NFC West: Chad Pennington

We have rightfully focused at times over the years on coordinator continuity for NFC West quarterbacks.

Alex Smith famously played with coordinators Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler, Mike Martz, Jimmy Raye, Mike Johnson and Greg Roman while with the San Francisco 49ers from 2005 through last season.

Sam Bradford has bounced from Pat Shurmur to Josh McDaniels to Brian Schottenheimer during three seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

The dynamic works both ways. Some coordinators have bounced from one quarterback to another, preventing them from getting the best feel for their players. Playcallers and quarterbacks are most comfortable -- and presumably most effective -- when they've had time to figure out one another. Coordinators get a better feel for players' strengths, weaknesses and preferences. Quarterbacks more fully understand how their coordinators are approaching specific situations.

That line of thinking came to mind this week while watching Schottenheimer coach Bradford during the Rams' organized team activities. Schottenheimer has worked for only two teams since 2006 and he was offensive coordinator both times. But he has run through five primary quarterbacks during that time: Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez before joining Bradford in St. Louis.

"The things we are able to do starting this offseason, we are 1,000 years ahead of where we were last year," Schottenheimer said following a recent practice. "It's been fun to push Sam and have Sam push me, too, in terms of, 'Hey, I can take more.' We're both enjoying having some stability."

The chart associates current NFC West offensive playcallers with their primary quarterbacks since 2006, the first year any of the four was a coordinator. I've listed Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians instead of coordinator Harold Goodwin because Arians plans to call the plays. Arians has also called plays continuously since 2007.

Quarterbacks are the most important pieces for any team, but I thought it would be interesting to view these situations from the playcallers' perspectives. Every NFC West team but Arizona returns the same coordinator-quarterback combination from the end of last season.

Former Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora spent the 2011 NFL season working with play-by-play man Ron Pitts in the broadcast booth for Fox.

Another NFC West coaching alum, Mike Martz, will fill that role this season.

Fox, in revealing its pairings for 2012, announced the Pitts-Martz combination as its No. 7 crew. Pitts-Mora worked as the No. 6 crew last season.

Mora is not listed in the 2012 pairings for obvious reasons. He's the new head coach at UCLA.

Another NFC West alum, former Seattle Seahawks fullback Heath Evans, is replacing Chad Pennington as the color commentator working with play-by-play man Sam Rosen. Rosen-Pennington comprised the No. 7 crew last season. Rosen-Evans is No. 6 this year.

Note: Thanks to Jim Thomas for calling my attention to the pairings with a note about Martz's role. CBS has not yet announced its crew rankings, to my knowledge.
Thoughts after noting that the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick has gone from undisputed No. 2 quarterback as a rookie in 2011 to fighting for the role on equal footing with two others:
  • Going from second to third on the depth chart would look like a regression for Kaepernick, but it might not mean much for the long term. Circumstances have changed. Alex Smith outperformed expectations last season, earning a new contract and tightening his grip on the starting position. The team signed Josh Johnson, Jim Harbaugh's former quarterback at the University of San Diego. Scott Tolzien, another passer the 49ers liked coming out of college, has gained some seasoning.
  • Kaepernick was facing a significant transition from the system he ran in college. His development was going to take time. It'll be good for him to get extensive reps in the preseason, but Johnson will need playing time, too. The goal, of course, is to upgrade the quarterback position, not to make sure Kaepernick appears instantly worthy of the second-round choice San Francisco used to select him. As coach Jim Harbaugh said on the day the 49ers drafted Kaepernick: "We believe in competition. We believe in earning positions around here."
  • The 49ers ideally would have found competition for Kaepernick last offseason. A lockout-shortened signing period complicated those efforts. That cleared the way for Kaepernick to land the No. 2 job unopposed. The 49ers got away with having an inexperienced backup when Smith started all 16 games, plus two playoff games, without encountering the injury problems that sidelined him in past seasons.
  • There's no precedent for developing quarterbacks drafted in second rounds. Each situation has its own dynamics. A year ago, developing Kaepernick on a fast schedule seemed important. Those still skeptical of Smith might feel that way yet. But Johnson, with more experience than Kaepernick, might be better prepared to take over a playoff-caliber team on short notice should Smith struggle or suffer an injury. It's up to Kaepernick to prove otherwise.

