NFC West: Ben Hamilton

The Seattle Seahawks had good reasons for signing veteran guard Robert Gallery in free agency.

Their new assistant head coach/offensive line, Tom Cable, coached Gallery in Oakland and wanted him to provide stability and mentoring for a young offensive line.

There were injury risks, however, and those risks are threatening to make this signing a wash for Seattle. Gallery missed the regular-season opener with a knee injury, then suffered a groin injury against Pittsburgh in Week 2. The severity of that injury became known Monday when coach Pete Carroll said Gallery would require surgery that would sideline him for at least a month, possibly longer.

Rookie James Carpenter filled in for Gallery at left guard in the opener, then moved back to right tackle Sunday. He'll stay at right tackle now, with Paul McQuistan, another former Raider, taking over at left guard.

Gallery, 31, missed four games last season and 10 in 2009. Can he stay healthy once he returns from this surgery? The recent history makes it tough for the Seahawks to bet that he will. And with a team looking to rebuild with youth just about everywhere, what value will Gallery have for the long term if he cannot help the team as anticipated this season?

Signing older linemen with ties to Carroll's coaching staff has not produced desired results over the past two seasons. Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts, signed before the 2010 season because then-line coach Alex Gibbs had worked with them, battled injuries and are no longer with the team. Neither is on an NFL roster.

Around the NFC West: Backing Tarvaris

September, 6, 2011
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Head coach Pete Carroll isn't the only one who thinks Tarvaris Jackson should be the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback.

Quite a few Seattle players think so, too. How else to explain Jackson emerging as one of four player-elected team captains barely one month after taking his first snap on a practice field for Seattle?

"It’s obvious that that’s who they wanted to be their leader," Carroll told reporters Monday.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com has that and more in his post-practice notebook. He also looks at the 10 players still with the team since Carroll's first day as head coach: Marcus Trufant, David Hawthorne, Jon Ryan, Brandon Mebane, Aaron Curry, Leroy Hill, Red Bryant, Max Unger, Justin Forsett and Ben Obomanu.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' roster is about one year younger on average than any Week 1 rosters for the team since at least 2005. Noted: Those earlier teams had Pro Bowl-caliber players in their primes. Quite a few of those players have retired.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle notes that rookie right tackle James Carpenter is getting work at left guard while Robert Gallery recovers from a knee injury. Breno Giacomini is working at right tackle. Noted: Assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable wanted a veteran familiar with his scheme. He and Gallery were together with the Raiders for years. Last season, the team brought in Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts because both had played for then-line coach Alex Gibbs. The expectation is that Gallery has more left than either Hamilton or Pitts, but injuries are a concern. Gallery missed four of the Oakland Raiders' first five games last season. He missed 10 games in 2009.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' aren't yet sure what role Chester Taylor will play for them this season. Tight end Todd Heap played with Taylor in Baltimore and sized up Taylor this way: "He's a good all-around back. He's not afraid to pass block. He's physical running the ball. He's got great hands out of the backfield; that's one thing that always impressed me about Chester, to catch the ball in space, to catch the ball in traffic." Noted: Heap and Taylor last played together in 2005. Taylor was mostly a backup to that point in his career. He enjoyed a breakout season with Minnesota in 2006.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says veteran linebacker Stewart Bradley was happy to change jersey numbers from 97 to 52, a number more befitting of a linebacker. Noted: Bradley remained in a backup role through training camp as he adjusted from Philadelphia's 4-3 defense to the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme. Arizona gave him a $5 million signing bonus on a five-year, $30 million deal. He needs to start and play well for the Cardinals, and that is the expectation.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are mostly healthy as the regular-season opener approaches after stressing injury avoidance during training camp. Defensive end Chris Long: "We were still out four hours a day, whether it was walk-throughs or practice. We had some really good long practice sessions. We had even more time in meeting rooms. Hopefully, what it'll do is keep people healthy and put years on careers." Noted: New rules prevented teams from hitting as much during camps this summer. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo had already gone easier on the team in 2010 than he did in 2009, his first season with the team. That is easier for a coach to do once he establishes his program.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com predicts a third-place finish for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West, one spot ahead of Seattle.

Also from Maiocco: thoughts on the 49ers' recent roster moves, specifically why they released draft choice Ronald Johnson and didn't even sign him to their practice squad. Maiocco: "He was the only 49ers' draft pick who did not make it, and it was no surprise. Johnson failed to show any unique skills in 49ers camp. He struggled catching the ball as a wideout, and he mishandled two punts in an exhibition game. What was a bit of a surprise was that the 49ers didn't immediately bring Johnson back to the practice squad. The 49ers signed a rookie receiver to the practice squad on Sunday, but the player chosen was undrafted rookie Joe Hastings of Washburn. The Philadelphia Eagles signed Johnson to their practice squad on Monday."

