NFC West: Donnie Avery

Former San Francisco 49ers receiver A.J. Jenkins could compete with former St. Louis Rams receiver Donnie Avery for a starting spot in the Kansas City Chiefs' offense.

That coincidence illustrates the high level of turnover at the position around here.

The San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Seattle Seahawks' Percy Harvin suffered serious injuries this offseason. The St. Louis Rams decided against retaining 2012 starters Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. The Arizona Cardinals still have Larry Fitzgerald, of course, and they're excited about Michael Floyd. But even they have remained on the lookout for supporting players at the position, including the recently signed Mike Thomas.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Jenkins
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY SportsA.J. Jenkins was one of just two receivers the 49ers drafted before the fifth round between 2009 and 2012.
The chart below provides some context. It shows every wide receiver NFC West teams have selected in the past five drafts. I've shaded the 49ers' selections to show why they're scrambling at the position after losing Crabtree indefinitely and deciding Jenkins wasn't worth keeping for a second season. Crabtree and Jenkins were the only wideouts San Francisco selected in the first five rounds from 2009 until the team used a 2013 fourth-round pick for Quinton Patton, who recently returned from a finger injury.

We should have expected the 49ers to get more from their wideouts as their quarterback situation has improved. That happened for the Seattle Seahawks last season as Russell Wilson gained momentum. Receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice began producing at levels they had not achieved in Seattle previously.

Crabtree seemed to benefit from the 49ers' improved quarterback play last season. Jenkins didn't earn or otherwise receive sufficient chances. That helps explain why 2010 sixth-round choice Kyle Williams has ranked as the leading contender to start opposite 2013 trade acquisition Anquan Boldin while Crabtree and 2012 free-agent addition Mario Manningham remain on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Williams has outperformed his sixth-round pedigree, but the 49ers never planned for him to be a starter. Jon Baldwin, acquired from the Chiefs in the Jenkins trade, can only improve the dynamic in the short term after Jenkins failed to factor.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said his team felt comfortable with Jenkins after consulting with quarterback Alex Smith and assistant head coach/receivers David Culley. Smith played with Jenkins in San Francisco. Culley ran Jenkins through a workout before the 2012 draft. Reid said the Chiefs liked Jenkins' speed, hands and smarts.

"Alex was very positive about it," Reid told reporters in Kansas City.

Reid's comments regarding Avery and Baldwin might also be of interest:

  • On Avery: "We know that A.J. is going to have to come in here and learn, so we had to feel comfortable that Donnie was a legitimate starter, and we felt that. We felt that when we brought him here and since he’s been here, that he could be a quality starter on our football team. Donnie has tremendous speed, and he’s got a lot of experience and he's shown in this offense that he can do some nice things."

  • On Baldwin: "I'll always take responsibility for putting the guys in a good position to get them open and for the time that Jon was here, he did nothing but work his tail off for me. I’m not going that direction. I wish I could have helped get him open a little more than we did. ... This presented itself. I think it's good for Jon. They lost a big, powerful receiver, Crabtree, and Jon fits in that role. We needed extra kick in there and we'll see if A.J. can give us a little extra speed."

While Baldwin's 6-foot-4 and 230-pound frame surely appealed to the 49ers, I don't think they necessarily went into the trade seeking a receiver more closely matching Crabtree's physical dimensions. More likely, they were cutting their losses with Jenkins and figured Baldwin, a first-round choice in 2011, would be better than any other receiver the team was likely to receive in a trade. The fact that Baldwin has excellent size factored into their thinking, too, particularly after the smaller Jenkins struggled getting separation against physical corners. But the 49ers knew about Jenkins' size when they drafted him.

"He was the best player available when we picked," general manager Trent Baalke said on draft day 2012. "His card was above all others. That was a big reason in why we made the decision. Not only do we feel he has the skill sets we're looking for -- explosive playmaking ability -- but like we've always talked, he's our kind of guy. He's a football guy. He loves the game. He's very passionate. He lives for the games. He lives in the building. He loves the game. It was an easy decision when it came time to make the pick."

Chart note: I did not include the Seahawks' Jameson Konz because he was drafted more as a utility player than as a receiver, and he has changed positions more than once.

On Early Doucet's unusually long run

March, 10, 2013
Wide receiver Early Doucet might not feel like a success story following his release from the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.

Doucet struggled with drops and lost playing time last season, after all. Those were negatives, but the bigger picture looks upon his Cardinals tenure more favorably.

Consider that Doucet's departure from the Cardinals leaves NFC West teams with four players from the 28 they selected in their 2008 NFL draft classes.

Chris Long (St. Louis), Calais Campbell (Arizona), Red Bryant (Seattle) and Larry Grant (San Francisco) comprise that short list. Grant played three seasons with St. Louis before re-signing with San Francisco. That places Doucet on a shorter list of 2008 picks lasting five years with the teams that drafted them.

NFC West teams drafted Long, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Lawrence Jackson, Kentwan Balmer, Donnie Avery, John Carlson, Chilo Rachal, Campbell, John Greco and Reggie Smith before the Cardinals selected Doucet.

Doucet never became a regular starter, but Fitzgerald and Boldin were well-established as franchise cornerstones when he arrived. And after Arizona traded Boldin in 2010, the team used a third-round choice for Andre Roberts.

Doucet was scheduled to earn $2 million in salary and workout bonus in 2013. He is 27 years old and could help a team as a slot receiver, in my view.

Doucet has 1,213 yards receiving from the slot since 2008, third on the Cardinals behind Boldin (1,352) and Fitzgerald (1,221) over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also has 14 drops on those plays, matching the total for Boldin (eight) and Fitzgerald (six).

