NFC West: Anthony Becht
Bulger's retirement plans, revealed Wednesday by ESPN's Adam Schefter, come one year after the Arizona Cardinals considered bringing him in as a stopgap starter.
At his best, Bulger was a highly accurate passer and competent heir to Kurt Warner as conductor of the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis. He once completed 36 of 48 passes for 453 yards against San Diego, tossing four touchdown passes without an interception. He had four other games with at least 440 yards passing. But the Rams posted only a 1-2 record in the playoffs with Bulger. The team and organization began deteriorating around him as the years progressed, exposing Bulger to repeated beatings.
Bulger finishes his career with 122 touchdown passes, 93 interceptions and an 84.4 rating. The Rams were 26-10 when Bulger started from 2002-04, his first three seasons with the team. They never posted a winning record with him in the lineup thereafter. Bulger finished his career with a 41-54 record as a starter, including 5-30 over his last three seasons.
Tight end Anthony Becht, Bulger's teammate on the 1-15 Rams of 2009, blamed the Rams organization for Bulger's demise as a player. He said the team was unwilling to spend on its offensive line, exposing Bulger to punishment that left the quarterback without the necessary drive to continue.
"Congrats, my friend, on a spectacular career that could have been that much better," Becht wrote.
Mike Sando: Former Cardinals tight end Anthony Becht raised similar concerns earlier Wednesday. The team will still make a move for a quarterback at some point. That move will largely define this offseason for Arizona. It's too early to say Arizona hasn't moved quickly enough there. Kevin Kolb remains available. All signs point to the Cardinals making a trade for him. If and when that happens, I'm sure we'll hear complaints about the Cardinals giving up too much for an unproven player. The team cannot win either way in that situation.
Your broader concerns are valid. Arizona has bled talent over the past couple seasons. The roster would be stronger with Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and others. Losing Kurt Warner was huge. The Cardinals have made significant strides in recent seasons, but not enough to earn the benefit of the doubt across the board. The team's payroll plummeted last season. Steve Breaston, Deuce Lutui, Lyle Sendlein and others do not have contracts for the 2011 season.
"Arizona has the money [cap space], so you have to go out and spend to turn it around," Becht said when I followed up with him by phone. "You got rid of the guys you didn’t want, lost all those defenders. You have to commit yourself to something else. You are either proactive or reactive."
Becht thinks the Cardinals will wind up overpaying for Kolb by waiting. I think leverage can work both ways. If the Cardinals are the only team in the market for Kolb, why should they rush. Then again, if Kolb becomes the only realistic option for Arizona, the leverage swings back in Philadelphia's favor.
"I talked to [Eagles receiver] Jeremy Maclin and I asked him about Kolb," Becht said. "I’m all about experience and Kolb hasn't played much. [Maclin] told me as far as from a player standpoint, Kolb is legitimate -- a starting quarterback in the NFL, a real good player and wherever he goes, he is going to do well. He's been around coaches who know what they are doing, who helped transform Michael Vick. Kolb has the pedigree. Make a deal."
They felt it, too.
Arizona finished with a 5-11 record largely because quarterback Kurt Warner retired. The team hoped it had enough veteran strength throughout its roster to keep the Cardinals competitive. A favorable schedule and division in transition made it seem possible.
Looking back, the roster turnover played a leading role in the Cardinals' fall, coach Ken Whisenhunt said from the Super Bowl media center Friday.
"What you lose more than anything is that equity buildup that you have had for a couple years," Whisenhunt said.
Specifically, Whisenhunt said the Cardinals too often couldn't draw on shared experiences -- say, adjustment that worked against an opponent the previous season.
"Even though you have a Kerry Rhodes, you have Paris Lenon, you have guys you are comfortable with that are good players in the league, they don't know what you have gone through to get to that point," Whisenhunt said. "To have those guys step up and say, 'Listen, we are not practicing the right way, we are not making these plays like we should be,' you don't have that history with them. You can get away with that if it is one or two, but if you have five or six -- especially if they are good football players -- that is hard to overcome."
The Cardinals parted with a long list of players featuring Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, Bryant McFadden, Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor, Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Neil Rackers, Anthony Becht, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban, Matt Leinart, Ralph Brown, Monty Beisel and Dan Kreider.
"You can never go in and say, 'Gosh, woe is me because we lost those guys,' because you are counting on the other guys to step in and you always want to be positive," Whisenhunt said. "But you have to recognize it's a pretty big blow to lose [key] guys."
Whisenhunt called the situation a "perfect storm" with Warner retiring, key players hitting the market and the NFL heading toward an uncertain labor situation.
"There is no operating plan for what you do or how you do it," he said. "It doesn't really matter at this point. You just have to move forward."
Quite a few younger players gained more experience than anticipated. That could help Arizona build back some of that equity Whisenhunt said was missing. But so much comes back to the quarterback situation. An upgrade at that position would cover for imperfections elsewhere on the roster.
I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.
This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.
Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).
