NFC West: Josh Morgan

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC West team?

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Offense: Top running backs
Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams have combined for one ruptured patella tendon (Williams), one torn ACL (Mendenhall) and one shoulder surgery (Williams) during the past two seasons. Williams has played five games in two seasons. Mendenhall missed 10 games last season (one to suspension) after returning from his knee injury. So while new quarterback Carson Palmer rightly commands much of the attention heading into camp, the running backs deserve our attention as well.

Defense: Coaching change
The coaching change from Ken Whisenhunt to Bruce Arians cost the Cardinals their defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, just as the defense was gaining momentum. Arizona ranked third behind Chicago and Denver in defensive EPA last season. New coordinator Todd Bowles comes to Arizona after a difficult 2012 season with Philadelphia. Can the Cardinals sustain their recent defensive success under new leadership?

Wild card: Kitchens' health
Quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens underwent emergency heart surgery in early June after experiencing chest pain during practice. Last we heard, Kitchens was recuperating and expected to return sometime during camp, perhaps on a limited basis at first. Kitchens' health is a leading issue for the Cardinals even though the team has enough depth on its coaching staff to cover for him.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Offense: Second-year second-rounders
Two second-round picks from 2012 will help determine the Rams' trajectory on offense. Receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead each started one game as a rookie. Quick played 174 snaps and caught 11 passes, two for touchdowns. Pead played 39 snaps and had 10 carries. It's time for both to become meaningful contributors. They should have increased opportunities after St. Louis parted with veterans at their positions.

Defense: Rookie safety T.J. McDonald
The Rams will want to get McDonald up to speed quickly. They did sign veteran Matt Giordano for insurance, but McDonald, a third-round choice from USC, is the player they envision in the lineup. Coach Jeff Fisher has experience putting rookie safeties into the lineup right away. Tank Williams started all 16 games as a rookie under Fisher with Tennessee in 2002. Michael Griffin started 10 games as a rookie under Fisher with the Titans in 2007. Williams was a second-round choice. Griffin was a first-rounder.

Wild card: O-line health
The Rams are young just about everywhere except along their offensive line. That's OK as long as those veterans avoid some of the injury troubles they've suffered in recent seasons. Left tackle Jake Long has had two arm surgeries the past two seasons. Right guard Harvey Dahl is coming off a torn biceps. Center Scott Wells has had two surgeries on his right knee, plus a broken foot, in the past year and a half. Tackle Rodger Saffold has had a torn pectoral and a neck injury since late in the 2011 season. The group should be healthy going into camp. Will the good health last?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Offense: Developing wideouts
Eight wide receivers have played in games for the 49ers during two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh. The list -- Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr., Josh Morgan, Braylon Edwards and Brett Swain -- includes zero players the team drafted and developed under Harbaugh. The team will be looking to develop young wideouts A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette while Crabtree and Manningham recover from serious injuries. Jenkins and Patton were draft choices under Harbaugh. Lockette was signed last season.

Defense: Roles on the D-line
General manager Trent Baalke has suggested the team could stand to expand its rotation on the defensive line. How will that play out once the 49ers are on the field and the coaching staff takes over? What role will newcomer Glenn Dorsey play to that end? Starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald could benefit from a little more rest now and then. They rank among the NFL leaders in total regular-season and postseason snaps played in the past couple of seasons. Smith, in particular, is hugely important to the defense's success.

Wild card: Eric Mangini
The coaching staff will have a different feel with Mangini as the new senior offensive consultant. Harbaugh has kept together his staff for two seasons, an upset for a team that has enjoyed so much success on the scoreboard and in scheming. We easily could have credited Harbaugh for staying the course in the name of continuity. Adding a coach with Mangini's profile shakes things up. It'll be interesting to see how Mangini assimilates.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Offense: James Carpenter
Carpenter's health is a key variable for the future of the offensive line. Coach Pete Carroll has indicated Carpenter should be available for the start of training camp after missing nine games last season and seven as a rookie. Drafted to play right tackle, Carpenter's future is at guard if he can get healthy, stay healthy and regain quickness. Having Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and Pro Bowl center Max Unger flanking a healthy Carpenter would give Seattle a line more like the one Carroll envisioned.

Defense: Cliff Avril's transition
Seattle will be looking to see how pass-rushing defensive ends Avril and Bruce Irvin fit at linebacker as the coaching staff promotes versatility through the front seven. Avril is particularly important in the short term because Irvin faces a four-game suspension to open the season while starting defensive end Chris Clemons continues to rehab from the torn ACL he suffered during the wild-card round last season. Carroll has hinted that Clemons could return in time for the season, but that's a best-case scenario.

