NFC West: Brandon Stokley

On Ryan Swope's continued absence

June, 12, 2013
The concussion-related symptoms that kept Cardinals rookie receiver Ryan Swope from practicing last month continue to sideline him, ESPN's Adam Schefter notes.

Coach Bruce Arians suggested nine days ago that Swope would be fine.

General manager Steve Keim compared Swope to Brandon Stokley when assessing Swope on draft day. The comparison seemed to emphasize their playing styles. Stokley has also had a significant concussion history.

Swope, who had two documented concussions at Texas A&M, was a sixth-round draft choice.

Keim acknowledged Swope's concussion history while noting that Swope had not missed much playing time, a positive in the Cardinals' assessment.

"Then to couple that with the amount of production he had, and then going into the combine, the guy has answered every test," Keim said. "His times at Indy were remarkable. He ran in the high 4.3s. His three-cone, which is one of my favorite drills, which judges a lot of the change-of-direction and movement skills, he ran a high 6.5, low 6.6 three-cone, which was easily one of the best times at Indy this year."
The target percentages posted earlier are open to interpretation. Drop percentages are a little more straightforward.

Six current or former NFC West players ranked among the NFL's top 20 qualifying wide receivers and tight ends last season in lowest drop percentage, defined as drops divided by targets.

Percy Harvin and Mario Manningham went without a drop. Neither played a full season, but each had enough targets to qualify for inclusion in the chart below.

You might recall some of these players suffering more drops than we've listed in the chart. ESPN's standard for drops could be stricter than the ones our uncles apply when deciding which objects to throw at the television following frustrating plays. Our game charters count drops as "incomplete passes where the receiver SHOULD have caught the pass with ORDINARY effort" and only when the receiver is "100 percent at fault" for the incompletion.

The first chart shows where NFC West teams' wide receivers and tight ends ranked in the league in drop rate. The Seattle Seahawks ranked third. However, their running backs ranked only 29th in drop rate (9.3 percent), one spot ahead of running backs for the San Francisco 49ers (9.4 percent). The Arizona Cardinals' backs were fourth at 2.7 percent. The totals for running backs affected the overall team percentages, which we can check out separately another time.

I've singled out wide receivers and tight ends because we've been looking at players from those positions while discussing potential changes to the 49ers following Michael Crabtree's recent injury. Getting Manningham back to health could help the 49ers.

Twenty-three of the 38 players NFC West teams drafted in 2013 ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February.

The chart shows the times they recorded, providing a feel for the track speed teams from this division added through the draft.

Three of the six fastest times belong to players the St. Louis Rams drafted. The team drafted two wide receivers in the first three rounds, moves designed in part to improve team speed at the skill positions.

These and other NFC West draft choices sought to improve their 40-yard times at various pro days and private workouts. The times they recorded in those settings might have affected their draft stock. I chose to focus on the times collected under the same controlled settings.

The speed Ryan Swope displayed at the combine makes him an intriguing addition for the Arizona Cardinals in the sixth round. Concerns regarding concussions contributed to Swope's relatively low draft status.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wanted to add a speed receiver in the draft. The Cardinals could have more in mind for Swope than would be typical for a player drafted so late. General manager Steve Keim said he and Arians had tracked Swope closely.

"We were extremely excited that he started to slide," Keim said. "He is a guy that not only can stretch the field vertically, but has some underneath quickness. He kind of reminds me of Brandon Stokley a little bit, someone you’re probably familiar with when he came out of a small school in Louisiana.

"He does a nice job working the middle, can play slot, can play the outside, and will also be able to help us on special teams."

Keim pointed specifically to Swope's time speed as part of the receiver's appeal.

"His times at Indy were remarkable," Keim said. "His three-cone, which is one of my favorite drills, which judges a lot of the change-of-direction and movement skills, he ran a high 6.5, low 6.6, which was easily one of the best times at Indy this year."
Brandon Stokley became a preferred target for Matt Hasselbeck when the two were playing for the Seattle Seahawks.

More recently, Stokley became a factor in securing Peyton Manning for the Denver Broncos.

There's something about a reliable slot receiver. Quarterbacks love them. And Stokley has been a good one.

But the Broncos' contract agreement with Stokley, announced by the team Monday, runs counter to the NFL's heightened sensitivity over head injuries. While the league continues to make player safety a top priority, teams welcome back players with extensive concussion histories, Stokley among them. This doesn't feel right.

The last we heard from Stokley in the NFC West, he was recovering from his most recent concussion, one of "more than a dozen" he estimated suffering since high school. By then, the tone regarding concussions had changed from a few years earlier.

The NFL, facing lawsuits from former players over concussions, has struck a serious tone on the subject, changing rules and considering additional measures, including the elimination of kickoffs.

