NFC West: Blake Costanzo

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Blake Costanzo is reuniting with several key figures from his NFL career.

The special team ace re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday. He was a star on special teams for the franchise in 2011. Not only is he back with several coaches and teammates from his first go around with the 49ers, but he is back with other people who he is close with. Fellow special teams ace Bubba Ventrone and Costanzo are close friends from their days with the Jets in 2006.

Costanzo, who was with the Bears last year, played for 49ers' special teams coach Brad Seely in Cleveland. They remain close.

"I text Seely all the time just to bust his chops," Costanzo said. "Whether it was about football, or just busting his chops about life in general. But I was in contact with him for sure."

The 49ers are stacked with solid special teamers such as Ventrone, Kassim Osgood and C.J. Spillman.

While a lot will shake out in training camp, there is a chance not all of the top special teamers will make the 53-man roster because of number's game.

For example, Osgood could have difficulty if Brandon Lloyd continues to shine at receiver. Lloyd has little chance of being the No. 3 receiver, but if he is a solid No. 4, Osgood could be pushed out.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Patrick Willis may have a slightly different look in the first half of the upcoming season.

During Tuesday's organized team activity, Willis was playing the "Mike" inside linebacker spot usually occupied by NaVorro Bowman in the 49ers' 3-4 defense. Bowman is likely out until midway through the season as he recovers from a torn ACL. Michael Wilhoite, the leading candidate to take Bowman's spot in the staring lineup, took most of the first-team repetitions Tuesday in the "Jack" inside linebacker spot Willis played last year.

Willis said the change may stick for the season. It is just a subtle change and he is comfortable there because he has played in the spot before. Willis said it is still strange being on the field without his fellow inside-linebacker star Bowman.

In other 49ers' notes:
  • Star tight end Vernon Davis and standout guard Alex Boone continued to stay away from the voluntary session as they have all offseason. They are both unhappy with their contract. Neither player will be considered a holdout until they miss the June 17-19 mandatory minicamp. Second-year tight end Vance McDonald is starting at tight end with Davis gone. McDonald appreciates the extra reps, but admitted this about Davis: "I miss the dude." Joe Looney is working in Boone's right guard spot.
  • The 49ers cut guard Al Netter to make room for special teamer Blake Costanzo on the 90-man roster.
  • Veteran defensive end Justin Smith and running back Frank Gore were onlookers during the meat of the workout. Like Gore, cornerback Chris Culliver participated in early warm-ups and the did not participate in team drills.
  • The 49ers named Dr. Fergus Connolly director of elite performance. Connolly will work intimately with football operations to develop innovative sports and performance science practices geared towards player welfare and performance optimization. He spent the last three years as a performance consultant to teams in the NFL, NBA, English Premier League and professional rugby.
  • Because several receivers were out for various reasons, reserve quarterback Josh Johnson played receiver in some drills. And he didn't look too bad. But don't expect him to change positions. It's just an emergency deal.
  • Among the banged up receivers are Steve Johnson (hamstring) and Quinton Patton (foot). Both injures are considered minor at this point. Like he did last week, Brandon Lloyd had a strong day. Chuck Jacobs, who spent last season in the practice squad, was very active Tuesday.
  • The quarterback whisperer, 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh, spent some one-on-one time with undrafted rookie quarterback Kory Faulkner early in Tuesday's practice.
PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones. Update: The NFL clarified that Adam Snyder, who signed with Arizona from San Francisco, factored into the equation awarding the 49ers three comp picks.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 220th, 231st, 241st and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Update: The Seahawks sent the 214th choice, acquired from Buffalo in the Tarvaris Jackson trade, to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin trade.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

With the NFL deadline for naming franchise players passing at 4 p.m. ET Monday, we await official word from the league as to whether any NFC West players received the designation.

This can be a nerve-racking time for teams and fans hoping to keep favorite players.

Using the franchise tag almost always keeps a player from leaving in free agency. Teams must balance those concerns with a player's actual value. This year, deciding against using the tag could allow good-not-great NFC West players such as Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker and Danny Amendola to reach the market and sign elsewhere.

It's tough losing key players, but for some perspective, let's revisit the list of 2012 NFC West unrestricted free agents to change teams during the UFA signing period last offseason: Note: UFAs include only veteran players whose contracts expired. Released players are not UFAs.
The San Francisco 49ers' initial 53-man roster began taking shape around the edges Friday with a moves related to special teams.