Wild card: Keep it clean
All NFL players must submit to testing for performance-enhancing drugs when they report for training camp. That's significant for the Seahawks after Irvin became the fifth Seattle player since 2011 to incur a PED-related suspension. What are the chances another player tests positive?
PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones. Update: The NFL clarified that Adam Snyder, who signed with Arizona from San Francisco, factored into the equation awarding the 49ers three comp picks.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 220th, 231st, 241st and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Update: The Seahawks sent the 214th choice, acquired from Buffalo in the Tarvaris Jackson trade, to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin trade.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

With the NFL deadline for naming franchise players passing at 4 p.m. ET Monday, we await official word from the league as to whether any NFC West players received the designation.

This can be a nerve-racking time for teams and fans hoping to keep favorite players.

Using the franchise tag almost always keeps a player from leaving in free agency. Teams must balance those concerns with a player's actual value. This year, deciding against using the tag could allow good-not-great NFC West players such as Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker and Danny Amendola to reach the market and sign elsewhere.

It's tough losing key players, but for some perspective, let's revisit the list of 2012 NFC West unrestricted free agents to change teams during the UFA signing period last offseason: Note: UFAs include only veteran players whose contracts expired. Released players are not UFAs.

The Seattle Seahawks' secondary is whole again now that cornerback Brandon Browner, a Pro Bowl choice one year ago, has returned from a four-game suspension in time for the team's wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.



Fellow starter Richard Sherman continued to play nearly all the defensive snaps without Browner. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant, Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell each played about half the snaps against St. Louis in Week 17.

The assumption is that Browner will resume his role as an every-down player opposite Sherman. How frequently the Redskins use more than two wide receivers will influence how much Trufant and/or the others play Sunday.

The Redskins used three or more wide receivers about 40 percent of the time on first and second downs this season, right around the NFL average, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The rate fell to about 33 percent over the past five weeks. I singled out early downs because most teams use three or more receivers on third down regardless of offensive philosophy.

Play-action tactics could influence the outcome Sunday.

Washington has used play-action 175 times on early downs, most in the NFL. Seattle ranks fourth with 150.

The Redskins have a league-high 12 receptions for 30-plus yards on these plays. Their 1,817 yards passing on these plays leads the NFL by more than 400 yards. The corresponding numbers produce a No. 2 ranking in NFL passer rating (118.9) and No. 5 ranking in Total QBR (87.7).

The Redskins' Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson rank among the NFL's top eight in play-action receiving yards on early downs -- even though Garcon missed six games to injury. Teammate Joshua Morgan ranks 20th.

Garcon has 18 receptions for 445 yards and three touchdowns on these plays. That works out to 24.7 yards per catch. Hankerson has 13 catches for 338 yards and two scores in these situations. His average is 26 yards per catch. The corresponding numbers for Morgan include 17 catches for 262 yards and no scores.

Browner plays aggressively. He's a good tackler and can force fumbles. Aggressive play can lead to aggressive mistakes, however.

Seattle's defense has allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt with five touchdowns, three interceptions, an 88.4 NFL passer rating and 74.2 Total QBR score against play-action attempts on early downs. The passer rating allowed ranks 13th. The QBR score allowed ranks 17th.

That will be one area to watch Sunday. I offer relate thoughts in the video atop this item.

On a side note, Seattle's Sidney Rice ranks 10th in play-action receiving yards on early downs. He has 16 receptions for 303 yards and four touchdowns in these situations.

Seeking precedent for Seahawks' fake punt

December, 17, 2012
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Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has apologized for the fake punt his team executed against Buffalo while holding a 47-17 lead Sunday.

The regrets he expressed do not match up with Fox screenshots showing Carroll congratulating players for succeeding in their trickery.

It is possible Carroll enjoyed the results of the play in the short term while feeling bad about what it represented. Of course, smiles and congratulations generally aren't the hallmarks of remorse.

For perspective, I combed through the play finder at Pro Football Reference for examples of similar fourth-down plays from teams holding large leads in fourth quarters.

The search covered all fourth-down plays in the final 13 minutes of regulation while the team on offense led by at least 28 points. In some cases, teams were simply handing off the ball to run down the clock after driving too deep to execute a meaningful punt.

Sorting these fourth-down plays by most yardage gained produced interesting results.

Seattle's 29-yard gain against the Bills ranked first.

