NFC West: Antonio Bryant

Thoughts on Seahawks, Terrell Owens

August, 6, 2012
8/06/12
1:23
AM ET
What comes to mind after the Seattle Seahawks confirmed Dave Mahler's report that the team would visit with free-agent receiver Terrell Owens:
  • The Seahawks don't have the quarterbacks to handle a player with Owens' reputation. For that reason, I'd be skeptical of any move to add Owens at this time. The three quarterbacks on the roster are having a tough enough time establishing themselves without adding a wild card such as Owens to the equation. Coach Pete Carroll's handling of quarterbacks has already come under question.
  • Any contract with Owens would be for the short term, with no guaranteed money. Owens would have to perform at an agreeable level for the team to stick with him. So, there would be little risk in that regard.
  • The Seahawks have consistently shown they've got an open mind when it comes to upgrading their roster. They signed Reggie Williams and Mike Williams during Pete Carroll's first offseason as head coach. They built their defensive line around Red Bryant, a nearly forgotten player they inherited from the team's previous leadership. They gave the wrongly imprisoned Brian Banks a tryout. They signed (and recently released) Antonio Bryant, who had been out of the league since 2009. From a philosophical standpoint, there's no harm in checking out every potential avenue for upgrading a team.
  • Seattle keeps looking at long-shot receivers. That suggests the team isn't entirely comfortable with its situation at the position.

All for now. I'll be leaving Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, shortly and, after a couple hours, heading to the airport in Cleveland to catch a flight back to Seattle. Stadium officials just told me they're closing down the stadium in the next 10 minutes. Now, I've really gotta get out of here!
CANTON, Ohio -- The Seattle Seahawks' announcement Sunday night won't upstage the Hall of Fame Game between the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints, which is about to kick off (8 p.m. ET).

Antonio Bryant's release comes days after the team signed another veteran receiver, Braylon Edwards. Bryant has been attempting an NFL comeback after knee trouble drove him from the game following the 2009 season. Hamstring problems slowed him during camp with Seattle. The Seahawks had indicated they would give Bryant a chance if he improved his conditioning from June minicamps to training camp.

Edwards, 29, has been productive more recently. Knee and shoulder injuries contributed to his struggles while with San Francisco last season.

Seattle re-signed kicker Carson Wiggs. Seattle announced the roster moves Sunday after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported them.
There is no such thing as a "final" roster in the NFL and especially in Seattle, where the Seahawks have shown they'll churn the roster with abandon.

Edwards
Edwards
Veteran receiver Braylon Edwards is the latest player the Seahawks plan to evaluate. They plan to sign him Tuesday. Dave Mahler tweeted the news first.

The Seahawks, though excited about their young wideouts, could use veteran insurance at receiver after determining Mike Williams had "topped out" in Seattle, in the words of coach Pete Carroll. They also could use insurance for starter Sidney Rice, who is coming off two shoulder surgeries and carries a concussion history into the 2012 season.

Edwards, 29, is two years younger than recently signed receiver Antonio Bryant, who has been battling a hamstring injury early in camp. The team has not announced Edwards' expected signing or a corresponding roster subtraction. I see no harm in giving Edwards a look. He averaged better than 17 yards per reception for the New York Jets in 2010 before injuries limited him in San Francisco last season.

