NFC West: Ken Lucas

Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson and Roy Lewis were the Seattle Seahawks' cornerbacks when Pete Carroll arrived as head coach for the 2010 season.

That group consisted of two first-round picks, two second-rounders and an undrafted free agent. It should have been stellar, but it was not.

The team has become exponentially better at the position without investing much in its personnel. Richard Sherman was a fifth-round pick. Brandon Browner was playing in the CFL. The new slot corner, Antoine Winfield, signed for one year and $2 million.

Consider Matt Williamson impressed. Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, listed Seattle's corners No. 1 in the NFC West -- and beyond -- as part of his ongoing pre-draft positional rankings for division teams.

Williamson: Seattle to me has the best set of corners in the league, clearly. And then Winfield might be the best slot corner in the league. It's almost unfair.

Sando: Carroll coached the secondary in his early NFL days. He and general manager John Schneider have put together the best one in the NFL, stacked at safety and corner alike. I think the entire division is pretty strong at corner overall.

Williamson: These next three teams are close. St. Louis has the best starters of the remaining three teams. Arizona clearly has the best single starter of the remaining three in Patrick Peterson. The Niners have a lot of guys and who knows what they get out of Nnamdi Asomugha.

Sando: I don't think the 49ers are all that worried about their corner situation even though the pass defense faltered late last season.

Williamson: Nobody complalins about their corners when Justin Smith is healthy. We like to nitpick this San Francisco defense when there is nothing wrong with it. The corners are still in the top 15 position groups in the league.

Sando: I'd think every team in the NFC West could say that.

Williamson: Agreed. Being fourth in this division isn’t something to hang your head about. I could make a strong argument for San Francisco as second to Seattle. I like the Rams' starters, but Janoris Jenkins could be overrated at this point based on some of the big plays he has made. People are picking on him.

Sando: Trumaine Johnson was a nice addition in St. Louis as well, if he can stay out of trouble. And we haven't even mentioned Cortland Finnegan. I'm curious, what did you think of the Antoine Cason addition in Arizona?

Williamson: He struggled in San Diego last season. The Chargers were so dysfuntional. I think Cason has first-round skills. He is a quality player who is never going to be a Pro Bowler. He is above average. He is a middle-of-the-road to an above-average starter.

Sando: The Cardinals shuffled most of their secondary. That group will be interesting to watch. I still think Peterson is just getting started and can become the best corner in the league. For now, though, Sherman might legitimately claim that title.
With the San Francisco 49ers in the market for cornerback help and our offseason power rankings focusing on the position later Tuesday, I'll look back at the corners current NFC West teams have drafted over the last decade.

This is the second part in a series that began with a look at 15 classes of NFC West quarterbacks. Then as now, I'll break up the charts with narration from teams' perspectives.

These guys had better start early and challenge for Pro Bowls ...

Some prospects aren't ideal in one area or another, but they could shine in the right scheme ...

Still not too late to find decent starters ...

Last chance to find a likely contributor ...

Time to fill out the 80-man roster ...

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
2:06
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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.
Tags:

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
9/08/10
12:06
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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.
The earlier item quantifying NFL roster turnover since last season ranks the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals among the three teams with the most changes.

Some of the research used for that project shows up in the latest version of the anabolically enhanced rosters found here periodically. Specifically, the 26th and final column shows which players were starters, backups or on injured reserve for NFC West teams in Week 17 last season.

Download the rosters here.

The column showing player ages makes it easy to see how roster attrition affects older players. I'll list below the players currently 30 or older who have been released, traded, announced their retirements or were not re-signed as unrestricted free agents since last season:

Seattle Seahawks (9)

Patrick Kerney, Walter Jones, John Owens, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson, D.D. Lewis, Damion McIntosh

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Sean Morey, Ben Hamilton and Chris Baker.

Arizona Cardinals (9)

Kurt Warner, Chike Okeafor, Mike Gandy, Bertrand Berry, Neil Rackers, Morey, Brian St. Pierre, Ralph Brown, Dan Kreider,

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Jay Feely, Paris Lenon, Joey Porter and Alan Faneca.