New England's 21-yard gain during a 52-7 rout of the Washington Redskins in 2007 ranked second. That play, run with 7:16 remaining and the Patriots ahead 45-0, was widely cited as running up the score.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick completed a 19-yard pass to Josh Morgan while holding a 41-3 lead with 4:46 remaining. Morgan suffered a broken leg on the play. Coach Jim Harbaugh said he was trying to get meaningful reps for Kaepernick.

Carroll offered a similar explanation last week for the deep pass Seattle tried on fourth-and-23 while holding a 51-0 lead over Arizona.

This season, the 49ers' Alex Smith scrambled for 17 yards on a fourth-and-2 play from the Buffalo 28 while the 49ers led 31-3 with 10:50 remaining.

The play Seattle ran against the Bills on Sunday was different because it came on a fake punt, not on a conventional play. I cannot recall seeing another example of a team running or passing from a punt formation while leading by four touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Carroll said his players called the fake as a matter of course based on what they saw from the Bills' defensive alignment. He said he should have told them to punt the ball regardless.

These are good dilemmas to have. Building 30-point leads can be tough in the NFL.

Note: I realize a certain segment of Seahawks fans thinks any reference to this play wrongly takes away attention from a fantastic overall effort during a 50-17 victory. If you're among them, you're in luck. We've put together multiple items on other aspects of the team and game.

NFC West penalty watch: Receivers clean

December, 12, 2012
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San Francisco 49ers wide receivers had eight penalties last season. They have one through Week 14 this season.

The single penalty for 49ers receivers jumped out when I sorted NFC West penalties by team and position for the latest "penalty watch" item.

Officials flagged Kyle Williams for illegal formation in Week 10. That's been the only penalty against a 49ers wideout so far. The penalty count for San Francisco receivers fell this way last season: Braylon Edwards 3, Michael Crabtree 2 and one apiece for Williams, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr.

The fouls included three for offensive pass interference and three for illegal blocks above the waist.

The chart includes accepted and declined penalties.

A rookie punter's arm could be the difference between 2-0-1 and 1-2-0 records for the St. Louis Rams in NFC West play.

Johnny Hekker's scoring pass for the Rams against Seattle provided St. Louis with its only touchdown during a 19-13 victory in Week 4. Hekker completed two more passes Sunday, including one for a fourth-and-8 conversion during a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, to help the Rams force a 24-24 tie against San Francisco.

According to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information, Hekker now has a chance to join Bob Parsons (1977) and Tom Skladany (1981) as the only players listed as punters to finish a season with at least three completed passes and a 100 percent completion rate. Parsons completed all four attempts for the Chicago Bears. Skladny completed all three for the Detroit Lions.

While Hekker was going 2-for-2 against San Francisco, the Seattle Seahawks were getting completed passes from receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice during a 28-7 victory against the New York Jets.

The left-handed Tate's pass to Rice produced a 23-yard touchdown even though the receiver's throwing motion made it look like he was throwing a javelin.

"After it left his hands, I give him a 10," Rice said. "It was a spiral, and I scored. Before that, I give him a two. His throwing motion was the worst. I thought we traded for [Tim] Tebow for a second."

Hekker looked more like a quarterback when he threw. That was the plan all along.

Rams dirty? Not according to the NFL

September, 21, 2012
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The NFL did not see the St. Louis Rams the way Washington's Robert Griffin III saw them in Week 2.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Quintin Mikell, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford and Craig Dahl were among the Rams players taking shots at Griffin during a 31-28 Rams victory. All seven escaped NFL fines for the hits I outlined during a play-by-play accounting of the game. That means the NFL saw their tactics as within the rules.

The league did hand down fines for players on both teams. But none of the fines appeared to concern plays involving hits the Rams put on Griffin.

The NFL fined Rams defensive end Quinn in the amount of $7,875 for striking a Redskins offensive lineman in the head. Teammate Janoris Jenkins received a $15,750 fine for hitting the Redskins' Fred Davis. Rams guard Quinn Ojinnaka received two fines, each for $7,875 and each for hitting an opponent late.

The Redskins' Josh Morgan received a $7,875 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct. His teammate, Lorenzo Alexander, received a $15,750 fine for a horse-collar tackle.

The apparent absence of Griffin-related fines seems to validate the Rams' approach to defense in this game. There's still room for a team to play with an edge. Looks like Griffin, not the Rams, is the one needing to adapt.

Inside Slant: Clear breach of protocol

September, 19, 2012
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An NFL team should never evaluate a long-term investment after two games unless the evaluation makes the team look really, really smart.

