NFC West: Elvis Dumervil

St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson became the 13th unrestricted free agent from the NFC West to reach a contract agreement since the signing period opened Tuesday.

The Miami Dolphins announced what was thought to be a three-year agreement with Gibson, who did not figure into the Rams' plans after catching 51 passes for 691 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns last season.

The chart below lists all UFAs from NFC West teams, noting which ones reached contract agreements.

In other developments around the division:
  • Tackle update: Dolphins free-agent tackle Jake Long left Rams headquarters without a contract agreement. That leads me to think Long will most likely sign elsewhere. The Rams have other options, including the draft (they have two first-round selections, after all). Long would upgrade the line, no question, but price deserves special consideration given injury concerns. To what degree Long wants to leave Miami is another potential factor.
  • Safety market: Rams free agent safety Craig Dahl is reportedly visiting the San Francisco 49ers. The Detroit Lions re-signed safety Louis Delmas, who had visited both the Rams and 49ers. The safety market remains flooded even after former Cardinals mainstay Adrian Wilson reportedly reached an agreement with New England. Teams can afford to take their time.
  • Aldon's shoulder: Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith underwent shoulder surgery this offseason. That is counter to what Smith told Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News last month. The 49ers do not disclose information regarding surgeries. Either way, Smith was known to have played through shoulder trouble last season. He'll presumably be healthy for 2013.
  • Obomanu let go: Longtime (since 2006) Seattle receiver Ben Obomanu's Twitter account indicated the Seahawks planned to release him. The move had seemed likely even before the team acquired Percy Harvin. Obomanu was scheduled to earn $2.3 million in salary from a team that no longer needed him as much on offense or special teams. Obomanu went from playing roughly half the offensive snaps over the 2010 and 2011 seasons to playing 29.2 percent of them last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • Dumervil available: The Denver Broncos' failed attempt to renegotiate Elvis Dumervil's contract ended with the team releasing Dumervil and an explanatory statement. Dumervil's 63.5 sacks tied for seventh-most in the NFL since his 2006 rookie season even though Dumervil missed the 2010 season due to injury. There are no indications NFC West teams have serious interest in Dumervil, but his name is another to keep in mind, at least.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' fifth and final exhibition game, this one at home against the Denver Broncos:

1. Lindley's opportunity. Third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley started the game and played extensively. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in two-plus quarters. He missed a couple throws, including including on a short third-down pass to William Powell in the right flat. But he stood calmly in the pocket with bodies crashing around him. He got rid of the ball quickly. Lindley passed his first test. Update: An injury to Rich Bartel has led Arizona to put Lindley back into the game late in the third quarter. I'll update this item as warranted.

2. Pass protection. Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste gave up immediate pressure on Lindley's first pass attempt. Batiste set to the outside and whiffed against Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, who beat Batiste to the inside and was untouched. Lindley got the ball out to Andre Roberts from a three-step drop, but by then Ayers was hitting Lindley in the back. Overall, the protection was better than it has been. The Broncos held out nearly all their starters, including top pass-rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. That makes it tough to project how Batiste and right tackle Bobby Massie might fare in Week 1, should they remain the starters. We'll find out Friday whether the Cardinals think Levi Brown has a chance to return from triceps surgery this season.

3. Floyd watch. First-round draft choice Michael Floyd came alive following a sleepy preseason. His 22-yard touchdown reception from Lindley would have made Larry Fitzgerald proud. Floyd was falling backward in the end zone as a defender hooked him. He reached out with his left hand, tipping the ball to keep it from descending. Floyd then cradled the ball with his left hand, finishing the play.

Three things: Broncos-Cardinals

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
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Three things to watch for Thursday night in the Arizona Cardinals' fifth and final exhibition game, this one at home against Denver (11 p.m. ET):

1. Lindley's opportunity. Rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley, a sixth-round choice from San Diego State, makes his first professional start. The Cardinals aren't considering him as a Week 1 starter, but this game could help them decide how early Lindley might be ready. The Cardinals think he has long-term starting potential. But with concerns at offensive tackle, will Lindley have time to operate?

2. Pass protection. Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste and right tackle Bobby Massie will start this game. They provided Arizona with its best combination against Tennessee last week. The Broncos should test them for as long as Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller are in the game, and probably for longer. Can the Cardinals emerge from this game feeling better about their ability to protect the quarterback?

3. Floyd watch. First-round draft choice Michael Floyd should get ample playing time to improve upon his modest preseason totals (three catches covering 18 yards). Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are expected to sit out, however, so Floyd won't get a chance to work on in-game chemistry with the Cardinals' as-yet-unnamed starter for the regular season.
Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil have gone where young NFC West pass-rushers Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn hope to venture.

Both Wake and Dumervil upped their first-year sack totals considerably after going from situational roles to the starting lineup.

Wake, the Miami Dolphins' Pro Bowl pass-rusher, went from 5.5 sacks in 2009, when he started only one game, to 14 sacks in 2010, when he started 16.

Dumervil, also a Pro Bowl pass-rusher, went from 8.5 sacks in 13 games (no starts) as a rookie in 2006 to 12.5 sacks in 16 starts the next season.

