NFC West: Anthony Hargrove

Jonathan Vilma and other current/former suspended New Orleans Saints players won reversals Friday.

What it means for the NFC West:
  • The decision clears Vilma to play against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12 (and all season). Vilma had previously been suspended for the full season. The other suspended players either would have returned before facing the 49ers (Will Smith) or no longer play for New Orleans (Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove). Vilma is an important part of the Saints' defense. Having him should help against the 49ers' running game.
  • Vilma's availability to the Saints could enable the team to part with Barrett Ruud, the linebacker acquired from Seattle by trade last month. The Seahawks are in line to receive a late-round draft choice from the Saints in return if Ruud remains on New Orleans' roster for an undisclosed number of games. Seattle appears less likely to collect on that trade now that Vilma is available.
  • The reversals affected players, not coaches. The St. Louis Rams will remain without Gregg Williams, who was suspended indefinitely after becoming defensive coordinator for St. Louis.
Full story here.

Seahawks Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
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NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Free-agent addition Jason Jones will fit much better at defensive tackle in Seattle than he did as a defensive end with Tennessee last season. The pass rush should improve as a result. Jones' addition on a one-year contract holds promise because the Seahawks seem excited about him. The team's leadership has been right on just about every defensive player it has targeted by trade (Chris Clemons), the draft (see the secondary in particular), unrestricted free agency (Alan Branch), street free agency (Brandon Browner) and position changes (Red Bryant).

Jones had a career-low three sacks for Tennessee last season. That matched the total for Anthony Hargrove, the player Jones is replacing in Seattle. Doubling that total seems to be a reasonable expectation for Jones if all goes to plan.

One thing that might happen: The confidence Seattle has exhibited in its young receivers could prove too optimistic. I'm going to have it both ways on this one. A month ago, I pointed to receiver as a position where the Seahawks might have "hidden treasure" on their roster. That could be the case, but some skepticism appears warranted. Seattle has so far proven more adept at building on defense than on offense.

Mike Williams' recent release left the team with a roster spot for a veteran receiver heading toward training camp. Antonio Bryant, who participated in minicamp practices on a tryout basis last month, could get another shot. The team needs Sidney Rice in particular to become more durable. The same is true to a lesser extent for Kris Durham. Doug Baldwin's presence gives the team a proven target from the slot and on third down. Golden Tate appears on the upswing. Ricardo Lockette's blazing speed intrigues. There are still quite a few variables and unknowns at the position.

One thing we won't see: The offensive line coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider envisioned when the team used a 2011 first-round draft choice for tackle James Carpenter. The team expects Carpenter to miss training camp and open the season on the physically unable to perform list following surgery to repair a serious knee injury suffered last season. John Moffitt, a third-round choice in 2011, is also returning from knee surgery. Left tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall choice in 2010, is returning from surgery to repair a torn pectoral.

Breno Giacomini has proven to be more than adequate as Carpenter's replacement, to the point that he could remain at right tackle for the long term. Deuce Lutui's addition helps depth. However, another significant injury to Okung would set back the line tremendously.
NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

The St. Louis Rams in particular used the UFA signing period to get younger. The 12 UFAs they added (11) or re-signed (one) averaged 2.49 years younger than the 20 UFAs they lost (six) or have not re-signed (14). The gap was 1.39 years younger on average throughout the division. The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL, based on averages I maintain for every team in the league.

Some older UFAs never sign another NFL contract. They disappear from rosters and realize, perhaps a year or two later, that they've been retired.

The chart shows age differences for the 38 UFA players added or re-signed versus the 47 lost to other teams or still unsigned. According to the NFL, 143 UFAs changed teams across the league this offseason. Another 112 re-signed with their 2011 teams.

Unsigned players remain free to sign with another team, but the NFL will not count them as UFA signings. The distinction matters in part because only UFA additions and losses count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft choices. That formula relies heavily on player salaries. UFAs available this late in the process generally wouldn't command enough money to affect compensatory picks, anyway.

