NFC West: Heath Farwell

Seahawks find a way to win ugly

September, 29, 2013
Seahawks AP Photo/Patric SchneiderSeattle celebrated a 4-0 start after Steven Hauschka kicked the game winner in overtime.
HOUSTON -- An ugly winner always is better than a pretty loser, at least in football.

Teams just aren’t supposed to win 23-20 in overtime when they do as many things wrong as the Seattle Seahawks did Sunday against the Houston Texans.

Seahawks receiver Golden Tate sat in a jubilant locker room afterward and just shook his head, almost in disbelief at what he had just witnessed and been a part of.

“Wow. Man, I’m in awe,” he said. “It’s never over for us. We have a lot of things to fix everywhere, but you know what? We’re getting on this plane and going home 4 and 0.”

Special-teams captain Heath Farwell also seemed a little stunned afterward.

“This team is something special,” Farwell said. “Today showed the difference between a good team and a great team. I’m just so proud of all these guys.”

He should be. They were down 20-3 on the road at halftime. Their offensive line was missing three starters, including two Pro Bowl players, and they were starting a rookie, seventh-round draft choice (Michael Bowie) against the best defensive player in the NFL (J.J. Watt).

Their defense completely forgot they entered the game No. 1 in the league, playing like they were No. 1 in leaving receivers wide open.

The Seahawks were outgained by more than 206 yards and their third-down efficiency was 21 percent. And their quarterback (Russell Wilson) had a miserable 49.7 passer rating for the game because he spent most of the day trying to avoid becoming permanently embedded in the Reliant Stadium turf.

But there’s something strange about this team, in a good way. When things seem to be at their worst, the Seahawks are at their best.

Despite all those negatives and all those mistakes, Seattle did enough things right to win and remain unbeaten. It’s the first time in franchise history the Seahawks have started a season with four victories.

“It wasn’t the prettiest win in the world," Wilson said Sunday after the game. “But it sure looks pretty now.”

Seattle couldn’t have played much worse in the first half, down 17 points in a game the Texans had dominated on both sides of the ball.

“They handed it to us in the first half and we didn’t have any answers to stop it,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “But to play the way we did in the second half and overtime was crazy good. This is a fantastic team.”

It was when it mattered the most. The Texans failed to score in the final 41 minutes and 34 seconds of the game.

“It’s a testament to our character,” defensive tackle Red Bryant said. “We never quit. We hung in there and kept fighting. We played our best football in the second half. We showed a lot of grit today.”

The biggest mistake anyone can make is to look at game stats and try to determine how good the Seahawks are. You won’t find it there.

This team is undefeated because it makes the game-changing plays when the outcome is on the line:

  • Cornerback Richard Sherman getting a 58-yard pick-six to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
  • Wilson deciding to run with the ball when the Texans' defense kept him from throwing it effectively.
  • Receiver Doug Baldwinmaking another tiptoe sideline catch to keep a touchdown drive going in the fourth quarter.
  • Tate making a decision to field a punt on the goal line, then returning it to the 31 to start the final drive that won the game on Steven Hauschka's 45-yard field goal.

“We have playmakers all around,” Tate said. “No. 3 [Wilson] took over the game when he needed to. Sherm took over when he needed to. Our goal is always to play longer and harder than our opponent. We found a way. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but we found a way.”

The Seahawks are firm believers in risks being worth the reward, like Sherman jumping in front of a Matt Schaub pass in the flat that became a Seattle touchdown.

“It’s a high-risk play,” Sherman said. “You’ve got to jump it and you might get beat. But if you make the play you can change the game. I lost my shoe for about 50 of those yards, so it may be the longest return without a shoe.”

No shoes required, just courage. The same with Tate’s unorthodox punt return.

“I know I’m going to hear about it in the meetings this week,” Tate said. “I went totally against what I’m supposed to do, but I felt a play needed to be made and we needed some momentum. I was confident. We do what we have to do.”

That’s exactly what Wilson did on a 98-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter when he ran for 53 of those yards before Marshawn Lynch scored on a 3-yard run.

“Marshawn and I talked,” Wilson said “He said, ‘Hey Russ, just take over.’ So I decided just to take off and try to get positive gains. We had to find a way.”

The Seahawks found a way to win on a day when every indicator said they should have lost.

