NFC West: Cory Redding

Aaron from Chicago wants to know why the Seattle Seahawks keep acquiring personnel from his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was the latest addition to the "Minnesota West" roster in Seattle.

"Ever since we controversially signed Steve Hutchinson from them," Aaron writes, "it has seemed as though the Seahawks go out of their way to snatch whatever Vikings they can to stick it to us. It started with them signing Nate Burleson, then Sidney Rice and Heath Farwell, Darell Bevell and Tarvaris Jackson (for whatever reason). They even outbid us for T.J. Houshmanzadeh a few years back. They signed Ryan Longwell at the end of this past season. Obviously, it has continued with Percy Harvin and now Winfield."

Sando: It's a remarkable pattern, but there's likely no revenge factor. The people running the Seahawks during the Hutchinson controversy are long gone from the organization. They were involved in adding Burleson and Houshmandzadeh, but they had nothing to do with the Seahawks' more recent deals for Rice, Farwell, Bevell, Jackson, Harvin or Winfield.

Bevell's hiring as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator stands out as a factor behind the team's decisions to sign Rice and trade for Harvin.

John Schneider's presence as the Seahawks' general manager since 2010 provides a strong link to the NFC North in general. Schneider, after spending much of his career with the Green Bay Packers, played a role in Seattle adding former NFC North players such as Breno Giacomini, Will Blackmon, Cliff Avril, Steven Hauschka, Brett Swain, Frank Omiyale and others. Also, Schneider and Bevell were together in Green Bay. However, Seattle has added many more players without ties to the Vikings or the NFC North.

For a while, the Detroit Lions signed or otherwise acquired a long list of players with Seahawks ties. There were some connections between the organizations -- former Lions coach Rod Marinelli and former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell shared a history with Tampa Bay, for instance -- but some of the overlap defied explanation.

Tyler Polumbus, Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Etric Pruitt and Mike Williams were among the players to play for both organizations.

Update: The Burleson signing did have a retaliatory aspect, as ZippyWasBanned noted in the comments section. Seattle signed him to an offer sheet featuring "poison pills" similar to the ones that helped the Vikings land Hutchinson.
Our two-day look at NFC West rosters continues with projections for the Seattle Seahawks’ defense and special teams.

Defensive linemen (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.8

Safest bets: Red Bryant, Jason Jones, Brandon Mebane, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Alan Branch

Leading contenders: Clinton McDonald, Jaye Howard, Greg Scruggs, Pep Levingston

Longer odds: Pierre Allen, Cordarro Law, Dexter Davis

Comment: The Seahawks finished the 2009 season with Bryant, Mebane, Craig Terrill, Colin Cole, Nick Reed, Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding and Darryl Tapp on their 53-man roster. Pete Carroll has transformed the line since becoming head coach before the 2010 season. The changes have been as much about fit as personnel. The group keeps getting stronger.

Linebackers (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.6

Safest bets: K.J. Wright, Leroy Hill, Bobby Wagner, Korey Toomer

Leading contenders: Heath Farwell, Matt McCoy, Malcolm Smith, Barrett Ruud

Longer odds: Michael Morgan, Allen Bradford, Kyle Knox, Jameson Konz

Comment: Toomer's arrival in the fifth round cranks up the pressure on Smith, a 2011 seventh-round choice. Farwell and McCoy could be competing for a spot. Farwell is better on special teams. McCoy offers more at linebacker. Bradford is converting from running back and has a chance to stick in some capacity. Ruud looks like insurance for Wagner, but his health is a concern.

Defensive backs (17)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.2

Safest bets: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman

Leading contenders: Jeron Johnson, Byron Maxwell, Roy Lewis, Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Winston Guy

Longer odds: DeShawn Shead, Ron Parker, Coye Francies, Donny Lisowski, Jeremy Lane, Phillip Adams, Chris Maragos

Comment: Three of the four starters went to the Pro Bowl last season; Sherman arguably should have gone. Trufant's conversion to a nickel role has the potential to upgrade Seattle's coverage. Injuries sidelined Trufant and Thurmond last season. Both can contribute at a reasonably high level if healthy. It's tough to bank on either one, however. Don't forget about Maxwell. He impressed in camp as a rookie, only to fade from the picture after suffering an ankle injury. Seattle likes its depth at corner. Johnson should be ready to take a step forward at safety. The Seahawks like what they've seen from Guy as well.

