NFC West: Final Eight Plan

Someone somewhere (and I apologize for misplacing the note) asked whether the NFL-approved labor agreement would hamstring the Seattle Seahawks in free agency under "Final Eight" rules in effect under the old agreement.

Mike Sando: The previous labor agreement imposed rules limiting free-agency options for playoff winners only in an uncapped year.

So, even if the new deal included "Final Eight" clauses, those clauses would presumably apply only in the absence of a salary cap. The new deal will have, by all accounts, a salary cap for the 2011 season and beyond. Therefore, the Seahawks wouldn't have to operate with "Final Eight" limitations once free agency opened.

That would be my read on the situation. We won't know anything for sure until the players sign off and rules go into effect. Seattle fans should feel optimistic about having plenty of resources in free agency, however.

Sam from St. Louis strongly disagrees with my push for later kickoff times when West Coast teams visit teams in later time zones. He despises 3 p.m. CT kickoffs for Rams games in St. Louis and thinks visiting teams should have to deal with disadvantages associated with playing on the road.

Mike Sando: I'd be interested in hearing why you don't like the later starts for Rams games in St. Louis. The Rams have embraced those games in general because they think more fans are likely to attend. For one, the noon starts make it tougher for the church-going population to attend on Sundays. Early starts on the East Coast begin at 1 p.m. locally, giving parishioners an additional hour. Just a thought.

Ray from Corona, Calif., was heartened to see me finally support Nnamdi Asomugha as a free-agent target for the San Francisco 49ers. He also likes Johnathan Joseph as an option in free agency.

Mike Sando: My resistance to Asomugha as an option was more from the perspective of what I thought was likely. And I did not think the evidence suggested the 49ers would go in that direction. The evidence remains strong against such a move, but I do think going after Asomugha would make sense for San Francisco. Seattle also could be in the market for a top-flight cornerback. John Clayton has mentioned Joseph as a possibility.

Shane from Los Angeles does not think Asomugha would make sense for the 49ers. He thinks the team would be committing too much cap space to an older player at a position other than quarterback. As a Cardinals fan, he thinks Larry Fitzgerald will want more money than an unproven quarterback such as Kevin Kolb, and he'd like my thoughts on committing that much to a non-quarterback.

Mike Sando: I've got no trouble with teams paying the market rate for great players. The Cardinals should keep Fitzgerald because there's a good chance Fitzgerald will remain an elite player throughout his next contract. He's a hugely important part of that team.

I believe the Seahawks named Steve Hutchinson their transition player instead of their franchise player in part because he was "only a guard" and not a player at a position of greater perceived value. There's no sense in rehashing what happened in that situation, but franchising Hutchinson certainly would have helped Seattle.

Players at positions other than quarterback should be elite/special for a team to commit an unusually large amount of its resources toward keeping them. Fitzgerald qualifies as that type of player.

Brandon from Tacoma thinks Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was right in questioning the athletic ability of race drivers. Brandon read the latest item citing G-forces and breathing difficulties when saying, "Is it possible for anyone to learn how to breath in those situations? I don't believe anyone can learn to hit a fastball or throw a football 60 yards."

Mike Sando: Some athletes are more talented than others. I feel safe in saying lots of NBA or NFL players could not dominate, succeed or even become mediocre at racing if they dedicated their lives to it.

Different sports require different abilities. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player ever, did not become even average among professional baseball players. Was he more athletic than the typical Double-A outfielder? Most of us would say so, but his athletic ability did not translate as well to another sport.

Dan from Los Angeles point to Frank Gore's long runs against Seattle in Week 2 of the 2009 season as the likely reason behind Gore's inflated rushing stats against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box. Dan even provides a link to an earlier post on the subject.

Mike Sando: Thanks so much for that, Dan! You remembered that previous item better than I did, but you're right. The item lays out how Gore's per-carry averages against eight-man fronts was weak without those 80- and 79-yard touchdown runs in the Seattle game. Now, those runs count, of course, so we shouldn't exclude them entirely. But at least we know Gore wasn't enjoying consistent success against those fronts. He popped a couple long ones against one team.

Don from Scotland thinks the Seahawks should consider re-signing center Chris Spencer. He points to Marshawn Lynch's run as evidence, noting that Spencer threw key blocks.

Mike Sando: That was a sensational run in many regards, but not representative of the Seahawks' performance in the running game last season. It didn't validate anything. I'll agree to the extent that I think Spencer has been pretty solid a lot of the time. I also think the Seahawks need a new identity up front with new personalities and new leadership.

Patrick asks via Twitter whether new NFL rules allowing for 46-man rosters on game days and no third quarterback might give 49ers rookie Colin Kaepernick a better shot at getting on the field.

Mike Sando: Kaepernick will likely be the No. 2 or even No. 1 quarterback for the 49ers this season, so the third-QB designation would not apply to him.

Jason from Tennessee thinks the Titans, Eagles and Cardinals should consider a three-way trade sending Vince Young and Cortland Finnegan to Philadelphia, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Tennessee and Kevin Kolb to Arizona.

