NFC West: Gary Stills
ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Green Bay Packers
All the pregame hype will center around the so-called Inaccurate Reception, the controversial Hail Mary catch by Golden Tate two years ago that won the game over the Packers at Seattle on a Monday night. Tate has moved on to Detroit, but the Seahawks now have too many weapons for the Packers to stop, no Hail Mary required. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at San Diego Chargers
The Chargers better hope they play a lot better than they did in the preseason game at Seattle, a 41-14 victory for the Seahawks on Aug. 15. San Diego will play better, but not good enough to beat a much better team. Prediction: Win
Week 3: Denver Broncos
The Broncos and their fans got a tiny bit of meaningless Super Bowl revenge in the preseason opener with a 21-16 victory over the Seahawks in Denver. Enjoy it while it lasts, boys. Repeating that outcome in Seattle is not an option. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Washington Redskins
Traveling coast to coast to play on the road for a Monday night game is a tough task against any NFL opponent, and even tougher against quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Seahawks catch a break in this one by coming off a bye week with plenty of time to prepare and be fresh for the journey. Prediction: Win
Week 6: Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave Seattle a little bulletin-board material last month when he said the Seahawks were to blame for the increase in penalty flags during the preseason. There won't be near enough flags against Seattle for the Cowboys to win this one. Prediction: Win
Week 7: at St. Louis Rams
Any division game in the NFC West is a rugged battle. The Rams have a defensive line that gave the Seahawks problems a year ago. But they aren't strong enough overall to beat Seattle, even at home in their out-of-date dome. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were fortunate to win the season opener at Charlotte a year ago. That Panthers team was better than this one, but back-to-back road games against very physical defensive teams will end the Seattle winning streak. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Oakland Raiders
Coming off their first loss of the season and returning home against an outmanned opponent, is there any doubt? Prediction: Win
Week 10: New York Giants
The Seahawks easily defeated the Giants 23-0 last year in New Jersey, a dress rehearsal for their Super Bowl victory at the same location -- MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks won't need a rehearsal to roll past the Giants in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 11: at Kansas City Chiefs
This likely will be a low-scoring game between two strong defensive teams. Odds are against any team that has to try to win by matching its defense against the Seahawks' D. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Arizona Cardinals
The last time the Cardinals played at CenturyLink Field was last December when they handed the Seahawks a 17-10 loss. That won't happen again unless the Seahawks get caught looking ahead to the 49ers game. The Seahawks don't look ahead. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers
It's a Thanksgiving night, national TV game in the 49ers' shiny new stadium against the hated Seahawks. If San Francisco can't win this one, its time as a championship contender is over. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: at Philadelphia Eagles
This is the toughest part of the season for the Seahawks with back-to-back road games against likely playoff contenders. But the 10 days between games will help and be enough of a cushion to keep Seattle from losing two in a row. Prediction: Win
Week 15: San Francisco 49ers
This is a game that could decide which team wins the NFC West. No way the Seahawks lose to the 49ers twice in three weeks, especially not in front of a rabid full house of 12s. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals probably will be fighting for a playoff spot, and the Seahawks already will be in at 12-2. That difference will be just enough for Arizona to win at home in the same stadium where the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl a few weeks later. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: St. Louis Rams
For the second consecutive year, the Rams close the regular season in Seattle. And for the second consecutive year, the Seahawks will beat them without much trouble. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 13-3
The natural question is whether the organization went too far in pushing out higher-priced veterans.
I suspected they might have gone too far when they released linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. I also thought they might have been premature in parting with Orlando Pace despite the tackle's steep salary and history of injuries.
The reality, though, is that the Rams got it right.
They have gone from being a bad, old team with significant salary-cap problems to being a bad, young team with a much brighter salary-cap future.
The younger players finding their way this season have a chance to help the team in the future. That wasn't the case in 2008, when losing got old, literally.
The Rams have the third-youngest roster in the league. They had the third-oldest last season. Their offense has moved the ball much better than I would have anticipated. A glaring lack of playmakers has turned the red zone into a dead zone, preventing the Rams from scoring enough points to compete on the scoreboard. But I think it's safe to say the Rams have the most promising young offensive line in the NFC West.
This team needs to find playmakers in the draft, plain and simple.
