NFC West: Eric DeCosta

We all know what happened the last time an NFC West team watched its preferred coaching candidate interview with the Miami Dolphins.

Jim Harbaugh, then at Stanford, took one look at Stephen Ross' team and hired on with the San Francisco 49ers. That is something St. Louis Rams fans should keep in mind amid reports suggesting the Dolphins will not let the Rams outbid them for Jeff Fisher.

Fisher's history suggests money will not be decisive as long as the Rams are competitive with any offer. They can afford to be competitive, and then some, because their owner, Stan Kroenke, is a billionaire.

Fisher stayed in Tennessee for 16 years and worked under an owner, Bud Adams, not known for extravagance. Kroenke ranks just ahead of Ross and well ahead of Adams on Forbes' lists of billionaires -- not that a few million bucks for a head coach would tax any of them.

"The Dolphins are prepared to make Jeff Fisher the best financial offer of any team vying for the coach this winter," Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported, citing sources.

Sound familiar? It should.

"Ross is willing to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in the NFL," ESPN reported last offseason.

Ross, general manager Jeff Ireland and consultant Carl Peterson flew to California for a Harbaugh recruiting trip. Ireland and Peterson remain involved in the Dolphins' current search.

The Rams are reportedly interviewing the Atlanta Falcons' Les Snead and the Baltimore Ravens' Eric DeCosta for their vacant GM job.

Fisher would likely participate in the hiring of a GM in St. Louis. Titans executives such as Lake Dawson or Ruston Webster would be logical candidates.

Seattle took that approach when naming Pete Carroll as coach, then landing John Schneider as GM -- after Carroll signed off. It's an appealing process for a veteran head coach familiar with how daily operations work.

Fisher and former Titans GM Floyd Reese weren't on the best terms as their time together in Tennessee ended. The same was true for Carroll when he was coaching the New England Patriots more than a decade ago.

I have a hard time envisioning Fisher running to Miami over money. He'll take the right situation and get paid well anyway.

Around the NFC West: Cards face scrutiny

December, 23, 2009
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals face many key decision in the offseason -- decisions that could redefine perceptions or possibly reinforce old ones. Somers: "Ownership and management have received considerable credit for the Cardinals' improvement the past two years. And justifiably so. Key players, such as strong safety Adrian Wilson and Kurt Warner have been re-signed, although not always on a timetable preferred by players and fans. Just as players and coaches are graded each weekend in the fall, ownership and management are tested throughout the spring and summer. How the Cardinals fare on that exam this off-season will have long-term ramifications."

Darren Urban of says the team released linebacker Ali Highsmith to address depth at safety following Matt Ware's injury.

Also from Urban: Cardinals punter Ben Graham surged into first place in fan voting for the Pro Bowl.

More from Urban: The Cardinals have generally avoided serious injuries this season, although the knee injury Larry Fitzgerald suffered against the 49ers initially appeared serious.

Jim Moore of says the Seahawks could come out ahead from letting Mike Holmgren pursue a front-office job with the Browns. Moore: "On a personal level, I love Holmgren. As a coach, he's a lock for the Hall of Fame. As a general manager, he's done nothing that makes him the overwhelming choice to run anyone's team, even Cleveland's. But the Browns threw a ton of money at him thinking that he'll get the job done, and he might. It's also reasonable to think that he might not. I get the love affair with Holmgren the coach, but not the one with Holmgren the GM. However it came down, I'm thrilled that the Seahawks let him go or did not hire him, whatever your take is on that. If they low-balled him or didn't offer him enough authority, that's fine by me -- it's time to look for a new leader elsewhere, preferably a younger guy we've never heard of with a fresh set of eyes."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks need Matt Hasselbeck to bounce back from a poor performance.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks could be looking for a general manager to fit the following criteria: "a hands-on manager who would report directly to CEO Tod Leiweke, has a strong background in talent evaluation, and would be a good fit with current head coach Jim Mora."