The team traded backup safety Colin Jones to Carolina. San Francisco will reportedly receive a seventh-round choice in return, presumably from 2014 or later given that the Panthers traded a 2013 seventh-rounder to Oakland for Louis Murphy.

The 49ers also released veteran fullback Rock Cartwright, a player the team signed after losing 2011 special-teamer Blake Costanzo to Minnesota in free agency. Cartwright, 32, played more than 60 percent of the special-teams snaps for Oakland last season. He spent much of his career with the Washington Redskins, including when 49ers general manager Trent Baalke worked for the team.

These moves suggest running back Anthony Dixon showed enough to stick as a backup running back and core special-teams player. Dixon's status appeared tenuous when the 49ers signed Brandon Jacobs in free agency. Jacobs appears likely to supplant Dixon in short-yardage situations. Dixon volunteered to play fullback during training camp. He ran effectively during preseason, making a strong case to stick with the team.

As the chart shows, six of the top eight contributors for special-teams snaps from 2011 remain with the team following the departures of Costanzo and Jones. That could change before and during the regular season, of course. NFL teams must reduce their rosters from 75 to 53 players by 9 p.m. ET Friday.
One new note per NFC West team while passing along audio from a weekly conversation with Dave Grosby, Bob Stelton and Dave Wyman at 710ESPN Seattle:
  • Rams ate some money: Jason Smith's trade from St. Louis to the New York Jets will not cost the fourth-year tackle in the wallet. The Rams will pay $1.55 million of Smith's already reduced $4 million salary. The Jets will pay the rest. Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had the news.
  • 49ers OLB update: News that Parys Haralson and Eric Bakhtiari missed practice while Aldon Smith was recovering from a hip injury highlighted potential depth concerns at outside linebacker for San Francisco. In looking for ways to maximize roster spots, I wondered earlier in the week if the 49ers could save a spot at linebacker, keeping seven. The 49ers have kept eight linebackers on their Week 1 roster every year since 2006, but with Blake Costanzo gone, Tavares Gooden is the only elite special-teams player among the group. Haralson can play both both outside spots. The 49ers have options with their defensive front. Keeping three outside linebackers is still an option. Keeping a fourth could come at the expense of a superior special-teams player at another position, such as running back.
  • Lynch's back: Buzz over Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks' quarterback situation has drowned out other issues, including Marshawn Lynch's continued back-related absence from practices. Re-signing Lynch was one of the team's key moves this offseason. Seattle built its offense around his powerful running. Lynch has missed two of three exhibition games. Cause for concern? I doubt it. Lynch has missed at least two preseason games in each of the past three summers. Looks like he's on schedule.
  • Cardinals' tackles: The 2012 second-round pick Arizona traded to Philadelphia in the Kevin Kolb deal wound up being the 51st overall choice. Arizona had no picks between Nos. 13 and 80. With the Cardinals hurting for tackle depth with Levi Brown on injured reserve, I revisited the draft to see which tackles went between the 51st and 80th choices. Kelechi Osemele (Baltimore), Mike Adams (Pittsburgh) and Donald Stephenson (Kansas City) fit into that window. None is a projected starter. Osemele was initially projected at guard, but he's a backup right tackle for the Ravens. It's looking like Cardinals fourth-rounder Bobby Massie will start at right tackle.

All for now. Enjoy your Tuesday night.
NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

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

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

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

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

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

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.

NFC West free-agency assessment

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

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay

Key losses: CB Richard Marshall

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco 49ers

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Louis Rams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones

Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove

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

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

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

Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.
Teams receiving four of the 10 best compensatory draft choices this year have NFC West teams to thank.

That was the word Monday from the world's leading comp-pick guru, AdamJT13, who links specific players to specific comp picks on his blog.

The NFL awards compensatory choices based on net losses in unrestricted free agency, calculated by factors including salary and performance.

According to AdamJT13, the Seattle Seahawks' signing of Sidney Rice last offseason helped the Minnesota Vikings land a fourth-round pick -- 128th overall, the second-highest of the 32 selections awarded Monday.

