NFC West: Darren Sharper

Tony Gonzalez and what might have been

January, 22, 2013
With Tony Gonzalez leaning toward retirement after 16 NFL seasons and 1,242 receptions, I turned back the clock in my mind to 1997, the year San Francisco tried to draft the tight end from California.

The 49ers were in a wheeling and dealing mode in that 1997 draft. They came away with three players -- Jim Druckenmiller, Marc Edwards and Greg Clark -- after trading away all picks in the fourth through seventh rounds.

"While they rated [Jim] Druckenmiller as the best player available at the 26th pick, the 49ers tried to trade up for Miami's No. 15 in order to take Cal tight end Tony Gonzalez," John Crumpacker wrote at the time in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Alas, Kansas City moved up to 13 in a trade with Houston and tabbed the Golden Bear."

Alas, indeed.

Druckenmiller would play in six NFL games, starting one. Edwards, a fullback the team envisioned in the Tom Rathman mold, started 82 of the 134 regular-season games he played. Clark, a tight end, started 39 of the 55 games he played.

As for Gonzalez? He has 237 starts in 254 games and ranks second to Jerry Rice on the NFL's list for all-time receptions. His total for receptions is 50 percent greater than the career total for any tight end. Shannon Sharpe is second with 815 receptions.

The chart ranks 1997 draft choices by most Pro Bowl appearances. Two NFC West players, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, made the list. Also in 1997, the Arizona Cardinals drafted cornerback Tommy Knight with the ninth overall choice.

Welcome to the blog for the only NFL division with a second-round playoff representative every season since realignment in 2002.

We are under no illusions here. The NFC West has not always produced formidable teams top to bottom. Three other divisions have produced more divisional-round playoff appearances under the current format.

It's just that the NFC West has produced more than a few playoff success stories, and the 2011 San Francisco 49ers can write their own chapter by defeating the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. The matchup is going to dominate conversation on the blog this week even as the St. Louis Rams move to hire a head coach.

This season marks the fourth since realignment with every NFL division still playing in the divisional round. New England (seven), Indianapolis (6), Pittsburgh (5), Philadelphia (5) and Baltimore (5) lead the league in divisional-round appearances over the past 10 seasons, counting this one. Seattle is one of four teams with four. Every other NFC West team has made it twice, starting with the 49ers nearly a decade ago.

The football-related aspects of the Saints-49ers matchup interest me the most. I offered some early thoughts after the Saints' victory over Detroit secured New Orleans' trip to Candlestick Park. There will be more.

Matt Maiocco of outlined quite a few keys to the game. A couple regarding the Saints' defense stood out: "The Saints must scheme up their pass rush because they're lacking in individuals who can get to the quarterback. Strong safety Roman Harper led the Saints with 7.5 sacks. As a team, the Saints recorded 33 sacks -- spread out among 15 -- that's right, 15 -- different players. ... The Saints defense does not have a lot of playmakers. This is not like the team in 2009 that won the Super Bowl. On that team, safety Darren Sharper had nine of the team's 26 interceptions. During this regular season, the Saints recorded only nine interceptions." Noted: The matchup between San Francisco's defense and New Orleans' offense should not obscure other matchups pivotal to the outcome.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers will play the Saints differently than the Lions did. Lynch: "Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch had a horrible game. He was constantly manipulated by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Tulloch was also late covering the middle in the Lions two-deep defense. That won’t happen with 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who have more speed and hopefully, more awareness than Tulloch."

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat lists reasons the 49ers can beat the Saints. Cohn: "The Niners have a top-notch home red-zone defense (allowing TDs just 25 percent of the time), while the Saints scored touchdowns only seven times out of 22 chances on grass this season in the red zone. The Saints will move the ball, but the Niners defense should be able to hold them to field goals."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee runs through the longest plays San Francisco allowed this season. Noted: Four of the five longest ones occurred during the first four weeks of the season.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' offensive line has improved dramatically.

Also from Inman: 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin on facing his former team, the Saints.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' coaching search, noting that Jeff Fisher is expected to make a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday. Thomas: "The only possible hangup, according to two sources, is the potential of a possible move by the franchise to Los Angeles. The move from Houston to Tennessee was grueling for Fisher during his 17 seasons with that franchise. It's something Fisher doesn't want to go through again. Even with those concerns, it's not known if that's a deal breaker with St. Louis." Noted: On the other hand, Fisher went to USC and was said to have some interest in the San Diego job had it come open under the right circumstances. The possibility of a move years from now wouldn't seem to be a deal breaker, in my view.