Campbell: Player of week, and beyond

September, 19, 2012
NFC West teams used 2008 second-round draft choices for Donnie Avery (St. Louis), John Carlson (Seattle) and Chilo Rachal (San Francisco).

The division landed one other second-rounder that year: Calais Campbell, chosen 50th overall by Arizona.

Campbell is the only one of the four remaining with his original team. The defensive end is also the NFC's defensive player of the week after collecting two sacks, three quarterback hits and 10 tackles during the Cardinals' 20-18 victory at New England in Week 2.

As the Cardinals noted in their news release, Campbell becomes the first player in team history to receive such an honor in multiple categories. He was previously named the NFC's top special-teams player following a 2009 game against Jacksonville.

The 6-foot-8 Campbell blocked a field goal in Arizona's opening-week victory over Seattle. He blocked three last season and has blocked six for his career.

Campbell hasn't been the only defensive standout for the 2-0 Cardinals.

Darnell Dockett dominated against Seattle in Week 1 and easily could have been a worthy choice for the award. Dockett also deflected Tom Brady's first pass Sunday, facilitating an interception. He later made a key tackle for loss.

Linebacker Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon have flourished to this point as well. I thought Arizona's coverage in the secondary has been excellent as well. Coverage contributed to the Cardinals' four-sack total against New England.
Some aspire to have their work published in the most exalted academic journals. Others are more likely to find themselves wallowing in profanity-laced bounty files.

Let the wallowing begin.

Alas, the NFC West blog makes an unexpected appearance in the NFL bounty files made public Monday through the NFL Players Association. The files contain R-rated language, so if you're sensitive to such things or risking your job by downloading them, be warned.

For example, the page referencing the NFC West blog contains a large, red headline in capital letters: "Mike F------ Karney," it reads. Karney had played for New Orleans previously, but he was with the St. Louis Rams in 2009. Before the Saints and Rams played that season, someone with New Orleans put together a file using this NFC West blog entry to mock Karney, who hadn't factored into a recent Rams game.

Here's the funny part: Karney played a significant and positive role for the Rams in that subsequent game against New Orleans. The Rams averaged 13.1 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per pass attempt against the Saints from their base offense, which featured Karney.

Another page from the bounty files says "dues" were needed before New Orleans played the Rams. Another shows Rams photos, including one of then-quarterback Marc Bulger on the ground. There are pages showing what appear to be bounty payouts. Others document "kill the head" totals.

The material contains strategic information for Saints opponents, including tendencies by personnel groupings.

One page asks and answers up to 13 questions for each of the Rams' offensive position groups.

Steven Jackson was a "good screen back" while Kenneth Darby was "quick." The Saints told their defensive players that receiver Keenan Burton "can be pressed" and to "get hands on" Donnie Avery. They noted that the left tackle, Alex Barron, lined up wider on draw plays. They did not fear tight end Randy McMichael as a blocker. They said the Rams had run 71 percent of the time from base personnel when Billy Bajema was in the game.

The Saints respected Bulger's hard count and warned against quick counts between the 40-yard lines. They doubted his ball security and noted that he pats the ball right before throwing, letting defenders get a jump.

There's even a play sheet the Saints prepared for their playoff game against Seattle that season. If the term "N FRISCO SASSY/FLASH SINGLE" means anything to you, the Saints' play sheet should make for a good read.

A subsequent Seahawks-related page shows photos of Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Williams, Marshawn Lynch, "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and a soldier's view through a gun scope.

Several bullet points accompany the photos. The final two bullet points read, "Now its time to do our job...collect bounty$$$!" and "No apologies! Let's go hunting!"

Of course, the Seahawks defeated the Saints in that playoff game. The Saints have gone 5-4 against the NFC West since 2009, counting playoffs.
NFL rosters turn over quickly. It's no shock to see a team's draft class disperse after five or six years.

Sometimes it takes a special player to thrive through injuries, coaching changes, temptations and other issues that can send a promising career in the wrong direction.

[+] EnlargeCalais Campbell
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsArizona's Calais Campbell might be considered one of the better bargains out of the 2008 NFL draft.
Calais Campbell is looking like that type of player. He has stayed relatively healthy, succeeded despite multiple changes in coordinators and commanded a lucrative second contract from the Arizona Cardinals.

Campbell, still only 25, is the longest-tenured second-round draft choice remaining with his original NFC West team. That seems difficult to believe, but much has changed since the Cardinals made Campbell the 50th overall choice in the 2008 NFL draft. Every other team in the division has changed head coaches multiple times. Those changes negatively affected quite a few players.

The chart shows NFC West second-round choices since 2007, excluding the class selected last month. Shading indicates players no longer with their original teams.

Eight of the 10 drafted from 2009 to 2011 remain with their teams. Taylor Mays and Cody Brown are the exceptions. Campbell is the lone second-round survivor among seven taken during the 2007-2008 drafts.

I've singled out five second-rounders to watch in the division:

  • Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: Alex Smith projects as the starter for this season, but his contract provides flexibility for the team. Kaepernick could get a chance this season if Smith struggles or fails to remain healthy enough to start all 16 games for a second consecutive season.
  • Ryan Williams, Cardinals: Williams spent much of his offseason at team headquarters rehabbing a serious knee injury. The team remains cautiously optimistic that Williams can become a game-breaking back. Coaches and scouts loved what they saw from him before the injury.
  • Golden Tate, Seahawks: Tate started five games and dropped no passes last season. The Seahawks think Tate might be turning a corner after a rough start to his career. This is a pivotal season for Tate.
  • Rodger Saffold, Rams: Saffold quickly emerged as the Rams' starting left tackle, showing promise as a rookie. His second season wasn't as smooth. A pectoral injury suffered while lifting weights required surgery. Saffold looks like a long-term starter even if it means sliding to guard at some point in the future.
  • Lance Kendricks, Rams: Former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a big supporter in the Rams' decision to draft Kendricks. McDaniels is gone. Kendricks remains in the Rams' plans, by all appearances. He was inconsistent as a rookie and still must find his bearings.