Kraig writes via Facebook: Sando, you pity the Rams, but you ridicule the Seahawks. You're a believer in the new 49er formula, although not always its execution. The Cards are an enigma, but undeniably talented. Interesting. But kicking the Seahawks when they're down is starting to stand out. What gives?
Mike Sando: Expectations frame the analysis. The Rams were a 2-14 team rebuilding. They parted with Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey, Brett Romberg, Chris Draft and others. This was a total roster overhaul. I thought the Rams might have gone too far with a couple of these moves, but once the moves were made, the expectations were set accordingly.
With a new head coach and a younger roster, the Rams were going to struggle for a while. I thought 0-7 was likely and said so on the blog. The fact that the Rams are 0-6 is bad, but not a shock. It's Year 1 of a total rebuild. The Seahawks did not see themselves in the same light. Holding them to the same standard as the Rams would have been a bigger insult to the Seahawks than holding them accountable as I have tried to do.
Seattle thought injuries were pretty much to blame for a 4-12 record. The team thought Walter Jones would be fine this season. The team thought depth at tackle would be fine after re-signing Ray Willis. I thought the team needed to do more to shore up the position. Sean Locklear had missed a few games in the past, Willis has had knee issues and Jones was coming off surgery at age 35. I questioned whether the team could stay healthy in predicting a 7-9 record when schedules came out, upgrading the outlook slightly when Matt Hasselbeck seemed to pass a few injury-related milestones.
The outlook for Seattle darkens when we consider advanced ages for some of these injured players. Jones and Patrick Kerney are into their 30s. Both needed to play at a high level for Seattle to succeed. The fact that both are dealing with injury problems should surprise nobody. It was entirely predictable even if there was a chance both might beat the odds.
I think it's an even worse sign for Seattle if we start judging them with the same standards applied to the Rams. It's not that bad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Tyler from Chicago writes: Mike, why was there no coverage of the Rams' last preseason game? I have read your thoughts about the other NFC West teams in their last exhibitions. I understand the Rams are often an afterthought in the NFL, but could Rams fans get a little love from a decent outing last Thursday? I can't remember the last time the starters scored a touchdown in the preseason, and that is not an exaggeration. Thanks.
I spoke with Rams kicker Josh Brown during a visit to training camp earlier this month. I'll provide a transcript of our conversation here to help feed your Rams fix, indented to help differentiate from my initial answer to you.
Mike Sando: How good will you be on special teams this season?
Josh Brown: We're going to be really good. Really good. We've got Donnie (Jones) returning, Chris (Massey) is returning, so we're stable in our punting and snapping. And I think our field goals are OK, doing a pretty consistent job right now. Our coverage is only going to get better and we got up to No. 2 in the league last year. I mean, we were really good. We're fast. We've got some young, new coaches, which I think is going to carry us because they are going to be able to sustain a lot of energy whenever we get tired. But we've got a lot of pluses here. We're still looking for that breakout return guy, but we've got Derek Stanley, who is a solid returner. I mean, we don't have a Devin Hester. We don't have a Leon Washington yet, and hopefully he'll break out this year.
Mike Sando: The roster has changed quite a bit from last season. How much will that affect the core on special teams?
Josh Brown: I think it will be very similar. You've still got David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain, Todd Johnson and Quinton Culberson. There are a few guys that are going to be gone that were really good last year. Gary Stills was like a moving wall. I mean, he is literally probably the best special-teams player I have ever seen, especially at 35 years old. He is the strongest person I have ever seen. He's unbelievable. He was amazing. If he wasn't so dinged up for being so rough for so many years, he would be a Pro Bowler. When you average 30 special-teams tackles a year -- average -- that is unheard of. If guys have 15, they think they are going to the Pro Bowl, you know what I mean? And this guy averaged 30. He's special. But sometimes your age is your enemy.
Mike Sando: Who on special teams could break out this season?
Josh Brown: I think you're still going to see a lot of the guys that were with us last year that were making a big impact. I still think Quinton Culberson is a great R5/L5. I think you are going to see David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain, guys that are strong special-teams players that are always in the mix. Todd Johnson led the team in special-teams tackles for the last couple years and is a big leader on our special teams.
Mike Sando: What makes a good R5/L5 player?
Josh Brown: It depends on what they are returning, but R5/L5s, you are looking at guys who are either splitting that wedge or coming right off the side of it, and guys that demand a lot of attention.
