NFC West: Jerome Simpson

Let’s look deeper into the San Francisco 49ers’ interest in free-agent receivers Julian Edelman of New England and Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants.

Odds of landing them: There is competition. The Patriots want Edelman back and Cleveland has been connected to him as well. Nicks is visiting Indianapolis on Friday. Carolina is also interested. The 49ers don’t have a ton of salary-cap room, so they have to get creative in a deal with either player.

Nicks
Edelman
Who else is out there if Edelman and Nicks don’t end up with 49ers: The top available receivers include Steve Smith, James Jones, Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerome Simpson.

Who is the best fit? Probably Nicks because he is an outside receiver. Landing him on a short-term deal to see if he can become a top-notch player again could be smart. Don’t get me wrong; Edelman is good as well. You don’t catch 105 balls in a season if you’re not talented. But Anquan Boldin is essentially a slot guy as well. Still, I’m sure the 49ers could find ways to make it work.

How Crabtree, Boldin and the draft figure: Crabtree is a free agent next year and Boldin is 33. So, even if the 49ers sign Edelman or Nicks, I can still see them taking a receiver early in the draft.

Kaepernick factor: I’m sure quarterback Colin Kaepernick is paying attention. This passing offense could be nasty with Boldin, Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis and Nicks or Edelman. It would open it up. It could also behoove Kaepernick to wait to get his contract done until next year. He could put up big numbers with another top weapon.

Should Seattle worry? Yes. The 49ers must get better on offense to beat Seattle. That was the reason why the 49ers couldn’t overtake Seattle in 2013. A big-time offensive weapon could even the playing field.

Scout's thoughts: “I was a little surprised to be honest, especially after the re-signing of Boldin. Quinton Patton also shows some promise, but this would be a heck of a receiver corps if is Patton is your No. 4. I would think if they were in the market for WR though, that they would be looking for a pure speed guy, which isn't Nicks or Edelman.” -- ESPN analyst Matt Williamson
The San Francisco 49ers likely aren’t going to spend much more money in free agency, but I would not be surprised if they consider adding a veteran receiver to help with their depth.

While the 49ers will surely address the position early in the draft, there has been enough whispers around the league to suggest they are not averse to bringing in a receiver earlier.

Golden Tate told a Seattle radio station, after he signed with Detroit, that the 49ers showed interest. It is doubtful they were willing to pay big dollars, though. Tate reportedly received $31 million over five years from the Lions.

The 49ers also had some interest in Dexter McCluster before he signed with the Titans and there has been some interest in Minnesota’s Jerome Simpson.

There could be some decent receivers available over the next several days. Among the top receivers who could potentially be signed at a reasonable price include Hakeem Nicks, James Jones, Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice and Emmanuel Sanders. Then there’s the possibility Steve Smith could soon be free.

Again, the 49ers may not be big free-agent players at a position they will address in the draft, but they have been looking. And if the price is right, there could possibly be a connection.
As the San Francisco 49ers prepare for free agency, outside free agents are not necessarily on the team’s priority list.

Simpson
However, if the 49ers look for a free-agent receiver, one name that could make sense is Minnesota’s Jerome Simpson.

He fits what the 49ers are looking for in a receiver. He can stretch the field, a quality high on the 49ers' wish list. Plus, Simpson is known as a strong run-blocker. Since this is a run-first offense, the team demands their receivers to be strong blockers.

Simpson, 28, had 48 catches for 726 yards and one touchdown for the Vikings in 2013. Simpson, who has had some off-field issues, could be a good No. 3 receiving option in the 49ers' scheme.

There have been other veteran receivers, such as Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders, who have been connected to the 49ers as potential fits. However, it is no sure thing the 49ers pursue a receiver in free agency. Their top free-agent priority is re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin and they have made positive steps to accomplishing that. Also, the 49ers will likely draft a receiver in one of the early rounds.

However, if Boldin doesn’t re-sign or if the secondary-receiver market is soft and a player like Simpson comes cheaply, the 49ers could potentially show interest.
The NFL took a break from dominating the sports news cycle over the weekend.

The silence will not last long.

Bounty-related punishments for current and former New Orleans Saints players await. The NFL will address recent bounty-related appeals from Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis. Teams will continue filling out their rosters with second-tier free agents. The league will also release its 2012 regular-season schedule in the next week or so.

In the meantime, we take a quick look around the division on a Monday morning.

