NFC West: Demetrius Bell
What went right: The Cardinals struck a long-term contract agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell, solidifying their defensive line. ... First-round draft choice Michael Floyd promised to give the Cardinals a big, talented weapon opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd's addition makes Arizona four players deep at wide receiver. The team expects Andre Roberts to become more productive from the slot as a result. ... The Cardinals arguably have better cornerback depth than they've had in years, particularly if rookie Jamell Fleming builds upon an impressive rookie camp debut. ... Running back Ryan Williams has beat expectations in his recovery from a knee injury that could have been career-threatening. The team thinks he can contribute significantly this season, one reason the Cardinals did not address the position much this offseason. ... Keeping assistant John McNulty away from Tampa bay and converting him to quarterbacks coach has the potential to benefit Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. ... The Cardinals finally have young prospects for the offensive line after selecting three in the draft.
What went wrong: Arizona made landing Peyton Manning a top priority, involving in the pursuit everyone from ownership to Fitzgerald. The effort was admirable, but the results were disappointing and the fallback -- paying another $7 million to retain Kolb -- was unsatisfying. ... The Miami Dolphins paid relatively big money to sign cornerback Richard Marshall away from the Cardinals. Marshall had been Arizona's defensive MVP, according to coordinator Ray Horton. The resources Arizona used to replace Marshall might have been directed elsewhere, as the Cardinals navigated the offseason with relatively scarce resources (little salary-cap space, no second-round draft choice). ... The search for a veteran offensive tackle led nowhere after Demetress Bell signed with Philadelphia. ... Arizona could be over-reliant on young outside linebackers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield after failing to upgrade that position. Clark Haggans' expected return would help.
The bottom line: The Cardinals need better play from their quarterbacks. Everything else is details.
Your turn: Any significant omissions here?
The latest revelations -- profanity-laced recorded comments Williams made to New Orleans Saints players before their playoff game at San Francisco -- are chilling in their specificity. Time and again, Williams encouraged players to injure specific opponents, from Michael Crabtree to Frank Gore to Alex Smith to Kyle Williams.
Given these recordings, it's for the best that Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, declined to appeal his suspension relating to the Saints' bounty scandal. There can be no defending what he said.
Pro Football Talk has transcribed some of the comments. Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver also has a column on the matter. I listened to the comments and transcribed them for this item.
"Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head," Williams told Saints players one day before the 49ers defeated New Orleans in the wild-card round. "Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head."
There was more. Much more.
"We need to find out in the first two series of the game, the little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion," Williams said, referring to Kyle Williams. "We need to [expletive] put a lick on him right now."
Williams also indicated the Saints should take out Crabtree's knee.
"We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake ass prima donna or he wants to be a tough guy," Williams told players. "We need to find it out. He becomes human when we [expletive] take out that outside ACL."
On and on it went.
Williams encouraged players to hit Smith under the chin, referring back to the "big eyes" Smith got when the Saints hit him repeatedly during the exhibition opener. He wanted the Saints to take out all the 49ers' key players, noting repeatedly that his team should not apologize for how it plays the game.
"We need to decide on how many times we can beat Frank Gore's head," Williams said.
Williams allegedly punctuated some of his comments with a hand gesture indicating he would pay cash for injuring the 49ers. These are damning tapes further cementing Williams' reputation for crossing the line.
Looks like we'll have even more than anticipated to discuss on the blog Thursday.
Elsewhere in the division ...
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on the 49ers not facing the Raiders in the preseason.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Reggie Smith's departure from the 49ers in free agency further guts what remains of the team's 2008 draft class. Barrows: "According to a source, Smith, an unrestricted free agent, told the 49ers in his exit interview in January that he was not interested in returning to the team, presumably because he knew his chances of starting were slim with Dashon Goldson on the roster. The 49ers made Goldson their franchise player, although he has yet to sign the tender. The top three safeties for 2012 appear to be Goldson, strong safety Donte Whitner and C.J. Spillman. Madieu Williams, who also is a free agent, could return."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says players are working out informally at team headquarters in advance of the voluntary offseason workout program.
Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis quotes new Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan saying he wanted to play for Williams. Finnegan: "Every player you talk to says what a great coach he is. I was so excited to have a chance to play for him. He has a great defense and players love playing in that defense."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says recently retired former Rams receiver Torry Holt downplayed talk about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Holt: "Shoot, we've got to get Cris Carter in the Hall, we have to get Andre Reed in the Hall, we've got to get Tim Brown in the Hall before we even start mentioning anything about Torry Holt being in the Hall."
Also from Thomas: notes from Holt's retirement news conference. Holt on whether signing a one-day contract would let him suit up: "I was speaking to Carla, my wife, and said, 'You know what? It would probably be cool if I called (equipment manager) Jimmy Lake and I had him set up my locker and get my cleats, and get my gloves, get my baggy shorts, and let me run one more deep seven (route). Shoot it out of the JUGS machine and I could catch it for a touchdown.' ... You know what? That'd be too much. Let's act like an adult here, I guess."