Mike Sando: The league outlawed the three-man wedge on returns. What affect will that have on the Rams?
Josh Brown: I don't think it's necessarily going to change as far as coverage goes. They are going to have to make some adjustments on their returns and who they are blocking and when, how deep they are setting things. There will be some timing changes, I think.
Brown's family was at training camp on the day we spoke. They were waiting for him while we spoke. Once I realized it, I suggested he might find more value in visiting with them than discussing three-man wedge rules with me. I'm sure it was a tough call for him, but hopefully the Brown family enjoyed their time together.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.
Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.
Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.
|Jeff Mills/Icon SMI|
|Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?|
Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?
The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.
Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.
Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.
Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?
Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.
While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.
San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?|
Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.
The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.
On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.
The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.
Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.
On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.
That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.
Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.|
Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)
Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.
Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.
Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season. If S
pencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.
Camp will be a downer if ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization.
Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.
Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.
Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.
Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.
St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)|
|Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?|
Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.
Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.
None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.
Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.
Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them.
Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.
The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.
Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rob Petitti, Tim McGarigle, Marc Magro and Gary Stills -- all members of the Rams last season -- found potential employers through the UFL draft Wednesday.
The Orlando franchise, led by former Rams coach Jim Haslett, selected Petitti and McGarigle. New York drafted Magro. Las Vegas drafted Stills and former Cardinals and 49ers linebacker Brandon Moore, plus former Rams safety Adam Archuleta.
New York also drafted former Seahawks and Cardinals safety Oliver Celestin. The UFL features as-yet-unnamed franchises in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando and San Francisco. Dennis Green is coaching the San Francisco franchise, which selected Marcus Fitzgerald, brother of Larry.
UFL statement: Each franchise selected 24 players and now owns the rights to those players if they choose to play in the United Football League. The UFL has already begun contacting the players listed below and expects to announce signings over the next few weeks. This list may be subject to change based on further player evaluations or additional player availability.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers rookie Alex Boone has pledged to keep a low profile socially, to better avoid the type of drunken mayhem that affected his draft stock. Boone: "I'm 22 years old. All you want to do after practice is go out and have fun and relax and stuff like that. But the truth is, I am really just not into it anymore. ... This is a job for me right now and I have to do what's best. I like to go home, lay down, watch some TV and go to bed. That's my daily plan. That's easy."
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the relationship between 49ers running backs Frank Gore and Moran Norris. "He's like a brother to me," Norris says.
The San Francisco Chronicle questions the 49ers' stadium plan by saying the $79 million in proposed public financing doesn't include $35 million from a proposed hotel tax. I thought the $114 million figure was well known.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers rookie Kory Sheets is still adjusting to the complexities of an NFL playbook.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Ben Patrick's four-game suspension hurts his chances for building on the Cardinals' appearance in Super Bowl XLIII. Somers: "He caught a TD pass in the Super Bowl and looked good in off-season workouts. Under the policy, he will be able to participate in training camp but the suspension will start the day the regular 53-man roster is set. The Cardinals have five other tight ends on the roster, signing Anthony Becht and Dominique Byrd this off-season. Leonard Pope has starting experiences, as does Stephen Spach, who is coming off ACL surgery. Alex Shor spent most of last year on the practice squad."
Also from Somers: contract details for some of the Cardinals' rookies.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sizes up Patrick's suspension this way: "It's the latest hit for Patrick, the 2007 seventh-round pick who had been hoping to use his touchdown catch in the Super Bowl as a jumping-off point to win the starting job for the Cards' nebulous tight end situation. Patrick's 2008 season was tumultuous because of various nagging injuries."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at how Colin Cole's addition to the Seahawks' defensive line affects Brandon Mebane. Coach Jim Mora says Mebane should be more effective as a three-technique tackle. Mora explains why: "His explosiveness off the ball, his first step. His ability to get up the field in the run game. He's got some pass-rush ability. He'll spend less time on double teams at that position. He can be more disruptive. They call him a dancing bear. He's got initial quickness, he's got quick feet and that's what you're looking for at that position."
Peter King of SI.com checks in with Mora and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. King: "I asked Mora for a couple of defensive players who'd stood out in the offseason, and he said Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson. Both defensive ends. Both former high picks. So maybe there will be less pressure on [Aaron] Curry to be a 12-sack guy if these bookend ends emerge and if Patrick Kerney can stay healthy and give Seattle the production he's used to giving." Twelve sacks for Curry sounds like a two- or three-year total.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says the team is expected to hold its first practice of training camp July 31.
