NFC West: Justin Griffith

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)

Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)

Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)

San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)

The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Dominique Curry, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

Battling perceptions in the NFC West

September, 8, 2010
KTAR radio's Doug Franz and Ron Wolfley just finished grilling me medium rare over the far-flung (to them) notion that the San Francisco 49ers should be favored in the NFC West this season.

They think the 49ers face at least as many questions as the Arizona Cardinals, from Alex Smith's abilities as a starting quarterback to the effects of playing two rookies on the offensive line.

Our conversation pointed to something I wrestle with all the time: perception vs. reality.

Sometimes those perceptions get out of hand. It could be happening in the NFC West right now. A few things to consider along those lines heading into the regular season:
  • The Seattle Seahawks are taking flak for dumping T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson and others (Rob Sims and Nate Burleson come to mind) during an ongoing roster overhaul. It's fair to ask whether all the changes were necessary. It's fair to question whether Seattle might fall off some in the immediate term while less experienced players take over. But why pretend as though the Seahawks needed only some fine-tuning? They needed an overhaul and they're getting one. Sometimes a team gets a little worse before it gets better. But if you honestly assess each roster change, you might find more upgrades than downgrades. How much will this really team miss Ken Lucas, Cory Redding, Justin Griffith, D.D. Lewis, Damion McIntosh, Owen Schmitt, Mansfield Wrotto, Lawrence Jackson, John Owens, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant, Lance Laury and the others? It's tough to argue that those players were part of the solution.
  • The Cardinals are worse off without Kurt Warner. That much is a given. But should recent instability at quarterback significantly lower those already reduced expectations for the upcoming season? It's probably better to rule out Matt Leinart now than to do so four or five games into the regular season. Quarterback was already a concern. It's still a concern. But let's not pretend the 49ers are dramatically better off with Smith under center. I'm favoring the 49ers in the division because they're the safest bet following an offseason without much roster turnover. They appear slightly better than the team that went 8-8 in 2009. But it's no shock if the Cardinals win this division. I'd call it only a mild surprise.
  • The Rams are easy to write off with a rookie quarterback under center and only six wins over the last three seasons. It's not the upset of the century, however, if they find a way to prevail in Week 1. They trailed the Cardinals 21-3 at halftime in the Edward Jones Dome last season. A concussion prevented Warner from returning. Final score: 21-13. If you're the Rams and you know Warner won't be there Sunday, and you know Marc Bulger posted a 57.8 rating as your quarterback in that 21-13 defeat, you're thinking you've got a chance this time around, right? Right.
  • About those 49ers. Let's not get carried away with the 12-4 predictions, OK? One step at a time. The 49ers were 5-1 in the division last season. Are they really going to match that record or improve upon it and then add three more victories outside the NFC West? It's possible with AFC West teams on the schedule, but the 49ers have only seven true home games this season. Two of those are against New Orleans and Philadelphia. They play road games against Atlanta, Green Bay and San Diego. Find a dozen sure victories on that schedule and I'm guessing you're a 49ers fan.

To be continued in the comments section, and beyond.
Steve Wyche of quotes Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo as being "very, very hopeful" about re-signing safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. It's pretty clear Atogwe has few options beyond the Rams. Spagnuolo's comments suggest something should get done to keep Atogwe in St. Louis. Wyche: "Atogwe isn't seeking an outrageous salary or guaranteed bonuses, according to a league source, but his desired take still could be too high for teams –- including the Rams -- that are reluctant to pay amid labor uncertainty and a troublesome economic climate."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams minority owner Stan Kroenke has indicated his son, former Missouri basketball player Josh Kroenke, could take over ownership of the Denver Nuggets as the elder Kroenke complies with NFL cross-ownership rules.

Also from Coats: Receivers Dominique Curry and Brandon McRae are trying to earn roster spots at receiver as undrafted free agents.

More from Coats: The toe injury Jason Smith suffered in practice was apparently minor.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says Kroenke's comments suggest the Rams' minority owner expects the NFL to approve his plans to transfer ownership of his Denver teams to family members.

Brad Biggs of National Football Post says defensive tackle Chris Hovan has agreed to terms with the Rams. Hovan has started 149 games over the last 10 seasons, including all 16 for Tampa Bay last season. This looks like a good depth signing by the Rams. They've now added Hovan and Fred Robbins after deciding to draft Sam Bradford instead of Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy atop the first round.