It'll be tougher for Smith to improve dramatically upon his already impressive 14-sack total as a rookie situational player for the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Quinn has more room for improvement after collecting five sacks in no starts for the St. Louis Rams. Both played around 50 percent of their teams' defensive snaps in 2011. Both project as starters this season.

"Who I’m looking forward to watching this year is Robert Quinn," Rams running back Steven Jackson told reporters during the team's ongoing minicamp. "I think he’s a natural pass-rusher. I think working on the opposite side of Chris Long, and the coaching that he’s receiving right now, I’m really looking forward for him to have a breakout season. If there’s anyone I’d tell our fans to look for, it’d be Robert."

Smith's teammate, defensive end Ray McDonald, said he thought Smith could reach the 20-sack level with additional chances. This seemed optimistic, I thought, but McDonald's own experience supported his thinking. McDonald became a far more dynamic player for the 49ers after the team made him its starter.

"Fourteen can turn into 20," McDonald said during the 49ers' ongoing minicamp. "When you’re just a situational player, you’re coming off the bench kind of cold and you have to warm back up. When you’re always out there, you are always warm. You can set your moves up more.

"It was the same thing for me, just coming off the bench and starting off cold. You don’t really get into your rhythm until the third or fourth quarter."

Smith did have 12 of his 14 sacks in second halves, including nine in fourth quarters. He had no first-quarter sacks. If McDonald's theory is correct, Smith could collect more sacks early in games while remaining at least as productive later.

The sacks Wake collected as a rookie were distributed more evenly. Dumervil actually had a higher percentage of sacks in first halves as a rookie.

Quinn had three of his five sacks in second quarters last season.

Chat wrap: Seahawks' chances at Denver

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
2:26
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Lots of ground to cover in the NFC West chat Thursday. Transcript here. Highlights below:
Shane (Los Angeles, CA): Sand-O, What did you think of the Cards' defense? I like they are flying around the ball a lot and really hitting people in the mouth. That being said, they still gave up over 350 yards total offense to the Rams!

Mike Sando: They gave up 325 yards, for the record, but I did not see great things from the Cardinals in terms of team defense. Sam Bradford hit a couple long throws. Mark Clayton was wide open for another one, but he dropped the ball. The Rams converted 10 of 23 times on third/fourth downs. The run defense against Steven Jackson was fine for the most part. The safeties made good plays on the ball. I thought the Rams' offensive line held up better in protection than I would have imagined, and Sam Bradford got rid of the ball quickly.

Trevor (Kelowna BC): Good morning.......aside from the obvious home field advantage at "Mile High" where do you see the strengths and weakness' versus the Broncos?

Mike Sando: I've seen only highlights from the Broncos' first game, but it looks like there could be some pass-rushing opportunities against the Denver tackles. Can Chris Clemons keep getting a strong rush without the benefit of a pro-Seahawks crowd to help him get a jump on the opposing tackle? I'm not clear on the answer there, but that is a key matchup. Seattle's run defense appears strong. I also think it's very good for Seattle to have Elvis Dumervil on injured reserve. That allows Seattle to play Tyler Polumbus at left tackle without helping him as much.

Aron (STL): Sando, is it a sign of how bad the Rams receivers are when Mark Clayton after only five days in the books was our best WR on Sunday? Is there any hope for this group or am I waiting for some stud in the draft next year?

Mike Sando: The Rams' offense is similar to the one Mike Holmgren ran successfully in Seattle even though Holmgren never had a dominant receiver. Guys like Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram were effective players in this offense. Clayton's quick emergence does reflect the lack of established receivers on the Rams' roster. It also reflects Sam Bradford's accuracy and the fact that Clayton, though not an elite receiver, is a quick learner and could fit well in this offense.

Bill (Vacaville, Calif): Mike, early in the 49ers' loss, they used Delanie Walker with success when they were moving the ball. Why did they not utilize him in the second half? He is so versatile and opens up others in the offense. Also, what about Brian Westbrook?

Mike Sando: The 49ers' third-down and two-minute offense features three wide receivers. Frank Gore stays on the field, as does Vernon Davis. That makes Walker the odd man out. Walker's presence is maximized when the defense must respect the running game. But when the 49ers fell behind, the running game wasn't something the Seahawks had to worry about. They were going to play the pass. Perhaps having Walker still would have given the 49ers some advantage, but the circumstances would have been different. We cannot assume Walker would have had the same impact under different circumstances.

As for Westbrook, I can't see him being more than an occasional situational player as long as Gore is healthy. It's just tough to justify taking Gore off the field. I would think we'll see Westbrook sporadically.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
10:44
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Chris Johnson is up, Brett Favre is down and Donovan McNabb is out since the final MVP Watch from last season.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswirePeyton Manning has thrown for 4,000 yards in 10 of his 12 NFL seasons.
The initial list for 2010 overlooks defense entirely, with good reason. Lawrence Taylor was the last defensive player to win the award and that was 24 years ago. Some of the leading defensive candidates from last season -- Elvis Dumervil and Darren Sharper come to mind -- are dealing with injuries.

