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Monday, February 20, 2012
Around the NFC West: Charging ahead

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Good morning. It's great to be back following a one-week break.

I'll be heading to the NFL scouting combine Wednesday and beginning coverage from Indianapolis the following day. In the meantime, offseason storylines abound.

Let's take our usual morning spin around the division.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with general manager John Schneider for thoughts on Seattle's efforts to land a franchise quarterback. Schneider: "I've been blessed to be around a lot of really good quarterback people that have taught me a lot about the position, so I just kind of incorporate that with the quarterbacks I've been around. I just know if you panic at the position, it can set the organization back. So we're not going to do that." Noted: Wanting a franchise quarterback and finding one are not the same thing. The Seahawks realize they're not drafting early enough to land Andrew Luck or even Robert Griffin III. They know health concerns make Peyton Manning a risky proposition. Matt Flynn is another option, but an unproven one.

Also from Farnsworth: Walter Thurmond's injury rehab comes after the position he once manned changed substantially in his absence.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says a long-term deal for Calais Campbell would make more sense than using the franchise tag, which could send the team down a road similar to the one used for Karlos Dansby. Somers: "The amount the Cardinals pay Campbell now in a long-term deal will seem like a lot. Heck, it will be a lot. But in two or three years, if Campbell continues to play as he did in 2011, it won't be unreasonable. The cap is going to increase dramatically. Someone is going to have to be paid. It might as well be a 25-year-old defensive end who's done everything anyone could ask in his first four seasons." Noted: The franchise tag will tempt teams this offseason because prices have fallen. Campbell should have considerable staying power, however, and he is ascending. He appears to be a prime candidate for a longer-term deal.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says cornerback Greg Toler finished his college degree in criminal justice this offseason. Urban: "Rehabbing his knee, Toler -- a restricted free agent who is expected to be back with the Cards -- has every expectation to be ready for training camp. But he also likes the idea of having a degree. He said he was good in forensics in school, and while he didn’t necessarily see himself following his sister as a second lawyer in the family, he could see himself in some part of law enforcement."

Also from Urban: Coordinator Mike Miller's thoughts on the Cardinals' offense.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have been noncommittal regarding Randy Moss, who played for Rams coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. Fisher: "I thought the world of him over the six or eight weeks that I think we had him. I thought he was a terrific teammate and he did a great job in our locker room." Noted: Moss caught six passes for the Titans and 28 during the entire 2010 season, his most recent in the NFL. The Rams are weak enough at the position for Fisher to keep open all options whether or not Moss has a realistic shot at playing for the team at any point in the future.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams' draft plans remain in their formative stages given all the work Fisher and new general manager Les Snead face ahead of them.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis explains why the Rams aren't flush with salary-cap space. Balzer: "The reality is that Chris Long, Jason Smith and Sam Bradford ($15.595 million) count a combined $47.17 million against the cap, which is 37.5 percent of the projected cap space. Include Steven Jackson ($8.899 million) and the total is $56.069 million/44.6 percent. Finally, the percentage for five players goes over 50 percent when Ron Bartell’s $7.663 million is factored in. Those five players have a total cap figure of $63.732 million, which is 50.7 percent of the expected cap." Noted: The Rams held high draft choices at the wrong time. Had the current labor agreement been in place earlier, the Rams could have signed Long, Smith and Bradford at far lower rates.

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis points to Cortland Finnegan, among others, as potential good fits for the Rams in free agency.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about the 49ers giving cornerback Shawntae Spencer permission to explore trade options: "The day after the season ended, Spencer expressed his intent to switch agents. Spencer's agent was David Dunn, whose close ties to coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, represented a potential conflict of interest, Spencer said. ... Among the teams that could be interested are the Houston Texans, whose defensive backs coach, Vance Joseph, coached Spencer six years with the 49ers; Seattle Seahawks, whose secondary coach, Kris Richard, played with Spencer with the 49ers in 2005; and the St. Louis Rams, another NFC West team whose secondary needs strengthening." Noted: Spencer is scheduled to earn $3.2 million in base salary for the 2012 season. I have a hard time envisioning another team acquiring that contract.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee does not expect the 49ers to be big spenders in the free-agent market for receivers. Noted: Last offseason, the 49ers took a low-keyed approach to the market before going 13-3, winning a playoff game and securing funding for a new stadium. The team has zero incentive to overspend now.

Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers appear on course to open their new stadium for the 2014 season, a year earlier than once expected.