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Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Mailbag: How the Rams got into this mess

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Eric from Seattle writes: Mike, I was just wondering what direction you think the Rams need to take to win again. I mean, only 2 years ago (with the same Scott Linehan) they were 8-8, and if not for some crucial injuries (and two very long Josh Brown field goals) would have been in the playoffs. is it just that this team just doesn't seem to want to win? Or do they really have a black hole in terms of talent?

Mike Sando: I think a few things happened. Their offensive line deteriorated, the roster aged in key places, the 2006 and 2007 draft classes happened, Linehan lost momentum in the locker room and Marc Bulger lost his edge through repeated poundings.

The slope from 8-8 to 3-13 can be a slippery one. Once a team starts plummeting, it's hard to suddenly pull out of it. But we have seen teams turn around quickly through strong leadership in the front office and on the sideline.

To review, let's take a look at the 2006 and 2007 draft classes for the Rams: Adam Carriker, Brian Leonard, Jonathan Wade, Dustin Fry, Clifton Ryan, Ken Shackleford, Tye Hill, Joe Klopfenstein, Claude Wroten, Jon Alston, Dominique Byrd, Victor Adeyanju, Marques Hagans, Tim McGarigle, Mark Setterstrom and Tony Palmer.

Also, the Rams had one of the five oldest rosters in the league all season. Being old isn't good when you're missing on so many draft choices.


Adam from Columbia, S.C., writes: Mike, Just wanted to let you know what a lot of Panthers fans are thinking when it comes to sat. nights game. I have been hearing a lot from Cardinal players that they have embraced the underdog role and no one expects them to win.

First, why would anyone expect them to win? They are playing on east coast where they have yet to win a game, and they are playing a team that is 8-0 at home this year.

That being said, I don't think there is a single person that doesn't believe that they don't have a chance to win. In fact the Cards scare the crap out of us because of their excellent passing game. A lot of us panther fans on message boards are hoping for rain so that you guys are forced to run more, which honestly isn't your strong suit. Should be a good, tough game. Hope the Cats come out with the win.

Mike Sando: Thanks for weighing in, Adam. Teams grasp for whatever motivation they can find. The underdog angle is one of the oldest and most reliable. I'm sure Ken Whisenhunt wouldn't mind if someone made his team a 25-point underdog.


Jake from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Just wanted to thank you for sticking up for my Cards (throughout the season) but in the Cards-Panthers head to head talk. I'm not the biggest Warner fan (with Leinhart we'd have more of a run game) but Delhomme over Leinhart? You made your case eloquently and justly. Keep up the great work. Your blogs are the reason I visit ESPN.com. Jake PS- Is there anyway you can talk to your bosses about removing the TV commercials on the website. They scare the hell out of me when I'm up late and its quiet as a tomb in my house. :)

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jake. Sticking up for Warner was a lot easier with the facts on my side (wink, wink). I had fun going back and forth with Pat Yasinskas on that one. As for unexpected audio on Web sites, that's one reason I keep the volume low or muted. I do not like being blasted with sound on someone else's terms.


Drew from Fife, Wash., writes: Sando- What is your take on how the 49ers will approach the draft? They have the 10th pick, should they try and grab a QB with the hope of them getting time on the bench while Hill continues the duties? Or, do they start drafting linemen and try and pick up Derek Anderson?

Mike Sando: I could see them taking a quarterback if they thought the value were there. It might require someone falling to them unexpectedly. I would not expect them to reach for one in that spot. They have other needs and should be able to find value in that spot. They could always come back with a quarterback in the second or third round if they didn't find one early.

I would not make a trade for Derek Anderson if I were the 49ers, particularly if it meant handing Anderson a long-term contract. Mike Singletary is setting up that team to run the ball. Shaun Hill was probably efficient enough to serve as a veteran backup, short-term starter or possibly more.


Ken from San Bernardino writes: Mike i have heard that Seneca Wallace might have played himself out of his contract, what is your take on this and what does this mean for the Seahawks? can we expect him to hold out or was there something in his contract that would free him from it if he reached some set goals?

Mike Sando: I don't think anything about Wallace's contract that would prevent the Seahawks from keeping him. A holdout would not make much sense, particularly if the Seahawks drafted a quarterback. The team could wait out a backup quarterback if the starter were healthy.