John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Owen Schmitt's rookie season in Seattle. Morgan: "He has a couple troubling snags. His blitz awareness is weak. He's a bit stiff, especially at or near full speed. I don't think he'll develop into a great receiver. The most important of those three, his blitz awareness, should develop, and though I'm not fond of punting receiving ability at any skill position, [Greg] Knapp doesn't pass to his fullbacks, and Knapp is the man calling plays." An assistant coach for another team told me he questioned whether Schmitt had the lateral movement required to pick up blitzes from various angles.
VanRam of Turf Show Times sees few options for the Rams among the lists of available free agents. Quite a few of those available players were with the Rams last season. Among them: Gary Stills, Dante Hall, Ricky Manning, Rob Petitti, Travis Minor, Jason Craft, Fakhir Brown, Cory Withrow, Anthony Davis, Dane Looker and the presumably retiring La'Roi Glover.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams' offseason roster makeover has left them with three players claiming Pro Bowl pedigrees.
By my count, no team in the league has fewer players with Pro Bowl experience. I have the Lions and Dolphins also with three apiece.
A quick look at NFC West players with Pro Bowl experience:
- 49ers (10): punter Andy Lee, running back Frank Gore, cornerback Nate Clements, cornerback Walt Harris, safety Michael Lewis, linebacker Takeo Spikes, linebacker Patrick Willis, tackle Marvel Smith, long snapper Brian Jennings and receiver Isaac Bruce.
- Cardinals (8): kicker Neil Rackers, receiver Larry Fitzgerald, quarterback Kurt Warner, strong safety Adrian Wilson, receiver Anquan Boldin, special-teamer Sean Morey, defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and defensive lineman Bertrand Berry.
- Seahawks (8): quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, kicker Olindo Mare, cornerback Marcus Trufant, linebacker Lofa Tatupu, guard Mike Wahle, tackle Walter Jones, receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and defensive end Patrick Kerney.
- Rams (3): quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Leonard Little.
Several players' Pro Bowl experiences are fading memories. Gary Stills, Dante Hall, La'Roi Glover, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Trent Green and Corey Chavous weren't likely to achieve Pro Bowl status again had they remained with the Rams.
My safest NFC West bets for Pro Bowl status this season: Fitzgerald, Willis and Boldin, probably. Some of the others have injury concerns. Warner could be a safe bet if he makes it through a full season for the fourth time in his career and second time in a row. Jones is a safe bet if he bounces back from knee surgery as well as the Seahawks expect him to do. Jackson could put up big numbers for the Rams this season. Who else?
The Rams' Oshiomogho Atogwe, Josh Brown and Donnie Jones have Pro Bowl potential. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Karlos Dansby could break through for the Cardinals. The 49ers' Gore is always a threat. Niners center Eric Heitmann might have a chance if the 49ers' rushing game puts up big numbers and the team wins more games. Who else?
Do any NFC West rookies have a chance in your view?
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams weren't an 8-8 team seeking a few tweaks to regain their footing. They needed a franchise overhaul after posting a 5-27 record over the past two seasons.
That overhaul has continued with Brian Leonard's trade to the Bengals on Thursday and Pisa Tinoisamoa's release Friday.
Changing over a roster means adding new players in key positions. Adding new players means losing existing ones, and the Rams have parted with quite a few this offseason.
The chart shows notable Rams players to leave the roster since general manager Billy Devaney spearheaded Steve Spagnuolo's hiring as head coach.
Some of the changes were difficult to miss. The releases of Torry Holt and Orlando Pace come to mind. Other changes have come via attrition. In this case, the Rams have decided against re-signing numerous unrestricted free agents. It's significant to note that quite a few of them remain unsigned.
The Rams could always re-sign a free agent or two as they set their roster for training camp. In most cases, however, the team appears eager to move on without them.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rams kicker Josh Brown joined an increasingly exclusive club when he turned 30 years old Wednesday.
The Rams have released or not re-signed 14 players in their 30s since last season: Gary Stills, Dante Hall, Jason Craft, Fakhir Brown, Cory Withrow, Dane Looker, La'Roi Glover, Brandon Gorin, Torry Holt, Anthony Becht, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green and Corey Chavous. The team parted with Dan Kreider and Eddie Kennison, also in their 30s, during the 2008 season.
