NFC West: Dwayne Bowe

A few statistical notes on recently acquired San Francisco 49ers receiver Jon Baldwin:
  • Career stats: Baldwin has 41 receptions for 579 yards (14.1-yard average) and two touchdowns in 26 games over two NFL seasons. He has run 477 pass routes. Quarterbacks have targeted him 100 times.
  • Slot or not: Baldwin has made the vast majority of his receptions lined up wide to the left. He has 28 receptions from there and eight after lining up wide to the right. He has three receptions from the left slot and two from the right slot. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin have significant receptions from each of those four areas. The chart breaks down Baldwin's production by where he lined up. "WL" is wide left, "SL" is slot left, and so on.
  • Red zone: Baldwin is a big target at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, but he has only one career reception and eight targets inside the red zone. The lone reception was a 3-yarder for a touchdown. Dwayne Bowe (35), Tony Moeaki (16), Dexter McCluster (14) and Jamaal Charles (10) had more red zone targets for the Chiefs over that span. Crabtree (28), Vernon Davis (23), Frank Gore (17) and Delanie Walker (16) have led the 49ers in red zone targets over the past two seasons.
  • Catches by down: Baldwin has a similar number of receptions across first (16), second (10) and third (15) downs. He has more targets on first down (43) than on second (28) or third (27). Not much to choose from there.
  • Outlook: Trading A.J. Jenkins to Kansas City for Baldwin spared the 49ers from making a decision on Jenkins at the mandatory reduction to 53-man rosters. The move should buy a grace period for each player with his new team. Both players will need time to learn their new offenses. It's notable that Kansas City's new leadership gave up on Baldwin so quickly. The 49ers' front office and coaching staff remains largely unchanged since the team drafted Jenkins. San Francisco should have had a better feel for the player it was unloading.
Nik Bonaddio of numberFire expects relatively big things from St. Louis Rams rookie Tavon Austin based on similarities with other receivers.

Bonaddio explains why here. His expectations for Austin in 2013: somewhere around 59 receptions for 961 yards with eight touchdowns.

The Rams would presumably be OK with those types of numbers. However, I think Austin has a chance to exceed that total for receptions while heading to a team with relatively unestablished players at wide receiver.

The chart below ranks rookies since 2002 by most receiving yards while including their stats for receptions and receiving touchdowns. The projections for Austin would put him in the top 10 by that standard.

The Rams haven't had a receiver with 961-plus yards since Torry Holt had 1,189 yards in 2007.

Good morning, NFC West. The weekend passed quietly for the division, but the wide receiver market moved in a way that caught my attention.



When the Pittsburgh Steelers rebuffed the New England Patriots' attempts to land restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders, I wondered if this were the latest indication teams aren't all that excited about the receivers available atop the 2013 NFL draft (depth at the position could be strong Insider, however).

Pittsburgh's decision to match New England's one-year, $2.5 million offer came as a bit of a surprise. The Steelers would have collected a third-round choice from the Patriots had they decided against matching the offer. Instead, they secured Sanders for the 2013 season, giving them at least a chance to work out a longer-term deal at some point in the future.

Sanders, 26, caught 44 passes for 626 yards and a touchdown last season.

New England's play for Sanders and the Steelers' decision to match the offer sheet marked the latest example of teams trying to protect themselves at the position before the draft. The Steelers, in effect, were saying they preferred Sanders to any receiver they might add in the third round.

The Miami Dolphins made a big play for receiver Mike Wallace in free agency. The Kansas City Chiefs stepped up to keep receiver Dwayne Bowe. The San Francisco 49ers moved to acquire receiver Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens. The Seattle Seahawks parted with a 2013 first-round pick as part of a trade to acquire receiver Percy Harvin.

Those moves also could say something about how teams view their draft options at receiver.

