NFC West: Antonio Smith

NFL general managers put their reputations on the line come draft day.

Some fare better than others.

The chart shows how many Pro Bowl players current NFC West GMs have drafted or helped draft over the past 10 years.

The numbers are not definitive. Current GMs from the division weren't always primary decision makers during the period in question. They do not deserve all the credit (or blame) for the players their teams drafted.

In some cases -- think first-team All-Pro choice NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco, for example -- very good players have not yet achieved Pro Bowl acclaim. In other cases, a single decision -- say, drafting Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay -- improved an organization's trajectory enough to launch other players to the Pro Bowl.

What we have, basically, is a starting point for discussion heading into the 2012 draft. Here's a look at each current NFC West GM and the associated 2002-2011 draft choices with Pro Bowls on their résumés:
Whoa, the NFC West chat is getting under way now. Gotta run.
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the intersection of faith and football has helped the Seahawks' Aaron Curry show improvement on the field. Brewer: "Because Curry's problems aren't physical, he still has a chance to be a rare, late-blooming linebacker if he can relax, study harder and develop a better feel for the game. Many don't see it and breathlessly declare him a bust. But Curry, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft, is only 25. There's still time. There's little question about his athletic ability. And there's no doubt his newfound faith is changing his mental approach."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says coach Pete Carroll is concerned about the team's issues in pass protection. Carroll: "It’s a race against time, and we’re not staying with the race right now."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on the Seahawks' third preseason game. O'Neil: "Starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson can cut up a second-string defense just as efficiently as Charlie Whitehurst the first two exhibition games. The question is whether this offensive line can give anyone enough time in the pocket to have a reasonable chance of success this season. Seattle has allowed eight sacks in three games, and while that's tied for eighth-most of all NFL teams in August, it doesn't give a true indication of the pass pressure that has been constant and unrelenting."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune confirms a Pro Football Talk report noting that Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant has accepted a pay reduction from $5.9 million to $3 million for the 2011 season. I had thought the Seahawks would take this step earlier in the process; Lofa Tatupu's situation seemed to foreshadow something for Trufant as well. Both had signed Pro Bowl-caliber deals when they were Pro Bowl-caliber players.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals cornerback Greg Toler has suffered a sprained knee of unknown severity. Somers: "There was no immediate word on the seriousness of Toler's injury. The Cardinals could receive a boost soon if cornerback Mike Adams returns from knee surgery as expected. Adams underwent arthroscopic surgery early in training camp and was expected back in a few weeks. While Adams won't compete for a starting job, he has plenty of experience in nickel and dime schemes. And he's one of the club's better special-teams players."

Also from Somers: Kevin Kolb prefers sustained drives to big plays. Somers: "They strung more good plays together in the loss to the Chargers than they did in either of their previous two games. But mistakes, especially penalties, continue to hurt. Right tackle Brandon Keith was called for three penalties. Andre Roberts and Levi Brown each had a false start. There were big-play opportunities that were missed. Kolb overthrew Larry Fitzgerald early. And Beanie Wells was a stumble or two from breaking long runs."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kolb clearly understands the importance of getting the ball to Fitzgerald.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams rookie Robert Quinn was pleased, but not overly so, to collect his first sack of the preseason. Quinn: "It definitely felt good. It's been a while since I had one of those. I feel like I'm getting my legs back up under me. And with the good group of core veterans on the D-line -- and really on the defense -- they just support me, trying to help me, I guess, mature faster as a young player. I really try to take their advice, learn from them, and help make a play."

Also from Thomas: The Rams feel like they are making progress on offense. Quarterback Sam Bradford: "I think everyone looked and felt more comfortable out there this week than they had in the past two weeks, including myself. I just felt much better with our operation. I felt we were quicker in and out of the huddle. I felt like our communication was better at the line of scrimmage. I just felt like everything [Friday] was almost normal in the sense that everyone's kinda starting to jell."