John Morgan of Field Gulls evaluates the draft choices the Ravens have made while potential Seahawks GM candidate Eric DeCosta has worked for them. Morgan: "What excites me most about DeCosta is not his drafting record, but the prolific picks he secures. Few teams enter draft day so consistently stocked with picks throughout the draft, and unlike other GMs that will burn those picks to move up and select their guy, DeCosta stands pat and picks many players. He has benefited immensely from trawling the draft and seeing what value shakes out. His high profile and history of finding offensive line talent should make him a favorite for the Seattle position."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams tentatively see Ndamukong Suh as the best player in the 2010 draft. Thomas: "There are plenty of reasons Suh would make sense for St. Louis. For one, the Rams have a defense-oriented coach in Steve Spagnuolo, who made his reputation with deep, talented defensive lines as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. For another, defensive tackle is a big area of need. Realistically, the Rams have one bona fide starter in Clifton Ryan and a rookie with some potential in Darell Scott. Former first-round pick Adam Carriker is on the injured reserve list, and the Rams have no way of knowing right now whether he'll be a factor in 2010 and beyond."

Jeff Gordon of says Keith Null has earned a roster spot, but not much more, with the Rams in 2010.

Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' Joe Nedney is hurting from a hamstring injury suffered on a third-quarter kickoff against the Eagles. Meanwhile, cornerback Nate Clements could return for Week 17.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers a chat transcript emphasizing how much the 49ers value continuity. Barrows: "I think there's a definite "change-fatigue" in the organization. That is, the 49ers have had so much turnover in recent years that they yearn for continuity even if they might not be continuing with the best people."

Taylor Price of offers a heads up regarding NFL Network's plans to re-air the original January 1982 broadcast of the Cowboys-49ers game featuring Dwight Clark's famous catch from Joe Montana. Price: "The 49ers won Super Bowl XVI two weeks later. It was the first of San Francisco’s four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s. This NFL Classic Games telecast features the complete CBS broadcast with announcers Vin Scully and Hank Stram calling the action along with all of the network’s original graphics."

Around the NFC West: Depleted Rams

December, 22, 2009
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' already shaky depth is depleted. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "Yeah, slowly but surely. Anybody have any eligibility left? We're pretty banged up. The list is long. But it just gives another guy an opportunity. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it does. It gave some guys an opportunity [against Houston]. And that'll happen again this Sunday."

Also from Thomas: The Rams have claimed defensive end James Wyche off waivers from the Jaguars.

More from Thomas: The Rams placed tight end Daniel Fells on injured reserve. Meanwhile, the team still wasn't saying which player would start at quarterback Sunday.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams would be best served staying in position to hold the No. 1 overall draft choice. Burwell: "With only two weeks to play in the regular season, the Rams have, without tampering with the integrity of the game, moved one step closer to locking down the all-important first pick in the draft (let it roll off your tongue easily: N-dom-Ah-ken Suh ... N-dom-Ah-ken Suh ... N-dom-Ah-ken Suh), and that is a very good thing."

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams do not have a timetable for Leonard Little's return from injury.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Spagnuolo isn't interested in losing just to maintain the No. 1 draft choice.

Clare Farnsworth of says snapper Kevin Houser remained hospitalized with a collapsed lung. Veteran Jeff Robinson will replace Houser.

Jose Miguel Romero of the Seattle Times says Seahawks coach Jim Mora lobbied for Mike Holmgren's return to the team. Mora: "It's no secret that I'm a Mike Holmgren fan, and I was an advocate of him coming back, to the point that I made my feelings known to the people that make those decisions," Mora said. "I'm probably as disappointed as anybody that he's decided to reject our offer and go onward. I don't know all the particulars. I just know that I absolutely have great regard for Mike Holmgren."

Greg Johns of says Mora e-mailed Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke on Friday, expressing support for Holmgren.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Holmgren never contacted Mora during the process. Mora: "That's not Mike's style."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks should probably give Mora another season to prove himself. Boling: "I think Mora -- heck, anybody -- deserves a shot at a second season. But whomever is hired to make that decision might have an entirely different perspective, especially if the nosedive grows even steeper."

