NFC West: Fighting for playoffs… fighting for QB’s?

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?


  1. Matt

    This is my biggest fear regarding the seahawks. For some reason, people in Seattle are dying to get to the playoffs this year, knowing full well that will be a one game experience, all the while severely hindering our future. I’m not rooting for a losing season, nor hoping the team tanks. In a perfect world, we are picking 4-6 and have a chance to get our QB, whilst also having the ability to grab a very good player at the top of round 2 (I’m thinking offense).

    Hass is done and is merely a game manager at this point on a team that lacks anything to manage on offense. I never root for my team to lose, but I’d much rather miss the playoffs and have a chance to consistently complete for the next 6-8 years. I hate to say it, but if we do not get a QB this year, the Rams will be whooping up on us for the next decade. Same can be said for the 49ers if they simply find a game managing QB because they have real talent on offense, including a potentially dominate offensive line in a few years (assuming Staley, Iupati, and Davis continue to develop).

    • Rob

      Personally, I think the nature of the game is to play to win. The draft is such a long way after the season completes, it’s hard to wish either way whether you’d be picking in the top ten or later on. Some might disagree, but I would rather win the NFC West this year and have the chance to participate in the playoffs… and then try to move up the board next April if a prospect at QB is there who the front office believe can have a lasting impression with the team.

      The Jets didn’t give up too much to get Sanchez – they didn’t make the playoffs the year before, but were picking in the late teens. If the Seahawks did win in the playoffs but didn’t go deep into them, they’ll be picking 21st. They can move up.

      I would also say – the draft is such a lottery with very few ‘sure things’ – that whilst it’s beneficial in satisfying preference… it guarantees no future success.

      I do understand the other side of the argument though – because clearly the NFC West is a weak division. Winning it with a 8-8 or 9-7 record (or even 7-9) won’t leave much for celebration because it’ll be a default victory and will concede an element of draft position.

  2. Blake

    Who do you think will be or should be retained after this year? Hamilton, Hasselbeck, Hawthorne, Hill, Jennings, Locklear, Mare, Mebane, Obomanu, Pitts, Polumbus, Spencer, Washington, and Willis were the free agents I could find on the roster. I’d say in order of importance: Mebane, Hawthorne, Jennings, Pitts, Mare, Washington and possibly Hamilton for versatility and vet presence.

    Locklear will be 30, injury prone, and not a great fit for the scheme. Unger will be back giving our line extreme versatility. He could play C/G, which could put Pitts or Andrews at G/T, leaving either Hamilton or rookie to play the vacant G/T spot. I’d love to get, Rodney Hudson (Florida St) or Mike Pouncey (Florida) in the 2nd or Stefen Wisniewski (Penn St) in the 4th.

    Mebane and Hawthorne are young cornerstones to this D, while Jennings is showing great improvement this year in technique and awareness. Washington is expendable because we have so many other return guys on this team, but I think we can afford to sign him as well. Mare will likely be signing one year deals for the last few years of his career. That would give us some good foundation to build on for the future, needing a stud WR and QB in the draft as well as the aforementioned offensive lineman.

    • Patrick

      Thank You so much for posting a list of our upcoming free agents. I had been wondering and unfortunetly, it’s a lot! The way I see it:

      Washington: My personal favorite of this list and the one I hope gets resigned the most. He is by far the best return specialist the Seahawks have ever had. EVER. I know we have capabale guys and we shouldn’t overpay for a return specialist but I really do think he can be an asset in the running game as well. I really hope he gets resigned, but I guess we’ll see.

      Jennings: I would also really like to see us resign Kelly Jennings. And before this season, you NEVER would have heard me say that. I’ve never been a Jennings fan and he and Julius Jones were my two Seahawks that I was ready to see move on. However, he really has been playing fantastic this year. I do believe CB is a need, but I think Jennings is definitely playing pretty well and deserves a new contract. With that said though, I can’t help but think he’ll realize his worth and sign for fairly cheap to stay.

      Mare+Mebane + Hawthorne: I put these three together because I’m on the fence. I know, I know, both Hawthorne and Mebane are young and very important to our defense. But, they’re also replaceable. If they are looking for big paydays, I can’t help but think we could move on. As for Mare, sure he’s doing well, but he’s also older.

      The rest: I am not very concerned with the rest. Locklear should see the writing on the wall after he reduced his contract, Pitts has potential but just needs to get healthy, Obomanu is a 4th reciever at best, Hamilton and Willis aren’t necessary, and well…I’m not sure about Chris Spencer. I guess we’ll see on that one. As for Hasselbeck…I hate saying this, I do. But I really think it’s time to move on 🙁 Draft a QB, play Whitehurst, and then see how the season goes.

