The 2016 NFL Combine has come to a close, and free agency gets started next week. Since news is going to start picking up shortly, it is time to continue our annual review of the San Francisco 49ers upcoming opponents.
We will be providing three breakdowns. This first one will review the previous season for each team. It will also include a list of each team's free agents, and a look at some potential needs heading into free agency and the draft. The second one will come in April, providing a look at where teams are at following free agency, and what the draft means for each team. The third set will come in July, providing a recap of the offseason and a look ahead to training camp for each team.
Today, we continue on to the NFC West, moving on to the Arizona Cardinals. It was a season of steps forward, but it also ended running into a brick wall. After a 4-2 start, the Cardinals ran off a 9-game winning streak en route to a 13-3 season, which happened to be the best regular season record in franchise history. The Cardinals won their divisional round game over Green Bay in overtime, and were promptly pummeled 49-15 by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC title game.
The big story on offense was Carson Palmer putting together the best season of his 12-year career, throwing for career highs with 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns. The Cardinals lost him to a torn ACL the year before, which cost them a chance at a deep playoff run. We saw the difference this year, as the passing game was a well-oiled machine under Palmer. The team had two 1,000-yard receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown, and got another 849 yards from Michael Floyd.
The defense was very strong, with Football Outsiders ranking the unit third overall, including fourth against the pass, and second against the run. The defense lost a key cog for the playoffs, with Tyrann Mathieu suffering a torn ACL. I don't know if it would have made up for the difference against the Panthers, but it certainly would have helped. The secondary was critical for this unit, as the pass rush was mediocre at best. Football Outsiders ranked the team No. 27 in adjusted sack rate. Dwight Freeney had a strong year with eight sacks, nobody else surpassed five sacks on the season.
Unrestricted free agents: ILB Sean Weatherspoon, CB Jerraud Powers, QB Drew Stanton, TE Jermaine Gresham, C Lyle Sendlein, OG Ted Larsen, S Rashad Johnson, LS Mike Leach, OLB Dwight Freeney, OLB Jason Babin, OLB Lamarr Woodley, RB Chris Johnson, DE Red Bryant, OT Bradley Sowell, CB Corey White, OT Bobby Massie
Restricted free agents: S Tony Jefferson, WR Jaron Brown, P Drew Butler, TE Darren Fells, ILB Kenny Demens, S D.J. Swearinger
Exclusive rights free agents: DE Josh Mauro, TE Ifeanyi Momah, OT Kelvin Palmer, WR Travis Harvey
The Cardinals face some questions on both sides of the ball. Center Lyle Sendlein, right guard Ted Larsen, and right tackle Bobby Massie are all set to hit free agency. Revenge of the Birds thinks the team is in a position to replace some or all of that group.
Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson are both set to hit free agency. The Cardinals have some younger options in Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger, so they may not necessarily be ready to open up the vault entirely if it comes down to it. It seems like Johnson would be easier to re-sign, but we'll see what the coming week brings. Additionally, they could lose some of the veteran presence in the pass rush.
Cap space: $15,656,957
Draft picks: 1(29), 2(30), 3(30), 4(30), 5(28), 6(30) - 5th round comp
The Cardinals got some solid pass rush from their veteran additions, but they need to figure out long-term options. They could use defensive line help as well, and I could see them focus on that side of the ball, particularly in the draft.
On offense, they need to find a long-term option at center. Drew Stanton could hit the road, so they might need to find another QB. Given Palmer's injury history, this is kind of a big deal.