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' moves under Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke suggest a long-term approach, not a quick fix. Noted: The 49ers have gotten quite a bit younger this offseason while doing nothing from a personnel standpoint to upgrade their quarterback situation for the immediate term. That's a reflection of a longer-term approach.
Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus started at left guard for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

No wonder the team went after Robert Gallery when the free-agent negotiating period opened Tuesday.

Gallery
Gallery and Seattle agreed to terms on a three-year deal, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The contract length suggests this will be a relatively modest deal financially for Seattle, a bit of a surprise.

Gallery, 31, missed four games last season and 10 in 2009, but he's a significant upgrade at the position for Seattle. The team has struggled to find a long-term starter at left guard since losing Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota following the 2005 season.

The line has been a mess overall. Seattle started 11 combinations last season alone, but the line is taking shape. First-round draft choice James Carpenter projects as the starter at right tackle, with third-rounder John Moffitt at right guard. Max Unger will step in at center, with Gallery at left guard and 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung at left tackle.

For the first time in years, Seattle has what appears to be a coherent, sustainable and promising plan for its offensive line. Gallery's durability is the biggest concern. The Seahawks felt good about adding another veteran guard, Mike Wahle, several years ago. His injury problems prevented him from holding down the job for long, however.

Gallery's connections to new Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable were important in getting this deal done. Both were together in Oakland for years. Gallery let it be known he wanted to leave Oakland and stay with Cable. Cable's presence means the Seahawks know what they're getting from an injury and production standpoint.
Matt from Phoenix thinks the Cardinals could have a difficult time filling a primary need such as pass-rusher with the fifth overall choice, given that Von Miller might not be available. He wonders how well North Carolina's Robert Quinn would fit in Arizona, and at what point the Cardinals might lean more toward taking the best player regardless of immediate need, such as LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Mike Sando: Every first-round choice under Ken Whisenhunt has addressed a primary need, from tackle Levi Brown (2007) to cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2008) to running back Beanie Wells (2009) to nose tackle Dan Williams (2010). None qualified as a blatant reach, however. Value lined up with need more often than not in those examples.

Arizona has enough needs for most first-round selections to address one. The Peterson example stands out as more extreme than most. As much as the team wants more consistent play from its corners, including Rodgers-Cromartie, that position doesn't rank among the primary need areas for Arizona.

The Cardinals need to help their pass rush by adding and developing talent at outside linebacker. That looks like a priority whether or not O'Brien Schofield emerges after more fully recovering from a knee injury that hurt his draft stock in 2010.

What if Miller isn't available? I do think Arizona could justify selecting Peterson fifth if he stood out as clearly the best player on the board. He's seen as a safe pick, and I'm sure new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, a former cornerback, wouldn't fight adding an elite talent at the position. I bet the Cardinals would get more from Rodgers-Cromartie with Peterson competing for acclaim.

The team could seek pass rush help later; when Horton was with Pittsburgh, the Steelers used second-round choices for Jason Worilds (2010) and LaMarr Woodley (2007). The Steelers did not ask those players to contribute right away.

Any player Arizona selects fifth overall will have to contribute right away. I'm convinced of that. It's one reason I do not think the Cardinals will draft one of the quarterbacks potentially available in that slot. Peterson would start right away.

As for Quinn, he was a defensive end in college. He was known more for rushing the passer than playing the run. He did not play in 2010. Doctors discovered a brain tumor (benign) in 2007. I suspect the Cardinals would have too many questions to use such a high choice for him. They'll be looking for a safer pick in that spot.

It's tough to imagine Arizona passing on Miller if he's available at No. 5.


Mike from Friday Harbor, Wash., wonders whether Tom Cable's presence in Seattle will steer the Seahawks toward an offensive lineman -- and away from a developmental quarterback -- with the 25th pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He thinks drafting to fill immediate needs appears more sensible with a long list of potential free agents and no third-round choice.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks do hold the second choice of the fourth round, plus consecutive picks in the fifth, but you are right about having immediate needs.

Cable's presence makes the Seahawks more likely to sign Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery in free agency, which could lessen the need to draft an immediate starter along the line. Cable's presence also makes the team more likely to consider a guard in the first round because Cable, unlike predecessor Alex Gibbs, shares the personnel department's affinity for larger interior linemen

Since 1995, Gibbs' teams never drafted a guard or center in the first round. The guards his teams drafted since 1995 averaged 289 pounds. Tackle Russell Okung was the only offensive lineman Seattle drafted in Gibbs' lone season with the team. While Gibbs lauded the selection, drafting a left tackle sixth overall was an organizational move. Gibbs was more particular about interior offensive linemen; that is why the team signed veteran guards Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts, who had played for Gibbs previously.


Ernest from Corpus Christi, Texas, expects the San Francisco 49ers to draft a quarterback, but he wonders whether they'll play said quarterback right away, and how those plans could change based on which veteran the team adds.

