NFC West: Jasper Brinkley

Cards' free-agency look: Inside LB

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
Looking at which inside linebackers the Arizona Cardinals could chase may in fact be a moot point if they re-sign Karlos Dansby.

But in case they don't, the Cardinals will have a few options at inside linebacker. Internally, they could promote either Kevin Minter or Jasper Brinkley to a starting role, although I don't see the latter occurring. Arizona used their second-round pick on Minter last season and although he had just one snap at linebacker all season, he's the future inside alongside Daryl Washington. That is why Brinkley could be a cap casualty this offseason depending on what happens with Dansby.

Brinkley is scheduled to make $2 million next season while his cap number goes up to $2.2 million -- a lot on both accounts for a player who didn't play in the final five games.

So, if the Cardinals need to fill an inside linebacker position -- either starting or backup -- who could they go after when free agency starts March 11?

There's a few intriguing names, and a few who could make for solid backups.

If Arizona needed a starter, linebackers such as Minnesota's Erin Henderson, San Diego's Donald Butler, Houston's Joe Mays, Washington's Perry Riley, Indianapolis' Pat Angerer or the New York Giants' Jon Beason could be potential additions.

Henderson earned $2 million in 2013, so he'd only be considered as a starter, as would Butler, who earned $1.3 million last year. If the Cardinals want to stock their reserves, head coach Bruce Arians is familiar with Angerer from his year in Indianapolis and he may come at the right price.

Then there's a group of inside backers such as Baltimore's Daryl Smith, Houston's Darryl Sharpton and New England's Dane Fletcher who are affordable backups.

One of the most intriguing names in this year's inside linebacker crop is New England's Brandon Spikes. His tenure with the Patriots ended tumultuously with him being placed on IR as the season ended, but he's still one of the better inside backers in the league. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the sixth best inside backer in 2013, one spot below Dansby. Where Spikes excels is stuffing the run. According to PFF, he's the top-ranked ILB against the run, which would be a solid complement to Washington's speed.

But the one thing Dansby did well was he cover the pass, second best in the league according to PFF. Spikes struggled in that department, according to PFF.

Arizona has options at inside linebacker should it come down to it, and they're all within the Cardinals' price range but any decision hinges on whether they re-sign Dansby.

TEMPE, Ariz. – When it comes to the Arizona Cardinals’ problems defending tight ends, cornerback Patrick Peterson may have summed it up best.

“Tight ends been giving us hell lately,” the two-time Pro Bowler said.

Hell might be cooler than the pressure on the Cardinals to slow down Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez this week. For a defense that rebranded itself with one of the best lines in the NFL, tight ends have been its Achilles’ heel.

Of the four receivers who have caught more than 100 yards against the Cardinals, three were tight ends. There was Jared Cook from St. Louis, who had 141 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener. Then New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham got 134 yards and two touchdowns. And San Francisco’s Vernon Davis torched Arizona for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeTony Gonzalez
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals have not done well against tight ends this season. Now they get to face Tony Gonzalez.
Even the tight ends who didn’t hit 100 had productive outings. Carolina’s Greg Olsen had 79 yards and Seattle’s Zach Miller had 40 and a score.

“It’s like that every week. We’ll try to wear them down slowly but surely, hopefully by the end of the year we’ll shut them out,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said with a laugh. “There’s been some coverages, one or two busts here or there, and then schematically there’s been a miscommunication. We’re trying to figure all that out this week and come out and try to hold them down this week.”

Coming up this week isn’t just another tight end. He might be the greatest of all time.

For 17 years, Gonzalez has perplexed defenses. Teams have thrown every defense imaginable at him, and he’s worked his way through them all. Standard. Gimmick. Double-teams. Triple-teams. Two high. One high. All of it.

The latest strategy to slow Gonzalez down, Arizona cornerback Jerraud Powers saw on tape, is to place two defenders in front of him at the line of scrimmage it’s a punt. But how might the Cardinals slow Gonzalez, who’ll retire after this season second on the NFL’s all-time receptions list.