      • Rob

        You’ve made some very good points there Patrick. You’re almost certainly right too – some of the ‘household’ names that will be FA’s we maybe expect will be signed up to big deals – but that’s not how this regime will necessary work. Ruskell and co made a concerted effort to extend ‘big names’ to huge deals. The contract for Jon Ryan at the end of last year was a prime panic example to a good-but-replacable guy hitting the market. Deals like that I suspect won’t happen now. Good review of the situation.

    • Rob

      It’s difficult to project isn’t it? The front office have changed so much in such a short space of time, it’s tough to guess who may or may not stick around. Mebane is presumably someone they’d look to keep. The rest – it could go either way. Jennings has done better than expected so far, but he doesn’t fit the size this regime want at the CB position. It may depend on price and what offers Jennings can get elsewhere that may be a better fit.

      I’m a big fan of Rodney Hudson – genuinly believe he has R1 talent.

      • Matt

        Rodney Hudson is a R1 talent with a UDFA body. I don’t think he will be taken in the top 40 0r 50 picks simply due to his lack of size. Maybe someone takes him as a Center and goes higher.

        Do you have concerns about his size? I love his athleticism, but he scares me on 3rd and short which has been our biggest issue in recent years.

        • Rob

          It’s hard to tell. When I watch Hudson in CFB, his size isn’t an issue. He’s astonishingly powerful and stout at the LOS. It’s incredible watching the entire pocket drop 4-5 yards off the snap… yet Hudson’s still blocking his guy at the original point. His strength and intelligence, plus his ability to generate leverage, negate any issues he has being about 6-2 and 285lbs. Just a pure technician with excellent strength. But you do have to wonder, when he is in the pro’s taking on bigger, faster defensive lineman – will he still dominate… or even hold his own? Can it translate, despite the size issues? If the Seahawks were still running a pure ZBS with Alex Gibbs, I imagine Hudson would’ve been a real option. Now – I’m not so sure. Are they looking to get bigger?

          Some people I’ve spoken to or read from have said – first round talent. Chris Steuber (NFL Draftscout) told me last year he could be a first round pick in 2010 if he declared. Others don’t have him in R2 of their mocks. Yet – nobody gives him anything but amazing praise. I read things like… “Hudson’s the best OL in CFB… such fun to watch… but he won’t work out in the NFL”. The only reason given is the lack of size. Personally, I’d take the risk on Hudson.

  3. Patrick

    Great Write Up Rob, and it is something I’ve been very concerned with. I found myself slightly content that Arizona won this weekend and I hated it. I can’t root for 49ers, and I hate Arizona as well, but this year, I want to get a QB. I don’t see trades like the Mark Sanchez one happening very often. What I am hoping is that we like someone like Mallett and he slips. Or, if we need to, maybe we’d trade up. However, last year Carroll and co. seemed instead to sit back (or sometimes even trade back) and take whatever talent fell their way. It was a wonderful strategy. Sadly, I’m not sure it’ll work that way with a franchise QB.

    • Rob

      It was a great strategy that worked last year, but then the Seahawks had two early picks and felt the value was good enough to wait in R2. If they’re picking later this time round… and there is a guy they like (particularly at QB)… they may change the tactic and move up. There’s still a lot of football to play though.

  4. IVan

    Luck changed your mind?

    • Rob

      My opinion of Luck remains the same. I don’t think he’s that accurate and he isn’t physically good enough to make up for it. He’s a game manager at Stanford. He won’t be on a team in the NFL if he does go top-5 that has the kind of support he gets at Stanford (excellent offensive line/running game). He’s as over hyped as he could possibly be right now. I stand by the comparisons to Joey Harrington… I think he could easily enter the league and struggle like that.

  5. Blake

    Strategy to Rooot for the Future and the Present:

    I’ve decided to root for the other teams that have QB issues instead of just the teams in our division. If Buffalo, Jacksonville, KC, Cleveland and Cinci all finish ahead of us, we get Locker. I don’t think Buffalo will have a better record than us, but I would say the others will. We’ll be drafting in the 8-12 range with Buffalo at #1 to take the best QB and give us the other one. The wild cards are SF and the Cards because they also need QBs. So I will root for Alex Smith and Max Hall but still hope the teams lose. I’ll also be rooting against bad teams with good quarterbacks so that they’ll be drafting early and not the teams that need quarterbacks; I hope Detroit, Carolina, Tampa, and St. Louis lose the rest of their games. It would also be nice if Philly unloaded either Vick or Kolb to a team that needs a QB such as Kolb to Cleveland or Vick to Buffalo.

    I also found myself rooting against Locker so his stock falls. I know that no matter how bad he plays PC would draft him if given the chance. Jake could also pull an Eli Manning and refuse to play for any team but the Hawks (Eli refused to play for SD and AJ Smith). I am more excited for this draft than any other draft in history because of the affect it can have on our franchise over the next 10 years.

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