Mike Sando: There's almost no way the 49ers would go into the 2011 season planning to start a rookie quarterback. It could happen, I suppose, if the 49ers surprisingly selected one seventh overall, then failed to land a veteran of any note. And it could happen if the quarterback they drafted outperformed reasonable expectations during camp and showed himself to be the team's best option.

More likely, the 49ers will add a quarterback after the first round, then give that quarterback some time to develop.


Heef from Chesapeake, Va., wonders why the 49ers select seventh in the first round without holding the seventh pick in subsequent rounds.

Mike Sando: The 49ers were one of seven teams with a 6-10 record last season. They picked seventh overall, then rotated with the seven other 6-10 teams in subsequent rounds.

For example, Tennessee picked 39th, followed by Dallas (40th), Washington (41st), Houston (42nd), Minnesota (43rd), Detroit (44th) and San Francisco (45th). The 49ers moved up one spot in that rotation in the third round, and so on.


Ronan from Dublin asks whether NFL rules on cross-ownership will come into play regarding Stan Kroenke's expected increased stake in the Arsenal Football Club.

Mike Sando: The cross-ownership rules apply most stringently when an NFL owner owns a non-football team in a competing market. Kroenke's interests in Arsenal shouldn't affect his interests in the Rams.
The lockout will force NFL teams to rely more heavily on the draft than free agency, for now.

They'll need the players they chose in 2010 to step forward as well. That will be more challenging if the lockout prevents second-year pros from participating in the meetings and workouts that come with a typical offseason. It's still possible to make projections based on what 2010 draft choices showed as rookies.

I'll begin with the Seattle Seahawks.

"Our guys all the way through the picks, not everybody has stuck, but for the most part, we were counting on guys to play," coach Pete Carroll said from the NFL owners meeting last month. "You put together another year like that and another year like that, and your roster should be really be adjusted well."

The chart breaks down the Seahawks' 2010 draft choices based on how they could fit in 2011.
The NFL released its compensatory draft choices for 2011, allowing us to set the order for selection.

I've put together my initial draft-order file, to be updated and supplemented. Download it here.

A few quick notes:
  • The league forced Kansas City and Detroit to swap fifth-round picks, with the Lions losing a seventh-rounder, as part of a tampering case. I don't know if the appeals process is complete.
  • The San Francisco 49ers have a league-high 12 choices.
  • Compensatory picks cannot be traded.
  • Seattle appeared to be in line for a fourth-round compensatory choice, but the signing of guard Ben Hamilton appears to have offset the equation.

I'm going to get working on an updated file.
Fred Robbins/Chris ClemonsAP Photo/US PresswireFred Robbins, left, and Chris Clemons were among the best acquisitions in the NFC West last season.
The Seattle Seahawks acquired their leading sacker for 2010, Chris Clemons, from the Philadelphia Eagles one year ago Tuesday.

They acquired their backup quarterback and potential future starter, Charlie Whitehurst, from San Diego one year ago Wednesday.

By this time in 2010, the Arizona Cardinals had traded receiver Anquan Boldin, lost Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby in free agency, acquired safety Kerry Rhodes from the New York Jets and signed linebacker Paris Lenon, among other moves.

This March, we hear only crickets as the NFL lockout prevents teams from making roster transactions of any kind. The quiet period has shifted our football-related energies to the draft, which the league intends to operate pretty much as normal.

While draft classes can take multiple years to fully assess, free-agent crops tend to produce more immediate results, for better or worse. Let's take a look back at what NFC West teams got -- and still might get -- from their wheeling and dealing last offseason.

2010 unrestricted free agency

Best UFA signing: Fred Robbins, defensive tackle, St. Louis Rams.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo reached into his past with the New York Giants in seeking a needed upgrade to the Rams' defensive interior. Robbins outplayed the three-year deal he signed averaging $3.75 million per season.

Robbins started 16 games and collected a career-high six sacks for a defense that outperformed expectations. His presence on the line helped defensive ends Chris Long and James Hall produce at a higher level.

Worst UFA signing: David Carr, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeDavid Carr
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDavid Carr attempted only 13 passes last season.
The 49ers signed Carr and traded backup Shaun Hill in an effort to upgrade the position, but when they needed Carr to play, coach Mike Singletary gave him virtually no chance. Carr finished up the Carolina game before Singletary turned to third-stringer Troy Smith to start while Alex Smith recovered from injury.

It's tough to fault Carr much for what was, by all accounts, a messed-up situation. The 49ers' general manager, Scot McCloughan, left the organization shortly after the team acquired Carr. The team changed offensive coordinators early in the season. Singletary didn't know how to handle quarterbacks.

Conclusion: NFC West teams signed relatively few UFAs last offseason, in part because new rules prevented players with fewer than six accrued seasons from hitting the market. Jay Feely, Paris Lenon and Rex Hadnot signed with Arizona. Robbins and A.J. Feeley signed with the Rams. Ben Hamilton and Sean Morey signed with Seattle. Carr and William James signed with the 49ers.

