NFC West: Drew Bennett

Despite record, Rams made right changes

December, 4, 2009
12/04/09
12:01
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The Rams' offseason roster overhaul has failed to produce immediate improvement in the standings.

The natural question is whether the organization went too far in pushing out higher-priced veterans.

I suspected they might have gone too far when they released linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. I also thought they might have been premature in parting with Orlando Pace despite the tackle's steep salary and history of injuries.

The reality, though, is that the Rams got it right.

They have gone from being a bad, old team with significant salary-cap problems to being a bad, young team with a much brighter salary-cap future.

The younger players finding their way this season have a chance to help the team in the future. That wasn't the case in 2008, when losing got old, literally.

The Rams have the third-youngest roster in the league. They had the third-oldest last season. Their offense has moved the ball much better than I would have anticipated. A glaring lack of playmakers has turned the red zone into a dead zone, preventing the Rams from scoring enough points to compete on the scoreboard. But I think it's safe to say the Rams have the most promising young offensive line in the NFC West.

This team needs to find playmakers in the draft, plain and simple.

Kicking the Seahawks when they're down?

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
1:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kraig writes via Facebook: Sando, you pity the Rams, but you ridicule the Seahawks. You're a believer in the new 49er formula, although not always its execution. The Cards are an enigma, but undeniably talented. Interesting. But kicking the Seahawks when they're down is starting to stand out. What gives?

Mike Sando: Expectations frame the analysis. The Rams were a 2-14 team rebuilding. They parted with Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey, Brett Romberg, Chris Draft and others. This was a total roster overhaul. I thought the Rams might have gone too far with a couple of these moves, but once the moves were made, the expectations were set accordingly.

With a new head coach and a younger roster, the Rams were going to struggle for a while. I thought 0-7 was likely and said so on the blog. The fact that the Rams are 0-6 is bad, but not a shock. It's Year 1 of a total rebuild. The Seahawks did not see themselves in the same light. Holding them to the same standard as the Rams would have been a bigger insult to the Seahawks than holding them accountable as I have tried to do.

Seattle thought injuries were pretty much to blame for a 4-12 record. The team thought Walter Jones would be fine this season. The team thought depth at tackle would be fine after re-signing Ray Willis. I thought the team needed to do more to shore up the position. Sean Locklear had missed a few games in the past, Willis has had knee issues and Jones was coming off surgery at age 35. I questioned whether the team could stay healthy in predicting a 7-9 record when schedules came out, upgrading the outlook slightly when Matt Hasselbeck seemed to pass a few injury-related milestones.

The outlook for Seattle darkens when we consider advanced ages for some of these injured players. Jones and Patrick Kerney are into their 30s. Both needed to play at a high level for Seattle to succeed. The fact that both are dealing with injury problems should surprise nobody. It was entirely predictable even if there was a chance both might beat the odds.

I think it's an even worse sign for Seattle if we start judging them with the same standards applied to the Rams. It's not that bad.

NFC West training camp preview

July, 24, 2009
7/24/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals

Division Camp Previews
Tuesday: NFC North | AFC North
Wednesday: NFC East | AFC East
Thursday: NFC South | AFC South
Friday: NFC West | AFC West

MORE
Camp battles: AFC | NFC

Schedule: Training camp dates
Training camp site: Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, Ariz.)

Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.

Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.

Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.

 
  Jeff Mills/Icon SMI
  Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?

Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?

The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.

Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.

Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.

Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.

Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?

Money men: Key players Karlos Dansby, Anquan Boldin and Darnell Dockett want lucrative long-term deals.

Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.

While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.


San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
 
  Kyle Terada/US Presswire
  Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?

Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.

The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.

On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.

Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.

The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.

Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.

Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.

On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.

That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.

Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.


Seattle Seahawks

 
  Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
  The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.

Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)

Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.

Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.

Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season. If S
pencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.

Camp will be a downer if  ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization. 

Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.

Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.

Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.

Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.


St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)

 
  G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)
  Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?

Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.

Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.

None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.

Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.

Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them. 

Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.

The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.

Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom's attempts to find a buyer for the franchise comes while "cash flow for the family is a problem" -- which invites scrutiny upon the team's decision to part with so many older, higher-priced players.

Every new coaching staff wants to reshape its roster. The Rams needed to get younger whether or not cash flow was a problem for ownership. Most of the players the Rams released were arguably scheduled to earn more than they proved to be worth. Salary-cap concerns were another factor. Still, cash-flow issues could have influenced some decisions.

The Rams saved $26.85 million in 2009 cash outlays by releasing the following seven players:

These are gross savings. Net savings are less. The Rams released Green, for example, but a contract for his replacement, Kyle Boller, cost $1.5 million in salary and bonus.

Bennett needed to go. Time appeared to run out for Green and Chavous. Holt's salary was inflated. I think the Rams would have been more talented keeping Pace, Tinoisamoa and probably even Becht. Those players found homes on winning teams. Pace commanded as much in 2009 money from the Bears as the Rams would have paid him.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Len Pasquarelli's column about teams needing to clear the air with jilted quarterbacks brought to mind a part of the game Matt Hasselbeck mentioned to John Boyle of the Everett Herald:

"I experienced kind of a high-low in 2001. I got traded and talked to the coaching staff and they said, 'Hey, we want you to come be our starting quarterback.' And then during training camp, they go and sign Trent Dilfer, who had just won a Super Bowl. I think I learned a lot through that experience and through other experiences like that."

Quarterback commitments can indeed be fickle. Matt Leinart and Alex Smith have learned that the hard way. The Cardinals' decision to bench Leinart didn't need much explaining, in my view, because Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner was the alternative.

The quarterback question I would have in St. Louis is how quickly the Rams might turn away from Marc Bulger if he were to struggle.

General manager Billy Devaney and the new coaching staff have not hesitated to push out established players, from Torry Holt to Orlando Pace to Drew Bennett to Corey Chavous to Pisa Tinoisamoa and others. Bulger probably wasn't going anywhere this offseason for a few reasons:

  • Bulger remained the Rams' most viable option.
  • The team invested heavily in Bulger before the 2007 season.
  • The team had too many other needs to draft a quarterback second overall.
  • Releasing Bulger would have carried negative salary-cap ramifications.

Kyle Boller, Brock Berlin and Keith Null are the alternatives to Bulger. If all goes to plan, the Rams will run the ball effectively, putting Bulger in better position to avoid punishment. Bulger will become comfortable again while re-establishing his career.

All bets are off if the season does not go to plan. The people who identified Bulger as the Rams' franchise quarterback no longer remain in positions of authority within the organization. That could make him more vulnerable than the typical franchise quarterback.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Notable Rams to Leave Roster in 2009
Pos. How Departed Roster
Torry Holt
WR Cut
Orlando Pace
OL Cut
Drew Bennett
WR Cut
Trent Green
QB Cut
Anthony Becht
TE Cut
Corey Chavous
SS Cut
Pisa Tinoisamoa
LB Cut
Brian Leonard
RB Trade/Bengals
Gary Stills
LB UFA/unsigned
Jason Craft
CB UFA/unsigned
Ricky Manning
CB UFA/unsigned
Fakhir Brown
CB UFA/unsigned
La'Roi Glover
DT UFA/unsigned
Dane Looker
WR UFA/unsigned
Travis Minor
RB UFA/unsigned
Dante Hall
WR UFA/unsigned
Cory Withrow
OL UFA/unsigned
Rob Petitti
OL UFA/unsigned
Anthony Davis
OL UFA/unsigned
Brandon Gorin
OL UFA/Broncos
Nick Leckey
OL UFA/Saints
Brett Romberg
OL UFA/Falcons

The Rams weren't an 8-8 team seeking a few tweaks to regain their footing. They needed a franchise overhaul after posting a 5-27 record over the past two seasons.

That overhaul has continued with Brian Leonard's trade to the Bengals on Thursday and Pisa Tinoisamoa's release Friday.