Alex Smith to Chiefs: Thoughts on trade

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
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video
Quick thoughts after the San Francisco 49ers reached agreement on a trade sending quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs:
  • Credit Smith: Teams covet quarterbacks, but they haven't been shelling out huge money for unproven ones since the Kevin Kolb deal in Arizona. Matt Flynngot far less last offseason, for example. The success Smith has enjoyed the past two seasons, particularly in 2012, made him more appealing than the typical quarterback to hit the trade market. The 49ers went 19-5-1 with Smith starting over the past two seasons. Go ahead and credit the 49ers' coaching staff, but also realize the Chiefs' staff, led by Andy Reid, knows a little about quarterbacks, as well.
  • Weak draft: Draft analysts have been lamenting the absence of top quarterback prospects in the 2013 draft. The Chiefs, with the first overall choice, might agree. They could still draft a quarterback early, but moving to acquire Smith right after the combine affirms perceptions about the quarterbacks in the next rookie class and their readiness.
  • Compensation: Initial reports suggest the 49ers are getting the 34th overall choice and a 2014 conditional pick from Kansas City. That would be an outstanding deal from the 49ers' perspective. Is that the full deal? We do not know whether the Chiefs were able to get any draft compensation back from San Francisco. The fact that Kansas City picks so high in the second round enhances the value for San Francisco, which also picks 31st. Stay tuned.
  • Cap savings: This trade means the 49ers will not have to pay a $1 million bonus or $7.5 million salary to Smith for 2013. His projected $8.5 million cap number for 2013 vanishes from the books. That should give the 49ers greater flexibility to sign other players. Of course, San Francisco is now in the market for a backup quarterback, but even a veteran will cost much less than Smith was going to cost. Starter Colin Kaepernick's contract counts $1.4 million against the cap, far below average even for backups.
  • Not on schedule: The 49ers do not play the Chiefs this season. The Chiefs do not play any NFC West teams. Kansas City's opponents comprise the other AFC West teams, plus Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, the New York Giants, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Washington and Buffalo.
  • Chiefs on speed dial: It's been a while since the 49ers and Chiefs collaborated on quarterback trades involving Joe Montana and Steve Bono. Still, we can add Smith's name to the list of quarterbacks San Francisco has traded to Kansas City.
  • The right thing: The 49ers, of course, had to look out for their own interests in dealing Smith. Still, it's good to see them trading him to a team with a solid offensive-minded coach, an established running back, potential on the offensive line and (if re-signed) a top receiver in Dwayne Bowe. Smith is falling into a relatively favorable situation. That should feel right for the 49ers, who clearly appreciated what Smith had given to the organization.
  • No Arizona: News broke this week that Arizona was also interested in Smith. The 49ers weren't going to make a deal in the division, most likely. The Cardinals knew that. They weren't counting on Smith. Their search for quarterback answers continues.
Just a quick note here on a fairly significant milestone within the division.

Larry Fitzgerald stands 48 yards short of 10,000 for his career heading into the Arizona Cardinals' game against Buffalo on Sunday. He has averaged 67.4 yards per game this season. Fitzgerald has reached or exceeded 48 yards in 95 of his 129 regular-season games (73.6 percent).

The Bills have allowed 48 or more receiving yards to eight players through five games this season.

Five players have reached 100 yards against Buffalo in 2012: Wes Welker (129), Michael Crabtree (113), Vernon Davis (106), Rob Gronkowski (104) and Dwayne Bowe (102).

Fitzgerald is coming off an eight-catch, 92-yard game against St. Louis.

The chart shows the four youngest players to reach 10,000 career receiving yards before age 30. All four have played for current NFC West teams. Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent ranks fifth. He was 31 years and 83 days old when he passed the milestone.
There's little sense in taking the bait when San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh tells a radio program Michael Crabtree "has the best hands I've ever seen on a wide receiver."

Anyone with a strong grasp of NFL history would place Cris Carter, Raymond Berry and Steve Largent on a short list for receivers with the surest hands.

Hall of Famer Ken Houston, speaking for a 2008 piece on all-time great wideouts, stood up for AFL stars Otis Taylor and Lionel Taylor.

"Lionel Taylor, I mean, he would catch a BB," Houston said.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, speaking for the same piece, said Randy Moss, then with New England, had the best hands in the NFL at that time (2008).

"A lot of guys can catch," Thompson said then. "He can catch on any platform, as we say in scouting. He can adjust and catch it over the top of somebody's head, catch it falling down, and it doesn't matter if he is covered."

With Moss now on the 49ers, it is possible Crabtree does not possess the best hands among wide receivers on his own team.

Oops. I wasn't going to take the bait on this one, but now it's too late. Time to regroup.

Bottom line, I suspect Crabtree has impressed Harbaugh this offseason, and Harbaugh would like that to continue for as long as possible. By offering such strong public praise for Crabtree, Harbaugh is setting a standard for Crabtree to meet this season. He realizes Crabtree has the ability to meet that standard, or else he wouldn't make the statement.

