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Saturday, April 21, 2012
How to add talent without draft, free agency

By Mike Sando

Justin from Phoenix understands criticism over the Arizona Cardinals' relative inactivity in free agency. However, he notes that running back Ryan Williams and cornerback Greg Toler will be returning after missing the 2011 season with injuries. In his view, the team will be adding a couple of impact players.


Mike Sando: The Cardinals must have their fingers crossed on Williams, who really did stand out at training camp before suffering a torn patella tendon. That was a serious injury. Might Williams need an extended period -- perhaps several games or even the full season -- to get all the way back?

A healthy Toler would quietly give the Cardinals a potentially strong group of corners. Patrick Peterson, A.J. Jefferson, Toler and William Gay all have starting experience.

Nose tackle Dan Williams, who suffered a freak arm injury at San Francisco last season, is another key player the Cardinals expect to have back. We could throw quarterback Kevin Kolb into that category as well. He'll get a fresh start after battling head and toe injuries last season.

I've put together a chart showing notable NFC West players returning from injuries suffered last season. Seattle's James Carpenter and Walter Thurmond are not expected to be ready for training camp or even the regular season. They are candidates for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Carpenter in particular will need an extended period to recover from his knee injury, general manager John Schneider said recently.

Tight end Nate Byham is the only San Francisco 49ers player on the list. The 49ers were generally healthy last season.

Byham projected as an outstanding blocker before suffering a season-ending knee injury. His expected return to a group featuring Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker should restore the position.

With Walker entering the final year of his contract, we've discussed the possibility of San Francisco drafting Stanford tight end Coby Fleener. However, Walker's value on special teams and his growth as an all-around tight end could make keeping him a priority. In that case, where would Fleener play?