St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)
Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)
Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)
Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)
Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)
Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)
Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)
Special teams: Ryan Neill
Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)
Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)
Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)
Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)
Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)
Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)
Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)
Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)
Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)
Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)
Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)
Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)
Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)
Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)
Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)
Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)
Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)
Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)
Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)
Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)
Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)
Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)
San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)
Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)
Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker
Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)
Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)
Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)
Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)
Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt
Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)
The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.
The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.
No-brainers: Veteran insider linebacker Monty Beisel had started during part of preseason and the Cardinals are lean at the position after placing Gerald Hayes on reserve/physically unable to perform. But Beisel wasn't the answer at the position and keeping him on the roster for Week 1 would have guaranteed his salary. Rookie Daryl Washington looks like he'll be starting at linebacker sooner rather than later. The Cardinals have also been pleased with veteran Paris Lenon. Reggie Walker also survived the first wave of cuts.
What’s next: The Cardinals still must release three players to conform with the 53-man limit. Matt Leinart's future remains in limbo. Coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters Friday that he wasn't prepared to make a decision on that front just yet. The Cardinals have four quarterbacks on their roster: Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton and Leinart. That situation should shake out in the coming days. Whisenhunt said he needs to figure out whether Leinart could fit as a backup if the team decided to name Anderson its starter. "It's not so much a question of Matt and his ability to play football as it his how he fits with our team," Whisenhunt said. Update: Here's my take on Leinart, who was released Saturday.
Cardinals players cut:
QB Matt Leinart
LB Stevie Baggs
TE Anthony Becht
LB Monty Beisel
LB Cody Brown
DE Jeremy Clark
DE John Fletcher
CB Trevor Ford
WR Ed Gant
OL Herman Johnson
WR Mike Jones
WR Onrea Jones
CB Justin Miller
OL Jonathan Palmer
OL Tom Pestock
FB Charles Scott
WR Isaiah Williams
In the meantime, a few odds and ends:
Traded guard Reggie Wells to Philadelphia; released tight end Anthony Becht; released linebacker Steve Baggs; released linebacker Monty Beisel; apparently informed receiver Max Komar he made the initial 53-man roster; apparently did not tell quarterback Matt Leinart about his status to this point; scheduled a news conference for 6 p.m. ET (but nothing significant on Leinart is expected at that time).
San Francisco 49ers
Released running back Michael Robinson, released fullback Brit Miller; released fullback Jehuu Caulcrick; released receiver Jason Hill; released receiver Kevin Jurovich; released offensive lineman Cody Wallace; released defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell; released tight ends Tony Curtis and J.J. Finley; released linebacker Bruce Davis; released cornerback Karl Paymah.
No known moves to this point; Seattle waited until Saturday to announce its cuts last season.
St. Louis Rams
No known moves to this point; the Rams also waited until Saturday last season.
Matt Leinart apparently has no idea where he stands with the Arizona Cardinals. That makes it tough for the rest of us to predict exactly what might happen.
Will Leinart start at quarterback for the Cardinals in Week 1? Will he serve as the backup? Will the Cardinals release him? Might they trade him?
The next week to 10 days should provide answers. NFL teams have until Saturday to reduce their rosters to 53-man limits, with the 75-man deadline passing Tuesday.
After looking at the Seahawks' roster earlier Monday, here's a quick run through the Cardinals:
Average number kept since 2003: 3.0
Keepers: Derek Anderson
Looking safe: Max Hall
On the bubble: Leinart, John Skelton
Comment: Coach Ken Whisenhunt's handling of Leinart suggests there's more than tough love at work here. It's fair to question whether Leinart fits into the team's plans at all this season. The smart move, it seems, would be to keep Anderson, Leinart and the winner of the Hall-Skelton competition. But it's clear Whisenhunt isn't convinced Leinart has what it takes to be a starting quarterback.
Running backs (8)
Average number kept since 2003: 5.3
Keepers: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jason Wright
On the bubble: Reagan Maui'a, Charles Scott
Also: Alfonso Smith, Nehemiah Broughton
Comment: Scott arrived via trade this week after Broughton suffered a season-ending knee injury. Maui'a could be the choice heading into the regular season. Scott provides depth for the final exhibition game, but it's unlikely he would be refined enough as a blocker to factor into the offense in a meaningful way. Smith's speed caught my attention early in camp.
Wide receivers (11)
Average number kept since 2003: 6.1
Keepers: Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet
Looking safe: Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams
On the bubble: Onrea Jones, Max Komar
Also: Isaiah Williams, Darren Mougey, Mike Jones, Ed Gant
Comment: Gant serves a suspension to open the season. Roberts will make the team as a third-round pick. Williams pretty much wrapped up a spot with his latest strong performance (at Chicago). Jones and Komar could be competing for a sixth and final spot at the position.
Tight ends (4)
Average number kept since 2003: 3.1
Keepers: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht, Stephen Spach
Also: Jim Dray
Comment: The team released Dominique Byrd on Monday. The top three appear set. Not much drama here. Dray looks like practice-squad material.