The teams with the most players in their 30s: Saints 20, Patriots 17, Broncos 15, Browns 15, Redskins 15, Steelers 14 and Lions 14. The Cardinals have 13, the 49ers 12 and the Seahawks 10. The league average is 10.5.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Consider that list an indication of how irrelevant unrestricted free agency becomes as the draft approaches.
A quick look at unsigned UFAs from each NFC West team:
San Francisco (3): Martin, Green and
St. Louis (11): Linebacker Gary Stills, receiver Dante' Hall, cornerback Ricky Manning, tackle Rob Petitti, running back Travis Minor, cornerback Jason Craft, cornerback Fakhir Brown, center Cory Withrow, tackle Anthony Davis, receiver Dane Looker, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
I do not see priority free agents on those lists. Former Rams cornerbacks Manning, Craft and Brown could have some value, while Glover is expected to retire. Former Seahawks Koren Robinson and Jeff Robinson could conceivably help in a pinch, as could former Cardinals tight end Tuman. Green, the former 49er, has occasionally shown promise. Foster might be able to help on a limited basis.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
A quick look at 53-man rosters from Feb. 1, date of Super Bowl XLIII, provides a reference point for seeing how NFC West teams have changed so far this offseason.
I'll continue with St. Louis.
Gone from the Rams' 53-man roster and injured reserve list in the 58 days since the Super Bowl (18):
|Kevin Terrell/Getty Images|
|Orlando Pace was drafted by the Rams in 1997.|
Orlando Pace, T
Torry Holt, WR
Dante' Hall, WR
Drew Bennett, WR
Dane Looker, WR
Travis Minor, RB
Anthony Becht, TE
Cory Withrow, C
Nick Leckey, C
Brandon Gorin, OL
Rob Petitti, OL
Corey Chavous, SS
Jason Craft, CB
Fakhir Brown, CB
La'Roi Glover, DT
Gary Stills, LB
The Rams have more unrestricted free agents -- 13 -- than any NFL team. That is not by accident.
The team is rebuilding with younger players while trimming fat from the payroll and making very targeted additions through free agency.
St. Louis entered the offseason needing to get stronger up the middle on both sides of the ball.
Signing center Jason Brown and fullback Mike Karney helped the cause on offense (Karney is not listed on the chart, which covers only unrestricted free agents). Signing strong safety James Butler should help the defense, although the front seven still needs work.
The Rams are carrying only eight offensive linemen, tied for the league low with the Cardinals, Panthers, Bears, Lions and Jets. NFL teams are carrying 10.5 offensive linemen on average.
The unsigned Adam Goldberg proved valuable last season. As we discussed, the Rams will certainly be targeting offensive linemen in the draft.
One week into the NFL free agency period, teams have yet to sign away one of the Rams' unrestricted free agents.
Cornerback Ron Bartell drew interest from the Saints before re-signing in St. Louis, but none of the Rams' other 16 unrestricted free agents has signed a contract.
Former starting center Brett Romberg visited the Falcons.
Half of the Rams' unsigned UFAs are in their 30s, with a quarter of them at least 33.
Seven of the 16 are offensive linemen. No other team has more than four UFA offensive linemen (Seahawks). The Rams still have seven offensive linemen under contract. They will surely draft additional players at the position.Rams UFA re-signed: Bartell, CB.
Rams UFA lost: none.
Rams UFA added: Jason Brown, C, Ravens.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams could conceivably part with every one of their unrestricted free agents this offseason.
They will try to re-sign cornerback Ron Bartell. They could bring back a few others. But when a new front office and new coaching staff inherit a team with five victories over two seasons, serious roster trimming tends to ensue.
The chart ranks the Rams' scheduled unrestricted free agents from oldest to youngest, with ages rounded down to the tenth. Four are at least 33 years old. Four more are at least 30. Two more -- Travis Minor and Brett Romberg -- turn 30 during the 2009 season.
Bartell is clearly the Rams' most attractive UFA candidate. His case is a tough one for the Rams.
While the team would like to retain its best young talent, the coaching staff doesn't know Bartell well enough to make informed judgments about his longterm potential. And with the market for cornerbacks drying up, Bartell might command a significant contract on the open market.