Mailbag: Predicting the 49ers not so easy

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NinerTico from Sacramento writes: Hi Mike, great Job as always. It seems we, the 49ers, have re-signed Alex Smith for two years -- backup contract. What do you think will happen at #10 now? Sanchez or no?

Mike Sando: The 49ers' plans are difficult to predict because the team seems to make decisions inconsistently at times. Last offseason, the general manager was quoted as saying there was no truth to reports suggesting the team had interest in Mike Martz. The team then hired Martz as offensive coordinator.

The quarterback race last offseason was another head-scratcher. Alex Smith was supposedly a clear favorite. Shaun Hill's arm supposedly got tired. J.T. O'Sullivan got the job. And so on.

More recently, the team talked about smashmouth football, only to bring in Kurt Warner for a visit, only to explain it by saying teams can be physical in the passing game as well. The team also left open the door for Michael Vick and Terrell Owens, only to issue a denial on Vick and ultimately show no real interest in Owens.

What does Smith's new deal mean? The answer would be anyone's guess at this point. The 49ers remain in position to draft a quarterback early. They don't have too much tied up in the position from a financial standpoint.

If they think Smith is going to be healthy enough to legitimately contend for the starting job, they might be less likely to consider a quarterback with the 10th overall choice. But if they were planning on taking Mark Sanchez, this deal with Smith would not kill those plans.

The Smith deal buys time at a more reasonable price. The 49ers would still like to see Smith develop, but they now have less to lose if it never happens.

AZRob from Phoenix writes: Mike, my question is why haven't the Dallas Cowboys offered any of their three RBs, i.e. trades? The reason I say this is I think that they are loaded at the RB position with Barber, Jones and Choice. Choice would be an excellent starter on any other team.

Mike Sando: Barber and Jones aren't going anywhere because both are signed to substantial deals with multiple years remaining. The Cowboys drafted Choice in the fourth round, so they planned for him to earn a roster spot. He did average 5.1 yards per carry, but was it enough for someone to acquire him as a franchise back?

Crushit from Olympia, Wash., writes: Hi Mike! great blog you've had going, I enjoy your insight. Here,s my question to you, Do the seahawkes have a place on there roster for Khalif Barnes? A former Washington Husky I think a homecoming would be a perfect fit for him and the team. The guys best years are still ahead of him.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks were most interested in re-signing Ray Willis. Once that happened, they became less likely to pursue other free-agent tackles.

Looking back, the Seahawks had few priorities in free agency. They wanted Colin Cole and they got him. They wanted to re-sign Willis, which they accomplished. And they were willing to consider other players -- T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Jermaine Phillips come to mind -- if those players were still interested after realizing Seattle would not agree to huge contracts.

Phillips took a modest deal to go back to Tampa. Houshmandzadeh signed for $8 million per season, but his deal featured a $2 million signing bonus and no other bonuses. His contract will count $5.9 million against the cap in 2009 and $7.4 million in 2010. The deal would have $14.5 million in guarantees if the team guaranteed the base salaries in the first two seasons (an increasingly common tactic this offseason).

That's great money, but not huge money by NFL standards. Which takes me back to your original question about Barnes. I don't think Seattle would consider paying another tackle much after Willis took $3 million per season for two years.

Ken from Avondale writes: With TO out of Dallas and Jerry Jones wanting to make a splash in his new stadium next year, do you think a Boldin-for-Barber trade would work? As a longtime Cardinals season ticket holder, I would hate to see Boldin go but if he must I would like to get a quality player for him.
Mike Sando: John Clayton and Peter King have pointed to the Giants and Eagles as the most likely suitors. The Cowboys have already invested lots in Roy Williams as their No. 1 receiver. Haven't heard anything recently about Dallas as a player for Boldin.

Parker from Mesa writes: I've a trade scenario that I would like your opinion on for the Cards. IMO the best long term interest for the team is to trade Boldin and I was wondering if a trade to the Raiders for 2nd and 3rd round picks along with Michael Bush is feasible and good value. Thanks.
Mike Sando: I would rather have Boldin than that trade package.

Ryan from Hollywood writes: Hey Mike, I've got a follow-up question for you. You answered a previous question of mine relating to the acquisition of draft picks by saying:

"The 49ers might have a harder time taking chances. I know Mike Singletary is in his first season as head coach, but this isn't really a new regime starting fresh. This is a 7-9 team hoping to take the next step, I think."

I'm wondering how they go about doing that. I too have reservations that they are a team on the verge of taking the next step. Obviously they have QB and RT issues. And while the defense played well at times last year, they also looked pretty bad at times.

As a fan, I consider the 7-9 record the Niners put up to be fairly lucky. Seems to me they beat some teams down the stretch that just didn't care anymore. So how do they really go about becoming a 10-6 or better team? I really just don't see it... Thoughts?

Mike Sando: I do think the 49ers became a smarter team under Singletary. They became less apt to blow late leads. In looking at the 2009 opponent list, I see the potential for a 6-2 record at home and 2-6 or 3-5 on the road. That gets you to 8-8 or 9-7, in theory.

I know Shaun Hill played well late last season, for the most part. Like the 49ers, I'm not entirely convinced he can do that for a full season.

Mitchell from Seattle writes: Hey Sando I love the blog. I was wondering your thoughts on a possibility of Cutler as a Seahawk? The Hawks could trade the number 4 pick to the Broncos for Jay Cutler. I think Cutler has all the physical aspects of being a great QB in the league with a chance to be mentored. He never had someone to sit and wait behind and with the Hawks he could wait behind Hass for 2 years and then step into the starting role.
I am not saying this is something that will happen, but I think the Hawks should look into this and try to make something happen. QB is weak in the draft so trading for someone could be a great way to protect Hass and set up for the future.