Oakland received the 129th pick thanks to Seattle's deal with former Raiders tight end Zach Miller. Green Bay landed the 133rd pick for losing Daryn Colledge to Arizona, and Oakland picked up a fifth-rounder (168th overall) for losing Robert Gallery to Seattle.

UFA additions and subtractions this offseason will help determine how comp picks are awarded in 2013.

Arizona has added Adam Snyder and William Gay while losing Richard Marshall and Sean Considine.

San Francisco has added Josh Johnson, Mario Manningham and Rock Cartwright while losing Josh Morgan, Blake Costanzo and Snyder.

Seattle has added Matt Flynn and Jason Jones while losing John Carlson, Charlie Whitehurst and Atari Bigby.

The Rams have added Steve Smith, Quinn Ojinnaka, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells and Cortland Finnegan while losing Brandon Lloyd and Chris Chamberlain.

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

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

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

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

Seattle Seahawks

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

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

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

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

San Francisco 49ers

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

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

UFA added: none

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

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

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

Arizona Cardinals

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

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

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

St. Louis Rams

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

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

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

The chart below shows a general overview.
The Arizona Cardinals, aggressive in free agency one year ago, watched from the sideline Tuesday while other teams signed players.

They had fewer perceived needs, for one, but they also needed to know whether Peyton Manning planned to sign with them.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the team will remain in a holding pattern until the Manning situation gains clarity. Their approach to creating room under the salary cap hung in the balance. Somers: "If he picks the Cardinals, the team likely will let Kevin Kolb go, saving itself from paying the bonus [$7 million to Kolb by Friday]. If Manning chooses another team by then, the Cardinals probably will keep Kolb and pay the bonus. If Manning hasn't picked a team by then, the Cardinals have a difficult choice. Do they let Kolb go and gamble that they will get Manning? How confident would they be entering the season with John Skelton and Rich Bartel as the only quarterbacks on the roster? Or, do they keep Kolb and end their pursuit of Manning?" Noted: Kolb would obviously be out if the team signed Manning. But the bonus payment is large enough to raise questions independent of any decision Manning makes. Paying the bonus would be more difficult if the Cardinals werent' sure whether Kolb would be better than backup John Skelton, who is scheduled to earn $490,000 in salary for the 2012 season.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' needs transcend any one position. Also: "I don't think Gregg Williams' status will impact free agency. By now it seems obvious that the NFL will wallop Williams hard with a lengthy suspension. Even with the bounty-system scandal, Williams is popular, and will remain popular, among NFL defensive players that have worked for him. Sure, that could be a selling point. But it's not as if the Rams have a coaching staff of wallflowers out there. Fisher, Dave McGinnis and other assistants, including Chuck Cecil, are live wires. They'll have no problem creating the kind of jacked-up, tough-guy mindset that appeals to defensive players. And if McGinnis takes over as defensive coordinator, let's just remember that he's always been a respected and admired coach in the league. And we'll say it one more time: money tends to buy loyalty."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' were aggressive in landing Cortland Finnegan, but the situation at receiver remained unsettled. He says the Rams were trying to set up a visit with Robert Meachem before the free-agent wideout from New Orleans reached agreement with San Diego.

Jeff Gordon of looks at recent Rams roster moves.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis updates the Rams' outlook in free agency. Balzer: "The Rams are expecting a visit Thursday from Detroit quarterback Shaun Hill and possibly tackle Eric Winston, who was released Tuesday by the Houston Texans."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' apparent interest in Chad Henne came as a surprise. O'Neil: "Henne, 26, is scheduled to visit Jacksonville before departing for Seattle, where he's expected to arrive Wednesday. Henne had a 13-18 record as the starting quarterback the past three seasons in Miami."

Also from O'Neil: What is David Hawthorne worth to Seattle? O'Neil: "Maybe the Seahawks plan to go young at that position. K.J. Wright -- a fourth-round pick last year -- is the only starting linebacker currently under contract for 2012, and then there's Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round pick who runs well, but has had trouble staying healthy. In two years, we've seen that Seattle is willing to tighten its belt and make changes, but we haven't seen what kind of linebackers the Seahawks want to invest in and keep around. In that regard, Hawthorne's free agency is something worth watching."