ESPN's Adam Schefter says former Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is already working for the Patriots as an offensive assistant, and his role will change to offensive coordinator next season.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks need to re-sign several key players before free agency. Boling: "Seahawks fans might trigger a seismic event from outrage if running back Marshawn Lynch takes his beastly style elsewhere. And Red Bryant has likewise become an exemplar of spirited toughness for the Seahawks on defense. These two are at the top of the list of 18 unrestricted free agents with whom the Seahawks may exclusively negotiate."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune hands out grades for the 2011 Seahawks, including a "C" for special teams. Williams: "Leon Washington was solid, but not as explosive as last season. Punter Jon Ryan had another good season, and kicker Steven Hauschka made people forget about Olindo Mare. The usually solid coverage units gave up three return touchdowns and were one of the most penalized groups in the NFL this season."

Will Brinson of quotes CBS analyst Charley Casserly as saying the the Arizona Cardinals could provide a landing spot for Peyton Manning if the Colts part with the quarterback. Casserly: "Jim Irsay in interviewing general manager candidates has told them he will make the decision whether Peyton Manning is back. He will not put that on the new general manager. Right now there have been absolutely no discussions according to the Manning camp between Manning and Irsay about extending that deadline. In fact, it would make no sense to me for Manning to agree to that. Why give up the opportunity to talk to other teams? One team to watch? The Arizona Cardinals. They can get out of the Kevin Kolb contract and also Ken Whisenhunt's been down this road before. A veteran quarterback coming in at the end of his career? Kurt Warner." Noted: The Cardinals could get out of the Kolb deal by declining to pay a $7 million bonus in March. If Manning were available, however, he would have more than one team interested in him. I'll have more on this in a bit.
Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run to clinch Seattle's 41-36 wild-card victory against New Orleans is the play NFL fans everywhere are buzzing about. Twenty-four things to know about the run that will give Seattle's No. 24 a special place in NFL playoff lore:
    [+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
    AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenSeattle's Marshawn Lynch breaks away on his 67-yard TD run Saturday against the Saints as QB Matt Hasselbeck celebrates in the background.

  • There was nothing fancy about the personnel or formation.
  • Seattle lined up in its base offense with two backs and one tight end, John Carlson. The strong side was to the left, and that is where Lynch ran initially.
  • Seattle had been favoring zone runs all game, but this play -- "17 Power" -- featured man-on-man blocking. Players said Seattle had not run the play all game.
  • With this run, the Seahawks averaged 10.5 yards per rush on 10 carries from base personnel against New Orleans, according to my charting.
  • Lynch might never have escaped the backfield if fullback Michael Robinson, lined up in the offset-I formation, hadn't slammed into linebacker Jonathan Vilma, creating space.
  • Even so, linebacker Scott Shanle should have made the tackle about two yards into the run. No one blocked him. Count this as missed/broken tackle No. 1.
  • Receiver Ben Obomanu motioned right to left, sealing safety Roman Harper on the edge.
  • Right tackle Sean Locklear had the easiest job. He stood up and danced with defensive end Alex Brown.
  • Right guard Mike Gibson pulled across the formation, helped Carlson turn linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar outside and then rocked cornerback Tracy Porter five yards past the line of scrimmage.
  • It got worse for Porter. Much worse.
  • Center Chris Spencer and left guard Tyler Polumbus steered defensive tackle Remi Ayodele to the weak side.
  • Left tackle Russell Okung blocked defensive end Will Smith, but Smith came off the block in time to trail Lynch and get both hands on the running back's hips at the Seattle 35-yard line. This would be missed/broken tackle No. 2.
  • Spencer blocked Darren Sharper on the second level, but Sharper disengaged in time to make contact with Lynch eight yards downfield. Ayodele also made contact with Lynch at this point. These would be missed/broken tackles Nos. 3 and 4.
  • Cornerback Jabari Greer caught Lynch at midfield along the right hash, but Lynch ran right out of his grasp. Missed/broken tackle No. 5.
  • Porter caught up to Lynch at the New Orleans 36, but he made a bad mistake. Porter tried to tackle Lynch high. Lynch, cradling the ball in his right arm, discarded the 186-pound corner with a left hand straight out of a George Foreman fight. Porter tumbled nearly five yards downfield, landing on his right shoulder and rolling on the ground. This was missed/broken tackle No. 6.
  • Perhaps sensing Lynch could go all the way, multiple teammates rallied to the cause. Polumbus and receiver Mike Williams were first on the scene. Locklear and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck were gaining as Lynch crossed the 30.
  • Hasselbeck did not really block Brown, but he slightly impeded the big defensive end. Asked later if he were "looking" to block someone, Hasselbeck deadpanned that he was looking, but just looking.
  • Brown dove at Lynch's feet and just missed along the right sideline at the 16. This was missed/broken tackle No. 7.
  • Polumbus was at the 12 by now and in perfect position to shield Harper as Lynch cut back toward the middle.
  • Greer had hustled back into the play by now, but Hasselbeck seemed to know Lynch would score. The quarterback raised his right arm as Lynch crossed the 4-yard line, with Greer a step or so behind.
  • Harper had ducked under Polumbus at this point, but he dived and missed at the 2. This was missed/broken tackle No. 8. Lynch sidestepped just enough to make sure Harper would not get him.
  • Carlson, Spencer and Obomanu were also inside the 5 at this point.
  • Lynch dove onto his back in the end zone and popped to his feet as Carlson, Hasselbeck, Polumbus, Spencer, Williams and Obomanu swarmed him.
  • This was the longest run of Lynch's career by 11 yards and it gave Seattle its first 100-yard rusher of the season.

