NFC West: Jerome Bettis

Three former Rams are Hall finalists

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
ST. LOUIS -- For the second consecutive year, a trio of former Rams has landed spots as modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Defensive back Aeneas Williams, running back Jerome Bettis and linebacker Kevin Greene made the list of 15, which was whittled from 25.

Williams, Bettis and Greene spent varying parts of their careers with the Rams. While none are exactly remembered in the big picture for their time with the team, all made valuable contributions to the organization at some point.

Probably the most familiar to Rams fans is Williams, who came to St. Louis via trade in 2001. He promptly moved to safety and served as a veteran leader of a defense that helped the Rams reach Super Bowl XXXVI. Williams still lives in St. Louis and is active in the community. He spent most of his career in relative anonymity in Arizona but was long regarded as one of the team's best cover corners. His time is probably coming in Canton, but this year might not be it.

Bettis spent just one season in St. Louis after his first two came with the team in Los Angeles. He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1996 and went on to become the sixth-most accomplished rusher in league history. Of this group, Bettis probably has the best chance to break through this season.

Greene never played a down for the St. Louis version of the Rams, but he played for the Los Angeles edition from 1985 to 1992. Greene also has local ties as he hails from nearby Granite City, Ill. Like Bettis, Greene is probably more renowned for his time with the Steelers. He finished with 160 sacks, which ranked third all-time at the time of his retirement. Much like Williams, Greene will probably have his day, but it might not happen right away.

The competition to make it to Canton this year figures to be difficult. First-ballot candidates such as Seattle offensive tackle Walter Jones, Indianapolis wide receiver Marvin Harrison and Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks look to have strong cases to earn a nod this year. Giants end Michael Strahan, defensive end Charles Haley, Buffalo receiver Andre Reed and guard Will Shields are among the others with a shot to get in.

This year's crop of Rams candidates will pale in comparison to what the team figures to have in the next couple of years. Receiver Isaac Bruce, tackle Orlando Pace and quarterback Kurt Warner are due for Hall of Fame eligibility for the class of 2015, followed by receiver Torry Holt in 2016.

101ESPN St. Louis audio: Miklasz Show

February, 6, 2013
Eight hours in a New Orleans Convention Center ballroom Saturday wasn't enough for Bernie Miklasz and me, so we hung out some more over the phone this week for his 101ESPN St. Louis radio show. Feel free to eavesdrop .

At issue, among other things: Pro Football Hall of Fame voting. Bernie and I were among the selectors meeting Saturday to vote on the 2013 class. We both think former Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams has a very good chance in the future.

Williams was among 10 of the 15 modern-era finalists missing the cut this time. That happens every year. It doesn't mean all 10 were unworthy. Far from it. I'd expect quite a few of them to make their way to Canton eventually.

Williams and fellow NFC West alum Charles Haley made the final 10, often an indication they're headed for enshrinement at some point. Might former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. join them? He's made the final 15 in consecutive years without advancing to the final 10, making it tough to say his candidacy has momentum at present.

Nineteen current Hall of Famers were enshrined as contributors: Bert Bell, Charles Bidwill Sr., Joe Carr, Al Davis, Jim Finks, George Halas, Lamar Hunt, Curly Lambeau, Tim Mara, Wellington Mara, George Preston Marsahll, Hugh Ray, Dan Reeves, Art Rooney, Dan Rooney, Pete Rozelle, Ed Sabol, Tex Schramm and Ralph Wilson Jr.

The 49ers had an NFL-best .633 winning percentage when DeBartolo owned the team from 1977 through 1999. That included .741 from 1981 through 1998. The 49ers won five Super Bowls during that period. They were .511 during the 10 seasons prior to DeBartolo's ownership and .425 in the 10 years after it.
Five of 15 modern-era finalists for 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement have ties to teams currently in the NFC West.

Their names are shaded in the chart below: Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Aeneas Williams, Jerome Bettis and Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

The first two men listed qualify as seniors candidates. Their enshrinement does not affect the maximum five slots available to modern-era candidates.

San Francisco 49ers great Roger Craig was among the 12 semifinalists not making the reduction to 15 this year. The others were: Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Joe Jacoby, Albert Lewis, John Lynch, Karl Mecklenburg, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Tasker and George Young.

