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Big decisions lie ahead in NFC West that's up for grabs

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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When the lockout is over, it could be a mad dash for talent all over the NFL. With that in mind, we examine the most important things each team must accomplish with a division-by-division breakdown. This is a look at the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals

Acquire a quarterback: The Cardinals are going to get a quarterback as soon as the lockout is over, with most believing it will be Kevin Kolb in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The compensation could be significant, and it might make Arizona call Denver to see what Kyle Orton's price will be. If those two trades fall apart, Matt Hasselbeck could be the next option. At any rate, the Cardinals will have new signal-caller in 2011.

Rebuild the offensive line: The Cardinals have a Hall of Famer for an offensive line coach in Russ Grimm, but his unit leaves much to be desired. There's a chance three of last year's starters will be new, all on the inside at guard and center. If the Cardinals had to play a game tomorrow, practice-squad prospect Tom Pestock might be the starting center. Arizona needs to re-sign Lyle Sendlein. After that issue is resolved, they have to take a long look at their tackles. With only five offensive linemen under contract, the Cardinals should sign at least two veterans and a plethora of undrafted rookies.

Make another addition to the receiving corps: It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals came at you with Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Larry Fitzgerald. Right now, Fitzgerald is the only one left of the three. Early Doucet will do a good job stepping in and maybe 2010 third-round pick Andre Roberts will deliver, but if the Cardinals don't re-sign Breaston then another veteran should be added. A guy like the New Orleans Saints' Lance Moore would be a good fit.

San Francisco 49ers

Center of attention: Eric Heitmann has medical issues (neck) and the team has a 2011 fifth-round guard from Appalachian State, Dan Kilgore, listed as the potential starting center. It's not a very good year for finding a center in free agency, and the 49ers need to bring back David Baas, even if they have to overpay him.

Get Alex Smith under contract: Smith is scheduled to return to the 49ers and has done a fine job of leading the team in the offseason without a contract. It will be interesting to see what kind of deal the 49ers offer him with draft pick Colin Kaepernick now on the roster. If the club offers Smith a one-year deal at a low number and no guaranteed money, I wonder if another team steps in and sweetens the pot. A second year might need to be added to get something done. If Smith plays well under the guidance of new coach Jim Harbaugh, then the 49ers will be happy they have the second year.

Fortify the defensive line: The 49ers have four defensive linemen under contract. They will need nine for camp and six will most likely make the team. Nose tackle becomes an issue if they don't re-sign Aubrayo Franklin. The club likes Ricky Jean-Francois, but he doesn't even have a backup. The 49ers need to sign two veterans to go along with at least three undrafted rookies.

Seattle Seahawks

Make an offer the Bengals can't refuse: The Cincinnati Bengals claim that they will let Carson Palmer retire instead of trading him. That sounds great, but a team like Seattle needs to make an offer the Bengals have to consider. Something along the lines of a player and a draft pick, which helps the present situation and the future for all parties.

Sign a defensive tackle with pass-rush skills: Last year, the Seahawks hit the jackpot when they signed Raheem Brock and he gave them solid inside pass rush. Brock and Brandon Mebane are both ready to hit the open market, and Red Bryant is coming back from an injury. Re-signing Brock and maybe getting the New York Giants' Barry Cofield would do wonders for the defensive line in Seattle.

Add two players to back four: Seattle knows the secondary has to play better. They have a great young safety in Earl Thomas and a solid corner in Marcus Trufant, but Kelly Jennings and Jordan Babineaux are free agents and Lawyer Milloy is done. The team likes Kam Chancellor, a big, second-year safety from Virginia Tech, but the Seahawks still need a veteran. Getting a top-flight cornerback like the Bengals' Johnathan Joseph would be ideal. Maybe the Seahawks even look at the Cleveland Browns' Eric Wright or the New York Jets' Antonio Cromartie.

St. Louis Rams

Acquire a running back: Steven Jackson is the feature back for the Rams, and the addition of Sam Bradford and his nearly 40 pass attempts a game has lightened the load for Jackson. It's time to add another back, and the perfect guy would be the Atlanta Falcons' Jason Snelling. Snelling can play some fullback, sub for Jackson on the power-run game and is an excellent third-down back. Snelling has 74 receptions in the last two years and can pick up the blitz. If the Rams go in a different direction, maybe it's the San Diego Chargers' Darren Sproles or even the Saints' Reggie Bush if he comes free.

Find help at linebacker: James Laurinaitis mans the middle linebacker spot in St. Louis and performs at a very high level. The strongside and weakside linebacker spots are up for grabs. Na'il Diggs -- a 12-year veteran -- is on the roster and can still play, but it is time to get younger and better. Right now, the other side could be handled by Larry Grant, a practice-squad player, or David Vobora, Mr. Irrelevant from the 2008 NFL Draft. I would love to see the Rams go after the Washington Redskins' Rocky McIntosh and the Carolina Panthers' James Anderson.

Bring in a big wideout: The Rams are comfortable letting Bradford throw the ball 40 times a game, which is a tribute to the quarterback's talent and maturity. There are solid second and third receivers on the roster, but no one who might impact a defense's coverage. Bringing in a Plaxico Burress would add an interesting dimension to the offense. Signing a guy like the Minnesota Vikings' Sidney Rice would be a fine long-term answer.

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