Peter Delevett of the San Jose Mercury News says San Francisco 49ers players spent part of their weekend participating in the search for missing Bay Area teenager Sierra LaMar. Delevett: "The search effort is being aided by thousands of volunteers; by the families of other Bay Area youngsters who have been kidnapped and killed, including those of Polly Klaas and Xiana Fairchild; and by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. On Saturday, Smith and teammates Joe Staley, Delanie Walker and Scott Tolzien were among about 500 people combing southern Santa Clara County for signs of Sierra. The NFL stars made it clear they did not welcome the media attention, but Sierra's sister, Danielle, was grateful for the celebrity support. 'When those kinds of people get involved, it gives us a whole new audience,' she said."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times checks in with former Seattle Seahawks players Joe Tafoya and Kerry Carter, who have joined forces with other former teammates to operate a mobile apps company. Kelley: "Two years ago, Tafoya, now 33 and a computer-science major from Arizona, bought an 11-year-old Redmond mobile apps distributor. Now he's joined forces with like-minded former Seahawks Carter, Chike Okeafor and Omare Lowe to form Jump It Media. ... They're building profile applications for athletes to help them increase their brands through online channels. Among their subjects are Chicago Bears defensive end Lance Briggs and Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry."

Brock Huard and Mike Salk of 710ESPN Seattle discuss whether the Seahawks would be wise to move back from the 12th overall spot in the 2012 draft.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports on the wine company Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge founded with two former teammates. The label -- "Three Fat Guys" -- reflects their good humor and significant girth as offensive linemen. Somers: "It started small in 2008 and has stayed that way. The initial objective was to produce enough wine to stock the three fat guys' homes and for them to give away as presents. Only 126 or so cases are produced each year, so it's more than a novelty but less than a full-time business. ... Their greatest fear now is not that the operation will go under, but that it will grow too fast and consume too much time. The players see the humor in that, because they weren't long out of college when the idea of becoming winemakers was hatched."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers thoughts on Deuce Lutui's departure from the Cardinals to the Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent. Urban: "The door hadn’t been closed on Lutui in Arizona, but I didn’t see him starting again here. He may not in Seattle, but he reunites with his college coach, Pete Carroll, and the Cards will get a chance to see him again."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Trevor Laws, a free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles, visited the St. Louis Rams recently. Thomas: "A second-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, Laws has been a rotation player for the Eagles, used specifically as an interior pass rusher in the nickel package. He has started only twice in 56 regular-season games, but registered a career-high 40 tackles last season, including a sack and 16 quarterback pressures. He had four sacks in 2010. Laws, 6-1, 304, is at least the fifth free agent to visit Rams Park this week, joining quarterback Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh), defensive end William Hayes (Tennessee), and wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery (Pittsburgh) and Jerome Simpson (Cincinnati). All told, the Rams have had nearly two dozen free agents in for visits, signing eight to contracts."
The list of available unrestricted free-agent receivers continues to dwindle.

The St. Louis Rams aren't going to find the playmaking help they covet on a list featuring Plaxico Burress, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Patrick Crayton, Rashied Davis, Deion Branch, Jerheme Urban, Bryant Johnson, Roy Williams, Greg Camarillo, Jerricho Cotchery, Mark Clayton, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock, David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Donnie Avery, Maurice Stovall, Andre Caldwell, Ted Ginn Jr., Steve Smith (Philly version), Jerome Simpson and Devin Thomas.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked colleagues how the Rams will address the issue. Jim Thomas: "There’s not much left at the position in free agency. The wide receiver shelves were cleaned out quickly, so barring a trade of some kind -- which seems unlikely -- the Rams are almost limited to getting help via the draft. And at No. 6 overall, there’s no guarantee that Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State will be available. So yes, the team is in a bit of a predicament at wide receiver."

Also from Thomas, regarding Mike Wallace: "He has a first-round tender. And you can only use your original first-round pick as compensation. The Rams no longer have their original first-round pick after trading down with Washington. So they can't acquire Wallace through the regular process of restricted free agency. Now, the Rams could always offer less in a sign-and-trade situation. But why would the Steelers want less than a first-rounder? They put the tender on him in an attempt to keep him." Noted: The Rams could, in theory, offer the sixth overall pick, but that would be a steep price to pay.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams should steer clear of Tim Tebow.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' search for a backup quarterback continues in the absence of attractive options.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com quotes 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh regarding Harbaugh's relationship with Alex Smith: "It's been good -- strong relationship, as always. It's a very strong relationship."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about the situation with Smith: "It's unclear if Smith agrees with Harbaugh that they are as tight as they've ever been. The team's offer did not exactly mesh with Harbaugh's statements of devotion during and after the season. While it's all but certain Smith will be the 49ers' quarterback this season, it also leaves an opening for backup Colin Kaepernick to take over before the three years are complete. Kaepernick has been a regular at the 49ers' training facility this offseason."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have ruled out Tebow, according to CEO Jed York.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Early Doucet's re-signing means the Cardinals will return their top receivers from last season. Urban: "Doucet set career-highs in 2011 with 54 receptions, 689 yards and five touchdowns in his fourth NFL season, playing in 16 games for the first time. He came up with a pair of long touchdown catches against Carolina (70 yards) and San Francisco (60 yards) and scored on a game-winning screen pass in Philadelphia."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals have little salary-cap room, and there are tradeoffs associated with gaining flexibility.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle quotes Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as saying Peyton Manning reached out to the Seahawks while figuring out which team to join. Carroll: "He had contacted me about wanting to talk about coming here. By the time we got down to where we had our chance he had already set his sights on going in the direction wound up going, with Denver."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the market for free-agent linebacker David Hawthorne. O'Neil: "Hawthorne has led Seattle in tackles each of the past three years, but right now, the market for free-agent linebackers looks to be a little softer than some expected." Noted: Looks like we're approaching that period where players reset their expectations before taking deals for less than they had hoped.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com puts together an overview of free agency from the Seahawks' perspective.
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.

