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Team Needs: Former seventh overall pick, Jonathan Cooper, is a monumental bust. He started just two games last season. The Cardinals may give him another chance, but he can expect competition in training camp. A bruising running back to compliment Andre Ellington would help the offense. Daryl Washington’s availability is unknown and Larry Foote is coaching, so the Cardinals will target an inside linebacker.
Free Agency: The Cardinals are $5 million under the salary cap, in large part because they restructured Larry Fitzgerald’s contract. They could spend some of that money on a running back. New England's Stevan Ridley and New Orleans' Mark Ingram would be good fits.
Big Picture: When Carson Palmer started at quarterback, Arizona went 6-0 last season. That’s a telling statistic. If you give this team even a competent quarterback, they might be one of the three or four best in the NFC. Palmer, 35, has now torn his ACL twice in his career. His rehab is crucial to the Cardinals getting back to the playoffs, and ultimately contending for a Super Bowl. If there’s any sign of slow progress, then expect them to bring in a competent backup.
San Francisco 49ers
Team Needs: Receiver is San Francisco’s top need. Michael Crabtree is a free agent, and Anquan Boldin turns 35 this October. Injuries depleted their defensive line depth last season. They finished with just four active defensive linemen on their roster. Look for them to make sure they have plenty of options going into training camp.
Free Agency: Baring some Houdini-like cap magic, San Francisco probably cannot afford to bring in outside free agents. Their top priority is to re-sign all-pro guard Mike Iupati. However, the team is only $3 million under the salary cap, so they’ll need to clear room just to keep him.
Big Picture: Life without Jim Harbaugh begins. It’s clear that management, specifically general manager Trent Baalke, won the favor of the Yorks. Therefore, Harbaugh is in Michigan and Baalke is still around. Was this the right decision? The 49ers stayed in house, and promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to head coach. Tomsula has never been an NFL coordinator. Additionally, the team lost coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio. This is definitely a new look coaching staff for the 49ers. Whether or not the players respond will dictate the team’s immediate success.
Team Needs: Seattle’s defense will be good again next year, so their off-season focus will be on offense. Their receivers are extremely mediocre, no matter how much Doug Baldwin wants to suggest otherwise. Adding a talent via the draft or free agency would be a major get for the franchise. They may also look to sign a tight end, though Luke Wilson came on late last season. If Marshawn Lynch doesn’t return next season, then they will have to address the running back position. Neither Robert Turbin nor Christine Michael looks capable of replacing him.
Free Agency: The team will focus on retaining their own, with cornerback Byron Maxwell, guard James Carpenter and receiver Jermaine Kearse all unrestricted free agents.
Big Picture: Quarterback Russell Wilson will receive a major pay raise this year. Lynch will also demand more money if he returns. It appeared he was on his way out of Seattle a couple of months ago. Now the Seahawks have apparently made him a lucrative offer to stay. Giving him and Wilson pay raises could handicap the Seahawks' ability to pursue outside free agents, something Pete Carroll and John Schneider have done well in previous off-seasons.
St. Louis Rams
Team Needs: The offense lacks playmakers. Tre Mason had an okay rookie season, but the Rams can definitely do better. They shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger if they somehow get a crack at Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley in the second round. Mediocrity defines the receiving corps. Tavon Austin is looking more like a bust with each passing season. They may need to spend more resources on the position.
Free Agency: The Rams are just under the cap, so expect them to make a couple of moves to free up money. Releasing center Scott Wells, who has been a bust since coming over from Green Bay, is one potential move. The team could also cut ties with quarterback Sam Bradford, though all signs point toward him returning next season.
Big Picture: Imagine how good the Rams would be if they actually had a franchise quarterback. I was a big proponent of Bradford, but his inability to stay on the field has cost his team two seasons. Rumor has it the Rams are interested in acquiring Nick Foles. That would be an interesting move. Alternatively, they could select a quarterback with the No. 10 overall pick. Whatever approach they decide, the Rams will go into training camp with competition at quarterback.