Peyton Manning could win the award every season. There isn't a surer bet in the league. He's reached 4,000 yards passing nine times in the past 10 seasons and his teams have averaged 12.7 victories over the past seven. What more could anyone want from an MVP candidate?

Answer: another 2,000-yard rushing season from Johnson, this time with a winning record for the Tennessee Titans.

Johnson was the sixth player in NFL history to reach the milestone, but the first to do so for a team with a non-winning record. O.J. Simpson (1973), Barry Sanders (1997) Terrell Davis (1998) won MVP awards (Sanders shared his with Favre). Eric Dickerson (1984) lost out to Dan Marino. Jamal Lewis (2003) watched Manning and Steve McNair share the award. Manning beat out Johnson last season.

A look at some of the favorites heading into the 2010 season ...

Mailbag: Ginn's viability for 49ers

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
8:12
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Matt from Santa Cruz., Calif., writes: Hey Sando, could the Brandon Marshall trade still affect the NFC West? The Niners need a returner (and a third second/third receiver). Maybe they pick up Ted Ginn Jr.? Possible?

Mike Sando: The 49ers will probably take their chances in the draft. That is just my feel. They could draft a position player with return capabilities.

Adding Ginn for a later-round pick would make sense on one level because Ginn is young and has made impact plays in the return game.

But the 49ers would also inherit a contract paying more than $1 million in salary for 2010 and nearly $1.4 million for 2011, with an escalator that could add another $2.9 million in salary for 2011. I wouldn't give away a decent draft choice just to take a one-year flier on a return specialist if the 49ers didn't think Ginn could help at receiver.

The 49ers like bigger position players as a general rule. Ginn weighs 180 pounds.

The Rams' return game was fine with Danny Amendola back there. The Cardinals drafted LaRod Stephens-Howling in the seventh round and he nearly won the Tennessee game for them with a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Of course, Ginn isn't a bad player just because he might not fit with the Dolphins. He was a holdover from the previous leadership. As a high pick, his struggles have come to symbolize what was wrong with the Dolphins. They're moving in another direction now.

Ginn burned the Jets for two kickoff returns of 100-plus yards last season. He hasn't returned punts on a regular basis since his rookie season in 2007, and his punt-return averages have fallen off as well. Could just be a matter of opportunities.


Kevin from Phoenix writes: Mike, thanks for keeping us all up to date on everything NFC West! So, Brandon Marshall has been traded by the Broncos, leaving a huge void for them at wide receiver.

A while back, I asked if you thought the Cardinals would have been interested in dealing Anquan Boldin and a pick -- second or third round -- to get Elvis Dumervil from the Broncos. Obviously, this trade would have been contingent on Marshall moving on. My question was met with some scrutiny from you and some of your followers, but no team has really received what they wanted for their "marquee" trade bait.

With that in mind, and with how cheap the Ravens signed Boldin for, do you think the Broncos would have been better taking Boldin and a third for Dumervil? I also asked if the Cardinals would be able to get Antonio Cromartie for a second, and look what the Jets did. Frustrating!

Mike Sando: The Jets are winning the offseason, no question. We'll see how it all fits together. I'm usually a little skeptical. The offseason hype doesn't automatically translate. Tell me how well Mark Sanchez plays. That's the most important variable in determining whether the Jets improve.

Dumervil wasn't going anywhere. I just saw no reason for the Broncos to trade an excellent young pass-rusher. Getting rid of Marshall was bad enough. He also should have been a cornerstone player based on age, ability and recent production.

It's tough when the whole league knows you're trying to move an unhappy player. The value is never going to be as great. Denver did well getting a couple second-round choices for Marshall.


Jacob from Denmark writes: Hi Mike. If Stan Kroenke does gets full ownership of the Rams, do you think there would be any chance that he would move the team to London? Also, commissioner Roger Goodell has been very interested in the European market. Do you think he would be more likely to bend the cross-ownership rules if Kroenke wanted to make the Rams the first European NFL franchise?

Mike Sando: Kroenke does own a 29.98 percent stake in Arsenal of the Premier League, so his sports interests extend beyond U.S. borders, but we're probably a ways off from the NFL expanding across oceans. That is just my opinion. What a hassle it would be for teams to travel.

Kroenke would probably push for a new stadium in St. Louis before exploring options elsewhere.

I'm mostly interested in seeing what conditions might apply to his eventual approval as full owner of the Rams and whether any conditions would restrict his options to move the team. I think he'll get approved. The bigger question is just under what terms.


Brandon from Kirkland, Wash., writes: Hey Sando, thanks for reading. Do you think having the Williams duo trying out at camp had anything to do with the Hawks not pulling the trigger on Marshall?

Mike Sando: No. Mike Williams and Reggie Williams haven't had enough time to show the Seahawks anything to this point. Several factors could have affected how far Seattle was willing to go. It probably came down to price unless the Broncos preferred trading Marshall to Miami for unknown reasons.


