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Thursday, January 20, 2011
Mailbag: Potential free agents to watch

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Pat asks via Twitter: Any noteworthy free agents that could come to Seattle from Oakland or Minnesota based on new coaching hires?

Mike Sando: This is a subject worth exploring for all NFC West teams with new coaches in prominent roles. I've put together an initial, unofficial list of players with at least three accrued seasons and expiring or voiding contracts.

Tom Cable's hiring as assistant head coach/offensive line in Seattle puts the Seahawks in better position to pursue Raiders guard Robert Gallery in free agency. I'm sure Cable has good relationships with other Oakland players scheduled to become free agents, but I think his history as a line coach makes him more apt to attract free agents from that position.

Other potential free agents from the Raiders: safety Eugene Hiram, safety Michael Huff, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, cornerback Stanford Routt, defensive tackle John Henderson, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebacker Jon Condo, linebacker Jarvis Moss, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, linebacker Ricky Brown, linebacker Thomas Howard, linebacker Sam Williams, all four quarterbacks, three running backs (Michael Bush, Rock Cartwright, Michael Bennett), tight end Zach Miller, receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and five offensive linemen other than Gallery (Mario Henderson, Samson Satele, Khalif Barnes, Daniel Loper and Langston Walker).

Darrell Bevell's hiring as Seahawks offensive coordinator connects Seattle to a long list of potential free agents from Bevell's run as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator. Those with offensive pedigrees include: receivers Sidney Rice, Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis, running back Naufahu Tahi, offensive lineman Ryan Cook and two quarterbacks (Patrick Ramsey and Tarvaris Jackson, with Brett Favre apparently headed for retirement).

Rice has had injury troubles, but he can be a dynamic playmaker.

Josh McDaniels' hiring as St. Louis' offensive coordinator gives the Rams connections to McDaniels' former players in Denver. The Broncos' potential free agents include cornerback Champ Bailey, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, defensive tackle Ronald Fields, linebacker Wesley Woodyard, offensive lineman Ryan Harris and two running backs (Kyle Eckel and Laurence Maroney).

Again, some of these players likely will not reach free agency. The next labor agreement will determine how many accrued seasons players need to reach free agency.

These are some names to keep in mind, at least.


Nathan from St. Louis writes: With all this talk about a new offensive coach and a new scheme, there are people worried about Sam Bradford's production and development. I'm having trouble really understanding the big difference between what the West Coast offense is and what Josh McDaniels runs.

I understand that West Coast used two-receiver sets with a tight end, fullback and running back, while Josh liked a three-receiver set and no fullback.

I really can't grasp why this would make it so much more difficult and what goes into learning a new system. Could you please give some information pertaining to what all is involved in learning a new offense? Where the problems lie that could be perceived as difficult and how these difficulties could hinder Bradford's development?

Mike Sando: Yeah, I might be able to help some. The West Coast personnel group you described is not exclusive to a West Coast offense. That is simply 21 personnel or "regular" personnel. It's a base grouping. There are only so many personnel groups out there and most systems utilize all of them to some degree. That would not be the hard part to learn.

Systems would be much easier to learn if there were a standard football vocabulary. However, different systems use the same words to describe different things in some cases. And then sometimes they use different words entirely. This can get a little confusing for quarterbacks in particular because they must call out so many aspects of a play in the huddle.

That takes a little time to master and it's tough when it changes.

As a quarterback gets deeper into a system, the coach becomes more comfortable arming him with more options. A veteran quarterback versed in a system will make adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees from the defense. Bradford takes a step backward in the short term while learning a new system. I do not think it's anything that is going to hurt him over the long term. The change could do him good, for all we know.

But there will be an adjustment period. The other offensive players will have to learn the system. Some will learn faster than others. A rookie such as Mardy Gilyard was having a tough enough time mastering the 2010 system. Now he'll have to learn a new one. That could set him back more than a year.

The new system could require other adjustments, some relating to basic concepts.


Sunil from New York writes: Sando, I tend to think that questions about Sam Bradford's adjustment to Josh McDaniels' new system are overblown. What did Bradford spend the past year doing? Learning a new system. He didn't master it, by any means, but he seemed to pick it up just fine.

