NFC West: Adrian Wilson

 

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Steve Keim hesitated for a second.

Deone Bucannon had been an Arizona Cardinals draft pick for barely 15 minutes when general manager Keim tried to avoid the comparison, but it was hard to talk around it.

"I don't want to mention him in the same breath as Adrian Wilson, but there are some physical similarities and the same type of mentality that we were looking for," Keim said.

"[Bucannon] is a headhunter and he's extremely physical."

[+] EnlargeDeone Bucannon
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsArizona's selection of Deone Bucannon, right, brought with it quick comparisons to Cardinals great Adrian Wilson.
Around the team's headquarters, Wilson is revered, held in the same esteem saved for only those in Arizona's ring of honor. Wilson will be there someday, but Thursday night hadn't even finished before Bucannon had his first taste of the NFL's overhyped expectations.

While Bucannon is years away from reaching Wilson's level, he'll enter the league in his shadow but with a similar reputation. Bucannon built his draft stock by hitting. He had 100 or more tackles in his last two seasons at Washington State.

"In our division, you better like to hit," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "That's one of the things, he brings passion and that's what we loved about him. He plays with a lot of passion and he's going to be a great fit in our locker room.

"He's a humble kid who just loves to play the game and wants to learn from the best and we've got some good guys here to teach him and give him opportunities to knock the crap out of people in our division."

But it wasn't his physicality that initially attracted Keim.

He watched Bucannon run a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last February and instantly knew he'd be the Cardinals' primary target. Then Keim looked at Bucannon's résumé and watched his tape. He was sold. A four-year starter for the Cougars, Bucannon had 15 interceptions -- six as a senior -- and made 222 plays against the run throughout his career.

At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Bucannon was a prospect Keim didn't want to miss on. Yet, he almost did -- on his own accord. The Cardinals traded out of the 20th spot with Bucannon still on the board. They flipped first-round picks with the New Orleans Saints, taking over the 27th pick and adding the 91st. But waiting for them near the end of the first round was the hard-hitting, long-range safety Arizona has needed.

"I'm a playmaker," Bucannon said. "I'm an aggressive person. I love being around the ball. I'm going to do whatever it takes to help the team.

"I'm here to complement my team and hopefully they'll be able to feed off my playmaking and my aggressive energy," he added. "I'm not afraid to go in there and stick my nose in anything or anybody. It doesn't matter how big you are, I'm coming downhill regardless. I'm not going to change my style of play. I just want to bring a change of pace to the team."video

NFC West roots for Smith and Incognito

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
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Antonio Smith and Richie Incognito played against one another for years when Smith was with the Arizona Cardinals and Incognito was with the St. Louis Rams.

Both players rank among the NFL leaders in penalties for unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct and less specific personal fouls.

Their history dating to their NFC West days came to mind upon reading about Smith pulling off Incognito's helmet and swinging it at Incognito's head. Last season, the NFL fined Smith for kicking Incognito in retaliation for Incognito allegedly twisting Smith's ankle to inflict injury. These are the sorts of grudges we tend to enjoy reading about years later, after players are retired, even if their actions crossed lines. We're looking for evidence players were as emotionally invested as fans tend to be.

Of course, violating the rules isn't a requirement for emotional investment. Plenty of players go all out while avoiding the penalties outlined in the chart below. Six of the 10 players listed have NFC West ties. The penalty counts date to 2006, so the chart is biased to show longer-tenured players.

Filtering to show only the past two seasons only enhances the NFC West flavor as Dashon Goldson (10), Aaron Curry (six), Kam Chancellor (six), Breno Giacomini (six) and Brandon Browner (five) are among the eight players with more than four such penalties over that span. Incognito has four and Smith two.


NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson is back as the starting left corner in a revamped secondary. The team must discover during training camp which corner will start opposite him. Newcomers Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers are the leading candidates. Arizona has quite a few options. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu figures prominently into the Cardinals' plans as a hybrid corner-safety type. Slot corner Javier Arenas, acquired from Kansas City, and 2012 third-round choice Jamell Fleming are also in the mix. The Cardinals will have three new starters in their secondary after parting with cornerback William Gay, free safety Kerry Rhodes and strong safety Adrian Wilson. Greg Toler, James Sanders and Michael Adams are also gone. Those six combined to play nearly 70 percent of the snaps in the secondary last season. Rashad Johnson was starting to overtake Wilson. He projects as the likely strong safety, with veteran newcomer Yeremiah Bell at the other safety spot. Bell played under new coordinator Todd Bowles previously.

St. Louis Rams: Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins provide the foundation for a secondary that expects to play quite a bit of man coverage behind an aggressive front seven with improved speed. Finnegan is the most accomplished and highest-paid member of the secondary, but he insists Jenkins is the best defensive back on the team by a wide margin. That might be true from a talent standpoint. The team will be looking for Jenkins to demonstrate improved consistency in his second season. Trumaine Johnson, a third-round choice in 2012, also figures prominently. A DUI arrest and previous off-field troubles in college raise questions about his long-term reliability, however. The situation at safety is ... different. The Rams want to develop third-round pick T.J. McDonald quickly. Darian Stewart projects as the other primary safety. The team signed veteran Matt Giordano as insurance. Former starting safeties Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell are gone. The Rams must determine this summer what they have at safety.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers demonstrated by their actions this offseason a general belief that the secondary's issues late last season stemmed more from a diminished front seven than from talent deficiencies on the back end. Dahl, signed from the Rams this offseason, provides a veteran insurance policy in case rookie first-round pick Eric Reid isn't ready to start immediately at free safety. San Francisco must replace former starter Dashon Goldson, who signed with Tampa Bay in free agency. C.J. Spillman, primarily a force on special teams to this point in his career, also factors as an option there. The 49ers have never appeared particularly concerned about losing Goldson over the years, but trading up 12 spots to select Reid showed they value talent at the position. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner return as the other three starters. Beyond identifying an immediate starter at free safety, the 49ers need to figure out this summer whether free-agent addition Nnamdi Asomugha can help them.

Seattle Seahawks: All four starters return from arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and new nickel corner Antoine Winfield have all earned Pro Bowl or Associated Press All-Pro honors within the past three seasons. Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond are talented backups with limited starting experience. The team must figure out this offseason whether Thurmond factors in for the long term. Thurmond beat out Sherman for the starting job heading into the 2011 season. However, repeated serious injuries have derailed his career. Winfield is probably safe as the nickel corner this season, but the gap between Winfield and the team's other options is smaller than Winfield's credentials would suggest.

Major overhauls at quarterback, running back and in the defensive secondary jump out when analyzing the Arizona Cardinals' roster heading toward the 2013 season.

The chart at right shows which players have left the roster this offseason after playing offensive or defensive snaps for the team in 2012.

Most striking: The Cardinals didn't really "lose" any of the players listed. They decided to move on from most of them for reasons relating to performance, health, salary, age, scheme fit or some combination of those factors.

Teams usually keep the players they really want to keep. That was the case with Arizona this offseason.

So, while the Cardinals' current players account for a division-low 60.9 percent of offensive and defensive snaps played last season, Arizona isn't complaining. The team lost 11 of its 12 final games and the roster had crept up in age. A few of the players logging considerable snaps in 2012 did so only through injuries to others.

The Cardinals have 10 players age 30 or older, down from 14 at this point last year. That includes specialists Jay Feely, Mike Leach and Dave Zastudil. Arizona has seven offensive or defensive players age 30 or older, matching the NFL average, according to my records.

Paris Lenon, Todd Heap, Adrian Wilson, Adam Snyder, Clark Haggans, Jeremy Bridges, D'Anthony Batiste and Vonnie Holliday no longer remain from the 30-plus group on the roster in June 2012. That group averaged about 33 years old at this time last year.

Quarterback Carson Palmer, safety Yeremiah Bell, linebacker Karlos Dansby and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander are 2013 newcomers in their 30s. They average 32.6 years old and there are only four of them. Palmer in particular represents a clear upgrade at his position. That could also be the case for Dansby, although Lenon annually outperformed expectations at inside linebacker.

