NFC West: Brent Grimes

Tarell Brown tweeted Sunday morning about getting a massage and of his plan to barbecue. Brown has reason to be in a festive mood.

Brown
There is reason to believe the cornerback market will be robust in free agency a year after the market struggled. Green Bay re-signed cornerback Sam Shields to a whopping four-year, $39 million deal Saturday. Miami recently signed Brent Grimes, who suffered in free agency last year, to a big extension as well.

If that trend continues, Brown should benefit when free agency starts Tuesday. While the cornerback position is filled with some strong players, ESPN analyst Bill Polian ranks Brown at the top of the available players at the position.

If just one NFL team agrees with Polian, the 49ers will have difficulty keeping him. The 49ers want Brown back, but they will likely not be willing to give him a huge deal with bigger contracts on the horizon for the team. If Brown signs elsewhere, the team will likely have Chris Culliver, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, compete for a starting job. The 49ers would also likely have to add an inexpensive veteran and use an early draft pick on a cornerback.

Eight in the Box: Under the radar

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
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» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each NFC West team thus far this offseason:

Arizona Cardinals: A soft market for cornerbacks helped the Cardinals sign former San Diego Chargers starter Antoine Cason to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Scouts Inc. gave Cason a 79 grade, tied with Chris Gamble, Brent Grimes, DeAngelo Hall and Quentin Jammer for highest among corners on the market this offseason. Arizona has rotated corners through its lineup with moderate success in recent seasons. There's no sense in overpaying when Patrick Peterson is anchoring the other side as a top-five overall selection. Cason has good size at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He is on the younger side (turns 27 in July). He has never missed a game in five NFL seasons. He has started 45 of 48 games the past three years. Cason should provide an upgrade from 2012 starter William Gay.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams made waves by signing Jake Long and Jared Cook to deals with a combined $35 million in guaranteed money. Their move to bring back defensive end William Hayes on a three-year deal was important, too, even though it went under the radar. St. Louis led the NFL in sacks last season. Hayes had seven of them while playing 34.2 percent of the defensive snaps. He combines with Chris Long (11.5 sacks in 2012) and Robert Quinn (10.5) to give St. Louis a strong pass-rushing combination at defensive end.

San Francisco 49ers: Glenn Dorsey is too big to go under the radar, but anyone familiar with his time in Kansas City wouldn't think much of his signing in San Francisco. The 49ers seem to have big plans for Dorsey, however. They gave him a modest deal totaling $6 million over two seasons, a reflection of how far Dorsey's stock has fallen since the Chiefs made him the fifth overall choice in 2008. Dorsey wasn't to blame for the scheme change in Kansas City that made him less valuable to the defense. The 49ers run a base 3-4 defense that wouldn't seem to suit Dorsey's strengths as an up-the-field tackle, at least on the surface. I do think San Francisco has a specific role in mind for Dorsey, increasing the chances he makes a positive impact as a low-cost player with obvious talent.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks made high-profile moves almost exclusively this offseason. They landed Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett before trading away quarterback Matt Flynn. There isn't much from which to choose in the under-the-radar category. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, signed from the Miami Dolphins as a cheaper alternative to Alan Branch, will have to suffice. McDaniel has been mostly a backup and rotational player during his seven NFL seasons. "He has great length with good power and plays with good pad level," Scouts Inc. wrote in its review of him. "He isn't a quick-twitch athlete and is inconsistent to get off blocks and show range to the pile. He has limited pass-rush skills and hasn't made great progress given his time in the NFL." How's that for under the radar?
The Seattle Seahawks added defensive end Chris Clemons and kicker Steven Hauschka to their injured reserve lists this week.

Rookie Bruce Irvin, the 15th overall choice in the draft, will start in Clemons' place. Recently signed veteran Ryan Longwell will handle kicking duties for Hauschka.

Those moves led me to compile IR lists for remaining NFC playoff teams. I used the reserve lists at Ourlads.com, which updates its rosters daily.

Leading Questions: NFC West

February, 21, 2012
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With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each NFC West team upon beginning preparations for the 2012 season:

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Why so much hedging over the quarterbacks?

Team president Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves are both on record as hedging their bets about Kevin Kolb returning for a second season with the team. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has recently made it clear the team would not make Kolb its outright starter for 2012, instead forcing him to compete with John Skelton.

The money Kolb would earn if he did return will guarantee him riches, but not a starting job.

The approach is vintage Whisenhunt. Now entering his sixth season with the team, Whisenhunt has remained consistently averse to anointing starters. The approach reflects his own NFL playing career. Whisenhunt stuck with Atlanta as a 12th-round draft choice in 1985, starting 43 of the 74 games he played over seven seasons. Nothing was handed to him and nothing will be handed to his players now.

The Cardinals' relatively noncommittal approach with Kolb has left the impression Arizona could go after Peyton Manning. That could be a difficult decision to make strategically, however, because Manning might need time to get healthy. Letting Kolb hit the market without knowing whether Manning could hold up would leave the Cardinals with Skelton as their fallback option.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

How can the Rams help themselves in free agency?