A quick look at which UFA players from NFC West teams did not sign or re-sign as UFAs:
The 27 unsigned UFAs from the NFC West average 31.38 years old, about 3.3 years older than the 22 UFAs signed from other teams.

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
A look at the Seattle Seahawks' offseason to this point ...

What went right: The Seahawks signed quarterback Matt Flynn in free agency without paying an exorbitant price. That made it easier to justify using a third-round choice for quarterback Russell Wilson. ... Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before free agency and Red Bryant during free agency was critical. Lynch is the focal point of the offense. His running style became inseparable from the Seahawks' identity on offense. Bryant was the most important defensive player against the run and a leader in the locker room. ... Highly valued offensive line coach Tom Cable returned to the team after some speculation that a college program such as UCLA might consider him as head coach. ... Free-agent defensive tackle Jason Jones chose Seattle over St. Louis at a reasonable price, making it easier for the Seahawks to part with Anthony Hargrove, who subsequently incurred an eight-game suspension. ... The linebacker market was soft enough for Seattle to bring back Leroy Hill without overpaying.

What went wrong: The Seahawks tried and failed to get Peyton Manning's attention this offseason. ... Tight end John Carlson was determined to leave in free agency and able to find a lucrative contract in Minnesota. That combination made keeping Carlson unrealistic for Seattle, creating a need where none existed previously. Seattle might be left to wait out former Vikings starter Visanthe Shiancoe in free agency as the team seeks a viable partner for Zach Miller in its two-tight end personnel groupings. ... Middle linebacker David Hawthorne wasn't willing to return for the contract Seattle was offering, putting more immediate pressure on the team to draft and develop a player at the position. ... The injury rehabs for tackle James Carpenter and cornerback Walter Thurmond raise questions about whether either will be ready for the upcoming season. ... Steve Hutchinson found a richer deal in Tennessee after initially appearing likely to sign with Seattle on the relative cheap.

The bottom line: The quarterback situation is different. There is more promise at the position. The status quo wasn't very appealing. From that standpoint, the offseason represented a step forward.

Your turn: Any significant omissions here?
The Seattle Seahawks appreciated Anthony Hargrove's contributions to their defense in 2011, including the pivotal safety Hargrove provided during a comeback victory over the New York Giants.

That the Seahawks decided to replace Hargrove with veteran free agent Jason Jones this offseason appears fortuitous now that the NFL has levied an eight-game suspension against Hargrove for his participation in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program.

The NFL announced its bounty investigation March 2. Seattle reached agreement with Jones two weeks later. Hargrove signed with Green Bay in late March.

Hargrove, who defended his play with the Saints in a statement earlier this offseason, signed with Green Bay, where the Packers expected him to fit well. The league hammered him in a statement released Wednesday:
"Hargrove actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints. Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it.

"The evidence showed that Hargrove told at least one player on another team that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was a target of a large bounty during the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. Hargrove also actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators."

The NFL also suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the 2012 season. Will Smith received a four-game suspension. Scott Fujita received a three-game suspension.

"Fujita, Hargrove and Smith may participate in all off-season activity, including preseason games, prior to the suspensions taking effect," the NFL said." Each player disciplined today is entitled to appeal the decision within three days. If an appeal is filed, Commissioner [Roger] Goodell would hold a hearing at which the player may speak on his behalf and be represented by counsel."
Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones was my choice for the Seattle Seahawks after trading down in the ESPN Blogger Mock Draft.

The long-armed pass-rusher seemed to represent good value with the 27th overall choice, acquired from New England in our mock.

The reality, of course, is that Seattle enters the NFL draft Thursday with the 12th overall choice, not the 27th pick. But in speaking with Steve Muench of Scouts Inc., Jones could be a logical consideration in that spot as well.

Sando: OK, Steve, you liked where San Francisco and Arizona stood in this draft. I'm sensing a trend here.

Muench: The Seahawks are in good shape, yes. The interesting thing about this draft is that Quinton Coples is going to drop. I think Coples or Chandler Jones would make sense for Seattle. The Seahawks are going to get an edge rusher and those guys are two of the bigger defensive ends/edge rushers in this class.

