Catching up with the teams in the NFC West.
San Francisco 49ers
Last season: 8-8
New faces: Coach Jim Tomsula, WR Torrey Smith, RB Reggie Bush, OL Erik Pears, CB Shareece Wright, RB Jarryd Hayne.
Comment: Tomsula has his work cut out for him in his first season. The 49ers added some big names in the late stages of their careers in Smith and Bush, but it seems unlikely that those will be enough to make up for all their losses. The name worth keeping an eye on, though, is Hayne, the former rugby player who has been explosive in the preseason.
Key losses: Coach Jim Harbaugh, RB Frank Gore, LB Chris Borland, LB Aldon Smith, DL Justin Smith, OL Anthony Davis, LB Patrick Willis, P Andy Lee, G Mike Iupati, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Stevie Johnson, CB Chris Culliver.
Comment: It’s hard to imagine a team having more change in one offseason than the 49ers. They parted ways with Harbaugh, the man who turned around the franchise. They lost starting linebackers Borland, Willis and Aldon Smith, lost starting offensive linemen Davis and Iupati and cut ties with so many starters that the 49ers playing this season will look little like the group from last season.
Strengths: The 49ers still have some talented players to build around: safety Eric Reid, linebacker NaVorro Bowman, offensive tackle Joe Staley. There are some pieces there to inspire some optimism.
Weaknesses: The 49ers just don’t have the same talent they used to, at least not on paper. And that’s not even getting into the question that has hovered over the franchise the past couple of years: Is Colin Kaepernick a franchise quarterback?
Expectations: The 49ers missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010, and it seems highly unlikely that this 49ers team would be able to make it back. An 8-8 season should be considered a success for Tomsula’s first season.
St. Louis Rams
Last season: 6-10
New faces: QB Nick Foles, RB Todd Gurley, DT Nick Fairley, LB Akeem Ayers.
Comment: After watching Sam Bradford struggle to stay healthy for so many years, the Rams parted ways with him and picked up former Eagles quarterback Foles in a trade. Foles steps into a team that has been stuck in mediocrity, largely because of inconsistent or unproductive quarterback play. Is he the answer the Rams have been seeking?
Key losses: OL Jake Long, RB Zac Stacy, C Scott Wells, DL Kendall Langford.
Comment: The Rams didn’t lose any major pieces in free agency. Long couldn’t stay healthy, and Wells struggled on a bad line last season.
Strengths: The defensive line. What else is new? The Rams have one of the better defensive lines in football, led by defensive end Robert Quinn and including sensational young tackle Aaron Donald. It’s easily the Rams’ best unit and the foundation of who they are.
Weaknesses: The offensive line is a big question mark. The Rams don’t have much experience along the line, and coach Jeff Fisher has said he’s OK with playing young players. The Rams targeted the offensive line in the draft, but now they’ll have to see if that young and largely inexperienced group can hold up in the rugged NFC West.
Expectations: The Rams have not won eight games in any of Fisher’s three seasons despite having some talented players and position groups. The big gamble this offseason was on Foles, and whether the Rams finally take that next step likely falls on his shoulders.
Last season: 11-5
New faces: OL Mike Iupati, LB Sean Weatherspoon, TE Jermaine Gresham, RB David Johnson, OL D.J. Humphries.
Comment: Iupati is the big name of the Cardinals’ free-agency haul, but he is expected to miss part of the season after having knee surgery this preseason. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and has been one of the NFL’s better run blockers. The question with him is how he will hold up once he comes back, and if he can pass-block effectively on a team that throws the deep ball.
Key losses: Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, DT Dan Williams, CB Antonio Cromartie, TE John Carlson, LB Larry Foote, OL Paul Fanaika.
Comment: The Cardinals suffered some big losses on defense, most notably Bowles, who is now the coach of the Jets. Bowles turned the Cardinals into a feared defensive unit, and the loss of nose tackle Dan Williams could be significant.
Strengths: The secondary should be good with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu leading the way. And the Cardinals have one of the better coaches in the NFL in Bruce Arians.
Weaknesses: The Cardinals struggled to rush the passer last season, and they didn’t do much in the offseason to shore up that problem externally. The Cardinals ranked 24th in the NFL with 35 sacks, and that could be a problem for them again.
Expectations: The Cardinals have some serious questions to answer. Can the defense replace its lost pieces? Can quarterback Carson Palmer stay healthy? But Arizona should still be a tough team this season and the biggest challenge to the Seahawks in the NFC West.