Special teams (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.1

Safest bets: Jon Ryan, Steven Hauschka, Clint Gresham

Leading contenders: none

Longer odds: Carson Wiggs

Comment: Ryan led the NFL with 34 punts downed inside the 20 (against eight touchbacks). Opponents returned two punts for touchdowns, however.
The full 2011 NFL draft order remains unknown for at least a few more days pending revelation of compensatory selections.

In the meantime, I've put together a chart showing how many picks in each round NFC West teams hold.

I'll provide a more comprehensive breakdown once the NFL announces compensatory picks, awarded to teams that suffered net losses in unrestricted free agency. The league generally announces compensatory choices during its spring owners meetings, which begins Monday in New Orleans. I'm attending those meetings and will update this chart from there.

Seattle, having lost Nate Burleson and Cory Redding in unrestricted free agency, could be in position to pick up a compensatory fourth-rounder. The team already has the fourth-round choice it acquired from New England in the Deion Branch trade. That pick originated in Denver and is the second pick in the round, at least until compensatory choices come out.

The fourth-rounder from New England and two fifth-round picks would put Seattle in position to trade into the third round, at least conceivably. Seattle has no third-rounder after trading its own to San Diego in the Charlie Whitehurst deal. Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.


Leading Questions: NFC West

February, 14, 2011
With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each NFC West team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:


What happens to the offensive line?

We've been asking, answering and asking some more questions about the Cardinals' quarterback situation for months. Let's tap a few brain cells to discuss the guys up front.

Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui are without contracts for 2011. Left guard Alan Faneca might retire. Right tackle Brandon Keith is coming off hamstring and knee injuries that shortened his first season as a starter. The Cardinals do not have fresh talent in reserve. They have drafted only one offensive lineman in the first four rounds since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. Twenty-seven teams have drafted more. As much as the team trusts assistant head coach Russ Grimm to get the most from its offensive line, Arizona could use fresh young talent for him to groom.

The Cardinals went through the 2010 season with the NFL's oldest offensive linemen, counting backups. That wouldn't matter so much if left tackle Levi Brown were meeting the Pro Bowl expectations that came with his status as a top-five overall selection in the 2007 draft. Brown was underwhelming at right tackle to begin his career and a liability at left tackle last season. His salary balloons in 2012, so this could be his last season in Arizona.


Can the defense take the next step?

The Rams allowed 328 points last season, tied for the third-lowest total since the team moved from Los Angeles for the 1995 season. They allowed seven rushing touchdowns, their lowest total since 1999 and down from 50 combined over the previous two seasons. But with starting defensive linemen James Hall and Fred Robbins turning 34 this offseason, and with questions at linebacker, the Rams' defense will not automatically go from competitive toward dominant.

Hall will be looking to become the 14th player since 1982 (when the NFL began tracking sacks as an official stat) to collect 10 sacks in a season at age 34 or older. The others: Trace Armstrong, Chris Doleman, William Fuller, Kevin Greene, Rickey Jackson, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Tony McGee, Steve McMichael, John Randle, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan and Reggie White.

Robbins is coming off one of his finest seasons. He joined Keith Traylor, Jeff Zgonina and Ray Agnew among defensive tackles to set career highs for sacks at age 32 or older in the free-agency era (since 1993).

Getting similar production and continued good health from two older players is no given. The Rams also need to find help at outside linebacker after losing 32-year-old Na'il Diggs to a torn pectoral muscle 12 games into the 2010 season. The Rams are set at middle linebacker with James Laurinaitis, but they could stand to upgrade around him.


How well can Jim Harbaugh coach up a quarterback?

When the 49ers' new coach needed a quarterback at Stanford, he recruited one. Andrew Luck set records and led the Cardinal to national prominence. Recruiting isn't a significant part of the equation in the NFL, so Harbaugh will have to settle for the best quarterback he can draft or otherwise acquire. He might even have to give Alex Smith a shot.

The 49ers will need Harbaugh to do what his recent predecessors could not: get good production from limited or flawed talent at the most important position.

Rich Gannon was well-established as an NFL quarterback when Harbaugh arrived as his position coach in Oakland for the 2002 season. The pairing reflected well on all parties. Gannon set career highs for completed passes, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and passer rating. Gannon was already a good quarterback and the Raiders were already a good team, so it's tough to measure Harbaugh's impact.