Update: How the Seahawks created a roster spot for Edwards, who is wearing No. 17.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With a nudge from @Amazing_Jagman, I've updated rosters to produce age rankings for every team in the NFL. I'll begin with a look at where NFC West teams rank by position and overall.
  • QB: All four teams rank in the youngest third or so. The San Francisco 49ers have the most experienced starter in the division, but also the youngest group overall.
  • RB: I was a little surprised to see Seattle (third-oldest) and San Francisco (fifth-oldest) rank among the five oldest at this position, with St. Louis considerably younger on average. The Seahawks' Leon Washington turns 30 next month. Teammate Michael Robinson turns 30 in February. The 49ers added 32-year-old veteran special-teamer Rock Cartwright, who counts as a fullback, and veteran halfback Brandon Jacobs, 30. Frank Gore turned 29 in May. The St. Louis Rams, despite Steven Jackson (29) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (32), have quite a few young players at the position.
  • WR: Randy Moss, 35, contributed to the 49ers fielding the 10th-oldest group of receivers on average as training camps were beginning. For Seattle, the newly signed Antonio Bryant, 31, contributed to a No 13 ranking. The Rams have youth, youth and more youth at the position.
  • TE: Arizona ranks seventh-oldest at the position thanks to the presence of veterans such as Todd Heap, 32, and Jeff King, 29. But the team is most excited about second-year tight end Rob Housler. Seven of the Rams' eight tight ends are between 22 and 25 years old, helping St. Louis rank 30th in average age at the position.
  • OL: The Cardinals have previously ranked No. 1 in average age at this position. They've dropped to seventh after addressing the position in the draft at the expense of a few veterans. Adding 34-year-old veteran Russ Hochstein upped the average, however.
  • DL: The Cardinals have the oldest defensive linemen by average age. Darnell Dockett turned 31 this offseason. Vonnie Holliday is 36. Nick Eason is 32. Arizona has promising younger players at the position, notably nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive end Calais Campbell. But the group could use a youth infusion in the not-too-distant future. The Rams, meanwhile, got much younger by parting with James Hall, Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan. Chris Long, 27, is now the oldest defensive lineman on the team.
  • LB: The Cardinals' Clark Haggans, 35, and Paris Lenon, 34, help give Arizona the ninth-oldest linebackers in the NFL. The Rams' No. 14 ranking reflects their decision to add veterans on the outside. The team needs to address that position in upcoming drafts, it appears.
  • DB: The division features ample young talent in its secondaries. The Cardinals, despite fielding the oldest secondary in the division, have one of the most promising young cornerbacks in the NFL, Patrick Peterson. Seattle has the youngest secondary in the division. Three of four starters achieved Pro Bowl status last season. That's a great combination. The fourth starter, Richard Sherman, was arguably deserving of Pro Bowl honors as a rookie.
  • ST: The Cardinals continue to field the oldest specialists in the NFL on average. The Rams field the youngest group after parting with Donnie Jones and Josh Brown. I'm interested in seeing how the Rams' decision plays out.
  • Total: The Cardinals have some exciting young players, but their roster is third-oldest in the NFL. The team cannot realistically cite youth for any shortcomings this season. The Rams remain the youngest team -- slightly younger than Carolina -- despite adding Mughelli on Saturday. Seattle ranked among the youngest teams last season. Re-signing cornerback Marcus Trufant and adding Bryant, both 31, upped the Seahawks' average age. Unrestricted free-agent additions Deuce Lutui and Barrett Ruud are 29. The team now ranks 20th oldest in the NFL.

I'll pass along updated rosters once I've finished updating a few other categories. The chart shows age rankings by position group and overall for NFC West teams.
Veteran receiver Antonio Bryant stared defiantly into the camera and issued a warning from the Seattle Seahawks' locker room following a three-day minicamp tryout last month.

"Remember this day, because if I’m back, I’m going to be back and better than ever," Bryant told Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson for the 'Real Rob Report' show. "Right now, I’m broke down. But a lot of people can’t come off the sofa and go through three days of this. I did it, so that means something."

That's when Bryant, out of the NFL since 2009, turned deadly serious.

"If I come back, a lot of you are going to be sad," he said, "and I’m going to send they ass home. And that’s all I’m going to say."

The full context of Bryant's remarks wasn't clear, but he's back, at least for now. The Seahawks announced Bryant's signing Thursday night after running Bryant and Braylon Edwards through tryouts. Bryant, 31, still must prove he can return from chronic knee troubles that drove him from the game.

But the Seahawks, having improbably revived Mike Williams' career in 2010, have experience giving long-forgotten wideouts a look (Reggie Williams was another one the team checked out two years ago). Bryant finished the 2008 season with 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns for Tampa Bay. Those were career-best numbers across the board.