St. Louis and Arizona each used five second-round choices from 2007 to 2011. Seattle used four. San Francisco used three and has gotten relatively little from those selections, pending Kaepernick's potential emergence as the starting quarterback at some point in the future.

The Rams have gotten 118 starts from their five second-round choices during the five years in question. The Seahawks have gotten 99 starts, the Cardinals 74 starts and the 49ers 44 starts. Teams with weaker rosters and/or additional second-round choices would generally have larger totals.

The chart shows starts made only for the teams that selected each player. Some players have made additional starts for other teams.
Back-to-back seasons with a 7-9 record felt like progress for the Seattle Seahawks under coach Pete Carroll.

Another season with that record would feel like stagnation.

That is one reason the Seahawks would be best off, at least in theory, using their early draft choices for immediate contributors. Selecting a quarterback in the first round Thursday would qualify as more of a long-term move -- and perhaps as a redundant one, given Matt Flynn's addition through free agency.

Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest says there's no way the Seahawks should select Ryan Tannehill in the first round. Thiel: "Carroll had so many good quarterbacks at USC that he tends to see the world behind center in Trojan colors. But as has been pointed out to him numerous times, relative to their respective empires, the Seahawks aren’t the Trojans. Tannehill isn’t the next Matt Leinart. Actually, maybe he is, which is even worse." Noted: Carroll and general manager John Schneider continue to speak glowingly of Tannehill. The team could be interested in Tannehill and/or trading back in the draft with a team eager to land him.

Clare Farnsworth of has this to say about the team's needs: "An edge pass-rusher is high on Carroll's list, but he’d also like to add to competitive aspect of the roster by adding a touchdown-maker on offense, a young quarterback and depth and unique qualities at linebacker. Carroll said he’s even open to adding to the already large pile on the offensive line and the talented collection in the secondary, if the right player is there."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times likes what he sees from Carroll and Schneider. Carroll on going young: "One of my favorite coaches ever, Bud Grant, said one time, 'For every young guy you start, you lose a game.' That was classic, traditional thinking. I was of that mindset in classic fashion until I had to be in charge of calling all the shots, and then it just flipped in me that we don't know where we're going unless we find these guys out."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along notes from the Seahawks' pre-draft news conference Monday, including this one: "Barrett Ruud, Seattle's projected starting middle linebacker, is not healthy. Carroll said he’s still recovering from groin, knee and shoulder injuries that landed him on the injured reserve while he was with Tennessee last year." Noted: Seattle will presumably find a starting linebacker in the draft. Ruud is veteran insurance, but not a player to count on at this stage.

Draft analyst Rob Rang considers wide receivers and running backs Seattle could consider, one per round in the upcoming draft.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams ran top receivers Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright through last-minute pre-draft workouts. Thomas: "A six-person Rams contingent traveled from site to site via private jet, a contingent that included coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president for football operations, joined the others for the Blackmon workout."

Also from Thomas: Gil Brandt thinks the Rams strongly need to consider selecting Blackmon. Thomas: "Former Rams general manager Billy Devaney was known to say that you could always find a receiver. Thus, it is not a surprise that the team has not used any of its 14 first-round picks since 2000 on the position. The only second-round receiver was Donnie Avery. Instead, the Rams have hoped that lesser-known names would produce. Since drafting Holt they have picked 13 receivers, who have averaged 1 1/2 years with the team each and produced a combined 450 catches, 5,420 yards and 26 touchdowns."

More from Thomas: The Rams need help at linebacker. Thomas: "There are some legitimate options for the Rams in rounds 2-4, including Mychal Kendricks of California and Sean Spence of Miami, who paid pre-draft visits to Rams Park. Kendricks was named Pacific-12 Conference defensive player of the year last season after racking up 107 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. Under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, Cal ran a complex scheme, and Kendricks was used in a variety of ways -- playing inside, outside and used as a blitzer. (He had 8.5 sacks in 2010.)"

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic asks whether the Cardinals would select receiver Floyd even if offensive tackle Riley Reiff were available to them with the 13th overall choice.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Floyd-Reiff dilemma is a tough one. Somers: "And depending upon the day, I've taken both players. I guess I have myself covered. My thinking today is that the Cardinals will take Reiff, figuring that they are good enough at receiver with Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and whomever emerges from the rest of the pack. They haven't taken an offensive lineman above the fifth round since 2007, so it's time."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals have become more apt to trade draft choices since Ken Whisenhunt succeeded Dennis Green as head coach, with mixed results. Somers: "Green, who coached the team from 2004-06, preferred to stay rooted in the team's original draft slot. His mantra was to never fall in love with players. But since 2007, coincidentally the year Ken Whisenhunt became coach, the Cardinals have been more active during draft week. That year, they made two trades on draft week. In 2010, they made three during the draft in addition to two others that came before. The results have been mixed, but the Cardinals have shown they won't always sit still during the three days of the draft."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks the 49ers will address guard, running back and wide receiver in the 2012 draft. Barrows: "While the need for an offensive tackle in 2010 and a quarterback last year helped narrow the list of draft candidates, San Francisco's stacked roster this year means it can go in many directions."

Matt Maiocco of picks one player per round for the 49ers. On first-round projection Kevin Zeitler: "Right guard might be the only starting job on the team that's up for grabs, and Zeitler would enter that competition against Alex Boone and Daniel Kilgore. Zeitler fits the 49ers' style. He started three seasons and won the Badger Power Award for he weight-room dedication. At the combine, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 32 times -- 14 more than his former Wisconsin teammate Peter Konz."
Ed from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., thinks the St. Louis Rams have sufficient draft needs to stand pat at No. 6 and select a player that falls to them. He thinks there's no reason to panic if Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon is not available.