2011 Cardinals Week 16: Five observations

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
2:17
PM ET
Five things I noticed about the Arizona Cardinals while watching their most recent game, a 23-16 road defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals:
  • The Adrian Wilson we know and love/hate. In putting together the recent item on the NFC West's biggest, baddest safeties, I couldn't recall as many big, violent hits from Wilson this season. He delivered one early in this game against the Bengals. Cincinnati had taken over deep in Cardinals territory following a John Skelton interception on Arizona's opening drive. Patrick Peterson had blanket coverage on A.J. Green and probably would have broken up Andy Dalton's pass, anyway. But Wilson made sure of it by blasting Green in the upper back. Wilson thrives on these hits. He got up quickly and tripped over Green while trying to stand over him. Wilson also forced a critical fourth-quarter fumble.
  • Great battle between rising young players. There was no shame in the touchdown Arizona's Daryl Washington allowed to Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham following Skelton's first interception. Washington shadowed Gresham and contested the ball aggressively. Gresham reached out his arms and made a strong play for the ball. Washington was right there. He couldn't have covered the play any more closely without breaking up the pass. This play showed the value of an accurate pass, too.
  • Posterized. Washington couldn't get a break. After coming up short against Gresham, Washington was the Cardinals defender falling victim on the wrong end of Jerome Simpson's spectacular forward flip across the goal line. Washington stands 6-foot-2. His body was straight and leaning slightly toward the pylon when Simpson went off two feet and leaped over him. Simpson's hips appeared to be roughly seven feet off the ground at their highest point. Check out the video.
  • Tough calls against the secondary. Officials flagged Peterson for interference on the drive to the Gresham touchdown. That seemed like a tough call. They flagged Arizona's Michael Adams for interference on a throw for Ryan Whalen inside the Cardinals' 5-yard line. In watching the replay, I'm pretty sure Adams never touched Whalen before the ball arrived. The Bengals got three points out of that drive and 10 overall on drives sustained by questionable interference calls. That hurt.
  • It's a wonder Fitzgerald has held up. Skelton throws high frequently enough to put his receivers in danger. Fitzgerald has not missed a game since 2007 and that streak will continue through this season, obviously. But every time Skelton throws too high for a receiver, the Cardinals are testing the odds. It happened multiple times against the Bengals, including right after Wilson forced Cedric Benson to fumble in the fourth quarter. Arizona took over and wanted to capitalize on the momentum change. Fitzgerald was open at the Cincinnati 20, but the ball was thrown high and behind him. Fitzgerald was vulnerable when leaping to make a play on the ball. The safety ran past him, fortunately. Something to keep in mind when the Cardinals face a Seattle secondary with good size and a big hitter in Kam Chancellor.

This wound up being an exciting game at the end, but more exciting than it needed to be. The three interceptions from Skelton put the Cardinals in a tough position. Cincinnati nearly picked two additional passes in the final minutes.

Thoughts on NFC West non-division games

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
6:57
PM ET
Passing along a few general thoughts after watching the most recent games from Week 3 NFC West opponents Baltimore and Cincinnati:
  • Rams' running game: The Ravens look like they're still tough against the run, but a quick-thinking quarterback can fare well against them. Tennessee's Matt Hasselbeck did just that in Week 2. Hasselbeck found receivers on short routes when pressure arrived quickly. He was very accurate on deeper passes and his receivers/tight ends made outstanding individual plays for him. The Rams' Sam Bradford hasn't fared as well against pressure. He needs to improve in that area for the Rams to win this game. He needs someone, whether it's Danario Alexander again or another teammate, to help him out down the field. The Ravens' Ray Lewis still tackles with bad intentions, but he does not move nearly as well as he did years ago. That stood out watching the Ravens against Tennessee.
  • Rams' pass-rush: The Ravens' Joe Flacco held the ball too long a few times, inviting sacks. The Rams' pass rush should be able to give Flacco problems in the noisy Edward Jones Dome. That will be easier if St. Louis improves its so-far-disappointing run defense. The Rams have struggled against the run so far, but coach Steve Spagnuolo hasn't sounded overly concerned. The Rams' personnel should let them play the run better. The Ravens' screen game is also a variable to watch. Ray Rice hurt Tennessee with a 31-yard touchdown reception off a screen.
  • 49ers' pass defense: The Bengals have a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton. They no longer have Chad Ochocinco at receiver. Still, the Bengals showed an ability to get the ball downfield in the second half against Denver last week, a concern for the 49ers. Jerome Simpson's 84-yard reception in the fourth quarter recalled the 77-yarder Dallas completed against San Francisco in overtime. Dalton is not yet as good as Romo, but he completed 27 of 41 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns and no turnovers against Denver. Dalton had second-half pass plays covering 22, 25, 26, 31 and 84 yards to Simpson and A.J. Green.