Bryant's conditioning wasn't up to NFL standards a month ago. He has presumably improved in that area. His progress will be another storyline to follow when Seattle opens camp Saturday.
Braylon Edwards and Antonio Bryant could be competing for a Seattle Seahawks roster spot after the team released veteran receiver Mike Williams.

Both are expected to participate in tryouts before the team opens training camp Saturday. Jason LaCanfora reported Edwards' tryout via Twitter. Bryant participated on a tryout basis in the team's minicamp from June 12-14. Edwards has been available since the San Francisco 49ers released him last season.

Seattle isn't necessarily looking for a starter opposite Sidney Rice, but Williams' release -- he'd been hurt, and conditioning was a concern -- left the team without many proven options. Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Kris Durham, Ben Obomanu and Ricardo Lockette are the other more prominent receivers on the roster. The team also expects tight ends Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow to factor into the receiving game.

Tate's emergence is a key variable. He made strides in 2011 after a rough rookie season in 2010. A hand injury set him back this offseason.

Bryant, 31, hasn't played since catching 39 passes for 600 yards for Tampa Bay in 2009. Knee problems have kept him out of the game. Bryant showed enough last month to pique the Seahawks' interest, but he wasn't yet sharp enough to command a contract. An impressive workout could at least keep Bryant on the team's radar.

Edwards, 29, wasn't much of a factor for the 49ers. Injuries were partly to blame. He did average 17.1 yards per reception with seven touchdowns for the New York Jets in 2010.

Seahawks Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
1:00
PM ET
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.
Seemingly conflicting reports regarding the Seattle Seahawks' leading pass-rusher made news over the weekend.

Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange said defensive end Chris Clemons planned to play out his contract and hit free agency after rejecting the team's offer. Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune cites a Seahawks source as saying the team received no formal rejection, and negotiations continue.

Translation: Clemons is frustrated, the Seahawks are biding their time and communication between the parties could stand to improve.

There's no reason at all for Clemons to rule out anything with 83 days remaining until the Sept. 9 regular-season opener. There's also little reason for the Seahawks to rush into a deal with a player going nowhere anytime soon.

Clemons is under contract through the 2012 season. In the absence of a new deal, Clemons cannot leave until March 2013 at the earliest, depending upon whether Seattle names him its franchise player.

Unfortunately for Clemons, he has little leverage. The team knows he'll show up to collect his $4 million salary. The team knows Clemons will play hard, not just because it's his style, but also because he must play well to maintain his value. The team knows the franchise tag serves as an insurance policy if Clemons puts together a career season. Also, the team has time to line up a replacement for 2013 if Clemons does leave after this season.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks would not consider Antonio Bryant unless the receiver improves his conditioning.

Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe checks in with former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who says he'd be 10 times better if given another chance to become a head coach. Spagnuolo: "I think I’m a better football coach. I know if given the opportunity again, which I hope happens, I will be a 10-times-better head coach because sometimes you learn more from your failures than you do from your success." Noted: Spagnuolo might be much improved from 2009, his first season as a head coach. He makes good points about the lockout and injuries severely hurting the Rams last season. The Saints probably must enjoy success on defense for Spagnuolo to get another shot anytime soon.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com runs through each of the Rams' linebackers. Wagoner on Jo-Lonn Dunbar: "He’s still young at 27 and the Rams believe his best football is ahead of him. He spent his first four years in New Orleans and played every linebacker spot. He says he’s most comfortable in the middle but he can play either outside spot. With the Rams so far, he’s played almost exclusively on the weak side. It’s possible he could shift over to the strong side because of the addition of McIntosh but he did just go through an offseason program playing one spot so it would also make sense to leave him there."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton could be an attractive head-coaching candidate if Arizona's defense continues to improve. Bickley: "This season, he has better talent, more depth at cornerback and linebacker. His players have a comfort level and experience. They have full trust in Horton's abilities, something the new guy had to earn on the fly in 2011. And for the first time since he arrived in Arizona, Horton has installed his entire playbook."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com details past contract disputes involving Cardinals rookies, noting there won't be any under the current labor agreement.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in from a charity even featuring Joe Montana, Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Jim Plunkett. Maiocco: "Montana and Young, members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and competitive teammates, were seated next to one another on stage. Prior to the event, they spoke comfortably to one another and mingled with guests. There was no hint of the tension that existed during most of their six seasons as teammates -- each fighting desperately to win playing time from the other. Although the subject of their relationship was not broached, Montana and Young both offered glimpses of their competitive natures."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee points to Randy Moss and Perrish Cox among standouts from the 49ers' recent minicamp. Barrows: "Cox, meanwhile, jumped out for his aggressiveness, which promises to be even more pronounced when the pads come on next month. He's playing three positions - cornerback, nickel back and punt returner -- a trifecta that bodes well for his making the 53-man squad. Others who distinguished themselves include Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams on offense, and Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock on defense."