We should all recall Harbaugh's calling quarterback Alex Smith "elite" and promoting him for the Pro Bowl last season. Then as now, Harbaugh was standing up for his guy. Smith enjoyed the finest season of his career and even outplayed the truly elite Drew Brees at times during the 49ers' playoff victory over New Orleans. The way Harbaugh backed Smith played a role in that performance, in my view.

Back to Crabtree. He has the ability to rank among the most sure-handed receivers in the game. He has not yet earned that status, but now he has little choice, right?

As the chart shows, Crabtree finished the 2011 season with 12.2 receptions per drop, which ranked 28th in the NFL among players targeted at least 100 times. Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 80 receptions and only one drop. Those numbers are according to ESPN Stats & Information, which defines drops as "incomplete passes where the receiver should have caught the pass with ordinary effort."

Crabtree suffered six drops last season by that standard, a few too many for the player with the best hands his head coach has ever seen on a wide receiver.

Any team with Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver would seem to be set at the position, or close to it.

But as Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. explained when we discussed receivers Tuesday, there's a reason Mario Manningham made the key reception for the New York Giants against New England in the most recent Super Bowl.

"They talked about Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl saying, 'Give them Manningham,' and then Manningham makes that crazy catch," Muench said. "That was because they didn't want Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to beat them."

The concept, explored further in the "First Take" video above, could justify any decision Arizona might make to select a wide receiver, most likely Michael Floyd, with the 13th overall choice in the draft Thursday.

A few more thoughts on the Cardinals' options, lifted from my conversation with Muench ...

Sando: You like where the 49ers stand in this draft. What about Arizona?

Muench: The Cardinals are not in a bad spot. They are going to get Michael Floyd or Riley Reiff, the way I see it. And really, I don't think you are upset about either one of those picks. To me, it's Buffalo and Arizona. What Buffalo does, Arizona will take the other player. Buffalo needs a tackle and would like to get a playmaking wide receiver. The same for Arizona.

Sando: I've felt as though improved quarterback play would be the key to maximizing the Cardinals' existing weapons. That might be the case, but your point on Manningham and the Giants resonated, too.

Muench: Kansas City tried to get Jonathan Baldwin to play next to Dwayne Bowe. San Diego had some success with Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson. It's what those guys make defenses do in coverage and also to defend the run. When you have two guys on the outside, it's tough.

Sando: Arizona used third-round choices for Andre Roberts and Early Doucet. Without a second-round choice this year, those are the types of receivers that might be available to them if Reiff is the choice in the first round.

Muench: The Cardinals haven't had that guy to draw attention away from Fitzgerald. Steve Breaston was a good complimentary receiver, a good sub-package receiver, but he was not going to force a coordinator to make a tough decision. Floyd could do that.

Sando: OK, then, let's say your theory plays out, but the Bills take Floyd.

Muench: Riley Reiff would start at right tackle from day one. I don't think he's a left tackle, but some of Matt Kalil's weaknesses are Reiff's strengths. He is a tough, hard-nosed guy -- not the most athletic, but he finds a way to get it done and is tough in the run game. Sort of like the Jon Runyans of the NFL. He immediately makes you better and starts for years.

Sando: Best-case scenario, then, which player would the Cardinals get at No. 13?

Muench: With no second-rounder, from a roster standpoint you would almost rather them get Reiff because it's a deeper receiver class and you could find some guys in the third round to come in and contribute, like a Brian Quick from Appalachian State. He has a lot to work on, but if he realizes his potential, he's going to be a starter on the outside.
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.
Brandon Lloyd's trajectory has changed dramatically and so has that of his original team, the San Francisco 49ers. The parties will scarcely recognize one another when Lloyd pays a free-agent visit to the team Wednesday.

The 49ers won as many regular-season games last season, 13, as they did during the three seasons Lloyd spent on the roster beginning in 2003.

Lloyd, despite enjoying a bright moment or two, ranked only 93rd among NFL players with 2,370 yards receiving from 2003 through 2009, bouncing from San Francisco to Washington to Denver along the way. He improbably has 2,414 yards over the past two seasons, sixth-most in the NFL behind Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Wallace and Wes Welker.

Playing with a long list of sub-mediocre quarterbacks surely contributed to Lloyd's disappointing first seven seasons. Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, J.T. O'Sullivan, Cody Pickett and Chris Weinke were among the starters while Lloyd was with San Francisco through 2005. Jason Campbell, Mark Brunell and Todd Collins were the starters when Lloyd was with Washington.

Lloyd's two-year run of production has come with Josh McDaniels as head coach (in Denver) or offensive coordinator (in St. Louis). McDaniels is now in New England, but if Lloyd is going to follow him there, it will be after first giving the 49ers a look.