We interrupt ongoing coverage of Michael Crabtree's surgically repaired Achilles tendon to continue our recent discussion on average ages for projected 2013 NFL starting lineups.

Offense went first. Defense is up next.

The chart ranks teams by average ages for defensive starters.

I've recalculated the numbers and you can see just how close some of them are -- indistinguishable, in some cases. One change to the projected starting lineup could affect the order by several places.

The way the ages are calculated -- number of days since birth divided by 365.25 to account for leap years, then rounded down to the tenth of a year and averaged -- can cause slight changes to the order from one day to the next. That happened with the defenses for New England and Baltimore over the past couple days, for example. They actually switched places from a couple days back because the calculation for Tommy Kelly's age changed from 32.3 to 32.4.

For that reason, I'm more interested in the extremes from one end of the rankings to the next. A few spots here or there? No big deal.

The gradual changes add up through the range of teams, and we can see why the Chicago Bears weren't all that excited about bringing back Brian Urlacher to a defense that has the oldest starting linebackers without him.

A few thoughts on the defensive numbers for NFC West teams:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Arizona released veteran safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes primarily to shed their contracts. Had getting younger been the priority, Arizona wouldn't have signed 35-year-old Yeremiah Bell as a replacement. His presence on the roster pushes up the average age in the secondary. Parting with Paris Lenon, 35, made the Cardinals younger at linebacker. This team had too many older backups in the past, I thought. That is changing. Note that the Cardinals had the NFL's third-oldest starting defense entering the 2010 season. That group averaged 29.3 years old. The current one averages 27.8 even with Karlos Dansby projecting as a starter over Kevin Minter. I listed Dansby and Daryl Washington as the starters at inside linebacker despite the four-game suspension Washington must serve to open the season.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers had the NFL's oldest starting defensive line last season. That will not be the case in 2013 now that Isaac Sopoaga left in free agency. Replacing Sopoaga and free safety Dashon Goldson with younger players has brought down the 49ers' average age across the defensive lineup. And if the draft secured an eventual successor for 33-year-old Justin Smith, the 49ers should be set up on defense for years to come. Note that strong safety Donte Whitner is entering his eighth season, but he won't turn 28 until July.
  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams own the second-youngest projected starting defense in the NFL. Their starting defensive backs, defensive linemen and linebackers all rank among the NFL's five youngest at their position groups. That is much younger than the Rams were on defense a few years ago. The biggest question initially is whether the Rams' young safeties, including rookie third-round draft choice T.J. McDonald, are ready to play prominent roles. Signing a veteran safety for insurance could make some sense, but this is looking like a season when youth will be served throughout nearly all the Rams' roster, save for portions of the offensive line. There's much to like about a young defensive front featuring Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn and veteran Chris Long.
  • Seattle Seahawks: There was some projecting at work in putting together a lineup for Seattle. I plugged in Malcolm Smith at linebacker and went with a defensive line featuring Red Bryant, Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane and Cliff Avril. That line would hardly be ancient, but it would rank among the older third of projected starting lines. Bruce Irvin's suspension and Chris Clemons' knee injury limit the options. We could see rookie Jesse Williams at defensive tackle over McDaniel, who has mostly been a rotation player. The Seahawks would have the youngest projected starting linebackers in the league if Smith joined Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright in the lineup. The starting secondary ranks seventh youngest. However, nickel corner Antoine Winfield is 35 years old and could wind up playing half the snaps, or more.
A quick look at how recent developments affect 2013 regular-season openers, which are now just 111 days away:
  • Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers. Bruce Irvin's suspension from the Seahawks to open the season removes from this game a player whose contributions proved pivotal to Seattle's victory at Carolina last season. Irvin's fourth-quarter sack and forced fumble allowed the Seahawks to run out the clock. He finished the game with two sacks as the Seahawks shut down Cam Newton.
  • Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers. Colin Kaepernick's 181-yard rushing performance for the 49ers against Green Bay in the playoffs last season sent the Packers scrambling for ways to defend rushing attempts from quarterbacks. The team even showed interest in hiring Kaepernick's former college coach, Chris Ault. However, Ault wound up taking a job with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Kaepernick-Packers storyline will command tons of attention when the opener is near. Imagine if Ault had taken a job with the 49ers' Week 1 opponent.
  • Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams. Daryl Washington had one sack in each of the Cardinals' two games against the Rams last season. A suspension will prevent him from factoring this time. Side note: In years past, Arizona could almost always count on borderline-dominant performances from Adrian Wilson against the Rams. To hear Wilson tell it, the Rams angered him during the 2001 draft when they repeatedly called him to say they planned to select him, only to select three other defensive players instead. Wilson will miss this game after signing with New England following his release from the Cardinals. The Rams will not miss him.
Adam Snyder's release from the Arizona Cardinals made him the sixth player to leave the team's roster this offseason after starting at least 10 games for the team in 2012.