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News says fans hoping to purchase and then sell seat licenses at the 49ers' new stadium might be buying at the wrong time.
Kellen Winslow, Barrett Ruud and Antonio Bryant played together for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009.

That team suffered through a 3-13 season. But one of those victories, 24-7 at Seattle in Week 15, proved pivotal for the losing team. That Seahawks defeat hastened Jim Mora's demise as head coach, helping to clear the way for Pete Carroll's hiring in early 2010.

Carroll will be on the field with Winslow, Ruud and Bryant when the Seahawks open their mandatory minicamp for veterans Tuesday.

Winslow and Ruud are under contract with Seattle. Bryant, 31 and out of the NFL since catching 39 passes for the Bucs during that 2009 season, is scheduled to participate on a tryout basis. The team could have a few extra reps for a newcomer after losing Golden Tate to a broken hand earlier in the offseason. Tate was expected to return for training camp, although a precise timetable remains unclear.

Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com says knee problems contributed to Bryant's layoff. La Canfora: "He was signed by the Bengals in 2010 while recovering from a knee injury and ended up being released prior to the season's start despite receiving roughly $8-million guaranteed. He never played a game for Cincinnati. Bryant, a deep threat when healthy with elite speed, has been out of the NFL since, but is healthy and in shape and at age 31 hopes to get back. In 2008 he had over 1200 yards receiving with Tampa Bay, his best season as a pro." Noted: The Seahawks improbably benefited from Mike Williams' career resurrection a couple years ago. They've got nothing to lose by bringing in Bryant for a tryout. And if they do sign him to a contract, the deal would be a modest one, giving Seattle all the leverage.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times runs through some of the off-field issues that have marked Bryant's career. O'Neil: "He has thrown a sweaty jersey into the face of Bill Parcells, then his head coach (Dallas in 2004) and during his only season with the 49ers was arrested on suspicion of DUI after allegedly driving his orange Lamborghini faster than 100 mph. He was suspended four games by the NFL, and did not play at all the following year, though he did sue the NFL regarding its right to force him to submit to drug tests."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com calls center Max Unger the leader of a constantly shuffling line. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks’ offensive line has been in an injury-induced, scheme-switching state of flux for the past four seasons – when the team has used 12 starters at left guard, 11 at right guard, nine at left tackle, five at right tackle and four at center. Nineteen of those players who have started games -- 11 of them at more than one position -- aren’t even with the team anymore."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Tom Cable is determined to improve the Seahawks' pass protection.

Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes Rams first-round draft choice Michael Brockers as coachable and dedicated. Timmermann: "Brockers has been so focused on studying his playbook and looking at game film that he said he didn't even think to call his mother immediately after signing his four-year contract with the Rams on Thursday. He signed the papers and got back to work."

