Offseason issues face 49ers’ NFC West competition

The Cardinals won the NFC West and came oh-so-close to taking home the “sticky” Lombardi Trophy to the desert.

Now, the Cardinals are back to Square 1. They’re in the same spot as every other team in the league. It’s time to focus on the 2009 season. And the Cardinals have more questions to answer in the coming months than any other team in the NFC West.

 

The 49ers have only two starters – linebacker Takeo Spikes and receiver Bryant Johnson – scheduled for free agency. But the Cardinals have two of their most important players – and two other starters — with contracts set to expire

 

Here is a look at the free-agency situations of the other NFC West teams:

 

CARDINALS

 

QB Kurt Warner said he’s contemplating retirement. That seems highly unlikely after the season he put together. If Warner does not return, the Cardinals will have to find out if Matt Leinart can play.

 

Defensive leader LB Karlos Dansby, whom the Cardinals retained a year ago as the franchise player, is also scheduled to hit the open market.

 

DE Bertrand Berry has been a very good player for the Cardinals, but will they pay him after drafting Calais Campbell last year? DE Antonio Smith was a starter at left defensive end. At 27, his best days are still ahead of him.

 

Other notable players scheduled for free agency are: CB Ralph Brown, who came a few inches from breaking up Pittsburgh’s game-winning TD in the final seconds; change-up back and return specialist J.J. Arrington; and special-teams ace Monty Beisel.

 

Also, the club might release running back Edgerrin James and WR Anquan Boldin has two years left on his deal, but he’s made it known in the past that he wants to be traded.

 

The Cardinals will select No. 31 overall in the draft.

 

RAMS

 

FS O.J. Atogwe will likely be the most-coveted player at his position on the open market. He turns 28 in June, and he’s coming off a season in which he forced six fumbles and intercepted five passes. Might the 49ers go after him? That would seem to make sense.

 

Also, the Rams’ two starting CBs have contracts set to expire. Ron Bartell, 26, had three picks and 19 passes defensed. He’s a pretty good player that might cash in. Veteran Fakhir Brown started 11 games on the right side.

 

C Nick Leckey and his backup Brett Romberg are scheduled free agents. La’Roi Glover will be 35 when the season begins. The Rams have young starters ahead of him.

 

Furthermore, the Rams might decide to part ways with Torry Holt and his large contract with young receivers such as Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton ready to take over.

 

The Rams have the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.

 

SEAHAWKS

 

There are some major issues at the receiver positions. Starters Bobby Engram and Koren Robinson are scheduled free agents. You wouldn’t think there would be much interest in bringing them back, except the ‘Hawks have nobody better.

 

DT Rocky Bernard started 15 games, but they might want to see what Red Bryant can do as a second-year player. He made no contribution as a rookie.

 

The top priority will be re-signing LeRoy Hill, who started at outside linebacker and recorded 84 tackles.

 

In the backfield, RB Maurice Morris is a solid backup, and new offensive coordinator will find ways to use FB Leonard Weaver, if he’s re-signed. RG Floyd Womack, who started 14 games, might not be back.

 

TEs Will Heller and Jeb Putzier, both free agents, would continue to take back seats as long as John Carlson is around.

 

The Seahawks will select No. 4 overall in the draft.

 

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One final thought on safety Mark Roman that we’ll carry over from the previous blog . . .

 

We see the occasional plays in which Roman gets beat, but there is nothing that we see to offsets that. He has not had an interception in more than two seasons, so we only remember the bad. Mike Singletary has already said he will be looking to find an upgrade at safety, and that should come as no surprise.

 

But this might surprise you: The 49ers surrendered 33 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season. The 49ers were tied for second in the league in that category for the fewest “explosive plays” given up. The club ranked 29th in the league in 2007 and tied for 21st in 2006.

 

It would’ve been impossible for the 49ers’ pass defense to fare that well without Roman doing his job more often than not.

 

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