Michael Crabtree and the newly signed Randy Moss are the top two receivers on the 49ers' roster. Josh Morgan agreed to terms with Washington. Ted Ginn Jr. is testing the market and reportedly plans to visit the Detroit Lions.

Lloyd's reputation in San Francisco as an immature player unconcerned with winning appears outdated. He is now 30 years old and meeting expectations. The 49ers have largely new leadership, creating the opportunity for a fresh start.

.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' WR options

February, 21, 2012
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The San Francisco 49ers signed David Akers, Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, Jonathan Goodwin and Braylon Edwards as unrestricted free agents from other teams last offseason.

None signed for more than $4.25 million per season.

That track record could remove the 49ers from serious consideration for the big-name wide receivers scheduled to hit the market next month. Those options could be diminishing anyway.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Kansas City's decision to sign former Oakland Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt could indicate the Chiefs will use the franchise tag on receiver Dwayne Bowe, winnowing down the list of free agents San Francisco might consider this offseason. Maiocco: "Bowe is another significant wide receiver who will probably not be on the open market for the 49ers to explore. And without Bowe available, it might drive up the prices for the other receivers, most notably Vincent Jackson. Also, it could make it more difficult for any team wishing to make a run at restricted free agent Mike Wallace, as his price could be rising, too." Noted: I would not expect the 49ers to sign a high-profile wideout from another team to a lucrative deal. Last offseason, the 49ers bowed out of the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes and came out ahead by signing Rogers to a one-year deal. That course seems likely at receiver as well.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Williams' rehab from a broken arm is progressing slowly and steadily, with Williams recently passing the 100-pound mark in the bench press, a weight just about anyone in relatively good health could press without much trouble. Urban: "Williams actually believes his weight has been one of the easiest things to handle since he got hurt that miserable day against the 49ers, when the helmet of teammate Stewart Bradley slammed into his arm, shattering the bone to the point he needed two rods to be inserted. His foray into the bench press has been important, a 'sign of encouragement' for a man who normally benches more than 300 pounds. Right after the surgery, Williams said he was told he could only pick up things like a bottle of water, 'and only the 16-ounce bottle, not the 20-ounce one.' Living everyday life and doing things like getting dressed was difficult."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former St. Louis Cardinals running back Stump Mitchell interviewed to coach running backs on Jeff Fisher's staff amid questions about whether Mitchell will return as head coach at Southern University. Thomas: "A versatile player, Mitchell was an accomplished receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner, finishing with nearly 11,000 all-purpose yards and scoring 42 touchdowns. He even threw a 15-yard TD pass in 1986. At the conclusion of his playing career, Mitchell was a head coach at the high school and college (Morgan State) levels in the 1990s before joining Mike Holmgren's inaugural staff in Seattle as running backs coach in 1999. He was with the Seahawks for eight seasons then joined Washington's staff as assistant head coach/running backs coach in 2008."

The Associated Press says former Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson could become a salary-cap casualty for Minnesota as the Vikings implement a youth movement. Hutchinson says he played "great" last season after an injury rehabilitation slowed him in 2010. Hutchinson has one year remaining on the controversial contract he signed with Minnesota after the Seahawks named him their transition player following their 2005 Super Bowl season. Noted: Hutchinson would upgrade Seattle's line if he returned to the Seahawks, but with Robert Gallery under contract and familiar with the team's blocking scheme, the team does not have an immediate need at left guard. Second-year right tackle James Carpenter is a candidate to play there after Seattle re-signed Breno Giacomini amid expectations Giacomini will remain at right tackle.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle suggests recent comments from Seahawks general manager John Schneider could indicate an unwillingness to draft Ryan Tannehill or another quarterback with the 11th or 12th overall choice. ESPN's Todd McShay had this to say about Tannehill: "He still has a lot to learn in an offense that struggled this year at times and was very inconsistent in terms of the supporting cast, but I think with his athleticism, his arm, his ability to make throws on the run and create after the initial play breaks down, there's a lot of potential there. And certainly if you have time to develop him properly he has a chance to be a really good starter in the NFL."

Mailbag: All eyes on Peyton Manning

January, 26, 2012
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Filippo from Windsor, Canada, thinks Alex Smith, not Kyle Williams, was the 49ers' biggest problem in the NFC Championship Game. He wondered whether the team could trade for Peyton Manning this offseason.