If Stokley wants to continue playing, that is his decision. But how many concussions are too many for a team to consider adding a player? The Broncos' medical staff surely has a good feel for Stokley's condition. Perhaps Stokley is at no additional risk. That seems difficult to believe given what is known about cumulative effects of head trauma.

What would the reaction be if Stokley suffered a catastrophic head injury during the 2012 season? Would anyone be surprised?

The subject was already on my mind Monday after reading Kent Somers' report about Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb battling concussion symptoms.

"To be honest with you, when I first went home it was still pretty severe," Kolb said in Somers' report. "It kind of worried me because I figured once I got away from the game, it would clear up pretty fast. But it didn't and I stayed in contact with our guys here. Within three or four days after that three-week period, it was fine. I was glad to be feeling back to normal."
Try on this 2012 NFL draft scenario:
  • Andrew Luck to Indianapolis with the first overall choice;
  • Robert Griffin III to Washington with the second pick, acquired from St. Louis;
  • Ryan Tannehill to Cleveland at No. 4;
  • Miami, the next team with quarterback needs, goes in another direction with the eighth overall choice after signing or otherwise acquiring Matt Flynn from Green Bay, tapping into the relationship between Flynn and new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.

That would leave Arizona and Seattle as primary suitors for Peyton Manning. The timing would have to be right, and still there would be no guarantees. But it's at least plausible.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated lists the Seahawks and Cardinals as potential landing spots for Manning, with this to say about Manning and Reggie Wayne coming to Seattle together: "The injury-prone Sidney Rice makes this a tough call. But the Seahawks certainly have the cash to make this happen, and it's exceedingly logical to think they'd be interested in both. With Rice and Mike Williams the current projected starters, you'd think Pete Carroll would use Williams and Golden Tate as swing players and injury insurance, with the heady Doug Baldwin the kind of slot receiver Manning could use as his new Brandon Stokley." Noted: Williams is far from assured a starting job or even a roster spot, in my view. He needs to bounce back from a down season. Kris Durham also could factor into the big-receiver role for Seattle.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune sees Leroy Hill's arrest costing the linebacker money, but he does not see it as a deal-breaker for the Seahawks. Boling: "Depending on the evidence in Hill’s case, I don’t think the current Seahawk front office is going to be too judgmental about a possession charge. They drafted tight end Anthony McCoy after reportedly testing positive for marijuana at the 2010 combine. He was a projected third- or fourth-round pick, so he seemed a bargain worth taking when he was available in the sixth round. So it’s logical to speculate that they’ll likewise consider keeping Hill if his expected performance warrants the contract investment."

Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle says Hill "has the rare talent and ability to actually stand out in an NFL locker room. He's that good. Since his rookie year in 2005, I've marveled over the plays he makes. He can take on any offensive lineman in the league, drop into coverage as well as any linebacker and rush the passer with the best of them. He's quite possibly the best open-field tackler I've ever seen. I watched him on consecutive plays cover a running back man-to-man 30 yards downfield, blow up a fullback in the backfield -- ruining the timing of a running play -- and hurdle over an offensive guard to make a tackle on a screen play. He could be 'that guy' in the NFL. But instead, he's throwing it all away."

Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona checks in with Ben Patrick after the former Cardinals tight end helped rescue motorists following a crash. Patrick had run across a similar scene while a college student years earlier. He watched a man die that time. Patrick: "It stuck with me a long time, although I haven’t told many people about it. It’s hard to watch a man die right in front of you. The other guy was holding his hand as he passed. That’s what prompted me to such quick action when I saw the same situation again."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is happy to play the Hall of Fame Game this year. Somers: "At the combine last week, Whisenhunt expressed considerable enthusiasm for playing in the game. It's not something he would want to do every year, he said, but 2012 is an optimal season for it. NFL teams had no off-season work in 2011. The new CBA allows for fewer off-season practices and conditioning sessions than the previous CBA. No matter which direction the Cardinals go at quarterback, an extra week or so of practice will be a benefit."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on which team would be the ideal trading partner with St. Louis for the second overall pick. Thomas: "As for Washington, the relationship between Bruce Allen and Kevin Demoff, and Jeff Fisher and Mike Shanahan might make a deal easier to get done. Because they respect each other and know each other so well, a lot of the gamesmanship would be minimized -- they can get right down to business. The only problem picking sixth is that Justin Blackmon, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne could all be gone by then."

