|Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire|
|Sam Bradford gives the Rams something the other NFC West teams are missing, a long-term answer at QB.|
Maybe the feel-good story of 2010 in a division that had few of them came from a 7-9 team. And not the one that won the NFC West, either.
The St. Louis Rams won more games than the six they had in the previous three years combined, and went into Week 17 playing for a division crown in Seattle. It didn't work out then, but as much as the experience of the resurgence breathed life into the franchise, it was one man's presence who has sustained that optimism -- Sam Bradford.
"We obviously feel really good about having Sam," Rams general manager Billy Devaney said. "Knock on wood, we'll have a big-time quarterback for years to come, someone to build around. It's a pretty great feeling."
The Rams' NFC West rivals don't quite have the same feeling now. The aging of Matt Hasselbeck, retirement of Kurt Warner, and the failure of Alex Smith have made that so. And so the Seahawks, Cardinals and 49ers are giving chase in a division that remains winnable for all four teams, if for no other reason than collective mediocrity.
But first, they have to fix -- or at least band-aid -- their problems at the game's most important position. Here's one take on which way each of those three clubs should go ...
The idea of bringing in Kevin Kolb isn't such a novel concept. But it is the correct one. And if you look at Arizona's last five first-round picks (Matt Leinart, Levi Brown, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Beanie Wells, Dan Williams), it's hard to argue he wouldn't be worth the freight.
The Cardinals' roster remains one constituted to win now, and the addition of Kolb would serve that purpose as well as do something more important -- give the team's best player (Larry Fitzgerald) peace of mind on the future of the franchise.
Fitzgerald is a free agent next year, and can't be franchised, which is the flaw in the concept of bringing in Marc Bulger. Maybe it works short-term, but it doesn't add a ton of incentive for Fitzgerald to jump aboard long-term. Kolb, on the other hand, is a year younger than Fitzgerald, and already has four seasons in the NFL under his belt. All of which adds up to one big reason he's the right fit here, he can make a pretty vital teammate happy about the team's present and optimistic about its future.
There's little question that Colin Kaepernick is the future here. However, with his college experience coming in Nevada's "Pistol" offense, chances are Jim Harbaugh is going to want to redshirt him in 2011.
That makes -- wait for it, Niner fans -- Alex Smith the right choice for right now. Shocked? Maybe you shouldn't be. Any quarterback Harbaugh brings in is going to have a steep learning curve in an abbreviated offseason. Smith has been in the league six years. He's had six offensive coordinators. So he's used to upheaval. Plus, he has timing with guys like Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree that others wouldn't.
Then there's this oft-overlooked fact: Andrew Luck rushed for 453 yards and 8.2-yards per carry for Stanford last year. So Harbaugh certainly has a history that would indicate he could get plenty out of Smith's athleticism. And in the end, the partnership just works -- Smith returns on a one-year deal to resurrect his career under a noted quarterback guru, and the coach gets his bridge to Kaepernick.
One of the best things about the way the Pete Carroll-John Schneider regime has handled this offseason is how Seattle knows where it is, and won't get too caught up in the division title, recognizing it as a lightning-in-a-bottle scenario. The Seahawks, from a roster standpoint, still have a ways to go before realizing Schneider's vision for the team.
As such, it very much stands to reason that Seattle's quarterback of the future is still in college. Next year's quarterback group is loaded, and the personnel staff here took that into account going into this year's draft. So the prudent thing now? With the team in a building mode, hand the reins back to Charlie Whitehurst, and bring in a vet to compete with him, without making a long-term commitment.
The Seahawks don't believe Whitehurst is the answer (and he'll be 29 on opening day, so he's not exactly that young), but they did invest draft capital in him, so they should give him a shot at the job this year and maybe he shows them something. They also tried to bring Hasselbeck back, and it's worth another try to get him back in the right role. But at this point, with a new offensive coordinator in a shortened offseason, it's probably best to leave their options open at the position going into the future.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.