2010 additions by trade


Best acquisition: Chris Clemons, defensive end, Seahawks

Seattle and Philadelphia seemed to be swapping spare parts when the Seahawks sent Darryl Tapp to the Eagles for Clemons.

Neither player had reached his potential previously.

Clemons set career highs with 11 sacks and 16 starts while filling the "Leo" position in coach Pete Carroll's defense. Tapp had three sacks and one start for the Eagles, making this deal a clear "win" for Seattle.

The Seahawks also received a fifth-round choice in return from the Eagles, but the player they selected with the choice, defensive end E.J. Wilson, was released during the season.

Worst acquisition: Stacy Andrews, guard, Seahawks.

The Seahawks could still come out OK on this one. The team had Andrews in mind as a candidate to play tackle in 2011, and that could still happen. But Andrews wasn't effective enough as a starting guard to stay in the lineup even though Seattle had serious manpower problems on its offensive line.

Perhaps Seattle can put Andrews to better use in 2011.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Whitehurst
Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesThe Seahawks acquired Charlie Whitehurst last year from San Diego as a potential future starter.
Conclusion: Charlie Whitehurst could have made the "worst" list for Seattle because he hardly played even though quarterback was a trouble spot, but his performance in Week 17 carried Seattle into the playoffs. He could still validate the trade. Ted Ginn Jr. was a disappointment as a wide receiver for the 49ers, but injuries and quarterback instability contributed. Ginn upgraded the return game. NFC West teams fared well in acquiring Leon Washington, Kerry Rhodes and Mark Clayton. Marshawn Lynch's memorable run against New Orleans in the playoffs made that deal look better.

2010 subtractions by trade

Best subtraction: Alex Barron, tackle, from the Rams.

St. Louis got nothing of lasting value in return for Barron, but the penalty-prone tackle was not missed. Rookie Rodger Saffold stepped in at left tackle and outperformed reasonable expectations for a rookie. Barron's time in St. Louis had run its course. The team was taking a risk with its depth by dumping Barron for linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who did not stick on the roster, but the move worked out well from the Rams' perspective.

Worst subtraction: Rob Sims, guard, from the Seahawks.

Seattle's thinking on the offensive line seemed disjointed.

Line coach Alex Gibbs retired a week before the season, changing the qualities Seattle valued in its linemen. Gibbs preferred smaller linemen, particularly guards. Sims was a solid starter, but he didn't fit the Gibbs profile. Seattle sent Sims and a seventh-round choice to Detroit for Robert Henderson, who did not earn a roster spot. The Seahawks also landed a fifth-round choice, used for strong safety Kam Chancellor.

The Seahawks used 11 starting combinations on their offensive line last season, and every one of them would have been better with Sims at left guard. Sims started 16 games for the Lions and played well, by all accounts. His presence in Seattle would have allowed the team to get more from Lynch in the ground game.

Conclusion: The trade that subtracted Boldin from the Cardinals might have qualified under different circumstances, but the time had come for Arizona to part with the exceptional wideout. The team picked up a third-round choice as partial compensation, a pick used for promising receiver Andre Roberts. The 49ers get mention here for the deal that sent Hill to Detroit and cleared the way for Carr's signing. Hill had a 10-6 record as a starter for San Francisco. Even if he wasn't the answer long term, he would have give the team better options in 2010. NFC West teams also parted with Deion Branch, Lawrence Jackson, Josh Wilson, Adam Carriker and Kentwan Balmer, among others, by trade last offseason.

Looking to the future

NFL teams remain unsettled from a roster standpoint while they wait for a labor resolution of some kind.

The Rams are the only NFC West team without serious question marks at quarterback. Lingering questions at that position will hang over the 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks while the lockout continues.

Getting a new collective bargaining agreement in place before the draft would help those teams more than others by clearing the way for them to pursue veteran passers. Otherwise, these teams could feel extra pressure to address the position in the draft -- a difficult predicament given the hit-and-miss nature of quarterback evaluation in general.

Logan Mankins and the NFC West wish list

February, 14, 2011
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Signing Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins away from New England has gone from unlikely to an even longer shot after the Patriots named Mankins their franchise player.

The NFL and NFL Players Association cannot agree upon whether the franchise tag even exists this offseason, but if it does, the tag will effectively take Mankins off the market.

It's unclear whether any NFC West team would make a strong push for Mankins given the expected price tag, but the thought had appeal for Seattle Seahawks fans still stinging over Steve Hutchinson's departure as a transition player following the 2005 season.

Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Mike Wahle, Mansfield Wrotto, Steve Vallos, Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus have started at left guard for Seattle since Hutchinson got away. Trading away Sims last offseason proved unfortunate once Alex Gibbs retired as line coach and Seattle stopped favoring smaller guards.

Tom Cable's hiring as offensive line coach puts Seattle in prime position to consider Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery, a projected free agent.

