-round pick DK Metcalf. He went viral before the draft because of a shirtless photo, and despite a drop in the draft he has so far lived up to that pre-draft hype. Without Doug Baldwin, whose contract was terminated due to a failed physical and is likely to retire, Seattle needs another receiver they can count on. Tyler Lockett stepped up last season while Baldwin was injured, and Metcalf fits in well with the Seahawks. With his size and speed, he’ll be able to run past defenders, and Wilson is one of the best deep-ball throwers in the league.

What areas still need help? Cornerback depth is an area of concern. The Seahawks lost slot corner Justin Coleman in free agency. Coleman was so good for Seattle that Detroit made him the highest-paid nickel corner in league history. Now the Seahawks are without a known quantity at nickel. Last season, Akeem King got a little bit of experience playing in the slot, but not much. Seattle also added journeyman corner Jamar Taylor, who is no Pro Bowler but has seven years of experience and could fill the role as well.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? This team is coming off an offseason during which they parted with several franchise-defining players. Safety Earl Thomas is now a Raven, Doug Baldwin is gone, and Kam Chancellor is officialy retired (he did not play in 2018). Thomas’s departure felt like official end of the Legion of Boom era. The team has been creating a new identity and culture in the last couple seasons, and outperformed expectations last season. Can they continue to create a new identity and make the playoffs?

Best tweet of the offseason:

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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