Offensive linemen (12)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.9
Keepers: Lyle Sendlein, Alan Faneca, Brandon Keith, Reggie Wells, Levi Brown, Deuce Lutui, Rex Hadnot, Jeremy Bridges
Looking safe: Herman Johnson
Also: Ben Claxton, Tom Pestock, Jonathan Palmer
Comment: Lutui could be trending toward a spot back in the starting lineup despite reporting to camp overweight. Johnson also reported overweight. He isn't a starter, and that's why I listed him separately from the keepers (even though it's an upset, most likely, if Johnson does not stick).
Defensive line (9)
Average number kept since 2003: 7.4
Keepers: Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Bryan Robinson
Looking safe: Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Kenny Iwebema
Also: John Fletcher, Jeremy Clark
Comment: This position appears pretty much set. I would expect seven to earn roster spots.
Average number kept since 2003: 7.1
Keepers: Gerald Hayes, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington
Looking safe: Will Davis, Cody Brown
Bubble: Monty Beisel, Reggie Walker
Also: O'Brien Schofield, Steve Baggs, Mark Washington, Chris Johnson, Pago Togafau
Comment: Hayes and Schofield could open the season on reserve/physically unable to perform, opening two roster spots. Beisel and Walker could be competing for the final spot at this position.
Defensive backs (13)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.9
Keepers: Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kerry Rhodes, Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, Matt Ware
Looking safe: Michael Adams, Hamza Abdullah, Rashad Johnson
On the bubble: Marshay Green
Also: A.J. Jefferson, Trevor Ford, Justin Miller
Comment: Toler could be passing McBride on the depth chart as the starting right cornerback, fulfilling expectations. Johnson appeared more physical early in camp. Haven't heard much about him lately, though.
Average number kept since 2003: 2.9
Keepers: Jay Feely, Ben Graham, Mike Leach
Comment: Arizona has three on the roster and that's how many the team will keep. Simple enough.
Teams try to find the right mix of youth, players in their primes and older veterans.
The St. Louis Rams, one of the NFL's youngest teams last season, signed a few players well in their 30s this offseason as they tried to add seasoning. Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt pointed to veteran leadership as one of the things he likes about his roster.
I've gone through NFC West rosters to see how many players in their 30s each team employs. The numbers were about what I would have expected.
Arizona (13): punter Ben Graham 36, defensive tackle Bryan Robinson 36, kicker Jay Feely 34, snapper Mike Leach 33, guard Alan Faneca 33, linebacker Clark Haggans 33, linebacker Joey Porter 33, tight end Anthony Becht 33, linebacker Paris Lenon 32, linebacker Monty Beisel 31, safety Adrian Wilson 30, tackle Jeremy Bridges 30, center Ben Claxton 30.
San Francisco (13): kicker Joe Nedney 37, tackle Barry Sims 35, snapper Brian Jennings 33, linebacker Takeo Spikes 33, fullback Moran Norris 32, cornerback William James 31, quarterback David Carr 31, guard Tony Wragge 30, defensive end Demetric Evans 30, defensive end Justin Smith 30, cornerback Nate Clements 30, center Eric Heitmann 30, safety Michael Lewis 30.
Seattle (10): kicker Olindo Mare 37, safety Lawyer Milloy 36, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck 34, guard Ben Hamilton 32, receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh 32, guard Chester Pitts 31, receiver Deion Branch 31, tight end Chris Baker 30, defensive tackle Craig Terrill 30, defensive tackle Colin Cole 30.
St. Louis (8): defensive end James Hall 33, defensive tackle Fred Robbins 33, quarterback A.J. Feeley 33, center Hank Fraley 32, linebacker Na'il Diggs 32, kicker Josh Brown 31, snapper Chris Massey 30 and punter Donnie Jones 30.
Several other players turn 30 this season: nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (49ers), guard Adam Goldberg (Rams), linebacker Gerald Hayes (Cardinals), kicker Shane Andrus (49ers), guard Reggie Wells (Cardinals) and cornerback Marcus Trufant (Seahawks).
That's why the Cardinals were relieved to find out Patrick could return for the regular-season opener despite suffering a displaced kneecap during a recent practice. Patrick and fellow tight end Anthony Becht played leading roles in the Cardinals' 30-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings last season. Patrick moves well enough to factor into the passing game, but pairing him with Becht or Stephen Spach adds another dimension to the offense -- a dimension the Cardinals will look to embrace in the post-Kurt Warner era.
Against Minnesota, the Cardinals averaged 8.3 yards per carry on 10 rushes and 11.0 yards per attempt on four pass plays when they used two tight ends -- Patrick and Becht -- with one running back.
"Both of those guys did very well blocking defensive ends the whole game," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said at the time. "We had a play where we hit Larry on a big play-action pass, which is directly attributable to us being able to run out of that set."
The Cardinals' offense changed last season once Patrick became available following a four-game suspension to open the season. The team used two tight ends on 40 percent of its offensive plays against Seattle in Patrick's first game back, easily a season high to that point.
As I wrote then: "That included four times during their 15-play drive to open the game. Patrick contributed immediately by sealing Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson at least twice during the drive, including once with a pancake block. Patrick helped seal the edge on a 14-yard run later in the first half."