Changing over a roster means adding new players in key positions. Adding new players means losing existing ones, and the Rams have parted with quite a few this offseason.

The chart shows notable Rams players to leave the roster since general manager Billy Devaney spearheaded Steve Spagnuolo's hiring as head coach.

Some of the changes were difficult to miss. The releases of Torry Holt and Orlando Pace come to mind. Other changes have come via attrition. In this case, the Rams have decided against re-signing numerous unrestricted free agents. It's significant to note that quite a few of them remain unsigned.

The Rams could always re-sign a free agent or two as they set their roster for training camp. In most cases, however, the team appears eager to move on without them.

Rams' trend means fewer gray areas

April, 30, 2009
4/30/09
5:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rank Team Fewest Players Age 30+
1 Texans 3
2 Packers
4
3 Rams 6
4 Colts 6
5 Bucs
7

Rams kicker Josh Brown joined an increasingly exclusive club when he turned 30 years old Wednesday.

The milestone birthday increased to six the number of Rams players in their 30s (Marc Bulger, Todd Johnson, Chris Draft, Leonard Little and James Hall are the only others).

The Rams have released or not re-signed 14 players in their 30s since last season: Gary Stills, Dante Hall, Jason Craft, Fakhir Brown, Cory Withrow, Dane Looker, La'Roi Glover, Brandon Gorin, Torry Holt, Anthony Becht, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green and Corey Chavous. The team parted with Dan Kreider and Eddie Kennison, also in their 30s, during the 2008 season.

The teams with the most players in their 30s: Saints 20, Patriots 17, Broncos 15, Browns 15, Redskins 15, Steelers 14 and Lions 14. The Cardinals have 13, the 49ers 12 and the Seahawks 10. The league average is 10.5.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A quick look at 53-man rosters from Feb. 1, date of Super Bowl XLIII, provides a reference point for seeing how NFC West teams have changed so far this offseason.

I'll continue with St. Louis.

Gone from the Rams' 53-man roster and injured reserve list in the 58 days since the Super Bowl (18):

 
  Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
  Orlando Pace was drafted by the Rams in 1997.

Offense

Orlando Pace, T

Torry Holt, WR

Dante' Hall, WR

Drew Bennett, WR

Dane Looker, WR

Travis Minor, RB

Anthony Becht, TE

Cory Withrow, C

Brett Romberg, C

Anthony Davis, T

Nick Leckey, C

Brandon Gorin, OL

Rob Petitti, OL

Defense

Corey Chavous, SS

Jason Craft, CB

Fakhir Brown, CB

La'Roi Glover, DT

Special teams

Gary Stills, LB

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

DANA POINT, Calif. -- We'll have more Rams fans resurfacing if coach Steve Spagnuolo and the new leadership can turn around the organization.

In the meantime, Cardinals fan HornerJD50 provided a Rams-related question (see comments here) for the NFC coaches' breakfast media session Wednesday morning at the NFL owners' meeting.

HornerJD50: Much was made about the Cardinals' losing culture last year, and while the Rams don't have the long history of losing like the Cardinals, recently that's all they have been doing. What is Spags' step-by-step process in changing the culture of his franchise?

HornerJD50 also asked about what traits the Rams would value in a potential successor for quarterback Marc Bulger. I didn't get to that subject, figuring Spagnuolo would dance around it, anyway. I did ask about the culture part. Spagnuolo provided a thoughtful answer.

Spagnuolo: What it means to me is figuring out the character of the people that are in the building. And I'm not talking about just players and coaches, but the whole building. I think this will be a whole organizational effort [and] goal. And I really believe that the people in the building at Rams Park, everybody is headed in the right direction. It's easy right now. It's a honeymoon period. It's new. The test will be a year from now, depending on how the season goes. Will we still be able to feel that way? There is always an element of that throughout the building in order to get everybody headed in the same direction and have a chance at success.

