NFC West: Bryant McFadden

10 NFC West thoughts after Super Bowl

February, 7, 2011
Those responsible for making sure fans had Super Bowl seats weren't responsible for maintaining seats on airplanes leaving Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

I'm home, in other words.

Ten thoughts relating at least tangentially to the NFC West following the Green Bay Packers' 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl:

  • Packers general manager Ted Thompson was doing a good job whether or not Green Bay beat the Steelers. The victory only bolsters his credibility as a primary architect for Super Bowl teams with multiple franchises. Thompson played a role in the Packers' two Super Bowl appearances of the 1990s. He played a bigger role in putting together the Seattle team that appeared in the Super Bowl following the 2005 season. More recently, he won a championship after replacing a successful head coach (Mike Sherman) and legendary quarterback (Brett Favre).
  • [+] EnlargeBryant McFadden
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPittsburgh's Bryant McFadden, 20, had a rough day against Jordy Nelson and the Packers.

  • Cornerback Bryant McFadden, traded from Arizona back to Pittsburgh before the 2010 season, had a tough game. After recovering from an abdominal injury to start the Super Bowl, McFadden suffered a hip injury that forced him to leave the Super Bowl. The Packers had already completed a couple passes against him to that point. With McFadden out, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers beat McFadden's replacement, William Gay, for a touchdown. McFadden returned and the Packers continued to have success through the air.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers linebackers Diyral Briggs and Matt Wilhelm won Super Bowl rings with Green Bay. The 49ers released Briggs early in the 2010 season. They parted with Wilhelm on the reduction to 53 players even though the move seemed to leave them a little thin, at least at the time. Wilhelm made one special-teams tackle Sunday, after an 18-yard kickoff return. Briggs made one assisted special-teams tackle, after a 2-yard punt return.
  • Lots of things would have changed had the 49ers drafted Rodgers first overall in 2005. Around here, we generally approach the subject in terms of what Rodgers might have meant to the 49ers. The Packers would obviously be vastly different, too. Perhaps they wouldn't have drafted a quarterback in the first round. Would they have kept Brett Favre?
  • NFC West teams loaded up on pass catchers in the 2008 draft. Donnie Avery, John Carlson, Early Doucet, Keenan Burton and Josh Morgan come to mind. The Packers drafted Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. Avery went 33rd overall. Nelson went three spots later.
  • The punt Green Bay muffed early in the game did not cost the Packers because they recovered. A turnover there might have changed the game. At the time, I thought of Steelers special-teams coach Al Everest, who was fired by Mike Singletary following the 2009 season.
  • The Cardinals plan to again pursue one or more members of the Steelers' defensive staff about possibly becoming defensive coordinator in Arizona. That makes sense. Pittsburgh has been very good on defense overall. The Steelers' pass defense has had problems in the team's past two Super Bowls, however. Rodgers and Kurt Warner combined for 681 yards passing and six touchdowns with one interception in those games.
  • On second thought, those passing numbers against the Steelers' defense don't look so bad. Arizona allowed 664 yards passing and seven touchdowns with one interception in its last two playoff games, both after the 2009 season. Rodgers and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees did the damage.
  • Former 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle played in the game for Pittsburgh, but he did not register a statistic.
  • Former Rams defensive tackle Ryan Pickett -- chosen right before Reggie Wayne, Todd Heap and Drew Brees in the 2001 draft -- started at left defensive end for the Packers. He made tackles following runs of 1 and 3 yards.

By the way, thanks to those who offered ideas for the blog via Facebook. Nicely done.

Update: Another thanks goes to those who pointed out ex-Seahawk Howard Green's role in pressuring Roethlisberger into an interception.
DALLAS -- The Arizona Cardinals experienced more roster turnover than most from 2009 to 2010.

They felt it, too.

Arizona finished with a 5-11 record largely because quarterback Kurt Warner retired. The team hoped it had enough veteran strength throughout its roster to keep the Cardinals competitive. A favorable schedule and division in transition made it seem possible.

Looking back, the roster turnover played a leading role in the Cardinals' fall, coach Ken Whisenhunt said from the Super Bowl media center Friday.

"What you lose more than anything is that equity buildup that you have had for a couple years," Whisenhunt said.

Specifically, Whisenhunt said the Cardinals too often couldn't draw on shared experiences -- say, adjustment that worked against an opponent the previous season.

"Even though you have a Kerry Rhodes, you have Paris Lenon, you have guys you are comfortable with that are good players in the league, they don't know what you have gone through to get to that point," Whisenhunt said. "To have those guys step up and say, 'Listen, we are not practicing the right way, we are not making these plays like we should be,' you don't have that history with them. You can get away with that if it is one or two, but if you have five or six -- especially if they are good football players -- that is hard to overcome."

The Cardinals parted with a long list of players featuring Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, Bryant McFadden, Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor, Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Neil Rackers, Anthony Becht, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban, Matt Leinart, Ralph Brown, Monty Beisel and Dan Kreider.

"You can never go in and say, 'Gosh, woe is me because we lost those guys,' because you are counting on the other guys to step in and you always want to be positive," Whisenhunt said. "But you have to recognize it's a pretty big blow to lose [key] guys."

Whisenhunt called the situation a "perfect storm" with Warner retiring, key players hitting the market and the NFL heading toward an uncertain labor situation.

"There is no operating plan for what you do or how you do it," he said. "It doesn't really matter at this point. You just have to move forward."

Quite a few younger players gained more experience than anticipated. That could help Arizona build back some of that equity Whisenhunt said was missing. But so much comes back to the quarterback situation. An upgrade at that position would cover for imperfections elsewhere on the roster.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with Oregon State assistant Mark Banker for thoughts on 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Banker was an assistant with the Chargers when Harbaugh was finishing his playing career with San Diego. Branch: "Banker, who served for one year as the Chargers defensive coordinator, described Stanford under Harbaugh as a smash-mouth running team with a sophisticated NFL passing attack that made effective use of its tight ends. In Banker’s estimation, the core principles of Stanford’s offense will easily transfer to the NFL and he expects the 49ers’ attack to mirror the Cardinal’s in many ways." ESPN's Brock Huard, who called Pac-10 games this past season, also emphasized the power element of Harbaugh's offense when I asked him about it last month.

Also from Branch: There might not be a quarterback worth drafting in the first round for the 49ers.

Joe Staley of the 49ers blogs about life in the offseason, with this note on the coaching staff: "One of the coaches who is still around from last season is my o-line coach, Mike Solari. I like the fact that he’s still around and I think it’s especially good for the rookies Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. Solari just has a good rapport with all of the players and he knows who we are, what we do and what we respond to. So him still being here is great."

Matt Maiocco of looks at the 49ers' running backs, noting that Frank Gore became an even bigger part of the offense in 2010. Maiocco on backup Anthony Dixon: "Dixon is a big, powerful back who needs to learn how to run like a big, powerful back. He definitely showed flashes with some very nice runs. But he also frustrated the coaching staff with too much dancing, some missed assignments and difficulty with the simple things, such as making sure he was wearing the right kind of cleats to maintain traction on slippery fields. Dixon played just 16 offensive snaps in the first 10 games before Gore's injury. Dixon finished with 237 yards rushing on 70 rushing attempts. He should continue to prove that he is capable of taking on a larger role in the offense."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers need more pass-rush pop from their outside linebackers.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says cornerback Bryant McFadden was "shocked" and a little "astonished" when the Cardinals traded him back to the Steelers. McFadden did not meet expectations with the Cardinals, but the team was not better at cornerback without him. McFadden on the two defensive systems: "Our defense is difficult but, once you get it, you feel comfortable. We just play football. There (Arizona) it was different. You see things and think, 'It may work, it may not work.' Every coach doesn't coach the same. Every person don't walk the same." Three other differences: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu.

