NFC West: Antoine Cason

Free agency starts at 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. PT) Tuesday.

It is clear the San Francisco 49ers' plan of attack will be to sign their own top free agents. They secured their top free-agent priority, receiver Anquan Boldin, last week. Their other targets are safety Donte Whitner, cornerback Tarell Brown and kicker Phil Dawson. Dawson and Brown both may get quick action on the open market.

If any of these players leave, the 49ers will likely have to go find a replacement in some form. Let’s take a look at who they may be:

Safety

Possible free-agent options: Mike Mitchell (Panthers), Malcolm Jenkins (Saints), James Ihedigbo (Ravens).

Summary: The free-agent market is thin, and, in my opinion, signing Whitner is, by far, the best option. If not, one of the above-mentioned players could be a suitable, but not equal signing. If Whitner’s market doesn’t get crazy, the 49ers need to try to keep him. In-house potential replacements are C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl, but neither are considered top options.

Cornerback

Possible free-agent options: Nolan Carroll (Dolphins), Antonio Cromartie (released by Jets), Champ Bailey (released by Broncos), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks), Asante Samuel (released by Falcons), Antoine Cason (Cardinals), Charles Tillman (Bears), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers).

Summary: Replacing Brown may be easier than replacing Whitner. There are a ton of decent cornerbacks. Carroll is one of the players the 49ers have checked in on. If the 49ers lose Brown, they could wait out the market and get a decent player or two here. A wild card could be Darrelle Revis, who reportedly either is going to be traded or released, as soon as this week, by Tampa Bay. He will likely be pricey but if something crazy happens, perhaps the 49ers could get involved.

Kicker

Possible free-agent options: Steven Hauschka (Seahawks), Adam Vinatieri (Colts), Josh Brown (Giants), Dan Carpenter (Bills).

Summary: There are some decent kickers available, but I think Dawson is the best fit and I expect him to be back. If not, any of these kickers could be the fix. Just a guess, but I don’t think it gets to that point.

Cards' free-agency look: Cornerback

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There is one certainty at cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014.

That is Patrick Peterson. The three-time Pro Bowl corner enters his fourth season as one of the foundations of the Cards’ defense. He will for sure be on one side of the field, lining up across the opponent’s best receiver. But it's unclear who will start opposite Peterson.

Ponder
Powers
Last season it was Jerraud Powers, a cerebral player who Cardinals coach Bruce Arians brought with him from Indianapolis. Despite leading the Cardinals’ corners with nine missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the most productive cornerback on the roster. He had a secondary-best 14 pass breakups and disrupted 15 dropbacks according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also led Arizona's cornerbacks with 65 tackles.

But there is a chance -- a good chance -- that Powers could be a cap casualty because his cap number jumps to $4.75 million in 2014. Then what would the Cardinals do?

Arizona is scheduled to lose cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Javier Arenas and Bryan McCann to free agency on March 11, but that might not be a bad thing. The crop of free agent cornerbacks is strong, but could be expensive. Last offseason, Arians and general manager Steve Keim stocked the position with inexpensive talent. Only Cason of that group made more than $1 million.

There are some big names on the market this year, such as Asante Samuel, who was cut by the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago’s Charles Tillman, former Cardinal and current Denver Bronco Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New England’s Aqib Talib, Miami’s Brent Grimes and Washington’s DeAngelo Hall. And there is a slew of cornerbacks who made less than $1.5 million in 2013 who would be solid additions to the Cardinals, but most aren’t standouts.

While Arizona won’t shell out a lot of money to a backup cornerback, it will be looking for a versatile defensive back to fill the role of Tyrann Mathieu, who will most likely be out until at least September. And the Cardinals might have to pay for that.

Among the best options at cornerback within the Cards’ price range are Rodgers-Cromartie at the high end and Seattle’s Walter Thurmond at the low end. In between includes Green Bay’s Sam Shields, Oakland’s Tracy Porter, and Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner.

Arizona could also consider someone like Giants cornerback Aaron Ross, who missed significant time last season with a back injury but would be healthy this year, or San Francisco’s Terrell Brown, who made $1.5 million last season, but was injured.