“We just have to get our hands on them,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “A couple of games that you saw, we weren’t getting our hands on the tight end. They’re not getting touched off the line of scrimmage. As great as he is and great as he has been, you have to be able to get your hands on those guys to mess the timing up for the quarterback.”

If Gonzalez gets past the Cards’ initial jam at the line of scrimmage, then it’s about communicating, Peterson said, and making sure people are in the right positions.

Still, once Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan targets Gonzalez, the Cardinals have only a few options left. One being breaking up his hands when the pass arrives, said linebacker Karlos Dansby.

“He’s going to catch the ball,” Dansby said. “If it’s anywhere close to him, he’s going to catch it. You’ll see him make one-hand catches. The guy’s a Hall of Famer. So you just got to study as much film as you can to try to eliminate some of his passes.”

Everyone seems to have a word to describe Gonzalez. Brinkley used "crafty." Dansby used "savvy." Even Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had one: "best."

“Probably the best of all time,” Arians said. “It’s fun to go against the best when you coached or played and say, ‘I played against this guy or coached against this guy.’ Tony Gonzalez is that guy. He’s as good as it gets. He has all the tricks to the trade. He’s still athletic but he knows how to get himself open, especially down in the red zone.”

If the Cardinals trust one another, Peterson said, or play with better technique, according to Dansby, they could slow down the best tight end better than they’ve stopped other tight ends this season.

Well, that and one more thing.

“Now that we have the best covering linebacker in the game in Daryl [Washington],” Peterson said, “I believe we’ll have a fair opportunity to match up pretty well.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is questionable for Sunday's game at San Francisco with a hamstring injury, head coach Bruce Arians said Friday.

Larry Fitzgerald
Arians said it's the same left hamstring Fitzgerald tweaked Sept. 11, but the injury is in a different spot.

"We'll wait and see by game time," Arians said.

Fitzgerald was limited Wednesday and Thursday but practiced in full Friday. After seeing how the hamstring hampered him during the Lions game, Fitzgerald will be cautious Sunday.

This is just the latest setback for Fitzgerald, who has 24 receptions. That's fewest through the first five games of a season since 2004, his rookie year, when he had 22, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Fitzgerald hasn't lived him to his Hall of Fame standards in his last 21 games. He has just two games with at least 100 receiving yards during that span and has a total of 1,086 yards, far less than the 1,411 yards he had in 2011.

Other injury news"

Rookie LB Kenny Demens (hamstring) was also listed as questionable.

Listed as probable were LB John Abraham (shoulder), LB Jasper Brinkley (groin), G Daryn Colledge (shin), DT Darnell Dockett (groin), S Rashad Johnson (finger), LB Kevin Minter (hamstring), DE Ronald Talley (wrist), LB Daryl Washington (knee).
TEMPE, Ariz. – Daryn Colledge's streak of consecutive games played is in jeopardy this weekend.

The Cardinals’ starting left guard was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers with a shin injury suffered last weekend.

Colledge leads all active guards with 116 consecutive games played and is second among active guards with 85 straight games started, one behind Atlanta’s Justin Blalock. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said the team will run more tests on the questionable players tomorrow.

“They look like they could all be available,” Arians said.

The other questionable players are S Rashad Johnson (finger), LB Jasper Brinkley (groin), DT Darnell Dockett (groin) and LB Kevin Minter (hamstring). DE Ronald Talley (wrist) is probable.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has joked all week that Daryl Washington’s return was like trading for a Pro Bowler.

Well, it took a trade to get Washington on the roster.

The Cardinals made their trade of tackle Levi Brown trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers official Wednesday afternoon. Brown’s vacated roster spot went to Washington, who returns from a four-game suspension.

Arizona also placed linebacker Vic So’oto (chest) on injured reserved and signed linebacker Marcus Benard. Benard played in 25 games from 2009 to 2011 with Cleveland, and spent the 2013 preseason with New England.