As the chart shows, five of the nine second-round quarterbacks drafted from 2007 to 2011 were third-stringers or had been released heading into their second regular seasons. Chad Henne and Kevin Kolb were second string. Andy Dalton remains a starter heading into his second year. Brock Osweiler, a second-rounder in Denver this year, hasn't had a second season, obviously.

Following up on Brian Schottenheimer

January, 21, 2012
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With Brian Schottenheimer in line to become the St. Louis Rams' offensive coordinator, I'll republish a chart we discussed recently. This one shows the New York Jets' offensive production with Schottenheiemer as coordinator.

About one year ago, our AFC East blog featured an item leading this way: "Brian Schottenheimer's prospects for being a head coach never have been higher."

That item noted that Schottenheimer had worked with Tony Banks, Jeff George, Drew Brees, Doug Flutie, Philip Rivers, Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez over the years -- quite a varied group.

Clemens' presence on the Rams' roster right now could mean the team already has its top two quarterbacks for 2012, with Sam Bradford as the starter. Clemens would presumably know Schottenheimer's offense. That would enable him to assist Bradford and other players as the Rams learn a new system.

Opinions on Schottenheimer are mixed. Some think he became too predictable as a play caller and contributed to Sanchez's stunted development. A case could also be made that Schottenheimer did the best he could with a limited quarterback.

It's possible neither of those things is true. Those seeking context should check out this Newark Star-Ledger piece on Schottenheimer and the Jets from earlier in the 2011 season.

The Rams also interviewed former Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson for the role. They are also working on additional staff hires.


Colleague Kevin Seifert showed some daring by sending TCU quarterback Andy Dalton to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 in a recent ESPN.com mock draft.

He wasn't arguing for Dalton's value so much as saying the Vikings' need for a quarterback might compel them to take one there.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDid the Rams "reach" to get quarterback Sam Bradford in the first round last year?
"To me," Seifert later wrote with first-year Vikings coach Leslie Frazier in mind, "there is no better time to jump to the other side than in a coach's first year, giving him a building block for the rest of his program."

The key, of course, is not mistaking anchors for building blocks.

Steve Mariucci was the San Francisco 49ers' first-year coach when the team used a 1997 first-rounder for Jim Druckenmiller, a blunder softened only by Steve Young's presence on the roster. That experience should not directly influence the 49ers' thinking as they consider first-round quarterbacks for new coach Jim Harbaugh, but it's a reference point.

With Harbaugh and the 49ers in mind, I went through recent drafts to see which teams with first-year head coaches used first-round selections for quarterbacks. More precisely, I looked at all first-round quarterbacks since 2000 to see which ones had first-year head coaches.

Six of the last eight first-round quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and JaMarcus Russell -- joined teams with first-year head coaches. All but Russell remain franchise quarterbacks in their teams' eyes. All but Russell are still playing for their original head coaches. Four of the six had winning records in 2010.

For most of those franchises, value and need lined up pretty well, and first-year coaches benefited.

"If you don't have a quarterback, you're drafting maybe a different kind of running back, maybe a different kind of offensive lineman, than if you have somebody," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told reporters at the scouting combine. "We had Calvin Johnson, but our ability to get Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson in free agency, to draft Brandon Pettigrew -- those pieces were because of the quarterback that we have."

We could also argue that the St. Louis Rams were better off building their offensive line and other areas of their roster before making Sam Bradford the first overall choice in 2010. They could have drafted Sanchez or Freeman instead of defensive end Chris Long in 2009, then spent subsequent selections on players to build around one of those quarterbacks.

Bradford and Denver's Tim Tebow were the "other" first-round quarterbacks in the eight-man group featuring Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman, Ryan, Flacco and Russell.

In general, getting the right quarterback for a first-year head coach puts a franchise in strong position for the long term. There's no sense forcing the issue, however, because the wrong quarterback can drag down any coach, regardless of tenure.

A coach such as the Vikings' Frazier might have a harder time waiting. His contract runs only three seasons and ownership expects quick results. Harbaugh has a five-year deal with the 49ers. Expectations are high, but there's less urgency for immediate results.

The first chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with returning head coaches.