It begins with the players. What I learned most in this league is veteran leadership is tremendously key. We'll try to identify those leaders on our team and hopefully they'll step to the forefront in those tough times that you know you are going to have on no matter what team in the league in a 16-game season. I remember vividly going through it in Philadelphia and I remember Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter and Donovan McNabb at a certain point in the season deciding, 'Hey, guys.' They did little things with the other players, very unseen things, but they made a big difference in us turning it around.

The Rams have parted with a long list of veteran players since Spagnuolo took over, including Torry Holt, Anthony Becht, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green and Corey Chavous. The team has gone from being one of the five oldest in the league to being one of the five youngest.

I raised that fact with Spagnuolo. He said sometimes established players must leave before new leaders can feel comfortable emerging. I thought back to a recent conversation with cornerback Ron Bartell. We'll find out if he's one of the new leaders.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' long-awaited decision to release Torry Holt, announced Friday, continues their trend toward youth with an eye toward the salary cap.

 Holt

The team has parted with eight players recently. Seven played offense. Most were aging players with higher salaries.

Before cutting Holt, the Rams released left tackle Orlando Pace, tight end Anthony Becht, receiver Drew Bennett and quarterback Trent Green. Strong safety Corey Chavous was a casualty on defense. All five were in their 30s.

The Rams also parted with center Brett Romberg, who signed with the Falcons. Another offensive lineman, restricted free agent Mark Setterstrom, did not receive a qualifying offer. He could conceivably return at a price lower than the $1 million minimum tender for RFAs.

Getting younger comes with a short-term price for the Rams. Despite being proactive in signing center Jason Brown and safety James Butler while re-signing cornerback Ron Bartell, the Rams will enter the draft with multiple needs.

Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Derek Stanley, Travis Brown, Joel Filani and Nate Jones are their receivers.

Without Pace, Alex Barron becomes the only established tackle on the roster. Guard Jacob Bell and second-year pro John Greco might be able to make the move to tackle if needed, but the Rams still need numbers, particularly if swing tackle Adam Goldberg leaves in free agency.

St. Louis is down to six offensive linemen: Brown, Bell, Barron, Greco, Richie Incognito and Roy Schuening. Expect the Rams to find at least two linemen in the draft.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Powering my way through the mailbag. Some of these were submitted prior to the start of free agency. I've singled out the ones that held up over time.

Thomas from Antigonish writes: Hi Mike. The Rams are well documented in not drafting pretty much any good players, and so one draft pick of the old regime -- Ron Bartell -- has finally developed, and the team will probably lose him to FA ... this just seems so disappointing.

Mike Sando: The Rams might come out OK on this one, after all. Bartell left the Saints without a contract. The Rams would appear to be in better position to re-sign him as a result. They wanted him. They just couldn't justify paying established corner money to an emerging corner their coaches didn't know very well.

I understand both sides on this one. The corner market was hot enough for Bartell to take a look, but if he didn't find what he wanted, perhaps the Rams will find him more affordable.


Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey, Mike. With free agency upon us, can you give us some insight into its importance. Who would say have been the biggest free-agent pick ups in the NFC West in the past 3-4 seasons?

Kurt Warner comes immediately to mind, but who else do you feel has made a big impact in the division as a free agent? I am going to assume that there wouldn't be that many names as most of the time impact players are built through the draft and not found in free agency.

Would you agree that more often than not free agents do not meet expectations, i.e Edgerrin James in Arizona?

Mike Sando: Yes, I would agree that most free agents do not meet expectations. Teams pay so much more money for free agents than they do for draft choices.

Nate Clements is a good cornerback for the 49ers. Has he met expectations? No. Edgerrin James pretty much met expectations. Kurt Warner exceeded them. Patrick Kerney met them until injuries intervened. Julian Peterson has generally met expectations. Justin Smith played well for the 49ers last season, albeit at a high price.

