It was December 12, 2016 when the Los Angeles Rams fired Jeff Fisher, predictably changing course from the NFL’s most predictable course. (That they’d always keep ending up at 7-9.)
A year ago this Saturday, the Rams hired Sean McVay to replace him. A week later, Wade Phillips was his defensive coordinator. And this season, Los Angeles improved from 32nd in scoring offense to first, the greatest one year turnaround we’ve ever seen, and they did so with a considerable amount of change to their personnel. With 23-year-old Jared Goff, a quarterback who wasn’t in the league 18 months ago and didn’t get a full season as starter until 2017, as the new face of that offense, the Rams are nothing like what we saw from 2011-2016.
A year ago New Year’s Day, the San Francisco 49ers fired Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke.
At the end of last January, the 49ers hired John Lynch to be their next general manager, and a week after that, unveiled the league’s worst secret: that Kyle Shanahan would be their next head coach. (They just needed his team to complete the worst collapse in history in the Super Bowl first.)
The Niners moved on from starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick and backup Blaine Gabbert, bringing in third rounder C.J. Beathard and veteran Brian Hoyer. Shanahan and Lynch’s offense, which will only continue to change during the 2018 offseason, featured new players like Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, and George Kittle, and the defense will build around Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Reuben Foster.
On Halloween, San Francisco sent a second round pick to the New England Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo, and enacted the greatest midseason turnaround that we’ve ever seen: the Niners went from 1-10 to winning all five of Garoppolo’s starts and finishing 6-10. That included putting up a combined 78 points on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ top-ranked defense and the mostly-backups-but-still-Phillips defense of the Rams.
At the end of the year, the 49ers weren’t just extremely different from 2016, they were tremendously transformed with a single October transaction at the sport’s most important position.
On January 2, Bruce Arians announced his retirement from coaching after five years of leading the Arizona Cardinals. On the very same day, quarterback Carson Palmer also called it quits. The Cardinals are currently searching for their next head coach, and when he emerges his first task will be the quest for a new franchise QB. Given the approach of the Niners and Rams, two teams that had more talent on defense than they had on offense before hiring offensive-minded head coaches, and the fact that Arizona is pretty much in the same boat, the Cards could also look to hire someone who will surprise NFC West teams with a unique or tough-to-predict approach on offense.
And then you’ll again see a bunch of new offensive players in the division, doing the bidding of their offensive-minded coaches. At the very least, the Cardinals will have a new offensive coordinator, assuming Harold Goodwin is not retained.
Let’s recap the last year in the NFC West, if you’re the Seattle Seahawks:
- All three of your division rivals replaced their head coach
- One of them replaced their GM
- One team has a new starting QB from who started Week 1 in 2016, one team has a new starter from who started Week 1 in 2017, and the other team will have a new starter from who started Week 17 of 2017.
- Andrew Whitworth, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, John Sullivan, Gerald Everett, John Johnson, Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, Jimmy Garoppolo, Reuben Foster, Solomon Thomas, Budda Baker join teams in the division, make some sort of impact.
- Two new offensive coordinators, likely soon to be three
- Two new defensive coordinators, likely soon to be three
With all that being said … how could the Seattle Seahawks justify staying the same?
After firing Darrell Bevell, Tom Cable, and Carl Smith this week, the Seahawks made what they felt was a necessary amount of change that does not involve Pete Carroll firing himself. Someone could argue that firing Carroll after a 9-7 season would have been justifiable — not because Seattle was that bad, but because their most important competition was changing so much and that soon the Seahawks would become far too predictable.
By firing their offensive coordinator — and then being rumored to be close to parting ways with defensive coordinator Kris Richard — the Seahawks are exclaiming proudly that: “We won’t be the same either.”
And they really could not stay the same.
With a new offensive coordinator, Seattle will be harder for Phillips to predict when the Rams play the Hawks. Same goes for Robert Saleh and the 49ers, and (insert name) for Arizona. If they replace Richard, then it’ll be up to McVay and his offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to re-jigger their gameplan a bit when they face the Seahawks, for Shanahan too, and for (insert other name).
So while you could argue that Bevell should not have been fired because of his track record — which included some of the best rushing seasons in NFL history and the development of Russell Wilson into an MVP candidate in two of the last three years — he also had to be fired … because of his track record.
Since, you know, he has one. And the rest of the NFC West, really does not.