This one qualifies: Cortland Finnegan to the St. Louis Rams as the centerpiece of the team's plan in free agency.

Finnegan has two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, in his first two games with the team. In Week 2, he baited the Washington Redskins' Josh Morgan into a killer penalty in the final two minutes, living up to his reputation for edgy play. Turns out Finnegan had taunted Morgan a few years earlier, when both were with different teams.

Kevin Seifert and I discussed Finnegan in the context of the NFL's officiating situation, among other subjects, during our latest "Inside Slant" podcast.

Hope you enjoy.
Pete Carroll's former boss with the Minnesota Vikings, Bud Grant, had a saying that has stuck with Carroll for nearly three decades.

"For every young guy you start," Grant said, "you lose a game."


Carroll, entering his third season as Seattle Seahawks coach, recounted Grant's saying while discussing roster composition one week before the 2012 NFL draft. As much as Carroll valued his time with Grant, he also has come to realize times have changed.

"I was of that mindset in classic fashion until I had to be in charge of calling all the shots and then it just flipped in me that we don't know where we're going unless we find these guys out," Carroll said. "One of the really exciting things about playing guys early is ... by the middle and to the end of the season, you’ve developed players that fit into your rotations now that add to your depth and also add to the opportunity to not over-play your older guys."

Seattle enters the regular season with the second-youngest projected starters in the NFL. Some of the team's younger building blocks -- James Carpenter, John Moffitt and Matt Flynn come to mind -- have or could lose their starting jobs to players even younger than them.

"We want the roster so competitive that really good draft picks are fighting for play time and that means that the guys ahead of him are better," Carroll said before the draft.

There's more than one way to structure a team, of course.

Atlanta, San Diego, Baltimore, Chicago and Pittsburgh have the five oldest projected starters by average age. It won't be a shock if every one of those teams finishes 2012 with as many or more victories than the Seahawks amass. The teams with the youngest projected starters -- Kansas City, Seattle, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Minnesota -- aren't exactly powerhouses.

Having good players is most important. Having good young players is even better. If the Seahawks are on the right track, it'll be interesting to see whether the current team ages together, or if the team constantly shuffles younger players into its lineups.

The San Francisco 49ers played the youngest offensive starters in the NFL back in Week 1 of the 2010 season. They now have the eighth-oldest projected starters on offense.

Eight of the 49ers' offensive starters are the same now as then. They are, of course, two years older. Randy Moss, 35, has replaced Josh Morgan, then 25, at receiver. Jonathan Goodwin, 33, has replaced David Baas, then 28, at center. Right guard Alex Boone is about the same age as Chilo Rachal was then.

In the 49ers' case, then, they've probably upgraded by getting older in their starting lineup. Quarterback Alex Smith is better now. Even if Moss starts, he's more likely to be part of a rotation, with first-round choice A.J. Jenkins moving into the lineup by next season, probably.

Note: Thanks to Rachel from Rexburg, Idaho, for following up our earlier item with a request to see average ages for starters only.
Two seasons ago, Braylon Edwards averaged 17.1 yards per reception with 904 yards and seven touchdowns for the New York Jets.

The figures were 12.1 yards per reception, 181 yards and zero touchdowns with the San Francisco 49ers last season.

What might he offer the Seattle Seahawks, who signed Edwards to a one-year deal Tuesday and welcomed him to practice right away?

There is no way to answer that question with any certainty. We need to see whether Edwards is in good shape, how the other receivers in Seattle develop, which quarterback becomes the starter, how Edwards meshes with that quarterback, etc. At this point, we don't even know whether Edwards will earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

I do not think Edwards, 29, suddenly forgot how to play football last season.

A few factors could help explain his statistical decline from 2010 to 2011. Edwards was playing for a new team in a new offense with very little prep time (the 49ers signed him last Aug. 4). Injuries clearly slowed Edwards during his time with the 49ers. He underwent knee surgery and also had a bad shoulder.

The chart below, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, shows Edwards ranking last among primary 49ers receivers and tight ends in yards per target (minimum 15 targets).

Edwards didn't fit with the 49ers, for whatever reason. Now we'll find out whether Edwards can bounce back in Seattle.

NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

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

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

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

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

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

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
As you might have heard, the San Francisco 49ers ran into some troubles at the wide receiver position last season.

Those troubles affected their offense and special teams, notably during an overtime defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game (Kyle Williams was forced into the starting lineup, with Brett Swain and Joe Hastings as backups).

You might have also heard, more recently, about changes to rules governing injured reserve.