If the Cardinals choose to release Powers to save money, they could opt to make the cornerback opposite Peterson as tough to play against as the two-time All-Pro with someone like Rodgers-Cromartie, Talib, or Shields. Two of Washington’s cornerbacks, Hall and Josh Wilson, could also fill that void.

How the Cardinals handle their own free agents will determine how much they want to spend on other free-agent cornerbacks.

New rotation slows Cards' secondary

December, 15, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They looked confused at times and frustrated throughout. Something was off all game.

Unlike the secondary that was running like a well-oiled machine until the third quarter last weekend, the Cardinals’ back-end didn’t play like itself in Sunday’s 37-34 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans. Three days of practice with a new rotation, implemented to replace rookie free safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose season ended last Sunday because of a knee injury, wasn’t enough.

Mathieu’s loss meant the Cardinals had to insert a new starter at free safety (Rashad Johnson), a new nickel slot back (Jerraud Powers) and a new nickel corner (Antone Cason). Johnson and Powers had experience playing together all season, even after Mathieu took over as the starting free safety in Week 4, but Cason was the wild card. He only saw sporadic action this year until he replaced Mathieu in nickel against the Rams.

The cohesion, however, wasn’t automatic. Coverages were busted all afternoon against the Titans, and receivers roamed free. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a career-high 402 yards against a defense that had not allowed more than 319 yards in a game this season -- and that was to Drew Brees.

But cornerback Patrick Peterson believes all the kinks got worked out Sunday.

“I think it takes a game,” he said. “I thought we did OK. I thought the quarterback made some good throws today, putting them in some tight spots. Just got to communicate better and overall, I thought we did play well just the communication part wasn’t there.

“Now that we got a feel for one another, it’s just time to go play.”

This week will be spent learning how to play with each other in new roles. Cason felt like the unit embraced him this week and that support helped him get two interceptions.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said there was no question the Cardinals would have liked to have Mathieu, but there’s no looking back. All eyes are on the players who can help the Cards.

And to do that, the communication must improve.

Peterson said the nickel corners need to improve their communication with the nickel backs. The safeties need to do a better job of relaying the audibles. The secondary, as a whole, needs to work on making sure the linebackers know where to be when receivers go under.

“I don’t want to say the game was moving fast,” Peterson said, “it’s just everybody wasn’t on the same page.”

Cardinals' offense saves defense

December, 15, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It got repetitive last season.

The defense would always be there, following behind the offense with a broom and dustpan cleaning up their weekly mess. That clearly didn't work out well, especially if the defense also had a bad game. Just look at Seattle, when the Seahawks took it to the Cards, 58-0.

This year, it's different for the Arizona Cardinals. The offense is more than capable of not just holding their own but putting the defense on its back when necessary, as was the case Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsIn the Cards' OT win at Tennessee, Carson Palmer threw for 20 completions, 231 yards and one TD.
Arizona's pass rush was stagnant and the secondary was working through communication issues that accompany a new rotation. All the while, after recovering from a slow start, the offense was steady and effective, scoring 30 points in the Cardinals' 37-34 overtime win. The other seven came on an interception return by Antoine Cason.

"The defense bailed us out before and this week we got the opportunity to save them," left guard Daryn Colledge said. "It's going to take everybody on this team to win the games we need to."

But it doesn't always happen that way.

The difference this season is the Cardinals are making plays when they need them most, and on Sunday they didn't come in chunks. Quarterback Carson Palmer threaded two passes to running back Andre Ellington that took advantage of a wrinkle in the passing game. He hit Ellington deep for 26 yards in the first quarter and then in the third for 38 yards.

While Palmer went to Larry Fitzgerald six times throughout the game for 49 yards, two passes in the fourth quarter kept a drive going that eventually put the Cardinals up by 10. All night, the offense was slow and steady, not turning the ball over, which has been an Achilles' heel for them all season.

And it saved Arizona.

"They did a good job with that," linebacker Daryl Washington said. "They had our back this game, which we expect that. But, I think defensively we have to do a better job starting a game fast."

In a reversal of roles, the defense let the Titans back in it in the fourth quarter after it went into a prevent defense. And it almost prevented the Cardinals from winning.

Arians said Todd Bowles went through every play on his play list trying to find something that would work. But the offense, which also went conservative at Arians' direction because of the Cards' penchant for turning the ball over, watched from the sideline helpless.