"There are two first-rounders to use for the next two years, and free agency might be kinder to the Rams next season," Ed writes. "This will take some time to get right."

Mike Sando: Offensive players currently on the Rams' roster combined for 10 touchdowns last season. Marshawn Lynch (13) and Beanie Wells (10) had at least that many for division rivals. Finding players to score touchdowns has to be the Rams' top priority as they help Sam Bradford and, of course, win games.

Quite a few projections suggest that Blackmon and Alabama running back Trent Richardson will not last past the fifth pick. In that case, we're seeing LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne listed as a logical Rams choice based more on value than need.

Adding Claiborne would not help Bradford directly. But the draft does go beyond the sixth overall pick. The Rams also hold the 33rd and 39th choices. They could use those second-round choices to trade up into the first round for a shot at a wide receiver. They could even trade one of the second-rounders for a 2013 first, giving them three next year.

Teams have drafted eight receivers from 30th through 42nd since 2008, a range that approximates where the Rams are scheduled to pick. The eight: Arrelious Benn, Kenny Britt, Brian Robiskie, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Jordy Nelson, James Hardy and Eddie Royal.

Blackmon would not be a sure bet at No. 6, but the list of receivers drafted in that slot shows the potential value. James Lofton (1978), Tim Brown (1988) and Torry Holt (1999) were the last three receivers taken sixth until the Atlanta Falcons, led in part by new Rams general manager Les Snead, selected Julio Jones in that slot last year.

Charles from Atascadero, Calif., wants to know which pick the San Francisco 49ers received for safety Taylor Mays, who was traded during training camp last offseason.

Mike Sando: The 49ers will receive a 2013 seventh-round choice. That is why there was no additional pick for San Francisco when the 2012 draft order came out.

Jeff from Las Vegas thinks the Seattle Seahawks should have been ranked higher than 22nd in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings. He points to their defense, running game and an upgraded quarterback situation in suggesting the Seahawks can challenge the 49ers for the NFC West title and possibly earn a wild-card playoff berth.

Mike Sando: I ranked Seattle higher than 22nd, but the Seahawks have quite a bit to prove. Matt Flynn offers hope, but no guarantees. Can he produce over a full season? Is he durable? Will offensive linemen Russell Okung, John Moffitt and/or James Carpenter be healthy enough to contribute? What about Sidney Rice?

These are subjects we can discuss in greater detail Wednesday when following up the item soliciting opinions on which team is best positioned to overtake the 49ers.

I'm expecting to hear from Arizona Cardinals fans then as well, if not in the mailbag (been quiet on the Cardinals front recently, but I know you're out there).
The list of available unrestricted free-agent receivers continues to dwindle.

The St. Louis Rams aren't going to find the playmaking help they covet on a list featuring Plaxico Burress, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Patrick Crayton, Rashied Davis, Deion Branch, Jerheme Urban, Bryant Johnson, Roy Williams, Greg Camarillo, Jerricho Cotchery, Mark Clayton, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock, David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Donnie Avery, Maurice Stovall, Andre Caldwell, Ted Ginn Jr., Steve Smith (Philly version), Jerome Simpson and Devin Thomas.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked colleagues how the Rams will address the issue. Jim Thomas: "There’s not much left at the position in free agency. The wide receiver shelves were cleaned out quickly, so barring a trade of some kind -- which seems unlikely -- the Rams are almost limited to getting help via the draft. And at No. 6 overall, there’s no guarantee that Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State will be available. So yes, the team is in a bit of a predicament at wide receiver."

Also from Thomas, regarding Mike Wallace: "He has a first-round tender. And you can only use your original first-round pick as compensation. The Rams no longer have their original first-round pick after trading down with Washington. So they can't acquire Wallace through the regular process of restricted free agency. Now, the Rams could always offer less in a sign-and-trade situation. But why would the Steelers want less than a first-rounder? They put the tender on him in an attempt to keep him." Noted: The Rams could, in theory, offer the sixth overall pick, but that would be a steep price to pay.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams should steer clear of Tim Tebow.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' search for a backup quarterback continues in the absence of attractive options.

Matt Maiocco of quotes 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh regarding Harbaugh's relationship with Alex Smith: "It's been good -- strong relationship, as always. It's a very strong relationship."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about the situation with Smith: "It's unclear if Smith agrees with Harbaugh that they are as tight as they've ever been. The team's offer did not exactly mesh with Harbaugh's statements of devotion during and after the season. While it's all but certain Smith will be the 49ers' quarterback this season, it also leaves an opening for backup Colin Kaepernick to take over before the three years are complete. Kaepernick has been a regular at the 49ers' training facility this offseason."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have ruled out Tebow, according to CEO Jed York.

Darren Urban of says Early Doucet's re-signing means the Cardinals will return their top receivers from last season. Urban: "Doucet set career-highs in 2011 with 54 receptions, 689 yards and five touchdowns in his fourth NFL season, playing in 16 games for the first time. He came up with a pair of long touchdown catches against Carolina (70 yards) and San Francisco (60 yards) and scored on a game-winning screen pass in Philadelphia."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals have little salary-cap room, and there are tradeoffs associated with gaining flexibility.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle quotes Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as saying Peyton Manning reached out to the Seahawks while figuring out which team to join. Carroll: "He had contacted me about wanting to talk about coming here. By the time we got down to where we had our chance he had already set his sights on going in the direction wound up going, with Denver."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the market for free-agent linebacker David Hawthorne. O'Neil: "Hawthorne has led Seattle in tackles each of the past three years, but right now, the market for free-agent linebackers looks to be a little softer than some expected." Noted: Looks like we're approaching that period where players reset their expectations before taking deals for less than they had hoped.