Mike Sando: I like your creativity. Young to the Eagles would be an interesting one given Vick's presence, Andy Reid's presence and the overall stability there in Philadelphia. Young's hefty contract would need adjusting. The teams would need Young's cooperation. Young would presumably want to become a free agent.

Arizona would be parting with Rodgers-Cromartie and getting Kolb, a trade some fans have found problematic based on the known (Rodgers-Cromartie's talent) vs. the unknown (Kolb). What the Eagles wind up getting for Kolb stands as one of the more fascinating uncertainties heading toward free agency.

Dominic from Santa Clara, Calif., asks whether any NFC West teams would go after the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson.

Mike Sando: Dominic submitted this question when it appeared as though Jackson might receive unrestricted free agency this offseason. It now appears as though Jackson will return to San Diego as the Chargers' franchise player.

I'll stand by what I wrote on the matter back in February: "San Diego's decision to name receiver Vincent Jackson its franchise player would not prevent an NFC West team -- think St. Louis -- from at least considering a trade. I just find it implausible to think the Rams or another team would part with significant draft capital for the right to pay huge sums to a receiver with off-field concerns. Jackson is probably staying in San Diego for another year."
Labor uncertainty forces NFL teams into hypothetical mode as they plan for a future without known rules.

ESPN's John Clayton touched upon one of the possibilities in his latest column, pointing to the Seattle Seahawks as the team most threatened by the potential return of "Final Eight" rules for playoff teams. Those rules could prevent Seattle from pursuing a high-profile free agent such as Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery, who played for Seahawks assistant Tom Cable.

"Unless they lose a high-priced free agent, the Seahawks could offer Gallery only a little less than $4 million in the first year," Clayton wrote. "Top guards in free agency get $6 million to $8 million a season with huge up-front money. Unless they lose a free agent for that price, they'd have to settle for a lesser player and also not be able to fix other positions."

The Seahawks became one of the final eight playoff teams last season after upsetting New Orleans in the wild-card round. No one knows whether the league would implement 2010 rules for free agency if it were to operate without a labor agreement. That is one option, however, and the "Final Eight" rule would indeed hurt Seattle. The team has positioned itself to have ample spending leeway should a salary cap return, but a better-than-expected finish to the 2010 season could force unpleasant choices.

Seattle's quarterback situation comes to mind specifically. The team could re-sign Matt Hasselbeck without restriction under "Final Eight" rules. But if the Seahawks decided to make Charlie Whitehurst the starter in 2011, losing Hasselbeck to a lucrative deal elsewhere could, in theory, clear the way for Seattle to sign Gallery or another high-priced free agent.

These are hypotheticals built upon hypotheticals. Sometimes, they're also all we've got.
Arlan from San Francisco wonders whether a prolonged lockout might actually help the San Francisco 49ers by dooming their 2011 season and putting them in position to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck first overall next offseason. He would gladly suffer through one bad season to land a franchise quarterback.

Mike Sando: Lots of things must go wrong for a team to get that No. 1 overall choice. The Carolina Panthers landed the top choice after gutting their roster and employing a lame-duck head coach. A year earlier, the St. Louis Rams emerged with the top choice after winning only six games over a three-year period. They were historically bad.

The 49ers have some issues this offseason, to be sure, but they have more talent than teams that finish with only one or two victories in a season. And while Luck appears to be the obvious No. 1 overall choice one year from now, things can change, too.

I'm with you in the realization that one bad season can be worth it if the right quarterback is waiting on the other side. I'm just not at all convinced the circumstances are bad enough for the 49ers to make that happen for them.

Scott from Sacramento wonders how the Seattle Seahawks' status under the "Final Eight" plan could change if the NFL Players Association receives an injunction against the lockout.

Mike Sando: The NFL would, by most accounts, revert to the rules in place for 2010. Those rules restricted options in free agency for the final eight playoff teams "in any League Year during the term of the Agreement in which to Salary Cap is in effect," according to the collective bargaining agreement.

Restrictions for teams losing immediately before the conference championship games included:
  • Signing one unrestricted free agent that has a first-year salary no greater than $4.925, plus increases tied to league revenue growth;
  • Signing additional UFAs to deals with smaller first-year salaries and year-over-year increases no greater than 30 percent, not counting money paid as signing bonus;
  • Signing one additional UFA for each of its own UFAs that signed elsewhere, provided salaries for the new players did not exceed salaries for the old;
  • Not acquiring by trade players a team could not sign as UFAs based on the restrictions.

These are general parameters. While I would expect them to apply in the case of an injunction against a lockout, I do not know for sure this would be the case.

Robert from Los Angeles wonders whether the Arizona Cardinals might consider selecting a running back in the second round after two disappointing seasons from Beanie Wells. He questions whether Wells can become a long-term starter.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals have too many needs throughout their roster to head in that direction this offseason, in my view. They probably need to bet on Wells one more year while they shore up areas where they have less talent. Running back could become a concern thereafter, depending upon how Wells performs and whether Tim Hightower remains with the team. Hightower is entering his fourth NFL season and could become unrestricted one year from now, depending on what a new labor agreement might say.