Tim from Norfolk, Va., writes: Mike, I read the blog every day, so I was wondering what the prospect is of the 49ers drafting Joe Haden at 13, C.J. Spiller at 17, and then trading up in the second round for Rodger Saffold if we do not have a shot at one of the premier tackles?

Mike Sando: One general manager I spoke with recently thought Saffold would probably go in the first round. I also question whether Spiller would remain available that late. It's tough to say for sure because so many variables can affect the direction a team goes during a draft. Haden and Spiller seem like decent candidates for Jacksonville at No. 10.

What Pro Bowlers command as RFAs

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
11:26
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NFL teams have or will be announcing tender levels for their restricted free agents.

I've put together an unofficial early list of Pro Bowl players and their known tender levels.

All but the Jets' Leon Washington would command at least a first-round choice if their current teams declined to match offers or negotiate a lower price via trade.

I think the price tags are mostly prohibitive, particularly given that each would require a long-term contract to justify the investment.

Calling all reasonable trade scenarios

February, 2, 2010
2/02/10
12:36
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Kevin from Phoenix writes: How likely would it be for the Cardinals to make a player-for-player trade using Anquan Boldin? Let's say the Broncos have traded Brandon Marshall, creating a need at receiver. The Cardinals could then trade Boldin to Denver for Elvis Dumervil, who is also under contract for only one more season. Is this feasible? The player contracts are the biggest hurdle in this situation. Both players only have one season remaining on their deals, and both teams would like some sort of guarantee to sign long-term contracts. If this scenario panned out, do you think it would be possible for the Cardinals to trade their second-round pick to San Diego for the other Cromartie (Antonio)?

Mike Sando: Player-for-player trades become easier without a salary cap because there could be no cap implications. I can't see the Broncos trading a top young pass-rusher for a receiver with some hard miles and recent physical breakdowns. That would be a great, great move for the Cardinals.

Deion Branch is the NFC West receiver I could see landing in Denver or New England, based on those teams' coaching staffs and their familiarity with Branch. Branch has a relatively high salary for 2010 and I'm not sure whether he would fit in the team's offense. If the Seahawks released Branch, the Patriots or Broncos could pick him up relatively cheaply and plug him into their offenses pretty seamlessly.

The Cardinals do need to consider trading Boldin if he has value. They also need to keep doing what they've been doing in recent years: drafting good players such as Beanie Wells and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

While we're talking about trades, this might be a good time to solicit some moves you think might make sense. They're fun to discuss and sometimes we can learn something when considering why certain deals might make sense or fail to add up.

Wilson, Willis lead NFC West All-Pros

January, 14, 2010
1/14/10
3:17
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The recently announced 2009 NFL All-Pro team has as many former Seahawks (two) as current NFC West players.

The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson and the 49ers' Patrick Willis made the team, as did former Seahawks Steve Hutchinson and Leonard Weaver.

Niners tight end Vernon Davis appears capable of making a serious run at the tight end spot next season.

Mailbag: Nothing but love for Rams

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
7:41
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Sam from Dallas writes: C'mon Sando, don't be hatin'! Two straight weeks and the Rams have not been on the "Silver Linings" list! How about a little recognition!

Mike Sando: This might be my favorite mailbag submission of all time. It's certainly understandable for a Rams fan to assume these files were produced every week regardless of the result.

I produce Silver Linings files only after NFC West teams lose. I produced them for 17 consecutive Rams games because the team lost every game. The Rams are not entitled to Silver Linings files when they win or have a bye week, although I did have some fun with the subject a while back.


Mark from Antioch, Calif., writes: There aren't a lot of offensive lineman or secondary available for next year's free-agent class, but there are some pass rushers. Shawne Merriman, Elvis Dumervil and even Julius Peppers. The first two are already proven talents in a 3-4 defense, and Peppers would have the entire offseason to adjust to the role of a pass rushing outside linebacker. I see Denver giving an extension to Dumervil before the season is over. Peppers is definetley leaving and Merriman could be gone as well. Peppers is having a better season and is less of a risk, but he'll also probably cost more than Merriman.

Do you see the Niners going after a proven pass rusher in free agency like Peppers or Merriman, or do you see them taking the approach they had last season and continue to build through the draft? If they took one of those two, they could use their picks to address o-line or secondary while worrying less about pass rush early in the draft.

Mike Sando: The 49ers seem to have moved past the big-ticket signing mentality. They think their talent is good enough to win. Perhaps they will reconsider if the team fares poorly down the stretch. Right now, though, the pass rush doesn't seem to be a limiting factor for this team.


Kraig from near Mt. Rainier writes: The draft discussion about offensive linemen got me thinking of Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell's tendency not to pick that position in the first round. But what if Ruskell's contract won't be renewed? And in that case, what happens to all the scouting work that's gone on? Does a new GM get to use it, or does he bring all his own stuff with him and have it together in time for draft day? Switching front offices seems like a huge deal. I doubt it'll happen.

Mike Sando: The new GM often keeps most personnel people around through the draft. The new GM then decides which personnel people to retain. I am not sure how the Seahawks will handle this situation, but any new GM would presumably have to fit with Jim Mora.