Abdul from Phoenix writes: Hi Mike your doing a great job man, i have a couple of questions, I read somewhere that the Cardinals have the best salary Cap so far going into 2009 season will they sign a big time RB like Sproles who will be a free agent or will they draft a RB at the first round of the draft? What positions should the Cardinals should coach whisenhut focus on besides the RB position next season?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals would probably be looking for more of an every-down back, and they could probably find one more economically through the draft.

The Cardinals' cap situation will change once they find money for Kurt Warner and others, including unsigned backups. Also, teams need to beware about overspending in free agency. The Jets spent a
lot of money and still lost to the 49ers, Seahawks, Chargers and Raiders.

Beyond running back, I think the Cardinals need to upgrade their offensive line and the tight end position. If they can find another linebacker, that might provide flexibility.


Brandon from Pullman, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, My friend and I have a bet, and figured you'd have the answer. (BTW you may remember us ... we had a smoothie with you at EWU during Seahawks training camp a few years ago. Thanks again!) Anyway, the bet was this. I said Mike Holmgren was the highest paid coach in the NFL this season, making $10 million. I knew he made $8 million in the final season of his original eight-year contract, and I swore his contract increased the final two seasons. He said no way. Hindsight, I'm a bit worried. I know it has to be very close. Do you know the answer? Thanks Mike.

Mike Sando: I do remember eating those blueberry smoothies in a failed attempt to fool myself into thinking I was eating healthier. Those things were actually pretty good.

I cannot confirm Holmgren's salary amounts because no one with direct access to the contract has told me. There were long reports about Holmgren making $4 million or $6 million or $8 million per year, but you'll notice no one ever went on the record confirming those amounts. There's a strong possibility he was the highest-paid coach in the NFL, though. He could afford quite a few smoothies, in other words.


Mike from Bend, Ore., writes: Man, I always miss the NFC West Blogs ... I have a question that I am dying to know the answer to. I need a professional opinion. The Hawks get pick 4 in the draft. A lot of people say that Bradford would be a good choice but i see him going to Detroit, plus Matt has another 3 solid years and Wallace is a decent QB, despite the critics. Then I hear Michael Crabtree to the Hawks. Now I don't know about you but a West Coast Offense does not thrive on star receivers. Wouldn't Chris Wells be an excellent choice? Think back to the time the Hawks played in the super bowl. They had a great running back.

Mike Sando: The more I think about the Seahawks and this draft, the more I think they might find the highest-impact player at one of those positions. The bit about West Coast offenses not needing star receivers has some merit, but I think the 49ers were pretty good with Jerry Rice and John Taylor. I wouldn't criticize Seattle for drafting at those positions. As far as how a specific prospect might fare of the course of his career, I won't pretend to know.


Nick from York, U.K., writes: Hi Mike, great column; keep up the fine work for us distant UK Niner fans during the long & cold off-season! Am I nuts to think there is a chance of Alex Smith being our starting OB next season? I liked Smith's flashes amid some train-wreak offences and hate the thought of this gutsy kid being chewed up and spat out by such a once-proud QB Mecca. Or is there more chance of Matt Cassel behind center next year?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. I don't think the 49ers will go after Cassel. One, the Patriots probably need to keep Cassel as insurance in case Tom Brady isn't ready. Two, the 49ers couldn't be sure how Cassel might fare in their system, so they would probably be reluctant to invest heavily in him (that is my impression, not a reflection of anything the 49ers have said, and Jed York could always surprise us).

Alex Smith has to prove he can stay healthy before he can seriously compete for a job. His shoulder went out on him over the summer without contact.


Kalen from Seattle, Wash., writes: The Seahawks need a new center. It is my opinion that they should trade away their #4 pick and draft Alex Mack later in the first round. Spencer is unreliable and only average at best. A good center is key to good play on the offensive line. In the second round, they need a receiver (Hopefully Percy Haven to replace Bobby Engram) and a DT (possibly Raji -- if he's still available). From there, take what's best. A linebacker would make sense in the third round. Regards.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Kalen. We'll see how many teams want to trade into that fourth spot with the high accompanying salary commitment. I do not see Seattle trading down in the draft to take a center in the first round. Tim Ruskell already drafted a center in the first round, and that one hasn't worked out as well as expected.