Sando: Right, but every time I speak with an NFL scout about Coples, the response is less than enthusiastic.

Muench: Some are concerned with his work ethic. From what I've seen on film, he's a hard worker. With everything that went on at North Carolina, if the kid had any inclination of being a troublemaker, it would have happened there. He was dominant at the Senior Bowl, by far the best defensive lineman there. I understand why people say, 'No, is he going to work.' They say where there is smoke, there is fire. I haven’t been able to find it.

Sando: It's interesting to me that you brought up Jones unsolicited. I had read a scouting report comparing him to Calais Campbell and pointing out Jones' extremely long arms. Right away, I thought Jones would appeal to Pete Carroll, who values players with what he describes as unique or unusual traits.

Muench: Jones is skyrocketing up boards. He didn't have a monster workout at the combine. I watched his 2010 and 2011 film, and you can clearly see him improving in terms of technique and off-the-field work ethic. He put on a lot of weight at Syracuse and it's good weight. Even though he is not as explosive as an Melvin Ingram or Fletcher Cox, he bends the edge, he’s flexible. Put him opposite Chris Clemons in pass-rushing situations and that would work for them.

Sando: The chart shows Seattle's sack leaders from last season. Clemons was the only one with more than four. The team signed Jason Jones to replace Anthony Hargrove. Raheem Brock is a free agent and not expected back. There's no question the team could use another defensive end with pass-rush ability.
Cortez Kennedy heads to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer while his former team tries to ramp up its pass rush, inside and out.

Finding an outside pass-rusher to play opposite Chris Clemons remains an obvious need for the Seahawks heading toward the draft. The inside pass rush, which Kennedy provided in abundance, tends to get overlooked among areas where Seattle's otherwise strong defense was lacking in 2011.

Signing Jason Jones in free agency will help if the former Tennessee Titan proves to be an upgrade over Anthony Hargrove.

Jones, 25, has seen his sack totals decline by a half-sack in each of his four seasons, from five as a rookie to three last season. Seattle expects increased production as Jones, 6-foot-5 and 276 pounds, transitions from end to tackle.

The chart, from Ryan McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information, shows where teams running 4-3 schemes ranked in sacks from players lined up at defensive tackle last season. Seattle and Carolina were tied for ninth with 6.5, 11 behind league-leading Cincinnati.

Hargrove and Alan Branch had three apiece. Red Bryant had one-half sack from the interior.

Kennedy had at least 6.5 sacks in six of his 11 seasons, including 14 in 1992, working in a scheme requiring him to play the run first.

The Seahawks aren't going to get Hall of Fame production from Jones, of course, but they'll turn him loose against the quarterback on passing downs, welcoming whatever pass-rush spike they can get.

NFC West free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay

Key losses: CB Richard Marshall

Sando's grade so far: C-minus. Arizona gets credit for making a strong run at Peyton Manning and securing a visit with him at Cardinals headquarters. That was a bold move and one that could have instantly transformed the Cardinals into a contending team. But it did not work. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had a point when he said the Cardinals were comfortable moving forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their quarterbacks. However, it was still telling that Arizona would aggressively pursue another quarterback eight months after allocating $12.4 million per year to Kolb. Most of the other teams making big investments in quarterbacks last offseason sat out the Manning sweepstakes.

Overall, Arizona has done little to upgrade its roster. Committing $19 million in bonus money to Snyder, Levi Brown and Kolb will not make the team $19 million better. Marshall was a valued contributor and the MVP on defense last season, according to coordinator Ray Horton. He'll be missed after signing with Miami. On the other hand, the Cardinals did win seven of their final nine games last season. Perhaps they have fewer holes than conventional wisdom suggests.

What’s next: The Cardinals need help at offensive tackle and have shown interest in Buffalo Bills free agent Demetrius Bell. The team would be fortunate to address the position before the draft. Whisenhunt has consistently defended Brown, who has played both tackle spots since 2007. The team's decision to give Brown a $7 million signing bonus as part of a streamlined contract showed Whisenhunt wasn't bluffing. But another starting tackle would help.