At practice Wednesday, linebacker Jasper Brinkley (groin), guard Daryn Colledge (shin) and safety Rashad Johnson (finger) did not participate.

“We’re going to still be iffy with [Johnson] today,” Arians said. “We’re going to take our time with that finger and make sure there’s no infection that could possibly happen.”

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (groin), linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring) and defensive end Ronald Talley (wrist) were all limited.

“They’ll be fine,” Arians said.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 4

September, 30, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 13-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Offense needs work: Arizona''s offense struggled to move the ball last season, and it seems to be carrying over into the Bruce Arians era. The offense seems to get stuck in the mud and spin its tires for most of the game until it gets a light nudge from the defense or one of its receivers. And, as much as the Cardinals have talked about fixing the problems, the same things keep happening. Arizona didn’t convert a third down in the first half and was 1-for-10 overall. Six of their 10 third downs, including the one conversion, were for 10 yards or less. The Cardinals managed just 87 yards of total offense in the first half, and they were lucky to win. Since 2001, the Cards are 20-47 when totaling less than 100 yards in either half, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There could be a simple fix, but it’s a matter of finding out exactly what’s wrong.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Larry Fitzgerald
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLarry Fitzgerald wasn't targeted in the first half but got going after the break.
Run D showed up: No wonder the defensive line wanted to know how many rushing yards it allowed right after the game. The Cardinals held Bucs running back Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries, his lowest total of the season and the lowest of his career when he has 27 or more carries. Martin is averaging 137 yards per game in the four contests in which he has 27 carries or more. According Mark Dalton, Arizona’s vice president of media relations, with information from the Elias Sports Bureau, Martin is the eighth player to have 45 or fewer yards on 25 or more carries since 1935.

Fitz needs to be fed: As Carson Palmer attempted each pass during the first half, none of which were intended for Larry Fitzgerald, the shock spread. Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted once in the first two quarters for the first time since Week 16 of 2010 against the Dallas Cowboys, when the Cardinals also squeezed out a win, 27-26, according to ESPN Stats & Information. As soon as Fitzgerald was worked into the game plan Sunday, Arizona moved the ball with ease because it put the Bucs on alert.

Injuries hurt defense: If the Cardinals weren’t decimated on defense already after New Orleans on Sept. 22, they might not want to go into the training room Monday. Arizona lost three more players to injuries, all at key positions. Linebacker Vic So'oto left the game with a possible concussion. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett left with a groin injury, as did linebacker Jasper Brinkley. This is on top of the rash of injuries suffered two weekends ago and the loss of Dan Williams for the game. So’oto’s injury could be more serious than the others, but Dockett and Brinkley have until Wednesday to rest, otherwise it’s another run through the waiver wire.

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 13, Bucs 10

September, 29, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals13-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What it means: The Cardinals are starting to look like they're in real trouble offensively. Before the fourth quarter Sunday, they went without a touchdown for six consecutive quarters because of an inability to finish deep inside opponents' territory. But there are larger issues, such as the play calling. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted once in the first half. When he finally was, the offense started moving, only to stall out thanks to two interceptions by quarterback Carson Palmer. The inability to convert on third down continued, which prevented Arizona from sustaining drives. The Cards had the ball for just 10 minutes, 23 seconds in the first half.

Stock watch: No one player on the Cardinals’ defense played well enough to warrant being singled out, and too many played poorly. Patrick Peterson saved the day for Arizona with an interception late in the fourth that allowed the Cards to tie the game, then eventually go ahead for good. The defense kept the Cards in the game despite the circumstances. They not only came in without four starters but also lost Darnell Dockett and Jasper Brinkley during the game to groin injuries.

Picked off: Two of the Cardinals’ best opportunities to score were derailed by interceptions by Palmer. And both display his continued penchant for throwing short or wide. The first was with the Cards lined up at the Bucs' 15, Palmer was a few feet short of an open Michael Floyd. On the second, Palmer went a tad wide to Fitzgerald and was picked off by Darrelle Revis. Two passes that could’ve been completed had Palmer’s accuracy been a little tighter.