Darren Urban of explores receiver Steve Breaston's fascination with comic books. Breaston got to hang out with Todd McFarlane, who drew for Marvel comics and created the "Venom" character associated with Spider-Man. Urban: "A huge fan of comics, including the McFarlane-create Spawn, Breaston reached out to the Tempe-based McFarlane to set up a meeting. The two did Wednesday at The McFarlane Companies offices just down the street from the Cardinals’ Tempe facility, talking for two hours. Breaston got a short rundown on how McFarlane builds and sells its SportsPicks line of athlete action figures, and then sat down in McFarlane’s office to talk comics."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune outlines the Seahawks' draft needs and checks in with analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on the available quarterbacks. Rang on Missouri's Blaine Gabbert: "He’s got a big arm. He’s got a quick release for a big guy, and that’s very rare for a big quarterback. He uses his feet well, and so it leads you to believe that he can make that transition. He reads defenses well -- he does all of those things well. He just doesn’t have the eye-popping statistics. … When it’s all said and done with Blaine Gabbert, I believe he’s going to be end up being a top 5 to top 7 pick."

Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times says Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto interviewed for a job as defensive coordinator at UCLA. This would stand as a significant step forward for Seto, who helps coach Seattle's secondary. And with a lockout potentially looming in the NFL, now isn't a bad time to consider college options, anyway.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether the Greatest Show on Turf would have been as great if Jerome Bettis had stayed with the Rams. Bernie Miklasz: "Absolutely not. It’s not even a discussion. Bettis was a power runner. A good one. But a one-dimensional runner. Faulk was the greatest all-purpose back in NFL history. He’s the best receiver/RB in league history. From 1999 through 2001, the Rams scored 500-plus points each year and Faulk had 44 percent of the team’s touches from scrimmage during that time. He had nearly 70 percent of the rushing yards. He caught more passes than Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt. He had more TD catches than Holt, and only five fewer than Bruce. I hope this slams the door shut on the question."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford's freshly cut hair is getting mixed reviews. Bradford: "My friends in Oklahoma, obviously, it doesn't matter what I do. I'm going to hear about it. All the girls back home really like it. They were excited when I told them I was cutting my hair."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says former Rams linebacker Kevin Greene would make a logical choice to address the Packers before the Super Bowl.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)

Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)

Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)

San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)

The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Dre' Bly, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Mike Teel, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nick Reed, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Ken Lucas, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Mike Hass, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Jay Feely, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Rob Sims, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Nate Ness, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Max Hall, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Max Komar, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Jim Dray, Dominique Curry, Josh Hull, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

Camp Confidential: Arizona Cardinals

August, 4, 2010
AM ET NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 15

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- You know what the 2010 Arizona Cardinals are not.

They're not the team with Pro Bowl-caliber talents Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle. They're not the team with established veterans Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Bertrand Berry and Mike Gandy. They're not the team that won the past two NFC West titles and posted a 4-2 postseason record.

They're not dead, either. Who are these new-look Cardinals? A trip to training camp at Northern Arizona University provided some clues.

This team will be easy to underestimate for those analyzing from afar. What I saw up close was a team with strong leadership -- both vocally and by example -- throughout its roster. The Cardinals are accountable to one another. I saw an organization with a track record for developing young talent (think Calais Campbell, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet, to name three). I saw a head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, who loves a challenge and thinks the Cardinals will do just fine in one of their favorite roles -- underdogs.

This team has an edge to it. The Cardinals will compete and they can make another playoff appearance with a little help from their quarterback.


[+] EnlargeLeinart
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Cardinals have confidence that Matt Leinart can succeed in this offense.
1. What's up with Matt Leinart? Let's take a listen to Whisenhunt: "You see it in his body language, you see how he handles himself in the huddle and then you also see it in the confidence when he takes a step and he throws the football, or even when he makes the checks in the run game. There is not the hesitation that there used to be." If you think that quote reflects renewed confidence in Leinart heading into the 2010 season, you'd be wrong. That's what Whisenhunt said about Leinart in training camp two years ago, before the Cardinals switched to Warner and won back-to-back division titles.

What's he saying now? Whisenhunt dismisses Leinart's shaky 2009 performance against Green Bay in Week 17 as a product of unusual circumstances (the Cardinals watered down their game plan with an eye toward playing the Packers in the wild-card round). He points to Leinart's performance against the Tennessee Titans last season -- 21 of 31 passing for 220 yards and an 88.1 rating -- as evidence the quarterback knows the offense well enough to succeed even without getting practice reps (Warner was scratched from the lineup shortly before kickoff). For that reason, Leinart will not get extra playing time during the upcoming preseason. Whisenhunt doesn't think it's necessary.

"I feel like there's a hurdle you have to cross as a young quarterback where no matter what situation you're thrown into, you have to perform," Whisenhunt said. "He is at a point with our offense where he is comfortable and he may not get the reps."

Leinart has four seasons in Whisenhunt's offense. He's playing for a new contract, backed by two productive running backs and one of the NFL's elite receivers in Larry Fitzgerald. Leinart will never be Warner, but he will not have to be. He'll be leading a re-made offense with increased emphasis on the running game. I'm not entirely sold. Leinart has much to prove.

"The last two years, I've learned really how to prepare mentally and studying and all that," Leinart said. "I finally get to take that to the field every single day and get the reps and make mistakes, but come back and learn from them. I worked extremely hard just to get to this point."

2. What does Joey Porter have left? The former Pro Bowl pass-rusher showed up for training camp in vastly better condition than he appeared during offseason minicamps. His speed and quickness stunned me during the Cardinals' afternoon practice Monday. Porter even kept pace with Fitzgerald on a special-teams coverage play 35 yards downfield. And he stayed home defending bootlegs.

The team's training camp practice jerseys do not feature players' names across the backs, and with so many new faces in camp, I double-checked the roster to make sure No. 55 was indeed the 33-year-old Porter. It was him.

The Cardinals knew they were getting a fiery personality and potential mentor for some of their younger players. The first few days of training camp have given them reason to think Porter might have more left physically than first anticipated. He had nine sacks for the Miami Dolphins last season and 17.5 the year before. Arizona will put him on the same side as Campbell, who had seven sacks at defensive end. There's potential for Porter to help this defense more than expected. Let's see if he can sustain the fast start.

[+] EnlargeWashington
AP Photo/Matt YorkRookie Daryl Washington may be called on early to contribute.
3. Are the Cardinals in trouble at inside linebacker? Veteran Gerald Hayes called out defensive teammates after a rough stretch of practice Tuesday. They were getting pushed around by the offense in the running game. There's reason to wonder if the Cardinals should expect more of the same, on a larger scale, when the regular-season schedule serves up Steven Jackson and Michael Turner in the first two weeks.

Hayes could return from back surgery by then. The Cardinals will find playing time for second-round choice Daryl Washington. They'll lean on veteran Paris Lenon. They'll move strong safety Adrian Wilson into the box for run support as needed.

It might not be enough.


Rashad Johnson. The second-year safety appears more physical and closer to contributing. His rookie season was a wash. Johnson might not be needed for extensive snaps, but they might not have to dread turning to him in a pinch.


Hayes' injury status. The Cardinals downplayed their key run defender's back situation during the early stages of the offseason. They hoped Hayes would overcome the back problems that slowed him last season. Hayes finally underwent surgery. He's a spectator and the Cardinals miss him.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Matt YorkWide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is one of several veteran leaders on the team.