Clare Farnsworth of puts together an overview of free agency from the Seahawks' perspective.
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.

2012 Kiper mock 2.0: 49ers thoughts

February, 20, 2012
Mel Kiper Jr. is back Insider with his second 2012 NFL mock draft for the first round.

We discussed the first one about a month ago, summarizing Kiper's thoughts and supplementing them with my own.

This updated look works from Kiper's updated mock, beginning with the San Francisco 49ers, who hold the 30th overall choice.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU

Kiper's give: Randle could be a steal. This is a guy who, in a more dynamic passing offense, could have been far more productive. Obviously, the combine will tell us a lot, but Randle could be preferred over Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina, because he has the length, but will be a lot quicker into and out of his breaks because he's got a leaner frame.

Sando's take: Jon Baldwin, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Robert Meachem, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Santonio Holmes and Roddy White were the last 10 receivers drafted with the 25th through 35th picks. Kiper had the 49ers taking Jeffery in his first mock. That was before the 49ers' season ended with Michael Crabtree's single 3-yard reception accounting for all the team's production from the wide receiver position. While we should not assume the 49ers will take a wide receiver in the first round, neither should we outthink ourselves. The position provides a good starting point. San Francisco does have other options. Josh Morgan is returning from injury and could re-sign. Crabtree returns. The 49ers could also address the position in free agency.
In one month's time, we've gone from discussing the St. Louis Rams' playoff prospects to how they might handle the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

The chances suddenly appear very real. The Rams are 0-4 heading into their bye week. Their top receiver and top three cornerbacks are out for the season. Their remaining receivers lead the NFL in dropped passes. Their offensive line and defensive front seven aren't meeting expectations. Their quarterback is on pace to absorb 72 sacks, three shy of the NFL record.

Amid those troubling indicators, the Rams visit Green Bay and Dallas before returning home for a game against New Orleans. They then play two more games on the road before a four-game stretch of NFC West matchups. They have a road game against Pittsburgh later in the year.

Six division games in the final nine weeks still might save the Rams, but if the Arizona Cardinals could go 1-5 against the NFC West in 2010, which they did, the Rams in their current state could finish in that range.

To the point: The Rams already have 2010 No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford on their roster. They're not in the market for a quarterback. They would have some thinking to do if sitting atop the 2012 draft with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck available.

Let's get this conversation going.

Matt from Tucson, Ariz., asks whether the Seattle Seahawks would move to acquire the first pick from St. Louis.

Mike Sando: Yes, the Seahawks would certainly consider that type of move for a quarterback, in my view. I just do not see the Rams helping a division rival land a franchise quarterback. Instead, if the Rams traded the pick, I would look for them to deal it to an AFC team located far, far away. Miami?

Tim from Olympia, Wash., asks whether the Rams would consider trading Bradford if they entered the 2012 draft in position to draft Andrew Luck.

Mike Sando: Interesting concept. I question whether that would work very well from a salary-cap standpoint. I do not think the Rams' current leadership would consider making that move. If new leadership were in place, anything could be possible. But an organization cannot casually consider trading its franchise quarterback without risking its relationship with that player. The team would have to know for certain it could get a deal done.

William from Bloomington, Ind., isn't ready to give up on the Rams just yet given their second-half schedule, but he wonders what the team could expect the top pick to fetch. He notes that the Atlanta Falcons gave up quite a bit in moving up to the sixth pick in 2011.

Mike Sando: The Falcons paid such a high price because they were moving up from so far down in the draft order (27th overall). Any team moving up for Luck would likely be doing so from nearer the top of the order. Still, the price would have to be high. Multiple teams could be bidding, as well.

San Diego, having whiffed on Ryan Leaf in 1998, traded the first pick of the 2001 draft to Atlanta for the fifth pick, the 67th pick, a second-rounder the next year and receiver Tim Dwight. The Falcons then took Michael Vick. Rams general manager Billy Devaney had already left the Chargers when that deal went down.

The Cleveland Browns picked first overall in 2000, one season after making quarterback Tim Couch the top pick. That was an odd situation, however, because the 2000 draft featured no quarterbacks taken before Chad Pennington at No. 18. The Browns took defensive end Courtney Brown first overall.

The Indianapolis Colts picked fourth overall in 1999, a year after they took Peyton Manning first overall. Quarterbacks went 1-2-3 before the Colts made Edgerrin James the fourth player taken in that 2000 class.

Rob from Augusta, Ga., asks whether Josh McDaniels' hiring in St. Louis has done more harm than good because the personnel was acquired for another system. He thought a conservative, West Coast system helped the Rams compete in 2010, and he fears the team will need years to build its roster for McDaniels' more aggressive approach. He also thinks it's clear the Rams needed to pursue a top-flight receiver more aggressively.

Mike Sando: The Rams did not want to change coordinators. Pat Shurmur's departure forced the Rams to make a choice. They could promote continuity by hiring someone familiar with the system Shurmur was running. Or, they could search for the best candidate they could find, regardless of system. They chose the latter approach with an eye toward the longer term because they thought McDaniels was an excellent candidate.

This was before the lockout, at a time when teams did not know how the offseason would unfold. The Rams' thinking seemed sound at the time. In retrospect, I don't think the offense would be dramatically better had the team gone with someone else at coordinator. Injuries have played a significant role in the Rams' struggles.

Your thinking at wide receiver makes sense. The Rams were among the few who thought they were OK at the position in terms of top-end talent. McDaniels had gotten good production from Brandon Lloyd in Denver, counter to outside expectations, so there was some thought he might coax similar production from players already on the Rams' roster. While Danny Amendola was the one receiver he could least afford to lose, it's fair to say the Rams failed to sufficiently protect themselves at a position decimated by injuries in 2010.