Then, ironically, thanks to Cason's second interception, the offense moved easily on Tennessee's defense for a winning field goal in overtime.

"Good to get a win like this," Palmer said. "Last couple weeks we've kinda been cruising through the last quarter or so with big leads. It's good to get one in overtime when there's a little more pressure.

"We might have got a little too comfortable at the end of this one, but the important thing was defensively we stepped up and made the play."

The defense might be saying the same thing about the offense.

Cason, Ballard step up for Cardinals

December, 15, 2013
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NASHVILLE -- Antoine Cason knew all week his time had finally come.

It had been a tough season for Cason, who went from being an everyday starter at cornerback for the San Diego Chargers to being the third or fourth option for his new team, the Arizona Cardinals. But when rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending knee injury, the direction of Cason’s season changed.

And he proved to everyone during the Cardinals’ 37-34 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans that he’s more than capable of seeing the field. But he wasn’t the only one who made a statement. Tight end Jake Ballard replaced Rob Housler in the starting lineup and while catching all three of his targets for just 13 yards, he had the Cardinals’ lone receiving touchdown.

“Jake played great,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “They were going to play a ton of cover two and the tight ends were going to have to play big and they did.”

But it was Cason who stole the show and saved the day.

He had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the Cardinals in what they thought was command, 34-17, and then another in overtime that led to the winning field goal.

“They picked on the wrong guy once too many times,” Arians said. “Twice too many times and Antoine has been waiting his turn and it was great to see him make those plays. It was huge plays, especially the touchdown.”

Cason nearly dropped the interception he returned for a touchdown but was able to keep his focus long enough to secure it. But just because he had two interceptions in his first significant action of the season doesn’t mean the six-year vet is going to bask in the afterglow.

“It feels really good,” Cason said. “I know I have a lot of work to do, so this week for me now that I’m thinking about the game and everything that’s happened to get back to my fundamentals this week and try to get better.

“I will get better for next week. So, that’s really what’s going through my mind as crazy as it sounds. I definitely feel I will get better throughout the rest of the season.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer said Cason’s heroics set an example for the younger Cardinals, who Palmer had to make sure didn’t lose focus heading into overtime. He made sure they understood what was at stake.

But for them to see Cason come off the bench and make two influential plays against the Titans shows that it’s possible for anyone to play that role.

“Cason hasn’t played much [and] he can make the critical play, the game-saving, the game-winning play,” Palmer said. “It’s good for guy’s confidence.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Antoine Cason heard it from all sides.

His father told him to stay humble and always prepare like he would be the starter. Arizona defensive backs coach Nick Rapone always had the same message for Cason: “Manage the moment.”

[+] EnlargeAntoine Cason
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriArizona will be counting on veteran CB Antoine Cason to be a key contributer in the season's final three weeks.
Cason has listened to both men and it’s paying off despite unfortunate circumstances. With rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Cason’s playing time will increase in Arizona’s final three games. He showed last Sunday against the Rams what kind of impact he could have, playing an active role in nickel coverage for the final quarter and a half while slowing down tight end Jared Cook.

“That’s what I take pride in -- every time I’m in the game, make an impact,” Cason said. “That was the point I made to myself.

“It helps, so I definitely know when I was in there it made a difference and it definitely helps the team. If I can continue to help the team win, that’s all I want to do.”

It hasn’t been an easy season for Cason, who started his final three years in San Diego. He joined a loaded Cardinals secondary as a free agent in March without a promise of playing time and he found himself behind Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Javier Arenas and Mathieu.

It was a new locker room in a new city with a new team. With a new role on top of that, Cason has been adjusting to his new life all season.

“For me, it was unfamiliar territory,” he said. “The biggest difference was not playing. Going in and accepting a different role … just whatever you need me to do. It definitely sucked coming from somewhere where I was playing. [I got through it by] just staying humble and diligent and positive, faithful to what I know could be a possibility, and all year I kept that mindset and here’s my opportunity.”

Cason relied on his father, Wendell, a former defensive back who played 33 games with the Atlanta Falcons, to help center him when the son’s mindset started to wander.