  • Guard Deuce Lutui was arguably the Cardinals' best offensive lineman last season. He could have a hard time staying active for games in 2010. Alan Faneca's addition at left guard sent 2009 left guard Reggie Wells to the right side at Lutui's expense. If Lutui fails to win back the starting job -- contract issues kept him away from the team this offseason and he reported to the team overweight -- his inability to play another position on the line could make it tough for the Cardinals to make him one of the two active backups for games. Jeremy Bridges can play guard or tackle. Rex Hadnot can play center or guard. Even Wells could play tackle in a pinch.
  • This team has strong, outspoken leaders everywhere. Fitzgerald organizes offseason workouts with Cris Carter, Jerry Rice and various current NFL stars, setting a standard for receivers. Faneca provides the offensive line with a needed voice and identity. Wilson is the enforcer in the secondary and the most credible leader on the team. Porter adds veteran leadership and attitude at linebacker. Darnell Dockett holds the defensive line accountable.
  • The Cardinals do not fear the truth. They confront issues directly. Free agent Kerry Rhodes came to Arizona with a reputation as Mr. Hollywood. Even Rhodes acknowledged that former New York Jets teammate Kris Jenkins was likely targeting him with comments suggesting the team had added "real men" to replace the "women" they had lost. Rhodes didn't like it much when Dockett questioned his work ethic amid globe-trotting tweets from the vacationing safety. Whisenhunt's response? No big deal. "Besides," Whisenhunt said of Rhodes' reputation, "our guys have been on him hard enough about it that they're not going to cut him any slack."
  • Speaking of Rhodes, the Cardinals think he can be a good blitzer for them, particularly in combination with Wilson.
  • Fitzgerald's capacity for self-motivation borders on the ridiculous, but it works for him. "I'm getting older. The window of opportunity is closing. I was sitting around talking to Cris Carter this offseason and it seems like seven years has gone by so fast. The hourglass is turned over on me now. The sand is going down and my career is on the downward side now. I have to really pick it up and try to help this team get a playoff win and win a Super Bowl."
  • Faneca, 33, struggles in one-on-one pass-rush drills. The Jets released him even though his salary was guaranteed, making a strong statement as to what they thought he had left. The Cardinals couldn't pass up adding Faneca to their line. They can benefit from his leadership and experience. I just wonder whether he'll be one of the two best guards on the team this season, particularly once Lutui rounds into shape.
  • Beanie Wells benefited from his first full offseason in the NFL. Graduation rules at Ohio State prevented him from joining the team until mid-June last offseason. Wells then reported to training camp slightly late and immediately suffered an injury. He appears much better prepared for the upcoming season. Wells is still fine-tuning some aspects of his pass-protection skills. He catches the ball well, though, and his running will set him apart this season. The versatile Tim Hightower remains the starter early in camp and Wells will have to beat him out. I expect that to happen.
  • The Cardinals ran more four-receiver personnel groups than any team in the league last season. I noticed one four-wide play in five practices and that was with backups playing receiver. Teams tend to focus on base packages early in camp. That could partially explain the proliferation of two-receiver personnel groups. Still, the offense appears different from last season and that will carry over into the regular season.
  • Arizona emphasized continuity over the past two seasons, particularly on its offensive line. Only the Seattle Seahawks have fewer players returning from Week 17 last season, however. Center Lyle Sendlein is the only starting offensive lineman returning at the same position.
The question in the headline seems misplaced given popular perceptions about the team that subtracted Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and others.

But all is not lost for the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals.

It'll take a team effort for Arizona to pull off another division title, just as it took one to complete this blog entry -- the fourth and final one in our series asking whether NFC West teams have improved this offseason. Facebook friend Barrett came through with the portion of our analysis focusing on offense. Branden, a Facebook friend I've tailgated with before Cardinals games, joined fellow Cardinals fans Jack and Jacob in filling out the remaining categories. I'm pleased by the final result and hope you find it thought-provoking.

Thanks to all the others who answered the call. My only regret was not being able to use them all.


Barrett: It's Matt Leinart's time to prove capable of leading an NFL team from behind center. If he falters, Derek Anderson will be waiting to show that he can return to his Pro Bowl form from 2007 -- when he had targets such as Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards. Fifth-round rookie John Skelton may have the physical attributes Ken Whisenhunt looks for in a quarterback, but he remains a project. Verdict: worse.

Sando: Max Hall is another rookie quarterback to watch on the Cardinals' roster. I hear they like what they've seen so far. I also think Leinart can outperform the low expectations his critics have set for him. But there's no getting around the obvious here. The Cardinals were better at quarterback when they had Warner.

Running back

[+] EnlargeBeanie Wells
Fernando Medina/US PresswireBeanie Wells should have a larger role in the offense this season.
Barrett: In a pass-oriented offense, Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower combined to rush for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns, but they also fumbled the ball nine times and lost six of those. Both backs are looking to get even more carries this season, with Jason Wright and LaRod Stephens-Howling perhaps having an increased opportunity to get touches over last season (combined nine attempts for 32 yards last season). Verdict: same.

Sando: This group should only improve as Wells gets more seasoning and the Cardinals give him more opportunities. The knock on him coming out of college was that he was soft. Cardinals players challenged Wells to prove doubters wrong. Wells responded by running tough and running hard. The prime-time game against the New York Giants comes to mind. I think Wells can take it to another level.

Wide receiver

Barrett: Even with Boldin being traded away to the Ravens, Larry Fitzgerald will still be a top receiver. Steve Breaston is no stranger to lining up as the No. 2 in Boldin's absence. Early Doucet showed what he is capable of during last season's playoff run. Now, let's see if he can produce similarly over the course of a full season. Andre Roberts is an excellent draft pick for depth to compete with Onrea Jones at the No. 4 spot and I expect him to spell Breaston for punt-return duties. However formidable this receiving corps still seems, the Cardinals will miss what No. 81 brought as a player, competitor, teammate and leader. Verdict: worse.

Sando: The Cardinals somehow won a higher percentage of games recently when Boldin did not play. I agree they'll miss the toughness he brought. Boldin might have helped an inexperienced quarterback such as Leinart more than he helped Warner. Breaston brings more speed to the offense. Depth is certainly worse without Boldin, but it was also apparent Boldin might be declining some. I'll agree with your general assessment.

Tight end

Barrett: Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach are all back from last season, plus Dominique Byrd. Tight ends caught a whopping 23 passes for the Cardinals last season. It seems their primary function in Whisenhunt's offense is to offer run blocking and an occasional check-down. However, this may change ever so slightly as the focus shifts to a more balanced attack. Verdict: same.

Sando: If there's an upgrade, it comes from having Patrick for a full 16 games. He missed the first four last season while serving an NFL suspension. Once Patrick returned, the Cardinals felt more comfortable using two tight ends. Wells had good success running from some of these double-tight personnel groupings. I think we could see more of those now that Warner is gone and the team has fewer front-line options at wide receiver.

Offensive line

[+] EnlargeAlan Faneca
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Jets released Alan Faneca this offseason after just two seasons in New York.
Barrett: With the free-agent additions of Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot, starting quality and depth are already improved on a unit that has seen more postseason action in the past two seasons than any other offensive line in the NFL. This lessens any blow the line might take if an overweight Deuce Lutui does not return. There's also a second-year man by the name of Herman Johnson who just might be big enough to take over his spot. Verdict: better.

Sando: Faneca is a huge name and I think he's got something to prove after the New York Jets dumped him. The word among NFL people is that Faneca has fallen off significantly and he could be a liability. The leadership and toughness he brings will have value, but how well can he play at this stage? I do not know. The Cardinals have in recent seasons stressed the importance of continuity on the offensive line. They'll have new people in three or four of the five starting spots, so the continuity is gone. Throw in a new starting quarterback and there's a lot of work to do. This group is better on paper based on the additions, but I'm not sure it'll be more effective (although the shift to more of a power running game could play to the strength of these linemen, something to keep in mind).

Offense overall

Barrett: Whisenhunt has always geared his offenses to the players' strengths. With key losses in Warner and Boldin and the acquisition of Faneca, it sure looks like the Cardinals are shifting toward a more balanced attack. But one thing is for certain, and that is the quarterback cannot be expected to produce the way Warner did. Verdict: worse.

Sando: You're right about Whisenhunt and his staff. They'll rise to the challenge and give the Cardinals their best chance to succeed on offense. The running game should be strong. They'll play to Leinart's strengths as well. But the points will be harder to come by and that'll make it tougher for the Cardinals to win games. The offense will be different and less prolific.

Defensive line

Branden: The line up front starts and ends with the performance of Darnell Dockett. He has become more of a leader this offseason and his play on the field already speaks for itself. Calais Campbell has made many lists as one of the breakout players in the league. Whisenhunt has brought many of his rookies along slowly, so Bryan Robinson will most likely start at nose tackle, but rookie Dan Williams should get plenty of time and I expect him to take over the starting role by midseason. Depth-wise, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson are in make-or-break seasons, and while Branch showed more ability and versatility last year in his time at defensive end, they will have to step up to strengthen depth at the position. Kenny Iwebema is a serviceable backup and special-teamer. Verdict: better.

Sando: It'll take a while for Williams to hit stride, but his addition can only improve what was already a pretty good situation for Arizona. Having the pressure on Watson and Branch can only help. It's tough for 3-4 defensive ends to get much notice, but Arizona has two of them worth our praise.

Outside linebackers

[+] EnlargeJoey Porter
Kim Klement/US PresswireJoey Porter has 92 career sacks.
Branden: There has been talk about the age of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Both are 33. While they will start, expect to see plenty of others in special situations -- including Will Davis, who played well last year as a rookie until suffering a knee injury. Cody Brown is practically a rookie and needs to contribute to help this position. Others at the position include Mark Washington and CFL star Stevie "Shakespeare" Baggs. Are they better as a unit than last year? Questionable. Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor performed average last year, and I'm not sure how much Porter has left. Verdict: same, but young guys need to step up.

