NFC West: Charlie Frye
Coach Ken Whisenhunt announced no decision Monday. There would have been no advantage in doing so.
Kolb's toe and foot may or may not be healthy enough for him to play against San Francisco in Week 11. Either way, the team isn't likely to give up on Kolb after only seven games. Two inconsistent, but ultimately victorious, starts from Skelton do not compel a change. Skelton has shown enough to remain a factor in Arizona.
The Cardinals will be facing a 49ers defense more formidable than the ones Arizona faced in beating St. Louis and Philadelphia over the last two weeks.
Whisenhunt could always use Kolb's injury to give Skelton another start, letting the organization gather additional information on Skelton while Kolb's condition improves. Kolb could serve as the backup, coming off the bench only if needed. And if the Cardinals were to upset the 49ers with Skelton behind center, Whisenhunt would have a good "problem" to solve next week.
I've thought Skelton has appeared more comfortable than Kolb has appeared. He's been slightly better than Kolb, in my view, and his fourth-quarter touchdown passes have given him traction in the debate. But just as it's too soon to write off Kolb, it's too soon to suggest Skelton is the answer. But if you're really serious about arguing for Skelton, here's a gift from ESPN Stats & Information: Skelton has four touchdowns in seven attempts with no sacks in the red zone, while Kolb has three touchdowns in 19 attempts with four sacks.
For perspective, I've used Pro Football Reference to create a chart showing where Skelton fits among quarterbacks with similar experience since 1995. Each quarterback was in his first or second season of playing. Each was 22-24 years old at season's end. Each has started at least four games and attempted between 150-250 passes. Each has played 10 or fewer total games.
That will change when Kerry Collins replaces an injured Manning in the Colts' lineup for Week 1.
The first preseason game I covered as an NFL beat reporter featured Manning making his first start against the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome. His very first pass found Marvin Harrison for a 49-yard touchdown. Preseason games are generally without much meaning, but could there have been a more fitting beginning for Manning?
For a fuller appreciation of Manning's durability and consistency in starting 227 consecutive games, I went through Pro Football Reference counting how many quarterbacks had started for current NFC West teams since Manning made his regular-season debut. There have been 48. That figure includes 14 for the St. Louis Rams, 13 for the 49ers, 11 for the Arizona Cardinals and 10 for the Seahawks.
A few notes on the 48 players to start for current NFC West teams since 1998:
- There have been two Brocks (Berlin, Huard), two Charlies (Frye, Whitehurst), two named Chris (Chandler, Weinke), two Jeffs (Plummer, Martin), three Johns (Friesz, Navarre, Skelton), one Jon (Kitna), two Matts (Hasselbeck, Leinart), two Shauns (Hill, King), three Steves (Young, Bono, Stenstrom) and two Trents (Dilfer, Green).
- Two, Young and Warren Moon, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Manning's streak began.
- Dilfer and Warner started for more than one current NFC West team since Manning's streak began. Warner started 57 games for Arizona and 50 for St. Louis. Dilfer started 12 for Seattle and six for San Francisco.
- Hasselbeck has the most total starts for current NFC West teams with 131, followed by Marc Bulger (95 for St. Louis), Jake Plummer (73 for the Cardinals) and Jeff Garcia (71 for the 49ers).
- Smith -- Alex, not Troy -- owns the most starts among current NFC West players with 50, all for San Francisco.
- Eight of the 48 were one-and-done as starters: Berlin, Scott Covington, Ty Detmer, Glenn Foley, Friesz, Frye, Navarre and Weinke. Nineteen have made at least 10 starts.
The NFC West will have two starters new to the division in Week 1: Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb.
The chart shows start totals by team for the 48. The NFC West changed membership with realignment in 2002. I'm going back to 1998 for the four teams currently in the division.
Also from Maiocco: Smith is getting the vast majority of first-team reps as the 49ers' starting quarterback.
Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com calls Daunte Culpepper "the free couch on the front lawn" as a quarterback out of the NFL since 2009. The 49ers' interest in Culpepper for their No. 3 job had not yet resulted in a signing.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Crabtree has remained engaged during team meetings, according to 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Roman: "He's working very diligently to get back out there, and I think he's really on top of things mentally, which is a credit to him. ...Our meetings are very interactive, and he's very much a part of those meetings."
Also from Branch: Options for veteran quarterback help aren't very appealing. Branch: "The list includes Brodie Croyle (Chiefs), Charlie Frye (Raiders), J.P. Losman (Seahawks), J.T. O'Sullivan (Bengals) and Troy Smith, who started six games for the Niners last year. The Niners could also wait to pluck a quarterback from the waiver wire."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee passes along thoughts from Roman regarding Culpepper. Roman: "I believe that I guy like Daunte that's been around and seen everything he's seen can certainly offer the other quarterbacks a unique perspective on everything whether it be coverage, how to read a certain pass play protection and whatnot. He's got a lot of skins on his belt, so he'd be an interesting guy."
Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Colin Kaepernick was exceptionally sharp during practice Monday, with Smith finishing strong following a slow start.
Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' push for a new stadium. Rosenberg: "After months of trying to keep the state's hands off the millions of tax dollars needed to fund a new 49ers stadium, Santa Clara has finally found the answer -- albeit one with a hefty price tag. The new plan, expected to be approved Tuesday, would allow the city to keep its redevelopment agency after paying the state $11.2 million this year and $2.7 million each year after that. That should solidify what had been a squishy part of the plan to fund the stadium, but because the state will be taking its cut of the redevelopment agency's proceeds, the city may need more time to pay the 49ers its share of the project."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Marshawn Lynch for thoughts on the Seahawks' running game. Williams: "All runners are instinctual, but Lynch is probably more than most. And sometimes the rigid nature of the zone blocking scheme can take away a running back’s ability to use his vision and feel for what is happening in front of him. But Lynch said he doesn’t feel like that will happen in Tom Cable’s system."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks kicker Brandon Coutu pleads ignorance regarding the team's unusual decision to keep two kickers on its 53-man roster a few years ago.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers practice notes, capped by a photo showing Russell Okung participating in a walk-through four days after suffering a sprained ankle.
Also from Farnsworth: Lynch and the art of the stiff-arm.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times thinks there's no way the Seahawks would part with second-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst going into the season. O'Neil: "The only real question about the exact shape of the roster is if Seattle has three quarterbacks on it to begin the season, which is not unprecedented recently." I would expect fewer teams to keep more than two quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters this season given rules changes involving third quarterbacks on game days.
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times checks in with Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who is looking to tighten up his game. Brewer: "Thomas has been a standout in camp. He still makes highlight-reel plays, using his video-game speed. But just as impressive is the fact that the coaches aren't on him that much about being in the wrong place. Thomas is learning when to be aggressive and when to simply be there for his teammates. If he combines his natural instincts with better football savvy, then perhaps he will live up to those comparisons to all-everything Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains why the Cardinals don't feel pressure to add another receiver. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Everybody is asking that question, but I don't ever recall saying we had an issue with our receivers. You look at the preseason game [against Oakland]. You tell me how many receivers had productive nights, made plays for us in the game. That doesn't mean if there's an availability to help make our team better, that we're not going to look at it." More on this subject in a bit.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals have $13.2 million in salary-cap space, ample room to re-sign Larry Fitzgerald. Somers: "It's possible that re-signing Fitzgerald could give the team additional cap space. Fitzgerald's cap figure for 2011 is $11.25 million. A new contract could lower that. The Cardinals also could choose to front load the contract to lighten the impact in the later years of the deal."
More from Somers: The Cardinals had one of their better practices in years.
More yet from Somers: salary-cap figures for Cardinals players. Cap figures include base salaries, roster bonuses and prorated portions of signing bonuses.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Deuce Lutui is spending extra time on conditioning after reporting to camp out of shape.
Also from Urban: Darnell Dockett says these Cardinals aren't complainers.
More from Urban: Kevin Kolb's mobility is an asset, but not necessarily a defining one.
