Adam Schein of Sirius NFL Radio and FoxSports.com is back with his third annual NFL organizational rankings.
The Seattle Seahawks have overtaken the Arizona Cardinals for the top spot in the division based on ownership, quarterback, coach, front office, coaching staff and intangibles. Schein values each of those categories the same for the purposes of his evaluation, scoring teams on a 10-point scale and allowing, in some cases, for expected moves to influence rankings.
I had fun breaking down his second annual rankings a year ago.
The division has welcomed one new owner since last offseason. Quarterback situations remain unsettled. The Seahawks' playoff success lent credibility to coach Pete Carroll even though the team finished with a 7-9 record during the regular season. The lockout has subsequently made it tougher for teams to help themselves. Some of these grades could change based on how teams proceed during free agency, particularly in relation to the quarterback position.
A look at Schein's rankings and comments for NFC West teams, followed by my own thoughts:
12. Seattle Seahawks (37.5 of 60 points)
Schein: The facilities are state of the art. The home-field advantage with the '12th man' is significant. Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider inherited a total mess. They were super-active last season, bringing in different combinations of players, leading to a street free-agent gem like Mike Williams. Hiring Tom Cable to coach the offensive line was a great move. Seattle, finally, has a good structure in place.
Sando's thoughts: The Seahawks' ability to resolve the quarterback situation will determine whether they remain on an upward trajectory. Paul Allen is an owner with plenty of resources. He stays out of the way on football decisions. The team would benefit if Allen were more involved at the league level, but that is not his style. Qwest Field provides one of the strongest home-field advantages in sports when there's something to cheer about. Schneider seems to work well with Carroll, creating a positive front-office culture. They fared well in patching holes with Chris Clemons, Raheem Brock and Leon Washington, among others. Replacing the retired Alex Gibbs with Cable stands out as a strong recovery.
16. Arizona Cardinals (36 of 60 points)
Schein: The Cards cut pay for employees across the board during the lockout. That smells of the Cardinals in the past. But Arizona’s track record of churning out excellent drafts under Rod Graves and Steve Keim is sensational. Ken Whisenhunt is the perfect coach for the Cardinals. The stadium is beautiful. The Arizona public relations staff knows how to promote the product and is regarded as top-notch. I give the Cards only a 4 at quarterback because right now Kevin Kolb is a very educated guess. If it wasn’t for that potential, it would be a minus-4.
Sando's thoughts: Ken Whisenhunt scored eight points from Schein, more than any other coach in the division commanded. That is fair based upon the Cardinals' playoff success alone. The Cardinals have a beautiful stadium, but they're in a market heavy on transplants, making it tougher to develop the loyalty other teams enjoy. Schein's nine-point score for the Cardinals' front office reflects his high opinion of the team's recent draft classes. There have been successes, no question, but the grade appears generous. Seven of the nine players Arizona drafted in the first three rounds from 2007-09 have arguably failed to meet expectations (Beanie Wells, Cody Brown, Rashad Johnson, Early Doucet, Levi Brown, Alan Branch and Buster Davis). Other teams in the division haven't fared appreciably better, but nine points on a 10-point scale seems high under the circumstances.
19. St. Louis Rams (33.5 of 60 points)
Schein: Finally, optimism! Coach Steve Spagnuolo and QB Sam Bradford changed the culture in St. Louis. The ownership issue has become a back-burner topic.
Sando's thoughts: The Rams scored only three points from Schein for ownership. I would give the Rams the benefit of the doubt in that category based on Stan Kroenke's record as a franchise owner in other sports. Kroenke gives the Rams an experienced billionaire owner with a long history in the NFL. The other NFL owners were quick to welcome Kroenke as majority owner, a positive sign for the Rams. The front office scored only five points from Schein, but it's looking like that ranking will rise in the future. Bradford, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Rodger Saffold have become impact players as high draft choices. The team scored big in free agency with Fred Robbins last season. Long-term stadium questions persist and the Rams need to maintain their recent improvement to climb the rankings.
24. San Francisco 49ers (28 of 60 points)
Schein: It appears that the Niners have cleared redevelopment hurdles in preparation of their move to Santa Clara in 2015. And not a moment too soon. Jim Harbaugh, Jed York and Bob Lange are major upgrades for head coach, owner and PR director in recent years. The Niners have done a nice job this year with social media. Mike Singletary was a train wreck, more punchline than coach, and Harbaugh will live up to the hype.
Sando's thoughts: The 49ers scored only one point for quarterback and four for their front office in this survey. That is a bit surprising on the quarterback front given the hope San Francisco holds for rookie Colin Kaepernick. In courting Alex Smith, the 49ers might be betting too heavily on Harbaugh's coaching powers. The improvement from Singletary to Harbaugh in dealing with quarterbacks and establishing a modern offensive philosophy has to pay off. Schein gave five points to York for ownership. That score will hinge on whether York was right about Harbaugh and whether the team secures a new stadium as desired. Silicon Valley player Gideon Yu's addition to the front office seemed like an enterprising move.