More from Thomas: Steven Jackson's preseason playing time has spiked this summer. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "We talked extensively during the week about the two issues we thought we had in the Tennessee game, which was we didn't run the ball effectively and we didn't stop the run very well. So we wanted to have a mindset of being able to do that. Steven was all for it."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says cornerback Dionte Dinkins' high-ankle sprain was the Rams' most serious injury of the third preseason game.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams appear on the rise. Burwell: "Don't start organizing a parade, but this is actually starting to look promising. In three preseason games, we have noticed enough of the right stuff happening; draft picks that honestly look like they can contribute to something more substantial than a CFL roster; veteran free agents who don't look like horrid flops; coaches whose X's and O's come alive on game days; a growing radio and preseason television network that suggests the organization's venture into turning the Rams into a regional marketing phenomenon just might work, too."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks at 49ers players whose stock is rising -- and falling. Maiocco on safety Madieu Williams: "The veteran has been a sure tackler on defense and a willing special-teams performer. ... He provided one of the 49ers' best defensive plays with a forced fumble that led to a takeaway."

Also from Maiocco: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh says it is "possible" Michael Crabtree could return from a foot injury this week. I heard Harbaugh's comments and thought he sounded noncommittal. Crabtree is, by definition, closer than ever to returning. That will always be true until he returns.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee outlines problems the 49ers faced against Houston. Barrows: "The Texans mostly rushed the same four linemen on every play and those linemen simply beat the 49ers on one-on-one matchups. The 49ers made Antonio Smith, a guy who has never had more than 5.5 sacks in seven seasons, look like the second coming of Michael Strahan."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are heading in the wrong direction.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Frank Gore wants a new contract to help get his mind "right" for the season.
Kevin KolbChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesSigning Kevin Kolb signals that the Cardinals are ready to bounce back after a transition season.

Kevin Kolb's arrival from Philadelphia gives the Arizona Cardinals renewed hope at quarterback and clear direction following Kurt Warner's retirement.

It provides a fresh start after a forgettable 2010 transition season for Arizona.

So much has changed for the Cardinals since their Super Bowl appearance following the 2008 season. Other rosters around the league have turned over since then, of course, but not every team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

Quite a few teams have sought change. For the Cardinals, it just happened.

Warner's departure, while easily the biggest change, was far from the only one. Between five and eight starters from that Super Bowl game project as starters in 2011, depending upon how many of the team's unrestricted free agents re-sign.

When Steve Breaston left the Cardinals for Kansas City this week, drawing attention to the cumulative effect of Arizona's roster upheaval, a Seahawks fan drew parallels between Seattle's post-Super Bowl decline and the Cardinals' plight last season.

"Don't misunderstand," Ricky Frey wrote on my Facebook wall, "I'm a Hawks fan, but it seems eerily familiar to watch this happen and know what happened to Holmgren/Mora. Writing on the wall?"

Not if Kolb has anything to say about it. Acquiring a relatively young, potentially ascending quarterback puts Arizona in position to avoid the decline Seattle experienced as a Matt Hasselbeck struggled with injuries while the roster around him withered away. The NFC West remains in transition overall, and the Cardinals know it.

"It’s obviously winnable, but it’s funny to think that everybody thinks you can just step in and win it," Kolb told reporters Friday. "You’re talking about NFL football teams here. I know last year 7-9 is what won it, but it doesn’t matter. ... The door is open, we know, and we’ll be ready to kick it in when it’s time, but it’s not going to be an easy task."

Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson and the recently re-signed Lyle Sendlein started for Arizona in the Super Bowl and remain starters in 2011. Another starter from that Super Bowl game, Gerald Hayes, was released this week. Three more are becoming unrestricted free agents: Deuce Lutui, Bryan Robinson and Gabe Watson.

Six Arizona starters from that game are retired or did not play last season: Mike Gandy, Warner, Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith, Chike Okeafor and Monty Beisel. Seven more play for other teams: Reggie Wells, Leonard Pope, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Smith, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and the recently traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Some were role players. Others were tougher to replace.

Breaston was a backup on that team, but he played extensively as the third receiver and finished the season with more than 1,000 yards.

Kolb's addition headlined a flurry of transactions the Cardinals announced Thursday and Friday.