The next round of voting begins and ends one day before the Super Bowl. I'm one of the voters and will have a tough time reducing to five on the final ballot, as usual. It's a select group that makes it in the end. Strong cases can be made for each of the four players eligible for the first time. Adding them to the list makes it tougher for some of the holdovers.

First look at Hall of Fame semifinalists

December, 1, 2012
Seven of 27 recently announced semifinalists for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame class have ties to current NFC West franchises.

The full list is available here. A few resources on the seven in question:
  • Roger Craig: The San Francisco 49ers great has lived by advice Bill Walsh gave him regarding the Hall. KGO-TV's Mike Shumann has the details in this 2010 item.
  • Eddie DeBartolo Jr.: This 1990 piece by Rick Reilly for Sports Illustrated captures the essence of the 49ers' former owner.
  • Kevin Greene: The former Los Angeles Rams and (briefly) 49ers outside linebacker has been a finalist previously. Jason Lisk's 2010 item for Pro Football Reference looked at Greene, Chris Doleman and the next man listed.
  • Charles Haley: ESPN's Jean-Jacques Taylor made the Hall case for Haley this year. Haley won Super Bowls with the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.
  • Aeneas Williams: Williams made the final 10 last year. Hall selector Kent Somers profiled the former Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams defensive back this year.
  • Larry Allen: Allen finished his career with the 49ers after spending his best years with the Cowboys. Back in 2006, Dr. Z chose Allen as the most likely offensive linemen of the era to win quick enshrinement.
  • Jerome Bettis: Bettis began his career with the Rams before spending his prime years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Our AFC North blogger, Jamison Hensley, thinks Bettis has a better shot at enshrinement this year.

I'm one of the Hall selectors and feel privileged to be one. We'll gather in New Orleans one day before the Super Bowl to narrow the list from 15 finalists to no more than five modern-era enshrinees. To simulate the process, reduce from 27 to 15. From there, cut to 10 and then five. There are always tough choices with the bar set so high.

Alexander and beyond: Considering RBs

February, 7, 2012
Statistics can vault a running back into consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They are not everything in every case, of course, but if you're the the NFL's all-time rushing leader at this point in league history, the case for consideration might not require going much deeper.

As promised, I've broken out where Shaun Alexander and other notable backs from current NFC West franchises stand in relation to 2012 finalists Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis.

Martin was one of the five players selected for enshrinement. Bettis did not make it this time; he could in the future. It's tempting to evaluate each Hall class as though it reflects a definitive assessment of which players do or do not belong in Canton. But with only five spots for 15 annual modern-era finalists, the process actually plays out over many years.

The best usually candidates get enshrined, and when they do not, they qualify for special consideration by the seniors committee.

Back to the backs. How a runner runs also counts for something. Earl Campbell, one of the most punishing runners in NFL history, earned enshrinement with stats virtually identical to those for Alexander. I was not yet a Hall selector when Campbell was enshrined, but his running style and how it affected his longevity presumably worked in his favor.

Alexander becomes eligible for consideration in 2014.

The chart ranks backs by where they rank on the all-time rushing yardage list. I've also included information for receptions and, in the final column, the number of Pro Bowls and first-team Associated Press All-Pro selections, available on Pro Football Reference. Other factors -- impact as a receiver, postseason success, etc. -- also come into play.


Programming note: Hall of Fame voting

February, 4, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Pro Football Hall of Fame voters are beginning to assemble for a day-long session to determine the 2012 class.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Cortez Kennedy, Kevin Greene, Aeneas Williams, Charles Haley, Chris Doleman and Jerome Bettis are among the 15 modern-era finalists with ties to current NFC West organizations. I will be presenting Kennedy's case to the selectors as the representative for the Seattle market.

We will discuss each candidate -- see them all here -- and then hold a series of votes. The first vote will reduce the modern-era finalists from 15 to 10. The second vote will reduce that group from 10 to five. From that group, those with an 80 percent approval rate gain selection.

The NFL Network is scheduled to announce results at 5:30 p.m. ET.

In the meantime, here are our Super Bowl predictions.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Seven NFL figures with ties to current NFC West franchises head toward Saturday as finalists for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Cortez Kennedy, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Kevin Greene, Charles Haley and Aeneas Williams spent all or much of their careers with franchises currently in the division. Jerome Bettis and Chris Doleman spent shorter stretches with current NFC West franchises.