“It’s gonna be ugly sometimes,” Sherman said. “It wasn’t a great stat game, but we did enough things and made enough plays to get the win. Those kind of games make championship teams. We had guys out there grinding. Regardless of how we get the win, it's still a win.”

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The rookie wage scale and overall salary structure should increasingly make the NFL a young man's game, all else equal.

Youth will be served during rookie minicamps beginning Friday, for sure.

With that in mind, I've gone through NFC West rosters singling out for special recognition players age 30 and older (or turning 30 before regular-season openers). There are 29 such players in the division by my count, including longtime NFC West stars Frank Gore (turns 30 next week) and Larry Fitzgerald (turns 30 in August). Twenty of them play for the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

A team-by-team look at NFC West elders, with ages rounded to the tenth of a year:
The chart provides a team and positional look at these players. I'm expecting the Rams to have the youngest roster in the NFL this season.

Update: Add Karlos Dansby to the list for the Cardinals. The 31-year-old linebacker has agreed to terms with Arizona, the team announced.

Good morning.

We discussed at one point Wednesday the number of Pro Bowl players on each NFC West team's roster. San Francisco has 17, most in the NFL. Arizona has four, tied for fewest.

Most teams have a couple of deserving but as-yet-unrecognized players, and that is the case in the NFC West. Arizona's Calais Campbell and Daryl Washington come to mind. Seattle's Richard Sherman comes to mind. There are others.

Some players with Pro Bowl pedigrees aren't playing at anywhere close to that level. That is the case with some NFC West players.

We can sort through that another time. For now, I'll list the players on each NFC West team with at least one Pro Bowl on their résumés.
Separating these players by how well each is actually playing at present could be a project for another day.
NFL teams would rather have a young future Pro Bowl prospect than a washed-up player with a Pro Bowl in his distant past.

For that reason, the number of players on a roster with Pro Bowl experience isn't an air-tight way to measure roster strength. It can be a pretty good indicator when taking a big-picture view, however.

The San Francisco 49ers head into Week 10 with an NFL-high 13 players having at least one Pro Bowl to their names. They certainly have one of the strongest rosters in the NFL.

The list includes David Akers, Leonard Davis, Vernon Davis, Dashon Goldson, Jonathan Goodwin, Frank Gore, Brian Jennings, Andy Lee, Randy Moss, Carlos Rogers, Justin Smith, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis.

I would expect additional 49ers to achieve Pro Bowl consideration in 2012. NaVorro Bowman, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis and Aldon Smith would be logical candidates for first-time consideration.

Seattle ranks tied for third among NFL teams with 11 Pro Bowlers. Baltimore (12), Pittsburgh (11) and Philadelphia (11) are in the same range, followed by New England (10), Green Bay (10) and Chicago (10).

The Seahawks' list includes Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Braylon Edwards, Heath Farwell, Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Michael Robinson, Earl Thomas, Marcus Trufant and Leon Washington.

Cornerback Richard Sherman would be a logical candidate for first-time consideration. Defensive linemen Brandon Mebane and Chris Clemons have at times played at a Pro Bowl level. Punter Jon Ryan has played well, too.

Arizona and St. Louis are tied for 25th with five Pro Bowlers apiece.

The Cardinals' list features Darnell Dockett, Larry Fitzgerald, Todd Heap, Patrick Peterson and Adrian Wilson. Linebacker Daryl Washington is an obvious candidate for consideration this season. Safety Kerry Rhodes has also played well at times.

The Rams' list includes Cortland Finnegan, Steven Jackson, Quintin Mikell, Steve Smith and Scott Wells. Chris Long has played at a Pro Bowl level at times. Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein deserves consideration. Linebacker James Laurinaitis faces stiff competition at inside linebacker.

The fan portion of Pro Bowl balloting is ongoing.

All-NFC West midseason team

November, 7, 2012
» NFC Midseason Teams: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A few NFC West thoughts as we roll out all-division teams across the divisional blogs:

Tough call: Alex Smith edges Russell Wilson at quarterback based on a stronger start to the season and his nearly perfect game against Arizona in Week 8. Wilson is gaining ground and looks like he could become the best quarterback in the NFC West quickly. He already has a better feel for the pocket. I'll be surprised, at this rate, if Wilson isn't the choice for the season-ending all-division team. There is still time for Sam Bradford to factor in as well.