More yet from Urban: a look at the competition for roster spots among backup quarterbacks, with a funny quote from Richard Bartel.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at what linebacker Brady Poppinga brings to the Rams. Poppinga: "They called me 'The Hammer' up in Green Bay and they did that for a reason. I'm a physical guy. I'm not one to tiptoe in any kind of situations where the run is coming at me. I'm extremely physical at the point of attack, and so I bring an element to this defense they haven't had for a couple years. Yeah, I'm a very sound run stopper. That is my strength." Just about every move the Rams made on defense in free agency was designed to upgrade the run defense.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com offers a Rams injury update. Also, Ben Leber worked in both outside linebacker spots.
Also from Wagoner: a look at the competition for starting spots at outside linebacker. Wagoner: "In Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Colts, the Rams started incumbent Na’il Diggs on the strong side with Bryan Kehl (who started a game last season) on the weak side. With Laurinaitis out, Josh Hull stepped in for the start in the middle. Diggs is a proven commodity and played just six snaps in an effort to help preserve him some for the season. Kehl played about 15 snaps. But the Rams made a concerted effort to get a look at two of their newest additions while the other watched from the sidelines."
More from Wagoner: injuries are affecting the Rams' depth at cornerback.
Teams tend to overvalue quarterbacks in the draft, which means the most promising ones rarely escape the first round. Teams tend to focus on other positions in the rounds immediately following the first round before "taking flyers" on the position later in the draft.
We see this when looking at the number of quarterbacks drafted by round since 2000. There have been 31 in the first round, 16 in the second, 17 in the third, 20 in the fourth, 24 in the fifth, 36 in the six and 32 in the seventh.
The chart, updated since it ran in February 2010, ranks second-round quarterbacks since 1995 by number of games played.
While we're on a hot streak, let's take a quick look at third-round quarterbacks drafted since 1995, arranged by team:
- Arizona: Stoney Case, Josh McCown
- Atlanta: Matt Schaub
- Baltimore: Chris Redman
- Buffalo: Trent Edwards
- Cleveland: Eric Zeier, Charlie Frye and Colt McCoy
- Denver: Brian Griese
- Houston: Dave Ragone
- Jacksonville: Jonathan Quinn
- Kansas City: Brodie Croyle
- New England: Kevin O'Connell
- Oakland: Andrew Walter
- Philadelphia: Bobby Hoying
- San Diego: Charlie Whitehurst
- San Francisco: Giovanni Carmazzi
- Seattle: Brock Huard, David Greene
- Tampa Bay: Chris Simms
Count Schaub and Whitehurst among those who were more valuable to their teams as trade bait than as quarterbacks.
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.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:
Home sweet home. The Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald will be making his second NFL appearance at the Metrodome, where he served as a Vikings ball boy growing up in Minnesota. Fitzgerald's only previous NFL game at the Metrodome proved memorable. He caught 11 passes for 172 yards during a 2006 defeat featuring 824 yards of total offense between the teams. For all the Cardinals' struggles this season, they did amass 396 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 8. The Vikings have zero sacks while allowing 755 yards passing over their past three games. They have six sacks all season. Fitzgerald might find there's yardage to be had against this defense.
It's the turnovers. The Cardinals are 2-0 this season and 31-3 under coach Ken Whisenhunt when winning or even tying the turnover battle. They are 1-4 this season and 3-24 under Whisenhunt when losing the turnover battle. That's why it's so important for quarterback Derek Anderson to manage the game more efficiently. The late interception Anderson threw against Tampa Bay stands out as the classic unforced error. That type of play might be the only thing standing between the Cardinals and a third consecutive NFC West title.
Watch those DB blitzes. The Seahawks have blitzed at least one defensive back on 25 percent of opponents' pass plays, collecting 11 sacks and holding quarterbacks to a 57.3 rating on those plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Some caution could be in order against the Giants. Eli Manning has completed 13 of 25 passes for 192 yards, two touchdowns and a 104.1 rating while taking only two sacks against DB blitzes.