Sendlein, safety Hamza Abdullah, cornerback Michael Adams, tackle D'Anthony Batiste, center Ben Claxton, punter Ben Graham, fullback Reagan Maui'a and tight end Stephen Spach re-signed.

Five draft choices have signed. Guard Daryn Colledge, defensive end Nick Eason, tight end Jeff King, receiver Chansi Stuckey and linebacker Stewart Bradley have signed as free agents from other teams.

Re-signing Sendlein while adding Kolb, Colledge and Bradley suggests the 2011 team is still coming together, not necessarily falling apart.
The Arizona Cardinals are reaching into free agency to patch holes on their offensive line.

Daryn Colledge, a starter for each of his five seasons since Green Bay made him a second-round choice in 2006, gives the team needed reinforcement at guard. Alan Faneca's retirement and Deuce Lutui's potential departure in free agency combined with the Cardinals' draft-day tendencies to compel such a move.

Colledge, posting on his Twitter account, said he would be in camp with Arizona soon. ESPN's John Clayton reports terms as five years and $27.5 million.

The 29-year-old starter of 76 regular-season games ideally would have remained with Green Bay. In this case, the Packers did what they have often tried to do: identify starting-caliber talent in the draft, secure the player for his prime years at a reasonable rate and then watch another team sign that player at a premium price in free agency years later. General manager Ted Thompson touched upon that theme during his meeting with shareholders Thursday.

Arizona has also taken pride in developing draft choices into starters -- Calais Campbell successfully replaced free-agent departure Antonio Smith, to cite one example -- but the team hasn't invested significant draft capital in its offensive line since making tackle Levi Brown the fifth overall choice in 2007.

The chart shows how many offensive linemen NFL teams have drafted in the first three rounds since 2008.
NFC West teams have drafted 22 defensive ends since 2002, a number smaller than I would have anticipated.

An even smaller number -- two! -- start for the teams that drafted them.

One, Antonio Smith, starts for another team.

A few notes relating to this latest item in a series examining various positions:
  • Kentwan Balmer appears as a defensive end because the San Francisco 49ers drafted him to play that position. Balmer played defensive tackle in college.
  • Darnell Dockett does not appear as a defensive end because the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play defensive tackle. Yes, Dockett plays defensive end in the Cardinals' current scheme, but the NFL lists him as a tackle for Pro Bowl voting and he is not a typical defensive end even by 3-4 standards.
  • Of the 22, only Chris Long and Calais Campbell are starting for their original teams. Smith is starting for the Houston Texans.
  • Six of the eight most highly drafted ends since 2002 came from teams most recently affiliated with the ACC.
  • Long was the only player on the list drafted before the 28th overall choice.
  • Will Davis and Parys Haralson were listed as defensive ends coming out of college, but both projected as outside linebackers. That is why they do not appear below. Cody Brown also projects at linebacker.
  • I've used the term "not active" loosely in the charts to describe players who weren't on active rosters during the regular season recently.

Now, on to the charts. I've broken them up with italicized comments representing what NFL teams might have been thinking at corresponding stages of these drafts.

Playing it safe and hoping those NFL bloodlines pay off ...


Defensive linemen are at a premium, and we might find out why ...


The pure pass-rushers are gone by now ...


If these guys don't pan out, it'll be a while before we take another third-round end ...


It's an upset if we find a starter at this point ...


Time to fill out the practice squad, but you never know ...

A couple of people thought the best questions went unaddressed during the recently completed NFC West chat (see comments at the bottom of the chat transcript).

Fire away. I'm listening.
Jeff (Cedar Rapids, IA): Good day Mike. Everyone seems fixated on the Rams drafting a WR and, honestly, I don't see it. Sure, if A.J. Green or Julio Jones falls, that makes sense but realistically that's not going to happen. Both Kiper and McShay have the Rams taking a receiver in the secnd round but logically it doesn't make much sense to me to add another No. 2 guy. Would a WR in the second round be a huge improvement over a healthy Donnie Avery, Danario Alexander or Brandon Gibson? I think that second-round pick would be so much more valuable in getting an outside linebacker, safety or guard. Just wondering your thoughts on that second-round pick. Thanks!

