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Friday, May 31, 2013
Eight in the Box: Playing for a contract

By Mike Sando

» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player entering a contract year on each NFC West team who must deliver in 2013:

Arizona Cardinals: O'Brien Schofield. An ankle injury against the Green Bay Packers last season ended Schofield's season prematurely after nine games and four sacks. The outside linebacker still set a career high for playing time with 471 snaps. The Cardinals' new coaching staff will be watching to see whether Schofield can stay healthy and produce in a tweaked scheme. Schofield's career was steadily gaining momentum through his first two-plus seasons after the 2010 fourth-round choice recovered from an ACL injury suffered at the Senior Bowl. Then, in Week 9 last season, Schofield was chasing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers after beating his man off the ball when teammate Darnell Dockett dove toward Rodgers, spinning around and inadvertently chopping down Schofield at the legs. The team used a fourth-round pick this offseason for Alex Okafor, who could push Schofield eventually.

St. Louis Rams: Rodger Saffold. The Rams once planned to build their line around Saffold and Jason Smith at the tackle spots. Smith flamed out and is no longer with the team. Saffold has appeared in 35 games, starting all of them, since the Rams made him the first player selected in the second round of the 2010 draft. However, injuries have forced him to the sideline for a combined 13 games over the past two seasons. Saffold enters the final year of his rookie deal as the projected starter at right tackle. He started on the left side most recently, but the newly signed Jake Long will man that spot for the foreseeable future. Saffold needs to stay on the field and play well if he hopes to maximize his value with the Rams or another team beyond this season.

San Francisco 49ers: Donte Whitner. Coach Jim Harbaugh went into free agency this offseason saying the team valued Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson. He said Goldson was the type of player a team wants to reward. There still wasn't money in the budget for Goldson, who signed with Tampa Bay in free agency. Whitner is the 49ers' other hard-hitting safety, perhaps best known for the crushing hit he put on New Orleans' Pierre Thomas during a playoff game two seasons ago. He has started all but one game for the 49ers over the past two seasons, and he will be 28 this season -- hardly ancient by NFL safety standards. The 49ers have had tough choices to make on defense, however, and they'll have more to make in their secondary in the not-too-distant future. Cornerback Tarell Brown is also unsigned beyond 2013.

Seattle Seahawks: Golden Tate. The receiver set career highs in 2012 with 45 receptions for 688 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 15.3 yards per reception, a gain of more than four yards over his previous career average. The Seahawks loved what they saw from Tate, but that did not stop them from acquiring Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings and making Harvin the highest-paid receiver on the team. Harvin's arrival invited questions about whether Tate figured into the Seahawks' long-term plans. It also invited questions about whether the team would continue paying fellow receiver Sidney Rice at Rice's current rate. The Seahawks think Harvin's arrival will create better matchups for Tate. Whatever the case, Tate needs a strong season to validate what he accomplished in 2012. Otherwise, the Seahawks and other suitors can point to Tate's first two seasons when trying to set his value.