The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters shows the 49ers' stadium measure gaining approval with 59.61 percent support. The registrar shows 11,231 votes in favor and 7,609 opposed with all 58 precincts reporting. The results are probably even better than the 49ers expected, although support seemed strong throughout.

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers appear confident about getting a stadium built in Santa Clara even though approval of Measure J assures nothing. Maiocco: "The term sheet that voters approved is non-binding. If Santa Clara and the 49ers do not reach agreement on key terms, negotiations can be terminated without penalty to either side. But the overwhelming support of the stadium by the voters of Santa Clara might signal a strong commitment from the city's side."

Also from Maiocco: Brandon Jones is frustrated by a lack of opportunities during offseason practices. Jones: "But if I show I can make plays, they can't hold me out for too long."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Alex Smith's rapport with Vernon Davis was on display at 49ers practice Tuesday.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers notes from 49ers practice, including one about newly signed offensive lineman Matt Kopa.

Also from Barber: Travis LaBoy got more reps in practice Tuesday.

John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a report on the 49ers' stadium situation. Wildermuth: "San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has argued that Santa Clara's stadium election does not guarantee that the 49ers will leave the city, which will move ahead with plans for a new stadium site as part of the Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment project. The numbers don't work for a Santa Clara stadium, Newsom said, and when the 49ers realize that, San Francisco's plan will look better and better."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Michael Crabtree is benefiting from a full offseason in the 49ers' program.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui plans to sign the one-year offer Arizona made to him as a restricted free agent. Lutui has no realistic alternatives. Somers: "Lutui is not alone in his disappointment. As of this week, 35 restricted free agents remained unsigned. Lutui is gambling that he will be able to regain his starting spot. The Cardinals acquired two veteran guards this off-season, Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot. Faneca and Reggie Wells have been starting at the guard positions this spring. Coach Ken Whisenhunt declined comment Tuesday on Lutui's situation." Lutui has only hurt his standing by staying away this offseason.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals are experimenting with combinations in their secondary. Michael Adams, Greg Toler and Trumaine McBride have worked at right cornerback with the starters. Toler was the player Whisenhunt singled out previously as a leading candidate to start.

More from Somers: a pick-by-pick look at the Cardinals' draft choices. On linebacker Daryl Washington: "As billed, he's an excellent athlete who can really run. His challenge is learning the defense and dealing with the complexity of NFL offense. An early guess: Washington plays in pass situations to start the season. If he develops, he'll become the regular starter. That's the way the Cardinals have handled other rookies, including cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Beanie Wells."

Clare Farnsworth of says the Seahawks are looking for ways for rookie Dexter Davis to contribute beyond his initial role as a backup "Leo" linebacker. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley: "He has shown some flashes, and we know he can rush. So if he can play that (strong-side) linebacker spot for us – he’s athletic enough – that would give him another role in addition to being a nickel rusher."

Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has no immediate plans to declare a starting running back.

Agent Marc Lillibridge says the Seahawks have signed defensive end Will Tukuafu.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says running back Leon Washington has switched jersey numbers to 33, an indication former fullback Justin Griffith will not return. offers audio from the 911 call related to Golden Tate's implication in a doughnut-shop incident. The woman making the call identifies herself as one of the night bakers. She was not amused by Tate's antics.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Carroll sounded amused by the doughnut caper. Carroll: "I’m not disappointed in the guy being at a doughnut shop when they’ve got maple bars like Top Pot has. However, under the circumstances I think they were closed, or something like that, or they were trying to close or whatever. So that’s definitely wrong, and we’ve talked about it and addressed it. And he’s most remorseful and all of that. But I do understand the allure of the maple bars."

Also from Williams: Quinton Ganther appeals to the Seahawks as a fullback with some running ability. Ganther played for Seahawks assistant Sherman Smith with the Redskins. Ganther: "I’m one of those guys that will do things that the other guys don’t want to do. You tell me to run down on kickoffs and hit the wedge, and I’ll do it. You tell me to get in there at fullback, that’s what I’ll do because I’m a team player, not a me player."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald quotes Carroll as saying linebacker Leroy Hill has fallen behind by missing offseason practices (at the Seahawks' request). Carroll: "Practice is hugely important. There’s a new system, there’s a whole new approach to doing things. This certainly hinders his opportunity without question. The other guys have rocketed ahead with their chances and taken advantage of that, and that’s just part of the competition. You do what you can with your opportunities. So he’s going to have to battle back if we can get him back out here. We’ll see when the time comes."
Unrestricted free agency has come and gone for the NFL in 2010 after no teams made qualifying offers to the more than 100 unsigned UFAs by June 1.