Howard Balzer does not expect to see free-agent addition Scott Wells participating in the Rams' minicamp. Balzer: "In the four OTAs open to the media since the first week, Wells not only hasn’t practiced but hasn’t even been watching. During the final OTA of the first week, Wells did not practice and was seen with his upper leg wrapped. Coach Jeff Fisher has only said when asked about Wells that he had the day off. The team website reported that Wells has been 'dealing with an injury issue' and that 'he should be fine in time for training camp.'"

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic throws a wet blanket over the approaching minicamps, noting that non-contact rules remain in place. Somers: "It will be hard to distinguish the practices from OTAs. Just like voluntary practices, players wear no pads except for helmet. There is no contact and no one-on-one drills. That means we won't see Michael Floyd, the first-round pick, isolated against cornerback Patrick Peterson. (Or if we do see that, the Cardinals would be subject to punishment by the NFL.) And we won't get to see if right tackle Bobby Massie, the fourth-round pick, can keep Sam Acho, or O'Brien Schofield, or Darnell Dockett away from the quarterback."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com passes along notes from a recent interview with team president Michael Bidwill, who has pushed for additional games on national TV.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com expects all but two 49ers to show for the team's mandatory camp. Dashon Goldson remains unsigned as the team's franchise player. Rookie LaMichael James cannot participate because his class at Oregon has not yet graduated. Also from Maiocco: "Only one 49ers practice during training camp will be open to the public due to the ongoing stadium construction at the team's training facility in Santa Clara. The 49ers will hold a public practice and 'Fan Fest' at Candlestick Park on Sunday, Aug. 12, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A limited number of $5 tickets and will go on sale July 2. Proceeds benefit the 49ers Foundation."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says snap counts show the 49ers' offensive line to have been exceedingly healthy last season.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at reasons the 49ers could -- and might not be able to -- win a championship with Alex Smith at quarterback.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Goldson appears to be staying in good condition physically.

Around the NFC West: Foote's plans

March, 15, 2010
3/15/10
8:03
AM ET
Terry Foster of the Detroit News says free-agent linebacker Larry Foote could be close to signing with the Steelers after visiting Arizona. Foster: "Foote said there was a slight chance he could still sign with Arizona."

Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says he expects Foote to sign with the Steelers if he passes a physical examination. Dulac: "Foote met last week with the Washington Redskins, where former Steelers defensive assistant Lou Spanos is the new linebacker coach; and also with the Arizona Cardinals, where he would be reunited with several former Steelers coaches and players, including head coach Ken Whisenhunt and former linebacker mate Clark Haggans. But, in each instance, Foote was allowed to leave without signing a contract, something that is not expected to happen with the Steelers, pending a physical."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says adding Charlie Whitehurst wouldn't necessarily prevent the Cardinals from also adding Derek Anderson. Urban: "I can see a scenario where the Cards bring in both Whitehurst and Anderson with Matt Leinart — especially if they aren’t thrilled with the aside-from-Sam-Bradford QBs in this draft. Anderson would almost certainly come in on a short-term deal in that regard. Now, you still have to convince the free agents that it’s a place to be despite other guys who are trying hard to find a place to play. Leinart, Anderson and Whitehurst are all desperately trying to get and stay on the field."

Also from Urban: He wonders whether there might be a medical issue with Foote.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects newly signed backup center Hank Fraley to compete for a starting job at guard for the Rams.

Also from Thomas: a look at how the Rams might upgrade at receiver. Thomas: "The Rams are in a tough spot when it comes to upgrading at wide receiver. With the limited unrestricted free agent pool due to the uncapped year, there was very little available. Nate Burleson and Antonio Bryant got nice contracts, but they’re not No. 1 receivers or difference makers. Terrell Owens is still out there -- never mind his antics, he’s on the decline and no longer an elite player. Denver’s Brandon Marshall is a restricted free agent, but comes with tons of baggage, and right now the Broncos want a first-round draft pick as compensation. As far as the draft, there are a lot of good receivers, but don’t seem to be many great ones. Finding one that can be a clear upgrade is the challenge."

Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel says former Rams guard Richie Incognito has a visit lined up with the Dolphins.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat passes along LeCharles Bentley's take on Fraley, noting that the Browns acquired Fraley from Philadelphia after Bentley suffered a serious knee injury. Bentley: "He didn’t look the part, and you wondered how this guy could play at a high level. But he came in just before the season and took command. He’s a hard-working guy, a blue-collar guy. He adds value to a team on the field and in the locker room."

Also from Balzer: NFL owners might have no plans to specifically address the Rams' pending sale at the league meetings beginning March 21.

Turf Show Times' VanRam catches up with Rams defensive end Chris Long, who sums up his progress this way: "The big difference was the just the sacks. I was playing the run well most of the season. I had to pick up my pass rushing a little bit, and there were some things I did getting more comfortable with the scheme, adjusting my game a litle bit and just kind of let it fly once I felt comfortbale with the scheme. I'm not the only one who had the burden of learning a new scheme. But once you master that scheme it was just a great scheme. I feel like a lot of guys improved. I was certainly one of those guys, but there's a long way to go. I think the biggest thing is that I was getting to the quarterback more."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' trade with Detroit involving Shaun Hill was contingent on Hill passing a physical and the 49ers receiving David Carr's signed contract. Maiocco: "Carr received the original contract while on vacation in Cabo San Lucas last week. He is expected to deliver the document when he arrives today in the Bay Area for the 49ers' offseason conditioning program, which begins Monday."

Also from Maiocco: a chat transcript with thoughts on left guard David Baas, among others. Maiocco: "I don't think anyone with the 49ers is sold on David Baas as a long-term answer. And they don't want to give him any kind of lucrative extension. Therefore, they are not averse to having a veteran guard to play a couple years before finding a new guy to plug in there."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee suggests the Hill trade might have come together when executives for the Lions and 49ers met at Oklahoma State's recent pro day.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes a USC marketing expert as saying 49ers fans should understand recent price hikes on some tickets. Said the expert: "The reality is that some of these fans have had premier seats on the cheap for a long time. That's a very cynical way to say it. But can a fan really be mad that they've had their seats under market value for a number of years?"

Mason Kelly of the Seattle Times says former Seahawks coach Jim Mora plans to help out at Bellevue High School in the Seattle area. Says Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff: "Jim will be involved. I don't know in what capacity yet. It's great. He's an outstanding guy in whatever capacity we get him, even if it's only for spring ball or summer. It's great to have him around. He's a great resource for us."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com wonders why the Whitehurst is drawing interest from the Seahawks, among other teams. Johns: "Having never seen Whitehurst throw a pass in the NFL regular season, that's going to be hard for anyone to judge. But it's worth noting that Whitehurst hasn't been able to beat out seven-year NFL backup Volek for the No. 2 job in San Diego, so how he's suddenly become a hot property as a restricted free agent seems a bit curious. Keep it in perspective, though. The debate is whether Whitehurst would be a better addition than a third-round draft pick this April, when the possible mid-round candidates will include the likes of Tony Pike of Cincinnati, Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan or Jonathan Crompton of Tennessee."

Nancy Dooling of the Great Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin says former Seahawks and Rams linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski was charged for his role in a large brawl at a casino in Connecticut. Dooling: "Kacyvenski and four others were involved in a large altercation in the retail area of the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., southeast of Hartford, according to state police. He has a court hearing on April 1 in Norwich, Conn."

Gridiron Challenge: 2009 champs

January, 5, 2010
1/05/10
1:52
PM ET
Longtime NFC West Gridiron Challenge leader "Steak for Dinner?" will have company across the table at the imaginary championship banquet.

Burty's Boys outscored the carnivorous one 146-117 in Week 17 to finish in a first-place tie out of 2,245 entries. Both had 2,230 points. I'm trying to find out whether Bill Polian forced "Steak for Dinner?" to rest any starters in the final week.

Either way, great job.

The regular-season portion of the contest is now over. You'll need to sign up for the playoff version to keep competing.