Mental mishaps: Maybe the Cardinals were still stuck in vacation mode, but some of their on-the-field decisions Sunday raised a few eyebrows. Palmer was flagged for an intentional grounding because he threw a pass into the feet of an offensive lineman instead of holding it during a sack. And Dockett’s taunting and horse-collar penalties helped the Bucs’ field position.

What's next: The Cardinals return home after a 1-1 road trip to host the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. MT Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Cardinals adjusting on D, not changing

September, 27, 2013
SARASOTA, Fla. – The past week has been unchartered waters for the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff. And it’s not because their hotel in Sarasota is on a waterway.

After losing two starting outside linebackers and one backup Sunday in New Orleans, Arizona has spent the week restocking its roster, reshuffling its defensive game plan and simplifying its playbook. But an overhaul wasn’t needed.

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceJohn Abraham is expected to see more time on the edge Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said the Cardinals will stay in a 3-4 as their primary defense, despite the lack of experienced linebackers to properly execute his scheme. But throughout the game, the Cardinals will continue to go to a 4-3, Bowles added.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people outside doing the right things at the right time,” Bowles said. “Some of the guys are inside guys. They can’t play outside. It’s a good mix.”

This week, Bowles will mix up the defenses more often than in the first three games, while Arizona coach Bruce Arians just hopes his playbook can accommodate the new styles at outside linebacker.

But for this week at least, Arizona won’t try to move their inside linebackers – Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley – outside. The Cards added Vic So’oto and promoted Dontay Moch and Kenny Demens from the practice squad to fill in at outside linebacker.

John Abraham entered the league as a 3-4 linebacker with the New York Jets, Bowles said, so he’s expected to see more time on the edge this game. Matt Shaughnessy has been an outside rusher before, most recently with the Oakland Raiders, so he’ll also provide some relief for Arizona.

Next week, however, may be a different story when Daryl Washington returns from a four-game suspension. He gives the Cardinals another option, with the possibility of Brinkley or Dansby moving outside.

It’s a challenge Dansby welcomes.

“The future’s bright,” Dansby joked. “I know I’m up for the challenge. I had done it before, so if that’s my role that’s what I’ll have to play. I’m able to do it. It ain’t like it’s new to me, so I’d be cool.”

But Dansby, who was wondering who’ll move over, hasn’t been asked yet.

“It’s such a different transition to play outside backer versus inside backer,” Arians said. “I like the four guys we have right now. It’s not the end of the world.”

Arians would know. Last year, as the interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Arians watched two running backs go down on the same play. Not just in the same game, but on the same play. So three linebackers in one game? No problem for Arians.

But he didn’t try to rally the troops with the story of last season. No one wants to hear that, he said.

“You’ve got to be able to adjust in this league,” Arians said. “It’s going to throw you curveballs all the time. You got to be able to hit the curveball.”
videoGLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the highlights are replayed, the Arizona Cardinals' last stand on defense will receive all the attention.

As it should. It was a gritty series that lasted just five plays and brought back memories of last year’s final stand in the Cards’ home opener against Seattle. This year’s opener had its own defining stop. Rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu bottled up Detroit Lions receiver Nate Burleson on fourth-and-4, stopping him after three yards to give the ball back to the Cardinals.

That play clinched the first win of the Bruce Arians Era, but the Cardinals’ defense put their stamp on Sunday’s 25-21 victory as soon as they came out of halftime.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles picked up on what the Lions were doing in the first half and made the necessary adjustments for the third quarter. And like clockwork, Detroit didn’t change a thing.

The Cardinals held the Lions to 13 yards on just eight plays in the third.

“If they were incomplete on first down, they were coming back running on second and pretty much stayed true [to that] the whole game,” safety Yeremiah Bell said. “Once we got there we just kind of hunkered down and kinda knew what they were going to do from there.”