Mike Sando: Your take and my take line up nicely. The last 10 receivers taken in the second round were Arrelious Benn, Golden Tate, Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Avery, Devin Thomas, Jordy Nelson, James Hardy, Eddie Royal and Jerome Simpson. There have been some good ones over the years -- DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson, Anquan Boldin -- but I agree that a rookie receiver tends to make less impact. We have seen NFC West teams find good linebackers in the second round. Daryl Washington looks promising for Arizona, while Karlos Dansby worked out well as a second-rounder previously. James Laurinaitis is working out well for the Rams. Lofa Tatupu went to three Pro Bowls for Seattle.

Shane (Los Angeles, CA): Sando, if the Cards do get Von Miller, the LB corps, which was the Achilles heel of the defense last year, should be much better with O'Brien Schofield and Daryl Washington. Depth concerns aside, shouldn't the Cards' starting defense fare much better next year? Of course, having a QB that doesn't put your defense in bad positions all year long will help also!

Mike Sando: I expect improvement. Injuries to Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson were also factors. The Cardinals are optimistic on Schofield and Davis. Their optimism on young players in the past held up in a couple instances, notably with Calais Campbell after the team let Antonio Smith leave in free agency.

Corey (D.C.): Please comment on my analysis of the QB situation in the draft. It seems to me that Arizona is in a perfect situation to take a DEF player like Von Miller at #5, then sitting back and waiting for a QB like Ponder or Dalton in early rd 2 (trading up slightly if need be). Seattle needs to take a QB at #25 if they want to because they will all be gone by their 2nd pick. SF wont take a QB at #7, and surely all will be gone by their 2nd round pick. Based on this, and not to mention Tennessee, Washington, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Carolina will all have taken QBs with either their 1st or 2nd picks, it seems to me the one team left out in the cold is the 49ers. Does this make them the most likely to trade for Kolb?

Mike Sando: I like the way you have thought through things, but it all comes down to whether the 49ers would value Kolb enough to part with a high pick for him. I do not see them making that trade with their first-rounder this year, should trades for veteran players even be permissible. Would the Eagles take a high second-rounder for him? Not so sure that would make a great deal of sense for them.

Jeff (Bellevue, WA): If you take stock in what McShay and Kiper believe, it appears to be rather likely that Jake Locker will stay in Seattle. Should that happen, I would think that would be one of the best scenarios for Matt Hasselbeck because that would increase the pressure on Seattle to bring him back. They would need a smart, veteran West Coast QB to teach alongside Darrell Bevell. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: Drafting Locker would preclude the team from acquiring a Kevin Kolb and paying Kolb big money over the long term. Keeping Hasselbeck as a veteran mentor would have greater appeal. I'm just not so sure Seattle would feel that pressure to the point that it would compel the team to start guaranteeing money to Hasselbeck on a longer-term deal.

The lockout could make quarterback selection in the draft interesting for Seattle. The team wouldn't be able to communicate directly with Hasselbeck to let him know its thoughts on the position and where he would fit if he did re-sign. They could explain the situation publicly.

NFC West Penalty Watch: Dirty laundry

September, 10, 2010
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St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford makes his NFL regular-season debut against some rough-and-tumble Arizona Cardinals defenders.

The chart, put together with information from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, shows NFC West defensive players with the most penalties since 2005 under categories labeled roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, taunting, horse-collar tackle, personal foul, disqualification and 15-yard facemask.

These penalties include only those committed while playing for NFC West teams. They include playoff games.

Joey Porter, signed by the Cardinals in free agency, has eight such penalties since 2005. Bryan Robinson, signed by the Cardinals in 2008, ranks tied for ninth on the list with four. He had four additional penalties in these categories while playing for Cincinnati from 2005 to 2007.

Not that Bradford needed anything additional to think about.

» NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

To what degree would a new stadium make the San Francisco 49ers more competitive in the NFC West and beyond?

[+] EnlargeCandlestick Park
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireCandlestick Park, opened in 1960, is no longer a competitive venue in the NFL.
New stadiums can bring added revenue, improved home-field advantages and organizational stability. The 49ers could use all those things as they await results of a Tuesday vote on a stadium initiative in Santa Clara.