Not a bad way to punctuate one of the bigger playoff upsets in NFL history.
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints named Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Jeremy Shockey and Darren Sharper inactive against the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle, meanwhile, has left tackle Russell Okung and slot receiver Brandon Stokley back from injuries.

Inactive for New Orleans: Thomas, Bush, Shockey, Sharper, cornerback Patrick Robinson, safety Malcolm Jenkins, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar and tackle Charles Brown. Former Seahawks Julius Jones starts at running back for the Saints. Usama Young starts at free safety. Jimmy Graham starts at tight end.

Inactive for Seattle: running back Michael Robinson, guard Mike Gibson, receiver Golden Tate, receiver Ruvell Martin, tight end Anthony McCoy, defensive tackle Colin Cole and defensive lineman E.J. Wilson. J.P. Losman is the third quarterback.

Having Okung available for the first time since Week 7 gives Seattle a shot at improving its offensive line, particularly in run blocking. Okung has battled ankle injuries this season. He has been active for only three regular-season games previously.

Playing without Robinson and McCoy, a backup tight end, limits some of the personnel groups Seattle might otherwise employ. The team used four tight ends at times last week, including with John Carlson lining up at fullback.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

September, 8, 2010
Chris Johnson is up, Brett Favre is down and Donovan McNabb is out since the final MVP Watch from last season.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswirePeyton Manning has thrown for 4,000 yards in 10 of his 12 NFL seasons.
The initial list for 2010 overlooks defense entirely, with good reason. Lawrence Taylor was the last defensive player to win the award and that was 24 years ago. Some of the leading defensive candidates from last season -- Elvis Dumervil and Darren Sharper come to mind -- are dealing with injuries.

Peyton Manning could win the award every season. There isn't a surer bet in the league. He's reached 4,000 yards passing nine times in the past 10 seasons and his teams have averaged 12.7 victories over the past seven. What more could anyone want from an MVP candidate?

Answer: another 2,000-yard rushing season from Johnson, this time with a winning record for the Tennessee Titans.

Johnson was the sixth player in NFL history to reach the milestone, but the first to do so for a team with a non-winning record. O.J. Simpson (1973), Barry Sanders (1997) Terrell Davis (1998) won MVP awards (Sanders shared his with Favre). Eric Dickerson (1984) lost out to Dan Marino. Jamal Lewis (2003) watched Manning and Steve McNair share the award. Manning beat out Johnson last season.

A look at some of the favorites heading into the 2010 season ...

Around the NFC West: Porter's case

March, 31, 2010
Steve Swenson of the Bakersfield Californian says Cardinals outside linebacker Joey Porter plans to fight his DUI arrest amid reports that the arresting officer has issues of his own. Swenson: "The officer who arrested Porter has a pending drunken driving case of his own, and the first man stopped by officers -- who Porter followed into a parking lot that led to his arrest -- got off scot-free." Porter's attorney is painting the officer as a "bad apple" while saying he expects his client to be exonerated.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals want Joey Porter to give their defense more toughness. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I keep going back to that Green Bay playoff game, and how a defense that gave up 10 points in the first half could allow 35 in the second half. And it always gets back to mental toughness. We need more of an edge behind us defensively as far as backing up the talk that we put out there, and I think Joey brings a lot of that to the field."

The Cardinals' Web site offers video of assistant coach Russ Grimm throwing out the first pitch at an Angels spring-training baseball game. Grimm's shoulder appeared to hold up OK.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out reasons the Rams could still draft someone other than quarterback Sam Bradford first overall. Miklasz: "Look, he checks out great. Bradford should be just fine. But the Rams can’t be sure -- no one can -- until Bradford actually takes a huge hit and gets slammed around in live, full-speed action. That’s still the X Factor in all of this. Devaney has to be a little anxious about the worst-case scenario: turn down an offer for Bradford, draft him No. 1 overall, and have the shoulder crumple as soon as the kid gets driven to the ground by some runaway blitzer. Is that fear enough to give the Rams a reason to reconsider?"

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says during a chat that he doesn't know why ESPN's Adam Schefter recently cast doubt on Shahid Khan's ownership bid. Thomas gives Khan a 65 percent chance of approval, noting that past issues with the IRS could come into play.