Patrick is not a star, but he's an important part of what the Cardinals want to do offensively.
Also from Maiocco: Chilo Rachal sat out practice a day after suffering from dehydration.
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams, a seventh-round draft choice trying to catch the coaches' attention.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers carted off linebacker Scott McKillop with a knee injury diagnosed initially as a sprain.
Also from Barrows: The 49ers shuffled their offensive line thanks to personnel changes. Barrows: "Tony Wragge is clearly ahead of Cody Wallace at center, and he's been the No. 2 center since training camp began. (Baas also had taken some snaps at center before his concussion). Adam Snyder's chances of making the team go up because he can both play inside and outside on the offensive line. Both Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis are very inconsistent, which is what you'd expect from a rookie on Day 4 of training camp. In one instance, Iupati is mowing down the opposing defensive end as he did against Khalif Mitchell this morning. On the next two, he is beaten by Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks, respectively. Davis, meanwhile, has been the culprit on a couple of blown protections the last two days. Today he was beaten soundly by Parys Haralson who disrupted Alex Smith." It's all good for the 49ers as long as Iupati and Davis are getting extended work with the first-team offense. They need the reps.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says the 49ers will hold only one practice Thursday and it will be in Monterey.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' Delanie Walker suffered a concussion.
Also from Brown: Jerry Rice's legacy and its impact on current 49ers players.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says during a chat that the Cardinals have been impressed with inside linebacker Paris Lenon. Somers: "They like Paris Lenon a lot. They watched him video the past few years and say he didn't make a lot of mistakes. Washington has been good. He can really run. My guess is he will open the season playing in passing situations and then maybe work into the starting unit."
Also from Somers: Cardinals tight end Ben Patrick suffered a knee injury and will undergo an MRI exam. The injury was initially diagnosed as a sprain. Patrick is the most versatile tight end on the team. Anthony Becht and Stephen Spach are primarily blockers.
More from Somers: What's in a number for strong safety Adrian Wilson?
Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated checks in from Cardinals camp. Wilson on Matt Leinart: "To be honest with you, Matt has really jumped out at me. He's been a much more vocal leader. He wasn't like that in the past. The quarterback position is the head position; everybody looks up to it. Matt wasn't just thrown in that spot, he had to wait a while. I think he's really matured and it's showing. If he misses on a ball, he knows it's his fault and not the receiver's fault. That's just something he has really grown into." I haven't gotten the sense Leinart's job has been in question this summer. It's easier to be assertive without that doubt. However, it's also important for Leinart to play well enough consistently enough to make it obvious he's a legitimate starter. He'll need to do that the rest of the summer.
Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic says Early Doucet is shooting for a breakout season.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers notes from practice, plus a photo of former Cardinals pass-rusher Bertrand Berry in his new role as reporter.
Also from Urban: This Cardinals training camp is more intense.
More from Urban: Beanie Wells is much more comfortable in Arizona than he was one year ago.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com looks at recent roster moves for Seattle, including the addition of defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock. Johns: "The Seahawks aren't particularly thin at defensive tackle with starters Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole backed up by veterans Craig Terrill, Kevin Vickerson and Jonathan Lewis. Vickerson, a 6-5, 321-pounder obtained from Tennessee in the LenDale White trade on draft day, has shown flashes of considerable power at times early in camp. But GM John Schneider has made it clear he's willing to look for talent anywhere he can find it, so the Seahawks apparently will bring in Pitcock to see what he can offer."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times asks whether the grueling camp Seattle conducted under Jim Mora one year ago contributed to a poor finish. O'Neil: "Consider Mora's regular-season record. In four seasons as an NFL head coach, his teams were 25-19 before Dec. 1 (.568). His record after Dec. 1? 6-14 (.300)." New coach Pete Carroll gave the Seahawks a day off from practice Wednesday. Several teams give players down days on occasion.
Clare Farnsworth of seahwaks.com reviews the first four days of Seahawks training camp. Farnsworth: "Matt Hasselbeck has been en fuego, but his touchdown pass to rookie Golden Tate on Monday afternoon was a beauty. As Tate slipped behind cornerback Cord Parks, Hasselbeck not only hit Tate in stride, he put a little something extra on the pass so Tate could make the catch before running out of end zone."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the competition between backup quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman. Boling: "Whitehurst is more nimble than one might expect, given his height. And he has a decent enough presence in the pocket. But his pure passing and arm strength do not appear to be the equal of Losman’s. Two plays in recent team drills seem fair comparisons. On one deep pass, receiver Golden Tate got behind cornerback Josh Wilson. Whitehurst put too much air under the ball, and as it finally nosed downward, Wilson had time to recover and deflect the pass. On the other side, Losman saw Deon Butler streaking up the sideline past his coverage. With a lower trajectory and more velocity, Losman’s pass was out in front of Butler where he could run it down. Butler didn’t make a great adjustment to it, though, and it fell incomplete. But not because the pass wasn’t there. Whitehurst looked very competent in a two-minute drill on Tuesday. Losman countered with continued zip on his ball, including one sideline completion of an 'out' route that was absolutely humming as it reached the receiver."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams defensive end Leonard Little is undecided about continuing his career. Most veterans with Little's age and experience aren't excited about participating in training camp. Little: "Sometimes I feel like I want to come back," Little said. "Sometimes I feel like I don't. It's a hard decision to make when you're used to playing football. I've been playing football since I was 5 years old. I love the game. And I do miss it. But my decision is not going to be about football. It's going to be about other things -- things I'd rather not talk about right now."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is working through the usual rookie mistakes. Bradford: "We've put a lot [of the offensive scheme] in every day," Bradford said. "And the more we put in, the more I have to think. ... Once we get everything in and I've repped everything, I think I'll feel more comfortable. I think it's just a matter of me really adjusting to the speed and all the different variations can that occur in a play."