The two talk every day about life, football and everything in between. They focused on the mental aspect of football, which was especially pertinent when Cason dropped on the depth chart. Throughout it all, Wendell’s message was the same: “Continue to stay humble, to continue to work hard, to continue to prepare as if you were a starter.”

“That’s what I did all year,” Cason said. “I continued to watch as if I was going to be playing. Of course, some weeks are harder than others but for the most part [I’m] just doing exactly what I need to do -- use every opportunity that I’m on the field to hone in on something that I would do, say, if I was on defense and get better as a special-teams guy and continue to get better in any way.

“That translates to when you get back on the field you’re still ready to go.”

Cason said he knows this much about his new role: It’ll be where he’s most comfortable, on the outside playing cornerback.

It’s nothing new, he added, but then again, it’s all new.

“When he went in last week, he did a hell of a job in the slot and outside,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “So it’s just like going back to starting for him. He’s eager to play. He’s been making plays, it’s just a tough group to crack. So he’ll get his chance this week.”
A weekly examination of the Cardinals' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 26 | Last week: 19 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Even when things change, everything stays the same for the Arizona Cardinals. Despite unveiling what is essentially a revamped defense with linebacker Daryl Washington in the lineup, the Cardinals remained at No. 19 in Week 6 of ESPN.com's Power Rankings. Arizona showed its defense is not only formidable but a force. It sacked Cam Newton seven times, intercepted him three times and shut him down on the ground in the second half, not giving up a single yard.

But for as good as the defense was, the offense wasn't, especially in the first half. It was able to find a rhythm after halftime, which, while promising, still leaves people wondering why it can't put together drives earlier. There were a few good signs. The offense drove 85 yards in the third quarter, which resulted in a touchdown. After Antoine Cason returned a fumble to the Carolina 9, the Cards were able to capitalize on the short field with a touchdown pass to Jim Dray. Those plays showed the offense is capable of producing, but it needs to start sooner.
Good morning, NFC West. We've got initial 2013 depth charts to consider now that teams have produced them prior to exhibition openers this week.

Let's dive right in with a few thoughts.

Arizona Cardinals: The team lists two starting tight ends, reflecting coach Bruce Arians' belief that a second tight end affords greater flexibility than a fullback. ... Michael Floyd is the No. 2 receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald, with Andre Roberts in the No. 3 role. ... Three of the players listed as starting offensive linemen -- left tackle Levi Brown, left guard Jonathan Cooper and right tackle Eric Winston -- did not start a game for the team last season. ... John Abraham is not listed as a starter, but he will obviously "start" in the nickel defense, at least. ... Jerraud Powers is listed as the starting corner opposite Patrick Peterson, with Antoine Cason behind Powers.

St. Louis Rams: Chris Givens and Austin Pettis are listed as the starting wide receivers. Tavon Austin is obviously going to play a lot. Brian Quick enjoyed a strong showing in practice Monday. ... Shelley Smith is listed as the starting left guard ahead of Chris Williams. That job remains up for grabs. ... Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are the top two running backs, in that order, but we need to see them play. ... The Rams list Eric Stevens as the starting fullback, but this probably isn't going to be much of a two-back team. I'd expect Lance Kendricks to play extensively as the second tight end, and in lieu of a fullback. Kendricks has to get healthy first. ... Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree is in the lineup and looking like a three-down player already. ... Darian Stewart and rookie third-round choice T.J. McDonald are the starting safeties. There hasn't been much drama at those spots, but let's see how McDonald fares in the preseason.

San Francisco 49ers: The offensive lineup comes with no surprises. Kyle Williams is listed as the receiver opposite Anquan Boldin. Let's see whether A.J. Jenkins can factor there. ... The defense is also pretty well set. Note that Ian Williams is listed as the starting nose tackle over Glenn Dorsey. I don't think that means much. Both are going to play extensively in an expanded rotation. ... C.J. Spillman is listed as the starting free safety, with rookie first-round pick Eric Reid second. That competition remains open. Craig Dahl is listed as the backup strong safety. ... The depth chart still has Chris Culliver as the backup to left corner Carlos Rogers, but Culliver is out with a torn ACL. Tramaine Brock is the early favorite to become the third corner. ... Colt McCoy is the second quarterback, no surprise.