Also from Thomas: Victor Adeyanju's signing gives the Rams three defensive ends under contract.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat provides an updated breakdown of the Rams' free-agent activity this offseason.

Brian McIntyre of expects Memphis receiver Duke Calhoun to visit the Seahawks in another week or so. McIntyre: "Calhoun's 212 receptions and 2,981 receiving yards are school records, and his 19 career receiving touchdowns rank 3rd on the school's all-time list. Last season, Calhoun led the Tigers with 68 receptions for 923 yards and 5 touchdowns, and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player after the season."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times doesn't expect the Seahawks to pursue Darren Sharper. O'Neil: "I don't see Seattle looking to get older at safety. Sharper is -- rightfully -- looking for a significant payday, and that's what it would take for him to leave the Saints. If he's not going to get a big-budget deal, I don't see him leaving the Saints. I don't see Seattle seeing investing in an older safety." Agreed, but I could see the team re-signing Lawyer Milloy, who began his career in New England and played under Pete Carroll there.

Greg Johns of says the Seahawks' special-teams coverage units haven't been very good in recent seasons. Perhaps Sean Morey can help change that.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks might be better off drafting a big back late than investing an early choice for C.J. Spiller.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says offensive lineman Alex Boone is pushing for playing time with the 49ers. Barrows: "Boone said he began working out with former NFL player LeCharles Bentley in Cleveland a week after the season ended. He worked out six days a week and changed his routine. He took shorter breaks between repetitions. He added more cardio and essentially worked a lot harder. As a result, his body fat dropped from 25 percent at this time last year to about 19 percent today."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are reportedly scheduled to meet with Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis.

Also from Maiocco: a quick look at free-agent happenings involving the 49ers this offseason.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News has written off David Carr after a couple of voluntary practices. Kawakami: "Carr throws spirals, but he was consistently throwing well behind the WRs on any ball longer than 15 yards. I mean, way behind the WRs. And he has a weird, shot-put motion that fans will probably not enjoy. If there’s a training camp competition -- if it’s CLOSE AT ALL between presumed No. 1 Alex Smith and Carr -- then the 49ers are in some trouble. Because Carr’s not the answer."
For all the criticism Arizona took after losing safety Antrel Rolle, the Cardinals did show they had a plan by quickly acquiring replacement Kerry Rhodes.

The Seahawks' plan after releasing safety Deon Grant isn't yet evident.

The team decided Grant wasn't the answer. No surprise there. Teams with new general managers and coaching staffs make these sorts of judgments. It's only March, after all, and there's plenty of time to put together rosters.

That can be difficult to remember when teams subtract proven talent from their rosters without immediate upgrade options. The Seahawks became worse in the short term Monday after releasing Grant, even if his $4 million price tag for 2010 was too high.

Perhaps they can find a starting safety in the draft. Perhaps another veteran will appeal to them. In the meantime, Jordan Babineaux and Jamar Adams are the only safeties on the roster. Neither would be the top safety for any other team in the division unless Oshiomogho Atogwe left the Rams.

Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper is out there and he was with the Packers when Seahawks general manager John Schneider worked for Green Bay, but paying big money for a 34-year-old safety wouldn't make a great deal of sense for a team that believes in building around younger players. Besides, the Seahawks could re-sign Lawyer Milloy for much less if they sought a veteran safety familiar with coach Pete Carroll.

Atogwe could become a free agent in June. Eric Berry could be available when Seattle picks at No. 6. Taylor Mays' ties to Carroll make him potentially intriguing.

It's tough to know who will line up at safety for Seattle in the season opener. Eliminating Grant from the equation was the easy part.

Mailbag: Chiefs-Rams trade idea

March, 14, 2010
Tom from Orange County, Calif., writes: Mike, longtime Rams fan. Thanks for the coverage. Trade question for you: What do you think about Adam Carriker and the 33rd pick to Kansas City for Glenn Dorsey? Both players have not lived up to expectations and are playing out of position. Each could use a change of scenery.

Dorsey gives the Rams the potential game-changing tackle that they need, and justifies the Sam Bradford pick at No. 1. Carriker gives Kansas City the end the Chiefs need in the 3-4, and what is turning out to be a very valuable 33rd pick. Thanks for taking the question.

Mike Sando: Good thinking, Tom. I don't know if the Rams would value Dorsey high enough to make that move, but if they thought he could basically be close to Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, why not? The quick reaction would be to dismiss any such comparisons, claiming Suh and McCoy are much better prospects. But a lot of prospects look better before they line up against NFL players week after week. Dorsey was considered a top-five talent when he entered the draft.