The Cardinals have yet to reach a long-term agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell. Getting a deal done with Campbell would reduce the defensive end's salary-cap charge ($10.6 million for now). It would reward a rising young player and head off future headaches associated with using the tag a second time next offseason.

Receiver and possibly outside linebacker are also areas where the Cardinals could use reinforcements.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, RB Brandon Jacobs

Key losses: Snyder, WR Josh Morgan, ST Blake Costanzo

Sando's grade so far: B-plus. The 49ers had relatively few holes on their roster after a 13-3 season. Pursuing Manning provided a temporary distraction without inflicting long-term damage. The 49ers needed to keep together their core, and they accomplished that goal. Alex Smith's re-signing to a three-year deal was key. Smith will return to the team, maintaining continuity and giving the 49ers' offense a chance to build on last season. But the contract terms will not limit the 49ers' options beyond this season, a plus.

The 49ers succeeded in re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers after using the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Those moves solidified the secondary. Addressing the situation at wide receiver was a top priority heading into free agency. Moss and Manningham were low-risk, high-reward additions. Both have the potential to provide qualities the 49ers were lacking last season, but neither carried a high price tag. Retaining receiver Ted Ginn Jr. restored firepower to the return game.

What’s next: Using the draft to improve the long-term outlook at receiver still could be an option. But with Moss, Manningham and Ginn on the roster, the 49ers should not feel pressured to select a wideout with the 30th overall choice in the draft. The team now has flexibility. There has been no indication that the 49ers or any team will seriously pursue Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald money.

The 49ers could use a veteran right guard for insurance in case Daniel Kilgore isn't ready for the starting job. They have visited with Leonard Davis and Deuce Lutui, both former Cardinals. Keeping Snyder would have been nice, but the Cardinals paid a $5 million signing bonus to get him. That price was too high for the 49ers, who similarly balked last offseason when the New York Giants gave center David Baas an $8.5 million bonus.

St. Louis Rams

Key additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith

Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, P Donnie Jones, OLB Chris Chamberlain

Sando's grade so far: B. The Rams would get a higher grade for their offseason in general, but this item focuses on free agency. That excludes from consideration Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach, and general manager Les Snead's ability to maximize value for the second overall pick in the draft. The Finnegan and Wells signings give the Rams welcome leadership while upgrading important positions. Langford should help the run defense.

The Rams have yet to address their playmaking deficiencies. They did not land any of the high-profile wide receivers in free agency. There's a chance Smith will recapture old form in his second season back from microfracture knee surgery, but the Rams are not counting on that. They will almost certainly emerge from free agency without even marginally upgrading the weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford. That is a disappointment.

What’s next: The outlook remains bright for St. Louis. The team owns the sixth, 33rd and 39th choices in the 2012 draft, plus two first-rounders in each of the following two drafts. There will be time and opportunity for the Rams to add the offensive firepower they need so badly, perhaps with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 6 overall.

Much work lies ahead. The Rams emerged from this week with eight fewer players on their roster than the average for the other 31 teams. Using free agency to address holes at outside linebacker and left guard would provide flexibility heading into the draft. The Rams still need a backup quarterback as well. Bradford is the only QB on the roster. It's looking like the team is serious about bringing back right tackle Jason Smith despite injury concerns and a fat contract that will presumably require adjustment.

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones

Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove

Sando's grade so far: B-plus: The Seahawks knew for months that Manning would probably hit the market and still could not secure a meeting with him. Their pursuit included a flight by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to Denver in a desperation move that failed to impress Manning. That was a rare disappointment for Seattle in free agency.

Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before the signing period took off much of the pressure. Re-signing Red Bryant without using the franchise tag rewarded the Seahawks for a disciplined approach to the market. That approach paid off again when the Seahawks landed Flynn without rushing into an imprudent contract. Flynn spent five days on the market before signing with Seattle. The Seahawks got him for about half as much per season as Kolb cost a year ago, without even promising him the starting job. That was impressive.