Holding up in the red zone. Seattle's pass defense has struggled overall, but no defense in the league has held opposing quarterbacks to a lower passer rating in the red zone this season. NFL quarterbacks have a 92.7 rating in the red zone this season, but the figure is only 56.3 against Seattle, ESPN Stats & Information notes. The Giants' Hakeem Nicks has six red-zone touchdowns, which leads NFL wide receivers. Nicks has eight receptions in the red zone, which ranks tied for first among receivers. He has not dropped a red-zone pass.
He has never attempted a pass in a regular-season NFL game.
NFLDraftScout.com's analysis on Whitehurst coming out of Clemson in 2006 called him a "good competitor who is a quiet leader, but has total control of the huddle" and a quarterback with "a snappy overhead delivery and a fluid follow-through rather than a windmill type that most tall passers display."
Some of the negatives listed could be outdated, the assumption being Whitehurst has worked to correct them under Norv Turner and the Chargers' offensive staff.
Matt Leinart is the only quarterback on the Cardinals' roster.
Using a third-round choice for Whitehurst, 27, could make more sense than using one for a college prospect. Though inexperienced, Whitehurst would be better prepared to play in a regular-season game.
The chart shows third-round quarterbacks drafted since 2000. Not many have succeeded. One exception: The Texans acquired 2004 third-round choice Matt Schaub from the Falcons when Schaub had minimal experience.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Consider that list an indication of how irrelevant unrestricted free agency becomes as the draft approaches.
A quick look at unsigned UFAs from each NFC West team:
San Francisco (3): Martin, Green and
St. Louis (11): Linebacker Gary Stills, receiver Dante' Hall, cornerback Ricky Manning, tackle Rob Petitti, running back Travis Minor, cornerback Jason Craft, cornerback Fakhir Brown, center Cory Withrow, tackle Anthony Davis, receiver Dane Looker, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
I do not see priority free agents on those lists. Former Rams cornerbacks Manning, Craft and Brown could have some value, while Glover is expected to retire. Former Seahawks Koren Robinson and Jeff Robinson could conceivably help in a pinch, as could former Cardinals tight end Tuman. Green, the former 49er, has occasionally shown promise. Foster might be able to help on a limited basis.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
A quick look at 53-man rosters from Feb. 1, date of Super Bowl XLIII, provides a reference point for seeing how NFC West teams have changed so far this offseason.
I'll conclude with Seattle.
Gone from the Seahawks' 53-man roster and injured reserve list in the 58 days since the Super Bowl (12):
OffenseCharlie Frye, QB
Koren Robinson, WR
Maurice Morris, RB
Leonard Weaver, FB
Floyd Womack, OL
Bobby Engram, WR
Will Heller, TE
DefenseHoward Green, DT
Julian Peterson, LB
Rocky Bernard, DT
Jeff Robinson, LS
Six unrestricted free agents have left the Seahawks to sign elsewhere. No team has watched more of its UFAs sign elsewhere this offseason.
All six former Seahawks qualify as either starters, part-time starters or experienced backups.
Consider it a natural progression as a mostly new coaching staff changes schemes and adjusts personnel on both sides of the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Floyd Womack's departure to the Browns following eight seasons with the Seahawks marks the fourth time an unrestricted free agent has left Seattle this offseason.
The Seahawks did not push to retain them. The team made retaining linebacker Leroy Hill its top priority, using the franchise tag to keep him off the market. Re-signing tackle Ray Willis was a secondary priority.
Receiver Bobby Engram a
nd fullback Leonard Weaver stand as the highest-profile Seattle players yet to re-sign, but the Seahawks appear unlikely to invest much in retaining any of their remaining unrestricted free agents.
Seahawks UFA re-signed: Willis.
Seahawks UFA lost: Womack, Green, Bernard and Morris.
Restricted free agents: None.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks were one of eight NFL teams that had not re-signed one of its own free agents one week into the signing period.
Bobby Engram's return appears less likely after the team added T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the most accomplished receiver available in free agency.