Here is what Scouts Inc. said about Dorsey when he was coming out of college:

"A squatty defensive tackle prospect with a thick build and very good quickness. Anticipates the snap well, explodes out of his stance and generally will win one-on-one battles with his initial burst. He plays with a non-stop motor. Stays active, using swim and rip moves to get off of blocks when necessary. Displays good upper-body power and the ability to knock linemen back on their heels with initial pop. Does a fine job of locating the ball once he's in the backfield and flashes good change-of-direction skills for his position. A powerful tackler when he can line up a hit. Also does a better job of taking on blocks in the run game than he gets credit for. He can be washed out by some bigger OL, but generally does a good job of staying low and holding his ground when asked to."

Durability concerns were singled out as the primary weakness. Dorsey has played in 31 of 32 games with the Chiefrs, starting 30 of them. The Scouts Inc. report said Dorsey would fit best in a one-gap scheme that would allow him to get upfield and disrupt offenses. The Rams are running that type of scheme. The Chiefs are not. You're right in suggesting that Carriker could fit better at end in a 3-4 scheme. Durability is a big concern with him, but that 33rd overall choice would have to tempt the Chiefs.

Michael From Lynchburg, Va., writes: Why or what is Seattle waiting on? They need running backs, defensive backs, offensive linemen, a wide receiver, but no movement. Is the draft going to be their best bet?

I have been a fan since 1983, and since then I have seen draft pick after draft pick be a bust. Thomas Jones would have been good for us. Chester Taylor could have helped and Brandon Marshall would definitely be an upgrade from Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. I think Darren Sharper or Antrel Rolle would have been good for us, or Anquan Boldin at wide receiver. I would just be happy with some kind of movement.

Mike Sando: It's human nature for fans to crave action once the signing period begins, but a lot of money has been spent foolishly in free agency over the years. The Redskins will be paying a $21 million bonus to Albert Hayensworth shortly and he might not even fit the scheme they are implementing.

It's also human nature for general manager and coach to undervalue the players they inherit. The Seahawks' previous leadership might have been more aggressive in keeping Burleson. I also think former general manager Tim Ruskell would have been more aggressive in free agency. That doesn't mean being aggressive in free agency would have necessarily served the team well, however.

This was a very weak free-agent class packed with aging, declining veterans. As I tweeted Saturday, there were 156 unrestricted free agents left and 139 would be 30 or older come September.

Seattle did finally add a tight end in Chris Baker (not a UFA, but rather a player whose contract was terminated). I thought the Seahawks might have been a little more aggressive in this signing period, given their needs and coach Pete Carroll's desire to improve quickly. But I also realize Carroll and general manager John Schneider want to go young. That's tough to do through free agency when so many of the younger players failed to hit the market as UFAs thanks to the current labor situation.

The team will probably sign an offensive lineman or two. Ben Hamilton could make sense. He lost his job in Denver largely because the Broncos were changing to a scheme that did not fit him. The Seahawks are adopting the scheme Hamilton ran for years.

The Marshall situation could take time to play out. There's no sense in the Seahawks bidding against themselves. They can afford to wait on that one, probably.

Edward from Tempe writes: Sando, you mentioned in your NFC West Draft Watch that selecting Alan Branch in 2007 was a mistake; he was the first selection in the second round that year. He missed a few games his first year but then played the remainder. He might not be what the Cardinals had hoped, but do you see him more now as a situational position player? I mean, he has shown some signs of life this past year, so maybe not all is lost.

Mike Sando: Drafting Branch didn't give the Cardinals a reliable nose tackle. The pick was a "mistake" from that standpoint. He did show some promise playing defensive end. All is not lost. And when you look at the players drafted immediately after Branch that year -- Paul Posluszny, Arron Sears, Kevin Kolb, Eric Weddle, Zach Miller, Justin Blalock, John Beck, Chris Houston, Tony Ugoh, Drew Stanton -- it's not like all were home runs.

Scott from Maryland writes: Do you think the Niners could trade away their 17th pick this year and first-rounder next year to the Browns for their first-rounder? If the Rams take Sam Bradford, there could be a good chance that Eric Berry falls to the Browns' pick. However, the Browns have so many holes and Mike Holmgren is familiar with the Niners. I think it could benefit both teams.

Mike Sando: Would that be the best use of draft capital for the 49ers, though? They would have no first-rounder in 2011, just to move up 10 spots? I wouldn't give away that future pick.

Joe stationed in Germany writes: Sando, love the blog. One of the best sources of info on the net. Please keep up the great work. With the Colts releasing Ryan Lilja, can the 49ers maybe use him? I know we really need an offensive tackle, but seems they are in need of depth and talent on the offensive line over all. I Think Lilja has proved the injury is better after a full season of starting and he has experience. My only concern is that the Colts were not a running team, but he has got to be a good pass protector. That and I was hoping for something better than David Carr for us in the free agency. Just some thoughts. What do you think?