Gannon is long since retired. Harbaugh is back in the NFL for the first time since the two were together on the Raiders in 2003. The 49ers don't have a legitimate starting quarterback under contract. Harbaugh has been meeting with Smith and keeping open his options. The stakes are high in the short term because the 49ers have enough talent elsewhere on their roster to compete for a playoff spot.

Outside expectations for Smith are so low that Harbaugh could appear heroic if he could get even a 9-7 record out of the 49ers with Smith in the lineup.


How much more roster turnover lies ahead?

The Seahawks were fearless in overhauling their roster during their first year under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.

The team added Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, Chris Clemons, Stacy Andrews, Tyler Polumbus, Kentwan Balmer, Kevin Vickerson, Robert Henderson and LenDale White, though Seattle parted with Vickerson, Henderson, White and 2009 regulars Deion Branch, Julius Jones, Owen Schmitt, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson, Lawrence Jackson, Rob Sims, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant and Seneca Wallace. The Seahawks watched a couple other starters, Nate Burleson and Cory Redding, leave in free agency.

If those were the moves the Seahawks felt comfortable making right away, I figured there would be quite a few to come after the team's new leadership watched players for a full season. And there still could be, but similar wheeling and dealing could be impractical or even impossible if the current labor standoff continues deep into the offseason.

Teams cannot make trades without a new labor agreement. They cannot know for sure whether or not a salary cap will come into play as part of any new deal. It's just tough to act as decisively as Seattle acted last offseason without knowing the rules. That's a disadvantage for Seattle and other teams with much work to do this offseason.
Jackie MacMullan's piece on Deion Branch for includes some items of potential interest for Seattle Seahawks fans.

Branch caught nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in his first game back with New England. He added three catches for 133 yards and two scores in his most recent game for the Patriots.

These were the sorts of performances Seattle expected from Branch upon acquiring him from the Patriots in 2006. The Seahawks sent him back to New England after four games this season, thrilled to recoup even a fourth-round choice in return.

Branch told MacMullan the Seahawks were never quite sure how to use him, and that the game plans were hit-and-miss in terms of quality.

Trading Branch back to New England was a deal that worked well for both teams. Branch was more valuable to New England than he was to Seattle. The Seahawks' Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu are enjoying strong seasons.

A quick look at how some other Seattle castoffs are faring:
  • Rob Sims, Lions guard. Sims has played well enough with Detroit for the Lions to sign him to a four-year extension.
  • Nate Burleson, Lions WR. Detroit paid a relatively high price in free agency. Burleson has 40 receptions, four for touchdowns.
  • Lawrence Jackson, Lions DE. Has 2.5 sacks in his last two games. A concussion sidelined him last week.
  • Josh Wilson, Ravens CB. Has started the last three games. Was on the wrong end of a no-call when the Falcons' Roddy White ran over him.
  • Owen Schmitt, Eagles FB. The latest ex-Seahawk to start at fullback for Philadelphia.
  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Ravens WR. Has made a couple of key catches, including one game-winner, but hasn't factored much into the offense overall.
  • Mansfield Wrotto, Bills RT. Wrotto has started the Bills' last three games. The team won two of them and came within a dropped pass of winning the other.
  • Deon Grant, Giants S. Has three interceptions, one sack and four starts for the NFL's second-ranked defense.
  • Darryl Tapp, Eagles DE. Has two sacks in nine games, with no starts. Seattle has gotten 7.5 sacks and 11 starts from Chris Clemons, acquired from the Eagles in the Tapp trade.
  • Seneca Wallace, Browns QB. Has four touchdowns, two interceptions, an 88.5 rating and 1-3 starting record with Cleveland.
  • Julius Jones, Saints RB. A 54-yard run against Carolina has helped Jones average 4.6 yards per attempt on 37 rushes with New Orleans.
  • Cory Redding, Ravens DE. Has six starts for the NFL's eighth-ranked defense.

Some on the list weren't going to play prominent roles in Seattle. The team's new leadership wanted to turn over the roster, which is typical. A few castoffs invariably find success elsewhere. Of the group, Sims is the one Seattle could use the most.

