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Thursday, March 15, 2012
Where NFC West stands in free agency

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

A look around the NFC West on the third day of NFL free agency:

Best re-signings: Defensive end Red Bryant in Seattle and cornerback Carlos Rogers in San Francisco. Both players earned new contracts. The Seahawks in particular made a strong positive statement. They have the youngest defense in the league. It's important for them to set an example by paying the right players. Bryant is the type of self-made team player they want to build around. So is Chris Clemons, who is entering the final year of his deal and could warrant an extension, in my view. Teams are better off taking care of their own core players rather than overpaying for castoffs from other organizations. The 49ers have taken this route. Looks like the Seahawks are taking it as well.

Cortland Finnegan
CB Cortland Finnegan brings an attitude, not just cover skills, to the St. Louis defense.
Best addition: Cortland Finnegan to St. Louis. The stuff referenced above about paying the right players only applies for teams possessing the right players. The Rams do not have enough of them. They are starting over. They will want to build through the draft mostly. In the meantime, they identified Finnegan as a player to help them establish their program. They paid a premium, but that was the price of doing business in free agency. At least they know what they're getting. Finnegan embodied the toughness and competitive spirit that coach Jeff Fisher promoted in Tennessee. He gives the Rams a player to help Fisher establish his program in St. Louis. Former coach Steve Spagnuolo took a similar approach last offseason by signing Quintin Mikell, a player he coached in Philadelphia. Fisher has more time.

Most surprising move: Randy Moss to San Francisco. When Moss worked out for New Orleans, I figured the Saints were looking to change the subject away from the bounty scandal. Turns out the reports about Moss looking impressive must have had at least some merit. The 49ers, mindful about overpaying for outsiders in free agency, also knew they could sign Moss without paying what it would have taken to secure Vincent Jackson or the other marquee receivers in free agency. Moss is a lower-risk gamble. The contract he signed does not affect the financial pecking order in San Francisco. That had to be important for the 49ers.

Toughest departure: Richard Marshall from Arizona to Miami. Free agency tends to be overrated. The Cardinals started 1-6 last season after basking in almost universal acclaim for the aggressiveness they showed in free agency and in acquiring a quarterback. Of all the deals Arizona made last year, the one for Marshall represented the greatest value. The money Marshall got from the Dolphins did not appear prohibitive. Cardinals coaches had held up Marshall as a leader and key contributor. Seems like the team would have been better off keeping him around.

Biggest dilemma: The Cardinals have until Friday afternoon to make a decision on quarterback Kevin Kolb. Barring some sort of compromise, keeping Kolb requires paying a $7 million bonus. But what if the team's first choice at quarterback, Peyton Manning, fails to choose his next team by then? Paying Kolb the bonus would make it tougher for the Cardinals to remain in the chase for Manning. Letting Kolb go without having Manning in place would risk heading into the 2012 season without sufficient options at the position.

Most overhyped storyline: Mario Williams to Seattle. The Seahawks showed no interest in the former Houston defensive end/outside linebacker. Looks like Buffalo was the only team interested in paying huge money for him. Why else would Williams spend three days visiting the Bills, make no other trips and then sign with Buffalo, a team that had to pay a premium to land a high-profile free agent?

Unfinished business: The Rams and 49ers still need receiver help. The Seahawks need another quarterback (Matt Flynn?). The 49ers have yet to re-sign Alex Smith. Those are the storylines lurking in the shadows while Arizona awaits word from Manning.

Quick scorecard: The 49ers have lost three unrestricted free agents (Josh Morgan, Blake Costanzo and Adam Snyder). Arizona has lost one, Marshall. Seattle has also lost one, John Carlson. The Rams have lost none, although Brandon Lloyd is making the rounds. The Rams (Finnegan) and Cardinals (Snyder) are the only NFC West teams to add a UFA from another team to this point in the signing period. Moss was not a UFA; he was a street free agent.

Next up: The NFC West chat begins at 1 p.m. ET Thursday. See you there.