-Ken Whisenhunt cannot receive enough credit for the job that he has done with this franchise. For so long the Cards have been a basement team in the league, but he now has the team, and its fans believing. The Cardinals were harshly criticized for playing in an easy division, but like the Chargers, they won their first playoff game against an opponent from a tougher division. They will have some tough decisions to make this offseason, though.
First of all, they will have to resolve their quarterback situation, with Warner needing a new contract, and Matt Leinart waiting in the wings. Also, Anquan Boldin will be looking for a new deal, similar to the one that Larry Fitzgerald signed last summer, and the Cardinals may not be able to afford him. Finally, their best linebacker, Karlos Dansby, is unrestricted, after receiving the franchise tag last offseason. Dansby has emerged as a star caliber player, and he is another guy that the Cards might not have enough money to bring back. Expect a lot to be happening in the desert this summer, and it should be very interesting where they decide to spread their limited funds.
-QB Kurt Warner: He was in MVP talks for most of the season, and played outstanding in leading the Cards to a postseason berth. He is in his late thirties, though, so Arizona will have a tough decision whether to bring him back, or let Matt Leinart take over the reins. They know too that if they don’t re sign Warner, there will be a long list of teams waiting to give him a shot.
-RB J.J. Arrington: has shown that he can be a very good return man when given the opportunity. He also has value as a third down back, but the Cards might not be able to afford him.
-DE Bertrand Berry: Probably made himself a lot of money in their playoff game against the Falcons. He was a monster in that one, and registered three sacks. Don’t look for the Cards to be able to afford him either.
-LB Karlos Dansby: It is looking more and more as if the Cardinals may lose him this offseason. He has come into is own, and will definitely be offered big money from some other club.
Needs: OL, DE, LB
-As noted in their playoff win, when the Cards establish a running game, they are a very good team. Their offensive line has to be improved this offseason, and they need more physical guys inside, who can move the pile. Depending on who is their starting QB next season, the Cardinals could use a left tackle. If Warner is starting, his blindside is the left side, but if Leinart is in, his blindside is on the right because he is left handed. Levi Brown is a good fit at RT, but he is a mauler that is forced to pass block too often, and I think he would enjoy more of a running game as well. Mike Gandy is a decent starter at left tackle, but they should look to find someone younger to eventually replace him.
-As previously stated, Bertrand Berry might be gone next season, which opens up a hole at defensive end. Considering Berry didn’t really have that strong of a season, this was a need anyways. They brought in Travis Laboy to fill a pass rushing void last summer, but they could still use more at this position. In the Cardinals hybrid defense, they love to blitz their linebackers, and bring pressure in that way. With Dansby probably leaving, though, it opens up a huge hole at OLB that will need to be filled. A good blitzing player at LB, would do wonders in filling the void left by Dansby.
San Francisco 49ers:
-This team really found its stride, and played well down the stretch under interim head coach, Mike Singeltary. Now that Singeltary has had the interim tag removed, it is time for this team to take another step to competing for the division crown. The Niners have some nice pieces, but they still have to figure out their quarterback situation. Shaun Hill was very good for them when he took over for J.T. O’Sullivan, and there is still the question mark of Alex Smith. Smith was hurt all of this season, but before he got hurt, he lost the position battle to O’Sullivan in training camp, so the jury is still out on his future. In his defense, Smith has had a different offensive coordinator every season, and this coming year will be no different after Mike Martz was fired. Singeltary’s goals next season should be to get more production out of the running game, and improve his area of expertise, the defense.
-QB J.T. O’Sullivan: He was benched this season after making too many poor decisions, as well as holding on to the ball too long in the pocket. He might as well just start packing his bags.
-WR Bryant Johnson: He did not produce like a number one should, and was outshined by the ageless Isaac Bruce. He says he wants to stay, but he is no longer in a position to ask for a lot of money, as he was last offseason.
-G Tony Wragge: He was benched in favor of rookie Chilo Rachel, so it looks as though his days as a Niner are numbered.
-LB Takeo Spikes: He played very well alongside Patrick Willis in the Niners defense, and should be brought back for next season.
Needs: QB, RB, TE, OT, NT, CB, LB, S
-It looks as though Shaun Hill will battle Alex Smith for the starting quarterback job next season, but the coaching staff may look to bring another guy in if they are not convinced that either will get the job done. Even with Frank Gore on the roster, the Niners finished near the bottom of the league in rushing. This may have something to do with having Mike Martz coaching the offense, but I think if there is a strong possibility that they bring in another RB to take some of the load off Gore.
Vernon Davis is looking more and more like a bust, even though he shows flashes of brilliance every no and again. Look for San Fran to bring in somebody to light a fire under Davis, and who can actually get open and catch the ball. RT is definitely a concern for the Niners, as far as the running game is concerned. Jonas Jennings is not the type of player they need there. They need a physical, nasty, mauler who can run block well, instead of Jennings who is better suited for pass protection.
