Following the Super Bowl and before the combine and the opening of Free Agency is as close as the NFL will get to an off season, yet even in this apparent lull the NFL still throws up some stories, some of which will have a large impact for fans of the NFC West. Below I bring you this news from the end of the 2015 season to date.
Firstly the biggest change facing the division is geographical and you could argue that the NFC West is now a lot more Western that it was previously. The worst kept secret in the last 12 months was that the Rams were the team to kick-start the NFL relaunch of a Los Angeles franchise and after a 30-2 owners vote at the league meeting the LA Rams are once again appearing on the schedule. For those NFL fans who remember the 1980’s and beyond this is a move that brings back a feeling of familiarity.
For Rams fans who are sticking with the team following the move from St Louis, it turns out not everything is going to be familiar. This past week the Rams have announced the release of Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Jared Cook, news that came as quite a shock for fans and also to the players themselves. Since the relocation to LA was confirmed, Long and Laurinaitis in particular have been used to sell the Rams to the LA populous so it is a little strange that these two players in particular will not be suiting it up in September. The release of Cook is not as big a surprise, his time in St Louis did not set the league on fire and although you can point to the obvious QB issues as a contributing factor, there were many drops and disappointments that were a source of frustration to many Rams fans.
Meanwhile up in the Pacific North West, the Seattle Seahawks found themselves for the first time in a few years not required to play football in early February, for one Seahawk in particular this lull proved to be too much. With just about 10 minutes remaining in Super Bowl a picture was tweeted of a pair of cleats hanging from a phone line, a simple image perhaps that says 1000 words. Then again when have we ever known Marshawn Lynch to use actual words, what we do know is that the Beast Quake era is officially over and all the responsibility will now fall squarely on the shoulders of QB Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks had better do a better job of protecting him going forward, as last year the sight of Wilson scrambling, not through choice but because the opposing DL was coming swarming through the middle of the Seahawks OL was commonplace. Wilson has the talent and in Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls there are some good Running Backs still on this team, but Marshawn these last few years when healthy has been arguably the most productive in the league and that is a large hole to fill on a permanent basis.
Now on to the team that has cause to the busiest in the West, the San Francisco 49ers, who have announced that their new head coach is Chip Kelly, after Jim Tomsula was one and done in San Fran. This was not a surprise to anyone and it's hard not to feel that Tomsula was a patsy who was a buffer to enable the team to move from Jim Harbaugh to another recognised coach who news doesn't have the pressure of having to directly replace the success that Harbaugh enjoyed. Mind you $14million will make most people happy to be a patsy.
Right from the press conference though you could sense that the Niners had a coach who knew what he was about, in direct contrast to Tomsula last year. Kelly is also it seems on a mission to make nice as much as possible, after many accusations of possible racism to lack of emotional intelligence whilst in Philadelphia. Kelly handled the many questions regarding the 49ers QB situation by ensuring whenever one was mentioned he included the other in his answer. Several stories have linked Kaepernick to Kelly but many observers feel that Blaine Gabbert might be the better fit for Kelly’s offensive schemes.
The Niners do have 12 picks in the upcoming draft including the number 7 overall, as well as a ton of salary cap space which may make Free Agency exciting so despite all the bluster, there may be a rookie QB coming to San Francisco to compete for the starting job yet. Whoever is under centre they will have a new toy at a Wide Receiver as Eric Rodgers has been signed from the Canadian Football League where he was the leading receiver last year. At 6ft 2 and fast, Rodgers could be a welcome addition to what was a largely unproductive unit last time around.
As for the Arizona Cardinals, they have been mainly quiet since the NFC Championship game beating by the Panthers, but under coach Arians you can be sure they will be back to compete next year. Rookie David Johnson could be set to breakthrough to real star status to complement one of the most aggressive passing attacks in the league. They have just recently signed an option for a former Aussie Rules player to try out as a Centre, so mane the land Down Under is the next resource for these Western teams.