More from Thomas: The Rams have interest in free agent receiver Jerome Simpson.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune makes available draft analyst Rob Rang for a discussion focusing mostly on the Seahawks. Rang: "I believe Coby Fleener is going to wind up as a top 20 pick. There are few teams with obvious needs at TE to warrant such a pick, but coming off a 2011 season in which Gronk, Graham, etc. demonstrated just how effective these matchup nightmares can be, I believe some team is going to shock everyone. That team could be Seattle. If you're going to build a team around a relatively weak-armed QB, he'd damn well better have some weapons."
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle explains why he thinks the Seahawks' were true to form in letting David Hawthorne sign with New Orleans.
Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times says the Seahawks met with Patriots free agent defensive back Antwaun Molden.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has this to say about the Cardinals' preseason schedule: "It will be the eighth time in the past nine seasons that the Cardinals have played the Broncos in the final preseason game."
Also from Somers: Levi Brown re-signed with the Cardinals shortly after the team visited with free-agent tackle Demetress Bell. Somers: "Coincidence? Maybe. The Cardinals paid Brown a $7 million signing bonus. Earlier in free agency they signed guard/tackle Adam Snyder to a five-year deal that included a $5 million signing bonus. The Cardinals remained interested in Bell, but it was questionable if they were going to write another big check for an offensive lineman."
More from Somers: The Cardinals have their key specialists under contract.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at options for Arizona on the offensive line. He quotes line coach Russ Grimm on Adam Snyder: "He was tops on our free agent list as far as offensive line was concerned. He’s a big physical guy, he's smart, he has played a number of positions. Right now we have him penciled in at right guard but if we have to move it around before camp we’ll move it around."
The Rams' seven-time Pro Bowler offered a formal goodbye while NFC West teams searched for receivers with comparable skill.
The latest 2012 NFL mock draft from Mel Kiper Jr., a two-rounder with explanations for every selection, sends three receivers to NFC West teams in the first round alone.
We get the hint even though this division features a couple all-time greats in Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald. The Rams in particular need upgraded weapons, but the other teams in the division could use help as well.
And while Kiper did not send a receiver to Seattle in the first round, knowledgeable Seahawks fans know their team hasn't had a Pro Bowl player at the position since Brian Blades in 1989 (another receiver, Alex Bannister, made it as a special-teamer in 2003).
The symmetry with Holt and the Rams is striking. The team drafted Holt sixth overall in 1999, and a trade-down with Washington this offseason has given them the sixth pick again this year. That is where we pick up the conversation, using Kiper's mock as a starting point.
6. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St.
Kiper's give: The possibility remains that St. Louis could move off this spot, but if they stay here and get Blackmon, they'll immediately upgrade a huge weakness, which is the lack of talented options for Sam Bradford in the passing game. Blackmon's speed is adequate, but his smarts, ball skills, route-running and work habits translate to a guy that can contribute immediately, which is what this offense desperately needs.
Sando's take: Kiper had cornerback Morris Claiborne heading to the Rams in his previous mock. Blackmon went to Cleveland at No. 4 in that scenario, but with running back Trent Richardson working out impressively following knee surgery, Kiper has the Browns taking Richardson instead of Blackmon. That left Blackmon for the Rams. We've debated on the blog whether Blackmon would be a reach with the sixth pick. We do know Blackmon would address a primary need, and that most analysts consider him a legitimate choice among the top 10 selections. The Rams are trying to bolster the position in free agency to diminish the need heading into the draft, but they aren't going to find a young talent such as Blackmon on the market at this time. The Rams own the 33rd and 39th picks as well, giving them an opportunity to find playmakers beyond the sixth choice, should they prefer to do so. Kiper had the Rams taking Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and Ohio State tackle Mike Adams in the second round.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Kiper's give: Even if [Boston College linebacker Luke] Kuechly is still on the board, it would be tough for Seattle to pass on perhaps the safest 4-3 DE option available. Coples has prototypical size, can play every down as a pass-rusher and has a solid arsenal of moves to get to opposing quarterbacks, but with the size and discipline to be a force against the run. Seattle can't go wrong here with either the top LB or DE available. This defense is close to being considered among the NFL's finest.
Sando's take: The word "safest" isn't particularly comforting for Seahawks fans. Aaron Curry was considered the safest pick in the 2009 draft. Coples was my choice for Seattle in the recent NFL Blog Network mock. Then, Kuechly was not available. Kiper previously had Seattle taking Ryan Tannehill in this spot, but Tannehill was off the board this time and the Seahawks weren't in the QB market, anyway, after signing Matt Flynn. Some have criticized Coples for inconsistent effort. Pete Carroll constantly emphasizes competition, but the Seahawks have shown they can get good results from defensive players with varied résumés and reputations. Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Alan Branch come to mind. The draft plot thickens considerably for Seattle if Kuechly does slip past the top 11 choices. The word "safe" has applied to Kuechly as well. The Seahawks have obvious needs for a pass-rusher and a linebacker, so Coples and Kuechly make sense as projected picks. Kiper had the Seahawks taking Oklahoma linebacker Ronnell Lewis in the second round.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Kiper's give: Another pick I'll stick with, Floyd is a great complement to Larry Fitzgerald and will help Arizona maximize the options for Kevin Kolb. The offensive line could use help, but Floyd has proven that he'd be a good value here. Think of Atlanta getting Julio Jones to take some pressure off Roddy White last year. Floyd could fill a similar role.