Sando: Someone pointed out to me that Porter and Haggans are younger than Berry, but it's small consolation for Arizona. You're right about the young guys needing to step forward. I could see Porter getting close to double-digit sacks even though Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks Porter has declined dramatically. Others have said Porter collected "cheap" sacks in recent seasons. Cheap ones are better than none at all. This group probably isn't going to decline dramatically. It wasn't all that great last season. Okeafor is out of the league, after all, and Berry retired.

Inside linebacker

Branden: Losing Karlos Dansby will be difficult to overcome because he was a jack of all trades. However, I'm not as high on him as many others were -- Dansby had no Pro Bowls -- and I'm glad the Cardinals did not overpay for him. The addition of Paris Lenon as a stopgap and the drafting of Daryl Washington should help somewhat, but the injury to Gerald Hayes is a major issue. This group is thin and I believe the Cardinals will look to add a veteran when cuts are made. Verdict: worse.

Sando: There's little getting around the problems Arizona faces at this position. We can talk about the defensive line being strong enough to cover somewhat, and that might be the case once Williams develops at nose tackle, but we're not fooling anyone in the meantime. The Cardinals tried to sign Keith Bulluck, but they lost him to the New York Giants. They also claimed Alex Hall off waivers, but the Giants beat them to the punch on that one, too, thanks to a higher waiver priority. Expect Arizona to keep monitoring the waiver wire here.


Branden: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowler, so that helps with one side of the field. Bryant McFadden, traded back to Pittsburgh this offseason, was not much help on the other side last year, but he fared well in run situations. Greg Toler has the physical tools to be a good corner, but he is raw and needs to show his ability this preseason. Michael Adams is a special-teamer and the others, including Trumaine McBride, are OK backups. The Cardinals generally bring multiple safeties on the field in passing situations, so depth isn't a huge concern, but it's a valid question. The performance of this group hinges on DRC's ability to stay healthy and Toler's performance. Verdict: same or better if Toler steps up.

Sando: The Cardinals aren't afraid to make changes, that's for sure. They could have stuck with McFadden, but his contract was a little steep for what they were getting in return. Whisenhunt seemed quite strong in his praise for Toler and he generally isn't wrong on these things. There's potential for this group to drop off, though. At least McFadden was a known quantity. The Cardinals take pride in developing young players and they'll need to be right on Toler to justify their decisions at the position.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Wilson
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAdrian Wilson is a three-time Pro Bowler.

Branden: Adrian Wilson is one of the five best safeties in the league, and it is a shame more people don't realize that. I think Kerry Rhodes will actually be an upgrade over Rolle as he knows where he is supposed to be, while Rolle was just learning the free safety position. I think Rolle has the potential to be better in the long run, but the starting tandem should be fine. Second-year man Rashad Johnson needs to step up and perform to the high praise from college coach Nick Saban. He just seemed lost last year. Matt Ware is a solid backup and plays well in passing situations. Hamza Abdullah is also a decent backup. Verdict: same, with the ability to be better in passing situations.

Sando: I've found informed fans to be a bit overly critical of safeties. I'm not saying that's the case with Branden, but there's definitely a feeling among some Arizona fans that Rolle was overrated and Rhodes will actually provide an upgrade. I don't really see it athletically or for the long term, but acquiring Rhodes showed the Cardinals had a plan once Rolle's contract forced their hand. The Cardinals seem encouraged by what they're seeing from Johnson recently. I heard nothing positive about him last season. Re-signing Ware stood out as an underrated move. He's had some value as one of the first defensive backs off the bench.

Defense overall

Branden: The Cardinals had more than 40 sacks last season and I think they can achieve that number again this year with their defensive line and some contribution from the outside linebacker position. I'm concerned about their inside linebackers' ability to stop the run, but again, I think much of that hinges on their ability to penetrate up front. The secondary has a chance to be very good, but I'm not sold. This was not a spectacular unit last year as evidenced by their giving up 90 points in two playoff games. They are more acquainted with the scheme and I think Billy Davis is a good defensive coordinator, but he will have to get creative again this year. The offense will not be scoring 50-plus points this year, so this unit will have to perform well for ...

Sando: Branden's evaluation cut off there for some reason, but that's OK. We've got a deep roster of contributors and I'll lean on them for the rest of this exercise. The last point Branden raised was the one I wanted to touch upon in this space. It'll be tougher getting to 40 sacks again with fewer points on the board. It'll be easier, in theory, for the other team to stick with its running game. That appears problematic for Arizona given the issues at inside linebacker. But if Hayes can return in September, perhaps the Cardinals can stabilize the middle of their defense. They're fortunate to have such a terrific box safety in Wilson. I'll now turn to Cardinals fan Jack for the section on special teams.

Special teams

Jack: I'm very excited about the special teams of the Cardinals, actually. Stephens-Howling performed quite well as a rookie returning kicks, and he should do even better this year now that he has his feet wet. Breaston didn't do well returning punts last season, so the Cardinals need to make a change, particularly with Breaston as the No. 2 receiver. I hope Andre Roberts gets a shot. As for the kickers, I hope that Jay Feely will be more consistent than Neil Rackers. Ben Graham was great last season, and I expect the same from him this year. Verdict: better.

Sando: Rackers did some great things during his tenure in Arizona, but seeing him line up in the clutch was enough to make even non-fans nervous for him. Kicker is one position where teams can plug in free agents pretty easily, so Arizona could be fine with Feely. Stephens-Howling is already one of the best special-teams players in the league. He deserves Pro Bowl consideration. Cards fan Jacob is on deck with a look at the coaching.


Jacob: What more can be done by Whisenhunt? He is a proven winner and has taken this Cardinals franchise to heights never before imagined. Russ Grimm is widely considered one of the best head-coaching candidates. People will bang on the fact that the cardinals play in the NFC West and have been inconsistent at times throughout the year. However, they are 4-2 in the playoffs under Whisenhunt with both losses to the Super Bowl champions. Winning in the playoffs comes down to game plans, managing the emotions of the game and players -- and that is where Whisenhunt excels. His best coaching job will be showcased this year if the Cardinals can capture another division title. Verdict: same or better.

Sando: I'm sure Whisenhunt is relishing the challenge. The Cardinals are being counted out prematurely. Whisenhunt will probably get the most from them. The coaching staff will deserve high praise if Leinart develops into a winning quarterback. Whisenhunt's Arizona legacy is largely established. He can only help it this season. With that, we go back to Jack for the final two sections.


Jack: I'd love to see the Cardinals take advantage of playing the AFC West this season. They still do have some tough games, though, most notably against Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota and New Orleans. Still, if they don't get eight or nine victories out of this schedule, it will be a disappointment.

Sando: Three of the first four games are on the road. The fifth game is at home -- against the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. Welcome back to the lineup, Matt Leinart. Finishing the season against Dallas and San Francisco gives the Cardinals an opportunity to gain ground in the NFC, but neither game will be easy.

Final thoughts

Jack: I want so badly to say the Cardinals are better than the 49ers. They can be, but they'll have to prove it. Perhaps the Cardinals' best chance is to take advantage of an easy schedule and snag a wild-card spot. I believe they'll get eight or nine victories, though. I hope for more.

Sando: The Cardinals won 10 games last season with more talent. It's reasonable to expect them to slip back into the 8-8 range. That's where I see the Cardinals finishing and it'll be no shock if they fail to reach .500 for the first time under Whisenhunt. This is a transition year. They'll find out whether Leinart is their quarterback and if they win more than eight games along the way, or even if they avoid a losing season, I'd consider 2010 a success.

Continued: Best DL in NFC West

July, 14, 2010
The earlier item sizing up the Arizona Cardinals' chances in the NFC West generated quite a bit of discussion. One aspect of that discussion -- whether the Cardinals or San Francisco 49ers own the best defensive line in the division -- gave Matt Williamson and I something to talk about Wednesday.

Mike Sando: Would you say the Cardinals have the better d-line?