What’s next: Quarterback and pass-rusher were Seattle's top two needs heading into free agency. Flynn solved one of them for now, at least. Jones, an inside pass-rusher signed from Tennessee, should help the other area. But the need for outside pass-rush help persists. The team could use the 12th overall choice in the draft for a defensive end.

Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.
Brock Huard, Mike Salk and I spent 13-14 minutes Thursday discussing where the Seattle Seahawks stand heading toward the 2012 NFL draft.

One question: Should the team focus on adding a front-line receiver to help new quarterback Matt Flynn, or should finding pass-rush help (and possibly linebacker help) stand as top priority?

I lean toward making pass-rush help a higher priority while the team finds out whether Flynn has the ability to maximize the existing weapons and make full use of additional ones.

The chart shows which players accounted for the Seahawks' 33 sacks last season.

Five of the players with at least 3.0 sacks are unsigned and/or will not return.

Anthony Hargrove has agreed to terms with Green Bay, Leroy Hill is unsigned and Raheem Brock is not expected back. Jason Jones, signed from Tennessee, should help pump up the numbers to a degree. But there's definitely room for another contributor.

Audio here.

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

March, 16, 2012
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Michael Robinson's expected re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks would give the team a league-high four re-signings in the unrestricted free-agent market.

Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.

Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...

Seattle Seahawks

UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)

UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)

UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.

Arizona Cardinals

UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.

St. Louis Rams

UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.

The chart below shows a general overview.
Anthony Hargrove's story is one of redemption.

The former St. Louis Rams and current Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman has fought through a series of obstacles, some of them self-constructed, to become a productive player and valued teammate.

But recent attention focusing on Hargrove's role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal -- he was fined for a hit on Brett Favre and reportedly reveled in the quarterback's injury during the 2009 NFC Championship Game -- has cast Hargrove in a negative light.

Hargrove has taken notice and issued the following statement:
"First of all, the purpose of this statement is simply to address the comments that have been made about me in the media. I will not address anything to do with anyone else but myself.

"In regards to the hit I made on Brett Favre that has been talked about: it was one of about five times I got to him and the only one that was late. I agree it was a late hit, but in the heat of the moment I was simply trying to make a play. I can assure you that when I got up, I was thinking two things, one, that I cost my team, and two, that I might have just cost myself some money if the NFL fined me.

"To put things in perspective, I received a game ball for my play that day and yet got fined while receiving nothing and expecting to receive nothing for the play some keep referencing. Kudos to Brett, he even asked me if that was all I had! Gotta love him.

"And in regards to my comments that have been talked about where I say that Favre is done, I readily agree that it sounds bad in retrospect. A lot of things look bad when we look back and realize how they sound. Trust me, I've said much, much worse. Heck, I probably say worse every day.

"But did I personally want Favre INJURED? Absolutely and categorically NO! Did I feel like we, the Saints, had a better chance of being in the Super Bowl with Favre on the sideline? Of course. Would the Patriots and their fans have probably been excited to see Eli [Manning] on the bench with his foot up whispering that he was done [in Super Bowl XLVI]? Would players on the sideline have made comments to that effect? Right or wrong, I'm guessing yes.

"Probably every Saints fan, player and coach got an adrenaline rush when thinking Minnesota might be in trouble. I said what many people were probably thinking, though maybe I said it in a way that sounded a bit too excited. Those who know me best know that I lean toward the animated side a bit. Okay, a lot! It's who God made me. I do regret saying it, though.

"I have made many mistakes in my life and have paid dearly for some of them, and the late hit and the comments were both mistakes, in my opinion. But players all over the league do the same thing every Sunday, make late hits and say stupid things. But I can say with absolute certainty that neither the late hit nor the comment have anything whatsoever to do with the issue being so hotly discussed in the media."

In my view, Hargrove deals honestly with the emotions players and fans feel when their team knocks a key player out of a game. The adrenaline rush comes from knowing victory might be that much closer, not from knowing a player from the other team is injured.

