Things are changing in the NFC West, though not necessarily at the top.
The Seahawks -- coming off another Super Bowl trip -- remain the class of the division. The NFL's most loaded roster got even better following the blockbuster trade that brought Jimmy Graham to town. Adding an elite end-zone target for Russell Wilson is almost unfair for a division that already has to tangle with Seattle's historically great defense.
The 49ers were once viewed as an equal of the Seahawks, but unrest has arrived following the defection of Jim Harbaugh and a slew of personnel losses, none more biting than the stunning retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland over the stretch of six days in March. New coach Jim Tomsula and general manager Trent Baalke need to reload on the fly to avoid a steep franchise downturn.
Meanwhile, it's put-up-or-shut-up time for the Rams and coach Jeff Fisher, who will be under considerable pressure to lift St. Louis from stubborn mediocrity into a playoff spot. They'll try to do it with quarterback Nick Foles, who came to the team in the blockbuster deal that sent former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford to the Eagles.
1. Seattle Seahawks
Why Seattle is still king: Because deft personnel work -- including an untouchable draft pedigree -- keeps the Seahawks ahead of the game. There was no panic after February's crushing Super Bowl loss. Instead, the Seahawks kept all their major players in the building and imported Graham to fill one of the team's most glaring needs -- a red-zone difference-maker.
That doesn't mean there aren't challenges for general manager John Schneider. The team is without a first-round pick (ceded to the Saints to land Graham) and have seen their depth chipped away as other teams look to capture Seattle's magic. Schneider's job is to use the 11 picks at his disposal -- including five in rounds two through five -- to patch the weak spots and send the Seahawks out on another title journey.
» Offensive line help: The Seahawks are down two starters after Max Unger was dealt to the Saints as part of the Graham deal and guard James Carpenter signed with the Jets in free agency. Pete Carroll has talked up this draft for its line talent, making this a likely area to be addressed in Seattle -- perhaps repeatedly.
» Lock up Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner: Wilson's star continued to ascend in his third season as starter, while Wagner earned All-Pro honors and established himself as one of the best middle linebackers in the game. Both are going to get paid, but only Wilson could come out of negotiations with the biggest contract in NFL history.
2. Arizona Cardinals
» Land a pass rusher: The Cardinals never identified an adequate replacement for John Abraham last season. They could take a first-round chance on Nebraska prospect Randy Gregory, who has seen his stock fall after acknowledging habitual marijuana use during his college career. Gregory is the instant-impact player the Cardinals are looking for, and the team has succeeded by taking players with character concerns in the past (see: Mathieu, Tyrann).
» About A.P.: Peterson would be a huge addition, but the Cardinals might be better off finding their complement to Andre Ellington in a draft class that Arians calls the best for running backs in a decade. Arians said at the NFL Annual Meeting that there are 15 "really quality" backs available through the draft. The Cards could pluck one.
3. St. Louis Rams
The defense isn't the concern here. The Rams return all 11 of their starters from last season and have added defensive tackle Nick Fairley and linebacker Akeem Ayers to the mix. The key to making a jump to playoff contention rides on the offense under new coordinator Frank Cignetti. Foles could use weapons in the pass game, while the offensive line looms as a major concern.
» Add more weapons in passing game: Fisher said he's expecting "a lot more out of" Kenny Britt in 2014. We think 48 catches and 16 games played is plenty for the disappointing former first-round pick. The Rams could add another receiver to a group that includes Britt and first-round draft bust Tavon Austin. NFL Media draft expert Daniel Jeremiah currently has West Virginia playmaker Kevin White going to St. Louis with the 10th overall pick.
» More quarterbacks please? You have to wonder what the Rams would do if Marcus Mariota is still on the board at No. 10. Foles is coming off a disappointing season in Philadelphia that included inconsistent play and a season-ending injury. What would Chip Kelly be thinking if Fisher ended up with both Foles and Mariota?
4. San Francisco 49ers
For the first time in years, expectations are absent in San Francisco. More people will pick the Niners to finish last in the NFC West than to make it back to the Super Bowl. This is understandable considering Harbaugh's departure and the exodus of multiple impact players.
Plenty of pressure rests on the shoulders of Colin Kaepernick, who must be better in his third full season as starter. Kaepernick spent part of his offseason working with a host of quarterback gurus, including Kurt Warner.
» Front-seven trouble: This was a major strength of the Niners during Harbaugh's tenure, but the sudden retirements of Willis and Borland, coupled with the release of Ray McDonald, the uncertain health status of NaVorro Bowman and the possible retirement of Justin Smith, all add up to make a huge stew of uncertainty. Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead is a popular choice for the Niners among NFL Media draft analysts.
» Corner help: More trouble in the secondary, where both starting cornerbacks -- Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox -- departed in free agency. The 49ers signed Shareece Wright, though the former Chargers cover man had more pass interference penalties than any player in football over the past two seasons. Cornerback should be a target in Chicago.
» More receiver help: The 49ers gave Kaepernick a legitimate deep threat with the signing of Torrey Smith. That doesn't mean their work is necessarily done. Anquan Boldin is entering his 13th season, Michael Crabtree is on the other side of the Bay with the Raiders and the newly signed Jerome Simpson faces a possible suspension. Can Vernon Davis still play?