NFC West: Derek Fine

Thoughts on the Rams' new tight end

February, 18, 2010
The Cardinals' signing of veteran center Melvin Fowler last offseason seemed to upgrade their depth on the line.

Fowler didn't last. The Cardinals cut him. Detroit signed him. Fowler still hasn't played in an NFL game since 2008.

The lesson: There's usually a reason teams release players.

That context should help Rams fans from getting too excited about the team's addition of former Bills tight end Derek Fine, recently claimed off waivers. Fine's addition is still a move worth monitoring, based on the potential he has shown when healthy. Unlike Fowler, an older player with 60 regular-season starts, Fine has played in only 18 games over two NFL seasons.

Before a knee injury ended Fine's 2009 season, Allen Wilson of the Buffalo News had this to say about him:
"Fine gives the Bills a bigger and more physical body at tight end than (Derek) Schouman or (Shawn) Nelson offers. A 6-foot-3, 250-pounder, Fine should be an asset in the running game because he is a tenacious run blocker who plays with good strength, leverage and technique at the point of attack. He's also an underrated receiver. He doesn't have the same burst to separate from defenders like Schouman or the speed and raw athleticism that Nelson possesses. But Fine has very reliable hands, runs good routes and has shown the ability to make himself an available target by finding soft spots in coverage."

The Rams were happy with backup tight end Billy Bajema, late of the 49ers, last season. They probably need to replace Randy McMichael, who is scheduled to become a free agent. Fine, a fourth-round pick in 2008, helps their numbers at the position while giving them another prospect to develop.

Around the NFC West: Rolle's strategy

February, 18, 2010
Darren Urban of says the Cardinals are speaking with Antrel Rolle about a new contract. Rolle's salary jumps past $8 million in 2010 and the Cardinals have to pay him a $4 million bonus by March 5 to prevent him from becoming a free agent. Urban: "If the Cards believe there is a good chance of getting something done, there really isn’t any urgency to reach a new agreement before needing to pay out the bonus because Rolle will get that money (and then some) anyway. But there’s an element of high-stakes poker to this too. Rolle doesn’t have to do anything and force the Cards' hand, although in this market, all players need to be wary of what they can get." If the Cardinals pay the $4 million, Rolle should just play out his contract and see what happens, in my view.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals plan to conduct business as usual this offseason. The Cardinals face quite a few challenges. They have a long list of free agents and their quarterback retired. It's a tribute to the coaching staff and organization if this team can get to .500 next season under the circumstances.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams succeeded in claiming tight end Derek Fine off waivers from Buffalo. Thomas: "With veteran Randy McMichael scheduled for unrestricted free agency and unlikely to return to St. Louis, the Rams are looking for options at tight end. Blocking specialist Billy Bajema returns in 2010 and Daniel Fells is scheduled for restricted free agency. Fine is viewed more as an H-back/receiving tight end." Injuries have limited Fine, a fourth-round choice in 2008. Four months ago, the Bills considered Fine a promising prospect. More on him in a bit.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says holding the No. 1 overall draft choice puts pressure on the Rams' leadership, particularly with a new owner waiting to take over the team. Miklasz: "The pressure on general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo is enormous. You see, this isn't just a question of hitting the lotto on that No. 1 pick. There's much more at stake than that. This draft could alter the future of the franchise, on and off the field. This draft could impact the job security of Devaney and Spagnuolo, who are working hard to overcome the football crimes and misdemeanors committed by the previous Rams' regime."

Also from Miklasz: Marshall Faulk has more harsh words for the Rams, this time via The Sporting News.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says ESPN's Mel Kiper thinks the 49ers could use running back C.J. Spiller. Kiper: "I think they need him. I think they need a return man of his skills, they need a back of his ability to complement Frank Gore, which I don't think Glen Coffee is. And most of these teams now, the majority of these teams have a stable of three backs that complement each other, so it doesn't matter who you have as your lead guy. You need that 2 and that 3. Certainly Spiller is something they don't have."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah, who points to Penn State's Jared Odrick as a defensive end the 49ers could consider in the first round. Jeremiah: "He's climbing really quick. He's a really good player. He's a perfect 5-technique guy. He's a perfect 3-4 end because he has the size with his height and length and he's really strong at the point, so he can hang in there and two-gap if he has to. He's really good against the run and he has some quickness he can use in the pass game. A lot of people are comparing him to Aaron Smith of the Bengals." This is a good read because Jeremiah is very specific.

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald says Seahawks receiver Deion Branch would love to rejoin the Patriots this offseason if Seattle doesn't bring him back. Branch: "I never wanted to leave, nor did Coach [Bill] Belichick and his staff and the organization want me to leave, either. We just couldn’t get the contractual part down. We just couldn’t come to an agreement. And that stuff happens. ... For us to reunite, I don’t know. I would probably be crying at the press conference, if it happens. Look, I’ve enjoyed my time with the Seahawks. I would love to stay in Seattle. But if it happens, if it presents itself, that would be great."