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, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, 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, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Dominique Curry, 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

Battling perceptions in the NFC West

September, 8, 2010
KTAR radio's Doug Franz and Ron Wolfley just finished grilling me medium rare over the far-flung (to them) notion that the San Francisco 49ers should be favored in the NFC West this season.

They think the 49ers face at least as many questions as the Arizona Cardinals, from Alex Smith's abilities as a starting quarterback to the effects of playing two rookies on the offensive line.

Our conversation pointed to something I wrestle with all the time: perception vs. reality.

Sometimes those perceptions get out of hand. It could be happening in the NFC West right now. A few things to consider along those lines heading into the regular season:
  • The Seattle Seahawks are taking flak for dumping T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson and others (Rob Sims and Nate Burleson come to mind) during an ongoing roster overhaul. It's fair to ask whether all the changes were necessary. It's fair to question whether Seattle might fall off some in the immediate term while less experienced players take over. But why pretend as though the Seahawks needed only some fine-tuning? They needed an overhaul and they're getting one. Sometimes a team gets a little worse before it gets better. But if you honestly assess each roster change, you might find more upgrades than downgrades. How much will this really team miss Ken Lucas, Cory Redding, Justin Griffith, D.D. Lewis, Damion McIntosh, Owen Schmitt, Mansfield Wrotto, Lawrence Jackson, John Owens, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant, Lance Laury and the others? It's tough to argue that those players were part of the solution.
  • The Cardinals are worse off without Kurt Warner. That much is a given. But should recent instability at quarterback significantly lower those already reduced expectations for the upcoming season? It's probably better to rule out Matt Leinart now than to do so four or five games into the regular season. Quarterback was already a concern. It's still a concern. But let's not pretend the 49ers are dramatically better off with Smith under center. I'm favoring the 49ers in the division because they're the safest bet following an offseason without much roster turnover. They appear slightly better than the team that went 8-8 in 2009. But it's no shock if the Cardinals win this division. I'd call it only a mild surprise.
  • The Rams are easy to write off with a rookie quarterback under center and only six wins over the last three seasons. It's not the upset of the century, however, if they find a way to prevail in Week 1. They trailed the Cardinals 21-3 at halftime in the Edward Jones Dome last season. A concussion prevented Warner from returning. Final score: 21-13. If you're the Rams and you know Warner won't be there Sunday, and you know Marc Bulger posted a 57.8 rating as your quarterback in that 21-13 defeat, you're thinking you've got a chance this time around, right? Right.
  • About those 49ers. Let's not get carried away with the 12-4 predictions, OK? One step at a time. The 49ers were 5-1 in the division last season. Are they really going to match that record or improve upon it and then add three more victories outside the NFC West? It's possible with AFC West teams on the schedule, but the 49ers have only seven true home games this season. Two of those are against New Orleans and Philadelphia. They play road games against Atlanta, Green Bay and San Diego. Find a dozen sure victories on that schedule and I'm guessing you're a 49ers fan.

To be continued in the comments section, and beyond.

Ravens happy to take NFC West castoffs

September, 6, 2010
An imaginary (but possible) scene from a Baltimore Ravens practice:
Quarterback Marc Bulger drops back to pass. Defensive end Cory Redding applies pressure. Bulger rolls to his left, sets his feet and pump-fakes to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, luring safety Ken Hamlin away from receiver Anquan Boldin. Bulger looks back to his right and throws across the field for Boldin, only to have Josh Wilson intercept the pass.

The Baltimore Ravens' one-year deal with recently released Seattle Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh makes it all possible. The Ravens already signed or acquired NFC West castoffs Bulger (St. Louis Rams), Redding (Seahawks), Hamlin (once a second-round choice in Seattle), Boldin (Arizona Cardinals) and Wilson (Seahawks).

Houshmandzadeh is getting $885,000 from the Ravens. He'll get another $6.15 million from the Seahawks as part of the $7 million they guaranteed to him.

Baltimore has strong enough leadership, particularly on defense, to absorb such a varied mix of personalities. It's too bad the Ravens don't play any NFC West teams this season.

Shock! Another Seahawks-Lions deal

August, 31, 2010
The Seattle-Detroit pipeline keeps pumping, albeit with less-than-spectacular results this time.