The second chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with first-year head coaches.
 Josh Johnson and Andrew LuckUS PresswireCoach Jim Harbaugh (not pictured) is likely to seek brainy, athletic QBs such as Josh Johnson, left, and Andrew Luck, whom he coached in the college ranks.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Less than a week before the 2011 NFL draft, no team in the league has a greater need at quarterback than the San Francisco 49ers.

No amount of pre-draft smoke can obscure that reality, so why even try?

"It is a need here with the 49ers," general manager Trent Baalke said Wednesday.

David Carr, who fell behind Troy Smith on the depth chart in 2010, is the only 49ers quarterback under contract. And no one expects him to return.

Three questions persist. What type of quarterback will the 49ers seek for new coach Jim Harbaugh? What is the likelihood they'll find a future starter in this draft? And where does 2010 starter Alex Smith fit into the picture?

The profile

Any prospect Harbaugh likes for the position will be smart, athletic enough to move well and wired like a quarterback as opposed to being just a raw athlete.

That is the word from some of the people who would know best, including Harbaugh himself. Harbaugh sought those qualities when he recruited current Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Josh Johnson to the University of San Diego. More recently, Harbaugh sought them in the quarterbacks he brought to Stanford, where the relative smarts were pretty much required, anyway.

"You have to be able to learn, taking what you learned in the meeting room on the field the next day or that day and being a quick learner," former Stanford quarterback Alex Loukas said. "We call it a 'one-rep guy' -- taking one rep and getting that rep correct the first time. Being focused every rep, attention to detail is very big. If somebody is lined up wrong, you have to make sure they are right."

Loukas was among 15 former Stanford players attending the 49ers' pro day Wednesday for athletes with Bay Area ties. Receiver Ryan Whalen was another.

"I do think they will make the right decision in what they do," Whalen said, "and it’s going to need to be a smart quarterback, a quarterback that can stay in the pocket and can move, and a tough guy who is a good leader."

Harbaugh, who started 140 regular-season games and won twice in the playoffs during a 14-year NFL career, is bringing a run-heavy West Coast system to the 49ers from Stanford. It's a pro-style offense all the way, but Harbaugh says he's open to certain quarterbacks from spread-oriented offenses.

"If they have it in their DNA to be a quarterback, they’ll figure out how to go from the shotgun to under center," Harbaugh said. "I hope that paints a picture. If you got the DNA to be a quarterback, you have the ability to figure things out [in general]."

Drafting a quarterback

Pre-draft expectations can be notoriously off-base.

A year ago, Jimmy Clausen was supposedly the hot prospect and even a consideration for the Seattle Seahawks with the sixth overall pick. He went 48th to Carolina.

It's tough to know, then, which quarterbacks will be available to the 49ers in the first two rounds. But if conventional wisdom is even remotely accurate, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert will not be considerations for San Francisco with the seventh overall choice. Taking another quarterback that early would also defy expectations.

What about the second round?

Even if we set aside the second round's status as a quarterback wasteland, there is this: The 49ers, though picking seventh in the first round, are scheduled to select only 13th in the second. The gap stems from the NFL's system of rotating selections by round among teams with identical records the previous season.

Eight teams with potential quarterback needs select before the 49ers in the second round.

Throw in the 49ers' confidence in Harbaugh's ability to coach quarterbacks and it's easier to fathom San Francisco fighting off the urge to address such an obvious and critical need in the first two rounds. And if they draft one later than that, they're investing in more of a developmental player, not a near-term starter.

"You can't, because you need something, misevaluate, or you are back to square one," said Baalke, who was not yet with the 49ers when they arguably did just that in selecting Smith first overall.

Baalke then pointed to the draft, free agency and the not-yet-open trade market as options the team will consider.

"I am confident our plan is such that we will figure it out, and I've got tremendous confidence in Jim and the coaching staff to win football games with whoever we bring in here," he said.

Re-evaluating Alex Smith

The 49ers have told Smith they want him back and are awaiting word from him on a decision once the lockout ends and communication is restored.

All the qualities that Harbaugh wants in a quarterback line up with the advertised traits that attracted the 49ers' previous leadership to Smith in the first place.

At the very least, those traits weren't strong enough to transcend the well-documented coaching- and injury-related issues Smith has encountered as a professional. At most, they did not exist. But it's obvious Harbaugh, a coach with few other viable options at the moment, wouldn't mind finding out for himself.