Sando's take: Some might recall Kiper sending Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin to the Cardinals a couple mocks ago. Martin fell from the first round entirely in Kiper's next version before resurfacing in the 20s of this one. The Cardinals need help at tackle after failing to address the position in free agency. (Demetress Bell's agreement with Philadelphia takes away one option under consideration for Arizona.) I get Kiper's thinking on Floyd. Arming Kolb with sufficient options is important. I've offered a counterpoint in the video posted atop this entry. In short, the Cardinals have already armed Kolb with highly drafted weapons at running back, receiver and tight end. The case can be made that Kolb needs to make better use of the existing weapons. To do that, he'll have to gain a stronger grasp of the playbook this offseason. He'll also need to stay on the field, something he hasn't been able to do. Improved pocket awareness would help. Landing a tackle seems like a necessity, but how? I sent Courtney Upshaw to the Cardinals in our Blog Network mock, figuring pass-rushers are more valuable than receivers or offensive linemen. Stanford guard David DeCastro was available to Arizona in Kiper's latest mock. Would the Cardinals draft him to play guard, then move Adam Snyder to right tackle? Kent Somers raised that possibility and it's an interesting one. I'm not sure Snyder projects as the long-term solution at guard, let alone tackle.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Kiper's give: Hill is the biggest home-run threat in the draft when you combine his speed and size, and it's no secret the 49ers need some help at wide receiver, even with the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. He'll need an adjustment period as he gets used to doing more in terms of scheme than he was asked at Georgia Tech, but he's the kind of weapon this offense needs to expand.
Sando's take: The thinking makes sense, but the 49ers have options in this spot. Players drafted this late in the first round will likely need time before developing into starters. There's no pressure to target the most immediate need on the roster. Landing a receiver does have appeal. Moss is 35 years old and might not offer much at this stage. But the 49ers can count tight end Vernon Davis as one of their receiving options. They use two tight ends frequently. This team does not run a spread offense requiring three top-flight wideouts, in other words. And there's still a chance Michael Crabtree will take another step forward after finally getting a full offseason in the 49ers' offensive system. The team has flexibility heading into the draft, in other words. San Francisco could target just about any position with the 30th choice (quarterback would be a surprise). The 49ers can sit back and wait to see which talented players with question marks fall to them. Kiper had the 49ers taking Brandon Brooks, a guard from Miami of Ohio, in the second round. The need for guard help could subside if the 49ers sign a veteran in free agency, however. They've visited with a few.
Jason Peters' injury hurt the Philadelphia Eagles and did no favors for the Arizona Cardinals.
The Pro Bowl left tackle was earning $12.8 million per year, a reflection of his obvious value to the Eagles. His injury thrust Philadelphia into the market for a free-agent tackle, leading the Eagles to reach agreement with the previously misnamed Demetress Bell, a player the Cardinals had targeted early in free agency.
Arizona is heading toward the draft with an obvious need at tackle. The Cardinals hold the 13th overall choice, but no pick in the second round. They re-signed veteran tackle Levi Brown, but the position remains unsettled.
Moving Brown back to right tackle would require finding a better prospect for the left side. That appears unlikely in the short term, even if the Cardinals use their first-round choice for a tackle. It's looking like Brown will man the left side heading into the season.
Who starts opposite Brown? Perhaps it's a draft choice. Former starter Brandon Keith has had injury problems and is unsigned. Jeremy Bridges is nearly 32 years old and appears most valuable as a spot starter, not a long-term answer. The team re-signed D'Anthony Batiste, a 30-year-old backup with 22 appearances and four starts in six seasons with six teams.
Bell, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, was the most promising young tackle available in free agency. The Cardinals were among several teams to meet with him this offseason. Bell, 27, was not a sure bet, however. A shoulder injury slowed him last season. Bell played in seven games, starting six. He has 30 starts over the last three seasons.
We touched upon San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith's participation in the search for a missing teenager. In Arizona, meanwhile, Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson recently donated $100,000 to Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com has the details. Urban also quotes Wilson on football matters: "Offense sells tickets. I guess that’s the goal of marketing, sell tickets, fill the stadium up. Defensively we’ll be fine. Our secondary, our defense, we were talking about it (Wednesday night), a bunch of us guys. It's our second year, we should be trending up. We shouldn't take a step back. Everyone understands what their role is and what we need to get done."