The latest move between the teams is particularly chuckle-worthy (surely there must be some reason these teams keep hooking up, but I can't find any hard ties). The Lions recently won a waiver-claim battle with Seattle over former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus. The Lions held Polumbus for a few days, then traded him to the Seahawks, presumably for something of minimal or even conditional value. Polumbus and Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates were with the Broncos in 2008.

The Seahawks and Lions have made multiple trades and shared multiple players spanning multiple coaching staffs and front offices in recent years.

Among the players to spend time on both rosters: Polumbus, Nate Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Jon Kitna (OK, not recently in Seattle), Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Ike Charlton (again, not recently in Seattle), Etric Pruitt, Mike Williams and probably a few others.
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.

How Wilson could fit with Seahawks

April, 24, 2010
RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks drafted a Wilson from Carolina in the fourth round Saturday.

That would be E.J. Wilson, defensive end from North Carolina, and not C.J. Wilson, defensive end from East Carolina.

Again, E.J. was the pick at No. 127 overall.

My Pro Football Weekly draft guide describes E.J. Wilson as "strictly a bull-rusher" who could "stick as a base left end in a '40' front or potentially as a five-technique in an odd front." The report says he "needs to loosen his hips but has potential to develop into a solid pro."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted Friday that Seattle was very much focused on drafting for need, not just for the best player available, and this selection addresses a void on the defensive line.

Wilson appears stout at 6-foot-2 and 286 pounds. He could fit the Cory Redding mold in terms of being a defensive end best suited for holding the edge against the run. Redding left Seattle for Baltimore this offseason.
Todd asks via Facebook whether trading draft choices for veteran players generally works out. He suspects not.

Mike Sando: Relatively few early choices change hands in this manner. Teams generally do not trade productive young players.

The Browns picked up an extra 2009 second-round choice and a 2010 fifth-rounder thanks to the Kellen Winslow trade, using the second-rounder for receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. The Chiefs parted with a second-round choice to acquire Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel from New England last offseason (New England selected safety Pat Chung). The Eagles parted with multiple picks, including a first-rounder Buffalo used for guard Eric Wood, in the Jason Peters trade. The Falcons parted with a 2010 second-rounder for Tony Gonzalez.

The teams acquiring the players arguably fared well in those deals.

In the NFC West, Seattle and St. Louis acquired veteran players last offseason. The Seahawks traded Julian Peterson to Detroit for Cory Redding and a 2009 fifth-round choice, which Seattle later traded to Philadelphia. The Rams swapped spots with Atlanta in the fifth and sixth rounds to acquire receiver Laurent Robinson. Robinson had shown some promise in Atlanta, but injuries held him back. That was the story of his 2010 season with the Rams.

Mailbag: The next Kurt Warner?

March, 29, 2010
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.

Could Morey cost a draft choice?

March, 29, 2010
The Seahawks might have parted with a 2011 sixth-round choice while handing a 2011 seventh-rounder to Arizona -- all for Sean Morey.

John Clayton's latest mailbag brought to mind the possibilities.

By Clayton's calculations, the Seahawks appeared in line for fourth- and sixth-round choices in 2011 based on their gains and losses in free agency through the weekend. Seattle had lost unrestricted free agents Nate Burleson and Cory Redding without signing a UFA from another team. Morey's signing Monday changes the equation because he was a UFA. As Clayton notes, the equation could change further if the Seahawks sign additional UFAs such as Ben Hamilton or Chester Pitts.

That might be OK with the Seahawks. They'll be happy if Morey and any other UFAs they sign play extensively and produce for them. But if the Cardinals were going to part with Morey anyway, they were better off having him sign as a UFA.

Arizona has signed Rex Hadnot and Paris Lenon in free agency after losing Karlos Dansby. Morey's departure as a UFA could help Arizona's compensatory equation.

These projections change as teams continue to make moves in free agency. But with the most desirable UFAs off the market, teams might be wise to consider future compensatory choices when choosing between UFAs and veterans who were released or came available by other means.

Last offseason, the Cardinals' decision to sign UFA fullback Jason Wright might have cost the team a 2010 third- or fourth-round compensatory choice for losing Antonio Smith, according to detailed projections from AdamJT13.

Around the NFC West: Khan cruising?