As Harbaugh told KNBR radio in February, "I like Alex and I like being around him and I like what I see on tape. ... I’m not going to hide my feelings. I like Alex Smith. I like him as a football player, as a person. ... Some people say Alex Smith needs a fresh start, needs a new place to be. I say, 'Let that place be here.' "

The ultimate decision

Baalke holds the power over personnel decisions in the 49ers' power structure. His teams over the years have drafted five quarterbacks: Chad Pennington and Patrick Ramsey in the first round, Sage Rosenfels in the fourth, Nate Davis in the fifth and Gibran Hamdan in the seventh.

While this is the first time Baalke has entered a draft with the GM title, Harbaugh's background as a quarterback will influence the team's thinking significantly.

"It's a critical decision," Baalke said. "Jim and I had a great conversation about it [Tuesday]. ... We feel we have it evaluated right and placed on the board accordingly."
Seahawks owner Paul Allen adapts a section of his new memoir for use by Vanity Fair. I've read through the piece and learned more about Allen than I had learned in nearly 15 years of covering his NFL team. Allen goes into detail regarding his relationship with Bill Gates during Microsoft's formative years. Allen: "My style was to absorb all the data I could to make the best-informed decision possible, sometimes to the point of over-analysis. Bill liked to hash things out in intense, one-on-one discussions; he thrived on conflict and wasn’t shy about instigating it. A few of us cringed at the way he’d demean people and force them to defend their positions." I found this to be a fascinating look inside the partnership that ultimately armed Allen with the resources needed to purchase professional sports franchises.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes an in-depth look at Golden Tate in relation to other rookie receivers drafted in the second round. O'Neil: "The first question is just how bad was Tate's rookie season? And truthfully, it wasn't as awful as many have described. He was one of three receivers drafted in the second round in 2010, none of which caught more than 25 passes last season. Tate's regular-season statistics: 21 catches for 227 yards, an average of 10.8 yards per catch. He did not score a touchdown. In the past four drafts, there were 17 wide receivers chosen in second round. Nine of them finished their rookie season with fewer receptions than Tate's 21."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle passes along comments from an interview with Seahawks general manager John Schneider. Schneider: "Well, starting any organization or any football team I think you have to look at both sides of your line. So I would say offensive, defensive line are priorities for us, no question. But we're looking for depth at every position."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reflects on the limited quarterback options for the Cardinals, noting that recently injured veteran Chad Pennington had been considered a candidate to compete for playing time somewhere despite age and previous injury concerns. Somers: "So to those who can't believe the Cardinals are considering Marc Bulger, what other free agent intrigues you? Alex Smith? Rex Grossman? Tavaris Jackson? Matt Hasselbeck? A strong case can be made against each of them. When signing a quarterback in free agency, a team needs some vision and a ton of luck. The Saints took a risk on Drew Brees' shoulder in 2006 and it paid off. The Cardinals thought Kurt Warner had a little something left in 2005. It took two-plus years and a coaching change, but Warner proved himself again."

Jason La Canfora of NFL.com says University of Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed plans to visit with the Cardinals next week. La Canfora: "Reed has been somewhat overlooked in a deep class of elite defensive linemen, but he's generating a lot of interest from teams drafting in the 25 to 40 range, sources said Thursday, and is meeting with many of them."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' coaches -- led by Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman and Vic Fangio -- are more familiar with college prospects based on their experiences at Stanford last season. Maiocco: "Harbaugh, Roman and Fangio coached or coached against at least 52 of the 329 (15.8 percent) prospects invited to the NFL scouting combine last month in Indianapolis. They recruited countless others. The 49ers are looking to add a quarterback in the draft. Stanford played against three draftable quarterbacks -- Washington's Jake Locker, TCU's Andy Dalton and Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor -- during Harbaugh's time coaching the Cardinal. Moreover, Harbaugh recruited Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, expected to be one of the top two quarterbacks selected."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and college scouting director Joel Patten watched Robert Quinn and other North Carolina players work out at their pro day.

Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com says the lack of consensus atop the 2011 NFL draft suggests this might be a weak year for top prospects. Klutsarits: "This could mean great things for the St. Louis Rams because since there is so much uncertainty with these guys there will be players that fall and will become productive members of teams to the later picks in the first round. The risk of course is that because the bust rate seems higher in this year’s Draft that the Rams have a higher chance of picking the next Adam Carriker or Tye Hill with the 14th pick in the draft."