Also from Urban: The Cardinals appear to remain interested in signing free-agent offensive lineman Demetrius Bell. Urban: "As I have mentioned before, his number of visits while remaining unsigned usually points to a salary desire that’s higher than market value. There’s always a chance that could change. Bell has reportedly visited the Packers and Redskins besides the Cards, and he’s now in Pittsburgh and has a visit lined up with the Eagles, who lost stud starter Jason Peters to a ruptured Achilles tendon during an offseason workout. Demand is climbing, so Bell might have been smart to wait. He may not leave Pennsylvania."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals backup quarterback Rich Bartel attended Brock Osweiler's workout for scouts recently. Somers: "Bartel is a football junkie so he dropped by to watch. Bartel already spends his off-season coaching at camps, and he'll be a fine coach, scout, etc., whenever he's through playing."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks let Anthony Hargrove sign with the Packers because they considered Jason Jones an upgrade at defensive tackle. O'Neil on Hargrove: "He was a mainstay in Seattle's nickel package last year, he had three sacks and his most memorable play was the tackle for a loss he had, registering a safety in New York against the Giants."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says it's looking like David Hawthorne will re-sign with the Seahawks on a two- or three-year contract, according to ESPN's John Clayton. Clayton: "I think that Hawthorne is starting to realize that the market may not be there."
Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer says Seahawks coach Pete Carroll came away highly impressed after studying Cam Newton's rookie performance with the Carolina Panthers.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with former Rams punter Donnie Jones, who recently signed with the Houston Texans. Jones: "My whole thing is that you always want to go somewhere where they want you, they really want you to be a part of something. I guess in St. Louis they just didn't want that." Noted: It's rarely personal from the team's standpoint, especially when it comes to a punter, but it's almost always personal from the player's perspective.
Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis looks at how the Rams' rookie pool will affect their salary cap outlook.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers plan to meet with Utah State running back Robert Turbin. Branch: "Turbin, who attended Irvington High School in Fremont, rushed for 2,813 yards, averaged 6.2 yards a carry and scored 41 total touchdowns in his final two college seasons. Turbin is also scheduled to visit the Chiefs, Eagles, Redskins and Jets."
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers released receiver Dontavia Bogan one day after Bogan indicated he had been cleared medically to return from injury. Noted: That is fairly typical in these cases. Teams often allow players to rehab from injuries at team facilities. Then, once the player is healthy, the team can release the player without the additional financial considerations that go along with injury settlements.
Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay
Key losses: CB Richard Marshall
Sando's grade so far: C-minus. Arizona gets credit for making a strong run at Peyton Manning and securing a visit with him at Cardinals headquarters. That was a bold move and one that could have instantly transformed the Cardinals into a contending team. But it did not work. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had a point when he said the Cardinals were comfortable moving forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their quarterbacks. However, it was still telling that Arizona would aggressively pursue another quarterback eight months after allocating $12.4 million per year to Kolb. Most of the other teams making big investments in quarterbacks last offseason sat out the Manning sweepstakes.
Overall, Arizona has done little to upgrade its roster. Committing $19 million in bonus money to Snyder, Levi Brown and Kolb will not make the team $19 million better. Marshall was a valued contributor and the MVP on defense last season, according to coordinator Ray Horton. He'll be missed after signing with Miami. On the other hand, the Cardinals did win seven of their final nine games last season. Perhaps they have fewer holes than conventional wisdom suggests.
What’s next: The Cardinals need help at offensive tackle and have shown interest in Buffalo Bills free agent Demetrius Bell. The team would be fortunate to address the position before the draft. Whisenhunt has consistently defended Brown, who has played both tackle spots since 2007. The team's decision to give Brown a $7 million signing bonus as part of a streamlined contract showed Whisenhunt wasn't bluffing. But another starting tackle would help.
The Cardinals have yet to reach a long-term agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell. Getting a deal done with Campbell would reduce the defensive end's salary-cap charge ($10.6 million for now). It would reward a rising young player and head off future headaches associated with using the tag a second time next offseason.
Receiver and possibly outside linebacker are also areas where the Cardinals could use reinforcements.
San Francisco 49ers
Key additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, RB Brandon Jacobs
Key losses: Snyder, WR Josh Morgan, ST Blake Costanzo
Sando's grade so far: B-plus. The 49ers had relatively few holes on their roster after a 13-3 season. Pursuing Manning provided a temporary distraction without inflicting long-term damage. The 49ers needed to keep together their core, and they accomplished that goal. Alex Smith's re-signing to a three-year deal was key. Smith will return to the team, maintaining continuity and giving the 49ers' offense a chance to build on last season. But the contract terms will not limit the 49ers' options beyond this season, a plus.
The 49ers succeeded in re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers after using the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Those moves solidified the secondary. Addressing the situation at wide receiver was a top priority heading into free agency. Moss and Manningham were low-risk, high-reward additions. Both have the potential to provide qualities the 49ers were lacking last season, but neither carried a high price tag. Retaining receiver Ted Ginn Jr. restored firepower to the return game.
What’s next: Using the draft to improve the long-term outlook at receiver still could be an option. But with Moss, Manningham and Ginn on the roster, the 49ers should not feel pressured to select a wideout with the 30th overall choice in the draft. The team now has flexibility. There has been no indication that the 49ers or any team will seriously pursue Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald money.
The 49ers could use a veteran right guard for insurance in case Daniel Kilgore isn't ready for the starting job. They have visited with Leonard Davis and Deuce Lutui, both former Cardinals. Keeping Snyder would have been nice, but the Cardinals paid a $5 million signing bonus to get him. That price was too high for the 49ers, who similarly balked last offseason when the New York Giants gave center David Baas an $8.5 million bonus.