The following former UFAs from NFC West teams remain free agents able to sign with any team that will have them, but none will factor into the formula used for awarding compensatory draft choices:
Arizona: left tackle Mike Gandy, outside linebacker Chike Okeafor, outside linebacker Bertrand Berry (retiring), cornerback Ralph Brown, fullback Dan Kreider, quarterback Brian St. Pierre

Seattle: fullback Justin Griffith, linebacker D.D. Lewis, cornerback Ken Lucas, tackle Damion McIntosh, snapper Jeff Robinson, snapper Kevin Houser

San Francisco: safety Mark Roman, cornerback Dre Bly, cornerback Walt Harris, linebacker Jeff Ulbrich (retiring)

St. Louis : defensive end Leonard Little, tight end Randy McMichael, safety Clinton Hart

The chart breaks down the players by team and 2009 starts.

Bad teams aren't the only ones churning their rosters during the offseason.

The defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals have parted with 15 of the 53 players on their Week 17 roster from last season. Only the rebuilding Seahawks have parted with more -- 16 -- among division teams this offseason. The Rams have parted with 11. The 49ers, seeking continuity as they try to build on an 8-8 season, have parted with only three.

The first chart shows how many Week 17 starters and backups have returned to each NFC West team.

The second chart shows how many Week 17 starters and backups have left each NFC West team.

I'll first list the players by team.

Seattle (16): receiver Nate Burleson, quarterback Seneca Wallace, linebacker Lance Laury, defensive end Cory Redding, guard Trevor Canfield, quarterback Mike Teel, tackle Damion McIntosh, linebacker D.D. Lewis, snapper Jeff Robinson, fullback Justin Griffith, cornerback Ken Lucas, safety Deon Grant, defensive end Darryl Tapp, guard Rob Sims, tight end John Owens and defensive end Patrick Kerney.

Arizona (15): linebacker Pago Togafau, safety Antrel Rolle, receiver Jerheme Urban, receiver Sean Morey, kicker Neil Rackers, linebacker Bertrand Berry, fullback Dan Kreider, cornerback Ralph Brown, quarterback Brian St. Pierre, defensive end Jason Banks, receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Karlos Dansby, quarterback Kurt Warner, cornerback Bryant McFadden and linebacker Chike Okeafor. Note that Rolle did not start in Week 17.

St. Louis (11): defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey, cornerback Jonathan Wade, receiver Ruvell Martin, quarterback Mike Reilly, defensive end Leonard Little, safety Clinton Hart, snapper Ryan Neill, running back Samkon Gado, linebacker Paris Lenon, tackle Alex Barron and tight end Randy McMichael.

San Francisco (5): receiver Arnaz Battle, cornerback Marcus Hudson, quarterback Shaun Hill, safety Mark Roman and cornerback Dre Bly.

The third chart shows what happened to players who were on injured reserve in Week 17.

I'll first list by team the players who were on IR but are no longer with their teams.

San Francisco (5): tackle Tony Pashos, punter Ricky Schmitt, linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, cornerback Walt Harris and running back Thomas Clayton.

Seattle (4): running back Tyler Roehl, tackle Walter Jones, snapper Kevin Houser and tackle Brandon Frye.

St. Louis (3): quarterback Marc Bulger, defensive tackle Adam Carriker and safety Eric Bassey.

Arizona (2): tackle Mike Gandy and fullback Justin Green.

Updated: NFC West UFA list

March, 12, 2010
The Cardinals remain the only NFC West team to re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents this offseason.

That is mostly by design.

Twenty-seven of 31 remaining unrestricted free agents from NFC West teams are at least 30 years old. Two are retiring. Two of the four still in their 20s are 29.

The chart shows remaining UFAs from the NFC West, arranged by team and by age.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 3, 2010
Arizona Cardinals

Unrestricted free agents: TE Anthony Becht, LB Monty Beisel, LB Bertrand Berry (retired), LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, FB Dan Kreider, WR Sean Morey, LB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware.