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support, Joe, and your service. Lilja doesn't fit the 49ers' profile for offensive linemen because he's a smaller guy, listed at about 290 pounds. I just don't see him fitting what they want. At quarterback, the 49ers decided to trade what they knew -- Shaun Hill -- for a bit of a wild card in Carr. I understand their desire to shake up the position. They had tried Hill and decided he wouldn't be the starter. Could they have done better than Carr? I'm with you a little bit. Not expecting very good things from him.

Cal from Daly City, Calif., writes: What are the NFL rules on signing multiple restricted free agents? if a team wanted to, could they sign two RFAs, both with a first-round tender attached? If so, how do they work out the draft picks involved?

Mike Sando: A team could sign more than one RFA only if it had its own first-round choice and a better first-round choice available as compensation.

Blazzinhawk from Spokane, Wash., writes: Why not trade Deion Branch and the 14th to denver for Brandon Marshall and a third-rounder? Sounds good to me.

Mike Sando: My initial thoughts also focused on a way for Seattle to recoup a third-round choice, given that the team does not own one. Your proposal would allow the Broncos to get back their own first-rounder as well. Your proposal assumes the Broncos would do such a deal. I think Seattle might be waiting to see if the price is lower.

Eri from Los Angeles writes: What would you say percentage-wise is the Rams' chances of landing Michael Vick? And why do I hear Donovan McNabb as an option for the Rams as well?

Mike Sando: Looks like the Vick-to-St. Louis chatter has gone away. I wonder if the pending ownership change has diminished the team's interest. On McNabb, I still do not believe Andy Reid wants to trade him.

Jerry from Mishawaka, Ind., writes: Mike, I've read that Denver is not negotiating with any team to trade Brandon Marshall. If that's the case, then Seattle should find a team from the 12 to 23 range to trade the sixth overall pick to for that team's first-round pick and a second- or third-round pick, depending on the value of that team's first-round pick.

Then sign Marshall to an offer sheet. Denver gets the pick it wants for him, Seattle comes out on top with Marshall and the Seahawks don't have to pay the cash for a sixth overall player, plus Seattle still has three picks in the first three rounds , and the team that got that sixth pick could get a player to replace what they lost.

Green Bay comes to mind in this scenario becaause most GMs like to work out trades with their former teams. Also, Green Bay could use the sixth overall pick to draft a defensive end to replace Kampan. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The effort is appreciated, but there would be a few problems with such a scenario. One, rules require teams to possess their own pick or a better pick in the relevant round before signing a restricted free agent. Two, most teams would rather pick 12th through 23rd instead of sixth. Third, Green Bay in particular wouldn't want to move up that high, in my view. Their general manager, Ted Thompson, seems to prefer moving back to add picks (the Packers have drafted a league-high 51 players since Thompson took over in 2005).

Michael from Midland, Texas writes: Hey Sando, As an avid 49ers fan in the heart of Cowboys country, I just want to thank you for your solid coverage of the 9ers. I just wanted to bounce some ideas off of you in terms of draft/free agent acquisitions.

By my way of thinking, the 49ers have three key needs to make them a playoff contender: right Tackle, inside linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis and a cornerback to start opposite Shawntae Spencer. I know a lot of talking is being made of finding a dynamic return man, but I consider that more of a luxury than an absolute need.

Anyway, enough preamble. My actual question is, what do you think are the chances of the 49ers emerging from the first two rounds of the draft with some combo of Trent Williams/Bruce Campbell/Mike Iupati, Eric Berry/Taylor Mays and Devin McCourty/Kareem Jackson?

Also, do you know if the 49ers are taking any looks at Larry Foote or Pisa Tinoisamoa? Seems like either of those guys would be a good fit at will linebacker for the 49ers and we could probably get them relatively cheap.

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support. Good questions, too. Would Foote be better than Takeo Spikes at this point? That could be a consideration. Tinoisamoa seems too small to fit in a 3-4 defense. He goes about 230 pounds.

I could see Williams and possibly even Iupati. Berry would seemingly be gone by the time the 49ers selected. Mays could be there, but I'm not sure where teams are going to value him. He seems like a higher-risk player, but the measurables could appeal from a pure personnel standpoint.

The corners you mentioned sound promising. Jackson would be the bigger of the two, and that could be important to the 49ers. San Francisco is past due to draft a cornerback somewhere relatively early. General manager Scot McCloughan's teams haven't drafted a cornerback in the first two rounds since 2003 (Marcus Trufant, when McCloughan was with Seattle).

Don't forget about quarterback as a potential need, too. Alex Smith and David Carr aren't exactly perennial Pro Bowl players.

Mike from Seattle writes: Hey Mike, just wanted to say keep up the good work and I really appreciate on how quickly you update your stuff. Well, I have a quick question that you can clear up for me. I thought Mike Holmgren was hired to be the president of football operations, and he retained the current coaching staff. I was just curious why he made a trade for Seneca Wallace, unless he wants him at Wildcat. I was just wondering why there are articles that was written that Holmgren wanted Seneca because he knows the offense.