St. Louis Rams
Key additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith
Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, P Donnie Jones, OLB Chris Chamberlain
Sando's grade so far: B. The Rams would get a higher grade for their offseason in general, but this item focuses on free agency. That excludes from consideration Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach, and general manager Les Snead's ability to maximize value for the second overall pick in the draft. The Finnegan and Wells signings give the Rams welcome leadership while upgrading important positions. Langford should help the run defense.
The Rams have yet to address their playmaking deficiencies. They did not land any of the high-profile wide receivers in free agency. There's a chance Smith will recapture old form in his second season back from microfracture knee surgery, but the Rams are not counting on that. They will almost certainly emerge from free agency without even marginally upgrading the weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford. That is a disappointment.
What’s next: The outlook remains bright for St. Louis. The team owns the sixth, 33rd and 39th choices in the 2012 draft, plus two first-rounders in each of the following two drafts. There will be time and opportunity for the Rams to add the offensive firepower they need so badly, perhaps with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 6 overall.
Much work lies ahead. The Rams emerged from this week with eight fewer players on their roster than the average for the other 31 teams. Using free agency to address holes at outside linebacker and left guard would provide flexibility heading into the draft. The Rams still need a backup quarterback as well. Bradford is the only QB on the roster. It's looking like the team is serious about bringing back right tackle Jason Smith despite injury concerns and a fat contract that will presumably require adjustment.
Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones
Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove
Sando's grade so far: B-plus: The Seahawks knew for months that Manning would probably hit the market and still could not secure a meeting with him. Their pursuit included a flight by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to Denver in a desperation move that failed to impress Manning. That was a rare disappointment for Seattle in free agency.
Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before the signing period took off much of the pressure. Re-signing Red Bryant without using the franchise tag rewarded the Seahawks for a disciplined approach to the market. That approach paid off again when the Seahawks landed Flynn without rushing into an imprudent contract. Flynn spent five days on the market before signing with Seattle. The Seahawks got him for about half as much per season as Kolb cost a year ago, without even promising him the starting job. That was impressive.
What’s next: Quarterback and pass-rusher were Seattle's top two needs heading into free agency. Flynn solved one of them for now, at least. Jones, an inside pass-rusher signed from Tennessee, should help the other area. But the need for outside pass-rush help persists. The team could use the 12th overall choice in the draft for a defensive end.
Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals seem to have it backward at linebacker. They've invested more at inside linebacker (Stewart Bradley and Daryl Washington) than outside linebacker at a time when teams are paying for perimeter players.
Bradley figures to get more comfortable with a full offseason in the Cardinals' defensive system, but even if that happens, he's still going to be a relatively average inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Washington is a very good player and an integral part of the defense, so no complaints there.
As for Wimbley, he's projected to play right defensive end in the Titans' 4-3 scheme. I'm not sure he would have been the answer for Arizona. The Cardinals do like their young players at outside linebacker. Sam Acho played nearly half the defensive snaps last season. O'Brien Schofield was at 38 percent. Those two players do have promise, but the Cardinals need help at that position, in my opinion.
Outside linebacker, offensive tackle and wide receiver are three positions for the Cardinals to consider targeting before the draft. I would want a tackle first. Demetrius Bell is one free-agent candidate there. If the Cardinals could address tackle to some degree in free agency, they could feel better about using the 13th overall pick for an outside linebacker type. They cannot expect the unsigned Clark Haggans, 35, to play forever.
Axel from Eagle River, Alaska, suggests that the St. Louis Rams should be more active in seeking out higher-quality free agents at outside linebacker, defensive tackle and on the offensive line. He asks why they would bring in Chilo Rachal and Robert Turner for visits when neither would seem to be better than Jacob Bell or Jason Brown. Why not check out Vernon Carey, Jake Scott and Chad Rinehart?
Mike Sando: I'm with you on this one, in theory, but I also see what the Rams are thinking. They are building for the long haul, so they do not want to throw money at too many older players, particularly at non-premium positions. They want to go young.
The Rams had the NFL's youngest roster by average age heading into the weekend. Players around the league are not lining up to play for a team that has gone 15-65 over the last five seasons. The Rams might have to pay a premium to land some of these free agents.
Adding 31-year-old Scott Wells in free agency gave Sam Bradford a veteran center to lean on. That could be important.
The Rams already invested in right guard Harvey Dahl last offseason. Carey, 30, played right guard for the Miami Dolphins. His versatility and durability would make him an appealing addition. But if the Rams are going to go the 30-something route at guard, why not bring back the affordable Jacob Bell, who played for Fisher in Tennessee?
The Rams exceeded expectations with their trade sending the second overall draft choice to the Washington Redskins. They have fallen short of expectations in free agency to this point by suffering a net loss in the playmaking department (none added, Brandon Lloyd subtracted). I expect they will address that area in a big, big way on draft day.
The Rams' current receivers, listed in the chart, have 11 combined career touchdown receptions. Restricted free agent Danny Amendola remains unsigned, but the Rams own his rights.