Matt Maiocco of says Dashon Goldson's decision to switch from agent Drew Rosenhaus to CAA could affect negotiations with the 49ers in a positive way. Maiocco: "Goldson was an unrestricted free agent last year, too. Multiple sources told that the 49ers offered a five-year, $25 million deal. But sources say Rosenhaus assured Goldson that he could get him the kind of contract the San Diego Chargers awarded safety Eric Weddle: five years, $40 million. After a couple weeks of free agency, Rosenhaus sent an email to every NFL team to inform them that Goldson's demands had lowered and he would sign a one-year deal for 'approximately $3 million.' Three days later, Goldson returned to the 49ers on a one-year, $2 million contract."
A few thoughts on NFC West rosters after calculating age ranks for NFL teams based on the rosters I maintain:
  • The chart ranks teams from oldest to youngest, excluding special-teams players who can sometimes play into their 40s. The first column shows overall rank, counting offensive and defensive players. The third and fourth columns show where teams rank on each side of the ball. These are for starters and backups. In some cases, teams might plan to release older backups on the reduction to 53 players.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Earlier in the preseason, Kevin Kolb referred to the Cardinals as a young team. They do have young players, some of whom played extensively last season and should be better for it. But the Cardinals have the sixth-oldest roster in the league overall. Vonnie Holliday (35), Clark Haggans (34), Joey Porter (34), Paris Lenon (33), Floyd Womack (32), Adrian Wilson (31), Todd Heap (31) and Nick Eason (31) are some of them. The team has also favored veteran offensive linemen, including veteran backups.

  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams got older on purpose, adding seasoning to their defense through players added on one-year deals. Al Harris (36) is the oldest non-specialist on the team. James Hall (34) and Fred Robbins (34) remain valuable contributors. Both start. Rookie Robert Quinn will likely replace Hall at some point. Drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2012 draft could make sense, too. Some of the Rams' additions could come at the expense of incumbent veterans such as Hank Fraley (34 next month) and Na'il Diggs (33).

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have gotten younger this offseason, particularly on defense. They subtracted Takeo Spikes (34), Aubrayo Franklin (31 this week), Travis LaBoy (30), Brian Westbrook, Nate Clements (31), Brian Westbrook (32 next month), William James (32), Barry Sims (36) and Demetric Evans (32 next month).. Fulback Moran Norris (33) is their oldest non-specialist. The team has only six non-specialists in their 30s, half as many as the Cardinals have.

  • Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have been getting younger by design over the past two seasons. Like the 49ers, they have only six non-specialists in their 30s, with none older than 33 (Raheem Brock). They have subtracted Sean Locklear (30), Matt Hasselbeck (36 next month), Stacy Andrews (30), J.P. Losman (30), Brandon Stokley (35), Lawyer Milloy (37), Chester Pitts (32) and Craig Terrill (31). Most general managers want to make their teams younger when starting out. In Seattle, the head coach is also amendable to that approach. But a few players such as Brock (33), Junior Siavii (32), Colin Cole (31), Marcus Trufant (30) and Atari Bigby (30 next month) have kept the Seahawks defensive ranking from sinking further. Seattle is 16th oldest on that side of the ball.

I've sprouted a couple new gray hairs just typing in some of these names. Might be time to squeeze in an afternoon workout.

2011 UFA market: NFC West scorecard

August, 23, 2011
With training camps winding down, I've found time to update rosters and put together team-by-team reference material for unrestricted free agency.

The names below match official NFL counts.

These are for players with at least four accrued NFL seasons whose contracts expired following the 2010 season. I've added comments for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed (8): Ben Graham, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah, Ben Claxton, Lyle Sendlein, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Stephen Spach.

New to team (7): Chansi Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Daryn Colledge, Nick Eason, Stewart Bradley, Floyd Womack, Jeff King.

Still unsigned (3): Alan Faneca, Jason Wright, Bryan Robinson.

Signed elsewhere (5): Steve Breaston (Kansas City), Gabe Watson (New York Giants), Ben Patrick (Giants), Trumaine McBride (New Orleans), Alan Branch (Seattle).

Comment: Sendlein, Colledge and Bradley were the big signings. Marshall provides needed depth at cornerback. Faneca and Wright announced their retirements. The Cardinals weren't aggressive in trying to re-sign the players they lost to other teams. The biggest move Arizona made, acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, did not involve a UFA.

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed (4): Ray McDonald, Tony Wragge, Dashon Goldson, Alex Smith.

New to team (5): Braylon Edwards, Jonathan Goodwin, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, David Akers.

Still unsigned (5): Brian Westbrook, Troy Smith, Demetric Evans, William James, Barry Sims.

Signed elsewhere (6): David Baas (Giants), Travis LaBoy (San Diego), Jeff Reed (Seattle), Aubrayo Franklin (New Orleans), Takeo Spikes (San Diego), Manny Lawson (Cincinnati).