Matt Williamson: Yes, but not by leaps and bounds. I would take Darnell Dockett over all of them, but Justin Smith is a real good player. If you were just looking at the d-ends, I would take Arizona's over San Francisco's. It would go Dockett, Smith, Calais Campbell, dropoff. All three of those guys are fine players. I think Dockett is a pretty special player. If you listen to the podcast, I wasn’t blowing smoke. He is the difference. But you have to give Aubrayo Franklin a noticeable edge over a rookie nose tackle (Dan Williams). He has done it. Not many defensive linemen come in and make a huge impact as rookies. Dan Williams has to learn how to read double teams.

I would probably give Arizona's depth an edge. Gabe Watson, Alan Branch and Bryan Robinson can all contribute limited snaps. Maybe Kentwan Balmer steps up (for the 49ers), but that is speculation.

Mike Sando: One question I have is whether the Cardinals make the most of the talent they do have up front. This has not been a consistently solid defense even with good talent. Even if the Cardinals have an edge on the defensive line, does it really matter in the bigger picture?

Matt Williamson: I think San Francisco is on the cusp of having a great defense and I think they are more solid, maybe have more upside than just about any spot except for maybe corner than Arizona has. I like the outside backers, especially Ahmad Brooks. Patrick Willis speaks for himself. He is the best player for either team by far. The secondary in San Francisco is good enough, especially if the pass rush steps up. They are well coached. They have Mike Singletary's persona. I like Arizona, but they had a lot of turnover. They cannot replace Karlos Dansby. Greg Toler might be ready to be a full-fledged starter. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is good. But I do not really like their depth. I'm not sure why they got rid of Bryant McFadden.

Mike Sando: Right, and the Cardinals will be counting on some older players at outside linebacker. Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, etc.

Matt Williamson: Are those outside linebackers dynamic enough to help the secondary? I am not a big believer. I would probably put both defenses in the upper half of the league and the others in the division in the lower half. But I might put San Francisco in the top half-dozen or so. They are primed to take a big step forward, especially if they control the ball better on offense.

Mike Sando: Let's talk about the offenses another time. I thought we could make the case that Arizona's offensive line could be better than the 49ers' offensive line, at least in the short term. But there's a lot to talk about on that front as well.
Bad teams tend to change coaches and overhaul their rosters.

It should come as little surprise, then, to see the Seattle Seahawks retain a league-low 66.1 percent of their players from last season. It should likewise make sense to see the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings retain a league-high 94.4 percent over the same period.

But when the two-time defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals rank right behind Seattle and the Detroit Lions with a 70.2 percent retention rate, third-lowest in the league, we gain context for the magnitude of change in the desert. Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby, Bryant McFadden, Mike Gandy, Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry combined to start 107 games for the Cardinals last season. All are gone.

Not that change is always bad, even for good teams.

The Indianapolis Colts (73.0 percent retained) and Philadelphia Eagles (74.6 percent) made quite a few changes this offseason. The Colts annually field one of the NFL's youngest teams while funneling massive amounts of cash toward their star players. The Eagles sought to get younger.

Rosters throughout the league will change significantly again as teams comply with 53-man limits in September.

The chart shows how many Week 17 starters, backups and players from injured reserve remain with their 2009 teams. The retention rate divides those totals by the sum of 53 plus all players who were on IR lists in Week 17. The starter totals can be somewhat misleading for teams that rested key players before the playoffs, but the retention rates apply equally. Every team had 53 players on its roster in Week 17.

In double-checking totals, I noticed that teams have parted with 107 of the 294 players listed on IR in Week 17. That works out to 63.6 percent retention for players who were on IR, compared to 82.1 percent retention for players who were on 53-man rosters. The total retention rate -- 79.4 percent -- reflects both sets of players.

The chart breaks down totals based on rosters I have updated through moves made Thursday. I also accounted for the Denver Broncos' reported release of quarterback Tom Brandstater, who was with the team in Week 17. I'm counting unsigned franchise players (Aubrayo Franklin) and unsigned restricted free agents as still being with their 2009 teams, based on the fact that their teams hold rights to them.

Update: I adjusted the San Diego Chargers' total and the Tampa Bay Bucs' total after accounting for trades involving Tim Dobbins and Byron Leftwich, respectively. San Diego dropped two spots. Tampa Bay dropped one spot. The overall retention rate fell slightly.

NFC West thoughts

San Francisco (.833): The 49ers like their team and they have been proactive in re-signing younger players. Continuity has been a top priority and that shows in the totals. The 49ers' retention rate fell because the team has not brought back five of the seven players it listed on IR in Week 17 (Thomas Clayton, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Ricky Schmitt and Jeff Ulbrich).

St. Louis (.773): It's a little surprising, on the surface, to see the rebuilding Rams rank second only to the 49ers in retention rate within the division. The Rams made massive overhauls last offseason, however, so there were fewer moves to make in recent months. Only the Lions and Baltimore Ravens brought back more players from IR, a total that could grow if Oshiomogho Atogwe re-signs. How well some of those players recover and hold up will be important for the Rams.

Arizona (.702): The turnover in Arizona has been documented thoroughly. Only Seattle has fewer players back from Week 17.

Seattle (.661): New coach plus new general manager plus a mandate for change leaves the Seahawks with only 39 players on their roster from Week 17 (counting those listed on IR). Every other team in the league has more. The league average is 49.4 players back.

Albert Breer of the Boston Globe visits Seahawks headquarters as part of a piece looking at what went wrong for Pete Carroll in New England, with an eye toward what might be different this time. Breer: "Everyone who was in New England and with the Patriots from 1997-99 remembers the back stairs. That’s where veterans retreated when they didn’t like what their coaches were telling them. That’s the route you took to the offices of the owners and Bobby Grier’s personnel department to air grievances over the coach’s head. That’s the place where Carroll’s juice in the Patriots organization went to die." Carroll: "It was horrible. That’s not leadership. But that existed, yeah. That was there and [the front office] thought it was kind of cool. They liked it like that. I think the ownership, they wanted information and they thought that was the way to get it. And really, in all fairness to the Krafts, they didn’t know yet how to do it, they were just figuring it out." Carroll's obviously close relationship with Seahawks general manager John Schneider should remove a lot of the stress from his current coaching efforts.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic had this to say after watching Adrian Wilson pick off Matt Leinart during a red-zone play: "The team continued to work on its red zone package today. It's hard to judge because a good play by the defense can mean just the opposite by the offense. For instance: QB Matt Leinart forced one pass to Larry Fitzgerald, and strong safety Adrian Wilson picked it off. Nice play by a Pro Bowl safety. A learning experience for a quarterback. As someone once said, we're talking about practice."

Darren Urban of provides a photo of Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein connecting on a field-goal try to bail out the offense from running. Sendlein was the only one of 10 non-kickers to connect. Urban: "Guys like Matt Leinart, Adrian Wilson and Calais Campbell need to work on their form, I think."

Also from Urban: Cornerbacks Justin Miller and Trumaine McBride are trying to revive their careers with Arizona. Urban: "Miller signed after trying out with the team during minicamp. McBride was signed back in January, with the team already knowing it would need cornerback depth. That need has only increased, with veteran Ralph Brown not returning and starter Bryant McFadden dealt in a draft-weekend trade."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Craig Dahl, the safety most likely to start if the Rams do not re-sign Oshiomogho Atogwe. Coats: "The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Dahl, 24, originally signed with the New York Giants in 2007 -- Steve Spagnuolo's first of two seasons there as defensive coordinator -- as an undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State. He played in nine games and started twice that year until tearing a ligament in his left knee near the end of the season. A torn ligament in his right knee in the subsequent preseason kept him from playing in 2008. The Rams picked him up as a free agent in March 2009. Then Dahl missed the first two games last year with a pulled hamstring. He suited up on Week 3 and found himself at strong safety after James Butler went down with a knee injury on the second play against Green Bay."

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says LenDale White's recent release from the Seahawks shows why the Rams shouldn't be pursuing players with questionable motives. Balzer: "Say what you will about this process of rebuilding, but general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo are trying to accomplish it with quality people, in addition to having football ability. It's clear that teams can win without the LenDale Whites of the world."

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat offers comments from Spagnuolo regarding Dahl and Atogwe. Spagnuolo on the former: "(Dahl) is experienced in the system, and he really is good that way. He works his butt off physically, takes a lot of pride in his body, and he works well with James Butler. They’ve been together in the whole thing, so there’s some cohesiveness there. That helps. There’s some confidence there. They’re used to the system, so all of that kind of mends well for the defense."

