Around the NFC West: Top needs to catch 49ers

As they tore through the NFC West this season on their way to winning the division title by five games, the 49ers left in their wake the devastation of three divisional opponents that failed to finish with a winning record. The rest of the NFC West's now clearly looking up at the Niners, and here's a first look at the most pressing needs for the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams entering the offseason.

Arizona Cardinals


Left offensive tackle: Levi Brown played well over the last half of the season, but that doesn't make up for 4½ seasons of inconsistency for the fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft. Brown's cap number increases from about $9 million to $16 million in 2012, so he won't return at that price. The Cardinals haven't drafted an offensive lineman since 2009. And they haven't taken one higher than the fifth round since drafting Brown. This spring might be a good time to change that, or go looking for an established veteran in free agency.

Wide receiver: Coaches like Andre Roberts, the starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald, but the offense could use another threat opposite the star play and production of the perennial Pro Bowler. Early Doucet, the third receiver, is not under contract for 2012. The Cardinals need to add to the competition opposite Fitzgerald.

Safety: Strong safety Adrian Wilson turns 33 next season. Free safety Kerry Rhodes will be 30. There isn't much depth behind them. The Cardinals need to find some.


St. Louis Rams


Wide receiver: The return of Brandon Lloyd is questionable, and it likely depends on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels staying. The Rams made the effort to acquire Lloyd before the NFL trading deadline last October, so it stands to reason they should make an effort to retain him, particularly since he's the best receiving talent on the roster. But he will demand a hefty price – that is, if he decides he wants to stick around. Even with Lloyd, a big-time playmaker would be a welcome addition for quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams were hit by injury at this position in 2011, and it is an area that must be addressed.

Cornerback: Ron Bartell is coming back from a broken bone in his neck and Bradley Fletcher is returning his second ACL injury in three seasons. The Rams received strong play from their secondary this season, when they finished seventh in the NFL in passing defense, so they want to bolster this position to keep that unit moving in the right direction for a team that finished 2-14 last season.

Guard: Jacob Bell might not return, and the Rams ended the season with Jason Brown and Bryan Mattison at left and right guard, respectively. Mattison might have potential, but Brown, who lost his job at center, probably won't be back. The Rams finished 31st in the NFL in total offense in 2011 and 30th in sacks allowed per play, so they need some help up front.


Seattle Seahawks


Quarterback: The Seahawks still need someone who can win the game in the final minutes, and so far Tarvaris Jackson has proved he's not the answer. And Seattle found out this season that Charlie Whitehurst certainly isn't. Jackson has some talent and upside, but the Seahawks can't spend another season with a borderline starter if they expect to get back in contention and catch the 49ers. An upgrade is needed, at the very least to compete with Jackson for the spot.

Defensive end: Chris Clemons finished with a team-high 11 sacks, but he was the only player who generated a consistent pass rush, and opponents knew it as the season progressed. The Seahawks are building something on defense and have a young and talented secondary, so it needs to be better protected by a better pass rush up front.

Linebacker: Seattle coach Pete Carroll said he'd like to get faster at linebacker, and both veteran MLB David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill are unrestricted free agents. After dumping Aaron Curry – on whom the Seahawks wasted the fourth overall selection of the 2009 draft – to Oakland for a seventh-round draft pick last October, this position will be a top priority both in the draft and free agency.


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