Losing the vote would stand as a significant setback for the 49ers and team president Jed York. Candlestick Park has no future as a competitive venue in the NFL.

New stadiums in Seattle and Arizona built earlier this decade helped the 49ers' division rivals enjoy some of their finest seasons. Qwest Field opened in 2002. The Seahawks won division titles after the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons. They had won only two previously in franchise history. University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006. The Cardinals won division titles after the 2008 and 2009 seasons after failing to win one since 1975.

Of course, the Seahawks and Cardinals had other things going for them. Both had already acquired franchise quarterbacks before their new stadiums opened. The Seahawks already had Mike Holmgren as head coach and a billionaire owner in Paul Allen. The Cardinals had drafted exceptionally well in 2004, adding Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith.

New stadiums do not guarantee success, but successful organizations often have them. The 49ers got to 8-8 last season after failing to reach .500 for six consecutive seasons. The team appears positioned to be competitive again this season and possibly for years to come. Winning a new stadium, to be completed in time for the 2014 season, would provide more evidence the organization could be headed in the right direction.
Pressuring quarterbacks into poor decisions can sometimes have more value than sacking them.

The San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith has long been a player whose value has transcended his sack totals. Simply watch him play from week to week and you'll see what a pain he can be even without ranking among the league leaders in sacks.

Football Outsiders has quantified those contributions and broken them out in a recent Insider piece Insider by Aaron Schatz. The piece notes that most quarterbacks average significantly fewer yards per attempt when pressured. A few, including two quarterbacks on the 49ers' schedule last season -- Aaron Rodgers and Donovan McNabb -- have suffered less dropoff than others when pressured. Without knowing the stats, I would put the Minnesota Vikings' Brett Favre in a similar category at times, and certainly when he threw the winning touchdown against San Francisco last season.

Schatz's piece shows Smith ranking tied for fifth in the league last season with what Football Outsiders calls adjusted hurries. Smith had 28.5, same as the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. No other NFC West player ranked among the top 17 players (each player on the list had at least 21). Former Arizona Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith, now with the Houston Texans, made the list with 23. Smith also ranked seventh on a separate "No-Help All-Stars" list showing "the 10 players with the highest percentage of single-season hurries over their next-most productive teammates."

The St. Louis Rams' Chris Long ranked 10th on a separate list showing players who accounted for the highest percentage of their teams' hurries. Football Outsiders credited Long with 20.5 of the Rams' 89 hurries, or 23 percent.

Earlier: Smith among surest tacklers; Smith worthy as Pro Bowl choice; Long among pass-rush sleepers; Long definitely made strides.
Evaluating personnel ranked as a strength for former Cardinals coach Dennis Green.

Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Deuce Lutui, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and Antonio Smith were among the high-quality players the team drafted when Green was influencing the process.

Green is gone and fourth-year coach Ken Whisenhunt has helped the Cardinals become a playoff team. But the team still relies on a personnel system the team adopted when Green was head coach.

The Cardinals rank all draft prospects on one board. They rank 120 players separately based more on how those players might fit their schemes. The current team might value a good 3-4 linebacker more than a slightly better 4-3 linebacker.

"For instance, we have a player that we consider to be a very highly ranked player on the big board," Whisenhunt told reporters Monday. "He may not be a good fit for us so he may be ranked -- if he was in the top five on the big board, he may be 12 or 13 on our 120 board because he doesn’t fit for us as well."

The Cardinals could still draft that player, but the 120 board would remind them to reconsider the fit.

"We are repeatedly going through the exercise of need vs. best player available," general manager Rod Graves told reporters, "but we are lining that 120 board based on how we would select those players if they were there."

The second list stops at 120 players because that figure has been sufficient in past drafts.

Could Morey cost a draft choice?

March, 29, 2010
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The Seahawks might have parted with a 2011 sixth-round choice while handing a 2011 seventh-rounder to Arizona -- all for Sean Morey.

John Clayton's latest mailbag brought to mind the possibilities.