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers added South Carolina State cornerback Phillip Adams despite grainy college game tape. Maiocco: "On the low-quality film distributed to NFL teams, Adams showed his aggressiveness in run support, as well as an ability to break on the ball and jump routes. But he could struggle against NFL-quality receivers who can set up a young cornerback."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers aren't pursuing Atogwe. Maiocco: "The 49ers invested a second-round draft pick in safety Taylor Mays, which appeared to signal the organization was not interested in paying big money for a free-agent safety. If the 49ers were to spend money on a veteran safety, they would likely prefer to sign Dashon Goldson to a contract extension. Atogwe turns 29 this month. Goldson, who turns 26 in September, showed major improvement late in the season after a rough beginning to his first year as the starting free safety."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee shows where 49ers players rank in terms of NFL jersey sales. Patrick Willis ranks No. 19, with the Rams' Sam Bradford at No. 6 and the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald at No. 13. Tim Tebow is at No. 1.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' lack of interest in Atogwe shows faith in Goldson.

Also from Barber: a look at players new to the 49ers since this time last year. Barber: "Five years ago, Dre Bly and Walt Harris would have formed one of the best corner tandems in the league. Those days are gone, though, and the addition of at least five viable cover men seems to have made the unit deeper."
Bad teams aren't the only ones churning their rosters during the offseason.

The defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals have parted with 15 of the 53 players on their Week 17 roster from last season. Only the rebuilding Seahawks have parted with more -- 16 -- among division teams this offseason. The Rams have parted with 11. The 49ers, seeking continuity as they try to build on an 8-8 season, have parted with only three.

The first chart shows how many Week 17 starters and backups have returned to each NFC West team.

The second chart shows how many Week 17 starters and backups have left each NFC West team.

I'll first list the players by team.

Seattle (16): receiver Nate Burleson, quarterback Seneca Wallace, linebacker Lance Laury, defensive end Cory Redding, guard Trevor Canfield, quarterback Mike Teel, tackle Damion McIntosh, linebacker D.D. Lewis, snapper Jeff Robinson, fullback Justin Griffith, cornerback Ken Lucas, safety Deon Grant, defensive end Darryl Tapp, guard Rob Sims, tight end John Owens and defensive end Patrick Kerney.

Arizona (15): linebacker Pago Togafau, safety Antrel Rolle, receiver Jerheme Urban, receiver Sean Morey, kicker Neil Rackers, linebacker Bertrand Berry, fullback Dan Kreider, cornerback Ralph Brown, quarterback Brian St. Pierre, defensive end Jason Banks, receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Karlos Dansby, quarterback Kurt Warner, cornerback Bryant McFadden and linebacker Chike Okeafor. Note that Rolle did not start in Week 17.

St. Louis (11): defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey, cornerback Jonathan Wade, receiver Ruvell Martin, quarterback Mike Reilly, defensive end Leonard Little, safety Clinton Hart, snapper Ryan Neill, running back Samkon Gado, linebacker Paris Lenon, tackle Alex Barron and tight end Randy McMichael.

San Francisco (5): receiver Arnaz Battle, cornerback Marcus Hudson, quarterback Shaun Hill, safety Mark Roman and cornerback Dre Bly.

The third chart shows what happened to players who were on injured reserve in Week 17.

I'll first list by team the players who were on IR but are no longer with their teams.

San Francisco (5): tackle Tony Pashos, punter Ricky Schmitt, linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, cornerback Walt Harris and running back Thomas Clayton.

Seattle (4): running back Tyler Roehl, tackle Walter Jones, snapper Kevin Houser and tackle Brandon Frye.

St. Louis (3): quarterback Marc Bulger, defensive tackle Adam Carriker and safety Eric Bassey.

Arizona (2): tackle Mike Gandy and fullback Justin Green.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Veteran cornerbacks. The 49ers appear to be moving on without 35-year-old Walt Harris and 32-year-old Dre' Bly. Their newest corner, William James, is younger (30) and has far fewer games on his odometer. The Seahawks have not re-signed 31-year-old corner Ken Lucas, who started six games for them last season and 106 games in eight previous NFL seasons. Lucas visited the Titans this offseason, but Tennessee signed 27-year-old Rams and Falcons castoff Tye Hill. Seattle drafted cornerback Walter Thurmond, 22. The Cardinals went younger at corner this offseason by trading Bryant McFadden, 28, while hoping Greg Toler, 25, takes over for him in the lineup. The Rams got younger at the position by parting with Jonathan Wade, 26, and drafting Jerome Murphy, 23.


NFC West storylines. The banter between Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and 49ers tight end Vernon Davis indulged fans of both teams. Division rivalries are fun, anyway, and this is definitely a rivalry. Some 49ers fans like to point to the team's storied past while dismissing the Cardinals as a long-floundering franchise. That thinking is fine if we're on a field trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's outdated in this context. The Cardinals have won the last two division titles. They swept the 49ers in 2008. The 49ers swept the Cardinals last season. Both teams have ascending Pro Bowl-caliber players -- Dockett and Davis among them. Both have young first-round quarterbacks trying to salvage their careers. Good stuff.
Jimmy from Seattle writes: Mike, enjoy your coverage of the NFC West. I have several questions.

  • What can we expect from Marcus Trufant this year? Going from Pro Bowl to most penalized defensive back in a year, what gives?
  • A lot of analysts give Seattle one of the best -- if not, the best, drafts this year. However, I still see a gaping hole for a defensive end. Do you see the Hawks trying to upgrade or stick with what they currently have?
  • For Aaron Curry, how much of last year's disappointing performance do you attribute to personal performance as compared to inability of the coaching staff to maximize his skills?
Mike Sando: Curry was productive for the first five or six games. He was an ascending player at that point. Then, he seemed to lose his way. So did the team. Losing Lofa Tatupu hurt him as well. Expect better things from Curry.

You're right about the positive draft reviews for Seattle. You're also right to say the situation at defensive end could be problematic. Those things aren't exclusive. Seattle could not fill every need in one draft. We now need to see how the defense is structured and to what degree the team will scheme around not having a proven pass-rushing defensive end. We should expect the Seahawks to run a 4-3 with some 3-4 characteristics. They'll have a stand-up end working with three bigger, run-defending linemen, most likely.

Trufant, meanwhile, went to the Pro Bowl after the 2007 season. Seattle was the only team in the league with a Pro Bowl starter at defensive end (Patrick Kerney), linebacker (Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson) and cornerback (Trufant) coming out of the 2007 season. Seems like about 10 years ago. His problems last season were injury related. He missed all of training camp and most of the first half of the season, then had to hit the ground running in a defense he had never practiced.

Trufant looked healthy at the post-draft camp. It was a first step. We all know back injuries can be problematic. Trufant previously had shoulder issues. It's fair to wonder whether he'll hold up for a full season and play at a high level even though the early signs this offseason were encouraging for him.

Arlan from San Francisco writes: Hey Sando, thanks for all your work on the NFC West. I have a question about contracts. Since there isn't a salary cap this year, what's stopping teams who have multiple stars nearing the ends of their contracts from signing these players to long-term deals and putting the majority of the bonus/salary into this year's cap? For example, the 49ers have or had to sign Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Aubrayo Franklin and Alex Smith.

Mike Sando: Rules prevent salaries from increasing more than 30 percent each year. Teams can get around this with larger signing bonuses, but those larger bonuses require cash. Teams must decide how much guaranteed money they are willing to commit. It's easier for a team to commit more guaranteed money for a proven player than for a merely promising one. Patrick Willis is the exception, not the rule. The 49ers also used some creative measures in putting together that deal, including the use of incentives to drive up future base salaries.

Re-signing Davis is the obvious priority. He is a Pro Bowl player entering his prime, and a player the team has drafted and developed. Sign him. On Franklin, though, I think the team could be wiser dangling that carrot another year. Let's see if he'll play at a high level consistently, not just for one season. Smith, meanwhile, is in another category. He has not earned a long-term deal. Watch him play this year, then worry about what he'll cost if he produces at a high level. Teams can always find ways to pay good quarterbacks.

