The Big Question: Whose seat hottest?

Which high-profile player, coach or executive from the division sits on the hottest seat heading into the 2010 season?

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart gets my vote because he's replacing a legend and his career in the desert is coming down to one season.

It's not clear if Leinart's career in Arizona can survive a poor exhibition season or disappointing start to the regular season. Any drop in offensive performance will be seen as a reflection of Kurt Warner's retirement.

Leinart steps into a talented offense with an improved line. The Cardinals have a strong offensive coaching staff, one of the game's best receivers and a versatile 1-2 punch at running back with Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. Leinart's contract balloons in value for 2011, meaning he must produce this season. The Cardinals signed an experienced backup (Derek Anderson) and coach Ken Whisenhunt benched Leinart once already (heading into the 2008 season).

Persistent rumors of the Cardinals' continued interest in Marc Bulger only underscore perceptions.

Other prominent NFC West figures on the hot seat:

  • Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks QB. Entering a contract year with a new staff and front office after two down seasons.

  • Leroy Hill, Seahawks LB. High salary, durability concerns, unfulfilled expectations and off-field troubles are a dangerous combination.

  • Deion Branch, Seahawks WR. Big contract, increased competition at the position with Mike Williams and Golden Tate on board.

  • Julius Jones, Seahawks RB. Adding Leon Washington and LenDale White put Jones on notice.

  • Rams leadership. A pending ownership change makes this an uncertain situation, particularly if the team continues to struggle.

  • Bill Davis, Cardinals defensive coordinator. Arizona's defense couldn't hold a lead in Super Bowl XLIII, when Davis coached linebackers, then struggled in the playoffs last season.

  • Alex Smith, 49ers QB. Smith started eight games last season and played relatively well, taking off some of the pressure heading into the season. The 49ers have remained committed to him as the starter.

  • Nate Clements, 49ers CB. Could use a bounce-back season at age 30 as salary escalates.