By Clayton's calculations, the Seahawks appeared in line for fourth- and sixth-round choices in 2011 based on their gains and losses in free agency through the weekend. Seattle had lost unrestricted free agents Nate Burleson and Cory Redding without signing a UFA from another team. Morey's signing Monday changes the equation because he was a UFA. As Clayton notes, the equation could change further if the Seahawks sign additional UFAs such as Ben Hamilton or Chester Pitts.

That might be OK with the Seahawks. They'll be happy if Morey and any other UFAs they sign play extensively and produce for them. But if the Cardinals were going to part with Morey anyway, they were better off having him sign as a UFA.

Arizona has signed Rex Hadnot and Paris Lenon in free agency after losing Karlos Dansby. Morey's departure as a UFA could help Arizona's compensatory equation.

These projections change as teams continue to make moves in free agency. But with the most desirable UFAs off the market, teams might be wise to consider future compensatory choices when choosing between UFAs and veterans who were released or came available by other means.

Last offseason, the Cardinals' decision to sign UFA fullback Jason Wright might have cost the team a 2010 third- or fourth-round compensatory choice for losing Antonio Smith, according to detailed projections from AdamJT13.

Boldin trade means Cards get value

March, 5, 2010
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Getting third- and fourth-round choices from Baltimore for Anquan Boldin and a fifth-round choice affirms Arizona's inability to get a second-round choice for the former Pro Bowl receiver. I don't blame the Ravens for holding firm on price.

Boldin

Boldin

Arizona has found good players in the third round -- Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson come to mind -- but also more flat-out busts relative to players selected in the second round.

In the end, Arizona decided to get something for Boldin before it was too late. Boldin's contract expires after the upcoming season. The Cardinals weren't going to satisfy him with a lucrative extension. Franchising Boldin after the upcoming season might have created an untenable situation, and the value might not have been there, anyway. Trading Boldin probably seemed more favorable than keeping Boldin around against his will.

Arizona basically traded one season of Boldin and a fifth-round choice for third- and fourth-round picks. The Ravens got multiple years of Boldin in return, signing him to an extension (something that never seemed attainable in Arizona).

Boldin might have helped facilitate this trade by generally keeping a low profile during the past season. He wanted a trade. The Cardinals knew he wanted a trade. There was no sense in acting like a malcontent. Attempting to bully Arizona might not have produced the desired result.

Boldin's departure drives home just how different the Cardinals will be in 2010. This team was already in transition once Kurt Warner retired. Boldin's departure continues the makeover. And yet the Cardinals have prepared for this moment by developing Steve Breaston and Early Doucet, just as they developed Calais Campbell to replace Antonio Smith. That is what teams are supposed to do.
Darren Urban's item on the "final eight" rules provides a good opening to discuss what an uncapped year means for the Cardinals.

Basically, the final eight teams alive in the playoffs, including Arizona, will have a harder time signing free agents from other teams if the NFL and its players fail to extend the collective bargaining agreement. I don't think this is a huge deal, though, because rules will also dramatically reduce the number of players available in free agency. And remember, there haven't been many good players hitting the market, anyway.

Without a new CBA, players must have six years in the league, not four, to become free agents. Teams will also be able to use one franchise tag and two transition tags to restrict veteran players.

Pat Kirwan of NFL.com has done a good job explaining some of the implications here and here.

Last offseason, Arizona lost (and in some cases did not want back) Terrelle Smith, Eric Green, J.J. Arrington, Antonio Smith and the since-re-signed Monty Beisel in unrestricted free agency. The Cardinals added Bryant McFadden and Jason Wright as unrestricted free agents. The team re-signed unrestricted free agents Brian St. Pierre, Ben Graham, Kurt Warner, Ralph Brown, Clark Haggans, Bertrand Berry and the since-released Elton Brown, with Karlos Dansby re-signing as a franchise player.