Paris Lenon, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Snyder and Adrian Wilson each started at least 14 games last season before departing the roster. D'Anthony Batiste, an unrestricted free agent, started 10 games.

Quentin Groves, Beanie Wells, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and LaRod Stephens-Howling were part of a group of former Cardinals to start between five and seven games for Arizona last season.

Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Lindley, Pat McQuistan, Early Doucet, Greg Toler, Reagan Maui'a, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday and Todd Heap started between one and four games for the team before leaving the roster.

You get the point. The Cardinals have a new head coach and new general manager. They weren't very good on offense last season. Some of their players' contracts reflect what the team's previous leadership once thought of those players. They've become outdated. And so the Cardinals are turning over a pretty fair percentage of their roster by design.

Kam Chancellor's deal sends message

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
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The Seattle Seahawks' contract extension for safety Kam Chancellor goes against the grain in the NFC West.

The rest of the division has been slashing salary at the position.



Arizona cut starters Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. St. Louis cut starter Quintin Mikell while watching the other starter, Craig Dahl, sign a modest deal with San Francisco. The 49ers watched Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson leave for Tampa Bay in free agency without making an effort to keep him.

The exact figures for Chancellor's new deal aren't yet known, but he will certainly become the highest-paid safety in the NFC West. ESPN's John Clayton reported the terms as five years and $35 million. Chancellor had one season remaining on his deal.

Chancellor turned 25 this month. That differentiated him from Wilson (33), Mikell (32), Rhodes (30), and Goldson (28). Another difference: Chancellor was drafted by his team's current coach and general manager. The other safeties listed were left behind from previous GMs and coaching staffs.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider made it clear during a news conference Monday that they were personally invested in Chancellor's development from 2010 fifth-round draft choice to team leader and Pro Bowl-caliber safety. For them, rewarding Chancellor reiterated the message that Seattle will reward its own players -- a point that arguably needed reinforcing after the team sprung for outsider Percy Harvin, among others, this offseason.
Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Dashon Goldson and Quintin Mikell were starting NFC West safeties last season. They combined to earn more than $15 million for their contributions in 2012.

Wilson, Rhodes and Mikell were released, and Goldson departed in free agency, reportedly without getting an offer from the San Francisco 49ers. Another NFC West safety, Craig Dahl, left the St. Louis Rams for the 49ers.

One thing hasn't changed at the position: Seattle still has the best starters in the division.

Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, had little trouble giving the Seahawks his No. 1 ranking at safety in his continuing look at where NFC West teams stand at each position. We pick up the conversation there.

Williamson: Seattle has the best safeties in the league. St. Louis has the worst. San Francisco's are good. Arizona's are average at best.

Sando: I'm a little surprised you'd give the 49ers high marks at the position after parting with Goldson. Donte Whitner is there and he's good, but what else is there at the position? The Rams didn't seem all that set on keeping Dahl.

Williamson: I think Dahl is serviceable. I guess they are not all that good, but they are better than Arizona at the position right now, and with all those draft picks -- 13 overall and five of the first 93 -- I fully expect them to add John Cyprien, Eric Reid or Matt Elam. The writing is on the wall when you sign Dahl as a placeholder while the rookie comes in and is a lot more talented.