Hargrove says he received nothing and expected to receive nothing, bounty-wise, for the hit. But he sheds no light on other hits from that game or the bounty program in general.

Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele, not Hargrove, were the players responsible for delivering the high-low hit that sent Favre limping to the sideline with an injured ankle. Neither of those players has confirmed or denied receiving a bounty payment, to my knowledge. Their thoughts would be welcome.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals

Key free agents: DE Calais Campbell (franchise tag), CB Richard Marshall, OLB Clark Haggans, WR Early Doucet, T Brandon Keith, G Deuce Lutui, K Jay Feely.

Where they stand: A strong finish to the 2011 season on defense gives the Cardinals a glass-half-full feel heading into free agency. Going from 1-6 to 8-8 was an impressive achievement. Arizona does have serious concerns on its offensive line. The situation at tackle is particularly questionable even if Levi Brown returns (and maybe especially if he returns, depending on your view). The line concerns might actually dissipate some if the team lands Peyton Manning, a quarterback with the ability to beat pressure with quick throws. But tackle is still an area that needs addressing for the long term. Injuries throughout the offensive backfield raise questions about that area as well. Kevin Kolb (concussion), Beanie Wells (knee), Ryan Williams (knee) and Anthony Sherman (ankle) missed extensive time or played at a diminished level for stretches.

What to expect: The Cardinals are one of the teams chasing Manning. That pursuit could consume them for the short term. Landing Manning would signal the end for Kolb in Arizona. The Cardinals have until March 17 to exercise a $7 million option on Kolb, the quarterback they acquired from Philadelphia for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a fat contract. I'm expecting a resolution to Manning's situation before the Kolb bonus comes due simply because interest in Manning should be high enough to accelerate the process. The Cardinals had about $3 million in salary-cap space entering the week, according to ESPN's John Clayton. That figure could increase substantially once the team releases Brown or reworks his contract. Arizona still has strong coaching ties to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball, but it's an upset if the Cardinals seriously pursue any of the aging veterans recently released by the Steelers. Developing young talent is the priority now. Re-signing Marshall, who fared well at corner, should be a priority. Does free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley still factor prominently into the team's plans, particularly at such a high price?

St. Louis Rams

Key free agents: WR Brandon Lloyd, G Jacob Bell, CB Justin King, OL Adam Goldberg, LB Chris Chamberlain, G Tony Wragge, TE Billy Bajema, WR Mark Clayton, DT Gary Gibson, P Donnie Jones.

Where they stand: The Rams have no interest in staying the course from a personnel standpoint after going 15-65 over the past five seasons. They will seek fresh talent almost across the board as Jeff Fisher's new coaching staff seeks players for its schemes. The Rams are seeking playmakers in particular, starting at wide receiver. The offensive line needs addressing, although the Rams might try to minimize the turnover at offensive tackle for the short term, figuring they cannot afford to create new needs. But former starting center Jason Brown, benched last season, appears unlikely to return. The team also needs two starting outside linebackers, starting defensive tackles and perhaps two starting cornerbacks on defense.

What to expect: Mass roster turnover. I could see the team retaining as few as one or two players from its list of 21 projected unrestricted free agents. The Rams have a disproportionate amount of their salary cap tied up in recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith. The rookie wage scale will provide them cap relief even if the team remains among the teams picking very high in the 2012 draft. Bradford and Long are cornerstones. Smith could stick around at a reduced rate. The team still has hope for him under new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Jason Jones, both free agents from Tennessee, have ties to Fisher and could make sense for the Rams. Despite the need for playmakers on offense, the Rams did not use the franchise tag on Lloyd, their most talented receiver. Questions persist about how effective Lloyd might be outside Josh McDaniels' offense.

San Francisco 49ers

Key free agents: QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Dashon Goldson (franchise tag), G Adam Snyder, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, FB Moran Norris, LB Blake Costanzo.