In the third quarter, the Cardinals gave up seven yards on the Lions’ first drive before Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford fumbled and defensive end Calais Campbell recovered. On the Lions’ next possession, the Cardinals forced a three-and-out without allowing a yard. Detroit’s last series of the quarter yielded just six yards in four plays.

“We came out [in the] third quarter and gave everything we got,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “The fourth quarter, we kept fighting.”

Arizona surrendered 77 yards in the fourth for a total of 90 in the second half total.

“Our defense," Arians said, "was lights out in the second half.”

Cardinals see 3 areas of improvement

September, 10, 2013
When the Cardinals took an 11-point lead in St. Louis with 1 minute, 53 seconds left in the third quarter, the Bruce Arians Era looked like it was getting off to a good start.

Then it all started to unravel.

First, the Cardinals let Rams quarterback Sam Bradford orchestrate an 80-yard drive capped by a two-point conversion. Then Arizona’s offensive line woes continued, leading to a strip-sack of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. The Rams recovered and four plays later they tied the game at 24. All it took was 7:46.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Daryl Richardson
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsDaryl Richardson and the Rams picked up 184 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
St. Louis’ game-winning field goal with 45 seconds left came after the Cardinals failed to convert two crucial third downs.

But Arians wasn’t dejected Monday morning.

“You never accept losing, but there are some very good things and some very correctable things,” he said. “I think disappointed? Yes. Discouraged? Not at all, would be the way we describe where we’re at right now.

“We wanted that win desperately. It’s a big win in the division on the road. We had it on our grasp.”

And part of the reason the Cardinals lost was that they literally let the Rams out of their grasp. Arians identified the following three areas of concern stemming from Sunday’s game.

Here’s how they impacted the Cardinals’ 27-24 loss:

“Really poor tackling”

The Cardinals’ inability to bring down the Rams wasn’t just an isolated incident that happened a time or two. It was an issue all game. Cornerback Jerraud Powers missed a tackle on Rams running back Daryl Richardson on the first drive, which led to a 15-yard gain. Arians pointed out another missed tackle on Richardson in the right flat two plays before St. Louis’ game-winning field goal.

In all, 184 of the Rams’ passing yards were after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.

Eight Cardinals missed at least one tackle in the game and they finished with 10 total, according to PFF. Powers and Jasper Brinkley had two each.

This was an issue for last year’s team, as well, which is ironic considering the amount of turnover on defense. Like Arians pointed out with almost all the concerns after the game, these are correctable mistakes.

2-minute defense

Arians said Monday the Cardinals prided themselves on being a good situational football team, but that wasn’t the case in the final 2 minutes of each half.

In the second quarter, the Rams had gone 40 yards in 3:23 when the 2-minute warning hit. Then they went another 40 yards in six plays in the last two minutes with three plays of 9 or more yards.

In the fourth, the Rams regained possession with 1:45 left at their own 20. They only went 50 yards in 1 minute to set up kicker Greg Zuerlein's 48-yard game-winner.

When the Rams were pressing, the Cardinals couldn’t respond and let medium-sized chunk plays lead to scores. The Cards gave up a total of 10 points inside the 2-minute warning Sunday. Hold the Rams to either a field goal or no points, and the Cardinals leave with a win.

Pass rush lacking

Arians was pleased with the drive Calais Campbell and Dan Williams provided up the middle, but he was less than thrilled with the edge rush from the rest of the defensive linemen.

Darnell Dockett played 58 snaps -- 25 runs and 33 passes -- and managed just one quarterback hurry, according to PFF. Just six of the Cardinals’ 17 total hurries came from the edge. Arians chalked up the underwhelming pass rush to the need for better technique and fatigue from the starters.

It was also the defensive line’s first game in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ new one-gap system, which allows the front three to attack the line instead of reacting to which way the center moves.

The line, however, did pave the way for the linebackers. Lorenzo Alexander had five quarterback hurries in 16 pass rushes, while Brinkley hit Rams quarterback Sam Bradford three times.

Number changes dot Cardinals' roster

September, 4, 2013
I wanted to pass along a few number changes since the Arizona Cardinals' roster was reduced to 53.