Kyle from Des Moines, Iowa, asks what the San Francisco 49ers should do at right guard. "Are they better off drafting to fill that gap and having an even younger and less experienced line," he writes, "or filling it with a veteran who might not have the same skill level but can provide leadership with fewer mistakes?"
Mike Sando: The 49ers have shown a willingness to invested high draft choices in offensive linemen. Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis were first-round picks. The two right guards last season, Rachal and Adam Snyder, were relatively early choices as well.
Now would be a good time for the 49ers to show they can develop a later-round choice at guard.
They are proceeding at right guard as though confident in Daniel Kilgore's ability to take the job. Kilgore was a fifth-round pick from Appalachian State in 2011, known for his toughness and tenacity. He played left tackle as a senior in college, but the interior is where he projects in the future. I think the 49ers should sign a lower-priced veteran for insurance, then prove they were right in trading up for Kilgore.
Jeff from Las Vegas asks what the Seattle Seahawks are getting with Frank Omiyale. "Bears fans don't seem to think much of him," Jeff writes.
Mike Sando: The Seahawks are getting veteran depth and a player their line coach, Tom Cable, coached in Atlanta years ago. They are not expecting Omiyale to become a starter, but with Robert Gallery gone, they wanted someone with experience.
Bears fans weren't high on Omiyale because Chicago used him as a starter. You might recall Minnesota Vikings fans wondering why the Seahawks would sign Tarvaris Jackson. Seattle wanted someone to help the team get through the season. The Seahawks were not saying Jackson would become the answer for them. They're not projecting Omiyale as the answer, either.
- The Arizona Cardinals announced kicker Jay Feely's return to the team on a two-year agreement. Arizona had been the only team without a specialist under contract.
- Tackle Demetrius Bell and cornerback William Gay remain unsigned. Both visited the Cardinals earlier in free agency. Addressing tackle in particular would give Arizona welcome flexibility heading into the draft.
- The Seattle Seahawks announced a contract agreement with running back Kregg Lumpkin, who became a free agent when Tampa Bay decided against making a qualifying offer to him. Lumpkin was an undrafted free agent with Green Bay when Seahawks general manager John Schneider worked for the Packers. Lumpkin, 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds, had more receptions (41) than carries (31) last season. I'm not sure to what degree Lumpkin addresses the Seahawks' need for a backup with good size.
- Visanthe Shiancoe, 31, looks like the most logical choice for Seattle as the team seeks a replacement for tight end John Carlson. The market dried up further Friday when Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen signed with Denver. Tamme and Shiancoe have visited Seattle. Shiancoe and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were together in Minnesota. By my count, Shiancoe and Jeremy Shockey are the only remaining unrestricted-free-agent tight ends listed as starters last season.
- Former St. Louis Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain will be reunited with Steve Spagnuolo after signing a three-year deal with New Orleans. The Rams have rights to only three linebackers, tied for the lowest figure in the NFL. The team needs help at outside linebacker in particular. The market for linebackers remains soft. Erin Henderson returned to Minnesota on a one-year deal for $2 million.
- Funny quote from Vernon Davis regarding new San Francisco 49ers teammate Randy Moss, from KNBR radio via CSNBayArea.com: "I have been a big fan of Randy since I was a kid. I used to wear his shoes, I remember running up and down the field. 'Mossed, oh, you just got Mossed.' And I remember I used to say, one day they are going to be saying that about me, you just got 'Davised.' " We could say the New Orleans Saints got Davised during the playoffs.
The chart shows roster counts for NFC West teams, counting active players, restricted free agents and franchise players.
I've put together a chart showing what happened to free agents known to have visited NFC West teams since the signing period opened one week ago.
Demetrius Bell showed promise at left tackle for Buffalo last season and would seem to make sense for Arizona.
New Orleans Saints free-agent corner Tracy Porter is not listed, but he remains one of the few young starting-caliber players at the position, and he has ties to the St. Louis Rams' coaching staff.
I've ordered the chart by how many starts each player made in 2011, an attempt to add a qualitative element to the listings.
Note: The 49ers brought in a long list of players for tryouts recently. I've focused on unrestricted free agents making visits. I have added Jacob Tamme, Corey Graham and Visanthe Shiancoe to the list. All three visited the Seahawks recently.
Don't bother with the disclaimers, either.
Yes, history says the best teams build through the draft over time, that free agency can be a fool's errand and bad money gets spent this time of year. We still want action.
I hadn't even arrived home from the combine Monday when free-agent hunger pangs led me to call Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. with an idea: singling out for discussion one potential free agent for each NFC West team, with the Houston Texans' Mario Williams in the spotlight.
Williamson was game. He's here with a quick free-agency fix to get us through another day.
Free agent to consider: Mario Williams, OLB/DE, Houston Texans
Quick primer: Williams, barely 27, could hit the market while the Texans focus their limited salary-cap resources elsewhere. He has 48.5 sacks in his last 66 games and would, at least in theory, help the Seahawks address their most glaring deficiency beyond quarterback.