Where they stand: Coach Jim Harbaugh has said it's a bit unsettling heading through the offseason with his starting quarterback unsigned. Smith and the 49ers are expected to reach agreement eventually. This relationship will almost certainly continue even if Smith does reach free agency without a deal in place. Smith would not fit nearly as well anywhere else. Harbaugh likes to use the word "equity" when describing players he wants to keep. The 49ers would rather bring back Smith than invite the disruption that Manning would bring, were they able to land him. The team needs help at wide receiver and possibly cornerback, depending upon what happens with Rogers. Getting Goldson at the relatively reasonable franchise rate ($6.2 million) was a plus for the 49ers' continuity in the secondary.

What to expect: Not a whole lot, most likely. The 49ers were a good team last season after taking a low-keyed approach to the free-agent market. They will presumably show interest in Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace and any high-profile, productive receiver with the talent to upgrade their offense. It's a small upset if the 49ers land one of them, however, because their philosophy is built on a measured approach resistant to overpaying. They will have to address the receiver position in free agency one way or another, however. Re-signing Morgan would help. Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Plaxico Burress and Robert Meachem are among the other options in free agency. An upgrade at right guard would help the line, but the 49ers might be apt to develop 2011 draft choice Daniel Kilgore after investing first-round choices in their left tackle (Joe Staley), left guard (Mike Iupati) and right tackle (Anthony Davis).

Seattle Seahawks

Key free agents: DE Red Bryant, LB David Hawthorne, LB Leroy Hill, OL Paul McQuistan, DE Raheem Brock, DL Tony Hargrove, FB Michael Robinson, RB Justin Forsett, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Matt McCoy, TE John Carlson, LB Heath Farwell.

Where they stand: The Seahawks' long-term quarterback situation hangs over them as they head toward the 2012 draft with only the 12th overall choice. The team has built up the rest of its roster to a point where sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as the primary starter could hold back the team to a degree it did not through much of last season. Upgrading the pass rush is another priority for the Seahawks. With defensive end Raheem Brock publicly stumping for Seattle to land Manning, his former teammate, I couldn't help but wonder which one of them had a better shot at earning a roster spot with the team in 2012. It might be Manning, even if the Seahawks are relative long shots for his services. Brock failed to provide the pass-rush push Seattle needed opposite Chris Clemons. Linebacker is another position the Seahawks need to address, whether or not Hawthorne and Hill return.

What to expect: The Seahawks have roughly $30 million in cap space, according to Clayton, and will make every effort to land Manning. They feel they've got a shot as long as they can persuade him to get on a plane and check out what they have to offer in terms of the roster, coaching, facilities, ownership and more. If Manning goes elsewhere, I would expect the Seahawks to consider Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. Securing him at a price lower than what Arizona paid for Kolb would be the goal. As badly as the Seahawks want to upgrade the position, they have said they will not panic. Overpaying for Flynn could represent panic in their eyes. On the pass-rush front, I'm increasingly skeptical the team will shell out for Mario Williams. The price could be too high for a player Houston has decided to let hit the market. Re-signing Bryant is a priority, but using the franchise tag for him was never an option given the $10.6 million price. A deal slightly north of the one teammate Brandon Mebane signed seems likelier if Bryant returns.
The Seattle Seahawks' top priorities in free agency appear clear, at least when it comes to their own players.

Re-sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant.

Lynch's agent of record, Mike Sullivan, recently took a job with the Denver Broncos. That would not affect negotiations as much if Lynch remained with Octagon Worldwide. The agent game can be an unpredictable one, however. That is something to file away.

Bryant has said he strongly wants to re-sign with Seattle.

The charts below expand upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added offensive and defensive snap counts from ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows what players earned per year on their most recent contracts.

The second chart shows restricted free agents. Teams can retain rights to RFAs by making one-year qualifying offers.