Comment: Re-signing McDonald signaled Franklin's departure. Getting Goldson back on the relative cheap was a victory. The 49ers wanted to keep Baas, but not at the price he commanded. The team thinks NaVorro Bowman has a bright future in Spikes' old spot at inside linebacker. Lawson wasn't strong enough as a pass-rusher to stick around. Safety depth is improved.

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed (7): Raheem Brock, Junior Siavii, Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy, Michael Robinson, Kelly Jennings.

New to team (8): Branch, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, Jimmy Wilkerson, Atari Bigby, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Reed.

Still unsigned (7): Jay Richardson, Craig Terrill, Chester Pitts, Brandon Stokley, Ruvell Martin, J.P. Losman, Lawyer Milloy.

Signed elsewhere (8): Will Herring (New Orleans), Olindo Mare (Carolina), Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), Chris Spencer (Chicago), Jordan Babineaux (Tennessee), Sean Locklear (Washington), Amon Gordon (Kansas City), Ray Willis (Washington).

Comment: Adding Jackson as the starting quarterback was the most significant move for the 2011 season. Mebane was the most important re-signing for the longer term. Hill was a bargain relative to how he's playing right now. Miller and Rice were the types of young, talented players who rarely change teams in free agency. The Seahawks were outbid for Herring and Mare. Can street free agent David Vobora fill some of the void Herring left?

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed (2): Adam Goldberg, Gary Gibson.

New to team (9): Daniel Muir, Quinn Ojinnaka, Harvey Dahl, Ben Leber, Zac Diles, Jerious Norwood, Cadillac Williams, Quintin Mikell, Mike Sims-Walker.

Still unsigned (5): Chris Hovan, Michael Lewis, Darcy Johnson, Clifton Ryan, Mark Clayton.

Signed elsewhere (4): Daniel Fells (Denver), Laurent Robinson (San Diego), Derek Schouman (Washington), Kevin Dockery (Pittsburgh).

Comment: Dahl and Mikell were the big additions. Clayton could return if and when his surgically repaired knee allows. Sims-Walker is a wild card. The team didn't flinch when any of its own UFAs signed elsewhere. Most of the moves made on defense were designed to improve St. Louis against the run. Remember that newcomer Justin Bannan was not a UFA. Denver released him.

NFC West: What's left in free agency

August, 23, 2011
The time has come for some accounting now that the top unrestricted free agents have found homes. Others continue to wait.

I've put together charts showing how many and which UFAs for NFC West teams remain unsigned. The deadline passed Saturday for teams to make qualifying offers to these players.

The charts rank unsigned UFAs from oldest to youngest. I've ordered the players this way because so many older players find out through free agency where they stand.

A couple players, Alan Faneca and Jason Wright, have announced intentions to retire. They have chosen to go out on their own terms. Retirement becomes a process for others. Free agency comes and goes, the phone seldom rings, teams get on with their lives and before long, a player realizes he is finished.

Some players listed below could help teams if they found the right situations. Lawyer Milloy started 16 games for the Seattle Seahawks last season. The St. Louis Rams have kept in touch with Mark Clayton to monitor the receiver's recovery from knee surgery.

Note: UFAs are defined strictly as players whose contracts expired following at least four accrued NFL seasons. Released players are not UFAs in the same sense even though they can sign with any team.

Seattle Seahawks free-agent receiver Brandon Stokley agreed to terms Thursday on a contract with the Washington Redskins, according to his agent, Rick Smith.

Of course, players cannot sign new contracts with teams until Friday, meaning nothing is official just yet. Players must pass physical examinations, too.

"Spoke to [sic] soon," Smith tweeted Thursday. "Brandon Stokley won't sign with Redskins. Too many WR's signed."

Stokley was a favorite target for Matt Hasselbeck last season.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the wide receivers of each NFC West team. Today: Seattle Seahawks.

You have to give Pete Carroll a lot of credit for taking a chance on Mike Williams, and you have to give Williams a lot of credit for taking full advantage of that opportunity. Williams is the Seahawks' best weapon. He isn’t super-fast or explosive, but he builds up speed. He uses his huge frame to compete well for the football with his excellent body control, long arms and huge hands.

[+] EnlargeMike Williams
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesMike Williams caught 65 passes for 751 yards and two scores last season.
But Williams did have too many drops last season. He caught only two touchdowns last year, and Seattle wasn’t bashful about throwing his way near the stripe. He does have the makeup of an excellent red zone artist. Still, I have my doubts about this guy -- especially as a top receiving option. He just doesn’t run that well for such a featured role.