The team would like to bring back Ray Willis and Floyd Womack for depth on the offensive line. Fullback Leonard Weaver's future remains a bit hazy. Teams apparently haven't met his asking price thus far, and the Seahawks are considering other options at the position, including former Raiders fullback Justin Griffith.
Seahawks UFA re-signed: None.
Seahawks UFA lost: DT Rocky Bernard (Giants) and RB Maurice Morris (Lions).
Restricted free agents: None.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks could conceivably part with six or more unrestricted free agents in their 30s this offseason. Their two youngest UFA candidates -- Ray Willis and Leonard Weaver -- might also land elsewhere in 2009.
The chart ranks the Seahawks' scheduled unrestricted free agents from oldest to youngest, with ages rounded down to the tenth. Eight are in their 30s. A ninth, Rocky Bernard, will join them when he turns 30 in April.
The Seahawks have not placed Chris Gray on the retired list. That's why he appears among their UFA candidates.
Seattle will look for a younger snapper. The team may or may not bring back Bobby Engram. Charlie Frye almost certainly will not be back. Steve McKinney was a stopgap addition amid injuries, as was Koren Robinson.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Paco from Hermosillo, Mexico writes: Hello Sando, very interesting, this is my opinion, as a Cardinals fan for more than 15 years, this is new territory for us, trying to get back to the superbowl, I guess you first try to get back to the playoffs and then see what happens ...
As for Boldin, I defenitely love his play, however this is a very interesting and important business decision; first of all you have to know if he and his agent (hate him) are willing to renegotiate. If they are, you move to the next stage, and that is assesing his value, which in my mind can't be the same as Fitz. The problem is that Boldin believes he is as good or even better than Fitz, so the least he will take is a deal equal to the one they gave Fitz.
If the parties do not agree on the value of the contract or if Boldin doesn't want to renegotiate, I think this is a great moment to make a trade and get as much as you can for him, starting with what the Lions got for Roy Williams; I´ve read that as many as 15 teams are interested in Boldin, so let´s see who makes the best proposal, and make the trade.
We can even be a better team with Breaston and Fitz starting at WR and a more balanced attack, specially come playoff time. Thanks Sando for your great job, not only covering the Cardinals but the whole NFC West. We appreciate and please keep us posted on any new information, specially regarding the Cardinals.
Mike Sando: Thanks much, sir. Boldin will probably never be able to command what Fitzgerald commanded because the circumstances were different for Fitzgerald. The rookie deal Fitzgerald signed pretty much forced the Cardinals' hand. Fitzgerald had all the leverage. His salary-cap number was preventing the organization from signing other players.
Boldin has no such leverage. He has two years left on his deal and the Cardinals, through their Fitzgerald-led success, have become less beholden to Boldin.
I go back and forth as to what I think the Cardinals should do. As an organization, it's important for them to establish how they will conduct business.
If they do not want players to seek new deals with multiple years remaining on their contracts, then they should not rework deals for players with multiple years remaining on contracts. General manager Rod Graves put it this way last offseason: "We may have to set policy in the future as to how early we will even consider redoing contracts."
At the same time, the Cardinals should probably find out what Boldin might return in a trade. If they're pretty sure teams won't meet their demands, perhaps they should just let Boldin play out the final two years of his contract.
Marco from Las Cruces writes: Thanks for the followup to one of my previous questions. I wanted to know your thoughts on the 49ers current FB Zak Keasey, I liked his play early in the season and obviously they did also when they released Norris. Does Keasey not fit the mold of the traditional FB? I know he made more of an impact on special teams but he is still learning since he is a converted LB, just curious on your thoughts on him, thanks and keep up the great writing.
Mike Sando: The 49ers appear to be in the market for a more traditional fullback. They used tight end Sean Ryan as the fullback in the I-formation a fair amount last season. New offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye will presumably want a true fullback, not a converted linebacker (Keasey) or converted tight end (Ryan). Raye worked with one of the NFL's most enduring true fullbacks, Tony Richardson, while with the Jets.