Sorting through $72,500 in NFC West fines

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
4:06
PM ET
Turns out the $7,500 fine against Seattle's Adrian Moten for a late hit on San Francisco's Kyle Williams was a slap on the wrist compared to other penalties levied from the NFL office this week:
  • $30,000 against Dockett: The league levied two $15,000 fines against Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett. One was for striking Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton below the knee area. The other was for a horse-collar tackle.
  • $15,000 against Sherman: Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was penalized for a horse-collar tackle when bringing down 49ers running back Frank Gore.
  • $10,000 against Lynch: Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch wore specially designed Skittles cleats. The league protested, according to Brian McIntyre.
  • $10,000 against Davis: The 49ers' Anthony Davis was not penalized by game officials for blocking Seattle's Anthony Hargrove across the back of the legs during Kendall Hunter's 24-yard run. The league fined him, determining Davis had unnecessarily rolled up on Hargrove's legs.

There was no fine against the 49ers' Ahmad Brooks or Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini for scuffling after a play I noticed when watching the game on replay.

2011 Seahawks Week 16: Five observations

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
9:54
AM ET
Five things I noticed while watching the Seattle Seahawks' most recent game, a 19-17 home defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16:
  • No idea how that deep ball succeeded. The 49ers had to like their chances on the Seahawks' second offensive play. Their Pro Bowl defensive end, Justin Smith, beat left guard Robert Gallery to the inside and was bearing down on quarterback Tarvaris Jackson right away. The 49ers had two about-to-be-minted Pro Bowlers, cornerback Carlos Rogers and free safety Dashon Goldson, shadowing an undrafted rookie receiver making his regular-season NFL debut. There is simply no way Jackson-to-Lockette should beat three Pro Bowlers for a 44-yard gain. Jackson gets credit for hanging tough and delivering the ball just as Smith was about to blast him. Lockette gets credit for catching a ball Rogers contested well. This was exactly the type of play Seattle needed early against a tough defense.
  • Leroy Hill's knee packs a punch. Hill was pursuing Frank Gore when his right knee inadvertently struck the left side of tight end Delanie Walker's helmet while Walker sat on the turf after missing a block on linebacker K.J. Wright. Fox microphones captured the grotesque sound of a collision that left Walker with a broken jaw. The impact launched Walker's helmet four yards downfield.
  • Weak excuse for busted goal-line play. Jackson wound up scrambling for no gain on third-and-goal from the 1 with 1:41 left in the first half. Coach Pete Carroll said some Seattle players thought the play was dead because left tackle Paul McQuistan jumped early. There was no penalty, however, and the Seahawks appeared confused after the snap. Fullback Michael Robinson hardly moved. Jackson slowed and decided against handing off to Marshawn Lynch. McQuistan had barely moved a half-tick before the snap. This was not a blatant false start. The Seahawks should be coached to play through a whistle in that situation. Settling for a field goal in a game the team lost by two points wound up being the difference in the game. This wasn't the first time Seattle botched a critical red zone possession right before halftime.
  • Anthony Hargrove was lucky to avoid injury. The 49ers' Kendall Hunter broke into the secondary on a third-and-1 run from a shotgun formation right before halftime. Hargrove, the Seahawks' defensive tackle, had a chance to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage, but 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis chopped him down at the legs from behind. The block forced Hargove's body into a contorted position. He appeared vulnerable to injury on the play. Hunter broke out for a 24-yard gain. This game was packed with physical confrontations that threatened to violate rules or obliterated them entirely, which leads to the next item.
  • The penalty that was not called. Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini gets on opponents' nerves with his trash talk and aggressiveness, both at practice and in games. Against Washington in Week 12, Giacomini drew a roughness penalty when he threw himself into a pile after the play. Against the 49ers, officials flagged Giacomini for illegal use of the hands. Later in the game, however, Giacomini was on the receiving end of a blatant blow to the face that drew no penalty. He and 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks were tangling during and after the play. Both players and Brooks in particular appeared to have their hands on or near the opponent's facemask. Giacomini delivered one last shove as the play was ending. Brooks retaliated by swinging the palm of his right hand into Giacomini's face, driving back Giacomini's head violently. A penalty in that situation would have moved Seattle to the 49ers' 37-yard line with 1:25 remaining. The team would have run the ball to set up a field goal. Instead, Jackson scrambled and the 49ers forced him to fumble.

The "five observations" files are back following a one-week holiday. I was out of town following Week 15 and did not produce them for those games.

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