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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Around the NFC West: Winds of change

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with injured Seahawks tackle Walter Jones, who hopes to return in 2010. Jones' salary is $7.3 million, providing strong incentive for him to make a comeback effort. Even if his comeback failed and he wound up on injured reserve again, he could still pocket most or all of that money, in theory.

Also from Farnsworth: Apprehension and ambiguity reigned in the Seahawks' locker room as players cleaned out their lockers Monday. Matt Hasselbeck: "Really what I’m looking forward to right now is kind of getting away and getting healthy and getting strong,” said Hasselbeck, who played this season with broken ribs on the left side of his body and a bruised right shoulder. I really feel like getting back in the weight room and having a good offseason of strength, getting some explosiveness and some power back will be one of the keys to success for me next season. Those are the kind of things I’m focused on."

More from Farnsworth: Seahawks safety Deon Grant played one of his best games Sunday despite having one wrist in a cast. Farnsworth: "Grant intercepted a Vince Young pass in the first quarter. He recovered a Chris Johnson fumble in the third quarter, setting up a field goal that gave the Seahawks a 13-10 lead. In between, Grant made nine tackles -- one shy of his season-high. He even added a 10th on special teams. His reward? Surgery to repair the wrist."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists potential Seattle free agents. He lists Nate Burleson, Cory Redding, D.D. Lewis, Olindo Mare, Lawyer Milloy, Ken Lucas, Damion McIntosh and Justin Griffith.

Also from O'Neil: "The Seahawks are an older team with an offense that scored fewer points as the season progressed. Hasselbeck is 34 with one year left on his contract. While most expect him back, Seattle's new president will have to decide how Hasselbeck fits with the team's timeline for rebuilding. The scrutiny will go well past Seattle's pocket. Receiver Deion Branch is 30 and is scheduled to make more than $5 million, a lot for a player who began this season as the No. 3 receiver. Safety Deon Grant is also 30. Defensive end Patrick Kerney is 32. He led the team in sacks, but had just five. He is scheduled to make more than $5 million next season, and Seattle desperately needs to upgrade a pass rush that had one sack in its final four games."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com wonders whether Greg Knapp will return as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator after a rough year. Seattle averaged an additional 55 yards passing per game this season, but scoring was down.

Also from Johns: Burleson expects to return.

Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along thoughts from Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who does nothing to change perceptions that he wasn't happy with Knapp's offense. Divish: "He talked for at least 15 minutes and was critical of his himself. He also wondered how an offense can actually regress, instead of improve. And when asked about the future, possible changes and whether the offensive system could ever work, he simply said, 'I have thoughts.' "

Also from Divish: Hasselbeck isn't sure what happens next.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune previews the Seahawks' offseason.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seattle players weren't sure what a new general manager might do.

Matt Pitman of 710 ESPN Seattle passes along audio links to interviews with Seattle players, including Hasselbeck and Branch.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt had limited options Monday in responding to repeated questions about his strategy for Week 17. McManaman: "Just like Sunday's game, Whisenhunt must have felt as if his hands were tied when he met with the media for his weekly news conference. From the sideline, he watched the Packers dominate his team and its vanilla game plan. From his press table, he listened to a ton of smarmy second-guessing. He couldn't really fight back on either day."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com cites local reports saying Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell wore a cast and sling after undergoing surgery on his thumb. Urban: "Campbell told Ch. 3's Brad Cesmat he still had a chance to play this week but nothing is certain."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals held back blitzes against Green Bay in Week 17.

More from Urban: thoughts from Whisenhunt during the coach's day-after-game news conference. Also: "The Cardinals know their second-round playoff schedule should they advance. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles, the Cardinals will play in New Orleans on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 2:30 p.m. Arizona time. If the Eagles beat the Cowboys, the Cards will play in Minnesota Sunday, Jan. 17, at 11 a.m. Arizona time."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo does not anticipate changes to his coaching staff. Spagnuolo: "You just don't jump ship on process, schemes, people. I have to sit down and evaluate everything now. You've got to give me time. We just got done with a game (against San Francisco), and it was 16 long games and a grind. But I don't anticipate (staff changes) right now."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams gathered one final time to end the season. Tight end Randy McMichael: "It's hard, man ... real emotional. You've been through wars with these guys, been with them since March. They're family. And that's basically what you're doing, you're leaving your family. ... You don't want it to end, but you know it has to."

Also from Coats: Steven Jackson, Leonard Little, James Laurinaitis and Oshiomogho Atogwe won team awards.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams can learn from the Jets, who earned a playoff berth while protecting a young quarterback with a strong ground game and defense. Gordon: "Rex Ryan is 1,000 times more colorful than Spagnuolo, but these coaches share the same beliefs. Both are defensive coaches. Both believe they can build championship teams with dominant defenses and powerful running attacks."

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams held a brief team meeting before dispersing Monday. Spagnuolo: "I spoke with them real quick about moving forward. I told them, and I asked them, to focus on the team we have. Focus on what we’ve built and what came out of it."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Spagnuolo used the phrase "wonderful and taxing at the same time" to describe his first season as Rams coach.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Mike Singletary would not commit to Alex Smith as his starting quarterback for 2010, saying only that Smith is the starter right now. Singletary: "Alex Smith is the starting quarterback right now. If we sign a quarterback this offseason, we'll see where it goes. I don't want to get into 'what kind of veteran quarterback.' I don't understand all that. Alex Smith is the starting quarterback right now and hopefully this offseason if one happens to show up or however that works out, there's always the possibility of signing another quarterback depending on what the situation is and depending on where that puts us in terms of the cap and all that other stuff. But I just think it's very important that right now just knowing that Alex Smith is the starting quarterback." The 49ers see Smith as their best option based on the current personnel, but Smith did not show them enough for the team to turn its back on potential contingencies.

Also from Barrows: He expects most of the 49ers' free agents to return. Linebacker Patrick Willis on Aubrayo Franklin: "Oh man, I pray to God they keep Aubrayo. The coaches already know where my heart is. I say he's the best nose (tackles) in the game. You turn on the film and nobody plays with better technique, nobody knows the game better than he knows it. He keeps my head from getting busted on every play and I'm thankful for that."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says quarterback and offensive coordinator remain hot topics for the 49ers. Smith expects to have the same coordinator in back-to-back years for the first time in his NFL career. Smith: "It will be new for me. A lot of it will be self-reflection and self-analysis, looking back at this last year and analyzing the things we did and where we can go from there to get to the next step. How do we get better? How do we take it to the next level? This offseason will be big because we won't be installing from square one. It is really, how do we push ourselves to take that step and not just go through the motions of an offseason? We really need to have a sense of urgency and take advantage of the time." More here.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News passes along quotes from Singletary's news conference.

Also from Kawakami: Singletary spoke less in absolutes than he normally might, using the qualifier "right now" when discussing the team.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary expressed support for Smith and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Singletary: "I don't think it's a matter of another coordinator. I think it's a matter of putting the pieces together, identifying exactly the offense that you're going to run, identifying the kind of offensive line that you need in order to run that. I think we have a lot of pieces in place. I just think it's a matter of getting all the pieces in the right places."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Singletary as saying consistency is difficult to establish in the NFL.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says re-signing Franklin should be a top priority, according to players.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers players think the team could fare well in the playoffs if part of the six-team NFC field.