Laying it on the line: The defensive lines were difficult to classify by specific position. Players with bodies suited to play 4-3 defensive tackle are playing defensive end for Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle. I went with the four best defensive linemen with less regard for position. That left only three spots at linebacker. Aldon Smith deserves consideration. I favored three top inside linebackers, including the Cardinals' Daryl Washington.

Free over strong: Two free safeties made the list. The 49ers' Dashon Goldson hits almost like a linebacker. Earl Thomas was the other choice, even though the Cardinals' Kerry Rhodes made a strong push early in the season. Rhodes' sack and forced fumble helped put away Philadelphia. Arizona has faltered and Rhodes missed a game. Thomas is the defensive player Seattle's opponents single out most frequently for his instincts and range.

Coverage ace: The 49ers' C.J. Spillman is usually a good choice as top special-teams coverage player. Seattle's Heath Farwell gets the call this time. The Seahawks have credited him with five tackles and five assisted tackles on special teams.

Two halfbacks here: Seattle's Michael Robinson and San Francisco's Bruce Miller would be good choices at fullback. I went with two halfbacks. Marshawn Lynch would be the choice over Frank Gore. I kept both for the value they provide their teams, with or without a fullback leading the way.

Revisiting three under-the-radar moves for the Seattle Seahawks to see how well these June storylines are holding up:

1. Signing Jason Jones. The Seahawks signed Jones to a one-year deal in free agency in an effort to upgrade their inside pass-rush. Jones did not play in the most recent exhibition game. We've seen more from him and from the pass-rush in general during practices than during the two exhibition games. I don't sense any change in expectations, however.

2. Re-signing their own guys. Red Bryant, Marshawn Lynch, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy and Heath Farwell returned as unrestricted free agents. Marcus Trufant re-signed as well. These were under-the-radar moves only to the extent that Seattle was bringing back its own players, not adding new ones from the outside. Bryant and Lynch were high-profile re-signings. Both have made positive contributions in the preseason, including when Bryant tipped a Peyton Manning pass, leading to an interception. McQuistan is starting at left guard. Re-signing him and releasing 2010 starter Robert Gallery is looking like a wise move. Gallery signed with New England, then retired.

3. Churning the OL depth. Adding veteran Deuce Lutui in free agency is paying off now that starting left guard John Moffitt is recovering from elbow surgery. Late-round choice J.R. Sweezy is making a surprisingly quickly transition from defensive line to guard. It remains to be seen whether Alex Barron provides value as a swing tackle. Overall, though, the Seahawks appear to have done the right thing by churning the line depth. The situation with Gallery comes to mind especially.
NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

The St. Louis Rams in particular used the UFA signing period to get younger. The 12 UFAs they added (11) or re-signed (one) averaged 2.49 years younger than the 20 UFAs they lost (six) or have not re-signed (14). The gap was 1.39 years younger on average throughout the division. The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL, based on averages I maintain for every team in the league.

Some older UFAs never sign another NFL contract. They disappear from rosters and realize, perhaps a year or two later, that they've been retired.

The chart shows age differences for the 38 UFA players added or re-signed versus the 47 lost to other teams or still unsigned. According to the NFL, 143 UFAs changed teams across the league this offseason. Another 112 re-signed with their 2011 teams.

Unsigned players remain free to sign with another team, but the NFL will not count them as UFA signings. The distinction matters in part because only UFA additions and losses count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft choices. That formula relies heavily on player salaries. UFAs available this late in the process generally wouldn't command enough money to affect compensatory picks, anyway.

A quick look at which UFA players from NFC West teams did not sign or re-sign as UFAs:
The 27 unsigned UFAs from the NFC West average 31.38 years old, about 3.3 years older than the 22 UFAs signed from other teams.

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
Alex Smith's commitment to improving his throwing mechanics promises to turn analysts into amateur position coaches during the upcoming NFL season.

Every touchdown pass or interception will invite questions about whether Smith's shoulders were square or whether his front knee was bent sufficiently at delivery.