Scotty from St. Louis writes: I know the Rams have a need at backup running back. I'm still trying to figure out why they didn't trade a fifth-rounder for Leon Washington, but would they have any interest in Justin Fargas? I'm not sure who else is out there, but wouldn't he fit as a backup/fill-in for Jackson? Thanks!

Mike Sando: You're welcome. Fargas is available. He's also 30 years old and averaged less than 4 yards a carry three times in his past four seasons, and multiple teams passed on him this offseason after the Raiders failed him on a physical examination after releasing him.

Brian Westbrook reportedly passed his physical with the Rams when visiting the team earlier this offseason. He was visiting the Redskins this week.

Tevin asks via Facebook: Do you think (Rams safety) Oshiomogho Atogwe will go to free agency? I mean, last year our starting corner (Ron Bartell) went into free agency and we re-signed him, so I don't see the big deal. We might lose him, but I don't think we should overpay for someone who can't cover that good.

Mike Sando: Price is clearly the question here. Atogwe hits the market if the Rams do not sign him to a long-term deal or upgrade their one-year offer from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million. There isn't a lot of flexibility within those parameters, particularly with Atogwe's shoulder injury still a potential question mark.

It's tough for the Rams because they can't afford to lose their best players. At the same time, does Atogwe project as an elite safety in 2010? And will there really be a huge market for Atogwe right now? Teams think they've fixed their problems through the draft, although Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. mentioned this week that Atogwe would look good in Dallas.

Justin from Scottsdale writes: Mike, love the blog and thanks for all of the great reads! Question on Arizona and their commitment to spending. With seven of their top 10 salary-cap hits leaving the team, coupled with the uncapped year, I didn't expect a free agency explosion with the Cardinals, but thought an obvious move would be to extend Darnell Dockett.

Front-loading the deal with a big signing bonus without salary cap penalties eliminates the excuse of this tying their hands in terms of additional deals this offseason. What gives? Looking at their free-agent signings, I'd ballpark the 2010 salary cap hit at perhaps $10-15 million for the newcomers, and they're saving $47 million-plus with all of the departures!!!

Mike Sando: Yes, it is time for the Cardinals to get more serious about extending Dockett. Reading between the lines, it sounds like things are heading in that direction. Dockett showed up for the recent camp. He hasn't been complaining about his deal very much in the recent past. Perhaps he can set the record straight if things are not headed in the right direction.

Dockett has two years left on his deal, so there is time, but the team also suggested in the past that it would do something when the time was right. The time appears right from my angle because there really isn't anyone ahead of Dockett in line for a new deal. In the past, the Cardinals always had more urgent business, whether it was retaining Karlos Dansby or even considering a deal for Anquan Boldin. Dockett also has relatively large base salaries ($3.75 million in 2010, $4 million in 2011). That could help them structure a new deal for Dockett while still complying with the 30 percent rule. The 49ers were able to get a deal done for Willis. Seems like Arizona could get one done with Dockett.

The Cardinals' payroll has dropped considerably. I don't think they lost seven of their top 10 cap charges, but Kurt Warner was going to earn $11.5 million in salary and bonus money. Dansby had been earning close to $10 million. Boldin was going to earn $3 million. Antrel Rolle was scheduled to earn $12.1 million, but all parties knew they would never pay that money (the figure was a mechanism for doing a new deal). Bryant McFadden was scheduled to earn $5 million in salary and bonus.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says first-round pick Sam Bradford made the Rams smile during their post-draft camp. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur: "Sam did a terrific job. All the reasons for drafting him were obvious. He's very smart. Got a great command of the huddle. He's got great attention to detail. By the end of the weekend, he was repeating things like he got 'em in the installations. And he's very talented. So you take the talent and then the 'work hard' and I think he progressed well in five practices."

Also from Thomas: checking in with some of the Rams' long-shot rookies.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has a plan for Bradford, but not a concrete timetable.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says it's time for Rams fans to move on from a troubled recent past.

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams kept Bradford under center during his first camp. Shurmur: "He's a natural quarterback. The focus of this camp was to do pretty much everything under center, so we could work on the 1-, the 3-, the 5-, the 7-step drop. As time goes on, what naturally happens is (he’ll) get smoother and smoother."

Also from Rodenbush: Spagnuolo thought rookie Mardy Gilyard appeared natural fielding punts.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up position battles for the 49ers. Barrows: "Make no mistake. Anthony Davis is the favorite to win this battle [at right tackle] beginning in Week One, but he won't be handed the job. Adam Snyder was rolling with the first-team offense at right tackle while second-year player Alex Boone already has worked himself into the conversation after transforming his body in the offseason. [Jimmy] Raye called Boone's conditioning 'tremendous' and the best competition might end up being between Snyder and Boone for the backup spot. Conditioning will be one of the hurdles for Davis. His feet were as quick and impressive as advertised during the rookie minicamp, but he wilted toward the end of each session. He might want to do a few (hundred) gassers between now and the next OTA."

Also from Barrows: Taylor Mays knows where he needs to improve.

More from Barrows: Free-agent cornerback William James is expected to visit the 49ers.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along comments from 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Raye on Alex Smith: "There's a tremendous change in him from the way he carries himself and walks in and out of the building with an air of confidence, a totally different guy. If you want to digress to when he came here a year ago and he was six or seven weeks into the year, it's a totally different guy. In terms of his confidence, familiarity with what he's doing, his sense of entitlement, I think all of those things are manifesting themselves right now because of the success that he had, even though some people may deem it as minimal or maybe even being a little suspect about it. For him, from what I've seen, there's been a tremendous change."

Also from Barber: Quotes from defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

More from Barber: Observations after watching the 49ers' rookies. Also, Mays says his post-draft beef with Pete Carroll won't linger. Mays: "I haven't talked to him. But I'm sure I'll talk to him, and I know he didn't take it personal. And if I saw him right now, I know there wouldn't be any bad blood. I'm sure I'll talk to him in the next couple weeks. There's definitely no bad blood. I wouldn't think he'd feel that way toward me, and I hope he wouldn't think that I feel that way towards him."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers first-round choice Mike Iupati is getting advice from former NFL guard Jerry Kramer. Both played at Idaho. Kramer: "He can move for a big sucker. I haven't seen a guy pull like that in a long time."

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News says some Santa Clara residents might not want Raiders fans descending on the 49ers' new stadium as part of a shared-stadium arrangement.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are exploring whether Ted Ginn Jr. can help them at receiver, not just as a returner.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says defensive tackle Red Bryant is among the players getting work at defensive end in the Seahawks' new scheme. This is more evidence the Seahawks' 4-3 defense will have 3-4 characteristics and even look like a 3-4 at times.

Also from O'Neil: Mike Williams looks like he's headed for a career revival in Seattle. Carroll: "He's definitely at a place where he's really competitive physically. It's the best I've seen him since maybe his sophomore year of college. He's very serious about it, so maybe he gets a chance to give us some help."

Clare Farnsworth of says cornerback Marcus Trufant enjoyed a strong minicamp after injuries slowed him last season. Trufant did make multiple plays on the ball, although the photo associated with this item appears to show Trufant getting beat deep.

Ben Malcolmson of offers photos from minicamp weekend, including one showing University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.

Greg Johns of passes along Bryant's thoughts on playing in a new spot. Bryant: "The only difference is it's just more space. As far as me being able to take the line of scrimmage and hold the point, I'm pretty good at that. So it almost feels natural. The transition isn't as hard as I first thought it would be. When he first told me, I didn't know. But I've been doing it a few practices now an steadily getting better. I still have a lot to work on, but the coaches believe I can play it, I believe I can play it, my teammates believe I can play it. So we'll see what happens."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks first-round choice Russell Okung had plenty to digest during his first minicamp.