Seattle Seahawks: Paul McQuistan (left) and J.R. Sweezy (right) are listed as the starting guards over early 2011 draft choices James Carpenter and John Moffitt. Carpenter left practice with an apparent injury Monday. ... Rookie Spencer Ware, considered a potential threat to Michael Robinson at fullback, is listed third on the depth chart behind Robinson and Derrick Coleman. ... The team lists two outside linebackers without reference to strong or weak sides. Cliff Avril is listed as the starting right defensive end while Chris Clemons is unavailable. Bruce Irvin, who plays the nickel snaps and has worked at linebacker as well, is listed behind Malcolm Smith at outside linebacker. ... Brandon Browner is listed ahead of Walter Thurmond at right corner. Thurmond got some first-team reps Monday. The Seahawks won't hesitate to start Thurmond if he outplays Browner this summer.
@HavokHawk sized up the previous item and wanted to see the information narrowed for starting lineups.

Lineups aren't set in every case. Injuries are affecting a few situations. We're still able to put together a snapshot visible in the chart at the bottom of this entry.

Among the considerations:
Reid and Ogletree are the youngest projected starters in the division, followed by 22-year-olds Tavon Austin, T.J. McDonald, Michael Brockers, Williams and Bobby Wagner. Wagner, who started as a rookie for Seattle last season, turns 23 later this month.

Seattle's Earl Thomas and San Francisco's Anthony Davis are among three players from 2010 through last season to have started all 48 regular-season games before turning 24. The New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul is the other.

The St. Louis Rams said they would rather sign a couple big-money free agents than several mid-priced ones.

Quality over quantity was the rationale.



That approach helps explain why the Rams rank sixth among NFL teams in contractual commitments for unrestricted free agents signed from other teams this offseason despite landing just two of them in Jake Long and Jared Cook.

Maximum potential contract value can be misleading, but in general, the more aggressive teams will commit larger total dollar values toward free agents. As the chart shows, St. Louis ranks relatively high in total dollar values despite signing fewer UFAs than any other team ranked among the top 10.

ESPN.com's John Clayton takes a closer look in his column Sunday. While the Rams focused their UFA resources narrowly, the Arizona Cardinals added a long list of players at relatively low cost. Clayton liked the approach from a value standpoint.

"Three winners emerged from the post-frenzy shopping market -- Arizona, Chicago and Tennessee," Clayton writes. "Based on playing time from last year, I'd give the Cardinals the slight edge from the post-March 17 market."

The chart below, updated from the version published here March 27, lists playing time and contract information for all the UFA players Arizona has signed or re-signed this offseason.

Note: I added Karlos Dansby to the chart below. Most of the additions were unrestricted free agents. Dansby was not. The Miami Dolphins released him.

Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson and Roy Lewis were the Seattle Seahawks' cornerbacks when Pete Carroll arrived as head coach for the 2010 season.

That group consisted of two first-round picks, two second-rounders and an undrafted free agent. It should have been stellar, but it was not.

The team has become exponentially better at the position without investing much in its personnel. Richard Sherman was a fifth-round pick. Brandon Browner was playing in the CFL. The new slot corner, Antoine Winfield, signed for one year and $2 million.

Consider Matt Williamson impressed. Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, listed Seattle's corners No. 1 in the NFC West -- and beyond -- as part of his ongoing pre-draft positional rankings for division teams.

Williamson: Seattle to me has the best set of corners in the league, clearly. And then Winfield might be the best slot corner in the league. It's almost unfair.

Sando: Carroll coached the secondary in his early NFL days. He and general manager John Schneider have put together the best one in the NFL, stacked at safety and corner alike. I think the entire division is pretty strong at corner overall.

Williamson: These next three teams are close. St. Louis has the best starters of the remaining three teams. Arizona clearly has the best single starter of the remaining three in Patrick Peterson. The Niners have a lot of guys and who knows what they get out of Nnamdi Asomugha.

Sando: I don't think the 49ers are all that worried about their corner situation even though the pass defense faltered late last season.

Williamson: Nobody complalins about their corners when Justin Smith is healthy. We like to nitpick this San Francisco defense when there is nothing wrong with it. The corners are still in the top 15 position groups in the league.

Sando: I'd think every team in the NFC West could say that.