Aaron Wilson of National Football Post says Hawaii running back Alex Green has a visit scheduled with the Rams. The visit could mean the Rams have genuine interest in Green. It could mean they have unanswered medical questions about him. It could mean nothing much at all. It's tough to say. The team does need a backup running back, however. Green is 6 feet tall and 225 pounds. He's known for his skills as a receiver out of the backfield.

Mailbag: Troubling reality on QB front

January, 21, 2011
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Chris from Houston writes: What free-agent quarterbacks do you expect Arizona to be looking at this offseason? I know of Marc Bulger, but who else is there for them to even consider that wouldn't require a trade? Thanks! Love the blog! Thanks for helping keep us all sane until next season.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Chris. This could be a rough offseason for signing or even acquiring quarterbacks from other teams.

One, the list of quarterbacks likely to hit the market is once against weak. Two, a lockout would prevent teams from trading for players -- even via draft-day trades involving picks. A lockout lasting past the draft would limit options further, in other words.

Peyton Manning and Michael Vick are scheduled to become free agents, but Manning is going nowhere, obviously, and the Eagles will presumably keep Vick, too. Brett Favre is retiring, it appears, so forget about him.

The next tier of quarterbacks with expiring contracts goes like this: Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington and Bulger. These are older, likely declining players -- not necessarily guys to build around. Pennington's health is a major issue. Vince Young is available.

Several highly drafted, not-yet-old quarterbacks could hit the market, but none has met expectations. That list will feature Kyle Boller, Patrick Ramsey, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, Alex Smith and Matt Leinart. The Cardinals aren't bringing back Leinart, obviously, and the other guys on this list will not project as starters.

Tarvaris Jackson, Brodie Croyle and Matt Moore could be available, too.

Several career backups could become available: Todd Collins, Todd Bouman, Billy Volek, Bruce Gradkowski, Seneca Wallace, J.T. O'Sullivan, Chris Simms, Luke McCown, etc.

Still not sold?

The names get smaller from there. Brian St. Pierre, Jim Sorgi, Charlie Frye, Kellen Clemens, Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, Brian Brohm, Caleb Hanie, Jordan Palmer, Dennis Dixon ... we're not finding the Cardinals' next starter from that list, either.

Arizona should probably make a play for Bulger, consider drafting a quarterback and see how the trade market shakes out. The Cardinals have too many needs, in my view, to part with multiple picks of value for an unproven quarterback such as Kevin Kolb -- unless they're convinced that quarterback will become a very good player.
Just got off the phone with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. He also thinks the 49ers' deal for Ted Ginn makes sense:
I'm not sure you could find a better kickoff returner in the draft, and he also still has upside as a receiver. They got a returner who can also play receiver. That is how to look at it. Even if he never sees the field on offense, it's probably a good trade. He is very, very talented. At a minimum, he can run around the edges and get deep. That can open up things for Vernon Davis and the other guys.

Giving up a late-round pick, it's a home run even if Ginn does exactly what he did in Miami. A lot of times these kids who are high picks hit bottom. Bill Parcells didn’t like him. He didn't play tough. He steps out of bounds. He is not a banger. He's a finesse, speed guy. I’m sure Mike Singletary isn't going to love that, either. But maybe you get a change of scenery and say, 'Yeah, maybe I do need to toughen up, lower my shoulder, do those types of things.'

Ginn is a smart kid. He might realize this is his last chance. You step back, change your ways and there are far less expectations.

In Miami, he was a deep threat with Chad Pennington as his primary passer most of the time. Not that Alex Smith is Jay Cutler or anything (in terms of arm strength), but it's not Ginn's fault the quarterback can’t throw the ball 55 yards down the sideline. The 49ers get him for next to nothing and if he is one of the top five returners in the league, which he is, it's a good deal.

Ginn averaged 24.9 yards per kickoff return last season, 13th in the league among players with at least 20 returns. He ranked fifth in kickoff return yards with 1,296. He scored two touchdowns on returns, both against the Jets. Ginn hasn't returned punts regularly since 2007, when he averaged 9.6 yards on 24 returns, with an 87-yarder for a touchdown.

