Behind Enemy Lines – Offseason begins for the NFC

49ers get their man, Rams lose in spectacular fashion and the Cardinals prepare for free agency as the NFC West enters the offseason.

San Francisco – The Niners finally got the man that they wanted to take the reigns of their reeling franchise when team owner John York officially named Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan as the 49ers 15th head coach.

"We've had a great list of candidates and we thought he is the best one to lead us into the future," said 49ers spokesman Kirk Reynolds. "He has a tremendous connection into the 49ers organization with his past."

"It's hard to find defensive coordinators who trust their players. I am talking about the players who he knows are going to put in the work and come to work every day. He gives you flexibility to go play football," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "When you see Mike talk, he is very energetic. When you see that in a coach, that gives energy to the players."

Negotiations with his agent were on-going as of this writing but they plan to have things wrapped up in the next day or two.

After he inks his deal, Nolan will have to get to work resurrecting this once proud franchise from the ashes of a 2-14 season (tied for the worst season in the franchise's 55 year history).

The team endured "cap hell" last season having paid $30 million in "dead money" (money paid to players who are no longer on the roster) in 2004. 2005 promises to be a better situation for the Niners and they will need the money to make some moves.

Most of all, the Niners need help at almost ever position.

Nolan must determine whether the team will rebuild through the draft and supplement the roster with lower-tier free agents or if they want to spend big on free agents and supplement that with young talent to add depth.

First on Nolan's plate? Franchise LB Julian Peterson's contract status.

Peterson tore his left Achilles' tendon in week five of the season and is making progress in his recovery. His contract status remains up in the air and the team will likely designate him with the franchise-tag in March. Peterson is a great athlete who can make plays all over the field, not unlike a player that Nolan had in Baltimore...Lewis.

St. Louis – The Rams suffered a big loss at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons and despite what many believed, it wasn't just QB Michael Vick who won the game.

The Falcons rolled up 327 yards on the ground, with Vick gaining 119 yards on 8 carries and rolled up 397 total yards while holding the Rams to only 19 first downs and 17 points.

After the game Rams players and coaches alike were at a loss to explain what happened.

"At one point in the game, it seemed like everything that could go wrong, went wrong," DE Leonard Little said. "We didn't stop the run, Vick scrambling around making plays, things like that. It was just one of them days I guess."

"I don't know what happened with it," Martz said. "I'm trying to concentrate on this and watch that and then special teams… I don't know what happened."

What did happen was the Rams exited the playoffs early again and the team has many questions to answer this offseason.

First-year defensive coordinator Larry Marmie's squad improved toward the end of the season but they were exposed by the Falcons' power-running game. The team must also improve on their NFL-worst six interceptions, and last place finish with 14 total takaways (tied with three other teams).

On offense, QB Marc Bulger was pounded all day by the Falcons front four with LT Orlando Pace looking very ordinary and not the Pro Bowler that he really is.

Pace is the team's priority, again, this offseason. This will be the third straight season the Pace will be designated as the franchise player, provided he doesn't sign before his contract ends in March. Pace is the key to everything that Martz wants to do on offense and his loss would be devastating to their offense.

Arizona – Cardinals head coach Dennis Green has a decision to make. Will QB Josh McCown be the starter when the team takes the field to start the 2005 season.

Rumors are that McCown, who finished the season as the starter under center, will remain first on the depth chart, but there will be an open competition during the summer and at the beginning of training camp.

McCown's competition will come from last year's seventh-round selection QB John Navarre and a choice veteran who Green will search for during free agency.

Within some circles it is rumored that Green is in the market for a game-breaking running back and at the top of his list is current Vikings RB Michael Bennett.

Bennett has had trouble staying healthy but his speed and athleticism cannot be ignored. All season he was buried in the Vikings' deep backfield and they may be willing to part with the fourth-year player for a second-round draft choice.

In Hall-of-Fame news, former Cardinals CB Roger Wehrli is one of 15 finalists to be elected into the Hall-of-Fame. He is one of only three that spent his entire career with one team and his eligibility is entering its 18th year.

The Class of 2005 will be announced at a press conference at 12 noon (ET) on Saturday, February 5, at the Super Bowl media center in the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at Top Stories