Mailbag: Assessing Seahawks' draft needs

January, 30, 2011
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Patrick from Munich, Germany writes: Recently I have been confused by the perceived needs many mock drafts list for the Seahawks. I personally would list offensive line, cornerback and quarterback as most pressing concerns. I don't see how running back keeps popping up, as I blame the lack of ground game more on the offensive line than anything else. What is your take on the situation? Where do you think Seattle has to draft most urgently?

[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenRussell Okung is the only offensive lineman guaranteed a starting job in Seattle.
Mike Sando: Running back did not show up among the Seattle Seahawks' top-five needs when I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to break them down in December. The strong running Marshawn Lynch provided during Week 17 and the wild-card round gave additional reason for Seattle to rank other positions as higher priorities to address.

Lynch and Justin Forsett are under contract for 2011. Re-signing Leon Washington would make sense. The team could use another fullback, but I wouldn't call running back a significant need.

Let's set the quarterback situation to the side for a moment. That position takes priority until Seattle feels no need to upgrade. In other words, the Seahawks need to draft a franchise quarterback if they have a chance to select one. Beyond that, I think we start with the offensive line.

Seattle used 11 starting configurations on its line during the 2010 season, counting playoffs. The team never started the same five guys in the same spots for more than three weeks at a time. Center Chris Spencer was the only offensive lineman to start every game. He is scheduled to become a free agent.

Upgrading the line would upgrade every other aspect of the offense, and even the defense, by helping Seattle to sustain drives, protect its quarterback, put points on the board, etc.

Spencer, Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson, Max Unger, Sean Locklear, Stacy Andrews, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung and Chester Pitts started games for Seattle on the offensive line this season. The chart lists all the combinations.

Of those nine players, only Okung is assured a starting job, or even a a roster spot, for the 2011 season. The team will have to make decisions on where the other players fit (Hamilton is off the roster). It's easy to see why the offensive line trumps running back and every position but quarterback among need areas for the Seahawks.

Tai from Seattle writes: Other than the Bears and Jets, it looks like player health was the big loser during championship weekend. Players claim to care about safety, yet some openly attacked an injured player for not playing hurt, like a bunch of junior high bullies.

Mike Sando: Interesting point, and well stated. In fairness to NFL players, the renewed emphasis on safety focuses largely on concussions, and at no point did it appear as though the Bears' Jay Cutler suffered a debilitating, life-altering injury.

Most of the attacks on Cutler, at least the ones that I saw, came via Twitter. I think it's pretty clear some players view Twitter as a venue for informal chatter without realizing the impact their words can have in a broader context. It's what you say, not where you say it.

Back to your point, though. Players' emphasis on safety does not do away with the culture of toughness. It's possible to question a player's toughness in a specific moment while supporting player safety overall. It does seem as though players should get the benefit of the doubt before the facts about an injury become known. That did not happen in this case.


Jason from Rochester, N.Y., writes: Hey Mike, with Seattle's attention turning toward the draft, I was wondering if you could fill in some gaps for me. Both lines need starters and depth. What combination of size and skills should we be looking for in zone-blocking guards? How about for the "Leo" position and for some depth behind Red Bryant? Thanks as always.

Mike Sando: There was irony in Ben Hamilton's contention that "personnel disputes and butting heads" precipitated Alex Gibbs' retirement as line coach right before the 2010 regular season. Hamilton and players in his mold would have been at the center of those disputes.

Gibbs always wanted smaller guards such as Hamilton. Other proponents of zone blocking schemes have come to favor larger ones. Gibbs valued mobility, but smaller guards have a harder time holding up in those moments when size and strength prevail.

We should expect the Seahawks to favor bigger offensive linemen than the ones Gibbs usually sought. We should expect them to favor the types of offensive linemen Tom Cable prefers.

The success Bryant enjoyed suggests the Seahawks could seek other top-heavy defensive tackles for the five-technique alignment.

The "Leo" requirements are pretty simple. Seattle will be looking for players with traits associated with 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers. Coach Pete Carroll has described it as a "speed-oriented" position.


Tony from Bakersfield, Calif., writes: The Bears' Caleb Hanie played very well against the Packers for being a third-stringer and not getting much practice reps. He doesn't have much experience, but he is worth a look. Do you think the Niners might try to sign him or trade for him if Chicago re-signs him instead of trading for Matt Flynn or Kevin Kolb? They would give less for Hanie. He showed promise in a playoff game under all that pressure. None of the current 49ers quarterbacks would have played that well.

Mike Sando: Hanie did impress. The moment was not too big for him. On the other hand, he was the third-stringer behind Todd Collins, and there wasn't much pressure on him at all, in my view. Hanie was the third-stringer. The Bears were losing by double digits. No one expected Hanie to succeed in that situation.