Restricted free agents: SS Hamza Abdullah, WR Steve Breaston, G Ben Claxton, FB Justin Green, LG Deuce Lutui, TE Ben Patrick, C Lyle Sendlein, TE Stephen Spach, WR Jerheme Urban, NT Gabe Watson.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Cardinals generally do not pursue marquee free agents from other teams. That trend figures to continue. The Cardinals have too many of their own free agents to re-sign for them to worry about chasing other teams' castoffs. We might see Arizona plug the roster with a few lower-tier free agents. They had success doing that last offseason, particularly with Becht at tight end. Dansby leads the list of 2009 starters expected to depart. Arizona is reportedly interested in quarterback David Carr.

St. Louis Rams

Unrestricted free agents: QB Kyle Boller, DE James Hall, SS Clinton Hart, LB Paris Lenon, DE Leonard Little, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.

Restricted free agents: S Eric Bassey, S Craig Dahl, TE Daniel Fells, LS Ryan Neill, DT Clifton Ryan, CB Jonathan Wade, DE Victory Adeyanju, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, T Alex Barron, RB Sam Gado, DT Gary Gibson, WR Ruvell Martin, G Mark Setterstrom.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Rams could be in the market for a veteran quarterback such as Chad Pennington. Beyond quarterback, coach Steve Spagnuolo said the Rams could use a little more seasoning in the form of veteran role players. The Rams will remain a young team, but they could add some experience. The team parted with players fitting that profile last offseason, but most had inflated salaries. The ones St. Louis adds this year figure to carry lower price tags in most cases. The Rams have said they want Little and Hall back. McMichael figures to be gone.

Seattle Seahawks

Unrestricted free agents: WR Nate Burleson, FB Justin Griffith, LS Kevin Houser, LB D.D. Lewis, CB Ken Lucas, T Damion McIntosh, S Lawyer Milloy, DE Cory Redding, LS Jeff Robinson.

Restricted free agents: T Brandon Frye, WR Ben Obomanu, LB Lance Laury, G Rob Sims, G Chris Spencer, DE Darryl Tapp.

Franchise player: K Olindo Mare

What to expect: The Seahawks are a little difficult to figure. Their owner has the money to bankroll aggressive spending if Seattle chooses to go that route. Coach Pete Carroll surely realizes the team could use talent upgrades. The new general manager, John Schneider, comes from the Ted Thompson school of personnel. Thompson's aversion for free agency is well established, although Schneider has characterized himself as slightly more aggressive. The problem, of course, is finding good players on the market. Burleson will hit the market. He could return if the price is right. Carroll has said nice things about Redding, who should be affordable.

San Francisco 49ers

Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre Bly, CB Walt Harris, T Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, T Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich (retired), LB Matt Wilhelm.

Restricted free agents: LG David Baas, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Marcus Hudson.

Franchise player: NT Aubrayo Franklin

What to expect: The 49ers have largely turned their back on free agency now that they feel better about their roster. I would expect the team to lay low again when the signing period begins late Thursday night on the West Coast.

Free agency: NFC West

February, 16, 2010
AFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

An early look at the free-agent situation in the NFC West.

Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.

Arizona Cardinals

[+] EnlargeKarlos Dansby
Tony Medina/Icon SMIKarlos Dansby has led the Cardinals in tackles in each of the past two seasons.
Unrestricted free agents: LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, OLB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, WR Sean Morey, TE Anthony Becht, DE Bertrand Berry, LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, FB Dan Kreider, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware, LB Monty Beisel.

Key figures: The more than $17.7 million Arizona has paid to Dansby over the past two seasons should suffice as a parting gift if, as expected, the linebacker leaves in free agency. Dansby could be leading an exodus. Okeafor turns 34 in March and could be on his way out. Berry announced his retirement. Morey has had concussion problems. Gandy's return probably depends on whether he's willing to stay for less than the $5 million he earned last season. Safety Antrel Rolle does not appear on the list, but he would hit the market when free agency begins if the Cardinals decline to pay a $4 million roster bonus.

San Francisco 49ers

Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre' Bly, NT Aubrayo Franklin, CB Walt Harris, RT Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, LT Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich, LB Matt Wilhelm, CB Keith Smith.

Key figures: The 49ers have been proactive in re-signing their own players. That explains why relatively few big names appear on this list. The franchise tag appears well suited for Franklin, the only marquee UFA on the 49ers' list this offseason. Tagging Franklin at the $7 million franchise rate makes sense heading into labor uncertainty. Why spend lavishly on a long-term deal? Franklin has played at a high level consistently for only one season, and a lockout could keep him off the field in 2011. Re-signing Sims for depth would make sense. Ulbrich, meanwhile, has retired and joined the Seahawks' coaching staff.