Sando: We could have three NFC West teams targeting starting safeties in the draft.

Williamson: St. Louis might have the worst safeties in the league right now. That is a huge need for the Rams. They probably need to draft two safeties in their top four or five picks and one had better be in the first round. Everyone talks about needing receivers for Sam Bradford. Really, they need a guard and a safety. Then we can talk about that.

Sando: Seattle is really the only team in the division appearing set at safety for now. I could still see the Seahawks drafting one for insurance in case they have a hard time re-signing Kam Chancellor. In the meantime, Earl Thomas might be the best safety in the league. At least I'm assuming you'd agree in saying he's moved past Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, who were long considered the standards.

Williamson: He has passed those guys for sure. They have very much declined. I would probably say Eric Weddle is the best safety right now. Jairus Byrd is good, too. Thomas is right in the conversation with those guys and he has more ability than either one of them.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC West team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals set a low bar in free agency and cleared it pretty easily. They weren't in position to attack the market aggressively because they had some salary-cap and player-valuation issues to address in the immediate term. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim parted with Kevin Kolb, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Beanie Wells and Early Doucet. Some of those moves cleared significant cap room, but the dead money left over was enough to crimp the Cardinals' style. The first nine players Arizona signed in free agency (Frostee Rucker became the 10th on Wednesday) counted $12.9 million against the salary cap in 2013. That was about how much the team cleared by releasing Kolb and Rhodes. Call it addition by subtraction and give the Cardinals a passing grade in free agency under difficult circumstances. Quarterback Drew Stanton and running back Rashard Mendenhall are the only offensive players added to this point in the process. Arians thinks better health will restore the offensive line. He also loves the talent at that position in the draft. The team is setting itself up to draft for offense, it appears.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams are losers in free agency if you think they "lost" Danny Amendola, Steven Jackson, Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Gibson and Robert Turner. The team was willing and sometimes even eager to move on from most of those players, however. The Rams plan to develop their younger players while acquiring more of them through free agency and the draft. They paid big money for two free agents, and both are relatively young, a plus. Tight end Jared Cook is not quite 26 years old. Left tackle Jake Long could be an old 27 based on recent injuries, but he's right around the league average for age. We could mark down St. Louis for losing both starting safeties (Quintin Mikell was released for cap purposes) and failing to land a replacement. The draft appears strong at that position, however, and Mikell could be re-signed at some point. We're only 10 days into the process, and the Rams haven't made any ridiculous moves. Getting Long on a relatively short-term deal (four years) seemed like a positive.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers watched longtime contributors Delanie Walker, Isaac Sopoaga and Dashon Goldson sign elsewhere. That was the plan given the price tags associated with all three players. The 49ers knew they couldn't pay premium dollars to those players after fielding the NFL's most expensive defense last season. Their disciplined approach to the market has served them well in recent seasons. This year, it helped them find room on the balance sheet for receiver Anquan Boldin, acquired from the Baltimore Ravens. The signing of Glenn Dorsey to the defensive line seemed curious at first, but it's clear to me the 49ers have special plans for the player drafted fifth overall back in 2008. Although Phil Dawson's signing stabilizes the kicking situation, his $2.35 million cap figure for 2013 means the team will again be paying a bit of a premium at the position, particularly with former kicker David Akers' terminated contract still counting against the cap. With 14 draft picks, couldn't San Francisco have found a rookie to do the job at lower cost?

Seattle Seahawks: Jason Jones is the only Seattle free agent to sign with another team this offseason. Seattle appeared to upgrade from Jones by getting Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett on a one-year deal counting $4.8 million against the cap. Signing Bennett and former Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril to short-term deals makes the Seahawks a pretty clear winner in free agency to this point. Percy Harvin was not acquired in free agency, so he isn't counting in the equation. His addition addressed the position, however, diminishing the need for Seattle to sign a veteran wideout. Upgrading the pass rush was really the only priority for the Seahawks once the Harvin trade went through. Bennett and Avril combined for 18.5 sacks last season. Both are playing on short-term deals with plenty to prove and only short-term cap ramifications for the team.
St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson became the 13th unrestricted free agent from the NFC West to reach a contract agreement since the signing period opened Tuesday.