Mike Sando: There will almost certainly be no trade for Manning. The Colts could not trade Manning without first paying a $28 million bonus to him. Failing to pay that bonus by March 8 would make Manning a free agent when the trading period opened five days later.

My early take on Manning was that the Colts would keep him as long as he were healthy. Sweeping changes in the organization have created the impression Indianapolis anticipates making a clean break at the position. Indianapolis appears increasingly likely to part with Manning unless the sides adjust that bonus to buy time. Manning will not want to do that, most likely, if he knows the Colts are going to draft his replacement, Andrew Luck.

This has become a perfect storm. Manning's injury was worse than anticipated. He missed the entire season, longer than expected. The Colts were worse than anticipated without him, so bad they secured the top pick. Manning's health did not improve as anticipated. One of the brightest college quarterback prospects in years happened to be available in the next draft. And then Manning had that $28 million lever in his contract.

Those are all extreme circumstances. Throw them together and it's tough to envision the Colts keeping Manning. That $28 million price tag is too high amid questions about Manning's health.

We're in a holding pattern until the March 8 bonus date. Perceptions could change by then. If Manning does become a free agent, his health will remain the key variable. It's too early to know where he might land.

I suspect the 49ers will re-sign Alex Smith before or around the March 13 start to free agency. Arizona has until March 17 to pay a $7 million bonus to keep Kevin Kolb. The gap could give the Cardinals a chance to at least consider Manning. Lots of other teams would have interest as well.

Manning's recent comments to Bob Kravitz were illuminating. Manning said he felt as though sweeping changes in the Colts' organization had left people there "walking on eggshells." But Manning is the one with reason to feel that way. He's no longer in control of his immediate future.


Dan from Portland asks why few people seem to be connecting Manning to the Seattle Seahawks. He thinks Kolb should get another chance in Arizona. He thinks Alex Smith should be the starter in San Francisco. And he sees Sam Bradford as the quarterback in St. Louis. Doesn't that leave Seattle as the most logical destination among NFC West teams?

Mike Sando: Yeah, I've wondered why Arizona has been mentioned in so many of the reports. It is possible people close to Manning are pushing Arizona as a possible destination because, one, Manning might see that as an appealing place to land and, two, the Cardinals do have that $7 million decision to make on Kolb. I see no reason for the Cardinals to push the Manning angle in the news, unless they hope to pressure Kolb into an adjusted contract.

I agree with you on Seattle making the most sense from a quarterback-need perspective. The fit from a system standpoint would take some adjusting. I also wonder how much the Seahawks would want to commit financially to such a high-profile player with clear health concerns. Would they see this as a risky two-year rental, or as a chance to become a championship contender quickly?

Manning's health is the No. 1 variable. If he hits the market in good physical condition, lots of teams will be interested.


Jeremiah from Germany thinks 49ers fans should be clamoring for Dwayne Bowe, not Marques Colston, in free agency this offseason.

Mike Sando: It's tough for me to envision the Chiefs letting Bowe get away. Smart teams re-sign their best players, especially when those players are young. I would also favor Bowe over Colston, all else being equal. But I also think the 49ers would be more likely to address the position in the draft and with a lower-priced free agent. That is how they believe in putting their team together. They have been averse to overpaying for players other teams have let hit the market. That was the case last offseason when the 49ers showed no interest in Nnamdi Asomugha and other top free agents.


Scott from Epsom, N.H., thinks I've failed to pay the New York Giants their proper respects and have instead sought to diminish their victory by branding them as concussion-inflicting cheaters. "Grow up," he writes. "It's a game."

Mike Sando: The stories about the Giants trying to inflict a concussion upon Kyle Williams originated in the Newark Star-Ledger and New York Magazine. I simply linked to them, which was pretty much a no-brainer from an NFC West perspective. These were direct quotes from Giants players speaking on the record in well-established publications.

On the game itself, the 49ers blew a prime opportunity to reach the Super Bowl, giving up 10 points on uncharacteristic special-teams turnovers. That was my focus from a 49ers/NFC West standpoint coming out of the game. There's no shortage of favorable Giants coverage out there. I just thought the 49ers did more to lose the game than their opponent did to win it. This being the NFC West blog, the 49ers were going to be my focus.


Adam from El Paso noticed that the last quarterbacks drafted in first rounds tend to struggle. He pointed to Patrick Ramsey (2002), Rex Grossman (2003), J.P. Losman (2004), Jason Campbell (2005), Jay Cutler (2006) and Brady Quinn (2007) as examples. He pointed to Joe Flacco (2008) and possibly Cutler as exceptions, but wondered if there was something to it.

