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Saturday, March 13, 2010
Mailbag: 'Typical Cardinals' no knock

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif., writes: Sando, I don't think anyone who is not a long-time Cardinals fan realizes just how different the postseason is with Ken Whisenhunt at the helm. Even with all the losses of personnel, I am mostly sanguine about the fallout, confident that Whisenhunt knows what he is doing and that the team next year -- with the probable exception of the QB position -- will be an improvement on last year. I for one have NEVER felt this way about the Cardinals in the offseason, and it is literally mind-boggling to even contemplate. For the first time, when I think to myself 'typical Cardinals', that is an expressions of optimism rather than one of despair and resignation.

Mike Sando: I hear you on Whisenhunt. He's really sharp and capable. He does project the feeling he's in control and things will be OK. And I do think the organization has a shot to do good things over the long term. Whisenhunt does know what he is doing. That is why I won't read too much into it if the Cardinals struggle some in 2010, a transitional season at quarterback.

Whisenhunt has generally fielded a well-coached team despite working at a disadvantage from a resources standpoint (the other teams in the division have 20-plus coaches apiece, compared to 16 for Arizona). Your confidence in him is justified. It still takes players, though, and quarterbacks in particular. If the Cardinals drop off this season, Whisenhunt won't be the reason (on a side note, it's also easy to forget that Matt Leinart played pretty well and nearly won the one game he started last season, losing to the Titans only when Tennessee put together a 99-yard drive to end the game).


Jess from Idaho Falls, Idaho, writes: I am just wondering why you are such a critic toward the Niners. It is pretty easy to see that they are the frontrunner in the West and as far as signing Carr, it is a great move. He has never been protected and I think he has a shot at starting. All we need is to draft a good tackle and this team is set to win the division, hands down.

Mike Sando: The easy thing to do would be to anoint the 49ers based on Kurt Warner's retirement. I don't think it's that simple. The 49ers appear to have a good chance to win the division. But if the Cardinals are nervous about going into a season with Leinart at quarterback, how should the 49ers feel going into a season with Alex Smith and David Carr as their top options? A little skepticism is a good thing.


Stu from Los Angeles writes: Hey Mike, with so many pressing needs (secondary, WR, offensive line etc.), am I the only one thinking that the Seahawks are beginning to fall behind quickly in the free-agent market? Also, with all the focus on Brandon Marshall, have we lost sight of other important needs?

Mike Sando: I thought Seattle might be a little more aggressive in the market, for sure. But I also realize this is a horrible market because more than 200 players failed to become unrestricted free agents once rules governing an uncapped year changed the requirements. Pete Carroll wants to go young. The vast majority of available UFAs are in their 30s, with a large number 35 or older. Those guys are available for a reason in most cases.


Stan from Burlington, Vt., writes: Yo Sando, lifelong Niners fan from the Northeast. David Carr. How similar will Jimmy Raye's offensive system be to other systems he has run in the past? I personally love this move by the Niners as I am not sold on Alex Smith. I also have the pleasure of watching the Giants on a consistent basis. And I'll tell you what, the few snaps I've seen Carr take, I was impressed. He throws with a lot more zip and confidence than Smith. Love your work.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Stan. They 49ers' decision to sign David Carr at Shaun Hill's expense shows the team felt Hill had maxed out. I think the 49ers were right about that, too. The question is whether Carr makes them better. We know Carr makes them more talented. The tradeoff appealed to the 49ers.

Chris Palmer was the Texans' offensive coordinator when Carr broke into the league. Palmer had run-and-shoot roots with the Oilers teams of the early 1990s. He also has roots in the Bill Parcells coaching tree. I don't know how much overlap there would be between the offenses Carr has run and the one the 49ers are running under Jimmy Raye. That is something I'll find out. Off the top of my head, I do think there would be more similarities than if the 49ers were running, say, a West Coast-based offense (the offenses Palmer has installed were numbers-based, whereas West Coast systems are color-coded).


Brandon from Phoenix writes: Hey, Mike, really enjoy your work. You do a great job on the NFC West. Question for you. Where does Mel Kiper have the Cards going in the first round? I'm torn on either a defensive tackle or linebacker, depending on if we get Joey Porter and/or Larry Foote maybe. They do need a young defensive tackle, run stuffer, hole clogger for the 3-4. Is the LB depth strong enough to pass on taking one in the first round?

Mike Sando: Adding Porter and/or Foote would provide some flexibility heading into the draft. We covered ground on this subject recently when noting that Kiper had the Cardinals selecting linebacker Jerry Hughes. Kiper previously had Arizona selecting Tennessee nose tackle Dan Williams, but Williams wasn't available at No. 26 in Kiper's updated mock.


Jay from Mount Vernon, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, all the talk about changing the overtime rules seems to ignore an obvious point in my mind. Why not just play a 7-minute timed overtime period? I've never liked how overtime is so different from the end of the fourth quarter in a close game where the 2-minute drill is a huge factor. As it is, overtime is anti-climactic most of the time with teams taking the air out of the ball and playing for a field goal.