Matt Maiocco of explains the changes Smith has made to his mechanics by incorporating more of his body into the throw. Maiocco: "The most noticeable difference is that Smith also has greater flex in his left knee. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, speaking in December, repeated what he has said since 2007: Smith's knee lock was a major issue."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Smith's work with pitching coach Tom House also addressed the psychological aspect of the game. Branch: "Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who recommended the pitching coach to Smith, credits his meeting with House after the 2003 season for transforming his previous nice-guy style of leadership."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Dashon Goldson played well last season with minimal offseason preparation, something to keep in mind as Goldson remains unsigned this year. Barrows: "Furthermore, Goldson's absence gives the younger players more exposure. As of now, C.J. Spillman is filling in at free safety when the first-team defense takes the field. The 49ers signed Spillman to a three-year extension this offseason. Spillman may be the most physically gifted of all of the team's safeties -- he's certainly one of the more aggressive -- but he lacks experience. Newcomers Mark LeGree and Trenton Robinson, a sixth-round draft pick, also get a bit more action with Goldson's absence."

Clare Farnsworth of says the team's emphasis on speed in the draft should help the special teams, which were already pretty good. Farnsworth: "Red Bryant set franchise records by blocking two field goals in a game and four kicks during the season. Jon Ryan led the NFL and tied a club record with 34 punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, broke his club single-season records for average (46.6 yards) and net average (39.3) and also got off the longest punt (77 yards) in franchise history. Steven Hauschka tied club records by kicking five field goals in the upset victory over the Ravens and converting at least one three-pointer in 12 consecutive games. Doug Baldwin blocked a punt that Michael Robinson returned for a touchdown, while Farwell also had a blocked punt to set up a TD."

Also from Farnsworth: Why Jeremy Lane appealed to Seattle in the draft.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks owner Paul Allen has denied rumors his sports empire could be for sale.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says no one is quite sure why Marshawn Lynch calls teammate Matt Flynn by the name "Antonio" -- that's just Lynch.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Landon Cohen's addition to the Cardinals' roster gives the team 90 players. Somers: "The Cardinals had one spot open on the roster and obviously needed some depth at defensive end. Signing Cohen doesn't preclude them from reaching agreement with defensive end Vonnie Holliday or outside linebacker Clark Haggans. Whenever that happens, the club will make a corresponding roster move."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on the Rams' proposed stadium upgrades. Softli: "While there may seem to be a short-term downside, there is also a huge potential for economic growth that all Missourians can be very proud of once a top-flight facility is built. The bottom line is that this current stadium needs a major facelift, or else another one needs to be built, because this community can’t afford to lose another NFL team and millions of dollars in future revenue."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with new Rams linebacker Mario Haggan, the oldest player on the team at 32. Haggan: "Fresh start for me. Fresh opportunity. This is a young team with an established quarterback. I've heard so many good things about Coach [Jeff] Fisher; you talk to guys across the league and they all wish they could play for him. And it's close to home. Maybe my family can come see me play more in St. Louis."

Also from Thomas: a report from Fisher's first full-squad practice as Rams coach. Fisher: "We added a bunch of things today. We've got a lot of 'base' in, we've got third down, and red zone. Friday, we'll probably do some 2-minute. So we're throwing a lot at 'em. But they've responded very well and they're practicing well together."

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

March, 16, 2012
Michael Robinson's expected re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks would give the team a league-high four re-signings in the unrestricted free-agent market.

Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.

Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...

Seattle Seahawks

UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)

UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)

UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.

Arizona Cardinals

UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.

St. Louis Rams

UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.

The chart below shows a general overview.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals

Key free agents: DE Calais Campbell (franchise tag), CB Richard Marshall, OLB Clark Haggans, WR Early Doucet, T Brandon Keith, G Deuce Lutui, K Jay Feely.

Where they stand: A strong finish to the 2011 season on defense gives the Cardinals a glass-half-full feel heading into free agency. Going from 1-6 to 8-8 was an impressive achievement. Arizona does have serious concerns on its offensive line. The situation at tackle is particularly questionable even if Levi Brown returns (and maybe especially if he returns, depending on your view). The line concerns might actually dissipate some if the team lands Peyton Manning, a quarterback with the ability to beat pressure with quick throws. But tackle is still an area that needs addressing for the long term. Injuries throughout the offensive backfield raise questions about that area as well. Kevin Kolb (concussion), Beanie Wells (knee), Ryan Williams (knee) and Anthony Sherman (ankle) missed extensive time or played at a diminished level for stretches.