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Mailbag: The next Kurt Warner?

March, 29, 2010
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Jeff from Waco, Texas writes: Would you see a Donovan McNabb trade involving the Niners as similar to the Cardinals getting Kurt Warner? It was successful for a few years, but wasn't a dynasty builder. As a Niners fan, I would rather hope that Alex Smith or David Carr could be the guy who leads the team to championships, not a guy like McNabb who might only have a few more solid seasons under his belt.

Mike Sando: Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl and gave his team the lead in the final minutes. If the 49ers thought McNabb could take them to that level, they should acquire him right now. We already know McNabb can be a productive, Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. I also think a team could win a championship with him. Too much is made of the fact that McNabb lost a Super Bowl and hasn't gotten the Eagles back to one since. Five Super Bowls have passed since Tom Brady won one and no one is saying the Patriots need a new quarterback. They're tough to win!

The evidence on Smith and Carr suggests neither will become productive perennially. I do think the 49ers have enough invested in Smith to have an interest in seeing him through this season. They've strived for continuity for so long. Another quarterback change would entail starting over once again.

The question is really whether McNabb could take the 49ers to a level they likely wouldn't reach with Smith or Carr. My money would be on McNabb. But if I had invested the first overall choice in Smith and felt as though he might be on the verge of finally breaking through, I wouldn't replace him lightly.


Jason from Rochester, N.Y., writes: Hey Mike, even though Seattle signed Charlie Whitehurst, we know that general manager John Schneider likes to draft a QB every year. Any chance they use a late-rounder on local boy, Matt Nichols? Also, aren't they showing their hand a bit on where they will be drafting by purging both Cory Redding and Darryl Tapp? Edge pass rush was their most obvious need even with those two on the roster. With Julius Peppers signed, the pickings are slim in the free-agent market. Do you think No. 14 is going to be used for a defensive end?

Mike Sando: I agree that the Seahawks have subtracted somewhat unnecessarily as if determining what they don't want before having adequate reinforcements on board. This is what teams tend to do when new regimes take over. It's not just a Seattle thing. It also might tell us where the previous regime overvalued certain players. And then when you factor in changes made for scheme reasons, it's another reminder that NFL franchise makeovers come at a high price.

Nichols does project as a late-round prospect, but there's nothing to say the Seahawks would value him over another late-rounder at the position. I do think Seattle will probably draft a quarterback for the No. 3 role. That is also pretty typical. It makes sense because if you hit on a player at that position, the payoff can be great, even if he never starts for you.

I could see the Seahawks drafting a pass-rusher at No. 6 or No. 14. It's an area the team needs to address and with two picks that early, this is the chance.


Phillip from Olympia, Wash., writes: What's going on with the Seahawks' offensive line? I thought the new regime was going to transform the group. Any news on Rob Sims since the Jim Mora tirade and the Chicago trade rumer?

Mike Sando: I've been expecting Seattle to sign a Ben Hamilton or Chester Pitts type. That could still happen. Then I think we'll see the team draft for the position as well. Sims could return, but only if the Seahawks cannot get value for him. A trade probably remains the most likely scenario.


Peyson from Shelley, Idaho writes: Why don't the Seahawks get Brandon Marshall for their 14th pick? I mean, it is like giving back their pick to the Broncos and that would solidify the wide receiver position for us for the next couple years. Then we could use the sixth pick on an offensive linemen and use our second on a defensive linemen. This year is a deep year for big running backs, so we could pick one up in the fourth round. That's the way I look at it. What do you think?

Mike Sando: Seattle would have to risk the sixth pick in signing Marshall to an offer sheet. If you're talking about a trade, why pay the 14th overall choice for Marshall now if the price drops later? I don't see a long line of teams itching for a shot to acquire Marshall. Seattle would be better off trying to use the sixth and 14th picks for starters, using a later pick for Marshall, if possible.


Michael from Phoenix writes: Mike, with the 49ers looking for help in the return game and employing a 'best player available' strategy in the draft, how can they pass up a talent like Dez Bryant? I know receiver is not a pressing need, but with Bryant's stock falling because of off-field issues, he could be a steal that they can't afford to pass up. He would provide immediate help in the return game and most scouts have him rated higher than Michael Crabtree. The more talent assembled around Alex Smith can only help his development. Although those targets would look even better with McNabb -- I'm crossing my fingers -- they can still draft a tackle with the other first-round pick and sign free agent Chester Pitts to shore up the offensive line. What do you think?