Also from Coats: Bradford has high expectations for the offense.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat updates Rams injuries, noting that Ron Bartell suffered a low ankle sprain and tight end Eric Butler has a shoulder injury.
Also from Korte: Bradford says he's having fun working the "best job in the world."
But all is not lost for the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals.
It'll take a team effort for Arizona to pull off another division title, just as it took one to complete this blog entry -- the fourth and final one in our series asking whether NFC West teams have improved this offseason. Facebook friend Barrett came through with the portion of our analysis focusing on offense. Branden, a Facebook friend I've tailgated with before Cardinals games, joined fellow Cardinals fans Jack and Jacob in filling out the remaining categories. I'm pleased by the final result and hope you find it thought-provoking.
Thanks to all the others who answered the call. My only regret was not being able to use them all.
Barrett: It's Matt Leinart's time to prove capable of leading an NFL team from behind center. If he falters, Derek Anderson will be waiting to show that he can return to his Pro Bowl form from 2007 -- when he had targets such as Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards. Fifth-round rookie John Skelton may have the physical attributes Ken Whisenhunt looks for in a quarterback, but he remains a project. Verdict: worse.
Sando: Max Hall is another rookie quarterback to watch on the Cardinals' roster. I hear they like what they've seen so far. I also think Leinart can outperform the low expectations his critics have set for him. But there's no getting around the obvious here. The Cardinals were better at quarterback when they had Warner.
Sando: This group should only improve as Wells gets more seasoning and the Cardinals give him more opportunities. The knock on him coming out of college was that he was soft. Cardinals players challenged Wells to prove doubters wrong. Wells responded by running tough and running hard. The prime-time game against the New York Giants comes to mind. I think Wells can take it to another level.
Barrett: Even with Boldin being traded away to the Ravens, Larry Fitzgerald will still be a top receiver. Steve Breaston is no stranger to lining up as the No. 2 in Boldin's absence. Early Doucet showed what he is capable of during last season's playoff run. Now, let's see if he can produce similarly over the course of a full season. Andre Roberts is an excellent draft pick for depth to compete with Onrea Jones at the No. 4 spot and I expect him to spell Breaston for punt-return duties. However formidable this receiving corps still seems, the Cardinals will miss what No. 81 brought as a player, competitor, teammate and leader. Verdict: worse.
Sando: The Cardinals somehow won a higher percentage of games recently when Boldin did not play. I agree they'll miss the toughness he brought. Boldin might have helped an inexperienced quarterback such as Leinart more than he helped Warner. Breaston brings more speed to the offense. Depth is certainly worse without Boldin, but it was also apparent Boldin might be declining some. I'll agree with your general assessment.
Barrett: Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach are all back from last season, plus Dominique Byrd. Tight ends caught a whopping 23 passes for the Cardinals last season. It seems their primary function in Whisenhunt's offense is to offer run blocking and an occasional check-down. However, this may change ever so slightly as the focus shifts to a more balanced attack. Verdict: same.
Sando: If there's an upgrade, it comes from having Patrick for a full 16 games. He missed the first four last season while serving an NFL suspension. Once Patrick returned, the Cardinals felt more comfortable using two tight ends. Wells had good success running from some of these double-tight personnel groupings. I think we could see more of those now that Warner is gone and the team has fewer front-line options at wide receiver.
Sando: Faneca is a huge name and I think he's got something to prove after the New York Jets dumped him. The word among NFL people is that Faneca has fallen off significantly and he could be a liability. The leadership and toughness he brings will have value, but how well can he play at this stage? I do not know. The Cardinals have in recent seasons stressed the importance of continuity on the offensive line. They'll have new people in three or four of the five starting spots, so the continuity is gone. Throw in a new starting quarterback and there's a lot of work to do. This group is better on paper based on the additions, but I'm not sure it'll be more effective (although the shift to more of a power running game could play to the strength of these linemen, something to keep in mind).
Barrett: Whisenhunt has always geared his offenses to the players' strengths. With key losses in Warner and Boldin and the acquisition of Faneca, it sure looks like the Cardinals are shifting toward a more balanced attack. But one thing is for certain, and that is the quarterback cannot be expected to produce the way Warner did. Verdict: worse.