Hanie did a good job, but it wasn't enough for another team to bet very much on him. The 49ers should consider all options. They should not act in desperation. They need at least one quarterback with some experience. They probably need to draft one. And if they are going to trade for one, they might need more to go on than one-plus quarters in a losing cause.


Mike writes via Facebook: I read Sando's column on my question and can see his point [regarding Carson Palmer and the Cardinals]. Of course, if a second-rounder gets him, then I'm find with that. But my point here is that if keeping Larry Fitzgerald hinges on getting a great quarterback, is there anyone better out there than Palmer? And while I think the questions on Palmer's health are valid, are you really going to debate that at the risk of losing Fitzgerald? I think not.

With what Palmer has gone through in Cincinnati, I think he'd love a move to Arizona to start for a couple of years while grooming John Skelton or another young guy and finishing out his career as respected and loved by Arizona fans as Warner is and always will be. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Mike Sando: It is a no-brainer if the price is right. Re-watching almost any Cardinals game from the 2010 season will make Palmer or any competent quarterback seem appealing.

It's important for the Cardinals to get the quarterback situation solved for many reasons, including creating an environment that helps keep Fitzgerald in Arizona for the long term.
Alex Gibbs was supposed to transform the Seattle Seahawks' offensive line.

Instead, the veteran line coach retired abruptly right before the 2010 regular season, leading eventually to Tom Cable's hiring as a replacement.

Gibbs was worn out, coach Pete Carroll said, and it would not have been the first time. Gibbs' hard-charging ways had taken a toll on him in past jobs.

Left unsaid, however, was to what degree clashes behind the scenes precipitated Gibbs' retirement. Gibbs wanted specific types of players to run his scheme a very specific way. He wasn't the type to defer. It was natural to wonder to what degree personal and/or philosophical differences came into play.

Former Seahawks guard Ben Hamilton has offered his opinion via Twitter, citing "personnel disputes and butting heads" as reasons for Gibbs' abrupt departure. Hamilton played for Gibbs previously in Denver. Gibbs was the reason he signed with Seattle. Hamilton would probably have a good feel.

The reasoning behind Gibbs' departure isn't a pressing issue at this point, but Hamilton's comments provide some direction.
PHOENIX -- Good morning from Arizona.

I'll be heading over to University of Phoenix Stadium to catch the San Francisco 49ers' game against Green Bay on TV before the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals kick off at 4:15 p.m. ET.

Should be a fun Week 13.

And now, let's dive into the mailbag, as promised ...

Dylan from Phoenix writes: Hi Sando. I have heard quite a few reasons for the Cardinals' free fall. However, I was wondering if you believed the Bidwills' seemingly tight pockets have a played a bigger role than many have thought in the Cardinals' demise? Thanks.

Mike Sando: That subject demands some elaboration. Kurt Warner walking away from an eight-figure salary has hurt the Cardinals more than any other move has hurt them since last season. That move had nothing to do with anyone being cheap. The team also opened its wallet for safety Adrian Wilson (2009) and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett (2010).

The Cardinals did reduce their payroll this season. If I were to blame some of their struggles on tight pockets, I would take a longer-range view. For example, the Cardinals will tell you their offers for Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby were very competitive. That might be true, but Rolle hit the market only because the Cardinals backloaded his contract, as was their custom. You could say they backloaded deals to save up-front money.

The same thing happened, but more spectacularly, when Larry Fitzgerald's previous contract hit a crossroads for similar reasons. The Cardinals valued Fitzgerald more than they valued Rolle -- enough to meet his contract demands. Fitzgerald leveraged that situation into $40 million on a four-year deal. Paying $10 million per year to Fitzgerald complicated Anquan Boldin's situation, contributing to his departure from the team.

The way the Cardinals structured contracts for Fitzgerald and Rolle, two high draft choices, played a role in their struggles this season. But if Warner had decided to play out his contract, the team would probably find itself in the thick of the NFC West race anyway.


Doug from Washington, D.C., writes: Hey Mike, big fan of the blog and huge fan of the Seahawks. Watching them this year has definitely given me more hope than the past two seasons, but I'm pretty concerned about the future of this team. I want to say the team is rebuilding, but I feel like the team is too old to expect consistent improvement.

What kind of moves do you expect John Schneider and Pete Carroll to make in the offseason in terms of shipping out veterans for draft picks, etc? Will the end of their season ultimately govern this decision? Thanks!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Doug. Great question. How the team finishes will influence decisions.

I expect another busy offseason for the Seahawks in terms of overhauling the roster. The Seahawks made lots of changes, but they didn't become a young team through the roster. I expect them to get younger before next season.

You should expect additional sweeping changes across the offensive line. Some of the more familiar names up front -- Chris Spencer and Sean Locklear come to mind -- do not have contracts beyond this season. Veteran guards Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts do not have contracts beyond this season. They were stopgap players this season.