Mackay from Pleasant Grove, Utah, thought the Arizona Cardinals failed to use play-action passes against the New York Giants even though Beanie Wells was on his way to a 27-carry, 138-yard performance. He would expect play-action passes to help Kevin Kolb, but wonders whether lack of success has steered the Cardinals away from using that tactic.

Mike Sando: It's a little early in the season to draw conclusions from the Cardinals' use of play-action passes. This is an area to monitor as the season progresses.

Kolb completed 4 of 7 passes for 78 yards and one interception against the Giants on play-action passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has completed 12 of 22 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks on play-action plays this season. Twenty-four quarterbacks have more play-action attempts than Kolb this season. Fourteen quarterbacks have at least 30 attempts.

Kolb ranks 24th in Total QBR (52.9) and NFL passer rating (87.5) on play-action passes this season. His yards per attempt on these throws, 10.5, ranks fifth in the league behind Matt Stafford, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Chad Henne. But four of those players (all but Henne) are completing at least 75 percent of these passes. Kolb is at 54.5 percent, which ranks 26th among the 32 quarterbacks with more than 10 such attempts.

Colin from Santa Rosa, Calif., agrees that San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman has stood out this season, but he says this doesn't reflect poorly on teammate Patrick Willis. "It doesn't seem like Willis has stepped back at all," he writes. "Takeo Spikes isn't there eating up blocks, so Willis is having to take on more of that duty, and offenses are targeting Willis with more resources anyway, freeing up Bowman."

Mike Sando: One question would be to what degree the 49ers' new defense in combination with Bowman's abilities has affected what the team asks from its inside linebackers. I appreciate your points and will explore this subject in greater detail as the season progresses.

Terrell from San Francisco likes what he sees from the 49ers' front seven, but he thinks the team needs a playmaking safety to pair with Willis, giving San Francisco something along the lines of what Baltimore has enjoyed with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed working together.

Mike Sando: The 49ers had a chance to add a playmaking safety in the 2010 draft, but they traded up for right tackle Anthony Davis instead of drafting free safety Earl Thomas. The 49ers then used their second-round choice for safety Taylor Mays. I see absolutely no way to justify those decisions based on what we've seen from those players so far.

The 49ers' efforts to upgrade their offensive line by drafting Davis and guard Mike Iupati made sense in theory, but Davis hasn't become nearly the player Thomas has become, and Mays lasted only one season with the team. Worse, the 49ers will have to play against Thomas twice a season for years to come.

Mailbag: Carroll's approach to building

September, 17, 2011
[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Kyle Terada/US PresswireThe Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll spent the offseason building a supporting cast around the quarterback position.
Scott from Gunma, Japan cited the Seattle Seahawks' approach to rebuilding when reading Mike Wilbon's column about poor pass defense in the NFL. Scott sees the Seahawks emphasizing the run by focusing on offensive linemen in the 2011 draft, a year after the team acquired running backs Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington. He wonders whether the team was addressing chronic weak areas or putting in place a questionable run-oriented strategy.

Mike Sando: Coach Pete Carroll's vision for the Seattle offense was on display during the team's victory at Chicago early last season.

"This is very reminiscent of the formula I have become accustomed to -- the big back [Marshawn Lynch] hitting it hard and the flashy guy [Justin Forsett] and the big receiver [Mike Williams] and the quarterback [Matt Hasselbeck] getting the ball to every guy," Carroll said after that game.

The New York Giants, Chicago Bears and (to an extent) Pittsburgh Steelers have proven a team can reach a Super Bowl and sometimes win it without building an offense almost entirely around an elite passer. But the best teams in the NFL right now -- Green Bay, New England and New Orleans come to mind -- are equipped to win shootouts if necessary. The same was true for Indianapolis before Peyton Manning's injury.

There's no sense in building a team around an elite passer in the absence of such a passer. From that standpoint, the Seahawks are wise to build up the rest of their team. They cannot make an elite passer magically appear just because you, me and Mike Wilbon think that's the way to go.

Carroll, like every coach, wants an elite passer on his team. Carroll envisions relying on one less heavily than some teams rely on them. By not drafting quarterbacks and by signing second-tier players to man the position, Carroll lends credence to the thinking that he doesn't value the position sufficiently.

We'll have a more definitive answer after one more offseason. The manner in which Seattle addresses the position in 2012 will be telling.

Joseph from Grand Prairie, Texas watched the St. Louis Rams drop four passes in Week 1 and wondered why the team wouldn't go after a veteran such as Terrell Owens.

Mike Sando: Owens has been known for dropping too many passes over the years, so perhaps he wasn't the best example of a veteran the team could target. In looking at a 2010 list showing all players with at least four drops, however, I see Owens ranked 10th in catch-to-drop ratio (14.4 to one). Larry Fitzgerald topped the list (22.5 to one) and the Rams' Danny Amendola was third (21.3 to one).

In general, though, the Rams have resisted going the Owens/Randy Moss route even though they've had needs at receiver and opportunities to pursue both players. Their new coordinator, Josh McDaniels, believes in versatility over specialization, one reason the team released speed receiver Donnie Avery.

I think the Rams would have been well served pursuing a bigger name wide receiver this past offseason. Sidney Rice came to mind. But history shows many of those receiver signings in free agency wind up doing more for players' bank accounts than for a team's position in the standings.

Mike from Scottsdale makes a good point about the apparently misguided roughing-the-passer penalty against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Richard Marshall and its impact on national perceptions. The play wiped out the interception Cam Newton threw on the play. Newton would have finished with considerably less than his 422 yards, and he would have had two interceptions, not just one. Daryl Washington would have finished the game with two picks, not one, and he could have been a consideration for defensive player of the week in the NFC.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals are no less responsible for the big plays they allowed after officials gave Newton a second chance. But the overall point stands.