Seattle Seahawks

Unrestricted free agents: WR Nate Burleson, DE Cory Redding, CB Ken Lucas, K Olindo Mare, LB D.D. Lewis, FB Justin Griffith, LT Damion McIntosh, SS Lawyer Milloy, LS Kevin Houser, LS Jeff Robinson.

Key figures: New coach Pete Carroll is on the record saying he likes what he's seen from Redding. Mare is coming off an outstanding season. Lucas has the size Seattle's new leadership wants in its cornerbacks. Milloy played for Carroll in New England. There isn't much more to say about this relatively nondescript group, and it's unclear how much the new regime will value these UFAs. Unrestricted free agency isn't the only road out of Seattle this offseason. The team will probably part with a few established players who haven't lived up to their salaries because of injuries and other factors. Patrick Kerney and Deion Branch come to mind. Update: I've added Nate Burleson to the list of free agents. He has a contract for 2010, but it voids. Thanks to CowboyP893 for the assist.

St. Louis Rams

Unrestricted free agents: DE Leonard Little, DE James Hall, LB Paris Lenon, QB Kyle Boller, S Clinton Hart, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.

Key figures: Boller, 28, is the only player on the Rams' list younger than 30. Franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe and starting tackle Alex Barron become only restricted free agents under rules governing the uncapped year, explaining their absence from the Rams' UFA list. It's unclear how seriously Little and Hall figure into the team's plans for 2010. Chris Long's emergence late last season should make it easier for the team to move on without them, but the aging defensive ends did combine for 27 starts and 11 sacks last season.

How NFC West stacks up with Colts

February, 7, 2010
MIAMI -- Let's stretch our imaginations and pretend, for the sake of discussion, that each NFC West team had advanced to face the Colts in the Super Bowl.

If the Rams made it here, for example, the big story might be Peyton Manning vs. Keith Null.

(Please hold your laughter until the end.)

I've broken out the Colts' offensive starters and compared them to those for the Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks and Rams. In the Rams' case, I wasn't sure who would start at left guard after Roger Allen suffered a serious knee injury in Week 17, so I've brought back usual starter Jacob Bell from injured reserve.

Putting together something similar for the defenses would be tough because the 49ers and Cardinals play 3-4 schemes, so the positions would not line up.

Enjoy the imaginary games.

Around the NFC West: Winds of change

January, 5, 2010
Clare Farnsworth of checks in with injured Seahawks tackle Walter Jones, who hopes to return in 2010. Jones' salary is $7.3 million, providing strong incentive for him to make a comeback effort. Even if his comeback failed and he wound up on injured reserve again, he could still pocket most or all of that money, in theory.

Also from Farnsworth: Apprehension and ambiguity reigned in the Seahawks' locker room as players cleaned out their lockers Monday. Matt Hasselbeck: "Really what I’m looking forward to right now is kind of getting away and getting healthy and getting strong,” said Hasselbeck, who played this season with broken ribs on the left side of his body and a bruised right shoulder. I really feel like getting back in the weight room and having a good offseason of strength, getting some explosiveness and some power back will be one of the keys to success for me next season. Those are the kind of things I’m focused on."

More from Farnsworth: Seahawks safety Deon Grant played one of his best games Sunday despite having one wrist in a cast. Farnsworth: "Grant intercepted a Vince Young pass in the first quarter. He recovered a Chris Johnson fumble in the third quarter, setting up a field goal that gave the Seahawks a 13-10 lead. In between, Grant made nine tackles -- one shy of his season-high. He even added a 10th on special teams. His reward? Surgery to repair the wrist."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists potential Seattle free agents. He lists Nate Burleson, Cory Redding, D.D. Lewis, Olindo Mare, Lawyer Milloy, Ken Lucas, Damion McIntosh and Justin Griffith.

Also from O'Neil: "The Seahawks are an older team with an offense that scored fewer points as the season progressed. Hasselbeck is 34 with one year left on his contract. While most expect him back, Seattle's new president will have to decide how Hasselbeck fits with the team's timeline for rebuilding. The scrutiny will go well past Seattle's pocket. Receiver Deion Branch is 30 and is scheduled to make more than $5 million, a lot for a player who began this season as the No. 3 receiver. Safety Deon Grant is also 30. Defensive end Patrick Kerney is 32. He led the team in sacks, but had just five. He is scheduled to make more than $5 million next season, and Seattle desperately needs to upgrade a pass rush that had one sack in its final four games."