Those rules, if enacted before last season, might have given the 49ers a welcome boost at the receiver position with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Josh Morgan, placed on injured reserve in October, could have been a candidate, at least in theory, to return in time for that game against the Giants.

I'm going to qualify this by saying it's not immediately clear whether Morgan would have recovered from his broken leg in time to face the Giants. Reports immediately after the season suggested Morgan was "ahead of schedule" in his rehab. This does not necessarily mean he would have been cleared by mid-January, but the thought did come to mind in assessing how the rule might have affected NFC West teams.

The St. Louis Rams' Danny Amendola also came to mind. He required surgery in October to repair a torn triceps suffered in Week 1. It is possible, in theory (that phrase again), that the Rams would have approached that injury differently had the new IR rule been available to them. Amendola could have undergone the procedure earlier instead of trying to return right away. That could have accelerated the timeline for rehab, although he still could have missed the full season (he was rounding into form by early April).

Again, it's tough to know which players would have been ready to return, and precisely when, but this new rule does give teams another option in the future, at least. The rule also adds another layer of strategy to roster management.

To qualify for return from IR, a player must suffer an injury after the start of training camp. He must be placed on injured reserve following the initial reduction to 53 players. His team must designate him as a player to return. He must miss at least 42 calendar days from the time of injury. And he cannot play in a game until eight weeks following his placement on IR.

This disqualifies Terrell Suggs and other players injured before training camp from consideration under the new rule. Those players could still play this season if placed on the physically unable to perform list heading into the season.

I'll update if I learn anything new about Morgan's injury in particular. I used it mostly to illustrate how the new rule could come into play. Key word: could.
A look at the San Francisco 49ers' offseason to this point ...

What went right: The 49ers kept together one of the NFL's best defenses by re-signing Ahmad Brooks and Carlos Rogers, and by naming Dashon Goldson their franchise player. ... The coaching staff also returns pretty much intact, a relief after the team finished 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman's name did come up in relation to the Penn State opening. Reports suggested special-teams coordinator Brad Seely could become a candidate for the head coaching job in Indianapolis. ... Alex Smith did not leave in free agency despite visiting the Miami Dolphins. ... The 49ers secured funding for their new stadium and broke ground on it last month, a huge step forward for the organization. ... The team attempted to address perceived shortcomings at receiver and on offense in general. ... Bringing back Ted Ginn Jr. was an underrated move given the value he can provide in the return game.

What went wrong: The 49ers could not keep secret their interest in Peyton Manning, creating an awkward moment as Smith considered his options in free agency. ... Manning signed with Denver. Adding Manning to the 49ers arguably would have made San Francisco the Super Bowl favorite from the NFC. ... The team did not resolve its situation at right guard in a decisive manner. ... The Washington Redskins paid a premium for free-agent receiver Josh Morgan, a player the 49ers ideally would have retained. ... Blake Costanzo, a tone-setter on special teams, left in free agency. The team got older by adding Rock Cartwright, 32, to fill some of the special-teams void.

The bottom line: The positives outweigh the negatives. The team used free agency to address immediate needs at low cost (Randy Moss, Mario Manningham) while using the draft to build for the longer term (A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney). Adding Manning would have been an unexpected bonus. The 49ers' offseason never hinged on making that move. The 49ers essentially stayed the course following a 13-3 season. That was the goal. No complaints here.

Your turn: Any significant omissions here?

NFC West free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay

Key losses: CB Richard Marshall

Sando's grade so far: C-minus. Arizona gets credit for making a strong run at Peyton Manning and securing a visit with him at Cardinals headquarters. That was a bold move and one that could have instantly transformed the Cardinals into a contending team. But it did not work. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had a point when he said the Cardinals were comfortable moving forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their quarterbacks. However, it was still telling that Arizona would aggressively pursue another quarterback eight months after allocating $12.4 million per year to Kolb. Most of the other teams making big investments in quarterbacks last offseason sat out the Manning sweepstakes.

Overall, Arizona has done little to upgrade its roster. Committing $19 million in bonus money to Snyder, Levi Brown and Kolb will not make the team $19 million better. Marshall was a valued contributor and the MVP on defense last season, according to coordinator Ray Horton. He'll be missed after signing with Miami. On the other hand, the Cardinals did win seven of their final nine games last season. Perhaps they have fewer holes than conventional wisdom suggests.