Ben Obomanu is most likely to get the starting nod opposite Williams as it stands pre-free agency. He doesn’t get a lot of attention, but I contend that Obomanu is Seattle’s second-best receiver and can be a solid-yet-unspectacular starting wide receiver in this league. He takes a while to get going, but Obomanu can go up and snatch the football at its highest point.

Golden Tate was Seattle’s second-round draft pick one year ago, but his rookie season was less than spectacular. He appeared in only 11 games. He really needs a lot of work refining the nuances of the position, including his route consistency and recognition of defenses on the fly. Still, he is excellent after the catch and plays physical for his size. He could step up in 2011.

Deon Butler began the season as a starter, but broke his leg late in the season and really wasn’t all that impressive when he was healthy. It is unclear how the injury will affect him for the 2011 season, but Butler is a diminutive receiver who isn’t ideally built to handle the pounding at this level.

Brandon Stokley will hit the open market in free agency after contributing-- as he always does, no matter where he goes -- as a consistent, reliable option in the short and intermediate zones. He could be back and could tutor Tate and Butler.

Surprisingly, the Seahawks used a fourth-round selection on Kris Durham. Durham isn’t a quick-twitch guy, but he does have build-up speed. Very tall, Durham should continue to fill out and bring some of the same things Williams does to the table, although to a lesser degree.

Isaiah Stanback and Ruvell Martin also are guys to consider. Stanback could become a free agent, and Martin will be an unrestricted free agent. Martin is the more intriguing of the two, and did a few good things on limited views in a Seahawks uniform. He also stood out from time to time while in Green Bay.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.
Analyzing Pete Carroll's recent comments regarding receiver Golden Tate and linebacker Aaron Curry required some reading between the lines.

What Carroll said about Tate: The second-year receiver will see his role increase quite a bit, particularly as a slot receiver on third down, a role Brandon Stokley played last season. "There’s nothing that we would like to see more than to elevate Golden’s effectiveness," Carroll told the Tacoma News Tribune. "We just didn’t get him over the hump last year, and we need to do that. He’ll be in position to take over a huge role for us."

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks are counting on more production from Golden Tate in 2011.
What to keep in mind: Carroll fired offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates this offseason. Bates was a big Matt Hasselbeck supporter. Hasselbeck was a big Stokley supporter. Hasselbeck and Stokley are seasoned veterans. Coaches often favor seasoned veterans during the regular season because they can trust them. Tate was a raw rookie who did not immediately grasp the nuances of the game. The organization wants to go young. This is the time of year to think about going young. It's tougher to do during a season, but I think Carroll will make a more concerted effort to push the team in that direction. Hasselbeck could still return, of course, but young players such as Tate are going to get longer looks, most likely. Some of the older players will not be back.

What Carroll said about Curry: The coach likes what Curry offers as a physical presence against opposing tight ends, but he wishes Curry would develop in other areas. Carroll: "We think he’s has a guy who has a tremendous amount of potential to get better. He wasn’t able to factor in the pass rush as we hoped. He wasn’t able to break into the top two rushers."

What to keep in mind: Carroll inherited Curry. He did not draft Curry. But the coach would still like to have more than a traditional strong-=side linebacker in return for the millions Curry is getting as the fourth player chosen in the 2009 draft. Curry is big, physical and athletic, but he is not a natural pass-rusher. He did not rush the passer much in college. At one point last season, I recall Curry using his Twitter account to vent about his role. Curry recently re-tweeted remarks suggesting Carroll was trying to put a "square peg into a round hole" by expecting Curry to rush the passer. I asked Carroll about Curry during the NFL owners meeting in March. This is what Carroll said:
"The thing about the situation, he was the fourth pick in the draft and expectations were ridiculously high. He made a ton of money. He is a really talented, big, good-looking athlete and everybody on the outside expects him to be something different than what he is right now. He hasn't dominated yet, but he is a player on the come and he is improving and working hard and figuring it out. He is a factor. He is a real positive factor for us. But it's all expectations. That screws everyone up. If you take a look at how he plays and what he does and how he produces, he's getting a lot done. But it doesn’t meet up to the expectations. You can almost mis-evaluate him because he is supposed to be whatever he is supposed to be. To me, he is a guy on the team who busts his ass and is working hard and we're trying to fit into situations and a role for him that is best. The first day I got there, within the first hour, I put on film of him because I wanted to see what he could be as a pass-rusher. See if he had that ability because of the speed and the size and all that stuff. My expectations for him are high, but I don't think they are unrealistic."