Surf Hawk from Santa Barbara, Calif., writes: Sando you are still the man. This is in response to your Q&A from Steve about the Seahawks running backs. BillT at Seahawks Addicts compared the RB's and found Jones to have more yards, a higher YPC, and more TD's than Morris in 2008.

In addition, Jones is 2 years younger. However my new question is seeing if your Sando-Spreadsheets or stats department can figure out if my perception about Duckett is reality. I thought he was automatic in short yardage situations for the Seahawks. 3rd, 4th, goal line, he got it done. Would the good Sando-man have a quick way of displaying First Down percentages for the various RB's for the Seahawks?

Mike Sando: Glad to help. Duckett converted 12 of 15 times on third-and-1 rushing. No player in the league had more successful rushes on third-and-1. Sixteen had higher conversion percentages. Of those, Leron McClain (9 of 10), LaDainian Tomlinson (11 of 13) and Adrian Peterson (10 of 12) were the only ones with at least 10 attempts.

Also, Seattle's offense also led the NFL in fourth-down efficiency, and Duckett would have helped in short-yardage conversions.


Steve from Bellingham, Wash., writes: Mike, I see some folks don't like my comments about Julius Jones. If you would allow me to link to a fairly definitive breakdown of why he was not a net asset to the Seahawks, it is here. By their various measures Jones was 39th, 43rd, or 46th best RB in the league. Thanks.

Mike Sando: We need to get you together with Surf Hawk.


Brett from Baltimore writes: This comment is regarding you article about the NFC West "all-division team". My comment reads: I hope your wife makes a good wage, because writing like this is not going to put bread on the table. You sound like a 12 year old kid trying to come up with ideas for a book report.

I could write a more compelling story by scraping out the inside of my nose. Good luck to you. p.s. I've never written "hate" male before in my life, but I felt obligated to attempt to safeguard future unsuspecting readers to meaningless dribble, by hoping this message would cause you to reconsider your career path; or at least take a class or two at the local community college on creative writing.

Mike Sando: Are you brettbrett1213? Did you write the comment about falling asleep while reading through that blog entry? Perhaps you woke up when a Web site started playing unsolicited ads. We actually got good response to that item. I enjoyed the conversation.

The ironic part about your note is that my boss sent an email to me saying he liked that item. True story. Of all the items I've written recently,
that was the one he singled out for praise. To each his own. I guess I'd rather have my boss like it and someone else hate it, as opposed to the other way around.

Either way, I had fun with it. I didn't take it too seriously. I opened up the subject for discussion. And I really do appreciate your point of view.

But my favorite go-find-another-job mailbag note remains the first one I ever received here. It advised me to go cover the NHL for being clueless enough to rank the Cowboys only sixth in the preseason power rankings.


Hans from Seattle writes: So Sando, I'm proposing the most ridiculous move for the Hawks this off season, and it may just be crazy enough to work. Michael Vick. Reunited with Mora, installing a system that both quarterbacks can run effectively (Vick and Seneca Wallace, that is), taking some pressure off the inept running backs, etc. Worst case, we can stock up on some more high draft picks. Is this worth your thoughts?

Mike Sando: That type of move would be inconsistent with that for which the Seahawks say they stand off the field, and inconsistent with the style of offense they plan to run on the field.


Chris from Danville writes: Hey Mike, I have enjoyed your blogs on the NFC West all year. I was watching the fiesta bowl last night and something hit me during half time. Why does the NFL feel compelled to book these horribly lame half time shows? The games on Thanksgiving showcased the Jonas Brothers and Jesse McCartney.

Who? Does the NFL think that 14 year old girls are watching their games? It was nice to see a good old fashioned college band play Led Zeppelin's greatest hits. That is something I want to see. Not only is it entertaining, it is cheaper and these kids get a chance to showcase their talents on a national stage. It would be quite an experience for a young person. The NFL needs to get with it; no one wants to see that. I am sure I am not the only person that feels this way.

Mike Sando: I'm with you 100 percent, although I did like seeing Tom Petty at halftime of the Super Bowl last year. A former co-worker invited me to a Petty concert about 13 years ago and I've been a fan ever since. The Jonas Brothers? Not really my thing.