What to expect: The Cardinals are one of the teams chasing Manning. That pursuit could consume them for the short term. Landing Manning would signal the end for Kolb in Arizona. The Cardinals have until March 17 to exercise a $7 million option on Kolb, the quarterback they acquired from Philadelphia for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a fat contract. I'm expecting a resolution to Manning's situation before the Kolb bonus comes due simply because interest in Manning should be high enough to accelerate the process. The Cardinals had about $3 million in salary-cap space entering the week, according to ESPN's John Clayton. That figure could increase substantially once the team releases Brown or reworks his contract. Arizona still has strong coaching ties to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball, but it's an upset if the Cardinals seriously pursue any of the aging veterans recently released by the Steelers. Developing young talent is the priority now. Re-signing Marshall, who fared well at corner, should be a priority. Does free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley still factor prominently into the team's plans, particularly at such a high price?

St. Louis Rams

Key free agents: WR Brandon Lloyd, G Jacob Bell, CB Justin King, OL Adam Goldberg, LB Chris Chamberlain, G Tony Wragge, TE Billy Bajema, WR Mark Clayton, DT Gary Gibson, P Donnie Jones.

Where they stand: The Rams have no interest in staying the course from a personnel standpoint after going 15-65 over the past five seasons. They will seek fresh talent almost across the board as Jeff Fisher's new coaching staff seeks players for its schemes. The Rams are seeking playmakers in particular, starting at wide receiver. The offensive line needs addressing, although the Rams might try to minimize the turnover at offensive tackle for the short term, figuring they cannot afford to create new needs. But former starting center Jason Brown, benched last season, appears unlikely to return. The team also needs two starting outside linebackers, starting defensive tackles and perhaps two starting cornerbacks on defense.

What to expect: Mass roster turnover. I could see the team retaining as few as one or two players from its list of 21 projected unrestricted free agents. The Rams have a disproportionate amount of their salary cap tied up in recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith. The rookie wage scale will provide them cap relief even if the team remains among the teams picking very high in the 2012 draft. Bradford and Long are cornerstones. Smith could stick around at a reduced rate. The team still has hope for him under new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Jason Jones, both free agents from Tennessee, have ties to Fisher and could make sense for the Rams. Despite the need for playmakers on offense, the Rams did not use the franchise tag on Lloyd, their most talented receiver. Questions persist about how effective Lloyd might be outside Josh McDaniels' offense.

San Francisco 49ers

Key free agents: QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Dashon Goldson (franchise tag), G Adam Snyder, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, FB Moran Norris, LB Blake Costanzo.

Where they stand: Coach Jim Harbaugh has said it's a bit unsettling heading through the offseason with his starting quarterback unsigned. Smith and the 49ers are expected to reach agreement eventually. This relationship will almost certainly continue even if Smith does reach free agency without a deal in place. Smith would not fit nearly as well anywhere else. Harbaugh likes to use the word "equity" when describing players he wants to keep. The 49ers would rather bring back Smith than invite the disruption that Manning would bring, were they able to land him. The team needs help at wide receiver and possibly cornerback, depending upon what happens with Rogers. Getting Goldson at the relatively reasonable franchise rate ($6.2 million) was a plus for the 49ers' continuity in the secondary.

What to expect: Not a whole lot, most likely. The 49ers were a good team last season after taking a low-keyed approach to the free-agent market. They will presumably show interest in Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace and any high-profile, productive receiver with the talent to upgrade their offense. It's a small upset if the 49ers land one of them, however, because their philosophy is built on a measured approach resistant to overpaying. They will have to address the receiver position in free agency one way or another, however. Re-signing Morgan would help. Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Plaxico Burress and Robert Meachem are among the other options in free agency. An upgrade at right guard would help the line, but the 49ers might be apt to develop 2011 draft choice Daniel Kilgore after investing first-round choices in their left tackle (Joe Staley), left guard (Mike Iupati) and right tackle (Anthony Davis).

Seattle Seahawks

Key free agents: DE Red Bryant, LB David Hawthorne, LB Leroy Hill, OL Paul McQuistan, DE Raheem Brock, DL Tony Hargrove, FB Michael Robinson, RB Justin Forsett, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Matt McCoy, TE John Carlson, LB Heath Farwell.