The current speculation regarding Seattle's front office is natural when a team struggles and an organization offers no clues about long-term plans. Ruskell's contract as GM runs through this season. The team has previously let executives work through their contracts before offering new ones.

Leaving the GM to dangle in the wind can fuel tension and mistrust within an organization. Is Ruskell coming back? How would a change impact Mora? Is Mike Holmgren really a candidate? You can bet people within the organization are asking those questions. Holmgren's agent, Bob LaMonte, also represents coach Jim Mora. LaMonte attended the Lions-Seahawks game Sunday. He was in the locker room after the game. Say what you want about the decisions Ruskell has made -- that is another discussion worth having -- but having Holmgren's agent around had to be a bit uncomfortable for Ruskell.


Adam from Las Cruces writes: Hey Mike, first of all, I Just want to say that I enjoy reading your blogs near daily. I think you are one of the best writers at ESPN, and your coverage on the division is always well-thought out and fair. My question regards my favorite team, the Cardinals. During the Cardinals' rout of the Bears, Kurt Warner was pulled in favor of Matt Leinart after the Cardinals pulled ahead with a large lead. Leinart then threw an interception, and this prompted the Cardinals to put Warner back in.

I seem to recall that this happened earlier in the season as well and Warner had to come back in the game to secure the Cardinals victory. Is it fair to say that Leinart is not going to be the future of the franchise? I have to say that I was always a Leinart supporter, but if he can't finish games where the Cardinals already have a huge lead, what is his future like? Thanks in advance for answering.

Mike Sando: Thanks for the compliments, Adam. The check is in the mail. On your question, the Jaguars rallied a little bit after Leinart replaced Warner, but Leinart finished the game and Arizona won decisively. I think it's tough to evaluate or judge a quarterback when he's thrown into a lopsided game on the road. In both cases, the Cardinals were basically saying they thought they had the game won. The other team then senses an opening and pounces. Leinart may or may not be a good quarterback in the future. I just do not think we can know either way based on what we have seen this season.


Adam from Sacramento writes: Hey, Sando. So, the 49ers have been putting Delanie Walker on the field recently, and even though his stats don't show anything special, it seems like the offense moves when he's out there. He used to be a wide receiver in college and still has some of the receiving skills -- you've mentioned that, at least for a tight end, he's a very good route-runner -- and I remember that the 49ers tried him out as a halfback on occasion during preseason games. So why don't they try that out now? He's used primarily as an H-back in the current offense, so he's spending plenty of snaps in the backfield. Wouldn't a little misdirection help take the pressure off of Frank Gore? Off of Alex Smith? He has to be an upgrade over Moran Norris, whether rushing or receiving. Is there no room for his particular skill set in the Jimmy Raye Prevent Offense?

Mike Sando: Prevent Offense. Very good. I'll assume you wanted to know whether Walker could help at fullback. Playing him at halfback would make no sense because it would likely require taking Frank Gore off the field. Walker is not an excellent blocker. He could not hold up as a blocking fullback. Sometimes a team will take an H-back or tight end and line him up as a fullback in an offset-I formation, but often the player motions out before the snap. Those players generally are not built the way fullbacks are built. Norris is built like a tank. He is one of the more fearsome looking dudes I've seen in the NFL. Really put together. Walker is having a hard time staying healthy in his current role. He would not last in the backfield.


Mark from San Jose writes: The decision not suspend the Bears' Tommie Harris is just another example of the NFL front office East Coast bias. This same result that will come out of the 49ers' tampering charges against the NY Jets. The low- to mid-market teams and West Coast teams struggle with receiving fair and impartial treatment from the heavy-weighted East Coast teams within the NFL front office. The West Coast teams must not only beat their game-day competitors but the national media, the referees and the NFL front office to gather the respect that they deserve. Who said life was not a struggle?

Mike Sando: I know people from NFL teams who agree with your general sentiment. At the same time, East Coast bias seemed a lot less effective when Joe Montana was throwing to Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon and those guys.


Dennis from Philadelphia writes: How could you not include Maurice Jones-Drew in your MVP Top 10? His stats are great and He's the sole reason the Jags are .500. Without him they win 3 games this season ... tops.

Mike Sando: I love his game, but I am not so high on the Jaguars. I think they're a bad team. The decision to favor other players over Jones-Drew reflects more on the Jaguars than Jones-Drew. Perhaps he can earn a spot if the Jaguars become a legitimate team down the stretch.


Nick from San Diego writes: Hey, Mike, I was just wondering, shouldn't Philip Rivers be in some MVP conversation?

Mike Sando: Yes, he has been on the list previously this season. I used the bottom five spots on the list to recognize a few non-quarterbacks. I took note of his three-game winning streak, but then recalled him beating the Chiefs and Raiders as part of that, then barely beating a struggling Giants team. Guess I need a little more convincing on the Chargers. There is time.