Williamson: Agreed. Being fourth in this division isn’t something to hang your head about. I could make a strong argument for San Francisco as second to Seattle. I like the Rams' starters, but Janoris Jenkins could be overrated at this point based on some of the big plays he has made. People are picking on him.

Sando: Trumaine Johnson was a nice addition in St. Louis as well, if he can stay out of trouble. And we haven't even mentioned Cortland Finnegan. I'm curious, what did you think of the Antoine Cason addition in Arizona?

Williamson: He struggled in San Diego last season. The Chargers were so dysfuntional. I think Cason has first-round skills. He is a quality player who is never going to be a Pro Bowler. He is above average. He is a middle-of-the-road to an above-average starter.

Sando: The Cardinals shuffled most of their secondary. That group will be interesting to watch. I still think Peterson is just getting started and can become the best corner in the league. For now, though, Sherman might legitimately claim that title.

Eight in the Box: Under the radar

April, 5, 2013
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each NFC West team thus far this offseason:

Arizona Cardinals: A soft market for cornerbacks helped the Cardinals sign former San Diego Chargers starter Antoine Cason to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Scouts Inc. gave Cason a 79 grade, tied with Chris Gamble, Brent Grimes, DeAngelo Hall and Quentin Jammer for highest among corners on the market this offseason. Arizona has rotated corners through its lineup with moderate success in recent seasons. There's no sense in overpaying when Patrick Peterson is anchoring the other side as a top-five overall selection. Cason has good size at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He is on the younger side (turns 27 in July). He has never missed a game in five NFL seasons. He has started 45 of 48 games the past three years. Cason should provide an upgrade from 2012 starter William Gay.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams made waves by signing Jake Long and Jared Cook to deals with a combined $35 million in guaranteed money. Their move to bring back defensive end William Hayes on a three-year deal was important, too, even though it went under the radar. St. Louis led the NFL in sacks last season. Hayes had seven of them while playing 34.2 percent of the defensive snaps. He combines with Chris Long (11.5 sacks in 2012) and Robert Quinn (10.5) to give St. Louis a strong pass-rushing combination at defensive end.

San Francisco 49ers: Glenn Dorsey is too big to go under the radar, but anyone familiar with his time in Kansas City wouldn't think much of his signing in San Francisco. The 49ers seem to have big plans for Dorsey, however. They gave him a modest deal totaling $6 million over two seasons, a reflection of how far Dorsey's stock has fallen since the Chiefs made him the fifth overall choice in 2008. Dorsey wasn't to blame for the scheme change in Kansas City that made him less valuable to the defense. The 49ers run a base 3-4 defense that wouldn't seem to suit Dorsey's strengths as an up-the-field tackle, at least on the surface. I do think San Francisco has a specific role in mind for Dorsey, increasing the chances he makes a positive impact as a low-cost player with obvious talent.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks made high-profile moves almost exclusively this offseason. They landed Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett before trading away quarterback Matt Flynn. There isn't much from which to choose in the under-the-radar category. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, signed from the Miami Dolphins as a cheaper alternative to Alan Branch, will have to suffice. McDaniel has been mostly a backup and rotational player during his seven NFL seasons. "He has great length with good power and plays with good pad level," Scouts Inc. wrote in its review of him. "He isn't a quick-twitch athlete and is inconsistent to get off blocks and show range to the pile. He has limited pass-rush skills and hasn't made great progress given his time in the NFL." How's that for under the radar?
The Arizona Cardinals' one-year deal with Miami Dolphins safety Jonathon Amaya appears designed to help their special teams while providing depth in the secondary.

The deal, announced by the team, brings to 11 the the total of unrestricted free agents to sign or re-sign with Arizona since the signing period opened March 12.

Amaya joins Lorenzo Alexander and Rashad Johnson as primary special-teams players from the list of 11 signings. Financial details were not yet available, but Amaya surely signed a modest deal. That has been the trend for Arizona, as the chart shows. The team has unloaded several weighty contracts while restocking the roster with lower-priced talent on shorter-term deals. The approach will provide greater flexibility in the future. It also reflects coach Bruce Arians' stated belief that Arizona could be better than advertised at several positions, including the offensive line and at quarterback.

