The NFC West is a four way battle. In any other division, the San Francisco 49ers would be done at 0-5. They’re probably done anyway, but at least some people (including the Niners organisation) seriously believe they can turn this around. They’ve still got seven divisional games that are all winnable, so it’s not impossible. My view is – whilst no one team takes the initiative and strings a few wins together, the Niners have an unlikely shot.
Also in the NFC West we have a decidedly uncertain future at quarterback. Sam Bradford is entrenched in St. Louis for years and is quite possibly the best QB in the division already. San Fran’s fans turned on Alex Smith on Sunday as the Niners lost a close one to Philadelphia. Arizona started UDFA Max Hall in a victory over New Orleans. The Seahawks are sticking by Matt Hasselbeck despite three consecutive difficult performances. There’s every possibility that this time next year, none of those QB’s are even on their respective team’s rosters.
Indeed the three teams may spend the year fighting for the playoffs and then the off season fighting over QB’s. Seattle beat out Arizona for Charlie Whitehurst this year. The options in free agency and via trade may be significantly weaker in 2011. There likely won’t be a Donovan McNabb available at the right price. Depending on who you believe, Michael Vick may also have been available last off season. There’s a chance Philly will consider trading either Vick or Kevin Kolb in the future, but neither is likely to come cheaply. Failed first rounders like Brady Quinn and Jason Campbell were also available via trade – both might be available in free agency next year if they get cut but neither has proven they deserve a third chance.
Indeed the best back-up who might be available at a reasonable price is Detroit’s Shaun Hill – who was originally dealt by the 49ers. Could he be an option for the Arizona Cardinals if they want to avoid another Leinart moment in the draft? Who knows. It’ll be an interesting off season nonetheless because all three teams will have to do something.
It’s unlikely to me that Alex Smith will get the vote of confidence he needs to start another year unless he manages a complete turn around between now and the New Year. Max Hall has much to prove to warrant a similar longer term investment as Arizona’s starter. Seattle are not likely to extend Matt Hasselbeck’s contract (he’ll be 36 during the 2011 season) and have not made any noise that Whitehurst has done enough to be engraved as the future starter.
Without numerous options in the draft, there could be a few battles that break out. A big name free agent or a veteran available by trade? All three could be interested. It seems unlikely the complete trio will head into draft day without the issue solved. It’d be a huge gamble on coming away empty handed or with a lesser quality prospect. You could see an improbable jostling for position at the top of round one should trades come into play – but it’s far too early to consider such a situation.
Unless one picks first overall (or at least ahead of Buffalo and maybe even Carolina) – it’s likely one QB will leave the board quickly further limiting the options. I fully expect only Andrew Luck and Jake Locker to go in the top-15 picks, maybe that could create a scramble for the one prospect not taken first overall?
Of course the other thing to consider is the potential for one of the three winning the division and therefore picking no earlier than 21st overall. It could severely hamper a team who’s record otherwise would’ve warranted a much earlier selection. None will take better draft position over a playoff berth, but they may wish things were different on the actual day of the draft. That could play some part in a team’s thinking – if they feel it’ll be too expensive to move up (if needed) and that alternative action will need to be made. It could also be said the QB who helps his team to win the division is the one perhaps most likely to keep his job.
It’ll be interesting to see what the three do before April to create maximum freedom on draft day and to avoid ‘showing their hand’. The NFC West will address the QB position en masse next off season. Who will come out on top?