The times are changing in the NFC West.
After losing to the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers are expected to move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and turn the offense over to 21-year-old Trey Lance. The Seattle Seahawks' deteriorating relationship with Russell Wilson was a hot topic throughout the season, and many believe Wilson will ask for a trade this offseason.
But the 49ers and Seahawks might not be the only teams in the NFC West with massive changes coming down the pike.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray made waves when he scrubbed all mention of the Cardinals from his social media. Reports from ESPN's Chris Mortenson and NFL Media's Mike Garafolo on Sunday painted a picture of some dysfunction brewing in the desert between the organization and its young star signal-caller.
Per Garafolo, the Cardinals want Murray, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons, to work on "maturity, body language on the sideline, having a bigger voice with teammates and leadership."
Mortenson's report echoed much of the same while noting Murray is upset with being framed as the "scapegoat" for the Cardinals' playoff loss to the Rams. However, Mortenson also reported things are "expected to calm down" between the two sides.
Garafolo also noted that some within the Cardinals were upset when Murray refused to go in for the final two snaps of the Cardinals' playoff loss to the Rams. Colt McCoy entered and handed the ball off twice to close out the defeat.
San Francisco 49ers
The Cardinals released a statement following the reports, stating their steadfast belief that Murray is their franchise quarterback.
"Nothing has changed regarding our opinion and high regard for Kyler Murray. We as a team and Kyler individually have improved each year he’s been in the league," the Cardinals said in a statement. "We are excited to continue that improvement in 2022 and are excited that Kyler Murray is the quarterback leading us."
On the surface, Sunday's reports seem like a very odd hit job on a 24-year-old quarterback who has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the last two seasons when healthy. Murray is eligible for a contract extension this spring. The Cardinals must also choose whether or not to pick up Murray's fifth-year contract option.
The short and obvious answer to both of those "dilemmas" is yes and duh.
Murray and the Cardinals bolted out of the gate this year, winning 10 of their first 12 games before stumbling down the stretch and getting bounced by the Rams on Super Wild Card Weekend.
Was the 34-11 loss to the Rams an embarrassing no-show by Murray and the Cardinals? Absolutely. Murray didn't play well in that game, Kliff Kingsbury didn't have the Cardinals prepared, and Arizona was without star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Blowout losses happen in the postseason, especially to a young team facing its first real test in the postseason pressure-cooker.
The Cardinals aren't going to trade Murray, a top-10 quarterback on a rookie contract, because he didn't have a good attitude about a playoff loss. The reported "acrimony" will die down.
Murray and Kingsbury both have some growing to do at the NFL level. That's clear. But the Cardinals have improved in each of the past three seasons with the duo at the helm. The future is incredibly bright in the desert, and calmer minds likely will prevail.
But in the unlikely scenario that Murray tries to force a trade, something that's unlikely, the NFC West landscape could undergo a massive shift this offseason.
The Rams just finished off their grand plan by winning the Super Bowl. The simple plan to go out and get elite players at key positions worked. (Shocker.) The Rams are expected to work out a contract extension with quarterback Matthew Stafford and Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp is there for the long haul.
But Aaron Donald all of a sudden reportedly is talking about retirement, Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. will be free agents, left tackle Andrew Whitworth is expected to retire and head coach Sean McVay raised eyebrows last week when he talked about finding a work-life balance. Reports surfaced suggesting that McVay could, sometime in the near-ish future, leave the sidelines for television.
All that is to say, things are great in Los Angeles. The Rams broke the 49ers' hold over them in the NFC Championship Game, won the Super Bowl, and are planning a parade. But the Rams do have some roster decisions to make coming up, and a shocking decision by Donald or McVay to walk away would put cracks in their foundation.
It's clear the Seahawks, fresh off a 7-10 season, have a lot of holes to plug if they want to compete in the rough-and-tumble NFC West. If Wilson does ask for a trade this offseason, that will trigger a complete rebuild in the Pacific Northwest.
If things between Murray and the Cardinals continue to go south either this offseason or in the future, that would obviously change the entire outlook of the division. Murray should be a staple of the NFC West and someone the 49ers have to contend with for the next decade. Should the Cardinals not be able to mend fences (they will), it would go down as an all-time bungle.
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That brings us to the 49ers, who are preparing to enter the Lance era after once again coming up just short with Garoppolo, injured thumb and all, at the helm.
The 49ers have one of the best rosters in the NFL, but will have some choices to make this offseason. Laken Tomlinson, D.J. Jones, K'Waun Williams, Jaquiski Tartt, and Jason Verrett are among the key free agents hitting the market this offseason. San Francisco has to shore up its secondary and offensive line this offseason. Adding another offensive playmaker to go along with wide back Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk also wouldn't hurt.
Having a first-year starting quarterback in a division with the defending Super Bowl champions, Murray and Wilson will put a ton of pressure on Lance and head coach Kyle Shanahan next season.
The NFC West looks like it will once again be the toughest division in football during the 2022 season. But as we have seen, things can change in a heartbeat. The situations in Arizona and Seattle have the potential to alter the entire landscape of the NFL and change the equation for Lance and the 49ers next season.