Assuming there's no labor stoppage, he'll also have the added benefit of three extra months with the playbook. In fact, I think one can argue that there will be less of an adjustment period -- after all, he doesn't need to learn new teammates and new opponents. Just the system this time around.

What worries me about the McDaniels hiring is this: He didn't become an offensive mastermind until he had Randy Moss and Wes Welker on the roster. Even in Denver, he had better talent at the skill positions than he will in St. Louis. He's not Rumpelstiltskin; they need to get him some gold to cast.

Mike Sando: No doubt, Bradford learned a new system last season and fared pretty well. I agree that it's significant for him to have an extra three months this offseason compared to last offseason. I think he'll adapt.

Players in Denver credited McDaniels for helping Brandon Lloyd develop into a Pro Bowl receiver. The Rams will seek improved talent for Bradford. McDaniels might be able to develop some of the existing talent, too. You mentioned Welker. Danny Amendola has shown he can be a good slot receiver.


Steven asks via Facebook: Mike, I was wondering if there would be any chances the Niners could land Vince Young. I think he could still do a lot of damage in the NFL given the right scenario where he is No. 1. He has far more weapons in San Francisco than he did in Tennessee and he was a beast when he played. With continued improvement on the line, a better QB and just a better offense in general the defense will become one of the strongest units in the NFL. What do you think?

Mike Sando: I'm not sure about the fit. Jim Harbaugh might be more apt to seek out a quarterback fitting his own mindset. One thought early in the season regarding Vince Young was that his strong play against Oakland in the opener suckered the Titans into overloading him with scheme-related options against Pittsburgh in Week 2, and it took Young out of his comfort zone.

My sense on Harbaugh is that he'll want a quarterback who flourishes when loaded up with all sorts of in-game options. Young hasn't really been that type of quarterback to this point.

The 49ers might need a safer bet at quarterback. Young seemed unstable in Tennessee. Just my feeling.


Mike from Flagstaff writes: What would you think of the Cardinals moving Levi Brown to left guard? If Alan Faneca doesn't come back and the Cards can find someone else to play left tackle, it seems like Brown could work at guard. I just think about Leonard Davis, who they tried to force at tackle, going to Dallas and becoming great at guard. Levi hasn't worked out yet at left tackle, but maybe there is no one else to put in there. Just wondering your thoughts on the move.

Mike Sando: They should at least give it a try before giving up on Brown. Brown has had some success as a run blocker. He does not appear to be the answer at tackle, but the Cardinals have stuck it out with him to this point. Brown's contract has pretty much necessitated that they play him. The clock should be ticking, though.


Adam from Glendale, Ariz., writes: Sando, first, I love your blog and I read it every day. I just don't know what the Cardinals are doing and would like your thoughts. They don't even appear to be looking for a defensive coordinator.

Sean McDermott would have been a great fit in Arizona with the personnel we have. He loves to blitz and we have one of the best blitzing safeties out there and we needed to blitz last year because we weren't creating pressure with our front seven. We don't even want to talk to him.

All of the big-name, proven coordinators are gone. What are we waiting for, a Steelers assistant to come over and receive a promotion? C'mon, Sando. Ken Whisenhunt is blowing it. Or maybe he is gonna take over some of the defensive plays. Russ Grimm (if he doesn't leave us) can coach defensive line as well to add to his fifth title. Donnie Henderson can coach defensive backs, receivers and help call defensive packages.

Whisenhunt insists on running on skeleton crews. Why not hire a full coaching staff and delegate some of the responsibilities?

What do you think we are going to do? And, do you think we are missing out on all of the coaches just waiting for the Steelers to throw us a coach?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Adam. I do think the Cardinals are waiting for either Keith Butler or Ray Horton from the Steelers, most likely. I base that on logic and history as much as anything. I'm not convinced Whisenhunt has the best plan, but it's premature to make a final judgment without seeing how things turn out.

The Cardinals have been carrying fewer assistant coaches than other NFC West teams have carried, something I broke down early last year. I doubt it's because Whisenhunt wants fewer assistants.