NFC West: Joey Clinkscales

Aaron Levine's report about the Seattle Seahawks hoping to bring a Super Bowl to the Northwest sent me back through notes to a 2002 interview with team owner Paul Allen.

The Seahawks were about to open their new stadium at the time, so it was natural to ask Allen whether the organization could bring a Super Bowl to Seattle.

"It is certainly do-able," Allen said at the time. "The league, there hasn’t been one in a northern city for some time. There is some talk of New York and Washington. Certainly, our hat is in the ring if they decide to look beyond cities like that."

The recent positive Super Bowl experience in Indianapolis would seem to help.

"I think probably it will be in another Northern city first," Allen said during that 2002 interview, "and if it’s a positive experience, hopefully some momentum will build."

CenturyLink Field is an open-air facility, however, and that could be a problem. The NFL sent the Super Bowl to Indianapolis knowing Lucas Oil Stadium would shield fans and players from inclement weather. Indianapolis is also a major-league destination for conventions. Skywalks connect downtown hotels.

Steve Rudman of Sports Press Northwest looks at Shaun Alexander's Hall of Fame credentials following Cortez Kennedy's induction. He compares Alexander's production to that for Curtis Martin, something I'll break out later on the blog.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com breaks out pertinent NFL dates and makes this notation about the Cardinals regarding free agency: "The Cards have four restricted free agents (guys who could leave, but the Cards, if they tender an offer, have right of first refusal): running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, linebacker Reggie Walker, safety Rashad Johnson and cornerback Greg Toler." Note: Re-signing unrestricted free agent Calais Campbell has to be the top priority as far as addressing players already on the roster.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' search for a general manager. The 49ers' Tom Gamble is next up, with Minnesota's George Paton up for a second interview. Thomas: "Gamble will be the ninth candidate to interview for the job. The others: Paton; Joey Clinkscales, vice president of college for the New York Jets; Lake Dawson, vice president of player personnel for Tennessee; Brian Gaine, director of player personnel for Miami; Ryan Grigson, director of player personnel for Philadelphia; Ron Hill, vice president of football operations for the NFL; Steve Keim, director of player personnel for Arizona; and Les Snead, director of player personnel for Atlanta. Grigson has since been hired as general manager by Indianapolis."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams have signed an offensive lineman from the CFL.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com takes a look at how the 49ers' receivers performed in 2011. On Josh Morgan: "Morgan's rehab is ahead of schedule, and he should be able to participate in the entire offseason program. He is scheduled to be a free agent, and it would seem to make sense for the sides to agree on a contract for next season. In five games, Morgan caught 15 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco 49ers looks at which draft choices the 49ers hold for 2012.

Around the NFC West: Pricing out fans

January, 31, 2012
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The New York Giants drew favorable publicity during the lockout when they extended deadlines for renewing season tickets.

But in a twist reflecting the NFL's economic realities, the move actually put the team in a favorable position. Fans taking advantage of the extended deadline authorized the team to charge their credit cards when the lockout ended. The Giants had already collected large sums through one-time fees for seat licenses, so if any fan walked away from those licenses, the team could double up by selling new licenses to fans on waiting lists, creating even more revenue opportunities.

All of this comes to mind as the San Francisco 49ers sell tickets for their future stadium in Santa Clara.