Matt Maiocco of offers a quick free-agency scorecard for the San Francisco 49ers. Maiocco: "The 49ers' defense appears to be set with the late push Tuesday night to re-sign cornerback Carlos Rogers. ... The only change to the lineup in 2012 is the anticipated promotion of outside linebacker Aldon Smith to take Parys Haralson's starting job at right outside linebacker. General manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers plan for Smith, a pass-rush specialist as a rookie in 2011, to take a full-time role."

Also from Maiocco: various 49ers notes, including one about special-teams ace Blake Costanzo, who signed with Chicago. Maiocco: "The 49ers want their special-teams players to be able to play defense, too, and the personnel department did not consider Costanzo as an option at inside linebacker, if he were needed behind Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee runs through the 49ers' first day of free agency. Barrows: "Day One of free agency began and ended without a deal for quarterback Alex Smith, another player the team wants back. For the first time since the 49ers drafted him in 2005, Smith has no formal contract or deal in hand with them, although there is a three-year offer on the table. Team president Jed York on Monday seemed confident the two sides would reach a compromise but said the 'ball's in his court,' an indication the 49ers feel Smith and his representatives are the ones holding up a contract."

First look at 49ers' 2012 free agents

February, 7, 2012
Five of the San Francisco 49ers' projected unrestricted free agents for 2012 played right around 1,000 snaps or more last season, easily the highest figure in the NFC West.

Re-signing quarterback Alex Smith appears likely. Smith accepted the Associated Press' coach of the year award on Jim Harbaugh's behalf Saturday, the latest indication Smith remains firmly in the fold.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers has said he wants to return. His value spiked after earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. The franchise tag remains available, but the price would be lower if San Francisco used it for free safety Dashon Goldson instead. Either way, the 49ers have decisions to make in their secondary.

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

Some players, notably Blake Costanzo and C.J. Spillman, played extensively on special teams. The charts show offensive and defensive snap counts only.


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

2011 All-NFC West Specialists

January, 5, 2012
A look at my all-NFC West picks for the 2011 season, concluding with the special teams:
  • This might go down as the most memorable NFC West season on special teams since divisional realignment. Records fell and players made dynamic, game-changing plays from beginning to end. The San Francisco 49ers led the NFL in field position. They succeeded on a fake field goal and a surprise onside kick. Only a replay challenge could stop the 49ers from executing another fake field goal.
  • The 49ers' Andy Lee was an easy choice at punter. He set an NFL record since at least 1976 for net average, according to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information. Simon named Lee his punter of the year -- yes, he tracks such things -- and pointed out a few superlatives. Lee posted a 59.6-yard average in Week 1, third-best in league history. One of his final punts, a 64-yarder at St. Louis, was downed at the 1. Lee led the league in gross and net punting. Lee finished first when Simon tested formulas weighting various averages with inside-the-20 percentages, fair catches and touchbacks, plus punts returned for touchdowns.
  • Lee's teammate, David Akers, was an easy choice at kicker. Akers set a league record for most field goals made in a season (44) and most kicking points (166). He was special-teams player of the month for December after scoring a league-high 58 points. Akers even threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal in Week 17. His point total broke Jerry Rice's single-season franchise scoring record.
  • Arizona's Patrick Peterson beat out the 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. as the return specialist, although I should probably break out separate categories for kickoffs and punts. I decided to stick with the format we've used in past seasons. Peterson scored four touchdowns on punt returns. The Cardinals went from 27th to second in punt return average. Ginn scored twice on returns in the season opener and played a key role in the 49ers' field-position dominance. Peterson's 99-yard return touchdown against St. Louis in overtime was the second-longest in league history.
  • Seattle's Red Bryant and Arizona's Calais Campbell deserve mention for blocking field-goal tries (Peterson blocked two). Bryant blocked two field-goal attempts and an extra-point attempt at Cleveland. Campbell blocked three field-goal tries for the Cardinals, including a critical one against St. Louis.
  • Several special-teams coverage players drew my attention. Seattle's Heath Farwell led the NFL in special-teams tackles (counting assists) despite playing only 11 games. He blocked a 49ers punt in Week 16, helping Seattle take a 17-16 lead in the final minutes. The 49ers' Blake Costanzo and C.J. Spillman made plays, as did the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling and O'Brien Schofield. I went with Farwell and Spillman. We could not go wrong with any of these guys. They all deserve recognition.
  • I don't have a category for a long-snapper, but if I did, it would be named after the 49ers' Brian Jennings. He is one of the best ever, according to guys I know who can tell the difference between a good snapper and a great one.