The call against Marshall appeared wrong. Marshall subsequently tweeted something about not being fined on the play, another indication the league did not find anything wrong with the play he made.

Newton completed passes for 15 and 26 yards, the latter for a touchdown, on the two plays immediately following the penalty against Marshall. Those plays were the final plays from scrimmage before halftime, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead and changing the complexion of the game.

Removing those final two plays of the first half from Newton's stat line and replacing a touchdown with an interception doesn't necessarily give us an accurate read on what Newton's final numbers would have been without the penalty against Marshall. Both teams might have approached the second half differently in that case, affecting opportunities for Newton and everyone else.

But if we did subtract those passes just for the sake of this exercise, Newton would have finished with 381 yards and a 73.9 passer rating, compared to 422 yards with a 110.4 rating. Big difference.

Matthew from San Lorenzo, Calif., wonders why James Walker ranked the San Francisco 49ers higher than I ranked them in our power rankings. Writes Matthew, "This fits in perfectly with Harbaugh's Rodney Dangerfield narrative this week about the national media. Beat the Cowboys this Sunday and earn respect. There's a new sheriff in town!"

Mike Sando: James ranked the 49ers 19th. I ranked them 24th. James ranked the 49ers over the Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. I ranked those teams over the 49ers. It's early and Harbaugh would surely acknowledge that the burden rests with his team to change perceptions. Harbaugh even said as much.

Beating the Cowboys would definitely send the 49ers moving up my ballot. It's just hard to know where the 49ers stand after Week 1. Their defense fared well against a weak Seattle offense. Their own offense didn't do much because it did not have to do much.

Around the NFC West: Bradford's recovery

September, 15, 2011
The replay showed St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford making his usual follow-through, except for one thing. His right index finger snagged on Juqua Parker's hand as the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive lineman contested the pass.

It's somewhat amazing to me that Bradford didn't suffer a broken finger on the play. Bradford somehow completed a 31-yard pass down the left sideline to a diving Brandon Gibson one play later before leaving the game.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says there's no doubt about Bradford's availability in Week 2. The quarterback practiced without restriction Wednesday. Bradford: "I really was worried about it. I wouldn't have come out of the game if it wasn't serious. I couldn't feel (the finger). I couldn't move it that night, and so I really was concerned. But our training staff's done a great job. It's starting to come around." Noted: Bradford took pride in taking every offensive snap during his 2010 rookie season. His exit from the game seemed to signal something serious. I'll be interested to see whether Bradford takes more snaps from the shotgun formation while the finger heals. The velocity generated during a snap is greater than one might imagine, complicating center exchanges for quarterbacks with hand injuries.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript with thoughts on the Rams. Thomas: "The game plan going in was to try to run the ball on Philly's undersized front seven and mix in play action. Last time I checked the Eagles had arguably the best trio of corners in the league. Not many people get open against them. That doesn't mean you don't try. But I think the game underscored the fact that the Rams don't have anyone that can stretch defenses other than Danario Alexander, who was inactive. It also takes more time for most downfield throws, and the pass-blocking Sunday was far from superb, particularly after it became a 2-score game." Noted: I'd say pass protection and dropped passes hurt the Rams' passing game as much as anything.

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams are making adjustments to their secondary.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is building up the Seahawks even though oddsmakers have made Seattle at least a two-touchdown underdog in Pittsburgh. Boyle: "Tomlin seemingly couldn't say enough good things about the Seahawks. And while it's nothing new for a coach to say nice things about an opponent, Tomlin takes it to a Lou Holtz level."

Clare Farnsworth of runs through highlights and notes from Wednesday.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic draws up the perfect analogy for Tim Hightower's first game against his former Arizona Cardinals teammates: "Like anyone about to see the ex for the first time since the breakup, Tim Hightower wants to prove that he's doing fine, and in the process, maybe make his former partners realize how good they had it." Noted: Hightower carried 25 times for 72 yards and one touchdown for the Redskins in Week 1. His 2.9-yard average was down from 4.8 over the 2010 season with Arizona.

Darren Urban of says the NFL will not fine Richard Marshall for the cornerback's hit on Panthers cornerback Cam Newton, an indication officials erred in calling Marshall for a personal foul. Also, the Cardinals gave a tryout to former Rams receiver Donnie Avery. Noted: The call against Marshall wiped out what would have been a second interception for Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington.

Matt Maiocco of asks 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin for thoughts on the team's struggles running the ball against Seattle in the opener. Goodwin: "They have a pretty decent group up front. And for whatever reasons, they probably played a little better in the run game. I know we didn't have that many yards rushing. So that's something we won't be happy with."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers knew they were going to have problems running the ball against Seattle, largely because of Earl Thomas' presence in the Seahawks' secondary. Barrows: "During the lead-up to the Seattle game, both Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were asked separately about the Seahawks defense. The first name out of both of their mouths was Thomas', and he lived up to their compliments. ... One sequence in the second quarter typifies what happened with the 49ers run game on Sunday. ... Alex Smith pitches wide to his left to Gore. Tight ends Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis block down on Seahawk defenders and left tackle Joe Staley, who is very good at hitting moving targets, goes wide and absolutely crushes Kam Chancellor. Gore seemingly has plenty of room to pick up the first down and much more, but Thomas, who was initially 15 yards from the play, comes streaking in, steers Gore back to the inside and then cuts him down after only a yard pickup."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers value Smith's mobility.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explores Davis' affinity for fine artwork. Davis, a studio art major at Maryland, likes Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Clark.