Mike Sando: Interesting observation. There is nothing dooming these players. Overall, though, the quarterbacks with the most obvious skills tend to get drafted earlier. If you've reached the late first round and are thinking about a quarterback, you're probably gambling more than teams selecting them earlier. Perhaps you're more apt to be reaching for a prospect because you need one and fear missing out.


Joe from Phoenix sees Jeff Fisher delivering credible coordinators and asks whether we should expect him to land top free agents as well. He points to Cortland Finnegan as a possibility and wants to know if there are others with ties to Fisher or the current Rams coordinators.

Mike Sando: Yes, we should expect the Rams to have interest in free-agent players Fisher and his coordinators coached in the past. Finnegan is one of them.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer spent the last six seasons with New York, but the Jets do not have many potential offensive free agents of note. The list includes quarterback Mark Brunell, receiver Plaxico Burress, tight end Matthew Mulligan, quarterback Kevin O'Connell, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tackle Robert Turner.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spent the last three seasons with New Orleans.

The Saints' potential defensive free agents include linebacker Jonathan Casillas, defensive end Jeff Charleston, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, linebacker Ramon Humber, defensive end Turk McBride, cornerback Tracy Porter, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and cornerback Leigh Torrance.

Williams was also with 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers, another potential free agent, years ago in Washington.

Fisher's roots as head coach in Tennessee provide additional connections. The Titans' potential free agents include snapper Ken Amato, safety Jordan Babineaux, linebacker Patrick Bailey, defensive end Dave Ball, Finnegan, safety Michael Griffin, running back Ahmard Hall, receiver Lavelle Hawkins, defensive end William Hayes, safety Chris Hope, defensive end/tackle Jason Jones, tackle Mike Otto, guard Jake Scott, linebacker Tim Shaw and safety Anthony Smith.
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle outlines five suggested moves for the Seahawks in free agency. Huard: "Out-flank the defense with a 'Z' wide receiver (flanker) that can threaten and scare a defensive coordinator. I believe when healthy Sidney Rice is that guy, and he knows this system well. His hip is paramount to the negotiation, but if he can get back to the 2009 form he immediately makes Marshawn Lynch and Mike Williams better. ... Think Atlanta's Roddy White for Michael Turner and Matt Ryan, or Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City for Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel. An elite wide receiver tilts the field his way, and can take some pressure off not just his wide receiver counterparts, but an offensive line and run game that should see less bodies hovering around the line of scrimmage." Rice's hip injury is a key variable, but his connections to the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, give Seattle insight most teams would not have.

Also from Huard, with Mike Salk: Should the Seahawks replace veteran middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu? They need to line up options, for sure. Tatupu has worn down physically in recent seasons and is coming off surgeries on both knees.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says former linebacker Michael Jackson withdrew from the game completely upon leaving the NFL more than two decades ago. Jackson spent one seasons as a broadcaster, but his heart wasn't in it. Jackson: "I thought I still wanted to be in the game, but I found that I couldn’t really broadcast very well because I wouldn’t study, because I didn’t want to watch football. And if I didn’t want to watch football, what the hell am I doing broadcasting football? It didn’t make any sense. That’s where I find myself now. I’m just totally removed. I don’t know anything that’s going on. I don’t know any of the players."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune expects the Seahawks to be active when the lockout concludes. Boling: "It seems that this is a time when returning players have greater value because there is so little time to acclimate newcomers. The top two draft picks, for instance, are expected to come in and be starters on the offensive line when the exhibition season starts Aug. 11 -– little more than three weeks from now. One thing working in the Seahawks’ favor is that the constant turnover of the past year has them accustomed to making changes on the fly and pulling a quick trigger on personnel deals."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams rookie defensive end Robert Quinn, who is eager to collect his first NFL sack. Coats: "Because of the lockout, there were no organized team activities or minicamps -- valuable introductory sessions for first-year players -- in the spring. Quinn, who hasn't been at Rams Park since meeting with the media on April 29, has been working out at the North Carolina facilities with former Tar Heels teammate Ryan Taylor, a tight end who was a seventh-round selection by Green Bay."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the post-lockout frenzy will challenge the Rams. Miklasz: "It will be interesting to see how well the Rams deal with this, and how much success they'll have in taking care of business. This is a test for the organization."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues, including Rams beat reporter Jim Thomas, what position the team will address first once the lockout ends. Thomas: "Even in the normal feeding frenzy at the start of a normal free agency period, teams multi-task and work on securing two or three positions at once. That will be especially true this year once the lockout ends. Free agency will be like an ultra-fast version of speed dating. Even so, the first calls made by the Rams could involve running back and defensive tackle."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com takes a big-picture look at the 49ers this offseason. Maiocco on rookie Aldon Smith: "History suggests that good pass-rushers can make quick transitions to the NFL. The 49ers expect Smith to become a dominant pass-rusher early in his career, as he is set to replace pending free agent Manny Lawson. The 49ers have not had a year-in, year-out pass-rush presence since Charles Haley."