Timothy from McLeansville, N.C., writes: Why on earth do you have the Panthers 10 spots above the Jaguars and the Titans 5 spots above the Jags. Last time I checked, a 4-4 record is better than 2-6 or 3-5. Yes, the Panthers did decent against the Saints, but Jax only loss by two at INDY. The Titans may have beaten us by 17 the other week, but Jax beat them by 20 in week 4. Your rankings make no sense to me whatsoever and you should be fired for these rankings.

Mike Sando: The power rankings are not a recitation of the standings. We do not simply rank every team in order of record. We take things into account such as how a team is playing at present. I think the Panthers are playing better than the Jaguars. The Jaguars played the Colts close in Week 1. The Titans blew out the Jaguars in Week 8, then beat the 49ers in Week 9 while the Jaguars were edging the Chiefs.


Nick from Portland writes: Do you think that there is any validity to the link between the 49ers current four-game losing streak and the late arrival of Michael Crabtree? I am a Hawks fan, so I don't watch much of the Niners, but it brings back memories of the Seahawks in 1999. It was Mike Holmgren's first year and the team began the season 8-2 without Joey Galloway, who was holding out. Galloway finally arrived and it seemed like the presence of a ''me first'' guy took some of the wind out of the team's sails, while Jon Kitna tried to force him the ball. They finished 9-7 and barely made the playoffs. Some similarities here?

Mike Sando: Any similarities ended when Crabtree reported to the team in shape, ready to go and with the right attitude. Veteran embraced him right away once they realized he was prepared and had been working hard while away. Left tackle Joe Staley went over to Crabtree's locker after the rookie's first game and shook his hand. Crabtree commanded respect from the beginning. I think the 49ers would have been less competitive during this stretch if Crabtree had stayed away.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
12:15
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Style points affect the MVP Watch list only to a degree.

Rank 'Em: MVP Candidates
How do you size up the NFL MVP race? Drew Brees and Peyton Manning continue piling up wins and touchdowns at a tremendous pace. Who is the best player in the NFL?
Cast your vote
Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger weren't always pretty in Week 7, but they did what legitimate MVP candidates do in leading their teams to victory.

Both rank among the NFL's statistical leaders and their teams have won a combined 10 consecutive games.

In fact, the top six figures on the MVP Watch list this week play for teams that have won a combined 25 in a row.

I also found room on the list this week for Aaron Rodgers and Matt Schaub, who might have been overlooked a week ago. Brett Favre slipped a few spots, but I also wondered whether that phantom tripping call against the Vikings might have short-circuited a potential comeback. We'll never know.

1. PEYTON MANNING
QB | Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: 1)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
156 215 1,880 72.6 8.74 80 15 4 2 114.5
Completing 73.8 percent of his passes with 13 TDs and 117.4 rating against standard pressure.

2. DREW BREES
QB | New Orleans Saints (Last Week: 2)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
132 197 1,698 67.0 8.62 66 14 5 9 106.9
Has 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions when passing inside the red zone this season.

3. BEN ROETHLISBERGER
QB | Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Week: 7)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
164 233 2,062 70.4 8.85 52 11 6 19 102.6
Already has more completions covering 40-plus yards (eight) than he had last season (seven).

4. TOM BRADY
QB | New England Patriots (Last Week: 4)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
179 273 2,032 65.6 7.44 54 15 4 8 99.9
Has 688 yards and nine TD passes in his last two games. Thank you, Bucs and Titans.

5. KYLE ORTON
QB | Denver Broncos (Last Week: 5)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
124 194 1,465 63.9 7.55 87 9 1 9 100.1
Only Orton and Brett Favre have at least four TD passes without an interception vs. added pressure.

6. CEDRIC BENSON
RB | Cincinnati Bengals (Last Week: NR)
2009 RUSHING 2009 RECEIVING
ATT YDS AVG LNG TD REC YDS AVG LNG TD
164 720 4.4 28 5 10 66 6.6 19 0
Within 27 yards of matching his career single-season high for rushing yards.

7. BRETT FAVRE
QB | Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 3)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
158 229 1,681 69.0 7.34 63 12 3 18 102.2
Did a fantastic finish elude Favre when officials invented that tripping call to wipe out a TD at Pittsburgh?

8. ELVIS DUMERVIL
DE | Denver Broncos (Last Week: 8)
2009 TACKLES MISC.
TOT SOLO AST SACK STF STFY FF BK
23 22 1 10.0 0 0 2 0
The bye week slowed him only temporarily. Ten sacks in six games is crazy.

9. AARON RODGERS
QB | Green Bay Packers (Last Week: NR)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
121 184 1,702 65.8 9.25 71 11 2 25 110.8
On pace for 30 TD passes and 5 INTs over a full season. Another 4,000-yard season likely.

10. MATT SCHAUB
QB | Houston Texans (Last Week: NR)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
163 249 2,074 65.5 8.33 72 16 5 12 104.4
Has already set a career high for TD passes in a season. Averaging 296 yards per game.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
1:09
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Schaub and Joe Flacco missed the MVP Watch cut this week despite impressive performances in Week 6.