The Steelers generally are not big players in free agency. They're confident enough in their drafting ability to let players leave instead of overpaying. The Steelers have also won two of the last four Super Bowls. Meanwhile, the Cowboys collect Pro Bowl players at great expense. They haven't won a playoff game since the 1990s.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic takes a big-picture look at the Cardinals in free agency. The team isn't saying whether it plans to strike aggressively. Meanwhile, Kurt Warner's agent says the quarterback will listen to other teams.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune uses the words crazy, ridiculous and unnerving to describe the Cardinals' standoff with Warner. Bordow: "Usually, it's easy to take sides in a contract negotiation. But in this case, both Warner and the Cardinals are standing on solid ground."

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind outlines which offensive free agents Arizona should re-sign, with predictions for each player.

Also from Hawkwind: a look at the Cardinals' running backs.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle updates the 49ers' negotiations with quarterback Alex Smith. Crumpacker: "If the 49ers truly are not going to make a splash in free agency as McCloughan said, the kinds of players they might be interested in include tackle Stacy Andrews of the Bengals, fullback (and former 49er) Moran Norris of the Ravens, wide receiver Devery Henderson of the Saints, safety Jermaine Phillips of the Buccaneers and safety Sean Jones of Cleveland."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Smith will not practice with the 49ers until he reworks his deal. Barrows: "The 49ers do not want to risk another injury to Smith that would force the team to pay him his full salary. If a new deal is not complete by next month, the 49ers will hold Smith out of the minicamp, and he will fall behind in the quarterback competition against incumbent starter Shaun Hill."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Mike Singletary isn't the only important figure in a leadership role with the 49ers. Brown: "A sliver of spotlight must remain on general manager Scot McCloughan, who quietly enters his fifth season still searching for a winning roster."

Florida Danny of Niners Nation takes an in-depth look at free-agent safeties, with an eye toward the positions they've played in the past. On Mark Roman: "He's the only starting FS in the NFL who was signed as a free agent SS, started initially at SS with his current team, but then got moved to FS later. In other words, the Niners are the only current team that didn't intend to switch their free agent SS to FS when they signed him. How's that for planning?"

Flashback: what espn.com wrote about Roman when the 49ers re-signed him in 2006.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer looks at the Seahawks' search for receivers. Farnsworth on T.J. Houshmandzadeh: "The Seahawks are interested, but at the right price and if he's the right fit. They're anticipating a productive return by Nate Burleson from the knee injury he suffered in the season opener and hoping to get a full season from Deion Branch."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes a big-picture look at Seattle in free agency.

Also from O'Neil: a look at receivers available in free agency.

The Associated Press quotes longtime Seattle receiver Bobby Engram on the likelihood of him returning to the Seahawks. Engram: "I wouldn't say optimistic. It's going to be interesting how it turns out."

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune lists and comments upon each of the Seahawks' unrestricted free agents. He predicts a return for Engram.

John Morgan of Field Gulls looks at Raiders receiver Drew Carter as a potential acquisition for the Seahawks.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Lions and Broncos could have interest in free-agent Rams cornerback Ron Bartell. A visit to the Saints could come first.

Also from Thomas: Free-agent center Jason Brown is scheduled to visit the Rams.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams' decision to release Drew Bennett should serve as a warning about the perils of free agency.

VanRam of Turf Show Times rounds up Rams-related stories online.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks will not be big players in the early stages of free agency, according to general manager Tim Ruskell. Farnsworth: "[Leroy] Hill was priority No. 1. But the Seahawks won't be as free-spending when it comes to the others -- a group of 16 that includes fullback Leonard Weaver, offensive linemen Floyd Womack and Ray Willis, wide receiver Bobby Engram, linebacker D.D. Lewis and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard." Willis could appeal to the Redskins, who need a physical right tackle to replace Jon Jansen.

Also from Farnsworth: Honesty is the best policy for the Seahawks' new defensive staff.

Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog passes along updated information from the mock drafts of Rob Rang and Chad Reuter. Rang still has the Seahawks taking receiver Michael Crabtree. Reuter has changed his forecast to Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe.

Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts thinks an increased salary cap will help the Seahawks. He also lists Kelly Jennings among players he might consider releasing. Releasing Jennings would actually cost the Seahawks slightly more against the cap than if he were to remain on the roster.

John Morgan of Field Gulls wonders how long Seahawks center Chris Spencer might last in the draft if he were coming out of college in 2009. Seattle selected Spencer in the first round of the 2005 draft, Tim Ruskell's first with the team. Morgan: "Spencer finally showed some life in 2008. He can still be great if injuries haven't taken the edge off his power and athleticism, but the time to prove that in Seattle blue is ending."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch holds up Drew Bennett's signing as the signature move for the Rams' previous front-office regime. He questions whether the Rams could quickly replace Orlando Pace and Torry Holt if the team released them. Also: "The old regime made another titanic gaffe by failing to secure a contract extension with the emerging cornerback, Ron Bartell. He will probably command elite (and possibly insane) dollars on the free-agent market, and the Rams could have gotten Bartell for a lower price had they acted sooner."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 says the expected addition of former 49ers special-teamer Keith Lewis is consistent with other mid-level acquisitions in Arizona. The Cardinals have also signed defensive end Jason Banks, running back Chris Vincent and tight end Alex Shor.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Lewis' expected signing is a surprise because the Cardinals have depth at safety. I would see Lewis as more of a special-teams contributor. Somers also notes that the Cardinals' college scouts are in the final year of their contracts.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat expects the 49ers to take things slowly when free agency opens Thursday night at 9 p.m. PT. Maiocco: "The 49ers have compiled a list of 10 to 15 free agents to target, but the club plans to move much slower at the start of free agency to let the market settle down, one league source said." Team president Jed York: "You're always overpaying in free agency when you get that first-day guy. What we want to do is make sure we're building through the draft. And if we're going to spend a lot of money it's going to be on re-signing our own players and getting the right guys, as opposed to big flashy guys."

Alex Marvez of Foxsports.com says the Dolphins have agreed to terms with former Raiders safety Gibril Wilson, a player some NFC West fans -- particularly 49ers fans -- had asked about for their teams.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks the 2009 draft sets up nicely for the 49ers because they need outside linebackers, running backs and fast receivers.

Rams' moves make them younger still

February, 25, 2009
2/25/09
3:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' decision to release quarterback Trent Green and receiver Drew Bennett continues a youth movement that began with Corey Chavous' release.

Rams players with contracts for 2009 (plus potential restricted free agents) averaged 26.8 years old before the moves. That average fell to 26.5 without Green and Bennett. The average would fall to 26.3 if the team releases aging stars Orlando Pace and Torry Holt.

The Rams were one of the three oldest teams in the league last season. I'll provide age updates throughout free agency. The Rams will certainly get younger.

Rams Player aged 30 or older with contract for 2009 2009 Salary Cap Value Value if Released
Trent Green
$2.7M $1.4M
Leonard Little
$7.6M $5.1M
Orlando Pace
$9.0M
$3.0M
Chris Draft
$1.8M $433K
Torry Holt
$10.2M $2.2M
James Hall
$1.4M $350K
Marc Bulger
$8.5M $11.0M
Anthony Becht
$1.1M $135K
Drew Bennett
$5.1M $5.0M
Todd Johnson
$1.1M $400K

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' decision to release veteran strong safety Corey Chavous, 33, makes them younger and faster in the secondary while reducing a $2.8 million salary-cap charge to $1.6 million.

I would expect the Rams to continue trimming older players from their roster as new coach Steve Spagnuolo establishes a new program.

The chart lists every Rams player in his 30s with a contract for 2009. The middle column shows how much the player's contract counts against the salary cap in 2009. The third column shows how much the player's contract counts if the Rams release the player this offseason.

The Rams were the third-oldest team in the league for most of last season, based on to-the-day age breakdowns I maintain. In addition to the 10 players listed, the Rams have eight players in their 30s without contracts for the 2009 season:

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