Mike Sando: The 49ers did benefit from some of the red flags surrounding Crabtree a year ago. I also agree with the thinking that a team should arm its quarterback with more and more weapons. The Colts have done an excellent job drafting playmakers to help Peyton Manning.

The question is really whether targeting for value at No. 13 would prevent the 49ers from matching value to need at No. 17, the assumption being that San Francisco needs to help its offensive line with one of those first two selections. If the 49ers can address the line with one of those choices, I do think they can feel better about adding more of a luxury item with the other first-round choice.


Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif., writes: Sando! What do you think the chances are that Arizona will select a QB with one of its two third-round picks or in later rounds? I for one am intrigued by John Skelton of Fordham and would love to see him go to the Cards. I'm pretty sure that Skelton would be there for the third round, but is there a chance that he could still be on the board in the fifth or sixth rounds?

Mike Sando: Yeah, there's a chance he could be there after the third round. He's a big guy, 6-foot-5 and 240-plus pounds. Any player taken that late is going to come with some question marks. Skelton didn't face the best competition at Fordham. He played from the shotgun quite a bit, so there would be some projecting for the offense the Cardinals want to run. Sooner or later, though, the Cardinals need to draft a developmental quarterback.

Whisenhunt's teams have drafted six quarterbacks over the years: Tim Couch, Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington, Brian St. Pierre, Omar Jacobs and Wally Richardson. The Cardinals haven't drafted one since Whisenhunt got there. It's probably time.


Frank from Los Angeles wants to know whether the Rams might avoid drafting Sam Bradford over fears that they wouldn't be able to sign him before the draft.

Mike Sando: The Rams can't let that stop them from drafting a franchise quarterback if they indeed think Bradford can be that type of player. Whether Bradford is signed in April or July shouldn't matter a great deal at this stage of the evaluation process.

Take the best player, particularly if he is a quarterback, and worry about the details later.

First-round draft thoughts: QBs

March, 27, 2010
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A few things I found interesting when updating college conference affiliations for NFL draft choices in the draft file I maintain:

Alex Smith was the only first-round quarterback from a current Mountain West team from 2000 to 2009.

His 49ers teammate, David Carr, was the only first-round quarterback from a current WAC team during the same period.

The Mountain West and WAC aren't the most acclaimed conferences for college football, but get this: The Big Ten produced no first-round quarterbacks during the first 10 drafts of the 2000s. Drew Brees came close, but he was the first pick of the second round.

Sixteen of the 26 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2000 came from teams currently affiliated with the SEC (six), Pac-10 (six) or Conference-USA (four).

Eight of the 26 have been named to a Pro Bowl: two from the ACC (Philip Rivers, Michael Vick), two from the Pac-10 (Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers), two from the SEC (Jay Cutler, Eli Manning), one from the Big 12 (Vince Young) and one from the MAC (Ben Roethlisberger). The ACC list could grow in the near future thanks to Matt Ryan.

The C-USA quarterbacks were J.P. Losman, Byron Leftwich, Patrick Ramsey and Chad Pennington.

A quick look at NFC West quarterbacks, regardless of draft status, and which conferences their college teams call home:
The chart below breaks down first-round picks from 2000 through 2009 by position and current conference affiliation. Some defensive linemen turned into outside linebackers in the NFL (Calvin Pace, for example). I've left college positions in place.

NFL teams made 317 first-round selections from 2000 to 2009. This includes 32 every year except for 2000 and 2001, when the league had 31 teams, and 2008, when the Patriots forfeited their first-round choice.

GM profiling: Baalke's draft history

March, 21, 2010
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Scot McCloughan remains the 49ers' general manager in title, but his top personnel lieutenant, Trent Baalke, is expected to run the draft room this year.

That makes sense. McCloughan appears on his way out and it's unrealistic to bring in someone from the outside before the draft, which begins April 22. Baalke, as director of player personnel, ranks second to McCloughan in the 49ers' scouting department. He's the natural choice to head up the draft room this year.

