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Monday, March 19, 2012
Around the NFC West: Feeling the frenzy

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Wild, wild weekend around here.

Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Kendall Langford and Mario Manningham found homes in the NFC West.

Brandon Lloyd landed with the Patriots in New England.

Alex Smith hit the road without knowing whether he would return.

Peyton Manning, having eliminated Arizona from consideration, kept San Francisco 49ers fans in suspense while a rookie cornerback shrugged dismissively.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on the 49ers' thinking. Kawakami: "Jim Harbaugh loves the 'competition' mode in all aspects, including, in this case, negotiations for contracts and jobs. Smith is Harbaugh’s guy… up until the moment things get changed when a Hall of Famer enters the mix. It’s all competition. Maybe Smith understands it, maybe he doesn’t, but the NFL is a cold business and always has been. I also believe the team’s faith in back-up Colin Kaepernick is a part of this." Noted: How and whether negotiations between Smith and the 49ers relate to the Manning pursuit stands out as a telling detail. But we should also never mistake a coach's in-season praise for unconditional loyalty. The things Harbaugh and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said about their 2011 starters has not stopped either from pursuing alternatives.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com runs through the options for Smith and for the 49ers. Smith signing with the Dolphins would additional pressure on the 49ers to prevail in the race to get Manning. Maiocco: "If Manning signs with the Titans, the 49ers can go after veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, whom they thought they were going to sign a year ago. Then, Hasselbeck and Colin Kaepernick would compete for the starting job. If Manning signs with the Broncos, the 49ers would likely sign Josh Johnson -- about the only quarterback left on the market. Then, Kaepernick and Johnson would compete for the job."

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks Kaepernick could be ready to take over if needed. Ostler: "Could a second-year quarterback lead an NFL team to a Super Bowl championship? Ask Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady, they both did. Roethlisberger did it in the 2005 season, as a 23-year-old, although he also started as a rookie. Brady did it in the 2001 season, at age 24, after he inherited the starting job three games into the season."

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News considers the possibilities for the 49ers and Smith. Purdy: "It's impossible to know Smith's true mindset. He is either ticked off at the 49ers and is ready to bolt for another team ... or is part on the biggest price-fixing scheme in NFL history to drive up the offers for both himself and Manning ... or is sincerely interested in moving to Miami for the state income tax advantages and the deep sea fishing. On the other hand, the 49ers' romance with Manning could simply be the team's own leverage ploy so that Smith will be more eager to accept the offer that's on the table -- three years, $24 million -- although it actually may not still be on the table at all. The offer may also not be as good as it sounds."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sums up the improbability of San Francisco pursuing a quarterback other than Smith. Barrows: "When the 2011 season ended, Smith was considered a lock to sign a new, multi-year deal with the 49ers. He started all 18 games and finishing with the best statistics of his career, including a league low five interceptions. He had the strong backing of coach Jim Harbaugh, and both he and team officials suggested that hashing out a deal was a formality. Harbaugh and Smith carpooled to a pro-am golf tournament at Pebble Beach last month; Smith even served as Harbaugh's caddie for a day."

Mike Salk of 710ESPN Seattle has questions about Flynn's abilities and think the Seahawks needed to make a bolder play for a quarterback. Salk: "Andrew Luck wasn't a possibility, Manning wasn't interested in them, and they obviously didn't want to give up what it took to get Robert Griffin III. Flynn is not viewed in that same way. No one is offering him ownership stake because his value is not perceived to be that high. No one is cutting a future Hall of Famer for him. And no one is trading up the bounty that Washington gave up to acquire him. He signed for the type of contract that NFL teams hand out to quarterbacks who are in the middle of the pack."

Peter King of Sports Illustrated quotes Flynn as saying he chose Seattle over Miami partly because of a superior "vibe" in the Seahawks' building. Flynn: "The coaches, the staff -- they were fantastic." Noted: The Seahawks thought they could make a similar impression on Manning if given the opportunity.

Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest asks whether Flynn will benefit from the patience quarterbacks often require.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes aim at Mike Holmgren's recent comments about the Rams-Redskins trade, landing blow after blow. Miklasz: "By whining to his team's fans, all Holmgren did was raise more questions over the Browns' failure to obtain the rights to Robert Griffin III. And by now proclaiming that the Browns wanted RG3, Holmgren also made it clear that they don't believe Colt McCoy is their long-term quarterback. Which is a rotten thing to do to McCoy, considering that the Browns may have no choice but to make him the starter again in 2012."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with former Rams cornerback Ron Bartell, who signed with Oakland. He also has details on Scott Wells' signing with the Rams. Bartell: "I get one unfortunate injury and all of a sudden I'm injury prone. So I just want to prove to everybody that I'm healthy. I heard a lot of people doubting me about coming back from my injury. I just want to be able to prove all my doubters wrong. Go out here and just play good football and help this team win."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains how the Cardinals could clear significant salary-cap room without taking away money from quarterback Kevin Kolb. Somers: "The Cardinals could easily create about $5 million of cap space with a simple restructuring of quarterback Kevin Kolb's contract. Kolb is due a $7 million bonus for being on the roster Saturday morning. Roster bonuses count toward the cap in the year they are paid, which brings Kolb's current cap figure to $10.5 million ($1 million salary, $2 million prorated signing bonus, $7 million roster, $500,000 workout bonus.) If Kolb agrees, the roster bonus could be converted to a type of bonus that is prorated over the term of the contract. So instead of all $7 million counting this year, only $1.75 million would. Kolb's cap number under that scenario would be $5.25 million."

Also from Somers: a letter to Kolb, written as though from the Cardinals.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says Kolb should not be lacking for motivation.