The chart breaks down all-division choices from 2008 -10, plus this season.

NFC West Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson, Andy Lee, David Akers, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis are past Pro Bowl selections enjoying strong seasons. Their selections made perfect sense. No St. Louis Rams made it. Steven Jackson was worthy of consideration, but the team's 2-13 record made his exclusion understandable.

Patrick Peterson's four touchdowns on punt returns made him an extremely worthy if somewhat surprising choice over Devin Hester, whose reputation figured to count for something.

It was good to see voters recognize the NFC West's talent on special teams and in the secondary. Wilson and Seattle's Earl Thomas are the starting safeties. Carlos Rogers is a starting corner, and Seattle's Brandon Browner, a first alternate, could very well join him in the game itself because at least one of the NFC starters, Charles Woodson, could be playing in the Super Bowl.

Made it on rep: From the NFC West? Are you kidding? This division usually fights for whatever it can get. Wilson made it on reputation last season, but he was very much deserving this time, even though it came at the expense of Seattle's Kam Chancellor, a first alternate. None of the players selected made it on rep, in my view.

We could debate the worthiness of a few, including 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson. But he didn't have much of a rep. He made big plays for a 12-3 team and got noticed despite some inconsistencies in his game. The 49ers' success cleared the way for Goldson and another first-timer, left tackle Joe Staley.

Frank Gore always deserves consideration, and his numbers say he did not make it strictly on reputation, but a case can be made that other backs were producing at a higher level more recently. Gore's dropped passes have been a problem as well.

Got robbed: Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, San Francisco's Aldon Smith, St. Louis' Chris Long and Arizona's Calais Campbell come to mind immediately.

Lynch has arguably run more impressively than any other back in the conference of late. He ended the 49ers' streaks without allowing a 100-yard rusher (36 games) or a rushing touchdown (15 games). Lynch was named a second alternate. He has a chance to earn a spot given that Matt Forte is injured and might not play in the game. I'm not sure which NFC back is first alternate, but Lynch would move up the list if Minnesota's injured Adrian Peterson held that distinction.

Aldon Smith has 14 sacks as a rookie, but he didn't make the Pro Bowl. In fact, Smith did not even show up on a list of 49ers alternates featuring NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Blake Costanzo, Vernon Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati, Ray McDonald, Bruce Miller and Donte Whitner.

Long has 13 sacks for a team that almost never faces favorable pass-rushing situations, but with multiple high-profile sack artists in the NFC, he did not make it. The Cardinals' Campbell gets overlooked playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, but he's been a dominant player. At least teammate Darnell Dockett was named an alternate.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' huge stakes

December, 26, 2011
Week 16 brought great clarity to the NFL playoff situation in the NFC West.

The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals are out. The San Francisco 49ers are strong favorites to emerge as the second seed in the NFC. They can no longer challenge for the No. 1 seed after Green Bay defeated Chicago. But if New Orleans loses to Atlanta on Monday night, the 49ers will clinch the second seed -- and a first-round playoff bye -- without needing to beat St. Louis in Week 17.

Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats spells out the value of getting a first-round bye relative to reaching a Super Bowl. Burke: "The No. 1 seed has about six times the chance of a wild-card team to make it to the Super Bowl. The No. 2 seed has nearly five times the chance. These are enormous differences, and they’re due to seeding effects alone. Right now, the 49ers and Saints are jockeying for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The loser of that battle will fall from a 29 percent shot to an 11 percent shot at making the Super Bowl." Noted: I think there's value in an unestablished team claiming a wild-card victory before taking on one of the higher-seeded teams. But the first-round bye removes all risk of defeat in the wild-card round. That's a huge payoff.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' Alex Smith was more than just a game manager during San Francisco's 19-17 victory over the Seahawks. Barrows: "With his 49ers reeling and the Seattle crowd roiling in the fourth quarter, the normally cautious quarterback reared back on second and 18 and heaved a 41-yard pass to Michael Crabtree, setting up a 39-yard David Akers field goal that gave San Francisco the lead."