Sando: You're right about Whisenhunt and his staff. They'll rise to the challenge and give the Cardinals their best chance to succeed on offense. The running game should be strong. They'll play to Leinart's strengths as well. But the points will be harder to come by and that'll make it tougher for the Cardinals to win games. The offense will be different and less prolific.
Branden: The line up front starts and ends with the performance of Darnell Dockett. He has become more of a leader this offseason and his play on the field already speaks for itself. Calais Campbell has made many lists as one of the breakout players in the league. Whisenhunt has brought many of his rookies along slowly, so Bryan Robinson will most likely start at nose tackle, but rookie Dan Williams should get plenty of time and I expect him to take over the starting role by midseason. Depth-wise, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson are in make-or-break seasons, and while Branch showed more ability and versatility last year in his time at defensive end, they will have to step up to strengthen depth at the position. Kenny Iwebema is a serviceable backup and special-teamer. Verdict: better.
Sando: It'll take a while for Williams to hit stride, but his addition can only improve what was already a pretty good situation for Arizona. Having the pressure on Watson and Branch can only help. It's tough for 3-4 defensive ends to get much notice, but Arizona has two of them worth our praise.
Sando: Someone pointed out to me that Porter and Haggans are younger than Berry, but it's small consolation for Arizona. You're right about the young guys needing to step forward. I could see Porter getting close to double-digit sacks even though Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks Porter has declined dramatically. Others have said Porter collected "cheap" sacks in recent seasons. Cheap ones are better than none at all. This group probably isn't going to decline dramatically. It wasn't all that great last season. Okeafor is out of the league, after all, and Berry retired.
Branden: Losing Karlos Dansby will be difficult to overcome because he was a jack of all trades. However, I'm not as high on him as many others were -- Dansby had no Pro Bowls -- and I'm glad the Cardinals did not overpay for him. The addition of Paris Lenon as a stopgap and the drafting of Daryl Washington should help somewhat, but the injury to Gerald Hayes is a major issue. This group is thin and I believe the Cardinals will look to add a veteran when cuts are made. Verdict: worse.
Sando: There's little getting around the problems Arizona faces at this position. We can talk about the defensive line being strong enough to cover somewhat, and that might be the case once Williams develops at nose tackle, but we're not fooling anyone in the meantime. The Cardinals tried to sign Keith Bulluck, but they lost him to the New York Giants. They also claimed Alex Hall off waivers, but the Giants beat them to the punch on that one, too, thanks to a higher waiver priority. Expect Arizona to keep monitoring the waiver wire here.
Branden: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowler, so that helps with one side of the field. Bryant McFadden, traded back to Pittsburgh this offseason, was not much help on the other side last year, but he fared well in run situations. Greg Toler has the physical tools to be a good corner, but he is raw and needs to show his ability this preseason. Michael Adams is a special-teamer and the others, including Trumaine McBride, are OK backups. The Cardinals generally bring multiple safeties on the field in passing situations, so depth isn't a huge concern, but it's a valid question. The performance of this group hinges on DRC's ability to stay healthy and Toler's performance. Verdict: same or better if Toler steps up.
Sando: The Cardinals aren't afraid to make changes, that's for sure. They could have stuck with McFadden, but his contract was a little steep for what they were getting in return. Whisenhunt seemed quite strong in his praise for Toler and he generally isn't wrong on these things. There's potential for this group to drop off, though. At least McFadden was a known quantity. The Cardinals take pride in developing young players and they'll need to be right on Toler to justify their decisions at the position.
Branden: Adrian Wilson is one of the five best safeties in the league, and it is a shame more people don't realize that. I think Kerry Rhodes will actually be an upgrade over Rolle as he knows where he is supposed to be, while Rolle was just learning the free safety position. I think Rolle has the potential to be better in the long run, but the starting tandem should be fine. Second-year man Rashad Johnson needs to step up and perform to the high praise from college coach Nick Saban. He just seemed lost last year. Matt Ware is a solid backup and plays well in passing situations. Hamza Abdullah is also a decent backup. Verdict: same, with the ability to be better in passing situations.
Sando: I've found informed fans to be a bit overly critical of safeties. I'm not saying that's the case with Branden, but there's definitely a feeling among some Arizona fans that Rolle was overrated and Rhodes will actually provide an upgrade. I don't really see it athletically or for the long term, but acquiring Rhodes showed the Cardinals had a plan once Rolle's contract forced their hand. The Cardinals seem encouraged by what they're seeing from Johnson recently. I heard nothing positive about him last season. Re-signing Ware stood out as an underrated move. He's had some value as one of the first defensive backs off the bench.
Branden: The Cardinals had more than 40 sacks last season and I think they can achieve that number again this year with their defensive line and some contribution from the outside linebacker position. I'm concerned about their inside linebackers' ability to stop the run, but again, I think much of that hinges on their ability to penetrate up front. The secondary has a chance to be very good, but I'm not sold. This was not a spectacular unit last year as evidenced by their giving up 90 points in two playoff games. They are more acquainted with the scheme and I think Billy Davis is a good defensive coordinator, but he will have to get creative again this year. The offense will not be scoring 50-plus points this year, so this unit will have to perform well for ...