I don't always get a chance to watch games for all the upcoming non-divisional opponents, but when I do, I'll pass along a few impressions.

Enjoy your Saturday.
A couple of people thought the best questions went unaddressed during the recently completed NFC West chat (see comments at the bottom of the chat transcript).

Fire away. I'm listening.
Jeff (Cedar Rapids, IA): Good day Mike. Everyone seems fixated on the Rams drafting a WR and, honestly, I don't see it. Sure, if A.J. Green or Julio Jones falls, that makes sense but realistically that's not going to happen. Both Kiper and McShay have the Rams taking a receiver in the secnd round but logically it doesn't make much sense to me to add another No. 2 guy. Would a WR in the second round be a huge improvement over a healthy Donnie Avery, Danario Alexander or Brandon Gibson? I think that second-round pick would be so much more valuable in getting an outside linebacker, safety or guard. Just wondering your thoughts on that second-round pick. Thanks!

Mike Sando: Your take and my take line up nicely. The last 10 receivers taken in the second round were Arrelious Benn, Golden Tate, Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Avery, Devin Thomas, Jordy Nelson, James Hardy, Eddie Royal and Jerome Simpson. There have been some good ones over the years -- DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson, Anquan Boldin -- but I agree that a rookie receiver tends to make less impact. We have seen NFC West teams find good linebackers in the second round. Daryl Washington looks promising for Arizona, while Karlos Dansby worked out well as a second-rounder previously. James Laurinaitis is working out well for the Rams. Lofa Tatupu went to three Pro Bowls for Seattle.

Shane (Los Angeles, CA): Sando, if the Cards do get Von Miller, the LB corps, which was the Achilles heel of the defense last year, should be much better with O'Brien Schofield and Daryl Washington. Depth concerns aside, shouldn't the Cards' starting defense fare much better next year? Of course, having a QB that doesn't put your defense in bad positions all year long will help also!

Mike Sando: I expect improvement. Injuries to Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson were also factors. The Cardinals are optimistic on Schofield and Davis. Their optimism on young players in the past held up in a couple instances, notably with Calais Campbell after the team let Antonio Smith leave in free agency.

Corey (D.C.): Please comment on my analysis of the QB situation in the draft. It seems to me that Arizona is in a perfect situation to take a DEF player like Von Miller at #5, then sitting back and waiting for a QB like Ponder or Dalton in early rd 2 (trading up slightly if need be). Seattle needs to take a QB at #25 if they want to because they will all be gone by their 2nd pick. SF wont take a QB at #7, and surely all will be gone by their 2nd round pick. Based on this, and not to mention Tennessee, Washington, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Carolina will all have taken QBs with either their 1st or 2nd picks, it seems to me the one team left out in the cold is the 49ers. Does this make them the most likely to trade for Kolb?

Mike Sando: I like the way you have thought through things, but it all comes down to whether the 49ers would value Kolb enough to part with a high pick for him. I do not see them making that trade with their first-rounder this year, should trades for veteran players even be permissible. Would the Eagles take a high second-rounder for him? Not so sure that would make a great deal of sense for them.

Jeff (Bellevue, WA): If you take stock in what McShay and Kiper believe, it appears to be rather likely that Jake Locker will stay in Seattle. Should that happen, I would think that would be one of the best scenarios for Matt Hasselbeck because that would increase the pressure on Seattle to bring him back. They would need a smart, veteran West Coast QB to teach alongside Darrell Bevell. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: Drafting Locker would preclude the team from acquiring a Kevin Kolb and paying Kolb big money over the long term. Keeping Hasselbeck as a veteran mentor would have greater appeal. I'm just not so sure Seattle would feel that pressure to the point that it would compel the team to start guaranteeing money to Hasselbeck on a longer-term deal.

The lockout could make quarterback selection in the draft interesting for Seattle. The team wouldn't be able to communicate directly with Hasselbeck to let him know its thoughts on the position and where he would fit if he did re-sign. They could explain the situation publicly.

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