That doesn't necessarily mean Baalke will be the primary decision maker. Coach Mike Singletary will play a role. President Jed York and executive vice president Paraag Marathe will presumably be involved. But I still wanted know about Baalke's background in personnel, leading to the latest item in my "GM profiling" series.

I've put together a chart showing how many players Baalke's teams have drafted by position and round. Another chart breaks out his teams' first-round choices. This file shows all 92 players his teams have drafted, breaking down the information from multiple angles. Baalke didn't necessarily directly influence or even agree with each of these decisions, but the information can still provide some perspective.

Baalke has been with the Jets (1998-2000), Redskins (2001-2004) and 49ers (2005-present). A few observations:
  • Each of his teams has selected a quarterback in the first round (Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey and Alex Smith).
  • Five of the seven players his teams have drafted among the first 13 overall choices have appeared in at least one Pro Bowl.
  • None of his teams has selected a linebacker in the second through fourth rounds.
  • His teams have never drafted a running back in the first round.
  • His teams have never drafted quarterbacks in the second, third or sixth rounds.
  • His teams have never drafted a punter or kicker.
  • His teams have drafted 17 offensive linemen, but only one -- Joe Staley -- in the first round.


Note: This item was updated to reflect information from the 2008 and 2009 drafts. The overall trends held. Thanks to KenAdamsJr for noticing.

Can Leinart take cue from Rodgers?

February, 27, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Leinart is without question the Cardinals' starting quarterback.

He is also the only quarterback under contract to the team in 2010. The Cardinals could pursue Chad Pennington and other veterans projected to become unrestricted free agents. A veteran could compete with Leinart for the job or the Cardinals could draft a quarterback.

"We have had competition at every spot and that is what has made us better and that is what we will continue to do," coach Ken Whisenhunt said at the NFL combine Saturday. "I don't think Matt is scared of that whatsoever."

Whisenhunt also compared Leinart to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"He has never really gotten a chance to settle in and play, but I think once again, he does have the pedigree of having had success and he is a good football player," Whisenhunt said. "That is why he was drafted where he was drafted. It's just when you get into a situation like he did, playing behind a quarterback like Kurt, that is tough. But Aaron Rodgers has certainly seemed to respond to that very well after being behind Brett Favre. We're obviously hoping for a lot of the similar things."

Draft, QB options for the Rams

February, 21, 2010
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A potential Rams-Bucs trade involving the No. 1 overall choice in the 2010 draft could make sense for St. Louis, a team that could use additional picks and a quarterback.

Separating substance from smoke can be impossible this time of year as teams try to mask their intentions and build trade markets. But these possibilities are worth analyzing.

The Rams had more needs than draft choices a year ago. That remains the case in 2010. The more picks they can amass, the better off they could be, unless picking first overall puts them in position to select a player dramatically more valuable than the one St. Louis might find a bit later.

Either way, the Rams probably need to sign a veteran quarterback. Marc Bulger's salary jumps to $8.5 million and his time in St. Louis appears about finished.

Acquiring Michael Vick from the Eagles via trade could be one option. Recent reports have suggested the Eagles might hold onto Vick until the exhibition season because this could maximize his value. I think Vick would be much more valuable to the Rams if they could get him into their offseason program as soon as possible.

Chad Pennington could be another attractive option. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The Rams' quarterbacks coach, Dick Curl, spent a few seasons with Pennington when both were with the Jets. I'm not sure how many other teams will pursue Pennington this offseason, but the Rams might be able to offer him something he could have a harder time finding elsewhere: a starting job.

Download: 2010 NFL projected free agents

February, 20, 2010
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I've taken the NFL's list of projected free agents and put it in a format you'll find quite powerful.

Download it here.

And if you're not quite sure how to maximize the information, check out the demo.

This file lets you sort all 235 projected unrestricted free agents, plus all fourth- and fifth-year restricted free agents, by accrued seasons, team, position, starts, agent and division. I've added sheets with the breakdowns used for earlier items on which agents have the most UFA clients, how many projected UFAs each team has by position and the number of projected UFAs by division.

I've updated the file to reflect Troy Williamson's new deal with the Jaguars and Leigh Bodden's recent hiring of agent Alvin Keels.

The chart below is also based on information in the file. It shows all quarterbacks projected to become UFAs this offseason. Chad Pennington might be the most appealing name on the list. The Rams could certainly do worse.

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