I'll be among the 44 selectors trying to single out the five best candidates for enshrinement with the class of 2012.

710ESPN Seattle hosts Dave Grosby and Bob Stelton inquired about Kennedy's chances during our latest conversation Tuesday. That audio is here. In my view, more than five candidates deserve enshrinement in a typical year. That means worthy candidates must wait. Predicting how the voting will go becomes a futile pursuit.
The San Francisco 49ers' resurgence this season recalls the team's greatest years.

How appropriate, then, that Eddie DeBartolo Jr. has emerged as a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the first time. DeBartolo and former St. Louis/Arizona defensive back Aeneas Williams add NFC West flavor to the proceedings as first-time finalists for the Hall. I'll be among those casting votes when the selection committee gathers during Super Bowl week.

No more than five of the maximum 15 modern-era finalists can qualify for enshrinement in a given year. That makes handicapping a candidate's chances difficult. Worthy finalists miss the cut every year, in my view. They must wait their turn while other worthy finalists gain enshrinement.

Without slam-dunk candidates such as Emmitt Smith or Jerry Rice on the ballot this year, the door could open for some who have waited their turn recently. Cortez Kennedy, Charles Haley, Jerome Bettis, Chris Doleman and Kevin Greene are among the finalists with ties to franchises currently in the NFC West. Kennedy made the final 10 last year.

Also among the modern-era finalists: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin, Bill Parcells, Andre Reed, Willie Roaf and Will Shields. Jack Butler and Dick Stanfel are eligible as seniors nominees. Their enshrinement would not come at the expense of the maximum five slots for modern-era finalists.

Mailbag: Underrating the NFC West?

September, 5, 2011
Greg from Spring, Texas gets tired of hearing analysts rip the NFC West. "Is it me," he writes, "or did I not watch the Seattle Seahawks beat the defending Super Bowl champs in the playoffs last year?"

Mike Sando: Having a division winner with a losing record cannot overcome a one-game upset. The NFC South went 13-3 against the NFC West last season. I won't be surprised if the Dallas Cowboys exceed expectations this season in part because they're paired against this division. The NFC West needs to win non-division games more regularly to change perceptions.

This division should improve in 2011.

The St. Louis Rams were already improving. They should be better as Sam Bradford grows as a quarterback. Their defense appears solid again, and improved. Kevin Kolb improves the Arizona Cardinals even if he's only average. There's a good chance he'll be better than average with Larry Fitzgerald on his side.

The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have made easy targets this offseason because neither did much, if anything, to upgrade at quarterback. I think both teams have improved their rosters overall, however. And neither team was particularly strong at quarterback last season. It's unlikely either team will be significantly worse off at the position despite perceptions.

Matt Hasselbeck accomplished many admirable things during his time with the Seahawks, but almost none recently. His performance against New Orleans in the wild-card round was a fitting way for him to perform during his final home game as a Seahawk, but it wasn't consistent with his body of work since 2008 or an indicator of what was to come. His passer rating over the past three seasons was the lowest in the NFL by more than 10 points among the 19 quarterbacks with at least 35 starts during that span.

In San Francisco, Alex Smith will never live up to draft-day hopes, but it's reasonable to expect improvement from him under Jim Harbaugh. A significant regression would come as a surprise.

So, if the Seahawks and 49ers have upgraded their rosters overall while staying roughly the same at quarterback, how much worse will they be?

Clemster from Fort Worth wants to know which wide receivers will start for the St. Louis Rams, and what Danario Alexander's role will be.

Mike Sando: Brandon Gibson and Mike Sims-Walker are the starters, with Danny Amendola expected to see significant playing time. The Rams want their receivers to be largely interchangeable, which means we could see quite a few combinations.

Alexander survived the cut to 53 players, but I don't get the sense he enjoys much roster security, particularly if his knee continues to limit him periodically.

A reporter asked coach Steve Spagnuolo about Alexander on Monday. Spagnuolo tends to choose his words with care anyway, but his answer to this question was particularly conservative.

"He is one of the six receivers that we have right now," Spagnuolo said. "We all know what he has to overcome and battle every week, and he toughs it out. So, he is one of the guys right now."