This is a tough one. Very few of the Rams' own free agents qualify as players the team must re-sign.

Receiver Brandon Lloyd is arguably the only clear starting-caliber player on the list. He is 30 years old and, by all accounts, hoping to catch on with Josh McDaniels in New England.

Teams with new coaching staffs often sign players with connections to various assistants. The Rams could follow that path.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was in New Orleans, where cornerback Tracy Porter might be the most impressive defensive player scheduled to hit free agency.

Coach Jeff Fisher was with Tennessee when another potential free-agent corner, Cortland Finnegan, was building his reputation as one of the NFL's most hard-nosed defensive backs.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with the New York Jets, but their list of offensive free agents features older players such as Mark Brunell, LaDainian Tomlinson and Plaxico Burress.

New general manager Les Snead has ties to the Atlanta Falcons' free agents, including 35-year-old center Todd McClure and 35-year-old outside linebacker Mike Peterson. Linebacker Curtis Lofton is only 25 and a productive player, but he has played the one linebacker position where the Rams are set, in the middle. Cornerback Brent Grimes is 28 and has a Pro Bowl on his résumé, giving the Rams a connection to another established corner.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

How much better can Alex Smith become?

The 49ers plan to re-sign Smith after the veteran quarterback finished the 2011 season with 17 touchdown passes, five interceptions, a career-best 90.7 NFL passer rating and a signature playoff victory over New Orleans.

It's easy to forget that rules governing free agents prevented Smith from participating in formal 49ers practices until Aug. 4, only five weeks before the regular-season opener. Smith nonetheless appeared in tune with new coach Jim Harbaugh and new coordinator Greg Roman. He did take too many sacks and, until the team's divisional playoff victory over New Orleans, became best known for avoiding turnovers.

Smith did seem to progress as the season went along. It'll be tough for him to match or improve upon his TD-to-INT ratio. Opponents will be better equipped to counter scheme advantages the 49ers enjoyed with a new staff fresh from the college ranks. Durability will be another concern if Smith takes another 44 sacks.

But logic also suggests Smith can continue to grow within the 49ers' offense. He proved skeptics wrong last season and appears positioned to do so again.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

What is the holdup with Marshawn Lynch's new contract?

Yes, the Seahawks want to bring back Lynch. His physical running style gives them an edge Seattle cannot realistically get from another back in 2012.

There have been no hard reasons to get a deal done quickly, however. Seattle can name Lynch its franchise player, an appealing alternative for teams wary of how long running backs will hold up physically. Lynch has until March 13 before becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. His next long-term deal could be his final one. He'll want to get more than what Seattle would pay him in guaranteed money as a franchise player over the next couple seasons.

Lynch is 25 years old and has 1,280 career touches. Steven Jackson (2,507), Frank Gore (1,940) and Maurice Jones-Drew (1,762) are among the prominent backs with considerably more touches. Seattle should be able to get three more productive seasons from Lynch, enough to justify doing a multiyear deal with him.

But the franchise tag provides a tantalizing fallback.

Inside Tim Hightower's 80-yard TD run

September, 22, 2010
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There's no sugar-coating allowed following brutal performances. An affinity for sweets is still OK.

In that vein, I went back and looked at Tim Hightower's 80-yard touchdown run from Week 2, the Arizona Cardinals' lone score during a 41-7 defeat. For one play, everything came together. The Cardinals really could not have drawn it up any more perfectly.

They lined up with base personnel in the I-formation at their own 20-yard line, the ball between the hashes. Tight end Stephen Spach lined up next to right tackle Brandon Keith. Receiver Steve Breaston lined up just outside left tackle Levi Brown, but off the line of scrimmage. Larry Fitzgerald lined up wide left, just outside the numbers.

The Falcons arranged their defense in a 4-3 under look, as if hoping to prevent the Cardinals from double-teaming their linemen. It appeared as though Atlanta wanted to exploit one-on-one matchups up front. But with Jamaal Anderson, the left defensive end, lined up across from Keith, Spach had a clear shot at rookie strong-side linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was lined up directly behind Anderson, on the hash. Spach cut down Weatherspoon at the knees, obstructing Anderson's path as Hightower barreled around the corner.

Fullback Reagan Maui'a sealed safety William Moore along the perimeter as Hightower hit stride. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton might have had a shot at Hightower, but Keith was roaming free after losing Anderson in traffic. Keith and Lofton intersected at the 22. Size and leverage were on Keith's size, especially when Lofton tried to turn back as Hightower raced by. Keith launched Lofton hard. Lofton landed at the 27.

Hightower outran cornerback Brent Grimes and lost him for good at the Atlanta 35. Hightower owned the longest touchdown run of his career and the Cardinals' longest run since 1958. But he had lots of help.

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