March, 23, 2010
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Colts owner Jim Irsay as saying Shahid Khan's bid to purchase the Rams could be headed for approval. Irsay: "I think indications are that (Khan's) strength of wealth is there. His background and those sort of things are really positive. It's not something that we've got our final reports on, but all indications are that it's trending in a positive direction for him." Thomas also checks in with part-owner Stan Kroenke, who isn't saying how he'll proceed. Thomas: "In reality, Kroenke probably has only two options: maintain his 40 percent share or sell it. Because in pretty strong language Monday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell indicated that the league wasn't inclined to bend its cross-ownership rules to allow Kroenke to match (Shahid) Khan's offer." Kroenke also owns the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch estimates there's a 20 percent chance Marc Bulger could return to the Rams in 2010. Miklasz: "Unless something unexpected develops, the Rams will draft Sam Bradford and they have A.J. Feeley to serve as an interim QB while they get the rookie ready to play. And what would be the point of keeping Bulger -- who makes big money -- around as a highly expensive third quarterback? That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. If the Rams back away from Bradford AND decline to draft a QB in the 2nd or 3rd round -- a QB that figures in their short-term plans -- then I could see them revisiting the idea of keeping Bulger. But that is unlikely." I can't see Bulger returning.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat provides a general Rams update, noting that the team did not work out Sam Bradford or give him a physical examination during a recent meeting with him in Florida.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists the Seahawks' additions and subtractions to this point in free agency. O'Neil on Cory Redding: "Redding lost his starting job after three games. He got his first sack in the 10th game. But when coach Pete Carroll was hired, Redding was one [of] the players he mentioned in radio interviews as a lineman the team was hoping to find an effective role for. And to be fair, Redding was one of the most impactful players on the defense over the final month of the season. Coincidence or contract? You be the judge on that one."

John Morgan of Field Gulls isn't expecting much from new Seahawks quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Morgan: "A team can wager a lot or a little on a low-value asset. It can see Whitehurst for what he is, a backup quarterback with some warts and some potential not unlike Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson, or it can lock onto one player, forego negotiations and pay the sticker price for his services. Seattle did the latter." I think the Seahawks settled for Whitehurst after determining they did not like Seneca Wallace, could not get Kevin Kolb for a reasonable price and did not feel comfortable with the quarterbacks most likely to be available in the draft. That doesn't seem like the best way to find a quarterback. The question then becomes whether the Seahawks paid too much for what they're getting.

Darren Urban of isn't sure where the Cardinals go from here in free agency. He thinks Sean Morey wants to return to the team despite making a free-agent visit to Seattle. I think there's a decent chance Morey winds up with the Seahawks. It's looking like Arizona will be overhauling much of its receiving corps. Anquan Boldin and Jerheme Urban are already gone. Morey was more of a special-teamer, but he counted as a receiver on game days when the Cardinals configured their 45-man roster. Taking him out of the mix could give Arizona three new receivers on game days who weren't part of the regular rotation when the 2010 season opened. Early Doucet supplanted Urban during the season. Also from Urban: "Veterans who are waiting now for bigger potential deals probably aren’t going to get them, and historically it’s even harder to get a decent deal after the draft because teams have filled up their holes with new talent that can be home-grown. What happens to Mike Gandy or Chike Okeafor, for instance (other than that they won’t be in Arizona)?"

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers need to hire another general manager after parting with Scot McCloughan. Knapp: "There are NFL teams that can afford to be creative and defy the standard structure of a front office. The 49ers are absolutely, categorically, definitively not one of them. They have a team president and head coach with less than three years' experience between them, a roster that has not been properly updated this offseason and a seven-year absence from the playoffs."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides an overview of Jed York's comments regarding Scot McCloughan's departure as general manager. Barrows: "York said that he has yet to decide on the structure of the team's front office moving forward, and that he wasn't sure whether he would have a general manager in the future. He said those decisions would be made after the draft. He was resolute, however, in stating that neither he nor his top lieutenant, Paraag Marathe, would become the team's general manager."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along York's commitment to Alex Smith as the starting quarterback. York sounded a lot like McCloughan. York: "I think it's great this is the first time he's had continuity at the offensive coordinator. When you have some weapons around him with Crab (Michael Crabtree) with Vernon (Davis) with Frank (Gore), I think Alex is poised to have a good season for us. And (we're) more excited that Alex is our starting quarterback."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says York's comments raised more questions. Cohn: "If the Niners don't have a GM what will they have?"

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says McCloughan would have kept his job absent personal issues, according to York.