Where they stand: The Seahawks' long-term quarterback situation hangs over them as they head toward the 2012 draft with only the 12th overall choice. The team has built up the rest of its roster to a point where sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as the primary starter could hold back the team to a degree it did not through much of last season. Upgrading the pass rush is another priority for the Seahawks. With defensive end Raheem Brock publicly stumping for Seattle to land Manning, his former teammate, I couldn't help but wonder which one of them had a better shot at earning a roster spot with the team in 2012. It might be Manning, even if the Seahawks are relative long shots for his services. Brock failed to provide the pass-rush push Seattle needed opposite Chris Clemons. Linebacker is another position the Seahawks need to address, whether or not Hawthorne and Hill return.

What to expect: The Seahawks have roughly $30 million in cap space, according to Clayton, and will make every effort to land Manning. They feel they've got a shot as long as they can persuade him to get on a plane and check out what they have to offer in terms of the roster, coaching, facilities, ownership and more. If Manning goes elsewhere, I would expect the Seahawks to consider Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. Securing him at a price lower than what Arizona paid for Kolb would be the goal. As badly as the Seahawks want to upgrade the position, they have said they will not panic. Overpaying for Flynn could represent panic in their eyes. On the pass-rush front, I'm increasingly skeptical the team will shell out for Mario Williams. The price could be too high for a player Houston has decided to let hit the market. Re-signing Bryant is a priority, but using the franchise tag for him was never an option given the $10.6 million price. A deal slightly north of the one teammate Brandon Mebane signed seems likelier if Bryant returns.
The Seattle Seahawks' top priorities in free agency appear clear, at least when it comes to their own players.

Re-sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant.

Lynch's agent of record, Mike Sullivan, recently took a job with the Denver Broncos. That would not affect negotiations as much if Lynch remained with Octagon Worldwide. The agent game can be an unpredictable one, however. That is something to file away.

Bryant has said he strongly wants to re-sign with Seattle.

The charts below expand upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added offensive and defensive snap counts from ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows what players earned per year on their most recent contracts.

The second chart shows restricted free agents. Teams can retain rights to RFAs by making one-year qualifying offers.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Brock Huard, Mike Salk and I offered thoughts on Peyton Manning, the Super Bowl and the Seattle Seahawks' free agents during our discussion Thursday.

I was taking part in a chat and trying to track down Kurt Warner at the same time, but hopefully that wasn't too obvious. The audio has been discounted from free to freer.

Not having the Seahawks' list of free agents handy slowed my response at one point. Upon looking at the list, I would loosely prioritize the top 10 this way: Marshawn Lynch, Red Bryant, Breno Giacomini, Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne, Michael Robinson, John Carlson, Paul McQuistan, Heath Farwell and Raheem Brock.

Those are not necessarily the 10 best Seattle players headed for free agency. Justin Forsett would be on such a list. But with the Seahawks likely adding a bigger back to provide depth behind Lynch, Forsett could be the odd man out.

The Seahawks will presumably seek a younger replacement for Brock. Carlson might search for an opportunity elsewhere after the team signed Zach Miller to a long-term contract. Hawthorne would rank higher if healthy.

2011 All-NFC West Specialists

January, 5, 2012
A look at my all-NFC West picks for the 2011 season, concluding with the special teams:
  • This might go down as the most memorable NFC West season on special teams since divisional realignment. Records fell and players made dynamic, game-changing plays from beginning to end. The San Francisco 49ers led the NFL in field position. They succeeded on a fake field goal and a surprise onside kick. Only a replay challenge could stop the 49ers from executing another fake field goal.
  • The 49ers' Andy Lee was an easy choice at punter. He set an NFL record since at least 1976 for net average, according to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information. Simon named Lee his punter of the year -- yes, he tracks such things -- and pointed out a few superlatives. Lee posted a 59.6-yard average in Week 1, third-best in league history. One of his final punts, a 64-yarder at St. Louis, was downed at the 1. Lee led the league in gross and net punting. Lee finished first when Simon tested formulas weighting various averages with inside-the-20 percentages, fair catches and touchbacks, plus punts returned for touchdowns.
  • Lee's teammate, David Akers, was an easy choice at kicker. Akers set a league record for most field goals made in a season (44) and most kicking points (166). He was special-teams player of the month for December after scoring a league-high 58 points. Akers even threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal in Week 17. His point total broke Jerry Rice's single-season franchise scoring record.
  • Arizona's Patrick Peterson beat out the 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. as the return specialist, although I should probably break out separate categories for kickoffs and punts. I decided to stick with the format we've used in past seasons. Peterson scored four touchdowns on punt returns. The Cardinals went from 27th to second in punt return average. Ginn scored twice on returns in the season opener and played a key role in the 49ers' field-position dominance. Peterson's 99-yard return touchdown against St. Louis in overtime was the second-longest in league history.
  • Seattle's Red Bryant and Arizona's Calais Campbell deserve mention for blocking field-goal tries (Peterson blocked two). Bryant blocked two field-goal attempts and an extra-point attempt at Cleveland. Campbell blocked three field-goal tries for the Cardinals, including a critical one against St. Louis.
  • Several special-teams coverage players drew my attention. Seattle's Heath Farwell led the NFL in special-teams tackles (counting assists) despite playing only 11 games. He blocked a 49ers punt in Week 16, helping Seattle take a 17-16 lead in the final minutes. The 49ers' Blake Costanzo and C.J. Spillman made plays, as did the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling and O'Brien Schofield. I went with Farwell and Spillman. We could not go wrong with any of these guys. They all deserve recognition.
  • I don't have a category for a long-snapper, but if I did, it would be named after the 49ers' Brian Jennings. He is one of the best ever, according to guys I know who can tell the difference between a good snapper and a great one.