Night notes: Avery, Lenon, Clemons, more

September, 8, 2011
A quick run through selected NFC West headlines while the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints square off in the regular-season opener:
  • 49ers and Avery: Why would the San Francisco 49ers run former St. Louis Rams receiver Donnie Avery through a workout? Why not? The 49ers lost their deep threat, Ted Ginn Jr., to a knee injury during the 2010 season opener. If something happens to Ginn or another wideout -- Michael Crabtree's durability is a concern coming off another foot surgery -- the 49ers will have done their homework on Avery. The Rams have sought versatility in their wideouts. Avery is pretty much a deep threat.
  • Lenon a captain: Paris Lenon's selection as a team captain in Arizona comes after the team committed $6 million per season for the veteran linebacker's replacement, Stewart Bradley. Bradley projects as the eventual starter after receiving a $5 million signing bonus and a $2 million salary for 2010. But Lenon, scheduled to earn at least $2 million this season, isn't going away quietly. He's held onto the starting job and obviously has the respect of teammates.
  • Clemons not practicing: The Seahawks' best pass-rusher, Chris Clemons, did not practice Thursday after "tweaking" his ankle during a morning walk-through. Clemons produced while playing hurt last season, but it's tough going into a season at less than full strength. Clemons has not missed a game over the past four seasons.
  • Hall also a captain: The Rams voted on three season-long captains and James Hall was one of them. The team used a first-round pick for Hall's eventual replacement, Robert Quinn, but there was never any thought that Quinn would take over this season. It's good to see teammates acknowledging Hall's role. Joe Staley, the 49ers' left tackle, called Hall one of the better defensive ends in the league. Interesting, too, that Steven Jackson, not Sam Bradford, emerged as the captain on offense. Bradford leads the offense, but no one on the Rams has a stronger presence than Jackson.

Back to the Packers and Saints. Don't want to miss any touchdowns. The Packers were on pace for 84 points through one quarter.

Around the NFC West: Seeking bad blood

September, 7, 2011
Football fans can appreciate it when the game becomes personal for players.

For fans who invest emotionally in a game, it can be tough seeing players socialize like best buddies on the field immediately following what was, by all accounts, a hard-fought game. Bad blood courses through the most compelling rivalries.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Cardinals revisits the animosity that once existed between current Cardinals teammates Joey Porter and Todd Heap. The two are on good enough terms now. They're teammates, after all. It wasn't always this way. Bickley: "Their relationship soured early in the 2004 season, after Heap injured his ankle near the end of the first half. He hobbled to the line of scrimmage, in no condition to play. The Ravens decided to spike the ball and stop the clock. Everyone seemed to acknowledge the concession, only Porter didn't play nice. On the snap, he pushed Heap backward, and the tight end toppled over in pain. He would be gone for many weeks after and played only six games that season." Noted: NFC West teams haven't kept their players together long enough or become consistently good enough to create similar rivalries. Here's hoping that changes over the next couple of years. Having Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh in the division helps. Perhaps the 49ers' Donte Whitner can get something going with Zach Miller.

Darren Urban of goes back 10 years to the morning Cardinals players and coaches awoke to the 2011 terrorist attacks.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says it's tough to predict which player will lead the Seahawks in receptions this season. Noted: Mike Williams, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller haven't been on the field together long enough for anyone to get a feel. The team could conceivably need Miller to help in protection more than anticipated.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks have absolutely followed their mantra to get younger, faster and stronger. Boling: "When the Hawks open Season 2 of the Carroll/Schneider era Sunday at San Francisco, there will be more rookies or first-year guys on this roster (12) than holdovers (10) from when they arrived." Noted: The Packers have managed to win big while maintaining one of the very youngest rosters in the league. Of course, having an elite quarterback makes everyone's plan appear more feasible.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says St. Louis appears better positioned to keep the Rams in town. Burwell: "While there is no chance any politician in his right or wrong mind on the state or local level will attempt to approve a new stadium for the Rams, there is some very smart talk about providing Kroenke with something that could be just as good to a billionaire real estate developer: land. Give a real estate developer land and let him determine what he wants to do with it. While the conventional wisdom has always been that the best piece of property to offer [Stan] Kroenke would be the vacant Chrysler factory off Interstate 44 in Fenton, a much smarter play being discussed involves real estate development right downtown adjacent to the Dome." Noted: Giving away land to a billionaire will not sit well with everyone. Catering to owners is part of the game for cities hoping to keep their professional sports franchises, however.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' opener against the Eagles is just about sold out.

Also from Thomas: thoughts on the Rams' decision to release receiver Donnie Avery. Thomas: "I was mildly surprised that Avery was released, even factoring in that he wanted to be traded. I think the Rams need his kind of speed at WR. I do think the fact that Austin Pettis was a Josh McDaniels pick and a third-round pick at that, helped keep him here. And I agree with the thought that in this lockout offseason, how can you pass judgement on a guy based on five weeks of practice and the preseason? No doubt, picking WRs seems to be a hole in Billy Devaney's game, but I was told that Avery was a Scott Linehan pick more than a Devaney pick." Noted: The Rams' drafted rookie receivers were going to earn roster spots unless they absolutely bombed in camp or otherwise demonstrated they would never make it in the NFL. Avery was a one-dimensional receiver playing for a coordinator who values versatility at receiver above just about everything else.

Matt Maiocco of says Jim Harbaugh's presence was the only reason Alex Smith re-signed with the 49ers. Smith never meshed with former coach Mike Singletary, making clear he would prefer a calmer sideline presence, for one.

Also from Maiocco: Michael Crabtree's availability for Week 1 remains in question, as do starting spots in the secondary.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News thinks David Garrard would help both NFL teams in the Bay Area.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Jerry Rice thought Smith would sign elsewhere this season, and that Smith will never elevate teammates' play around him.

Gwenn Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says some of Smith's best games have come against the Seahawks.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects more blitzes from the 49ers this season.