Additional players without contracts beyond this season include Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Williams, Ray Willis, Olindo Mare, Leroy Hill, Jordan Babineaux, Lawyer Milloy, Brandon Stokley, Raheem Brock, Michael Robinson, Matt McCoy, Junior Siavii, Craig Terrill and Brandon Mebane.

I would expect Seattle to re-sign Hasselbeck this offseason, but even that decision could hinge on what happens over the remaining games. Williams and Mebane look like obvious keepers. Some of the others have proven they have value, but their futures are less clear.


Sam from St. Louis writes: Sando, do you notice Chris Long being held a lot and the opposing offensive linemen not getting called for it? Seems like he's constantly being held, but it's almost like it happens on so many plays that the refs just stop noticing it or looking for it? I remember earlier in the year when he drew two consecutive holding calls and it almost seemed like the refs were too embarrassed to keep calling it or something. Long gets better the later the game goes on and many times it just seems like all the opposing offense can do to stop him is just hold him and hope the refs don't notice. He's gotten James Hall and Fred Robbins a handful of sacks this year.

Mike Sando: Looking at my notes, I saw the Seahawks' Locklear hold Long on a second-and-10 play in the fourth quarter back in Week 4. Long and Geoge Selvie got to the quarterback anyway, but there was no holding call.

Overall, yes, I have noticed Long getting held a few times without officials throwing flags. That's more a reflection of Long than a reflection of officiating. Good defensive ends get held. Long is now a good defensive end.


Jon from New York writes: I know it's easy to play the hindsight game with the draft, but I can't help myself.

In the last two years, the 49ers have taken two offensive linemen and a wide receiver in the first round. How much better would they be if they had taken Michael Oher instead of Michael Crabtree last year and then picked up Dez Bryant instead of Anthony Davis this year?

It seems like they would have been able to, and I heard that they were going to take Oher anyway until Crabtree fell to them.

Mike Sando: No doubt, it's tempting to entertain those thoughts. There is no way we can criticize the selection of Crabtree based on what might have been available to the team receiver-wise the next year. The 49ers made a value decision on Crabtree. I understood the decision and thought it was the right decision.

Moving up a couple spots to get Davis seemed unnecessary. Bryant is more of a big-play threat than Crabtree. He would have helped the return game. But if you look at their overall numbers this season, Crabtree and Bryant are pretty similar. Crabtree has 38 catches for 509 yards and five touchdowns. Bryant has an additional six receptions, 38 yards and one touchdown. Both have gone through multiple quarterbacks.

Crabtree is actually averaging an additional yard per reception this season (13.4 to 12.4). Both have three touchdowns in their last four games.


Dimitri from Boston writes: Sando, great blog. So, I played with the playoff calculator. If the Niners/Seahawks/Rams all end up 7-9 and if you assume the Niners lose at Green Bay and at San Diego, but win against the Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals, the 49ers win the division.

With that being said, wouldn't you put the Niners as the favorite to win the division? Niners may not be consistent or reliable and they are without Frank Gore, but relatively, it is hard to argue that any team in West can beat them (Niners are 7-2 in division dating back to 2009)? And if you look back on the season, their "best" games were against better teams (Saints, Eagles, Falcons).

Therefore, if football luck balances out (Nate Clements holds onto a pick, Alex Smith doesn't fumble against the Eagles, deflected balls hit the ground and are not picked) and the Niners steal a win in Green Bay or San Diego, the Niners should win this division?

Mike Sando: Fun stuff.

On the luck front, remember that the 49ers were losing to the Eagles by a touchdown when Alex Smith lost that fumble. The fumble itself triggered a series of actions that laid the foundation for the subsequent rally. No fumble might have meant no rally.

I do not trust the 49ers to win at St. Louis. They barely beat the Rams at Candlestick even though the Rams' defense gave up far more big plays than they typically give up in a game. I think the Rams' pass rush will be a bigger factor in the Edward Jones Dome. And if luck evens out, the Rams won't suffer an interference penalty along the lines of the one Oshiomogho Atogwe drew while covering Delanie Walker late in the 49ers' overtime victory.

Circle that St. Louis game. I think it's hugely pivotal for the 49ers.

Continuity not on the line for NFC West

November, 25, 2010
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The last two Super Bowl teams from the NFC West -- the 2005 Seattle Seahawks and the 2008 Arizona Cardinals -- started the same five players in the same five spots every game except one.

Seattle rested left tackle Walter Jones in Week 17.

No team in the NFC West has started the same five offensive linemen each week this season.

The Seahawks have done the most shuffling. They expect to use their ninth starting combination in 11 games when the Kansas City Chiefs visit Qwest Field in Week 12.

The chart shows Seattle's starting combinations by week. The team has started the same five in back-to-back weeks twice this season. Nine offensive linemen have started for Seattle: Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson, Chris Spencer, Max Unger, Sean Locklear, Ben Hamilton, Stacy Andrews, Russell Okung and Chester Pitts.

.