I mentioned safety Rashad Johnson is now No. 26 instead of No. 49. He wanted a clean start under first-year coach Bruce Arians.

“New season, new regime, new look,” Johnson said. “I just felt like if I was going to do it, this was the perfect time to do it.”

Johnson’s Twitter handle is @49foyamind49, a tribute to his former number, which he said was assigned to him as a walk-on at Alabama. Johnson became an All-SEC player and a two-time captain for the Tide.

“So 49 is always going to be something that’s in my heart and means a lot to me,” Johnson said.

Other number changes:

No. 73 – RT Eric Winston (Old: 65)
No. 56 – LB Karlos Dansby (Old: 55)
No. 55 – LB John Abraham (Old: 53)
No. 52 – LB Jasper Brinkley (Old: 54)
No. 22 – S Tony Jefferson (Old: 36)
The St. Louis Rams said they would rather sign a couple big-money free agents than several mid-priced ones.

Quality over quantity was the rationale.

That approach helps explain why the Rams rank sixth among NFL teams in contractual commitments for unrestricted free agents signed from other teams this offseason despite landing just two of them in Jake Long and Jared Cook.

Maximum potential contract value can be misleading, but in general, the more aggressive teams will commit larger total dollar values toward free agents. As the chart shows, St. Louis ranks relatively high in total dollar values despite signing fewer UFAs than any other team ranked among the top 10.'s John Clayton takes a closer look in his column Sunday. While the Rams focused their UFA resources narrowly, the Arizona Cardinals added a long list of players at relatively low cost. Clayton liked the approach from a value standpoint.

"Three winners emerged from the post-frenzy shopping market -- Arizona, Chicago and Tennessee," Clayton writes. "Based on playing time from last year, I'd give the Cardinals the slight edge from the post-March 17 market."

The chart below, updated from the version published here March 27, lists playing time and contract information for all the UFA players Arizona has signed or re-signed this offseason.

Note: I added Karlos Dansby to the chart below. Most of the additions were unrestricted free agents. Dansby was not. The Miami Dolphins released him.

The Arizona Cardinals' one-year deal with Miami Dolphins safety Jonathon Amaya appears designed to help their special teams while providing depth in the secondary.

The deal, announced by the team, brings to 11 the the total of unrestricted free agents to sign or re-sign with Arizona since the signing period opened March 12.

Amaya joins Lorenzo Alexander and Rashad Johnson as primary special-teams players from the list of 11 signings. Financial details were not yet available, but Amaya surely signed a modest deal. That has been the trend for Arizona, as the chart shows. The team has unloaded several weighty contracts while restocking the roster with lower-priced talent on shorter-term deals. The approach will provide greater flexibility in the future. It also reflects coach Bruce Arians' stated belief that Arizona could be better than advertised at several positions, including the offensive line and at quarterback.

Scouts Inc. ranked Amaya 57th out of 58 potentially available safeties Insider this offseason, noting that Amaya's contributions would come on special teams.

"He shows great effort and is an excellent open-field tackler on coverage units," Scouts Inc. wrote in part. "He appears to have limitations as a pure defender in the secondary, but brings attitude and consistency on special teams."

Amaya played for the Dolphins in 2010 when Todd Bowles was on the Miami staff. Bowles is the new defensive coordinator for the Cardinals.

The chart shows 2012 playing time on offense or defense for the 11 players Arizona has signed. Those figures are from ESPN Stats & Information. Johnson (66.2 percent), Alexander (63.7) and Amaya (52.9) also logged significant snaps on special teams.