The frantic pace of the end game is one of the reasons the NFL is so great. Why doesn't anybody else think just an extra half-quarter for overtime is a good idea? P.S., just say NO to McNabb in Seattle. (And Clausen and Bradford for that matter). Build up the OL and DL!

Mike Sando: Interesting thought. Seven minutes would still be plenty of time for a team to take the air out of the ball and play for a field goal, though. I'm guessing most overtime games don't last that long.


Nils from Lincoln, Neb., writes: As I understand it, part of the complaint is that kicking off from the 30 means an average starting point of the 35, which means a short field to a field goal. Why not just move the kickoff spot back to the 35 or 40 in OT? You maintain the drama of sudden death, but you force the team to drive 65 yards to get a field goal.

Mike Sando: Indeed, overtime did become more predictable after the NFL moved kickoffs back to facilitate returns. Former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Ira Miller advocated this years ago and drove home the point in a recent note to Lowell Cohn. His case sounds compelling.


Trevor from Edmonds, Wash., writes: Hey Sando, thanks for reading. Wanted to know your thoughts on the Rams offering Oshiomogho Atogwe the lowest possible tender and what his options are going to be as a restricted free agent. I know his play tailed off a little last year, but this is still a young/playmaking safety. As a Seahawk fan whose team needs a young/playmaking safety and who has seen Atogwe play really well against Seattle in the past, it seems to make too much sense to use a low-round pick to go get him. Is there something I'm missing?

Mike Sando: You're correct about Atogwe playing well against Seattle. I thought he played very well at Qwest Field in the opener last season. The only thing you're missing right now is the fact that the Rams could match any offer Seattle made. The Rams will have to up their offer to nearly $7 million if they want to retain Atogwe's rights past June 1. Perhaps the Rams work out a trade before then. Perhaps teams with interest in Atogwe will wait to see if the Rams let him go.


Michael from Los Angeles writes: Hey Sando, if the Cardinals were going to draft an outside linebacker as many analysts think, what are the chances, if any, we pick up Taylor Mays if he falls to us? He has ridiculous speed and is big enough to be a linebacker, and as a USC student, I have come to realize he isn't a great safety, just a great athlete. Give me some hope.

Mike Sando: I can't endorse that sort of move. It's just far too risky using an early choice for a safety and then trying to convert him to linebacker. Seattle tried something similar with Michael Boulware, a very talented athlete, and it just never worked. Boulware was a college linebacker. The Seahawks moved him to safety. Boulware showed promise as a nickel linebacker early in his career. He just never became a consistent, confident safety.


Rich from San Francisco writes: Hey Mike, love the blog (it's gotten me back to regularly checking espn.com). Anyway, there's been a lot of talk about the Niners having to improve their line, and I agree that we need to upgrade, especially at right tackle. But Barry Sims filled in admirably for Joe Staley last season and Tony Pashos was a solid run blocker. Pashos is gone, and Sims remains unsigned. If the line is such a priority, why aren't the niners focusing on getting some of their more reliable blockers back? Personally, I would feel a lot better about our chances next season with Sims on the roster. He's a great backup and could provide our new rookie a safety net. What do you think?

Mike Sando: Barry Sims had to be a very pleasant surprise for the 49ers last season. He stayed healthier and that made a big difference. I would agree that the 49ers would be better bringing him back as insurance. Tony Pashos was pretty one-dimensional because he couldn't easily swing from right to left tackle. Joe Staley said he really valued what Pashos brought to the team. I respect that, but never did I get the sense that Pashos would have been a solid option if left on the field for long stretches. That was just my feel. The 49ers should be able to upgrade their talent on the line through the draft. They are also thrilled to have Mike Solari coaching the line -- not only for what he brings to the position, but also for his background with Raye in Kansas City.


Tim from Springfield, Mo., writes: So, with Brady Quinn possibly on the trading block, what are the possibilities of trading Marc Bulger for him? He's still a young QB that could learn from A.J. Feeley, but with NFL experience that could potentially get started right away.

Mike Sando: Bulger's salary makes him virtually impossible to trade because the acquiring team would assume his $8.5 million salary. Bulger would have to be willing to reduce that number. He would probably be better off declining such a request, at which point the Rams would likely release him, allowing Bulger to pursue work on his terms, should he decide to keep playing.


Scott from Bremerton, Wash., writes: Sando, doesn't trading Seneca Wallace when we are in the midst of trying to shore up our receiving corps seem like a gross misappropriation of resources? If you are so willing to pull the plug on Seneca and ship him off, why wouldn't you first try to put him on the field as a playmaker? Seneca has had some success catching passes, and has always been talked about as a special-teams candidate to return kicks. Why not keep him and utilize him in that role? His salary is tiny, and a conditional seventh-rounder seems like almost 0 compensation.

Mike Sando: I will agree that the compensation is almost the same as releasing him. Wallace was a good receiver and returner -- for a quarterback. Would he have become good at those things relative to players who have filled those roles on a full-time basis for years? Hard to say. Wallace is definitely athletic enough.