Also from Barrows: An all-Harbaugh Super Bowl isn't so far-fetched.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are running out of healthy pass-catchers. He also updates the 49ers' turnover numbers. Branch: "The 49ers haven’t committed a turnover in 18 straight quarters, a streak that dates back to an interception Smith threw late in the second quarter of a 16-6 loss to the Ravens on Nov. 24. Since that pick, Smith has thrown 129 passes without an interception and San Francisco, which leads the NFL with a plus-26 turnover differential, has forced 10 turnovers. Entering Saturday’s game, the Seahawks had forced 18 turnovers in their previous six games and had collected at least one turnover in every game since Week 4."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis captures what is wrong -- and also what is right -- with the 2-13 St. Louis Rams. Steven Jackson is the good. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "On a level of admiration on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m at a 15. I don’t know how else to say it. He is a very passionate football player. He’s passionate about how he plays, the way he plays; he’s passionate about the team he plays for; he’s passionate about the guys he plays for. He’s been that way ever since I’ve gotten here. He hasn’t changed and I think people see that in the way he plays, and he was certainly that way today."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates Jackson's contract situation: "With 32 yards rushing in the season finale Sunday, Jackson will reach half of a two-tiered trigger that could void the final two years of his contract. But he needs 198 yards receiving to reach the second part of the trigger — and that's not going to happen, unless Jackson has the receiving game of a lifetime. But even with all the losing, Jackson seemingly has no desire to play anywhere else."

Also from Thomas: Injuries at cornerback have led the Rams to use extra safeties in their nickel and dime packages.

Mike Salk of 710ESPN Seattle says Tarvaris Jackson has outperformed expectations, but isn't good enough for the Seahawks to take the next step. Salk: "It is OK to be a game manager. Alex Smith has won 12 games this year in that capacity and surely we know the stories of Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and even a young Tom Brady winning Super Bowls. Game managers win by controlling the ball, understanding the importance of field position, and getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers. But they also have to lead important drives late in games because their teams typically haven't scored enough points to win it handily. Tarvaris Jackson has not done that this year. In limited opportunities, he has failed at that important skill. And I think it will be the reason his time in Seattle will end sooner rather than later." Noted: Jackson would be the ideal backup behind a front-line starter.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Heath Farwell and the Seahawks exploited the 49ers' tendency to release into coverage early in blocking Andy Lee's fourth-quarter punt Saturday. Henderson: "Farwell had seen that reserve linebacker Blake Costanzo, who lines up as a left tackle on the punt unit, was often quick to disengage from his block and head down the field toward the returner, leaving an unobstructed path to the punter. Farwell, whose job on the punt return team is normally to slow the opposing team's tackle at the line of scrimmage, took advantage of that tendency." Noted: I spoke with Costanzo about the play and he said that's exactly what happened. He took full responsibility. The play proved costly at the time, but the 49ers now have time to adjust before such a problem arises in a playoff game.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times notes that the Seahawks were only 4-4 at home this season. Noted: Blowing a 17-7 lead to lose at home against the Washington Redskins stands out as the most lamentable home defeat for Seattle.

Also from O'Neil: thoughts on a 49ers assistant coach shouting, "Merry Christmas!" while leaving the Seahawks' press box.

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals' propensity for slow starts on offense caught up to them during a 23-16 defeat at Cincinnati. Urban: "With Kevin Kolb still suffering from concussion symptoms -- his availability for the finale seems in doubt at this point -- John Skelton got the start. Skelton was terrible for three quarters as the Cardinals failed to cross midfield and trailed, 23-0. Then he turned into Super Skelton in the fourth quarter -- as usual -- and nearly shocked everyone. Just 8-of-19 for 93 yards, with three interceptions and five sacks, through the first three quarters, (coach Ken) Whisenhunt admitted he considered benching Skelton for Rich Bartel. But Skelton completed 15-of-25 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the final quarter." Noted: Skelton has proven he's worth keeping around for developmental purposes, but not yet ready to start. That is OK. He was a fifth-round pick only last year. The fact that he won a roster spot, kept that spot, won a few starts and even briefly led some to think he should remain in the lineup means he has already outperformed expectations.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Skelton's accuracy must improve.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic blames the Cardinals' defeat more on Skelton than on Early Doucet's stumble late in the game.