PHOENIX -- A few NFC West notes before heading to the airport for a trip home following the NFL owners meeting, which concluded Wednesday:

Arizona Cardinals: The team is leaving open the door for signing Cleveland Browns unrestricted free-agent receiver Josh Cribbs, who is recovering from knee surgery. Cribbs visited the Cardinals this week, but he could be weeks away from passing a physical. ... The Cardinals have signed nine players at a combined charge of $12.9 million against the 2013 salary cap after clearing $13 million in space by releasing Kevin Kolb and Kerry Rhodes. The nine: Rashard Mendenhall, Jerraud Powers, Drew Stanton, Antoine Cason, Jasper Brinkley, Lorenzo Alexander, Rashad Johnson, Matt Shaughnessy and Yeremiah Bell. ... Coach Bruce Arians said he sees six quarterbacks in the 2013 draft with clear potential to stick in the NFL for the long term. Arians also said he thought the Cardinals could win regular-season and playoff games with Stanton as the starter. The team could still add to the position, of course, but Arians plans to name a starter sooner rather than later -- definitely before training camp.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams expect to add another big running back after parting with Steven Jackson. Coach Jeff Fisher wants second-year back Daryl Richardson to get more touches, especially as a receiver. He also expects more from 2012 second-round pick Isaiah Pead. ... Fisher said he goes strictly by feel with no regard for advanced stats when making in-game decisions such as when to go for it on fourth down. ... The Rams will look to re-sign veteran safety Quintin Mikell, who was released with salary-cap savings in mind. The team's other starting safety from last season, Craig Dahl, signed with San Francisco last week. ... Fisher sees receiver Chris Givens as more than a deep threat, noting that one of Givens' five receptions covering 50-plus yards came on a slant route. ... Fisher, unlike Pittsburgh Steelers counterpart Mike Tomlin, thinks the read-option will be around for a while.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh gushed over receiver Ricardo Lockette, a physically gifted prospect signed last season after stints on Seattle's practice squad and 53-man roster. "There is something special there -- I can feel it," Harbaugh said. Lockette had 44- and 61-yard receptions for Seattle late in the 2011 season. ... Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers' undisputed starting quarterback, but Harbaugh would like to make the position more competitive after Alex Smith's departure by trade. Harbaugh said the quarterback position is "no sacred cow" in terms of being immune from competition. ... Harbaugh and his brother, John, spent Sunday afternoon playing in the hotel pool like a couple of kids. "Did you see us breaking all the rules on the slide?" John Harbaugh asked. "It was a race down the slide. Two guys diving at the same time and racing down the slide. The only time we didn't go down [the slides] together was when we had two kids stacked on us."

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks think former Cardinals receiver Stephen Williams could have a bright future. ... Defensive end Cliff Avril's addition could affect the Seahawks' needs at linebacker. Coach Pete Carroll compared Avril in body type to Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, two players Carroll coached at USC. He said Avril could play strongside linebacker at times. That arrangement could work because K.J. Wright has the flexibility to play weakside LB, something Wright already does in the nickel defense. Those roles will sort out through training camp. ... Carroll said he "reached out" to Richard Sherman after the cornerback's contentious exchange with Skip Bayless on ESPN's "First Take." Carroll said they discussed humility and said Sherman is "working on ways to express himself." Carroll supported Sherman and said the team has no concerns with the All-Pro corner. I'll revisit that one separately.
NFC West teams have signed, re-signed or acquired 18 players since the NFL's free-agent signing period opened not quite one week ago.

The division has favored adding relatively young players.

The 18 players average not quite 28 years old, a figure inflated by the additions of 35-year-old safety Yeremiah Bell (Arizona Cardinals) and 32-year-old receiver Anquan Boldin (San Francisco 49ers).

Sixteen of the 18 are not yet 30 years old. Fourteen of the 18 are not yet 28. The median age for the full group is 27.5.

The chart ranks these 18 players by age and team. I've listed the ages to the tenth of a year to differentiate players recently having birthdays from those about to have them.

Five of the 18 players are reportedly earning more than $5 million per season. Of those, Boldin is the only older player. Jake Long (28 in May), Cliff Avril (27 in April), Jared Cook (26 in April) and Percy Harvin (25 in May) were the other higher-paid additions to this point in the signing period.

By definition, unrestricted free agents have played at least four NFL seasons. Most will be close to 26 or 27 years old when hitting the market for the first time.