Matt Pitman of 710ESPN Seattle points to Steve Keim and Eric DeCosta as preferred candidates to lead the Seahawks' football operation. Pitman: "DeCosta also is a guy who understands the importance of using the draft to land long-term solutions on the offensive line, something the Seahawks must address in the upcoming draft. He found center Jason Brown, a three year starter in Baltimore, in the fifth round. Guard Ben Grubbs, one of the best in the AFC, was a late 1st round selection (29th pick). He found tackle Jared Gaither in the supplemental round of the '07 draft. But the thing I like about him most is that he's not a 'defensive guy' (which we heard about Tim Ruskell and uh, how'd that work out) or an 'offensive guy.' DeCosta's resume shows he is a guy that has an uncanny eye for talent throughout a draft, and can put together moves and trades to immediately improve his football team the very next season with solid drafting."

Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle says fixing the Seahawks will take much more than Holmgren or any one person could accomplish. Wyman: "It's never one guy or one thing that makes a team bad or makes a team good. As brilliant as Mike Holmgren is, he's not the panacea for all of this team's ills. As talented as Jake Locker is, he's not necessarily the answer either. It's never one guy and it's never one move. It's a team game. Something that big money contracts and fantasy football has taken us away from. We don't need a 'football czar' to make this team all better. We don't need a 1st round superstar quarterback to make this offense work. There is no football genius out there that's going to make the perfect personnel moves and the perfect play calls. We need an organization and a team and yes even a fan base that is willing to work hard, work together, be patient and be positive."

John Morgan of Field Gulls looks at Keim's record in Arizona. I would not blame him for the team's selection of Levi Brown. The coaching staff wanted a tackle. I'm pretty sure the scouts would have preferred Adrian Peterson.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals could get Will Davis back from injury this week. They need depth at linebacker.

Also from McManaman: The Cardinals still have a shot at a higher playoff seed. Whisenhunt: "The No. 2 seed is obviously a powerful incentive, to be able to get that bye week. Who knows what can happen? There are a lot of things that would have to fall into place. I think it's more important that we continue to try and improve and get on a hot streak going into the playoffs."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Mike Gandy's future with the Cardinals is in doubt. That was the case even before Gandy required hernia surgery. Somers: "Gandy is in the last year of his contract and is making $5 million. If he goes on IR, as expected, he'll be the first starter placed there in the last two years. There's a good chance Gandy has played his last game with the club. It's questionable if the Cardinals will pay him close to that on a new contract. I suppose Levi Brown could move from the right side to the left, but it's hard to say that Brown has proven he could make that move look seamless."

Darren Urban of says Whisenhunt isn't concerned about the Cardinals' passing game. Whisenhunt: "We have to continue to get better and get polished up. Sometimes it’s not as easy as you want it to be."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 looks at key performances from the Cardinals' victory at Detroit.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are not discouraging rumors linking them to a London game in 2010. Team president Jed York: "I would certainly think we're a candidate just with being in an older stadium. We haven't been approached and it's not something we're seeking out."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers need to stay the course in the name of continuity. Maiocco: "A lot of people want to see changes. They want to see heads roll when a club fails to meet their own expectations. But I think the best thing the 49ers can do is maintain continuity. And that includes quarterback. Do I think Alex Smith is an above-average NFL starting quarterback? Right now, I'd say he's not. But I do believe he is their best option for 2010. I think Smith will continue to improve every season for a while, as long as he remains in an unchanged system. He has improved every season that did not include a trip to injured reserve."

Also from Maiocco: He does not expect big changes.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News wonders what would happen if voters rejected the 49ers' stadium proposal for Santa Clara.

Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary apologized to Smith for challenging the quarterback on some throws. Upon reflection, Smith was better than Singletary thought Sunday.

