Monday, June 27, 2022

NFC West burning questions for 2022 season: Odell Beckham Jr.’s future, QB uncertainty and more

There’s so much uncertainty surrounding the NFC heading into 2022, but one thing that’s certain is that the NFC West is the best division in the conference. The NFC West boasts the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and had two teams represent the NFC in the conference championship game last season. 

Three teams made the playoffs from the NFC West, and the same is expected with the Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals this year. The Seattle Seahawks moved on from Russell Wilson as their franchise quarterback as they enter Year 1 of their rebuild, yet still field a competitive roster that is expected to be a tough out in the conference’s toughest division. 

Los Angeles had an impressive offseason in loading up its roster for a title defense, highlighted by signing wide receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Bobby Wagner. San Francisco already has a talented roster, but upgraded the secondary with cornerback Charvarius Ward and the running back room by selecting Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round of the draft. Arizona acquired Marquise Brown from the Baltimore Ravens and re-signed A.J. Green to strengthen the passing game for Kyler Murray. Seattle re-signed Rashaad Penny and drafted Kenneth Walker II, using the running game as the strength of their new-look offense in the post-Wilson era. 

As is the case with the NFC’s toughest division, there are plenty of questions that have to be answered if each of these teams are going to compete for the division title. The team quickest to answer its toughest question will likely come out the victor of the NFC West. 

Rams: Will the ‘all-in’ mentality continue by re-signing Odell Beckham Jr.

The Rams have indicated they want Beckham back and his cryptic post on the team’s Instagram certainly helps those chances. With the offseason signing of Robinson, in addition to already having Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson, is there any room for Beckham to get targets on this roster?

Beckham was a huge catalyst toward the team’s Super Bowl championship last year, recording 27 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. He had 21 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns in four postseason games, and recorded two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LVI before going down with the knee injury.  

If the Rams do bring back Beckham, they’ll arguably have the best wide receiver group in the NFL. The passing game will be nearly impossible to defend with Kupp in the slot and Robinson and Beckham manning the outside. Jefferson as a deep threat completes the unit. 

For the Rams to repeat as Super Bowl champions, their best bet is to win with an explosive offense after losing Von Miller and Darius Williams in free agency on defense (even though the Rams landed Wagner). Beckham’s return would give Los Angeles one of the best offenses in the league, especially with Matthew Stafford entering Year 2 in McVay’s system. 

There will be competition for Beckham, but the Rams would be wise to make sure he’s back in the fold. 

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Cardinals: Will Kyler Murray get the extension he wants?

The Cardinals are in a no-win situation with Murray, who has demonstrated through three seasons he’s a franchise quarterback. Murray has transformed the franchise since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2019. He has completed 66.9% of his passes for 11,480 yards and 70 touchdowns to 34 interceptions in three seasons with Arizona, while rushing for 1,786 yards and 20 touchdowns. 

Murray and Cam Newton are the only players in NFL history with 10,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards after their first three seasons. He and Newton are also the only players with 10,000 passing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns after their first three seasons. Murray, Newton and Josh Allen are the only quarterbacks with 20 rushing touchdowns after their first three seasons. His 1,786 rushing yards are fourth-most by a quarterback in that span and Murray is the only quarterback in league history with 70 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns after his first three seasons.

The Cardinals were a 3-13 team when Murray arrived and the team’s win total has improved every year he’s been with the franchise. Despite the late-season collapses in each of the last two seasons — and Murray’s splits with and without DeAndre Hopkins — the Cardinals would be wise to give Murray the contract extension he and his agent seek as he heads into his fourth year with the organization. 

Bottom line, the Cardinals are a contending franchise and an attractive destination with Murray on the field. Arizona has to get this deal done before training camp to keep its franchise quarterback happy. The Cardinals won’t be able to compete for the division title with an unhappy Murray throughout the year. 

49ers: Is Jimmy Garoppolo going to be on the roster by the start of the season?

The 49ers have one of the best rosters in the NFL and are a contender for the conference title. So who’s going to be the starting quarterback for this team come Week 1? 

Garoppolo is still on the roster and rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, hindering his ability to be traded to any team that could want his services. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is expecting Garoppolo to be traded and for the team to turn the reins over to Trey Lance, as the 2021 first-round draft pick has been the starter throughout the OTA session. Lance had a middle finger injury that hindered his throwing ability last season, but he says he’s 100% recovered from that setback in his rookie year. 

If the 49ers don’t trade Garoppolo this offseason, do they give him the starting job over Lance until they find a trade partner? Or does Shanahan just make Lance the starting quarterback and have Garoppolo as the No. 2 option? 

If there isn’t a quarterback controversy in San Francisco and the job belongs to Lance, the 49ers have to move on and trade Garoppolo as soon as possible. Reworking Garoppolo’s contract could pave the way toward getting a deal done. 

In the best interest for Garoppolo and Lance, Garoppolo can’t be on this roster come training camp. 

Seahawks: Will they really roll with Drew Lock or Geno Smith at quarterback?

For a division that’s as talented as the NFC West, there is a lot of quarterback uncertainty in the division. The Seahawks moved on from a sure thing in Wilson and are starting their rebuild with either Geno Smith or Drew Lock. Seattle passed on selecting a quarterback in the draft, taking the quarterback competition into the summer. 

Lock is the favorite to win the job over Smith, as the Seahawks are high on his potential. Smith is No. 1 on the depth chart (68.4% completion rate with five touchdowns to one interception last season) and has familiarity with the system, but the Seahawks acquired Lock in the Wilson deal for a reason. 

Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron runs a system similar to former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who Lock thrived with in his rookie year (64.1% completion rate, seven touchdowns to three interceptions in five games). Lock playing in a system he’s comfortable in will certainly help with wide receiver options such as DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett

Seattle seems prepared to have Lock win the job, but what happens if Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield become available? Will the Seahawks pivot to acquire an obvious upgrade over what they have on their roster? Until Garoppolo or Mayfield are available, let’s see how much faith Seattle really has in Lock or Smith. 

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