Also from Williams: The Seahawks like what they see from rookie receiver Golden Tate. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates: "I know one thing, over the past two days he’s been very impressive. His work ethic has been unbelievable. He’s very aggressive as far as attacking the ball when the ball’s up in the air. He still has to learn the offense. He has a long way to go, and he has a big playbook to study. But we’re excited to have him."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Okung was impressive Friday, then faced some challenges Saturday -- a typical pattern for rookies at their first camp. Ben Hamilton, Matt Hasselbeck and Lawyer Milloy are among the veterans lending their expertise.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals feel no need to rush out and sign a veteran cornerback for depth. Coach Ken Whisenhunt wants to monitor players through May and into June. Whisenhunt: "Then we'll be doing more of our sub-receiver sets where we've go three and four [receivers]. That's really where you've got the chance to see different players in different spots. I liked what I saw from the standpoint of the numbers of guys that look like they have the ability to play."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals held their annual rookie dinner. Also, Matt Leinart wasn't wearing a glove on his throwing hand during the recent camp, a change.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with Toler, who is looking to seize a starting job at cornerback following Bryant McFadden's departure via trade. Whisenhunt: "Greg's got to earn it. "Physically, he's very gifted and we're going to have to see him do it on a consistent basis in order for him to become a starter. But you're excited because he does have the athletic tools and you have seen him do it in a game. But can he continue to do that? That's the big question."

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals expect to have each of their rookies back for organized team activities -- unlike last season, when Ohio State's graduation schedule prevented Beanie Wells from participating.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' young defensive backs are fighting to improve their spot on the depth chart. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: "When B-Mac got traded, that hurt me a little bit because he was a good, good, good friend of mine. When he was gone it was like, 'Damn, who is going to step up and be that leader?' It put pressure on us young guys to step up and do the right thing. I feel confident. I’ve got a player in Mike Adams. And G.T. [Toler], once he gets in that book, there will be no drop-off."
Seth from Newport News, Va., writes: As a Rams fan I am excited for the new draft class, but to hand out Orlando Pace's and Torry Holt's numbers should not happen. While I am hoping Rodger Saffold and Mardy Gilyard will be good, I don't agree with giving them those numbers.
Mike Sando: I'm with you to an extent, particularly with the Seahawks retiring Walter Jones' number upon his retirement Friday. But with more than 90 players in camp, a few players are already doubling up and teams can't realistically withhold jersey numbers for every top former player.

I also think it matters how a player leaves an organization. The Rams' new regime cut Pace and Holt. Might things have been different if both players had retired as Rams instead of moving on to play elsewhere?

The Cardinals traded all-time receiving leader Anquan Boldin to the Ravens, then gave his No. 81 jersey to seventh-round rookie tight end Jim Dray. Seahawks rookie Russell Okung is wearing Steve Hutchinson's old No. 76 jersey. Roger Craig was a Hall of Fame finalist this year; the 49ers gave his No. 33 to rookie sixth-round running back Anthony Dixon.

At least the Rams had the good sense to give tight end Brandon Manumaleuna's old No. 86 to rookie tight end Mike Hoomanawanui.

Glenn from Seattle writes: Mike, on the ESPN homepage top stories links, the title of the Walter Jones link is, "Seahawks' four-time All-Pro tackle Jones retires." So, was he in FOUR Pro Bowls as they said there? Or was he in TEN, as you said in your article?

Mike Sando: My pieces on Jones actually said he was a nine-time Pro Bowl choice, which was accurate. He was also a four-time All-Pro choice. There is a distinction. The Associated Press holds voting for All-Pro honors, which are more exclusive because they are league-wide honors, whereas Pro Bowl honors are conference-based. Fewer players earn All-Pro status than Pro Bowl status. Former Rams great Isaac Bruce was a four-time Pro Bowl choice, but he was never selected to an Associated Press All-Pro team.

Jeremy from Phoenix writes: Hey, Mike. My question is in regards to the Cardinals' cornerback situation. With the Bryant McFadden trade, Greg Toler clearly becomes the starter opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I'm no expert, but I think Toler will develop into a good starter. Beyond that, there is a clear depth issue. It appears as though the third and fourth corners on the depth chart will be Michael Adams and sixth-rounder Jorrick Calvin.

I'm not too comfortable with that idea and I'm confident many other Cards fans aren't as well. What do you think about the Cardinals pursuing Adam "Pacman" Jones? He would come at a reasonable price and could potentially provide solid depth once he gets re-acclimated to the game. He could provide some competition for punt/kick return duties.

The Cards seem to have the coaching staff and locker room that can handle a character like Pacman. Who knows, maybe Pacman is finally serious about getting his career on track and living up to the potential he came into the league with. Why not take a chance on a guy of his potential talent, at a position of need, for a reasonable price?

Mike Sando: I agree that the cornerback situation appears worse without McFadden. Sure, McFadden was making lots of money and Toler's emergence could provide a cheaper alternative, but the depth did take a hit along the way.

Adams was working with the first unit when the post-draft minicamp opened, but Toler is clearly the player Arizona expects to emerge eventually. This is a case where the Cardinals know their young, unproven depth and like it better than outsiders would.

I see little reason to waste anyone's time with Pacman Jones. The Cowboys already gave him that second chance and it didn't work out. Jones has not played since the 2008 season and he has not played well since the 2006 season. I think the Cardinals' track record shows they can develop younger players. Jones' track record shows he isn't going to develop at all, most likely.

Connor from Tampa, Fla., writes: Hey Mike, great blog! Is it conceivable that Taylor Mays is a better fit at linebacker for the 49ers? All I hear about him are his lack of coverage skills, but that he is excellent against the run, what are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Connor. I think Mays could be good against the run -- for a safety, but not for a linebacker. The conversion from run-support safety at USC to run-support safety with the 49ers would be easier than the conversion from run-support safety to all-around linebacker.

It's not like Mays was horrible at USC. People just thought there was a big gap between his physical talent and his actual production, particularly against the pass.

The 49ers need to help Mays become more well-rounded for the long term. In the short term, they need to find ways to use the skills he does offer as a safety. Seattle is doing this with first-round pick Earl Thomas. They will make Thomas a coverage safety because that role suits his skills and relatively small frame. They will not pretend he's an enforcer.

Mays should become a hard-hitting safety for the 49ers, not an underpowered linebacker trying to learn a new position. League-wide, the distinction between strong safeties and free safeties has largely gone away. Teams generally want their safeties to be good in coverage. The 49ers will not want to leave Mays exposed in coverage, at least for now.
NFC West teams made 15 trades involving 2010 NFL draft choices. I've consulted the draft-value chart and crunched numbers to see how the 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams valued picks -- and players.

The value chart isn't infallible. Some teams are happy to sacrifice chart value when they know -- or at least strongly feel -- as though a move will position them to draft an uncommon talent.

The chart does provide a reference point for a team-by-team look at trades involving 2010 picks. I'll begin with trades made by the two-time defending NFC West champs.

Arizona Cardinals

Trade with Patriots: The chart says Arizona paid a 35-point premium in moving up from the 58th overall choice to the 47th choice, used to draft TCU linebacker Daryl Washington. New England received the 47th pick (430 points) for the 58th (320 points) and 89th (145 points) picks. The 35-point difference is the equivalent of the 142nd overall choice, which the Chiefs used to draft Troy linebacker Cameron Sheffield.

The disparity doesn't matter so much if the Cardinals valued Washington as a player worth drafting, say, among the top 43 overall choices (the 43rd choice is valued at 470 points).

As Bill Belichick told Sirius radio before the draft: "It looks like there are a few players that are kind of the consensus that will go in the top eight, top 10, and after that I get the feeling that there is quite a big swing of who likes who. Some teams could draft a player in the teens that other teams wouldn't take until the 30s, and vice versa."

The key is manipulating those disparities to one's advantage. It's possible New England and Arizona both did this in the same trade, given that the Cardinals selected Washington during a run on linebackers and it's quite possible Washington wouldn't have been available at No. 58.

McFadden trade: The Cardinals also traded cornerback Bryant McFadden and the 195th overall choice to the Steelers for the 155th choice. The chart says the Cardinals and Steelers valued McFadden the same as the 191st overall pick (16 points), which the Bengals used for Kansas receiver Dezmon Briscoe. Arizona appears worse off for making this move, but if McFadden wasn't going to start, he would have been overpaid as a third corner. He did rework his deal for the Steelers. Players are often more willing to do that for their new teams than for their old ones.

Saints trade: The Cardinals traded the 123rd overall choice (49 points) to the Saints for the 130th (42 points) and 201st (12 points) picks. The difference -- five points in the Cardinals' favor -- equates to the 218th pick, which the Bears used for West Texas A&M tackle J'Marcus Webb.

Pre-draft trades: The Cardinals gave up the equivalent of the 123rd overall choice (49 points) for safety Kerry Rhodes. They netted the equivalent of the 84th overall choice (170 points) in sending Anquan Boldin to the Ravens.