Sando: Branden's evaluation cut off there for some reason, but that's OK. We've got a deep roster of contributors and I'll lean on them for the rest of this exercise. The last point Branden raised was the one I wanted to touch upon in this space. It'll be tougher getting to 40 sacks again with fewer points on the board. It'll be easier, in theory, for the other team to stick with its running game. That appears problematic for Arizona given the issues at inside linebacker. But if Hayes can return in September, perhaps the Cardinals can stabilize the middle of their defense. They're fortunate to have such a terrific box safety in Wilson. I'll now turn to Cardinals fan Jack for the section on special teams.
Jack: I'm very excited about the special teams of the Cardinals, actually. Stephens-Howling performed quite well as a rookie returning kicks, and he should do even better this year now that he has his feet wet. Breaston didn't do well returning punts last season, so the Cardinals need to make a change, particularly with Breaston as the No. 2 receiver. I hope Andre Roberts gets a shot. As for the kickers, I hope that Jay Feely will be more consistent than Neil Rackers. Ben Graham was great last season, and I expect the same from him this year. Verdict: better.
Sando: Rackers did some great things during his tenure in Arizona, but seeing him line up in the clutch was enough to make even non-fans nervous for him. Kicker is one position where teams can plug in free agents pretty easily, so Arizona could be fine with Feely. Stephens-Howling is already one of the best special-teams players in the league. He deserves Pro Bowl consideration. Cards fan Jacob is on deck with a look at the coaching.
Jacob: What more can be done by Whisenhunt? He is a proven winner and has taken this Cardinals franchise to heights never before imagined. Russ Grimm is widely considered one of the best head-coaching candidates. People will bang on the fact that the cardinals play in the NFC West and have been inconsistent at times throughout the year. However, they are 4-2 in the playoffs under Whisenhunt with both losses to the Super Bowl champions. Winning in the playoffs comes down to game plans, managing the emotions of the game and players -- and that is where Whisenhunt excels. His best coaching job will be showcased this year if the Cardinals can capture another division title. Verdict: same or better.
Sando: I'm sure Whisenhunt is relishing the challenge. The Cardinals are being counted out prematurely. Whisenhunt will probably get the most from them. The coaching staff will deserve high praise if Leinart develops into a winning quarterback. Whisenhunt's Arizona legacy is largely established. He can only help it this season. With that, we go back to Jack for the final two sections.
Jack: I'd love to see the Cardinals take advantage of playing the AFC West this season. They still do have some tough games, though, most notably against Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota and New Orleans. Still, if they don't get eight or nine victories out of this schedule, it will be a disappointment.
Sando: Three of the first four games are on the road. The fifth game is at home -- against the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. Welcome back to the lineup, Matt Leinart. Finishing the season against Dallas and San Francisco gives the Cardinals an opportunity to gain ground in the NFC, but neither game will be easy.
Jack: I want so badly to say the Cardinals are better than the 49ers. They can be, but they'll have to prove it. Perhaps the Cardinals' best chance is to take advantage of an easy schedule and snag a wild-card spot. I believe they'll get eight or nine victories, though. I hope for more.
Sando: The Cardinals won 10 games last season with more talent. It's reasonable to expect them to slip back into the 8-8 range. That's where I see the Cardinals finishing and it'll be no shock if they fail to reach .500 for the first time under Whisenhunt. This is a transition year. They'll find out whether Leinart is their quarterback and if they win more than eight games along the way, or even if they avoid a losing season, I'd consider 2010 a success.
All four tight ends -- Patrick, Anthony Becht, Stephen Spach and Dominique Byrd -- were with the team last season. The Cardinals are in position to head into the 2010 season without adding a tight end in the draft, should they choose to go that route.
Receiver Steve Breaston, center Lyle Sendlein, guard Deuce Lutui and nose tackle Gabe Watson are the Cardinals' remaining unsigned RFAs. Breaston was tendered to a first-round choice. The others were tendered to second-round choices.
That makes sense. McCloughan appears on his way out and it's unrealistic to bring in someone from the outside before the draft, which begins April 22. Baalke, as director of player personnel, ranks second to McCloughan in the 49ers' scouting department. He's the natural choice to head up the draft room this year.
That doesn't necessarily mean Baalke will be the primary decision maker. Coach Mike Singletary will play a role. President Jed York and executive vice president Paraag Marathe will presumably be involved. But I still wanted know about Baalke's background in personnel, leading to the latest item in my "GM profiling" series.
I've put together a chart showing how many players Baalke's teams have drafted by position and round. Another chart breaks out his teams' first-round choices. This file shows all 92 players his teams have drafted, breaking down the information from multiple angles. Baalke didn't necessarily directly influence or even agree with each of these decisions, but the information can still provide some perspective.
Baalke has been with the Jets (1998-2000), Redskins (2001-2004) and 49ers (2005-present). A few observations:
- Each of his teams has selected a quarterback in the first round (Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey and Alex Smith).