The bottom line? Seattle used the fourth overall choice in the draft for a strongside linebacker. Attempting to maximize the investment is only natural, and Curry's obvious physical talent suggests it could work, but it might not.
A few thoughts on Plaxico Burress' availability as NFC West teams consider potential options at wide receiver:

  • By my count, six current NFL receivers are older than Burress, who turns 34 in August: Terrell Owens (37), Derrick Mason (37), Donald Driver (36), Brian Finneran (35), Hines Ward (35) and Brandon Stokley (35 in June);
  • Thirty players have caught at least 50 passes in a season at age 34 or older, according to Pro Football Reference; Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce and Bobby Engram accomplished the feat for current NFC West teams;
  • [+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
    Al Bello/Getty ImagesPlaxico Burress seems unlikely to end up in the NFC West.
  • Burress caught 35 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns over 10 games for the New York Giants in 2008, his last season before serving a jail term on a weapons charge; St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator that year, giving the NFC West one solid connection to Burress;
  • Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm and Ray Horton are among the Arizona Cardinals coaches who were with the Pittsburgh Steelers before Burress signed with the Giants in 2005, giving the NFC West another connection;
  • These types of connections can sometimes explain why teams do not pursue players; they know the bad as well as the good;
  • My initial feel is that Burress probably will not land in this division; Burress has played his entire career, from high school to the NFL, for teams in the East; I doubt he'll seek out a team in the West after spending two years away from his family;
  • Burress wore a Philadephia Phillies hat upon his release Monday, and the Eagles were the team considered most likely to sign him in a survey of bloggers;
  • The Rams' situation at receiver remains unsettled; bringing in Burress for a visit could make sense; the Cardinals' situation at receiver is more defined, and at least one Arizona-based reporter is saying there's no chance the Cardinals will sign him; I tend to agree and do not see the need, either;
  • Burress is five years older than any receiver on the Rams' roster and nine years older than the team's receivers on average, a potential consideration as the team decides how Burress would fit into the equation;
  • The Rams have previously resisted adding older receivers, passing on Owens and Moss over the last couple of seasons; Mark Clayton, who turns 29 in July, is the oldest receiver on the roster;
  • Seattle has been aggressive in considering unlikely options, making low-risk bets on Mike Williams, Reggie Williams, LenDale White and others; the team would ideally like to go with younger players at this stage;
  • Please let me know if you've seen anything, anywhere, suggesting the San Francisco 49ers would have interest; I do not see a great fit as the team establishes a new program under a first-year coach.

Would you want Burress on your favorite team?
Matt Maiocco of offers thoughts on the 49ers' quarterback situation. Maiocco: "The 49ers plan to take four quarterbacks to training camp. If you were to ask me which four quarterbacks the 49ers would want in camp, I'd tell you: Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johnson (somehow acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay) and Adam Froman (to be signed as an undrafted free agent once they're allowed to do so.) That is pure speculation, of course. But it seems to make sense to me. That way there could be some form of competition for each of the three spots, and the undrafted rookie would have a chance to stick on the practice squad, too." Acquiring Johnson and bringing back Smith would make things quite interesting. That would give the 49ers considerable insurance against having to play Kaepernick prematurely in the case of an injury to Smith.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a gruesome leg injury.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider provides alternative draft choices for the 49ers in 2011. What if the team had selected Jake Locker with the seventh overall choice?

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along jersey numbers for the 49ers' draft choices.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers highlights from Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's session with Northwest sports editors. Carroll took on the NCAA, which uncovered wrongdoing at USC during Carroll's tenure there. O'Neil: "The most interesting insight Carroll offered was about the NCAA. Carroll coached USC for nine years before coming to Seattle, and he was asked about the way the NCAA monitors and enforces its rules, something he has firsthand experience as USC was placed on probation after he left. Carroll said he believes the NCAA starts with the objective of finding wrongdoing, something that is reactive rather than trying to protect the game from outside influences to prevent problems. He pointed out that schools are being punished for actions of people who aren't even affiliated with the university."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks should bring back slot receiver Brandon Stokley, according to's John Clayton. Stokley quickly became a favorite target for Matt Hasselbeck. Bringing him back makes sense from a football standpoint if Hasselbeck does return. I think Stokley's concussion history should raise questions about whether the veteran wideout should continue playing, however. He suffered one last season and had reportedly suffered eight to 10 previously. How many is too many in a league trying to emphasize safety? Twelve? Fifteen? Twenty?

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the lockout has given Cardinals outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield time to record a rap single. Somers: "If you are at work or at home with the kids around, I suggest using headphones. From what I can hear, there are some lyrics that might offend some people."