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News says seat-license fees are leading some longtime fans to give up tickets their families have held for generations. Rosenberg: "This month, the team assigned current holders of some of its best season tickets 9,000 much costlier club seats in the new stadium -- and if they don't buy them by March 16, they lose the seats that in many cases have been in their families for generations. Buddies with four primo seats would need to pay a total of $145,000 to $190,000 to buy new club seats and season tickets over the first five seasons in Santa Clara. Their current seats at Candlestick would cost about $25,800 for a half-decade based on next season's ticket prices." Noted: Giants fans experienced the same choices when their team opened its new stadium. Several of them tailgating before their Week 2 game against the St. Louis Rams said the experience had negatively affected their relationship with the team.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks at free-agent receiver options for the 49ers while lauding Michael Crabtree. Maiocco: "Crabtree, who is signed through 2014, figures prominently in the 49ers' future -- and for good reason. In a passing offense that ranked 29th in the NFL at just 183.1 yards per game, Crabtree was 28th in the NFL among wideouts with a career-high 874 yards receiving. And he also scored major bonus points with the coaching staff for his determination and effectiveness as a blocker in the 49ers' offense." Noted: Crabtree's blocking was indeed fantastic. At one point, Crabtree resisted praise for that area of his game. Receivers known primarily for their blocking must not be producing all that much as receivers, the thinking goes. But Crabtree did make some important catches. I just haven't seen much evidence of progress in the on-field relationship/trust between Crabtree and quarterback Alex Smith. That's one area to monitor through the offseason.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee revisits Frank Gore's season. Barrows: "When Gore had the ball in his hands, he seemed to fine. But he often removed himself from games at the end of the season and in the playoffs. During a critical fourth-quarter drive against the Giants in which the 49ers ground attack appeared to be gaining the advantage against the New York defense, it was third-string runner Anthony Dixon who entered the game. He was tripped up on a potentially big run on 2nd and 4, and ended up gaining three yards. On third and 1, he was stopped for no gain."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' search for a general manager. Joey Clinkscales and George Paton are under consideration. Thomas: "Arizona director of player personnel Steve Keim was scheduled to interview over the weekend, but his interview has been pushed back to this week. Contrary to recent reports, Houston Texans scout Mike Ackerley -- formerly with the Tennessee Titans -- is not a candidate for the Rams' GM job. Neither is another former member of the Tennessee scouting department -- Rich Snead. If Snead joins the Rams, it would be as a scout." Noted: The focus to this point has been on filling out the coaching staff. The team is looking for a GM to fit with coach Jeff Fisher, not to overhaul the team to the GM's liking. That makes the GM hiring anticlimactic, particularly after Fisher's hiring carried so much drama. There's a high likelihood the next GM will fit well because Fisher will be part of the hiring process. The tougher part is finding a GM with the right abilities from a personnel evaluation standpoint. More here.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times updates plans to tweak the Seahawks' uniforms. O'Neil: "A little birdie gave out a few hints the helmets will be darker, and there will be some feather trim. The helmets are not expected to go back to being silver."

Also from O'Neil: thoughts on Deion Branch's return to the Super Bowl.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com outlines the case for Cortez Kennedy as a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Former coach Dennis Erickson: "Cortez might’ve been as dominant a defensive tackle that's ever played. He was dominant when I had him in Seattle in the four years I was there, and he was dominant before I got there. I don’t know if you can see a defensive tackle who dominated a game like he did when he was with the Seahawks. … You knew he was going to make it in the Hall of Fame. Like I said, that position, to be dominant like he was just doesn’t happen very often. He was just dominant every time he played. There were never ups and downs with Cortez. What you saw is what you got, every week."

Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona asks whether Kevin Kolb's concussion issues make him susceptible to suffering more of them in the future. A neurosurgeon he quotes put it this way: "There is substantial evidence that if someone is concussed, they have a higher likelihood of being concussed again. We don't know whether they are made more susceptible through their injuries or whether they're genetically predisposed to concussions because of the way their head is structured or the cushion around their brain, but the evidence is certainly there." Noted: Kolb suffered a concussion when opening the 2010 season as the Philadelphia Eagles' starter. He suffered another one early during a home game against San Francisco this season.

Around the NFC West: Rams' clock ticks

January, 27, 2012
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The Rams moved to St. Louis for the 1995 season. Their future beyond 2014 is coming into focus as local authorities draft plans to possibly upgrade the Edward Jones Dome.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission is scheduled to make a proposal Wednesday of next week. Burwell quotes Webster University sports economist and Forbes columnist Patrick Rishe on the approach owner Stan Kroenke has taken: "All these things are creating doubt and a little fear. From a pure business perspective, I'd say this is good business for him to play his cards the way he's playing his cards. I'd say 'job well done.' Someone asked me the other day if he had a moral obligation to St. Louis football fans. I said absolutely not. His moral obligation is to do what is best for the best financial return of the owners. And if I was him, I can't say I wouldn't be doing the same things he's doing."

Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com says Kroenke's bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers, if successful, could foreshadow a Rams move to Los Angeles in accordance with cross-ownership rules, instantly rekindling an in-state rivalry for the 49ers. Ratto: "The NFL prohibits owners of a team in one city from owning a team in another city in another league. For instance, and as an example with momentary historical validity, Jed York could not run the 49ers and the Pittsburgh Penguins." Noted: Cross-ownership rules can be a bit confusing. In this case, Kroenke could own the Dodgers without moving the Rams because there is no NFL team in Los Angeles. Cross-ownership rules would prevent Kroenke from owning a non-NFL team in a market that already has the NFL. This explains how Seattle's Paul Allen owns the Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers. There is no NFL team in Portland.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com sizes up quarterback options for the 49ers. Peyton Manning's name is mentioned.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at the 49ers' situation at wide receiver.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have a scaled-down presence at the Senior Bowl because their coaching staff and personnel department remain in flux, and there is no general manager. Thomas: "The GM interview process resumes this weekend when Arizona director of player personnel Steve Keim visits the Rams. The interview may not take place Saturday as originally reported; it may be Sunday. New York Jets vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales; Miami director of player personnel Brian Gaine; and Indianapolis director of player personnel Tom Telesco could be interviewed next week."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Earl Thomas' selection to the Pro Bowl as an NFC starter was especially gratifying because Thomas picked off only two passes this past season. Thomas: "A lot of people just look at stats, stats, stats, and they really don’t look at the big picture of what a player is doing. So it just feels good to get recognized for doing some of the dirty work. I’m just excited to be here, and hopefully I can keep coming back."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times calls Peyton Manning-to-Seattle a long shot.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Greg Shiano's hiring as head coach in Tampa Bay could affect the Cardinals' staff. Somers: "Cardinals receivers coach John McNulty coached under Schiano at Rutgers from 2004-2008, and the two are friends. McNulty started at Rutgers as receivers coach and eventually became offensive coordinator. Schiano is expected to try and hire McNulty in Tampa Bay. The Cardinals can prevent that from happening because McNulty is under contract. The Cardinals can deny permission for him to interview, even for a coordinator's position."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com compares Arizona's defensive stats from the first half of the season to the second. The Cardinals ranked among the NFL's top three in third-down defense, red zone defense, touchdowns allowed, sacks and yards per pass attempt from Weeks 9-17. Urban: "Over the final nine games, 64 percent of the drives by Cards’ opponents (76 of 118) were five plays or less and 59 percent (70) covered 25 yards or less. Of the 12 touchdowns the Cards allowed, four came on drives that began on the Cards’ side of the 50-yard line."

Around the NFC West: Huge week ahead

January, 16, 2012
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This is going to be a fantastic week, probably the best for the NFC West since Arizona's Super Bowl appearance three years ago.

It could get a whole lot better with a San Francisco 49ers victory over the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

Fans for other teams in the division will have a hard time pulling for a despised rival, of course. But if you think criticism of the division has too often overlooked NFC West postseason successes, another 49ers victory could provide additional relief.

A 49ers victory over the Giants would give all four current NFC West teams one Super Bowl appearance since February 2002, right before the league realigned into eight four-team divisions. The NFC South is the only other division with more than two during that time (Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans).

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News thinks the 49ers would have had an easier time against Green Bay than against the Giants. Kawakami: "I think Eli Manning is a very scary playoff QB -- when he’s throwing it well (like now), and has confidence in his receivers (like now), he is very tough to beat. The Giants are red-hot right now and they showed in 2007 that when they get red-hot, they’re nearly impossible to beat. It seems odd to say this, but I think Manning is a tougher out in the playoffs than either Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. Can’t exactly say why I think this, but I do." Noted: Manning's arm and size allow him to make throws other quarterbacks cannot make. I would expect the 49ers' defensive front to get much more pressure than Green Bay mounted, however.

