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San Francisco and Seattle spent the last few years establishing themselves as the preeminent heavyweights of the NFC. This offseason marked the beginning of a tougher challenge: Staying on the mountaintop.

The 49ers and Seahawks were notably quiet during free agency as they dealt with salary cap concerns and saved up for future deals. These are "good problems" that great teams often face.

Seattle was confident letting go of a number of key contributors because they have a deep bench ready to step up. Michael Bennett got big bucks to stay, and future monster contracts will be spent on their own guys: Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Russell Wilson among them. The 49ers mostly worked at the margins making low level trades for reclamation projects like Blaine Gabbert and Jonathan Martin. Extensions for Colin Kaepernick and possibly Aldon Smith are in the offing.

The relative quiet from the 49ers and Seahawks this offseason was typical of the whole division. The NFC West is the best division in football because of their defenses, draft histories, and head coaches. The division didn't get much better over the last month.

In our "Roster Reset" series, Around the League will rank teams in each division based on how much they improved this offseason. The NFC West is up first.

1. Arizona Cardinals


How they improved: Picking up left tackle Jared Veldheer was one of the best signings in all of free agency because it was such a massive upgrade for coach Bruce Arians' offense. The left tackle position has held Arizona's offense roster hostage for years. With improved protection, Carson Palmer has the weapons to go down the field more often.

The Cardinals didn't make a ton of huge splashes otherwise, but the Veldheer move alone is enough to push the Cardinals to "most improved" after this quiet month in the NFC West. Arizona essentially replaced slot receiver Andre Roberts with Ted Ginn, which hurts the passing game slight and helps the team's return game. Antonio Cromartie joins a talented secondary, replacing the departed Antoine Cason. Cromartie still has the skill set to be a difference maker, but he's w total wild card. In Cromartie, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals have three players that excel in man coverage.


What's Next?


»More line help:The signing of Veldheer and the return of guard Jonathan Cooper solves the left side of the Cardinals offensive line, but the right side still needs help. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Cardinals invest an early pick or two on the offensive line.

»Pass rushers: Arizona has an incredible defensive line anchored by Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. But Todd Bowles' 3-4 defense needs some classic outside linebackers. John Abraham is a year-to-year proposition, and re-signed Matt Shaugnessey is not a long-term solution.

»More line help:The signing of Veldheer and the return of guard Jonathan Cooper solves the left side of the Cardinals offensive line, but the right side still needs help. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Cardinals invest an early pick or two on the offensive line.

Recapping Cardinals' offseason moves
Key re-signings
Key arrivals
Key departures

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