Darren Urban of says Ken Whisenhunt's assistant coaches must resort to unusual tactics when trying to keep pace with their boss on the golf course, where Whisenhunt excels. Russ Grimm: "You have to resort to different tactics. I carry the [rubber] snake in the bag, I may make a noise in his backswing. It’s all accidental. But if it affects his shot, so be it."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether the Rams were drafting for need or to fit a specific scheme. Value presumably also came into play. Bernie Miklasz: "I suppose I'm confused. Last season I watch the Rams move the ball only to repeatedly collapse in the red zone. I saw an offense that finished next to last in the NFL in converting red-zone chances into touchdowns. I saw a team that finished 27th in the league in touchdowns from scrimmage. For several months I heard fans and media express an urgent need to get some better receivers for young QB Sam Bradford. So the Rams go ahead and do that -- bring in three potentially big, strong and productive receivers for Bradford ... and people are complaining? The Rams defense is in pretty good shape. The unit finished 7th in sacks last season, was the second-best third-down defense in the league, and only three defenses allowed fewer TDs from scrimmage. So here's a bulletin: the Rams need offense more than anything. I don't know why anyone would question that."
Alex Smith and Matt HasselbeckGetty ImagesAlex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck are both eligible for free agency this offseason.
It is possible, even likely, that the NFL and its players will continue their staring contest through the 2011 draft -- even with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson.

The appeals process could take weeks or longer, during which time it's unlikely the league would open for business. We're probably doomed to status quo, in other words.

But if ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson is correct, Judge Nelson will most likely end the lockout, leading to an immediate appeal -- a scenario I think would lead, eventually, to the league opening for business under 2010 rules while the sides continued their battle in the courts.

Those 2010 rules set the bar high for free agency. Only players with six accrued seasons would qualify for the unrestricted market. Starters such as Arizona's Steve Breaston, San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Seattle's Brandon Mebane would lose leverage and most likely return to their teams under relatively modest one-year deals.

The players listed in the chart -- those with at least six accrued seasons and no contracts for 2011 -- would be free to explore opportunities elsewhere.

Options and implications for this type of free agency in the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Overview: The Cardinals suffered more personnel losses than they could weather last offseason. They would benefit from a return to 2010 rules, however, because the restrictions would keep multiple starters off the market. Their list of potential free agents with six-plus seasons features no front-line players. The Cardinals would be better off focusing on a new deal with Larry Fitzgerald, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Top priority: Finding a veteran quarterback. Derek Anderson isn't expected back. Marc Bulger's name is heard most frequently in connection with the Cardinals. He turned 34 this week and did not attempt a pass in a regular-season game while with Baltimore last season. Bulger struggled during his final seasons with the Rams, but the team was falling apart around him. He last finished an NFL season with more touchdowns than interceptions in 2006. The down year has surely helped him get healthy.

Players in flux: Breaston, starting guard Deuce Lutui and starting center Lyle Sendlein wouldn't have enough accrued seasons to become unrestricted under 2010 rules. The situation is particularly difficult for Breaston, who has battled through knee problems without getting a long-term deal.

Veteran variable: Starting left guard Alan Faneca has considered retirement. The Cardinals invested in veteran guard Rex Hadnot for depth last offseason. The team lacks young depth on the line, but if Lutui and Sendlein return, the Cardinals have some flexibility.

Name to keep in mind: Ike Taylor, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals are hoping Greg Toler can build upon an up-and-down 2010 season. Taylor would give the team options. He played under new Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

St. Louis Rams

Overview: The Rams' most important players tend to be younger starters under contract for the long term (Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Rodger Saffold, Sam Bradford, Jason Smith). Most of their top veterans are also under contract (Steven Jackson, Fred Robbins, James Hall). Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is out of the picture after signing with the Washington Redskins following his salary-related release.

Top priority: The Rams could use a veteran guard with some nastiness. The team has invested heavily in its line, but this group could use more of an edge. Bringing back receiver Mark Clayton should be another consideration even though Clayton is coming off a serious knee injury. The rapport Clayton had with Bradford was strong.

Players in flux: Defensive tackles Gary Gibson and Clifton Ryan would remain property of the Rams under 2010 rules, as would cornerback Kevin Dockery and receiver Laurent Robinson. Gibson was the only full-time starter of the group last season. The Rams are expected to seek an upgrade at that position even with Gibson coming back.

Veteran variable: Adam Goldberg started all 16 games on the offensive line last season. The Rams could stand to upgrade, but I see value in bringing back Goldberg as a backup. He can play every position on the line but center. Goldberg has also taken an interest in mentoring younger players. His value off the field is a consideration.

Name to keep in mind: Daniel Graham, TE, Denver Broncos. Graham could make sense for the Rams in free agency. He played under the Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and could help upgrade the run blocking. Seattle has connections to Graham as well.