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers should be happy to play at home, but not necessarily against the Giants. Purdy: "This is going to be a fascinating reboot, with lots of coaching brain power involved. The Giants have the NFL's oldest coach, Tom Coughlin, who is known for the right calls at the right times. The 49ers have rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has made almost no wrong moves over the past three months." Noted: The 49ers fooled the Giants with an onside kick when the teams played in Week 10. They caught the Giants' front line retreating a little too quickly.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat expects the Giants to double-cover Vernon Davis, load up against the run and find out whether the 49ers' wide receivers can do enough for San Francisco to win. Cohn: "Here’s some good news for the offense. Delanie Walker wrote on Twitter that he worked out Sunday and he’s ready to play next weekend. Alex Smith needs a secondary receiver to complement Davis and Walker can be that guy. Last time the Niners played the Giants, Walker led all Niners with six receptions for 69 yards."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com updates the 49ers' injury situation. Maiocco: "Ray McDonald was noticeably limping throughout the game with a right hamstring strain, which he sustained in the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams. Earlier this season, McDonald missed a game with a left hamstring strain. McDonald, who typically plays every down, played just 44 of the 49ers' 80 defensive snaps. Backup lineman Ricky Jean Francois played 36 snaps. However, McDonald was on the field for the 49ers' final 12 defensive plays of the game."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses what Jeff Fisher's hiring means for the Rams under owner Stan Kroenke. Miklasz: "Kroenke is financially committed. Kroenke edged out another billionaire, Miami owner Steve Ross, in the tense competition for Fisher. When Fisher's contract is finalized, he'll be among the NFL's highest-paid coaches with an annual salary that should average at least $7 million. Fisher was also granted a generous budget for hiring assistant coaches. Kroenke undoubtedly agreed to bankroll other football-related hires made by Fisher. Kroenke is doing more than paying a head coach; he's funding a new football operation. That's a major investment."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates where the Rams stand after hiring Fisher. On the general manager search: "Dawson may look like the front-runner because he has worked with Fisher in Tennessee. But he has less experience than most on the Rams' candidate list, including another Tennessee personnel department exec, Ruston Webster. The Rams have yet to interview Webster, although they have received permission to do so from Tennessee. The same holds true for Steve Keim of Arizona, Joey Clinkscales of the New York Jets, Brian Gaine of Miami and Tom Telesco of Indianapolis."

Also from Thomas: Brian Schottenheimer is among the candidates to become offensive coordinator for the Rams. Noted: I'll have more on this one later Monday morning.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls Rams players for thoughts on Fisher. One theme: That Fisher's background as a player helps him understand the physical demands of the game.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic updates the Todd Haley situation in relation to the Cardinals. He also serves up a couple other coaching-related tidbits. Somers: "As far as I know, line coach Russ Grimm and tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens have not re-signed with the Cardinals. They have been offered contracts. Grimm worked with Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey in Pittsburgh, so maybe Jacksonville is a possible landing spot for him. But will the Jags be willing to spent the $1.5 million or so to hire Grimm? That's what he makes in Arizona. With Kitchens, word is Rams coach Jeff Fisher thinks Kitchens is an excellent coach. Kitchens name has also been tied to openings at Alabama, his alma mater." Noted: The potential for Grimm's departure would have been big news in Arizona a couple years ago. Does it still have that feel?

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Cardinals running back Ryan Williams, who is rehabilitating from the knee injury he suffered as a rookie during the 2011 preseason. Williams: "No injury is going to stop me, unless one of my legs is (cut) off somewhere and I only have one leg. I am too self-motivated to be the best player I can be. I want my career to last 10 to 14 years. Ten is the least for me. I won't stop. I want my career to be here … but if something happens where it isn’t, all 31 other teams will have to stand in front of me and tell me no for me not to be a football player and even then, I’d probably have to hear it again. That’s how much football means to me."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle passes along thoughts from former Seahawks quarterback Jon Kitna, who is entering into retirement. Sounds like Kitna will do some coaching at the high school level in the Tacoma area. Kitna: "Football was great, but as you get to the end of your career you kind of realize that it's more than just football. It's relationships that you form and things like that. So I consider myself awfully, awfully blessed to have played 16 years in this league. ... There's a lot of things that, for me, I'm excited about doing after football, and that would be teaching and coaching and pouring into the lives of inner-city kids here in Tacoma. So I'm definitely looking forward to that. ... I'm really excited about the next phase of life for me and my family."

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