Greg Johns of wonders whether Greg Knapp will return as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator after a rough year. Seattle averaged an additional 55 yards passing per game this season, but scoring was down.

Also from Johns: Burleson expects to return.

Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along thoughts from Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who does nothing to change perceptions that he wasn't happy with Knapp's offense. Divish: "He talked for at least 15 minutes and was critical of his himself. He also wondered how an offense can actually regress, instead of improve. And when asked about the future, possible changes and whether the offensive system could ever work, he simply said, 'I have thoughts.' "

Also from Divish: Hasselbeck isn't sure what happens next.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune previews the Seahawks' offseason.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seattle players weren't sure what a new general manager might do.

Matt Pitman of 710 ESPN Seattle passes along audio links to interviews with Seattle players, including Hasselbeck and Branch.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt had limited options Monday in responding to repeated questions about his strategy for Week 17. McManaman: "Just like Sunday's game, Whisenhunt must have felt as if his hands were tied when he met with the media for his weekly news conference. From the sideline, he watched the Packers dominate his team and its vanilla game plan. From his press table, he listened to a ton of smarmy second-guessing. He couldn't really fight back on either day."

Darren Urban of cites local reports saying Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell wore a cast and sling after undergoing surgery on his thumb. Urban: "Campbell told Ch. 3's Brad Cesmat he still had a chance to play this week but nothing is certain."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals held back blitzes against Green Bay in Week 17.

More from Urban: thoughts from Whisenhunt during the coach's day-after-game news conference. Also: "The Cardinals know their second-round playoff schedule should they advance. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles, the Cardinals will play in New Orleans on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 2:30 p.m. Arizona time. If the Eagles beat the Cowboys, the Cards will play in Minnesota Sunday, Jan. 17, at 11 a.m. Arizona time."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo does not anticipate changes to his coaching staff. Spagnuolo: "You just don't jump ship on process, schemes, people. I have to sit down and evaluate everything now. You've got to give me time. We just got done with a game (against San Francisco), and it was 16 long games and a grind. But I don't anticipate (staff changes) right now."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams gathered one final time to end the season. Tight end Randy McMichael: "It's hard, man ... real emotional. You've been through wars with these guys, been with them since March. They're family. And that's basically what you're doing, you're leaving your family. ... You don't want it to end, but you know it has to."

Also from Coats: Steven Jackson, Leonard Little, James Laurinaitis and Oshiomogho Atogwe won team awards.

Jeff Gordon of says the Rams can learn from the Jets, who earned a playoff berth while protecting a young quarterback with a strong ground game and defense. Gordon: "Rex Ryan is 1,000 times more colorful than Spagnuolo, but these coaches share the same beliefs. Both are defensive coaches. Both believe they can build championship teams with dominant defenses and powerful running attacks."

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams held a brief team meeting before dispersing Monday. Spagnuolo: "I spoke with them real quick about moving forward. I told them, and I asked them, to focus on the team we have. Focus on what we’ve built and what came out of it."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Spagnuolo used the phrase "wonderful and taxing at the same time" to describe his first season as Rams coach.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Mike Singletary would not commit to Alex Smith as his starting quarterback for 2010, saying only that Smith is the starter right now. Singletary: "Alex Smith is the starting quarterback right now. If we sign a quarterback this offseason, we'll see where it goes. I don't want to get into 'what kind of veteran quarterback.' I don't understand all that. Alex Smith is the starting quarterback right now and hopefully this offseason if one happens to show up or however that works out, there's always the possibility of signing another quarterback depending on what the situation is and depending on where that puts us in terms of the cap and all that other stuff. But I just think it's very important that right now just knowing that Alex Smith is the starting quarterback." The 49ers see Smith as their best option based on the current personnel, but Smith did not show them enough for the team to turn its back on potential contingencies.

Also from Barrows: He expects most of the 49ers' free agents to return. Linebacker Patrick Willis on Aubrayo Franklin: "Oh man, I pray to God they keep Aubrayo. The coaches already know where my heart is. I say he's the best nose (tackles) in the game. You turn on the film and nobody plays with better technique, nobody knows the game better than he knows it. He keeps my head from getting busted on every play and I'm thankful for that."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says quarterback and offensive coordinator remain hot topics for the 49ers. Smith expects to have the same coordinator in back-to-back years for the first time in his NFL career. Smith: "It will be new for me. A lot of it will be self-reflection and self-analysis, looking back at this last year and analyzing the things we did and where we can go from there to get to the next step. How do we get better? How do we take it to the next level? This offseason will be big because we won't be installing from square one. It is really, how do we push ourselves to take that step and not just go through the motions of an offseason? We really need to have a sense of urgency and take advantage of the time." More here.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News passes along quotes from Singletary's news conference.

