Comparing the NFC West: 49ers still lag at QB

To begin our position-by-position comparison breakdown of the NFC West as teams begin to reshape their rosters for 2009, we start with quarterbacks, where the 49ers are finally making a move to catch up with the rest of the division but still lag behind each of their division rivals.

Kurt Warner's brilliant season pushed the Cardinals ahead of the rest the division at quarterback, but the 49ers actually had the division's second-rated passer in Shaun Hill, who finished 12th in the NFL with a 87.5 rating after his strong half-season as the team's starter.

That gives the 49ers some stability at a position that has been in a state of flux since Alex Smith's shoulder injury in 2007, but not much since the team won't commit to Hill as it's 2009 starter and says it will bring in competition for him.

The Seahawks and Rams both have starters who have been to the Pro Bowl, though both Matt Hasselbeck and Marc Bulger had forgettable seasons. Hasselbeck battled injuries and missed significant playing time while Bulger sank to the bottom of the NFC rankings with a 71.4 quarterback ranking.

Here's a look at the NFC West's quarterbacks:


Starter: Shaun Hill. Backups: J.T. O'Sullivan, Jamie Martin. Injured reserve: Alex Smith

Unit analysis: Hill did a solid job after taking over at midseason for O'Sullivan, who struggled with turnovers. Hill is 7-3 as the 49ers' starter over the past two seasons – leading the team to victory in five of its final seven games last season – but coach Mike Singletary has not anointed him as the starter. The 49ers expect to bring in a veteran or a rookie to compete with Hill for the starting job. There won't be many top options available on the open market this year, but there will be veterans available with starting experience. With Mike Martz gone as offensive coordinator, free agents O'Sullivan and Martin do not figure to be back – though rates O'Sullivan No. 5 among the top QBs who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Smith, who should be healthy enough to take part in the entire offseason program, will have to accept a large pay cut to return for a fifth season with the 49ers. The 49ers remain open to bringing him back as a backup, and it appears the two sides will try to work out a deal for him to return.

SFI rank in division: 4

Arizona Cardinals

Starter: Kurt Warner. Backups: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre.

Unit analysis: Warner turns 38 in June and is non-committal about returning next season. He's in the last year of his contract, but it's unlikely he'll go anywhere. He likes Arizona and the club wants to re-sign him. Negotiations could get sticky if Warner wants to be paid in the $14 million a year range. But he got the Cardinals to the Super Bowl and almost won it, so that commands some respect. Leinart spent the season as a backup but no one knows if he's ready to start and keep the Arizona offense at the same level, though he still has good long-term potential. He had some good moments in the preseason and a horrible outing in Oakland. He's worked hard during the season and has advanced mentally. St. Pierre is a smart guy who understands the system. His arm isn't bad, either.

SFI rank in division: 1

St. Louis Rams

Starter: Marc Bulger. Backups: Trent Green, Brock Berlin.

Unit analysis: All indications are that Bulger, despite a season of struggles, will return as the starter in 2009. However, it's also possible the Rams will explore signing a different backup and that Green won't be back. It also appears likely that a young quarterback could be brought in to develop behind Bulger. Berlin has shown progress, and could remain in the mix as the No. 3 quarterback.

SFI rank in division: 3

Seattle Seahawks

Starter: Matt Hasselbeck. Backups: Seneca Wallace, Charlie Frye.

Unit analysis: New head coach Jim Mora indicated in his first press conference with Seattle-area reporters that Matt Hasselbeck is his starting quarterback, even though he struggled through an injury-prone season and finished with the worst passer rating in his career at 57.8. Seneca Wallace played well toward the end of the season. And in end-of-the-season interviews, Wallace said he believed he could be a starter in the NFL and is looking for an opportunity to earn a starting job, either in Seattle or elsewhere. Frye showed an ability to manage a game when given an opportunity, but probably is limited to a backup role at this time. The upcoming year will determine whether Hasselbeck can get back to his Pro Bowl form and whether Wallace has developed enough to seriously challenge him as the starter.

SFI rank in division: 2

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