Barnwell’s NFC West report cards: 49ers’ rebuild on schedule?

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Updated: May 25, 2017

7:30 AM ET

It’s time to reflect on the 2017 offseason. There are a few stray veterans left in the free-agent pool, and teams could still execute something unexpected if injuries arise, but organizations have mostly closed their checkbooks and built the rosters they will take onto the field in September.

Of course, we can know only so much right now. This time last year, there was no way anybody knew that the Cowboys had drafted a franchise quarterback. Kyle Shanahan was lucky to survive the offseason in Atlanta as an offensive coordinator, let alone be considering head-coaching roles.

At the same time, we can look at what each team’s goals were (or should have been) heading into March and gain a sense of whether teams did enough to address those concerns. In most cases, we also can plot what they have to do before Week 1.

It’s time for our last divisional breakdown (see above for links to the others). Let’s head to the NFC West, where everyone is still chasing the Seahawks.

Cardinals | Rams | 49ers | Seahawks


Arizona Cardinals

What Went Right

They re-signed Chandler Jones. The Cardinals were exceedingly likely to hold on to Jones, but there’s a huge difference between franchising their star pass-rusher and signing him for years to come. Even better, the deal they signed him to is actually reasonable, given what other edge rushers are getting. Jones racked up $51 million over the first three years of his new contract. That’s $1 million less than interior penetrator Kawann Short got in the first three years of his deal and narrowly more than the $49.3 million Jason Pierre-Paul picked up from the Giants. Given that JPP is older, less productive and has far more of an injury history (even without considering the fireworks incident), the Jones deal should be considered a victory for Cardinals general manager Steve Keim.

Carson Palmer is returning. While Palmer, 37, couldn’t follow up his career-best 2015 season, he is still clearly the best quarterback on Arizona’s roster and the only realistic option for a team built to win now. Had Palmer retired, the Cardinals might have been forced to rebuild, given that they would have owed a staggering $30.8 million in dead money on their 2017 cap after extending Palmer last August. Now, if Palmer retires or moves on after this year, Arizona would instead owe $6.6 million in dead money in 2018.

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  • Carson Palmer waited for body to respond before deciding on 2017

    Cardinals QB Carson Palmer said he had to wait to see if his body would get back to 100 percent before making the call to play in his 15th NFL season.

  • They did a reasonable job of piecing together defensive replacements, given the offseason exodus. The Cardinals were never going to be able to keep their defense together, given that six of their top seven defenders in terms of snap count from last season were unrestricted free agents. They prepared for losing Calais Campbell by drafting Robert Nkemdiche in the first round last year, although Nkemdiche spent most of his rookie year in Bruce Arians’ doghouse. D.J. Swearinger and Marcus Cooper were always likely to leave. The only question was whether the Cardinals would be able to hold on to Tony Jefferson and Kevin Minter. In the end, both left town.

    It’s not easy for a defense to replace five starters overnight, but the Cardinals have viable options across the board. Arizona signed Antoine Bethea away from San Francisco, where Bethea was excellent in 2015 before slipping at age 32 last season. He could start next to Tyvon Branch. The Cardinals recruited Karlos Dansby to make his third stint with the team at inside linebacker. Arizona gets more out of these veterans under Arians than just about any other team in the league.

    Arizona also took a pair of typically freakish athletes in the top two rounds. Linebacker Haason Reddick and safety Budda Baker are versatile enough to play a variety of spots around a defense. Baker might take over as Arizona’s free safety by the end of the season, and Reddick should combine with Deone Bucannon to give the Cardinals a pair of relentless blitzers capable of holding up in coverage at linebacker on passing downs.

    By mostly avoiding free agents who weren’t cut by other teams, the Cardinals also racked up compensatory selections. Arizona is projected to receive the maximum of four compensatory picks in the 2018 draft, including a third-rounder for Campbell and a fourth-rounder for Jefferson.