With the draft in the rearview mirror, what’s the most pressing issue on each NFC West team's agenda?
Arizona Cardinals: Figuring out what's up with Daryl Washington should rank high on the Cardinals' list. Washington can be one of the most dynamic linebackers in the league. He had nine sacks last season and should be a player for the Cardinals to build around. Recent events have called into question his longer-term standing with the team. First came news that to open the season, Washington would serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Now, one month later, authorities are investigating a domestic abuse allegation levied against him. There has been no arrest. The Cardinals already have blown up quite a bit of their roster while making the transition to a new coaching staff. They'll have to decide after the 2013 season whether to exercise a $10 million option bonus for Washington.
St. Louis Rams: Tweaking the offensive scheme to fit the Rams' new personnel came to mind as one potential priority for the Rams, but the most pressing one? Developing the young unproven talent on the roster has to head the list. The Rams had the youngest roster in the NFL last season. It could be even younger this season. That's invigorating to a certain extent, but also a bit concerning. The situations at running back, receiver and safety come to mind. Top running backs Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway and fifth-round pick Zac Stacy have a combined 108 NFL carries. The wide receivers on the roster own a combined 15 starts, 12 of them by Chris Givens. At safety, rookie third-round choice T.J. McDonald and 2012 backup Darian Stewart are the leading candidates to start after the Rams released Quintin Mikell and let Craig Dahl leave in free agency. McDonald did not enjoy a stellar final season at USC. Is he ready for a Rams schedule featuring Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Justin Blackmon, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Percy Harvin, Vincent Jackson and other players capable of putting pressure on even veteran safeties?
San Francisco 49ers: Developing 2012 first-round draft choice A.J. Jenkins has to rank high on the list of remaining priorities for the two-time defending NFC West champions. Jenkins made zero receptions during his rookie season. He wasn't a factor, and the 49ers didn't really need him. They ran their passing game through Michael Crabtree and still had other weapons such as Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Randy Moss and, when healthy, Mario Manningham. Crabtree and newcomer Anquan Boldin will join Davis in giving the 49ers three legitimate weapons for 2013. While the 49ers' passing game is not hinging on Jenkins' immediate development, the team needs to find out whether Jenkins will factor for the longer term. Crabtree's contract runs through the 2014 season. Re-signing him to a long-term deal is no given for the 49ers, particularly with quarterback Colin Kaepernick also in line for a new deal at roughly the same time. Boldin is signed through the upcoming season only. Developing Jenkins would expand the 49ers' options.
Seattle Seahawks: Getting another starter signed to a contract extension before the 2013 season could make sense. They recently struck a long-term deal with strong safety Kam Chancellor. Potential monster deals for Earl Thomas and/or Richard Sherman await in the not-too-distant future, as both are signed through 2014. In the meantime, Seattle might be wise to work out a more modest extension for cornerback Brandon Browner, a player ideally suited for their defensive scheme. Browner is signed through the 2013 season. While this will be only his third season with the Seahawks since leaving the CFL, Browner did get credit for an accrued season when he spent 2005 on injured reserve with the Denver Broncos. That makes 2013 Browner's fourth NFL season, enough to qualify as an unrestricted free agent under the collective bargaining agreement.