Their teams have .500 records and that gave me an out when trying to find spots for other deserving players.
Rank 'Em: MVP Candidates
How do you size up the NFL MVP race? The Vikings, Saints, and Broncos both remained undefeated last week, primarily due to big-time games from their MVP candidates. Who is the best player in the NFL?
Cast your vote


The top three this week -- Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Brett Favre -- were easy choices. They've been the key players for undefeated teams, with Favre making significantly more plays down the field in recent weeks.

Tom Brady is arguably too high at No. 4. I'll be disappointed if the "Hatriots" out there don't call me on it, but six touchdown passes in one week seemed to serve notice that Brady could be back.

The list features only one defensive player, another point of contention in past weeks. I've tried to make the MVP Watch list realistic. Quarterbacks and running backs tend to win the award.

That said, Denver's Elvis Dumervil returned to the list after a one-week absence. He's up to 10 sacks, putting him on pace for nearly 27.

1. PEYTON MANNING
QB | Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: 1)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
133 181 1,645 73.5 9.09 80 12 4 2 114.1
A bye week to prepare for the Rams? Some things in life just aren't fair.

2. DREW BREES
QB | New Orleans Saints (Last Week: 4)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
110 159 1,400 69.2 8.81 58 13 2 4 118.4
If your defense has a weakness in coverage, Brees is going to find it.

3. BRETT FAVRE
QB | Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 2)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
124 178 1,347 69.7 7.57 63 12 2 14 109.5
Favre has averaged 9.3 yards per attempt in his last three games, up from 6.0 in his first three.

4. TOM BRADY
QB | New England Patriots (Last Week: NR)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
156 241 1,724 64.7 7.15 48 12 2 7 99.0
Six TD passes in one week leave Brady tied with Favre for third in the league.

5. KYLE ORTON
QB | Denver Broncos (Last Week: 7)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
124 194 1,465 63.9 7.55 87 9 1 9 100.1
He's on pace for 24 TDs and three INTs. Those are 1990 Steve DeBerg numbers.

6. ELI MANNING
QB | New York Giants (Last Week: 3)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
101 166 1,390 60.8 8.37 58 11 3 3 102.2
If only he could have faced his own defense instead of the Saints' unit.

7. BEN ROETHLISBERGER
QB | Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Week: 6)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
150 207 1,887 72.5 9.12 52 10 6 16 104.5
No. 1 in yards per attempt (9.1 to Peyton's 9.09) and one of two QBs completing 70 percent of his passes.

8. ELVIS DUMERVIL
DE | Denver Broncos (Last Week: NR)
2009 TACKLES MISC.
TOT SOLO AST SACK STF STFY FF BK
23 22 1 10.0 0 0 2 0
At least 2.0 sacks in four of six games during a 6-0 start. Not bad.

9. JAY CUTLER
QB | Chicago Bears (Last Week: 5)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
110 172 1,201 64.0 6.98 68 10 7 10 86.9
I considered moving Matt Schaub into this spot, but Cutler's Bears have a winning record.

10. ADRIAN PETERSON
RB | Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 10)
2009 RUSHING 2009 RECEIVING
ATT YDS AVG LNG TD REC YDS AVG LNG TD
121 624 5.2 64 7 14 85 6.1 18 0
Second only to Chris Johnson in total yards per game among non-QBs.

Mailbag: 'Ignorance' alleged in MVP Watch

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
12:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


John from Massachusetts writes: Your list of MVP candidates looks strangely like just a bunch of quarterbacks from good teams. I know the media has to boil the entire complex game of football down to just being about the quarterback for the sake of the average dummy fan, but you are showing your own ignorance with this list.

Mike Sando: The list of real MVPs looks like a bunch of quarterbacks (and a few running backs) from good teams. There's nothing strange about it, though. That's why those guys make the big bucks. They are more valuable. We can pretend players at non-skill positions are candidates, but what would be the point? No defensive player has won the award since Lawrence Taylor in the 1980s. The MVP Watch list reflects my awareness of this reality. If you want something that isn't so boiled down, check out the latest personnel report.


Steven from Winona, Minn., writes: Hey Mike, I just read your MVP ranker and I think it's really good. Obviously, I'm a Viking fan and I'm a little biased. But, if the Vikings continue to have a solid year and so does Jared Allen, what are the chances he jumps on the radar and gets recognition for MVP? Or would the much more obvious stats of Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre not let that happen?

Mike Sando: It's tough enough for a defensive player to win MVP without the competition he faces from his own teammates. I think Allen would have to have off-the-charts numbers to do it. DeMarcus Ware had 20 sacks for the Cowboys last season, but no MVP award.


Spentonbargains from Ft. Worth, Texas, writes: Where's Champ Bailey? So much a factor, that New England only threw his direction a couple of times, and he almost intercepted once.

Mike Sando: Great player. Not a realistic MVP candidate under the current setup. Elvis Dumervil's sack production would make him a more realistic candidate at this point, right or wrong.


Matthew from Chicago writes: I thought you were too smart to cite the inane 'record as a starter' stat for Kyle Orton. Record is a team stat. It is not an individual stat -- not ever. I am happy to see Orton doing so well to start the season. Let that be enough. Quit sullying things with a patently false accolade. Coming into last year, Rex Grossman had a 23-12 record as a starter, identical to Orton after Week 2 of this year. Meant a lot, eh?