What’s next: The Cardinals need help at offensive tackle and have shown interest in Buffalo Bills free agent Demetrius Bell. The team would be fortunate to address the position before the draft. Whisenhunt has consistently defended Brown, who has played both tackle spots since 2007. The team's decision to give Brown a $7 million signing bonus as part of a streamlined contract showed Whisenhunt wasn't bluffing. But another starting tackle would help.

The Cardinals have yet to reach a long-term agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell. Getting a deal done with Campbell would reduce the defensive end's salary-cap charge ($10.6 million for now). It would reward a rising young player and head off future headaches associated with using the tag a second time next offseason.

Receiver and possibly outside linebacker are also areas where the Cardinals could use reinforcements.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, RB Brandon Jacobs

Key losses: Snyder, WR Josh Morgan, ST Blake Costanzo

Sando's grade so far: B-plus. The 49ers had relatively few holes on their roster after a 13-3 season. Pursuing Manning provided a temporary distraction without inflicting long-term damage. The 49ers needed to keep together their core, and they accomplished that goal. Alex Smith's re-signing to a three-year deal was key. Smith will return to the team, maintaining continuity and giving the 49ers' offense a chance to build on last season. But the contract terms will not limit the 49ers' options beyond this season, a plus.

The 49ers succeeded in re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers after using the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Those moves solidified the secondary. Addressing the situation at wide receiver was a top priority heading into free agency. Moss and Manningham were low-risk, high-reward additions. Both have the potential to provide qualities the 49ers were lacking last season, but neither carried a high price tag. Retaining receiver Ted Ginn Jr. restored firepower to the return game.

What’s next: Using the draft to improve the long-term outlook at receiver still could be an option. But with Moss, Manningham and Ginn on the roster, the 49ers should not feel pressured to select a wideout with the 30th overall choice in the draft. The team now has flexibility. There has been no indication that the 49ers or any team will seriously pursue Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald money.

The 49ers could use a veteran right guard for insurance in case Daniel Kilgore isn't ready for the starting job. They have visited with Leonard Davis and Deuce Lutui, both former Cardinals. Keeping Snyder would have been nice, but the Cardinals paid a $5 million signing bonus to get him. That price was too high for the 49ers, who similarly balked last offseason when the New York Giants gave center David Baas an $8.5 million bonus.

St. Louis Rams

Key additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith

Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, P Donnie Jones, OLB Chris Chamberlain

Sando's grade so far: B. The Rams would get a higher grade for their offseason in general, but this item focuses on free agency. That excludes from consideration Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach, and general manager Les Snead's ability to maximize value for the second overall pick in the draft. The Finnegan and Wells signings give the Rams welcome leadership while upgrading important positions. Langford should help the run defense.

The Rams have yet to address their playmaking deficiencies. They did not land any of the high-profile wide receivers in free agency. There's a chance Smith will recapture old form in his second season back from microfracture knee surgery, but the Rams are not counting on that. They will almost certainly emerge from free agency without even marginally upgrading the weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford. That is a disappointment.

What’s next: The outlook remains bright for St. Louis. The team owns the sixth, 33rd and 39th choices in the 2012 draft, plus two first-rounders in each of the following two drafts. There will be time and opportunity for the Rams to add the offensive firepower they need so badly, perhaps with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 6 overall.

Much work lies ahead. The Rams emerged from this week with eight fewer players on their roster than the average for the other 31 teams. Using free agency to address holes at outside linebacker and left guard would provide flexibility heading into the draft. The Rams still need a backup quarterback as well. Bradford is the only QB on the roster. It's looking like the team is serious about bringing back right tackle Jason Smith despite injury concerns and a fat contract that will presumably require adjustment.

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones

Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove

Sando's grade so far: B-plus: The Seahawks knew for months that Manning would probably hit the market and still could not secure a meeting with him. Their pursuit included a flight by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to Denver in a desperation move that failed to impress Manning. That was a rare disappointment for Seattle in free agency.

Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before the signing period took off much of the pressure. Re-signing Red Bryant without using the franchise tag rewarded the Seahawks for a disciplined approach to the market. That approach paid off again when the Seahawks landed Flynn without rushing into an imprudent contract. Flynn spent five days on the market before signing with Seattle. The Seahawks got him for about half as much per season as Kolb cost a year ago, without even promising him the starting job. That was impressive.

What’s next: Quarterback and pass-rusher were Seattle's top two needs heading into free agency. Flynn solved one of them for now, at least. Jones, an inside pass-rusher signed from Tennessee, should help the other area. But the need for outside pass-rush help persists. The team could use the 12th overall choice in the draft for a defensive end.

Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.

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