NFC West penalty watch: Personal fouls

December, 17, 2009
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Around the NFC West: Dockett's demands

December, 6, 2009
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Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Darnell Dockett vows to sign with another team in the NFC West if Arizona doesn't step up with a new contract for him. Dockett: "Honestly, I don't think they'll pay me. It's one thing to say there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but how many guys have been here who never reach that light? Look at Antonio Smith, Calvin Pace, Thomas Jones, Simeon Rice. Look at Anquan [Boldin]. Do you think going into his last season that he'll be interested in signing a contract at that time? You think I'll be anxious to sign a contract at that time? People say, 'Well, look what they did with [Larry] Fitzgerald.' Did you see the situation Fitzgerald had them in? Did you see what Kurt [Warner] had to go through? Kurt had to go to another team. Imagine that. An MVP quarterback took them to the Super Bowl for the first time in God knows how long, and he had to go to another team to get an offer to come back. Look at Karlos [Dansby]. They can't work out a deal with Karlos, because Karlos wants what he thinks he deserves, and the numbers don't lie. You know the saying: Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don't."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are focused on themselves, not the 49ers. Steve Breaston: "They need to watch us, basically. We're ahead. We're in the position that as long as we win games, it doesn't matter what anyone else does."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune lists 11 potential candidates to become the Seahawks' next general manager: Mike Holmgren, Randy Mueller, Tom Heckert, Ruston Webster, Steve Keim, Bill Kuharich, Ted Sundquist, Reggie McKenzie, Les Snead, Jimmy Raye III and Eric DeCosta.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the 49ers appear more talented than the Seahawks heading into their matchup Sunday. Boling: "The Niners even lose better than the Hawks. They lost close at Minnesota (27-24) and at Indianapolis (18-14), sites of two extreme defeats for the Seahawks (35-9 at the Vikings and 34-17 at Indy). I would still suggest the Seahawks have the advantage at quarterback, although the Niners’ Alex Smith (84.7) currently has a better passer rating than Matt Hasselbeck (81.0)."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Tim Ruskell's resignation reminds the Seahawks that jobs are on the line down the stretch. Hasselbeck: "We all know what's at stake. Every single guy in that locker room realizes that just like every other year, how you play will determine your status for the next year. Whether you're in this league or not, whether you're starting or not, whether you're on this team or not. That's unchanged."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says the 49ers' Delanie Walker is happy for all of the attention Vernon Davis is getting these days.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary wants his defense to improve its tackling. There's no excuse for the 49ers to be a poor tackling team given how much hitting they did during the offseason. Takeo Spikes: "Tackling is a mindset. I don't care how much you work on it in practice, at the end of the day, it's getting 'em down. What can you change in a week's time?"

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says how the Seahawks defend Walker could be a key variable Sunday. Much depends on whether the 49ers continue to shy away from their base offense featuring two backs. Jim Mora: "I've always had a lot of respect for him, and he's developed into a tenacious player. The combination of him and Vernon and [Josh] Morgan and Michael [Crabtree], and [Frank] Gore in the backfield, that's a lot of weapons. They've done a nice job of making you defend the whole field. Walker is a fine player. He might get overshadowed a little bit, but we have a lot of respect for him." More here.

Also from Maiocco: catching up with Nate Davis.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the playoffs are a realistic goal for the 49ers.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams remain unsettled in key areas heading into the final five games. Thomas: "Even if he recovers from his fractured shin bone in time to play a couple of games, quarterback Marc Bulger probably won't have enough time to reinvent himself in the eyes of the coaching staff and front office. Any decision on retaining him, or moving in another direction, will largely be based on what already has transpired."

Also from Thomas: Oshiomogho Atogwe's matchup with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is a key one.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams coach Mike Martz should be working in the NFL. Miklasz: "Martz's innovations in the passing game inspired a new generation of younger NFL coaches and coordinators. NFL teams are combining to average 66 passes and 471 yards passing per game this season, the second-highest averages since the 1970 merger. Even traditional smash-mouth teams (Pittsburgh) are airing it out and bombing away."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with the Rams' first-year coordinators. Coats: "(Steve) Spagnuolo never had served as a head coach at any level when the Rams tapped him to take over a franchise that had lost 27 of 32 games the previous two seasons. In turn, Spagnuolo hired two men who never had served as coordinators in the NFL: Ken Flajole and, on offense, Pat Shurmur. Toss in a rookie special-teams coordinator, Tom McMahon, and the expression 'starting from scratch' had real meaning."

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