- Five of the seven players his teams have drafted among the first 13 overall choices have appeared in at least one Pro Bowl.
- None of his teams has selected a linebacker in the second through fourth rounds.
- His teams have never drafted a running back in the first round.
- His teams have never drafted quarterbacks in the second, third or sixth rounds.
- His teams have never drafted a punter or kicker.
- His teams have drafted 17 offensive linemen, but only one -- Joe Staley -- in the first round.
Note: This item was updated to reflect information from the 2008 and 2009 drafts. The overall trends held. Thanks to KenAdamsJr for noticing.
The Seahawks' agreement with Patriots castoff Chris Baker fits the profile.
Baker, 30, and Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates were together with the Jets in 2005. Baker averaged a career-high 14.9 yards per catch that season. He caught 14 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns with New England last season. The Patriots terminated his contract.
The Seahawks also showed interest in former Patriots tight end Ben Watson, but he signed with Cleveland instead. This deal with Baker made Seattle the latest NFC West team to seek depth at tight end. The Rams brought back Daniel Fells. The Cardinals brought back Anthony Becht and Stephen Spach. The 49ers visited with Becht.
Scouts Inc. on Baker: Baker is a short, thickly built tight end who isn't a powerful blocker at the point of attack, but has enough athleticism to be an effective target in the passing game. He has good foot agility, quickness and balance to be an effective short and intermediate route-runner. He has improved as a route-runner by using his body to get separation. He has good, reliable hands to extend and make receptions away from his body. Baker doesn't have great burst or speed to stretch deep seams and he can be a liability as a run-blocker at the point of attack or anchoring versus bull rushers off the edge. He has developed into a solid football player, but is somewhat one-dimensional because he is primarily used as a receiving tight end and wall-off type blocker.
It's possible the Seahawks disagree with that assessment. If not, the team is getting another receiving tight end to go with John Carlson. John Owens, Cameron Morrah and Jason Pociask are also on the roster at tight end for Seattle.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams re-signed tight end Daniel Fells after declining to tender him as a restricted free agent.
Also from Thomas: "If Bradford checks out medically, and throws the heck out of the ball during his pro day in Norman, Okla. on March 25, it makes all the sense in the world to draft him at No. 1 overall. And I write this as a guy who absolutely loves what Ndamukong Suh can do on the football field."
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat offers Rams-related thoughts, including this one: "The debate over whether the Rams should select quarterback Sam Bradford or defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will rage over the next six weeks, but let’s spare the hyperbole that claims Suh is a once-in-a-generation player and that he is a sure thing. There are no sure things in projecting college players to the NFL, and the reality is that high-picked defensive tackles have just as bad or even worse a track record in the NFL than quarterbacks."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sizes up the Seahawks' quarterback situation after Seneca Wallace's trade to the Browns. O'Neil: "Seattle is in the midst of its first significant shake-up in the pocket since 2005, when backup Trent Dilfer was traded to Cleveland. For the past five years, Matt Hasselbeck and Wallace have been the top two rungs in Seattle's quarterback hierarchy."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Pete Carroll, John Schneider and a full cast of Seahawks personnel people attended the University of Washington pro day. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks are the local NFL team and there is that connection between Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, who left USC for the UW last year, and Carroll, who left USC for the Seahawks this year.
Adam Schefter of ESPN says former Seahawks and Cardinals receiver Jerheme Urban has signed with the Chiefs, reuniting Urban with former Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' haven't committed to Matt Leinart as their starter. He lists Derek Anderson, Marc Bulger, Charlie Whitehurst, Jake Delhomme and Brian St. Pierre as possible competitors for the job. Somers on Bulger: "He's still on the Rams' roster but they are expected to release him, probably after the draft. The timing is tricky for the Cardinals, who would miss out on some other candidates by waiting. Bulger has a lot of experience and is a good guy who wouldn't cause problems in the locker room. But he has taken a pounding over the past few years." There were rumblings during the season that Bulger might retire, but we haven't heard much on that front recently. If Bulger did decide to stop playing, he would be best off to wait until the Rams release him. Otherwise, he might have to pay back bonus money.
Also from Somers: Anthony Becht re-signs, while Larry Foote and Joey Porter are visiting this week.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Arizona should be pretty much set at tight end after re-signing Anthony Becht and Stephen Spach.
Also from Urban: Adrian Wilson doesn't think the Giants have the best safety tandem in the league, apparently.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers might have only casual interest in running backs Leon Washington and Justin Fargas.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers coach Mike Singletary is taking an active role in scouting. Meanwhile, the Redskins are showing some interest in swing tackle Barry Sims. Maiocco: "The Redskins, who brought in offensive tackle Tony Pashos for a free-agent visit last week, are showing interest in unrestricted free agent Barry Sims. Pashos signed with the Browns, while Sims remains a free agent. The Redskins' offensive line coach is Chris Foerster, who held the same job with the 49ers last year. Sims does not appear to be in a hurry to sign. He's just waiting to see where his best opportunity emerges. The 49ers have expressed an interest in bringing him back -- at the right price.