Right now.

Nolan from Bakersfield, Calif., wasn't alone in hitting the NFC West mailbag with questions about Colin Kaepernick's status with the 49ers. They thought the 49ers' newest quarterback, third-string rookie Scott Tolzien, might threaten Kaepernick based on what they showed during preseason.

Mike Sando: There were reasons Kaepernick was a second-round pick and Tolzien was not drafted. Those reasons have not changed. Kaepernick is far superior physically in just about every way. If he and Tolzien both reach their potentials, Kaepernick will be the better player. The 49ers hired Harbaugh largely because they trusted his expertise with quarterbacks. Harbaugh played a leading role in selecting Kaepernick. Picking up Tolzien off waivers should have no bearing on the team's approach with Kaepernick.

Andrew from Seattle says he's hearing more Carson Palmer comeback rumors and he wants to know what are the chances Seattle might make a move for him. Andrew sees a talented group of receivers in Seattle, including tight end Zach Miller, and he thinks Palmer could help get the most from them.

Mike Sando: At no point have I heard anything to substantiate those rumors, but they are definitely there, and not just among fans. One NFL executive I spoke with during training camps said he expected the Seahawks to make a move for Palmer, one way or another, in time for the regular season.

My sense is that people outside the organization (and probably a few inside it, as well) cannot believe a team would go into a season with Tarvaris Jackson as its starter by design. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has repeatedly said this is what he plans to do. Carroll also values mobility in a quarterback. Palmer doesn't move well.

This is something we'll hear about until something happens or the trading deadlines passes. But if you're looking for real evidence that a move is likely, there is none to be found.

Casey from Phoenix asks whether Chester Taylor projects as a good compliment to Beanie Wells in Arizona.

Mike Sando: Taylor gives the Cardinals experience at the position and someone they could trust in small doses. I just see no reason to expect much from him at this stage of his career.

Age and recent production seem like reliable indicators for running backs. Taylor turns 32 this month. He averaged 2.4 yards per carry last season, the lowest single-season mark in the NFL since 1970 among players with at least 100 carries in a season.

Thirteen running backs since 2000 have rushed for at least 500 yards in a season after age 31: Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams, Warrick Dunn, Fred Taylor, Lamar Smith, Curtis Martin, Antowain Smith, Garrison Hearst, Kevin Faulk, Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis, Mike Anderson and Terry Allen. Williams, Anderson and Smith (Emmitt) are the only ones to reach 1,000 yards.

Ryan Williams' season-ending knee injury forced the Cardinals to get older at a position where youth is served. It's clearer than ever the Cardinals need a strong season from Wells. An injury to Wells or poor play from him would leave Arizona in a difficult position.

There's already enough pressure on Kolb without adding more.

Thoughts following Hall of Fame voting

February, 5, 2011
DALLAS -- Pro Football Hall of Fame voting is finished for another year.

Up next: formal announcement during an NFL Network broadcast beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

Officials from the Pro Football Hall of Fame swore selectors to secrecy after we learned which candidates emerged from two rounds of reductions.

We all know which candidates survived the cut, but we do not know which ones will receive the necessary 80 percent approval on a yes-no vote (often a formality).

Marshall Faulk, Cortez Kennedy, Charles Haley, Richard Dent, Deion Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Chris Doleman and seniors candidate Les Richter were candidates with ties to teams currently aligned in the NFC West. No more than five modern candidates and two seniors candidates can qualify for enshrinement in any one year.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- A quick look at the Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates with ties to teams currently aligned in the NFC West:
  • Marshall Faulk, running back. Faulk began his career with Indianapolis before becoming the NFL's offensive player of the year three times in a row for the St. Louis Rams beginning in 1999.
  • Cortez Kennedy, defensive tackle. Kennedy played each of his 11 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, earning eight Pro Bowl appearances and defensive player of the year honors.
  • Charles Haley, outside linebacker. Won five Super Bowl titles for San Francisco and Dallas, leading the 49ers in sacks for each of his first six seasons.
  • Deion Sanders, cornerback. Won a championship with the 49ers following the 1994 season and was one of the best cover corners in NFL history. Also an outstanding returner.
  • Jerome Bettis, running back. Bettis began his career with the Los Angeles Rams before earning most of his Hall credentials with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the Rams' leading rusher from 1993-95. Ranks fifth in all-time rushing yards with 13,662.
  • Richard Dent, defensive end. Won a championship with the 49ers following the 1994 season. Had 34.5 sacks over a two-year period with Chicago in the mid-1980s.
  • Chris Doleman, defensive end. Doleman led the NFL with 21 sacks in 1989 and was the NFC's defensive player of the year in 1992. He spent the 1996 through 1998 seasons with the 49ers.
  • Les Richter, linebacker. Richter played for the Rams from 1954-62 and went to eight consecutive Pro Bowls. Never missed a game.