Williamson's first take: Jacksonville has a chance and New England will be really involved. Seattle is a good one, but I'm not sure exactly where Williams fits. The way they play their scheme, they have Chris Clemons as that 'Leo' guy, the tweener type, and the other end is like a Red Bryant, a big guy. But they clearly need more pass rush. Clemons is fine. Williams is really versatile and that is why he is a great fit in New England. They play so much 3-4. Seattle is a goofy scheme because they do not have two perimeter guys.
Sando's counter: Clemons' contract runs through the 2012 season only. He is 30 years old and probably has some good years left, but Williams could project as their next Leo. In the meantime, the staff would find a way to get the best 11 players on the field. Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley have shown an ability to adapt. They converted Bryant from top-heavy defensive tackle to a pretty much immovable player at the five-technique.
Williamson's followup: The Leo would be a great role for Williams. You could play more base 3-4 stuff. They do need pass-rush help, but right now I do not see a wonderful fit for Williams. Where does he start?
San Francisco 49ers
Free agent to consider: Robert Meachem, WR, New Orleans Saints
Quick primer: Meachem, 27, has a 16.1-yard average per reception and would, in theory, give the 49ers a needed speed element at wide receiver. The 49ers ran low on healthy wideouts last season. They have acknowledged needing help at the position.
Williamson's first take: Quite a few of the top free-agent receivers could become franchise players. All of a sudden, Meachem and Mario Manningham could move up the list. All these receivers have warts. Marques Colston is a free agent, but he has had multiple knee surgeries. DeSean Jackson is fast, but he is little and a pain. Vincent Jackson has been suspended. I think Meachem moves on and winds up being a starter for somebody. His skill set would be real opposite Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is a big, physical, move-the-chains guy. Meachem can run. He gets deep. Even though Alex Smith is not a big-arm guy, Meachem is the type of wideout they should pursue.
Sando's counter: Meachem fits the profile also because the 49ers would rather target middle-tier free agents than spend huge sums on the big names. That is why I don't really see them paying what it would take for Mike Wallace, particularly if a trade were involved. The 49ers are picking only 30th in the draft, so they cannot be certain a top wideout will be there for them. They will be best off addressing the position in free agency, then considering their options in the draft without feeling pressure to find an immediate contributor.
Williamson's followup: The draft also sets up well for them at the position. They have to say, 'We are a contender, let's make a move in free agency.' Mike Wallace would make sense, too. They have to add a receiver of some sort, maybe in free agency and the draft.
St. Louis Rams
Free agent to consider: Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee Titans
Quick primer: Finnegan, 28 last month, has given the Titans' secondary a tough edge in recent seasons. Finnegan played for Rams coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He has started 16 games in four of the last five seasons. He has 14 interceptions, six sacks, one Pro Bowl (2008) and a reputation for nastiness.
Williamson's first take: They are obviously familiar with Finnegan. They do need wideouts and playmakers, but they could add Justin Blackmon after trading back from No. 2 overall. They have quantity at wideout. They need a stud. There is no use in getting Joe Blow C-plus free agent at that position. Corner is a huge need, too. I think Finnegan goes with St. Louis or Detroit. The Lions are a dirty team and Finnegan fits that persona. The Rams have more money to spend and I'm sure they would like to get Morris Claiborne, but not with the top pick. It would be nice to add a solid corner you can count on.
Sando's counter: The Rams liked the top of their depth chart at this position heading into last season, but things have changed. Ron Bartell is coming off a career-altering neck injury. His salary is $6.2 million this season, more than I would anticipate the Rams paying under the circumstances. Bradley Fletcher is a good player when healthy, but he's coming off ACL surgery. Adding Finnegan or another free-agent corner would make sense. The Saints' Tracy Porter played for Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in New Orleans. I doubt the Atlanta Falcons would let Brent Grimes get away, but he's someone the Rams would through their new general manager, Les Snead. The team needs a starting corner.
Williamson's followup: After Jim Schwartz left Fisher's staff for Detroit, he went out and signed Kyle Vanden Bosch. Fisher could sign Finnegan and essentially say, 'This is what I expect. This is how we are going to play defense around here. Watch Cortland.' They will bring in some of their own guys. This is clearly a need position.
Free-agent to consider: Jared Gaither, LT, San Diego Chargers
Quick primer: Gaither, 25, has all the physical qualities a team would want in a left tackle. He is also 6-foot-9 and 340 pounds. Gaither played well in five starts with San Diego last season, but he has been a tease throughout his career. Baltimore and Kansas City gave up on him.
Williamson's first take: The Cardinals' needs aren't crazy. They could add another outside linebacker type to the mix, but the two youngsters played pretty well. They will get Ryan Williams back at running back. Quarterback is the problem, but I just don't know if they will do anything about it. Their line needs to be rebuilt. Levi Brown, as much as I dislike him, did play better late in the season. I still think he is one of the worst starters in all of football when you look at every game he has started in the NFL. He is not a starting-caliber player. Russ Grimm is a good line coach. Gaither is the most volatile guy out there, but when he is right, he is a top-10 left tackle. Maybe Grimm can harness that. Gaither played well late and should not be overly expensive.
