Around the NFC West: Offseason team needs

With the NFL Combine beginning later this week and free agency set to start at the end of the month, here's a look at the team needs of the 49ers and their three rivals in the NFC West, along with a brief synopsis of each team's offseason strategy for building its 2008 roster.

49ERS

The 49ers do not figure to use their franchise tag on any player this offseason, but that does not mean they are not interested in keeping any of their own free agents.

No. 1 on the list right now appears to be nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who increased his level of consistency last season as part of the defensive line rotation. Sopoaga is expected to command good money, so the chances of the 49ers re-signing him will likely diminish once he hits the open market.

The 49ers expect to add at least two defensive linemen via free agency and the draft. It is uncertain whether they will retain veteran defensive end Marques Douglas. The 49ers have plenty of cap room, so there's a chance they could go after a top-level talent, such as the Bengals' Justin Smith, who did not get franchised by Cincinnati this week.

TOP THREE NEEDS
Defensive line: Bryant Young is retiring. Douglas and Sopoaga are scheduled to become free agents. The defensive line wasn't great last season, but it could be a whole lot worse early in free agency unless the 49ers act in a hurry.
Wide receiver: Most observers agree that the 49ers do not have a No. 1 receiver. Heck, they barely have a No. 2. In order for the offense to work under new coordinator Mike Martz, the 49ers need one standout receiver.
Offensive line: The club gave up a franchise-high sack total, and they might lose Larry Allen (retirement), Justin Smiley (free agent) and Jonas Jennings (potential cap casualty). Help - and depth - is needed here.


ARIZONA CARDINALS

Most of the Cardinals' efforts now are focused on re-signing Larry Fitzgerald and linebackers Karlos Dansby and Calvin Pace.

Fitzgerald is the lynchpin to the team's offseason plans. If the Cardinals are able to lower his cap figures the next two years ($16.5 million in '08 and $19.25 in 2009), the club will be able to sign some help in free agency.

If Fitzgerald's deal is delayed, however, the club will have a hard time even shopping the bargain bin in free agency.

TOP THREE NEEDS
Pass rusher: Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor are coming off injuries and the club needs someone to help Darnell Dockett.
Cornerback: Antrel Rolle's move to free safety makes an already thin position thinner.
Offensive line: The club needs an infusion of young talent at guard and tackle.


ST. LOUIS RAMS

With the second pick in the draft, the Rams have to figure out how to get value from a player that will command a large amount of guaranteed money. With much debate revolving around players like DE Chris Long and OT Jake Long, the Rams wonder if they are true difference-makers worthy of being selected that high.

They also have several offensive linemen returning from injuries, so it complicates the decisions to be made in the coming weeks. They would like to add a veteran offensive lineman to the mix that would also bring some leadership. There could be an interest in Steelers guard Alan Faneca, depending on what the market is for him.

TOP THREE NEEDS
Defensive end: Leonard Little and James Hall are in their 30s and Little is coming off toe surgery. Another pass rusher is needed.
Offensive line: So many players are coming back from injury, it's impossible to know who will be healthy for 2008. But some depth is needed at tackle, and don't be surprised if the Rams pursue guard Alan Faneca, especially for his leadership.
Wide receiver: A big, young receiver is needed for an offense where top pass catchers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are aging.


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks have four primary free agents they need to re-sign: Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant, right offensive tackle Sean Locklear, kicker Josh Brown and fullback Leonard Weaver.

They have to make a decision on starting split end D.J. Hackett, who was productive when he played but was injured for most of the year and has been injury-prone throughout his career. Trufant is a decent candidate for the franchise tag, which Brown got last season, though Trufant's franchise salary would be around $9.5 million.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have to make decisions on special teamers Kevin Bentley and Niko Koutouvides, both backup linebackers whom the team likes; utility lineman Floyd Womack, who versatility helps the team overlook his injuries; and defensive linemen Ellis Wyms and Chuck Darby, who was a starter before having his season ended with a knee injury.

TOP THREE NEEDS
Running back: Shaun Alexander had his second consecutive career-worst year and at 30 is on the downside of his career. He also has been besieged by injuries for two straight seasons. Backup Maurice Morris is not a full-time starter. The one player many have thought was a natural fit is the Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, who grew up about 40 miles south of Seattle and may be available in a draft deep with running backs.
Tight end: Starter Marcus Pollard becomes a free agent after a season in which he caught only 28 passes and had two drops and a costly fumble in the divisional playoff game against Green Bay. He likely will not be back. Coach Mike Holmgren stressed after the season the importance of the position in the West Coast offense.
Offensive line: The running backs were only part of the problem with Seattle's run game this year. A weird mix of offensive lineman also contributed. Re-signing right tackle Sean Locklear is one key, as is finding a replacement for 35-year-old right guard Chris Gray, who was overmatched at times. The Seahawks also need a backup center.



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