The chart breaks down all-division choices from 2008 -10, plus this season.

Another week, another special NFC honor

December, 28, 2011
Add David Akers' name to the list of special-teams players of the week from the NFC West.

The NFL honored Akers with the NFC award this week after the San Francisco 49ers kicker made four field goals against Seattle, including the game winner, while setting a league record for successful attempts in a season.

This marks the third consecutive week an NFC West player has won the award. Akers follows 49ers punter Andy Lee and Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin in winning it. Arizona's Patrick Peterson won it two weeks prior, giving the NFC West four of the past five winners.

There have been seven NFC West special-teams winners in 16 weeks: Ted Ginn Jr., Robert Quinn, Peterson (twice), Baldwin, Lee and Akers.

It was no surprise, then, when three-fourths of the NFC's special-teams Pro Bowl choices came from the West (Lee, Akers and Peterson).

Several NFC West players not appearing in the chart made sensational special-teams plays this season.

A few stand out in my mind:
  • Seattle's Red Bryant blocked two field-goal attempts and an extra-point try. Update: Make that three blocked field-goal attempts and a blocked extra-point try.
  • Arizona's Calais Campbell has blocked three field-goal attempts.
  • Seattle's Heath Farwell blocked a punt to set up the Seahawks' go-ahead touchdown Saturday.

There have been others, including when the 49ers executed a successful fake punt against Arizona, only to learn a whistle had blown the play dead.

Silver linings: Seahawks vs. 49ers

December, 26, 2011
The facts: The Seattle Seahawks fell to 7-8 with a 19-17 home defeat to the San Francisco 49ers.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Marshawn Lynch ended two impressive 49ers streaks: 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, and 15 games without allowing a rushing touchdown. Lynch rushed for 83 of his 107 yards in the first half. San Francisco had been allowing 71 yards rushing per game.
  • Rookie receiver Ricardo Lockette sparked Seattle's opening drive to a touchdown with a 44-yard reception, the longest offensive gain for either team.
  • Rookie receiver Doug Baldwin scored on a 13-yard reception.
  • Seattle limited Frank Gore to 3.6 yards per rushing attempt.
  • Leon Washington gained 24 yards on his lone punt return.
  • The Seahawks finished with better average starting field position than the 49ers. San Francisco entered the game leading the NFL in field position.
  • Chris Clemons had three quarterback hits.
  • Special-teamer Heath Farwell blocked Andy Lee's punt deep in 49ers territory, setting up Lynch for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
  • Alan Branch and Leroy Hill each had one sack and one quarterback hit.
  • The Seahawks limited Alex Smith to 6-of-15 passing for 43 yards in the first half.
  • Seattle became the first team since Detroit on Oct. 16 to score a first-quarter touchdown against the 49ers. The Seahawks became the third team all season to score more than one red zone touchdown against the 49ers in a game.
  • Tarvaris Jackson threw no interceptions. The 49ers had thrown at least one pick in all but two games previously this season.
Looking ahead: The Seahawks finish the regular season against the Arizona Cardnials at University of Phoenix Stadium.