Also from Kawakami: Singletary spoke less in absolutes than he normally might, using the qualifier "right now" when discussing the team.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary expressed support for Smith and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Singletary: "I don't think it's a matter of another coordinator. I think it's a matter of putting the pieces together, identifying exactly the offense that you're going to run, identifying the kind of offensive line that you need in order to run that. I think we have a lot of pieces in place. I just think it's a matter of getting all the pieces in the right places."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Singletary as saying consistency is difficult to establish in the NFL.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says re-signing Franklin should be a top priority, according to players.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers players think the team could fare well in the playoffs if part of the six-team NFC field.

Personnel report: Seahawks' identity

December, 1, 2009
The Seahawks are searching for an identity on offense heading into Week 13.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh still do not seem to have an intuitive feel for one another. Third receiver Deion Branch clearly has talent, but I'm wondering how well he fits this offense. Justin Forsett has run effectively some of the time, but the ground game has produced at historically low level more than once this season. The offensive line's identity, hampered by injuries early in the season, remains undefined. Tight end John Carlson enjoyed a strong blocking game against the Rams, but his overall production hasn't meshed with the dominance he showed during offseason camps.

I've watched and charted every one of Seahawks' plays this season. Hasselbeck has shown impressive toughness and leadership. Left guard Rob Sims makes some strong blocks. Fullback Justin Griffith has stood out as a lead blocker. Nate Burleson has probably exceeded expectations following knee rehabilitation.

Where is this offense headed? Perhaps we'll get a better idea over the final five games.

In the meantime, I'll make available for download a personnel report featuring information on every snap this season, with summary sheets showing situational production against the Rams and against all opponents.

Silver linings: Seahawks at Cardinals

November, 16, 2009
The facts: The Seahawks fell to 3-6 with a 31-20 road defeat to the Cardinals in Week 10.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Seattle scored seven first-quarter points against Arizona after managing only six in the five previous first quarters combined. Jumping to a 14-0 lead was impressive and critical for the Seahawks after they fell behind early against the Cardinals in the previous meeting.
  • The defense made a momentum-turning goal-line stand to prevent the Cardinals from taking a 7-0 lead. The stop spurred Seattle's offense, which responded with a six-play, 99-yard touchdown drive.
  • The offense finished with 472 yards, the Seahawks' most since a 501-yard game against Atlanta in Week 17 of the 2007 season. This was the Seahawks' third-highest regular-season yardage total since the start of the 2003 season. The 2004 team gained 507 yards against Dallas.
  • Justin Forsett played an exceptional game at running back. His 123-yardage total was only part of the story. The block he made in blitz pickup against Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson was tremendous.
  • Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught nine passes for 165 yards in his finest game with the Seahawks. Houshmandzadeh made big plays down the field, pushing his per-catch average for the season to 11.6 yards.
  • Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane showed flashes early in the game, particularly on a 4-yard tackle for loss.
  • Fullback Justin Griffith made excellent blocks leading Forsett on inside runs. The zone running game looked good. Line coach Mike Solari has done a good job under the circumstances and that showed Sunday.
Looking ahead: The Seahawks face the Vikings on the road in Week 11.
Posted by's Mike Sando

The rapport between Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Houshmandzadeh spans first and second down, apparently.

The charts, produced by Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, break down Hasselbeck's passer ratings by receiver and situation. The first chart isolates first and second downs, where targeting Houshmandzadeh -- and quite a few others -- has paid off nicely for the veteran quarterback.
Matt Hasselbeck's passer rating differential by receiver on first and second downs
Receiver Times targeted Passer Rating Rating to other receivers
T.J. Houshmandzadeh
26 108.3 91.0 +17.3
Justin Forsett
2 110.4 94.4 +16.0
John Carlson
106.0 92.7 +13.4
Nate Burleson
104.6 92.0 +12.5
Justin Griffith
104.2 93.4 +10.7
Edgerrin James
95.8 94.9 +0.9
Julius Jones
95.2 94.6 +0.6
Seneca Wallace
93.8 95.1 -1.3
Owen Schmitt
79.2 95.0 -15.9
Deion Branch
60.4 98.5 -38.1
Deon Butler
3 50.7 96.3 -45.6
John Owens
39.6 97.6 -58.1