The Miami Dolphins announced what was thought to be a three-year agreement with Gibson, who did not figure into the Rams' plans after catching 51 passes for 691 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns last season.

The chart below lists all UFAs from NFC West teams, noting which ones reached contract agreements.

In other developments around the division:
  • Tackle update: Dolphins free-agent tackle Jake Long left Rams headquarters without a contract agreement. That leads me to think Long will most likely sign elsewhere. The Rams have other options, including the draft (they have two first-round selections, after all). Long would upgrade the line, no question, but price deserves special consideration given injury concerns. To what degree Long wants to leave Miami is another potential factor.
  • Safety market: Rams free agent safety Craig Dahl is reportedly visiting the San Francisco 49ers. The Detroit Lions re-signed safety Louis Delmas, who had visited both the Rams and 49ers. The safety market remains flooded even after former Cardinals mainstay Adrian Wilson reportedly reached an agreement with New England. Teams can afford to take their time.
  • Aldon's shoulder: Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith underwent shoulder surgery this offseason. That is counter to what Smith told Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News last month. The 49ers do not disclose information regarding surgeries. Either way, Smith was known to have played through shoulder trouble last season. He'll presumably be healthy for 2013.
  • Obomanu let go: Longtime (since 2006) Seattle receiver Ben Obomanu's Twitter account indicated the Seahawks planned to release him. The move had seemed likely even before the team acquired Percy Harvin. Obomanu was scheduled to earn $2.3 million in salary from a team that no longer needed him as much on offense or special teams. Obomanu went from playing roughly half the offensive snaps over the 2010 and 2011 seasons to playing 29.2 percent of them last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • Dumervil available: The Denver Broncos' failed attempt to renegotiate Elvis Dumervil's contract ended with the team releasing Dumervil and an explanatory statement. Dumervil's 63.5 sacks tied for seventh-most in the NFL since his 2006 rookie season even though Dumervil missed the 2010 season due to injury. There are no indications NFC West teams have serious interest in Dumervil, but his name is another to keep in mind, at least.
The Arizona Cardinals keep adding lower-priced veterans on short-term contracts as they transition toward a future under new coach Bruce Arians.

Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and cornerback Antoine Cason were the latest additions Friday. They joined Rashard Mendenhall and Jerraud Powers as free-agent additions with short contracts, low salaries and youth on their side.

None of the four is even 27 years old. Each has an opportunity to parlay 2013 into a bigger contract next year. Significantly for the Cardinals, the team could move on from these players without incurring charges against future salary caps. That will be significant for roster building in Arizona.

Adding high-priced free agents would be more exciting, of course, but the Cardinals aren't in great position to go that route at this stage of their transition. They've incurred short-term charges against the salary cap by unloading fat contracts left over from the previous regime. For example, the contracts for Kevin Kolb, Stewart Bradley and Adrian Wilson alone are counting more than $10 million against the 2013 cap even though all three were released.

The team will gain greater flexibility as those and other leftover contracts come off the books in 2014.

Cason, signed from the San Diego Chargers, was one of the highest-ranked cornerbacks available, according to Scouts Inc. He has 12 interceptions in five NFL seasons and has played at least 87 percent of the defensive snaps in each of the past three seasons. That included 96.7 percent last season.

"Cason is a big corner with good top-end speed and above-average short-area quickness, agility and body control," the Scouts Inc. report read in part. "He has learned how to use his long arms to jam or re-route receivers at the line of scrimmage and looks more comfortable from a press alignment than he does in off coverage. He is a willing tackler but is not as strong or explosive as you'd expect for someone his size."

Cason is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.
We've debated in recent years which NFC West team had the best combination at safety.

There is not much to debate two days into free agency.