This was my first experience in a Gridiron Challenge league and my first fantasy football team since about 1994 or 1995. It was lots of fun. My team put up 127 points in Week 17 to finish with 1,961 points, good for 257th place and the 94.4 percentile. I'll take it.

Some of my comments from last week apparently became bulletin-board material for one of the other competitors.

"If all goes to plan," I wrote, "I'll jump past Crabtree's Folly, among others right ahead of me in the standings."

All Crabtree's Folly did was score a league-high 184 points last week (see second chart). Well played.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
2009 NFL Franchise Player Pos. Team Status
Dunta Robinson
DB Texans Unsigned
Max Starks
OL Steelers Long-term deal
Matt Cassel
QB Chiefs Long-term deal
Terrell Suggs
LB Ravens Long-term deal
Brandon Jacobs
RB Giants Long-term deal
Julius Peppers
DE Panthers One-year deal
Antonio Bryant
WR Bucs One-year deal
Darren Sproles
RB Chargers One-year deal
Bo Scaife
TE Titans One-year deal
Shayne Graham
PK Bengals One-year deal
Michael Koenen
P Falcons One-year deal
Oshiomogho Atogwe
DB Rams One-year deal
Karlos Dansby
LB Cardinals One-year deal
Leroy Hill
LB Seahawks Tag withdrawn

All three franchise players from the NFC West are under contract after Oshiomogho Atogwe signed the Rams' one-year offer.

The chart shows how the franchise system generally rewarded players at premium positions: left tackle (Max Starks), quarterback (Matt Cassel) and pass-rusher (Terrell Suggs). Giants running back Brandon Jacobs also landed a long-term deal.

Eight franchise players signed one-year deals and only one of them, Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, played a premium position (tackle, quarterback, pass-rusher, cornerback).

The fact that only three of the 14 franchise players had been to a Pro Bowl shows that teams use the franchise tag as a tool in free agency, not only as a mechanism to guard against losing true franchise cornerstones. The Seahawks demonstrated this by revoking the tag from linebacker Leroy Hill, who then settled for a discounted contract.

Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson is the only unsigned franchise player. Refusing to sign the one-year franchise offer prevents the Texans from fining him for missing training camp. Refusing to sign made little sense for Atogwe, who wanted to be in camp and was practicing even before he signed the franchise offer Wednesday.

From the collective bargaining agreement: "Any Club designating a Franchise Player shall have until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on July 15 of the League Year (or, if July 15 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the first Monday thereafter) for which the designation takes effect to sign the player to a multi-year contract or extension. After that date, the player may sign only a one-year Player Contract with his Prior Club for that season, and such Player Contract may not be extended until after the Club's last regular season game."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
2009 NFL Franchise Player Pos. Team Salary
Julius Peppers
DE Panthers $16,683,000
Matt Cassel
QB Patriots $14,650,000
Dunta Robinson
CB Texans   $9,957,000
Antonio Bryant
WR Bucs   $9,884,000
Karlos Dansby
LB Cardinals   $9,678,000
Max Starks
OL Steelers   $8,451,000
Leroy Hill
LB Seahawks   $8,304,000
Terrell Suggs
LB Ravens   $8,304,000
Brandon Jacobs
RB Giants   $6,621,000
Darren Sproles
RB Chargers   $6,621,000
Oshiomogho Atogwe
FS Rams   $6,342,000
Bo Scaife
TE Titans   $4,462,000
Shayne Graham
K
Bengals   $2,483,000
Michael Koenen
P Falcons   $2,483,000

Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe knows how to maximize risk. He has an NFL-high 32 forced fumbles and interceptions over the last three seasons.

Still, I went to St. Louis last week thinking Atogwe was taking an unnecessary gamble by declining to sign the Rams' one-year, $6.342 million franchise offer.

Hadn't Atogwe seen Leroy Hill take a lesser deal after the Seahawks rescinded their unsigned $8.3 million franchise offer? What if the Rams' priorities changed unexpectedly or Atogwe suffered an injury?