The second chart isolates third down. Hasselbeck's rating when throwing to Houshmandzadeh drops from 108.3 on early downs to 39.6 on third down. His rating when throwing to Houshmandzadeh on third down also lags dramatically relative to his third-down rating when targeting other Seattle players. Perhaps defenses pay special attention to Houshmandzadeh on third down. The pass Arizona's Antrel Rolle picked off against Hasselbeck -- the one when Houshmandzadeh waved at the ball as it sailed too long -- came on third down.
Matt Hasselbeck's passer rating differential by receiver on third down
Receiver Times targeted Passer Rating Rating to other receivers
Deion Branch
4 112.5 55.3 +57.2
Ben Obomanu
1 112.5 63.5 +49.0
John Carlson
6 97.2 59.7 +37.5
Nate Burleson
12 91.0 54.5 +36.4
Edgerrin James
1 91.7 64.1 +27.6
Deon Butler
2 58.3 65.5 -7.2
Justin Forsett
3 52.1 66.2 -14.1
Justin Griffith
1 39.6 66.8 -27.2
T.J. Houshmandzadeh
9 39.6 88.2 -51.6

Deion Branch probably hasn't played enough to analyze across these situations, but if Hasselbeck or anyone else needs to know where to find him, Branch has proved willing to help.

Sounding off: NFC West on the airwaves

October, 15, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

The latest in our periodic spin around the NFC West radio dials:

Did not see anything new from last time


KNBR680: Steve Young

KNBR680: snapper Brian Jennings

KNBR680: Mike Singletary

Cardinals Cardinals Underground

710ESPN Seattle: Matt Hasselbeck via

710ESPN Seattle: analyst Ray Roberts

710ESPN Seattle: analyst and former Cardinals quarterback Tim Hasselbeck

KJR950 Seattle: fullback Justin Griffith

KJR950 Seattle: Seahawks Round Table

KJR950 Seattle: defensive end Lawrence Jackson

KJR950 Seattle: reporter Eric Williams

If you find others, please pass along links.

NFC West: Injury situation that matter

October, 14, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

Arizona: Losing tight end Stephen Spach to an ankle injury could help the passing game if the newly reinstated Ben Patrick is ready to contribute right away following a four-game suspension. Spach and fellow tight end Anthony Becht were valued mostly as blockers. Patrick isn't an elite receiver by any means, but he offers more in that regard. To what extend the Cardinals can afford to leave their tackles alone in pass protection could determine whether Patrick contributes as a receiver Sunday. Having safety Matt Ware back should help strong safety Adrian Wilson concentrate his talents where they are best utilized, near the line of scrimmage.

St. Louis: Tackle Jason Smith is working his way back from a knee injury and could start on the right side. It's important for the Rams to get him back on the field. They need Smith to develop and eventually take over the starting job on the left side. Smith took about half the reps at right tackle in practice Wednesday. The Rams gave him a few reps on the left side as well. The middle of the defense has taken injury hits recently, with defensive tackle Gary Gibson (injured reserve) and safety James Butler missing time. I wonder whether the Rams could be vulnerable to a big play up the middle. Quarterback Marc Bulger has bounced back from an injured shoulder. He's taking the reps in practice and has looked crisp, coach Steve Spagnuolo said. The Jaguars' weak pass rush should play in Bulger's favor.

Seattle: Playing a home game should give fourth-string left tackle Kyle Williams a better chance than if the Seahawks were playing in a stadium where opposing fans' crowd noise could complicate matters. Williams is the favorite to start Sunday even though the team signed veteran Damion McIntosh as insurance. Steve Vallos is working at left guard, another change. The shuffling on Seattle's line will make it tough for the team to find its way in the running game, particularly against the Cardinals' run defense (fewest rushing yards per game allowed). The Seahawks were facing an adjustment period anyway as they converted to a zone-oriented blocking system. Fullback Justin Griffith's return from injury should help. On defense, the Seahawks expect to have Patrick Kerney back. He's had success against the Cardinals at Qwest Field.

San Francisco: The 49ers entered their bye week unsure whether starting strong safety Michael Lewis or backup linebacker Jeff Ulbrich would return from concussions, or how quickly. Getting running back Frank Gore back from an ankle injury will help. The bye should also allow several offensive linemen to rest nagging injuries.