Scouts Inc. ranked Amaya 57th out of 58 potentially available safeties Insider this offseason, noting that Amaya's contributions would come on special teams.

"He shows great effort and is an excellent open-field tackler on coverage units," Scouts Inc. wrote in part. "He appears to have limitations as a pure defender in the secondary, but brings attitude and consistency on special teams."

Amaya played for the Dolphins in 2010 when Todd Bowles was on the Miami staff. Bowles is the new defensive coordinator for the Cardinals.

The chart shows 2012 playing time on offense or defense for the 11 players Arizona has signed. Those figures are from ESPN Stats & Information. Johnson (66.2 percent), Alexander (63.7) and Amaya (52.9) also logged significant snaps on special teams.

PHOENIX -- A few NFC West notes before heading to the airport for a trip home following the NFL owners meeting, which concluded Wednesday:

Arizona Cardinals: The team is leaving open the door for signing Cleveland Browns unrestricted free-agent receiver Josh Cribbs, who is recovering from knee surgery. Cribbs visited the Cardinals this week, but he could be weeks away from passing a physical. ... The Cardinals have signed nine players at a combined charge of $12.9 million against the 2013 salary cap after clearing $13 million in space by releasing Kevin Kolb and Kerry Rhodes. The nine: Rashard Mendenhall, Jerraud Powers, Drew Stanton, Antoine Cason, Jasper Brinkley, Lorenzo Alexander, Rashad Johnson, Matt Shaughnessy and Yeremiah Bell. ... Coach Bruce Arians said he sees six quarterbacks in the 2013 draft with clear potential to stick in the NFL for the long term. Arians also said he thought the Cardinals could win regular-season and playoff games with Stanton as the starter. The team could still add to the position, of course, but Arians plans to name a starter sooner rather than later -- definitely before training camp.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams expect to add another big running back after parting with Steven Jackson. Coach Jeff Fisher wants second-year back Daryl Richardson to get more touches, especially as a receiver. He also expects more from 2012 second-round pick Isaiah Pead. ... Fisher said he goes strictly by feel with no regard for advanced stats when making in-game decisions such as when to go for it on fourth down. ... The Rams will look to re-sign veteran safety Quintin Mikell, who was released with salary-cap savings in mind. The team's other starting safety from last season, Craig Dahl, signed with San Francisco last week. ... Fisher sees receiver Chris Givens as more than a deep threat, noting that one of Givens' five receptions covering 50-plus yards came on a slant route. ... Fisher, unlike Pittsburgh Steelers counterpart Mike Tomlin, thinks the read-option will be around for a while.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh gushed over receiver Ricardo Lockette, a physically gifted prospect signed last season after stints on Seattle's practice squad and 53-man roster. "There is something special there -- I can feel it," Harbaugh said. Lockette had 44- and 61-yard receptions for Seattle late in the 2011 season. ... Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers' undisputed starting quarterback, but Harbaugh would like to make the position more competitive after Alex Smith's departure by trade. Harbaugh said the quarterback position is "no sacred cow" in terms of being immune from competition. ... Harbaugh and his brother, John, spent Sunday afternoon playing in the hotel pool like a couple of kids. "Did you see us breaking all the rules on the slide?" John Harbaugh asked. "It was a race down the slide. Two guys diving at the same time and racing down the slide. The only time we didn't go down [the slides] together was when we had two kids stacked on us."

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks think former Cardinals receiver Stephen Williams could have a bright future. ... Defensive end Cliff Avril's addition could affect the Seahawks' needs at linebacker. Coach Pete Carroll compared Avril in body type to Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, two players Carroll coached at USC. He said Avril could play strongside linebacker at times. That arrangement could work because K.J. Wright has the flexibility to play weakside LB, something Wright already does in the nickel defense. Those roles will sort out through training camp. ... Carroll said he "reached out" to Richard Sherman after the cornerback's contentious exchange with Skip Bayless on ESPN's "First Take." Carroll said they discussed humility and said Sherman is "working on ways to express himself." Carroll supported Sherman and said the team has no concerns with the All-Pro corner. I'll revisit that one separately.
The Arizona Cardinals keep adding lower-priced veterans on short-term contracts as they transition toward a future under new coach Bruce Arians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cason is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.

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