The NFL's other unsigned franchise players -- Julius Peppers, Dunta Robinson and Terrell Suggs -- play premium positions. Peppers and Suggs are pass rushers. Robinson is a cornerback. The NFL values those positions at a higher level. Safeties? Only punters, kickers and tight ends have lower franchise-player values.

There's much to admire about Atogwe's approach. He continues to participate fully in the Rams' offseason program, from organized team activities (OTAs) to minicamps. He isn't publicly complaining about his contract situation. The Rams have noticed. They probably will reward him with a long-term deal at some point.

It's just that Atogwe arguably could have it both ways by signing the contract. The money would become guaranteed and the Rams still would consider a long-term deal. At present, the Rams are free to rescind the tag and Atogwe is free to skip training camp and the regular season without incurring fines. Both scenarios appear unlikely, but circumstances can change unexpectedly.

The Rams are rebuilding whether or not Atogwe shows up. As much as they value him, their long-term future doesn't depend on a safety. Atogwe seemingly has more to lose. I raised these issues with Atogwe. A transcript of our conversation follows.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
2009 NFL Franchise Player Team Status Salary
Julius Peppers
CAR Unsigned $16,683,000
Matt Cassel*
KC Signed $14,650,000
Dunta Robinson
HOU Unsigned $9,957,000
Antonio Bryant
TB Signed $9,884,000
Karlos Dansby
ARI Signed $9,678,000
Max Starks
PIT Signed $8,451,000
Leroy Hill
SEA Unsigned $8,304,000
Terrell Suggs
BAL Unsigned $8,304,000
Brandon Jacobs
NYG Signed $6,621,000
Darren Sproles
SD Unsigned $6,621,000
Oshiomogho Atogwe
STL Unsigned $6,342,000
Bo Scaife
TEN Unsigned $4,462,000
Shayne Graham
CIN
Unsigned $2,483,000
Michael Koenen
ATL Signed $2,483,000

Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe was among 14 franchise players this offseason. He isn&#
39;t complaining about it, which I find refreshing.

"It's a blessing to come out here and play," Atogwe told reporters from the Rams' ongoing minicamp. "And to be thought of as one of the top five at my position is an honor. I relish this."

How hard was that? Even if Atogwe were unhappy about having his options restricted in free agency, complaining about being a millionaire qualifies as bad form.

"I don't have to be [here] contractually," Atogwe said, "but I feel like I'm obligated to be here for my teammates and for my coaches. Going forward in this year, if I want to be a part of this team, I want to be a part of this team from the beginning to the end and I think it's important that we all put aside our own personal stuff and just really sacrifice for the team. Put the team first and allow us to come together as one unit so we can get a lot done this year."

Atogwe's actions line up with what new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said at the NFL owners' meeting late last month. Spagnuolo wanted new leaders to emerge in place of some of the older players St. Louis released as part of its rebuilding plan this offseason.

The chart shows the contract status of each of the 14 franchise players. Matt Cassel's status changed when the Patriots traded him to Kansas City, but I left him on the list.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. sees former Rams receiver Torry Holt as a potential mentor and limited contributor for teams needing help at the position.

The Rams certainly qualify as one of those teams, but they weren't going to pay him what his contract called for: No. 1 receiver money.

Williamson: Holt isn't equipped to play the role of a true No. 1 wideout who demands extra game planning from opposing defensive coordinators. I do believe that in optimal conditions, he could be a reliable chain moving target. A quarterback like [Kerry] Collins -- or Jacksonville's David Garrard for that matter -- would be very comfortable seeking Holt seven or eight times per game.

Holt's time in St. Louis ran its course, but Marc Bulger would presumably be very comfortable throwing to him as well.

One thing stands out upon looking at the leading receivers from last season: Almost all of the top 20 were playing with their original teams. Wes Welker, Antonio Bryant and Derrick Mason were exceptions. This wasn't necessarily a trend -- Randy Moss and Terrell Owens caught fewer passes than normal -- but Holt will need to find the right situation to pump up his numbers again.

SPONSORED HEADLINES