Mike Sando: It's one element, and worth mentioning, but Orton would not have appeared on the list without completing seven touchdown passes with only one interception. Also, you are wrong about Rex Grossman's record entering the 2008 season. It was 19-12.


Frank from Frisco, Texas, writes: I really believe that Favre is the MVP so far in the NFL. I know the arguments for the others, but Favre has made the Vikings incredible and he has been under a tremendous amount of pressure with every eye that follows the NFL focused square on his No. 4. The media, NFL fans, Green Bay fans who want to bury him and Viking fans who did not want to embrace an enemy. He not only is the NFL MVP for his playing, but for what he brings to NFL in publicity. There has never been another player that commands our attention like he has. Because of all these factors it is obvious that he is the only real choice.

Mike Sando: I think Peyton Manning is in another class, but I also think Favre's revival is good for his legacy and good for the game by extension. The way his time in Green Bay ended and the way he has held franchises hostage soured me on him to a degree. I started feeling the cynicism expressed by those who think Favre gets a free pass, and then some, from media. I also thought the Vikings were taking a chance that likely would not pay off. I'm open-minded, though, and there's no denying what has happened so far this season. Favre had a great career in Green Bay. A strong finish with the Vikings would help preserve his full legacy, I think.

(Read full post)

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

October, 7, 2009
10/07/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Peyton Manning could legitimately win MVP honors just about every season.

No player in the NFL is more important to his team, and few put up better stats more consistently.

Let's not hand him a fourth award prematurely.

There's a certain someone from a certain NFC North team making a quick climb up the MVP Watch list. Brett Favre, whose inclusion on the list in past weeks drew ridicule, rose six spots to No. 2 after another unforgettable performance, this time against his former team on "Monday Night Football."

I'll admit to having thought Favre was close to finished and the Vikings were misguided for waiting him out. Through four games, however, Favre has already justified the investment, no matter what happens next. He's the difference between 4-0 and 2-2 or worse for the Vikings. Yes, the Vikings are happy to have a quarterback completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with an 8-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.

1. PEYTON MANNING, Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: 1)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
97 137 1,336 70.8 9.75 80 9 3 2 114.5
Three-time MVP has been unstoppable even, with Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon among his primary targets.

2. BRETT FAVRE, Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 8)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
85 125 837 68.0 6.70 43 8 1 9 104.7
No apologies for including Favre on the MVP Watch list this week. He's on pace for 32 touchdown passes with four interceptions, by the way.

3. DREW BREES, New Orleans Saints (Last Week: 2)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
87 129 1,031 67.4 7.99 58 9 2 4 108.4
The pressure is off to a degree now that the Saints are getting contributions from their defense. The unit has three touchdowns thus far.

4. ADRIAN PETERSON, Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 4)
2009 RUSHING 2009 RECEIVING
ATT YDS AVG LNG TD REC YDS AVG LNG TD
84 412 4.9 64 5 8 56 7.0 18 0
Despite a couple of quieter weeks, the NFL's second-ranked rusher is on pace for 1,648 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Not bad.

5. JAY CUTLER, Chicago Bears (Last Week: NR)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
83 129 901 64.3 6.98 68 8 5 8 89.3
Seven touchdown passes with only one interception during three consecutive victories since the Week 1 debacle against Packers. Bears have scored more points each week.

6. TOM BRADY, New England Patriots (Last Week: 9)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
108 174 1,129 62.1 6.49 36 4 2 4 83.7
The individual stats aren't yet there for Brady, but those will come. Pats rank second in first downs per game and tied for sixth in third-down conversions.

7. ELI MANNING, New York Giants (Last Week: 3)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
79 125 1,039 63.2 8.31 54 8 2 2 104.1
Chiefs, Bucs and Redskins have cleared an easy path so far. Plantar fasciitis might be his toughest opponent for the time being. Bye doesn't come until Week 10.

8. JOE FLACCO, Baltimore Ravens (Last Week: 5)
2009 PASSING
CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
95 151 1,103 62.9 7.31 72 8 3 5 94.3
The Ravens like him so much, they might have overlooked their ground game in Week 4. Stats holding up despite 37.8 attempts per game.

9. ELVIS DUMERVIL, Denver Broncos (Last Week: 10)
2009 TACKLES MISC.
TOT SOLO AST SACK STF STFY FF BK
17 17 0 8.0 0 0 1 0
This is getting ridiculous. Two-sack game against Cowboys gives him 8.0 for the season and at least 2.0 in each of the past three games.

10. DARREN SHARPER, New Orleans Saints (Last Week: NR)
2009 TACKLES 2009 INTERCEPTIONS
TOT SOLO AST SACK STF INT YDS AVG LNG TD
14 10 4 0.0 0 5 275 55.0 99 2
Averaging 55 yards per return on a league-high five interceptions, with two touchdowns for a 4-0 team. Not bad at age 33.

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