I'm looking forward to participating in the discussion, presenting Kennedy's case to the other selectors and voting on the candidates that seem most deserving. Should be a fun day. Results will be announced during an NFL Network show beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with Oregon State assistant Mark Banker for thoughts on 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Banker was an assistant with the Chargers when Harbaugh was finishing his playing career with San Diego. Branch: "Banker, who served for one year as the Chargers defensive coordinator, described Stanford under Harbaugh as a smash-mouth running team with a sophisticated NFL passing attack that made effective use of its tight ends. In Banker’s estimation, the core principles of Stanford’s offense will easily transfer to the NFL and he expects the 49ers’ attack to mirror the Cardinal’s in many ways." ESPN's Brock Huard, who called Pac-10 games this past season, also emphasized the power element of Harbaugh's offense when I asked him about it last month.

Also from Branch: There might not be a quarterback worth drafting in the first round for the 49ers.

Joe Staley of the 49ers blogs about life in the offseason, with this note on the coaching staff: "One of the coaches who is still around from last season is my o-line coach, Mike Solari. I like the fact that he’s still around and I think it’s especially good for the rookies Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. Solari just has a good rapport with all of the players and he knows who we are, what we do and what we respond to. So him still being here is great."

Matt Maiocco of looks at the 49ers' running backs, noting that Frank Gore became an even bigger part of the offense in 2010. Maiocco on backup Anthony Dixon: "Dixon is a big, powerful back who needs to learn how to run like a big, powerful back. He definitely showed flashes with some very nice runs. But he also frustrated the coaching staff with too much dancing, some missed assignments and difficulty with the simple things, such as making sure he was wearing the right kind of cleats to maintain traction on slippery fields. Dixon played just 16 offensive snaps in the first 10 games before Gore's injury. Dixon finished with 237 yards rushing on 70 rushing attempts. He should continue to prove that he is capable of taking on a larger role in the offense."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers need more pass-rush pop from their outside linebackers.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says cornerback Bryant McFadden was "shocked" and a little "astonished" when the Cardinals traded him back to the Steelers. McFadden did not meet expectations with the Cardinals, but the team was not better at cornerback without him. McFadden on the two defensive systems: "Our defense is difficult but, once you get it, you feel comfortable. We just play football. There (Arizona) it was different. You see things and think, 'It may work, it may not work.' Every coach doesn't coach the same. Every person don't walk the same." Three other differences: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu.

Darren Urban of explores receiver Steve Breaston's fascination with comic books. Breaston got to hang out with Todd McFarlane, who drew for Marvel comics and created the "Venom" character associated with Spider-Man. Urban: "A huge fan of comics, including the McFarlane-create Spawn, Breaston reached out to the Tempe-based McFarlane to set up a meeting. The two did Wednesday at The McFarlane Companies offices just down the street from the Cardinals’ Tempe facility, talking for two hours. Breaston got a short rundown on how McFarlane builds and sells its SportsPicks line of athlete action figures, and then sat down in McFarlane’s office to talk comics."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune outlines the Seahawks' draft needs and checks in with analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on the available quarterbacks. Rang on Missouri's Blaine Gabbert: "He’s got a big arm. He’s got a quick release for a big guy, and that’s very rare for a big quarterback. He uses his feet well, and so it leads you to believe that he can make that transition. He reads defenses well -- he does all of those things well. He just doesn’t have the eye-popping statistics. … When it’s all said and done with Blaine Gabbert, I believe he’s going to be end up being a top 5 to top 7 pick."

Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times says Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto interviewed for a job as defensive coordinator at UCLA. This would stand as a significant step forward for Seto, who helps coach Seattle's secondary. And with a lockout potentially looming in the NFL, now isn't a bad time to consider college options, anyway.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether the Greatest Show on Turf would have been as great if Jerome Bettis had stayed with the Rams. Bernie Miklasz: "Absolutely not. It’s not even a discussion. Bettis was a power runner. A good one. But a one-dimensional runner. Faulk was the greatest all-purpose back in NFL history. He’s the best receiver/RB in league history. From 1999 through 2001, the Rams scored 500-plus points each year and Faulk had 44 percent of the team’s touches from scrimmage during that time. He had nearly 70 percent of the rushing yards. He caught more passes than Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt. He had more TD catches than Holt, and only five fewer than Bruce. I hope this slams the door shut on the question."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford's freshly cut hair is getting mixed reviews. Bradford: "My friends in Oklahoma, obviously, it doesn't matter what I do. I'm going to hear about it. All the girls back home really like it. They were excited when I told them I was cutting my hair."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says former Rams linebacker Kevin Greene would make a logical choice to address the Packers before the Super Bowl.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jerome Bettis became a Hall of Fame candidate after leaving the Rams in a regrettable trade. Thomas: "If the Marshall Faulk trade in 1999 was one of the best in St. Louis sports history, the Bettis deal three years earlier was one of the worst. And ultimately, it cost coach Rich Brooks and general manager Steve Ortmayer their jobs." Bettis averaged 3.2 and 3.5 yards per carry in his final two seasons with the Rams. He then topped 1,000 yards for six consecutive seasons with the Steelers. He finished his career with 91 rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and 13,662 rushing yards. Said Brooks at the time of the trade: "I wanted a little more speed at the position. 'Jerome is an outstanding player and the Pittsburgh scheme will suit him more than my scheme will. It is a good move for Jerome.'' The Rams felt OK trading Bettis because they had recently drafted Lawrence Phillips. Oops.

Also from Thomas: says Rams receiver Mardy Gilyard underwent wrist surgery recently. Ron Bartell, Chris Chamberlain, Chris Long and Jerome Murphy have also undergone surgical procedures this offseason.

More from Thomas: If he were running the Rams, he would inquire about Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson this offseason. I would expect the Rams to be more aggressive at times in upgrading their roster. They're in better position to take an occasional risk now that they feel better about their leadership and foundation. And they certainly need to acquire weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams can learn from the Steelers and Packers, who have drafted very well. Miklasz: "From 2002 through 2007, the Rams drafted 55 players, and only four remain with the team today: cornerback Ron Bartell, running back Steven Jackson, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and long snapper Chris Massey. And only one, Jackson, has been voted to the Pro Bowl. The Rams' list of draft-day busts is lengthy and depressing. The Rams are doing better under general manager Billy Devaney. Over the last three drafts the Rams have added important franchise pieces such as quarterback Sam Bradford, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, offensive tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith, defensive end Chris Long and cornerback Bradley Fletcher. The Rams may have another impact draftee in tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, and other young players have shown promise."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis marks the 11-year anniversary of the Rams' Super Bowl victory over Tennessee.

Matt Maiocco of sizes up the 49ers' coaching staff, noting that the team still needs a tight ends coach. Maiocco lists the following coaches as retained from Mike Singletary's staff: Tom Rathman, Mike Solari, Jim Tomsula and Bill Nayes.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are raising -- and lowering -- ticket prices for the 2011 season. Barrows: "According to the 49ers, the average cost of an NFL ticket in 2010 was $101. A 49ers ticket averaged $77 in 2010 and will rise to $83 in 2011. The team also notes that it offers a $59 lower-bowl ticket, which is one of the lowest costs in the league for that level."