Sando's counter: The Cardinals haven't gotten much from Deuce Lutui or Brown, two players with talent. I'm not sure there's any evidence to suggest Arizona would suddenly get maximum value from another offensive lineman with question marks. Brown's return appears likely, but he will have to take a pay cut. The team doesn't really have another starting tackle, in my view. Brandon Keith's injury situation is a concern. The Cardinals basically have no young talent to draw from at the position because they have loaded up on older vets, largely ignoring offensive linemen in the draft. But they cannot be sure a starting-caliber tackle will be there for them with the 13th overall choice, either.
Williamson's followup: Gaither has some issues, but look, Joe Thomas is not available. They are not going to get Jake Long. They could use a first-round pick on one, too. I don’t know what Gaither's issues are, if he is a bad guy or just unmotivated or what. He was a very good left tackle in Baltimore and they cut him. The last tape of Gaither we saw was good. San Diego might want to keep him. Maybe he turns the corner after being cut by a couple teams. There will be a market for him. Another good tackle who may never leave his current team is Demetrius Bell from Buffalo. He was drafted as a project and is gradually getting better. Last year, he showed he can be an NFL left tackle. His best football might be ahead of him, too.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
In a mild upset, Cardinals tackle Levi Brown has moved past Rams guard Richie Incognito in the "race" to lead all NFC West players in penalties this season.
While Incognito will be tough to unseat as the reigning NFC West penalty champion, Brown has come on strong with six penalties already this season, only two fewer than he had in 2008. Brown is on pace for 19 penalties in 2009, six more than Incognito had last season.
Incognito's famously hot temper should give him an advantage over the even-keeled, intellectually inclined Brown, who graduated from Penn State in less than four years. Incognito has two penalties for unnecessary roughness and one for tripping this season, although his lone infraction since Week 2 was for a relatively benign false start.
Rams tackle Alex Barron, who tied for third in the division with 11 penalties last season, has matched Incognito so far. Barron has five penalties, including at least one in four of the Rams' first six games. Two penalties for illegal formation, two for holding and a Week 6 flag for a false start are keeping him in contention.
The chart shows NFC West penalty "leaders" through Week 6. The figures count declined penalties.
The Seahawks' Max Unger replaced teammate Ray Willis on the list after the NFL shifted blame for a penalty from Willis to Unger. The penalty was for holding with 1:43 left in the second quarter of the Seahawks' game at Indianapolis in Week 4.
Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui, who ranked second in the division with 12 penalties last season, has only two in 2009.
The NFL makes available stats for accepted penalties (Rams have second-most, Seahawks have second-fewest). ESPN Stats & Information tracks declined penalties as well.
Bills offensive lineman Demetrius Bell and Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth lead the NFL with eight total penalties, one more than the Cowboys' Flozell Adams. Rams cornerback Ron Bartell ranks second in penalty yardage with 56. The Dolphins' Will Allen is first with 69.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
He might not belong there.
"It was one of those things you wish wouldn't have been called," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, noting it was a "tough call" and one that prevented the Arizona offense from building on its first-half momentum against the Texans in Week 5.
That was a delicate way of saying Becht might have been wrongly implicated. The penalty turned a 24-yard gain on third-and-1 into a third-and-11 situation precipitating a sack.
The chart shows NFC West penalty "leaders" through Week 5. The figures count declined penalties.
The NFL makes available stats for accepted penalties. ESPN Stats & Information tracks declined penalties as well. Counting declined and assessed penalties, the Seahawks have the fewest (24). Arizona ranks tied for 10th with 32. San Francisco is tied for 15th with 33. The Rams rank 30th with 45. Only the Ravens (46) and Bills (51) have more.
Bills offensive lineman Demetrius Bell leads the NFL with eight total penalties. For all the 49ers' struggles at guard this season, their offensive line has only three penalties, fewest in the league. The Bills' line has a league-high 21, followed by 18 for the Chiefs and 16 for the Rams. Seattle's line has 11. Arizona's line has nine, just below the league average (9.5).
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoThe 49ers hold the 10th, 43rd, 74th, 111th, 146th, 171st, 184th, 219th and 244th choices in the 2009 draft. For perspective, I've singled out the last four players chosen in those spots.
The Lions' selection of USC receiver Mike Williams with the 10th overall choice is enough to raise those familiar red flags for receivers drafted in that range. The last 10 receivers drafted between seventh and 10th overall were Ted Ginn Jr., Troy Williamson, the aforementioned Mike Williams, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Plaxico Burress, Travis Taylor and David Boston.
How many of those once-highly regarded wideouts would you want on your team right now? Not many. Only four have NFL jobs. For those hoping the 49ers might draft a USC quarterback [Mark Sanchez] in the first round instead, it's been done at No. 10 recently and with unconvincing results.
Justin Tuck at No. 74 in 2005 stands out as a terrific value, but I also credit the Giants for developing him.
The 49ers could use a young prospect at safety. They could do worse than the Ravens did when they made Dawan Landry the 146th player chosen in 2006. Landry became a starter as a rookie.