Mike Sando: Any team giving up that kind of loot for a quarterback would need to sign that quarterback to a long-term deal. Cutler would not go for a long-term deal if it meant serving as a backup for a couple seasons.

Scott from Phoenix writes: With the couple of free agent signings, do you think it is possible that the Rams can pickup a tackle through free agency and look into getting Aaron Curry or Michael Crabtree the 2nd pick of the draft?
Mike Sando: Possible? Perhaps. But we have not seen the Rams show interest in free-agent offensive linemen beyond Jason Brown. They appear most likely to find one in the draft. Unfortunately for the Rams, Orlando Pace is the best tackle on the market.

Mike from Toronto writes: Do you have the contract details for the recent Seahawk signings? Thanks for any info that you can provide. Your blogs have always been a great source.
Mike Sando: We touched on Houshmandzadeh's contract earlier in this mailbag. Colin Cole got a $2.5 million signing bonus and base salaries of $2.5 million (2009), $3.25 million (2010), $3.75 million (2011), $4.4 million (2012) and $5 million (2013).

Ray Willis signed a two-year deal for $6 million. This included a $1 million signing bonus, a $1 million roster bonus and base salaries of $1 million (2009) and $2 million (2010). He can earn another $500,000 in incentives.

As noted, teams have been guaranteeing base salaries early in some of these deals. This allows the player to get guaranteed money while the team takes the full cap hit in the affected years, not over the life of the deal, as the case generally would be with signing bonuses.

Noah from Tucson writes: I didnt know JJ Arrington went to the Broncos, when did that happen, and why wasn't it covered at all? i really liked having him in the backfield

Mike Sando: We've got you covered.

Oz from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., writes: Mike - Heres a heads up. Mike Jurecki is reporting that the Cardinals are about to bring in a former GM as a consultant. Said he couldn't name the person but that Cards fans would be happy. He also broke the Pendergast firing before anyone else. Its on arizonasportsfans.com if you want to get the gist, although much of it is speculation. Suddenly I am liking the direction this offseason is taking for my team.

Mike Sando: The team did interview Ted Sundquist, former Broncos general manager, but no hire appears imminent. I would expect Arizona to make a hire later in the offseason.

Ernest from parts unknown writes: Mike, I've been a Niners fan all my life but they have me kind of scratching my head. What do you think of the 49ers' moves so far?
It looks like they are doing just enough to be a NFC West contender and/or Champ, instead of a Superbowl contender. Do you think they can find enough pieces in the draft? Also how come no push for an above average QB? I was thinking Cassel, but realistically hoping for a Byron leftwich or even content with taking a shot with Rex Grossman. But trying for Warner and then signing Huard? Is that showing that they are going to go QB in the draft? Thanks for your time.

Mike Sando: If the 49ers are gearing up for an NFC West title, I think you should take it. The Cardinals proved what a playoff berth can do for a 9-7 team. Fact is, the 49ers weren't going to become a contending team through free agency this offseason. They've gone that route in the past and look where it has gotten them.

Matt Cassel wasn't coming to San Francisco. The Patriots were trading him to the Chiefs. That one was obviously in the works. Also, the 49ers didn't know Cassel well enough for that type of move to make sense. Byron Leftwich? He played well in relief for the Steelers, but he hasn't been a long-term starter for the last few seasons.

Marcos from Sacramenot writes: Ok Sando, where do you sit on the Rams 2nd overall pick? I keep seeing people trying to suggest that the Rams have to go with a LT (either J. Smith or Monroe) and I disagree. It just seems that we would have so much money committed to an O-line that has to gel, let alone hasn't prove anything yet.
Quite frankly I think it is too much risk for the reward with these two guys. Monroe and his dislocated knee is of concern and then there is Smith who doesn't exactly clear big running lanes (he is more a pass protector keeping that pocket from collapsing). \

I fear that people are all over J Smith because of the combine, which I think should only be a supplemental tool to actual film. People really need to remember that Baylor threw the ball an awful lot, which means less LB's (often times having to drop into coverage) that your O-line has to worry about.

If it were up to me, I think it is clear as day. Curry has to be the man. He is arguably the safest pick considering the amount of money that is going to be committed. On top of that, just look what his new coordinator has done in the past with LB's, Jon Beason anyone? Add the wealth of knowledge the Spags can offer and I can't look past him if the Lions let him slip. What do you think? Should Curry be the man even though all others suggest LT.

Mike Sando: You make a compelling case and my instincts tell me you could be right. We shouldn't discount the Rams addressing the offensive line in the second round and later in the draft. But the fact is, this team has huge needs at tackle. Those needs might be strong enough to influence the team's use of that second overall pick.

Be warned, though. The Cardinals drafted Levi Brown because they needed an offensive lineman more than they needed a running back.

Josh from Phoenix writes: Hey Sando, I just read an article on yahoosports that listed the top 100 free agents of this offseason. It says the Cardinals signed two of the top 10. One was obviously Warner, but they said McFadden was 8th and ranked higher than any other CB even DeAngelo Hall, does that sound right to you?
Mike Sando: They had Antonio Smith down in the low 30s. I would value him higher than McFadden, probably, based on the position he plays. But McFadden does strike me as a quality signing.