Glen Creno of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals ownership has purchased a landmark restaurant where team president Michael Bidwill hung out during his days as a federal prosecutor. Creno: "Tom's has been around in various incarnations for more than 80 years, but it was put up for sale last year when its owner, Michael Ratner, could no longer spend the time he wanted running the place. He was spending most of his time in treatment for esophageal cancer and said that if a buyer couldn't be found, the restaurant would be closed."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals to accelerate efforts to land a defensive coordinator beginning Monday or Tuesday following the Super Bowl. Somers: "There appear to be at least five candidates. Even though Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau has said he won't coach anywhere else than Pittsburgh in 2011, I think Ken Whisenhunt will at least inquire. ... Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler is another prime target. But the Steelers gave him a new contract a year ago and made him 'coordinator in waiting.' The Steelers might well deny Whisenhunt permission. Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton will also draw some interest. ... The Packers run a similar defensive scheme, with the 3-4 as their base alignment. Assistant head coach Winston Moss is highly regarded and coaches the inside linebackers. Safeties coach Darren Perry worked with Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh and is well-versed in LeBeau's system. The Packers have other young assistants, namely cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, Jr., who are regarded as up and comers, but they are not believed to be under consideration by the Cardinals at this time."

Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer lists recently fired Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates as a potential candidate to replace another former Seattle coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, as the Bengals' offensive coordinator.

Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal says former Seahawks defensive line coach Dwaine Board will coach the Browns' defensive line under new coach Pat Shurmur. Board worked under Browns president Mike Holmgren in Seattle.

The week ahead: Bound for Dallas

January, 30, 2011
Super Bowl week begins in full Monday and I'll be on the scene for the 13th year in a row.

It's a great privilege to attend a usually eventful week.

NFC West teams appeared in two of the past five Super Bowls.

Marshall Faulk
AP Photo/James A. FinleyMarshall Faulk could be one of many NFC West players enshrined this year into the Hall of Fame.
I'll be chasing down NFC West storylines and contributing to our broader Super Bowl coverage during the week, but the personal highlight will have nothing to do with the big game. This marks my second season as one of 44 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I'll be presenting the case for Cortez Kennedy, who made the final 10 the previous year.

This could be a significant year for NFC West teams and the Hall of Fame.

St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk appears likely to earn enshrinement in his first year of eligibility. The same could be true for cornerback Deion Sanders, who helped the San Francisco 49ers win a Super Bowl in his only season with the team.

Kennedy, Faulk and Sanders are among seven Hall of Fame finalists with ties to teams currently residing in the NFC West. The others: running back Jerome Bettis, who played with the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams from 1993-95; defensive end Richard Dent, who spent the 1996 season with the 49ers; defensive end Chris Doleman, who was with the 49ers from 1996-98; and outside linebacker Charles Haley, who was with the 49ers from 1986-91 and again in 1999.

Identifying players worthy of the Hall of Fame is the easy part. The hard part: settling on no more than five modern candidates in a given year. Worthy candidates routinely miss the cut, something we can discuss as selection day approaches (voting takes place Saturday, with winners announced that evening).

Enjoy your Sunday. I'll check in upon landing in Dallas.

Kennedy HOF finalist; Craig left off

January, 9, 2011
Five first-time finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame pushed San Francisco 49ers great Roger Craig off the list this year.

That's a bad sign for his long-term Hall hopes because there's already a backlog of Hall-worthy players. Former St. Louis Cardinals coach Don Coryell also did not make the list of finalists this year after appearing previously.

Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Willie Roaf and Deion Sanders made the list of 17 finalists for the first time. I thought former Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams would make the list. The fact that he did not shows how high the bar for enshrinement has risen.

Seattle Seahawks great Cortez Kennedy is back on the list of 17 this year after making the final 10 last season. I hold the Hall of Fame vote for the Seattle market and will again present Kennedy's case to voters this year. I consider Kennedy to have been the most dominant all-around tackle of the 1990s. No interior defensive lineman dominated against run and pass the way Kennedy did while earning eight Pro Bowl berths from 199o to 2000 (two more than any other defensive tackle earned during that time).

Faulk's inclusion on the list of 17 hardly qualifies as news, and I mean that as a compliment. Very few players in NFL history possessed his specific combination of talents as a runner and receiver.

Bettis also played for the Rams, but he earned his Hall credentials with Pittsburgh. Chris Doleman (49ers) and Richard Dent (49ers) made the list of 17 finalists after playing most of their careers elsewhere.

Former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Charles Haley is back on the list of 17 and will again get strong consideration.

Also on the list of 17: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Hanburger, Andre Reed, Ed Sabol and Shannon Sharpe.

Settling on just five enshrinees, plus two seniors candidates, is a tough task.