Midseason Stock Watch: Seahawks

November, 10, 2010
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Power Rankings: Preseason 25. This week: 24.

[+] EnlargeLeon Washington
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLeon Washington has done his part to give the offense good starting field position.
2010 schedule/results

Where they stand: The Seahawks are tied with St. Louis atop the NFC West with a 4-4 record. The Rams own the head-to-head tiebreaker pending their rematch in Week 17. Seattle was an ascending team until injuries wiped out five starters on the offensive and defensive lines, plus quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a few others. The Seahawks still have a chance to steady themselves once Hasselbeck and left tackle Russell Okung return. Both could be back against Arizona this week. But the defense will have a hard time recapturing top form against the run without defensive end Red Bryant (injured reserve) and nose tackle Colin Cole (out indefinitely with a high-ankle sprain). The Seahawks are on shaky ground after getting outscored 74-10 over their past two games.

Falling: The offensive line was supposed to develop a strong identity under highly regarded coach Alex Gibbs. It never happened. Gibbs quit shortly before the season. By then, the Seahawks had already begun remaking their line with the smaller guards Gibbs preferred. Trading away incumbent starter Rob Sims seemed like a mistake once Gibbs departed and the Seahawks sought more size at the position. Losing starting right guard Max Unger in the opener and starting left guard Ben Hamilton more recently exacerbated the problem. Take away Okung and the line has struggled enough to prevent the offense from functioning. The Seahawks are having trouble sustaining drives and clearing holes for their running backs. That puts more pressure on the defense, which has issues of its own.

Rising: General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have done a good job patching holes with castoffs. Adding first-round choices Mike Williams (2005, Detroit Lions) and Marshawn Lynch (2007, Buffalo Bills) has given Seattle two talented building blocks on offense. Williams had 21 receptions over a two-game period before falling off over the past couple of games. Lynch has found very little room to run, but his hard-charging style has impressed. The 6-yard run Lynch had against the New York Giants -- one in which he disappeared into a pile, moved the pile and then emerged from the other side -- summed up what Seattle is getting from him. Leon Washington, acquired in a low-cost trade on draft day, leads the NFL in kickoff-return average. Chris Clemons, another acquisition by trade, has produced as a pass-rusher. Raheem Brock, Brandon Stokley, Kentwan Balmer and Michael Robinson have also added value.

Midseason MVP: Washington gets my vote for his consistently game-changing production in the return game. He's the most dynamic player on the team and a consistent source of favorable field position. Clemons and strong safety Lawyer Milloy also deserve consideration. Both players have brought an edge to the defense at times.

Outlook: Getting Okung back into the lineup and developing continuity on the offensive line stands as the top priority heading into the second half of the season. The game against Chicago in Week 6 proved the Seahawks had a good thing going up front when Okung was in the lineup. It's just tough to bank on anything coming together from an injury standpoint amid so much bad news on that front. The defensive line might be in worse shape, a significant concern with Reggie Bush, Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, Michael Turner, LeGarrette Blount and Steven Jackson still on the schedule. Seattle can get to 8-8 by winning its remaining home games, however. That's more than the Rams or San Francisco 49ers can say.
The 2009 Seattle Seahawks reached their breaking point during a 27-3 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6.

Injuries forced the team to start Kyle Williams at left tackle and Steve Vallos at left guard for the first time. Seattle gave up five sacks, managed no runs longer than five yards and generally could not function on offense. That was also the game when Seattle lost middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, the quarterback of its defense, to a season-ending injury.

The 2010 Seahawks face similar challenges heading into their game Sunday against the New York Giants.

Three-fifths of their projected starting offensive line will not play unless left tackle Russell Okung miraculously recovers from a high-ankle sprain before kickoff (unlikely given that coach Pete Carroll described Okung as extremely doubtful). Guards Max Unger and Ben Hamilton are already on injured reserve.

Seattle will use its fifth starting combination on the line in eight games this season.

The team's preferred backup for Okung, Tyler Polumbus, was limited in practice and listed as questionable for Sunday. Chester Pitts, who played last week for the first time since suffering a catastrophic knee injury in Week 2 last season, becomes the team's third starting left tackle in 2010. Mike Gibson, cut and re-signed since filling in for Hamilton as the Week 1 starter, is back in the lineup at left guard. This game marks his second career start.

The patchwork line will be protecting a quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, making his first regular-season start.

Top receiver Mike Williams is expected to play despite a knee injury, but an ankle injury has ruled out rookie receiver Golden Tate, the only Seattle wideout with more than one reception last week. The only fullback on the roster, Michael Robinson, is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Half the projected starting defensive line will not play. Another starting defensive lineman, Brandon Mebane, is listed as questionable and has not played since Oct. 3.

I can hear Seahawks strong safety and team sage Lawyer Milloy now if Seattle does defeat the Giants. "No one gave us a chance," he'll say, "except for the men in this room."

And he'll be right.

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