Mike Sando: I keep forgetting that Holmgren isn't coaching the team and I have a feeling I'm not the only one. Holmgren is a coach at heart. I even asked him at the combine how in the world he would be able to watch another coach run practice. He joked about having hired two security guards to restrain him in case his instincts take over and he feels the urge to run out there and blow a whistle.

Holmgren does want the Browns to run his offense. His offensive coordinator in Seattle, Gil Haskell, is already onboard in Cleveland. One of his other trusted offensive coaches, Keith Gilbertson, is also there. None of us should be surprised if Holmgren is coaching the team in another year or two.

Ryan from Puyallup, Wash., writes: Hey Sando, here's a kicker question for ya. Are the Cardinals planning on moving on from Neil Rackers? he's a free agent and I figured the cardinals would have resigned him. Minus the playoffs, where I belive his groin injury was still affecting him, he is a really good, reliable kicker. You think that they are just planning on drafting a kicker in the late rounds?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals would probably go in another direction if Rackers demanded a lucrative deal. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was clearly not happy with Rackers' injury situation in the playoffs, indicating he thought Rackers was healthier than Rackers wound up being. Re-signing Rackers does not appear to be a priority, although I think he could come back for the right price.

NFC West teams need safety help

March, 6, 2010
The Cardinals lost Antrel Rolle, the Rams could lose Oshiomogho Atogwe and the 49ers might need to replace Michael Lewis. The Cardinals could also lose backup safety Matt Ware, who could draw interest from the Rams.

The Seahawks aren't exactly set for life at safety, either.

What to do?

I've gone through the list of available safeties -- NFC West fan favorites Brian Russell and Mark Roman are out there -- and come up with a few fallback options, listed with their 2009 teams:
  • Ryan Clark, Steelers. The 30-year-old longtime starter couldn't work out a long-term deal with Pittsburgh. The Cardinals are running their defense in the Pittsburgh mold. Clark could fit.
  • Brodney Pool, Browns. Teams generally do not sever ties with productive 25-year-old starters, but the Browns decided against tendering Pool as a restricted free agent after he suffered a series of head injuries last season. Pool picked off four passes in 11 games last season, making 10 starts before his season was ended.
  • Darren Sharper, Saints. The 34-year-old Pro Bowl choice would upgrade every secondary in the NFC West, but at what price? Sharper is probably most valuable to the Saints.
  • Jermaine Phillips, Bucs. Injuries have severely limited Phillips' contributions recently. It's probably not a great sign that Tampa thought about moving him to linebacker. Still, Phillips is 30 years old, hardly ancient by safety standards, and he has 74 starts.

Other safeties who are unrestricted free agents: Ware, Russell, Roman, Nick Ferguson, Sean Jones, Will Allen, Todd Johnson, Clinton Hart, Roy Williams, Vernon Fox, Marquand Manuel, Mike Brown, Tyrone Carter and Lawyer Milloy.

Other safeties who are free agents (but technically not UFAs): John Busing, Hamza Abdullah, Aaron Francisco, Kennard Cox, Eric Bassey, Jamaal Fudge and Quinton Teal.

Also: ESPN's John Clayton notes that Jets safety Kerry Rhodes could be an option for Arizona via trade.
USC safety Taylor Mays covered 40 yards in 4.43 seconds, according to NFL Network.

Initial reports suggested Mays might have finished in only 4.24 seconds, creating quite a buzz. It's pretty amazing that a 4.43-second time for a safety can seem like a letdown.

Mays' time is topical here because at least three NFC West teams could be in the market for a safety in the draft.

The Seahawks have Deon Grant, who turns 31 this month, and the improving Jordan Babineaux. The Cardinals could lose Antrel Rolle. The 49ers could use a safety to pair with Dashon Goldson. Even the Rams could use help at the position, to the extent that they need athletes on defense.

Speed matters, particularly when it comes to evaluating safeties early in the draft. But some of the better players at the position -- Darren Sharper comes to mind -- use experience and moxie to anticipate plays. Athleticism is only part of the equation, particularly at that position.

The case for Rice as the greatest ever

February, 3, 2010
RiceGeorge Rose/Getty ImagesWide receiver Jerry Rice retired with his name all over the National Football League record book.
MIAMI -- Anyone advocating Jerry Rice as the greatest player in NFL history can bury the opposition in statistics.

Rice averaged 1,145 yards receiving and more than 10 total touchdowns per season -- for 20 NFL seasons.

Rice caught 69 touchdown passes -- more than the career totals for Art Monk, Michael Irvin, Charlie Joiner, John Stallworth and numerous other Hall of Fame receivers -- during a five-season span ending in 1993. Rice then caught 28 touchdown passes over the next two seasons, more than half the career total for Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.