Also from Maiocco: Takeo Spikes thinks limitations on training camps will extend NFL careers considerably.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee passes along thoughts from Alex Smith and Joe Staley regarding those proposed training camp limitations. Staley: "As a player, two-a-days are really hard. Part of you wants to not have those full-padded, full-contact two-a-days. Some part of you also wants to have them because you get a lot of work in. They are beneficial."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' stadium situation, specifically efforts to secure a loan. Kawakami: "A league source confirmed to the Bay Area News Group on Tuesday that the 49ers’ stadium situation is one of three accounted for in the new CBA, which could become official by the end of this week."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Forrest Blue, the 49ers' former Pro Bowl center, has died at the age 65. Brown: "Blue helped Dick Nolan’s teams win three consecutive NFC West titles starting in 1970. His lone touchdown came when he scooped up a fumble and ran it 25 yards against the New England Patriots in 1971. Blue spent his final four NFL seasons with the Baltimore Colts. He retired after the 1978 season because of a degenerative disc."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Blue suffered from dementia for years. Branch: "Brittney Blue said her father's brain will be sent to Boston University where researchers are studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease linked to those who have sustained repeated head trauma. CTE is tied to memory loss, depression and dementia, and has been found in the brains of more than 20 former NFL players, including Bears safety Dave Duerson, 50, who committed suicide in February."

Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers and Raiders are considering working on a shared stadium. Team president Jed York: "We've put our teams together," 49ers chief executive Jed York said late Monday at an event for NFL fans in Los Angeles. "It doesn't mean we're going to find the right deal that fits for both teams, but we're certainly going to get a look at those options."

Also from Branch: York is the latest 49ers executive to say the team will not be particularly active in free agency.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers pros and cons associated with a possible trade sending Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Philadelphia for Kevin Kolb. Somers: "Kolb has limited starting experience and was inconsistent last season. And he lost his job after suffering a concussion. For some reason, Eagles fans seem to think Kolb will bring a ransom on the trade market. Giving up DRC would be hard enough for the Cardinals, but the Eagles asking for additional compensation (a draft pick) coiuld be a deal breaker."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers thoughts on acquiring Kolb. Urban: "Both sides probably won’t end up with 'best-case scenario' in a deal for one to happen. The Eagles won’t get a ransom, the Cards won’t get off cheap."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson is eager to get back on the field with a purpose. Wilson: "I had a down season last year. I know that. But there has been so much written and so much said about how I should retire, how I'm not the player I was. The respect level just isn't there. The work I've put in has been written off as if I haven't done anything." Retire? I'm not aware of anyone calling for Wilson's retirement. That would be way, way overboard.

Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 radio in Phoenix offers Cardinals-related thoughts during a chat. Jurecki on possible interest in Ike Taylor, who could have additional value if the team parted with Rodgers-Cromartie: "I think they will have interest. He's 31 -- looks like he's looking to cash in. Having Greg Toler gives them another option. Taylor is familiar with new Cards DC Ray Horton. He was Taylor's position coach in Pittsburgh."
Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Roger Craig, Sean Morey, Sam Bradford and Takeo Spikes are among the NFC West players and alumni scheduled to appear at the NFL Players Association's draft-related festivities in New York beginning April 28.

Hall of Famer and current Seattle Seahawks radio analyst Warren Moon, who played for Seattle before the team's move back to the NFC West in 2002, is also on the guest list revealed Monday.

The NFLPA took criticism when news broke that it planned to discourage players from attending the draft itself, but these events have been scheduled to give players flexibility should they choose to attend both.

"The series of events is a celebration of legacy -- of past, present and future football players coming together to honor those making the journey from prospect to professional," the NFLPA said in a news release.

The NFLPA has scheduled a welcome meeting and dinner with families for 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, the first day of the draft, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. Draft prospects attending would then have time to appear at the draft, should they choose to do so, as both will be headquartered in New York.