Around the NFC West: Dockett's demands

December, 6, 2009
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Darnell Dockett vows to sign with another team in the NFC West if Arizona doesn't step up with a new contract for him. Dockett: "Honestly, I don't think they'll pay me. It's one thing to say there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but how many guys have been here who never reach that light? Look at Antonio Smith, Calvin Pace, Thomas Jones, Simeon Rice. Look at Anquan [Boldin]. Do you think going into his last season that he'll be interested in signing a contract at that time? You think I'll be anxious to sign a contract at that time? People say, 'Well, look what they did with [Larry] Fitzgerald.' Did you see the situation Fitzgerald had them in? Did you see what Kurt [Warner] had to go through? Kurt had to go to another team. Imagine that. An MVP quarterback took them to the Super Bowl for the first time in God knows how long, and he had to go to another team to get an offer to come back. Look at Karlos [Dansby]. They can't work out a deal with Karlos, because Karlos wants what he thinks he deserves, and the numbers don't lie. You know the saying: Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don't."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are focused on themselves, not the 49ers. Steve Breaston: "They need to watch us, basically. We're ahead. We're in the position that as long as we win games, it doesn't matter what anyone else does."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune lists 11 potential candidates to become the Seahawks' next general manager: Mike Holmgren, Randy Mueller, Tom Heckert, Ruston Webster, Steve Keim, Bill Kuharich, Ted Sundquist, Reggie McKenzie, Les Snead, Jimmy Raye III and Eric DeCosta.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the 49ers appear more talented than the Seahawks heading into their matchup Sunday. Boling: "The Niners even lose better than the Hawks. They lost close at Minnesota (27-24) and at Indianapolis (18-14), sites of two extreme defeats for the Seahawks (35-9 at the Vikings and 34-17 at Indy). I would still suggest the Seahawks have the advantage at quarterback, although the Niners’ Alex Smith (84.7) currently has a better passer rating than Matt Hasselbeck (81.0)."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Tim Ruskell's resignation reminds the Seahawks that jobs are on the line down the stretch. Hasselbeck: "We all know what's at stake. Every single guy in that locker room realizes that just like every other year, how you play will determine your status for the next year. Whether you're in this league or not, whether you're starting or not, whether you're on this team or not. That's unchanged."

Taylor Price of says the 49ers' Delanie Walker is happy for all of the attention Vernon Davis is getting these days.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary wants his defense to improve its tackling. There's no excuse for the 49ers to be a poor tackling team given how much hitting they did during the offseason. Takeo Spikes: "Tackling is a mindset. I don't care how much you work on it in practice, at the end of the day, it's getting 'em down. What can you change in a week's time?"

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says how the Seahawks defend Walker could be a key variable Sunday. Much depends on whether the 49ers continue to shy away from their base offense featuring two backs. Jim Mora: "I've always had a lot of respect for him, and he's developed into a tenacious player. The combination of him and Vernon and [Josh] Morgan and Michael [Crabtree], and [Frank] Gore in the backfield, that's a lot of weapons. They've done a nice job of making you defend the whole field. Walker is a fine player. He might get overshadowed a little bit, but we have a lot of respect for him." More here.

Also from Maiocco: catching up with Nate Davis.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the playoffs are a realistic goal for the 49ers.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams remain unsettled in key areas heading into the final five games. Thomas: "Even if he recovers from his fractured shin bone in time to play a couple of games, quarterback Marc Bulger probably won't have enough time to reinvent himself in the eyes of the coaching staff and front office. Any decision on retaining him, or moving in another direction, will largely be based on what already has transpired."

Also from Thomas: Oshiomogho Atogwe's matchup with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is a key one.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams coach Mike Martz should be working in the NFL. Miklasz: "Martz's innovations in the passing game inspired a new generation of younger NFL coaches and coordinators. NFL teams are combining to average 66 passes and 471 yards passing per game this season, the second-highest averages since the 1970 merger. Even traditional smash-mouth teams (Pittsburgh) are airing it out and bombing away."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with the Rams' first-year coordinators. Coats: "(Steve) Spagnuolo never had served as a head coach at any level when the Rams tapped him to take over a franchise that had lost 27 of 32 games the previous two seasons. In turn, Spagnuolo hired two men who never had served as coordinators in the NFL: Ken Flajole and, on offense, Pat Shurmur. Toss in a rookie special-teams coordinator, Tom McMahon, and the expression 'starting from scratch' had real meaning."