The Arizona Cardinals' move to release free safety Kerry Rhodes on Wednesday came the same day the San Francisco 49ers lost free safety Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay. Rhodes' release came only days after Arizona released five-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson. It came days after the St. Louis Rams released safety Quintin Mikell.

Rhodes was scheduled to earn $6 million in salary and bonus money for 2013, the final year of his contract. The money was not guaranteed. That means Rhodes will not receive it, and the Cardinals will not have to count it against their salary cap.

Rhodes has played to generally positive reviews, but with a new head coach and general manager in place, the Cardinals are making significant changes. Rhodes' performance obviously didn't justify his salary in the team's estimation.

Arizona did re-sign safety Rashad Johnson this week. The position could use some reinforcing without Rhodes or Wilson.

Back to the best-in-the-West debate over safeties. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks were arguably the best anyway. They're the best almost by default until their NFC West rivals address the position.

Rhodes' release was not widely expected. We'll have to see if there are bigger-picture implications regarding other positions.
Percy Harvin and Anquan Boldin dominated our coverage Monday after trades sent them to the NFC West.

I'll use this space to tie up loose ends around the division.
  • Arizona Cardinals: The team appears ready to remake itself at running back. Beanie Wells was cut. LaRod Stephens-Howling is not expected to return. Reggie Bush is a potential target in free agency. Ryan Williams remains part of the mix at the position. On defense, the Cardinals reached agreement with safety Rashad Johnson on a three-year deal. A deal with Johnson appeared likely after Arizona released Adrian Wilson. The Cardinals are also reportedly interested in Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith, but they'll have competition.
  • St. Louis Rams: Quintin Mikell's release could explain why the team decided to tender an offer to fellow safety Darian Stewart in a move Jim Thomas reported for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Rams also re-signed defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, who played nearly one-third of the defensive snaps last season. Monday was otherwise pretty quiet for the Rams.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The team actually got younger with the 32-year-old Boldin, at least in relation to Randy Moss, who is 36 and not expected back. The 49ers announced nose tackle Ian Williams' signing to a two-year extension through 2015. It's looking like fellow defensive linemen Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sopoaga will hit the market when free agency begins Tuesday. So will safety Dashon Goldson. Smith, the cornerback on Arizona's radar, has been linked to San Francisco as well. How much will the 49ers be in position to spend after carving out $6 million for Boldin? Alex Smith's departure from the roster via trade will help.
  • Seattle Seahawks: The move to land Harvin will reverberate all year given his potential impact and what the Seahawks gave up for him. Seattle still needs pass-rush help. John Abraham visited recently. Cullen Jenkins visited before reaching agreement with the New York Giants. It's unclear how aggressive the Seahawks will be in seeking help for their defensive line after reaching agreement with Harvin on a lucrative extension. I wonder if Glenn Dorsey would fit on a short-term deal.

I'm sure I've missed a potential move or two, but that's OK. We've got all day -- and into the night, most likely.
Good morning, NFC West. Here's hoping the free-agent signing period that opens Tuesday will be more exciting than the ongoing three-day window for negotiating.

Alas, a weekend designed to help NFL teams add players will instead be remembered for notable roster subtractions. While teams were allowed to speak with representatives for projected free agents, the NFL warned teams against reaching contract agreements even in principle. It's not yet clear to what degree the three-day window will help teams get a feel for what players might command in free agency.

In the meantime, teams reduced salary-cap obligations.

The Arizona Cardinals, having already cut safety Adrian Wilson, released receiver Early Doucet, leaving NFC West teams with five of the 28 players they drafted in 2008.

The St. Louis Rams, having already cut Wayne Hunter and watched Steven Jackson void his contract, planned to release safety Quintin Mikell. Those moves gave the Rams enough salary-cap room to strike for a marquee free agent if the team wants to go that route for a second consecutive offseason.

Kevin Kolb's contract situation stands as perhaps the biggest unresolved issue in the NFC West heading into free agency. Arizona recently placed a second-round tender on restricted free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer, an indication he figures into their plans for now, at least. Will Kolb take a reduction from his $9 million salary, or might he reach the market for the first time in his career?

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