The NFLPA has scheduled media access for Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, followed by a lunch and dinner with reception at 4:30 p.m. A fitness and skills clinic is set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon in Harlem, followed by lunch and a party beginning at 9 p.m.

NFL teams generally fly first-round choices to their facilities in the day or two following the first round. Rules will allow that to happen again, despite the lockout. Players heading to their new teams' facilities for news conferences could miss NFLPA-sponsored events for Friday and/or Saturday.

The initial guest list, subject to change, features the following current and former NFL players: Charlie Batch, Cornelius Bennett, Dwayne Bowe, Bradford, Ahmad Bradshaw, Craig, Zak DeOssie, Dickerson, Eddie George, Faulk, Felix Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Dustin Keller, Brandon Marshall, Kevin Mawae, Willie McGinest, Brian Mitchell, Moon, Morey, Shaun O'Hara, Ray Rice, Tony Richardson, Spikes and Mike Vrabel.

The list of draft prospects includes Prince Amukamara, Marvin Austin, Adrian Clayborn, Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Blaine Gabbert, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, Corey Liuget, Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson, Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, Daniel Thomas and J.J. Watt.
Ken Whisenhunt is right when he says Levi Brown takes more criticism as a high draft choice than he would take as someone selected later in the process.

That's the way it works. The highest picks in a draft class should outperform their peers.

[+] EnlargeLevi Brown
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesLevi Brown, drafted fifth overall in 2007, can still become an "outstanding" player according to Ken Whisenhunt.
The Arizona Cardinals don't need anyone to remind them that they selected Brown over some All-Pro performers, including Adrian Peterson and Patrick Willis. But it's not as though Brown, a player with 56 consecutive regular-season starts, qualifies as a flat-out bust, either. He moved to left tackle from the right side last season and will stay there.

"He improved last year," Whisenhunt said this week from the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "As a left tackle, it's not an easy position to move from right tackle. He will continue to get better. He is a talented football player. The biggest thing he has struggled with is the consistency of his play. But a lot of times you are under the microscope more because you were the fifth pick in the draft."

I would rank Brown, chosen fifth overall in 2007, somewhere around 20th out of 32 first-round picks that year.

Brown has obviously or arguably outperformed the following first-round selections from 2007: JaMarcus Russell, Jamaal Anderson, Ted Ginn Jr., Amobi Okoye, Adam Carriker, Justin Harrell, Jarvis Moss, Aaron Ross, Reggie Nelson, Brady Quinn, Anthony Gonzalez and Craig Davis. Gaines Adams, chosen fourth that year, passed away after Tampa Bay traded him to Chicago.

The following first-rounders from 2007 have obviously or arguably outperformed Brown: Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, LaRon Landry, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lawrence Timmons, Leon Hall, Michael Griffin, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Meriweather, Jon Beason, Anthony Spencer, Robert Meachem, Joe Staley, Ben Grubbs and Greg Olsen.

"The reason we drafted Levi where we did was because we had him rated high enough to go in that position, but we also felt like we had to develop our offensive line and defensive line at that point, because that is where the most critical component of your team," Whisenhunt said. "That is the only way you are going to have a chance to compete. Levi has been a good player. He is often criticized, but I think that comes with being the fifth pick, and I don't understand how you evaluate offensive linemen, because they are not catching passes or running touchdowns in."

Whisenhunt said he thought Brown can and will become an "outstanding" player.

"Any time an offensive lineman gets drafted that high, especially in a fantasy football world where people want you to get dynamic playmakers, you are going to face some kind of criticism," Whisenhunt said. "I have to give Levi some credit. As tough as it's been, he hasn't let it affect him. He has continued to work and get better and I think this will be a big year for him. This is a chance for him to show that he can play this position very well."
We're still getting comments on the wide receiver power rankings from Tuesday.

The Houston Texans' Andre Johnson prevailed over the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald for the top spot. I've gone through Pro Football Reference to find which active receivers have given NFC West teams the most trouble, as defined by single-game receiving performances featuring at least 150 yards.

In a surprise, Johnson has as many of these 150-yard games against NFC West teams as Fitzgerald -- three. Fitzgerald cannot play against his own team, but he's still obviously played far more games against NFC West teams than Johnson.

This isn't the only way to measure receivers' performances, but it's one way. Note, too, that San Francisco and St. Louis have each allowed seven of these games, while the Cardinals have allowed only one.

The second chart breaks down these performances by which opponents allowed them.

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