He retired holding NFL records for:

  • Touchdowns (208), receiving TDs (197), receiving TDs in a season (22), consecutive games with a TD reception (13), TDs in Super Bowls (8), receiving TDs in a single Super Bowl (3) and postseason TDs (22).
  • Receptions (1,549), consecutive games with a reception (274), receptions in Super Bowls (33) and postseason receptions (151).
  • Receiving yards (22,895), receiving yards in a season (1,848), receiving yards in Super Bowls (589), receiving yards in a Super Bowl (215), postseason receiving yards (2,245) and seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving (14).

Rice, whose selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a formality Saturday, probably enjoyed the greatest NFL career. He was probably the greatest wide receiver despite some arguments for Don Hutson. But was he the greatest player, period?

"Oh, yeah," Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson said almost reflexively during Super Bowl media day.

Woodson, perhaps mindful of history as a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, then showed he could still backpedal a bit.

Getty ImagesWhen talking about the greatest players ever, Jim Brown needs to be in the conversation.
"I mean, he is definitely up there," he said. "I don't think one player is the greatest player ever, but he is in that water-cooler conversation. Now, if you say greatest receiver, absolutely. But the greatest player, to make him the most dominant player ever in NFL history or just say pro football history, that is a profound statement. But I can say that he will be in that argument time in and time out."

The conversation might include Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Sammy Baugh, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Hutson, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders among players no longer active. And that list is probably shortchanging defensive greats such as Deacon Jones and Dick Butkus.

But Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest defensive player of the current era, didn't hesitate in singling out Rice.

"I don't know what argument you are going to make why he is not," Lewis said.

And that might be what separates Rice from the rest. There really isn't a great case against him. No one played at such a high level for as long with such grace.

"Jerry Rice doesn't rank in the all-time greats," said Saints safety Darren Sharper, a five-time Pro Bowl choice and member of the 2000s All-Decade team. "He is the greatest receiver and maybe the greatest football player of all time."


"I can't comment on eras that I didn't perform in," retired cornerback Deion Sanders said, "but the era I performed in, Jerry Rice is the best football player to play in that era."

On what grounds beyond the numbers?

"Work ethic, precision, routes, physical toughness, awareness, that hunger," Sanders said. "Jerry stayed hungry until the day he retired."

(Read full post)

Cardinals' Rolle named to Pro Bowl

January, 25, 2010
The NFL has added 14 players to the NFC and AFC Pro Bowl rosters to replace members of the Colts and Saints.

Cardinals free safety Antrel Rolle, sidelined by a concussion during a divisional-round loss at New Orleans, was named to the NFC squad. He replaces the Saints' Darren Sharper. Another Saints safety, Roman Harper, was first alternate. Sharper and Harper became ineligible to play in the game, scheduled for Sunday, when their teams advanced to the Super Bowl.

It's not clear whether Rolle's injury situation will affect his availability for the game.

But when he goes to renegotiate his contract, which balloons in value for 2010, he can do so as a one-time Pro Bowl selection.
A quick look at how a few NFC West players could find themselves named to the Pro Bowl this year:

  • Kurt Warner, Cardinals QB. He is the second alternate behind the Eagles' Donovan McNabb. McNabb will be named to the NFC squad when either Brett Favre or Drew Brees advances to the Super Bowl. Warner would be named to the team if Favre or Brees withdrew from the Pro Bowl after losing in the NFC title game.
  • Antrel Rolle, Cardinals FS. He is the second alternate behind the Saints' Roman Harper. If the Saints advance to the Super Bowl, safety Darren Sharper would withdraw from the Pro Bowl. Harper would also make himself ineligible. Rolle would then earn Pro Bowl honors, although injuries might also prompt him to withdraw.
  • Sean Morey, Cardinals special-teamer. Morey is the first alternate. He would replace the Vikings' Heath Farwell if Minnesota advances to the Super Bowl.
  • Justin Smith, 49ers DE. Though Smith plays end in the 49ers' 3-4 defense, he qualifies as an "interior defensive lineman" in Pro Bowl balloting. He would be named to the game as a second alternate if the Vikings advanced to the Super Bowl. Minnesota's Kevin Williams (starter) and Pat Williams (first alternate) would withdraw.
Full Pro Bowl rosters with injury replacements here.

Wilson, Willis lead NFC West All-Pros

January, 14, 2010
The recently announced 2009 NFL All-Pro team has as many former Seahawks (two) as current NFC West players.

The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson and the 49ers' Patrick Willis made the team, as did former Seahawks Steve Hutchinson and Leonard Weaver.

Niners tight end Vernon Davis appears capable of making a serious run at the tight end spot next season.

NFC West penalty watch: Personal fouls

December, 17, 2009