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.
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.
*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.