San Francisco 49ers

Overview: The 49ers signed some of their better young players to long-term contracts well before labor pains became so severe. Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley come to mind. The lockout has made it tougher for the 49ers' new coaches to get a feel for players. The 49ers like their talent overall and haven't been big players in free agency over the past couple of seasons. That isn't likely to change.

Top priority: Finding a starting quarterback trumps everything else. Alex Smith can become a free agent. Backups David Carr and Troy Smith are not expected back. The 49ers aren't expected to use the seventh overall choice to select or acquire a quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh prides himself in coaching up quarterbacks, but he needs quarterbacks to coach.

Players in flux: Goldson, outside linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive lineman Ray McDonald are among the 49ers players that would fall short of the six-season requirement for unrestricted free agency.

Veteran variable: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin played last season under a one-year franchise deal. The price tag for re-franchising Franklin appears prohibitive. The 49ers took a wait-and-see approach with Franklin because they hadn't seen him perform at a high level over the long term. They'll need a new nose tackle if Franklin departs.

Name to keep in mind: The 49ers' staff is coming mostly from the college ranks, so there aren't obvious connections to players from other NFL rosters. I expect the 49ers to focus more on re-signing some of their own players, from Spikes to David Baas and beyond.

Seattle Seahawks

Overview: The Seahawks have a long list of players without contracts for 2011. That was mostly be design. The team would like to continue turning over its roster without investing too much in older players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Raheem Brock and Olindo Mare.

Top priority: Figuring out the quarterback situation. Hasselbeck is headed for free agency and could leave if another team gives him some of the longer-term assurances Seattle has resisted. The Seahawks have shown some interest in Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, a player they inquired about last offseason. They still have Charlie Whitehurst. They could draft a quarterback early.

Players in flux: Defensive tackle Mebane heads the list of Seattle players who would not reach free agency under the rules used in 2010. General manager John Schneider called Mebane a "steady pro" when asked about him at the combine. That sounded like faint praise and an indication the Seahawks are not yet prepared to pay top dollar for Mebane if, and when, he hits the market.

Veteran variable: The Seahawks have a few of them, including Mare and Brock. But let's focus on offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer. They combined for 31 starts, but neither appears to be a priority for re-signing. Stacy Andrews is a candidate to step in for Locklear at right tackle. Max Unger could replace Spencer. Coach Pete Carroll thinks the team has upgraded its young depth on the line.

Name to keep in mind: Robert Gallery, guard, Oakland Raiders. Tom Cable's addition as offensive line coach makes Seattle a logical destination for Gallery, who has declared his intention to leave the Raiders.

Age before beauty in the NFC West

March, 8, 2011
The NFL draft provides teams an opportunity to get younger.

Invariably, older players wind up playing extensively when injuries strike and/or some of those youngsters prove not quite ready for the big leagues.

In Arizona last season, 36-year-old Bryan Robinson made 16 starts at nose tackle even though the Cardinals used a first-round choice for the position.

In San Francisco, 36-year-old tackle Barry Sims started at least seven games for a third consecutive season, proving valuable when a broken leg sidelined Joe Staley.

In St. Louis, James Hall, now 34, and Fred Robbins, who turns 34 this month, started every game and provided stellar play on the defensive front.

In Seattle, strong safety Lawyer Milloy, the oldest non-specialist in the division, collected four sacks while starting 16 games.

Teams will once again add fresh young talent this offseason. Some of the older players will fade away. Others will rise up and produce again.

A few thoughts on the chart, which lists the 20 oldest non-specialists in the NFC West:
  • Cardinals guard Alan Faneca is considering retirement. The team has veteran guards in relief, but leadership could be a concern.
  • Brandon Stokley immediately showed his value to Seattle as a slot receiver. He also suffered another in a long line of concussions. It's hard not to wince every time he takes a hit.
  • Raheem Brock had nine sacks for Seattle. His contract is expiring. The team could use his production and Brock has earned a raise, but to what extent did his performance reflect a contract-year spike? Rewarding an older player following one strong season can be tough for a rebuilding team.
  • Arizona's Clark Haggans has a $2.5 million salary and $500,000 roster bonus this season. I'd be tempted to bring him back.
  • Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt defended Joey Porter's play, suggesting the veteran pass-rusher played more snaps than anticipated, diminishing Porter's ability to contribute as consistently. That is fair, but Porter surely will not return under his current deal, which carries a $5.75 million salary.
  • Takeo Spikes has continued playing well at inside linebacker for the 49ers. Will the 49ers' new staff move on in an attempt to get younger? Seems like Spikes should have value to a new staff in a transition year.
  • Another veteran linebacker, Na'il Diggs of the Rams, was playing well last season until suffering a torn pectoral. Looks like the Rams need to make outside linebacker a priority in the draft.

And now, on with the chart ...