-With the Niners running a 3-4, one of the most important positions is nose tackle. They need to bring in a really good player too fill this role because so far, Aubrayo Franklin is just not cutting it there. Even with the high priced Nate Clements on the roster, they still need another solid starting option that can play opposite him in this defense. They could also use help at both of the safety positions, as both Michael Lewis and Mark Roman are just not that effective anymore. LB could also be addressed in the offseason, especially OLB, in order to generate more of a pass rush off the edge. They could also use some depth at ILB, and to eventually replace Takeo Spikes when he leaves or retires. The Niners are still transitioning into their 3-4 defense, and that takes time.
-The Seahawks had a disastrous season after being picked by many to win the NFC West. The Hawks were dealt a bad hand with all the injuries they had to deal with, and it was definitely not the ideal way for a great coach like Mike Holmgren to go out. The Seahawks will now go forward with their new head coach, Jim Mora Jr., who was appointed by Holmgren as his successor. This shouldn’t be too tough of a rebuild, as there is still a lot of talent here, and they will have a very high draft pick. The Seahawks had dominated the NFC West under Holmgren, until this season, but now with the Cards winning it this year, and the 49ers looking on the way up, they’ll have a lot of work to get back to the top.
-RB Maurice Morris: He has been a solid, steady player for the Seahawks, but with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett all on the books for next year, he may look for more carries elsewhere.
-FB Leonard Weaver: He has done a good job of replacing Mack Strong as the lead blocker, and receiver out of the backfield. He has very good hands for a fullback, and is a good blocker, so he should draw some interest were he to hit free agency.
-WR Bobby Engram: After a terrific 2007, Engram struggled with injuries this season, and could be let walk this offseason.
-LB LeRoy Hill: Has been outstanding for the Seahawks, and really does not get enough credit playing with Lofa Tatupu, and Julian Peterson. The Hawks will likely try to re sign him.
Needs: WR, OG/T, QB, S, DT, LB
-The Seahawks were devastated with injuries to their WR corps this season. Deion Branch is great when he is healthy, but he has yet to stay healthy for an entire season so far in his career. Look for the Seahawks to bring in a good young receiver to replace Bobby Engram, who should be let go. Walter Jones was once considered the best OT in the game, and even though he made the Pro Bowl this season, that was more because of reputation, than actually play.
The Seahawks need to start looking for his replacement, as he is starting to become less effective with age. They could also use some help inside at guard, because ever since Steve Hutchinson left, their running game just hasn’t been the same. Their need at the quarterback position hinges on what becomes of Matt Hasselbeck, after he struggled with various injuries over the last two seasons. Seneca Wallace really came on strong down the stretch, so the Hawks may elect to trade Hasselbeck, and then draft a rookie to sit behind Wallace for a year or so.
-The strength of this team really is the defense, and there is a lot of talent on this side of the ball, minus a couple of areas. The first is safety, where Deon Grant and Brian Russell just did not get it done. The Seahawks will probably look to replace one or both this offseason. DT Brandon Mebane has established himself amongst the upper echelon at this position, but they still need another player to fill the big body role of Marcus Tubbs, who fell out of favor and is no longer with the team. If LeRoy Hill does in fact leave for free agency this summer, it will create a big hole at one of the OLB spots.
St. Louis Rams:
-It looks as though the Rams will be picking at the #2 spot again this April, finishing the season with nine straight losses to go 2-14. The season got off to a rough start, but after Scott Linehan was fired, Jim Haslett lit a fire under the team, and they reeled off two straight wins over the Redskins and the Cowboys. There are a ton of holes on this roster, especially on defense, and they still haven’t decided who is going to be their head coach either. There is also the question mark of whether some of their more recognizable faces, Torry Holt and Orlando Pace, will be back next season. Both are starting to show their age, and may choose to either retire (Pace), or move on to a contender (Holt). Either way, this team needs a big offseason to become competitive once again.
-OG Richie Incognito: He is a good young player, but has shown to be a bit of a head case, and might be let go after his incidents with Haslett late in the season.
-DL La’Roi Glover: He only registered .5 of a sack this year, and is not the disruptive force he once was. He will probably not be re signed, and may just retire.
-S O.J. Atogwe: He is a turnover producing machine, and is very young, so he will be a priority for the Rams to re sign.
Needs: OT, WR, C, QB, FB, LB, SS, CB
-If Orlando Pace leaves, it makes OT the top priority heading into next season, if he stays, it becomes a lesser need, but still significant. The same goes for Torry Holt, who has also been speculated to be leaving town this offseason. The Rams may also lose Dane Looker, and Dante Hall, who have been nice slot receivers for them. The team drafted Donnie Avery in the second round last April, and he showed flashes of brilliance, but he alone won’t be enough. The Rams also need help at center, and need to improve the overall depth of the offensive line. Steven Jackson started coming on strong down the stretch, but he needs a good lead blocker, and also someone who can spell him.
-On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker is an area that should really be a concern for them this offseason. Will Witherspoon, it looks, will make the move to OLB, which leaves the starting spot at MLB vacant. This is one of the more important positions on any defense, so they should look for a player to fill this spot. At SS, Corey Chavous is no longer a viable starting option, at age 33, so they need to bring in someone younger. As far as CB, they have not gotten a lot of production out of former first round pick, Tye Hill, mostly due to injury, so they may look to bring in some depth there.