San Francisco 49ers (6)

Shaun Hill, Arnaz Battle, Mark Roman, Walt Harris, Dre' Bly, Jeff Ulbrich

Note: The team added 30-plus vets David Carr and William James. In looking at the chart, note that receiver Isaac Bruce, 37, is still on the 49ers' roster for the time being.

St. Louis Rams (5)

Leonard Little, Marc Bulger, Lenon, Clinton Hart, Randy McMichael

Note: The team added 30-plus vets A.J. Feeley, Na'il Diggs, Hank Fraley and Fred Robbins.
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.

The Seahawks' thinking on CB Thurmond

April, 24, 2010
4/24/10
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks' trade for LenDale White cost them virtually nothing.

The team moved back seven spots in the fourth round as part of the deal, then took Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond with the 111th pick, acquired from Tennessee for White, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and the 185th pick.

Seattle gave up the 104th and 176th picks.

The Seahawks needed cornerback depth. They have not re-signed Ken Lucas. Former starter Kelly Jennings doesn't fit the size profile Seattle's new leadership values. Thurmond is listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds -- not huge, but he's known as good against the run.

Thurmond would have been a higher choice had he not suffered a blown knee as a senior. The injury history suggests Seattle will not expect much from Thurmond for the next year or two, but he could be a player the team develops.

Such is the nature of drafting players in the middle to later rounds. Those with the most talent tend to come with baggage of some sort. The knee injury is what held back Thurmond.

Updated: NFC West UFA list

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
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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
3/03/10
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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
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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.

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRENFC West blogger Mike Sando correctly chose 49ers wide receiver Vernon Davis as a best-kept secret in 2009, but how did he fare with his other predictions?
The question was simple: I've got a column to write for Wednesday. What should it be about?

"Now that the football season is officially over," Primeau1203 wrote, "possibly revisiting preseason predictions for team expectations, player expectations, breakout players, and whatever else was prognosticated before things got going."

I liked it.

The NFC bloggers fared admirably back in July when identifying "breakout players" for their divisions. I went with the Cardinals' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who earned a Pro Bowl berth in his second NFL season and first as a full-time starter.

We hit a similar theme in August, providing feature stories on players who could break out with strong performances. While I wasn't totally off-base in profiling 49ers receiver Josh Morgan, teammate Vernon Davis would have made for a better choice. I just wasn't sure the 49ers would feature Davis so much as a receiver because they had previously needed him to help in pass protection. I also wasn't sure whether Davis would rise to the challenge if the 49ers did feature him, but I did call him the "best-kept secret" on the 49ers (more below).

As for Morgan, he did increase his reception total from 20 in 2008 to 52 last season. But his yards per reception plummeted from 16.0 to 10.1 and his touchdown total held at three. As much as the increased reception totals qualify as breaking out, it just didn't feel that way.

More broadly, Primeau1203's suggestion sent me back through our season preview pages for the Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks and Rams.

I'll revisit my team-by- team choices for best developments during camp, best additions in free agency, best veterans without a Pro Bowl and best-kept secrets, providing updated thoughts at the end of each category group.

Best developments during camp

Cardinals: "Second-year defensive end Calais Campbell appeared up to the challenge of replacing productive starter Antonio Smith, who signed with the Texans. The 6-foot-8, 290-pounder has shown an ability to play the run and the pass."

49ers: "Adam Snyder exceeded expectations at right tackle, a position the 49ers badly needed to stabilize this offseason. Snyder's toughness and attitude fit well with the 49ers' preferred offensive identity."

Hasselbeck
Hasselbeck
Seahawks: "Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck held up physically and made it through two exhibition games without a word from his formerly problematic back. Injury-related questions annoy Hasselbeck. He feels fine and thinks injury concerns are overrated."

Rams: "Receiver Laurent Robinson, acquired from the Falcons, showed signs of filling a massive void at receiver. He has gotten deep a couple of times in preseason."

My thoughts after the season: Campbell had 7.0 sacks and Robinson was easily the Rams' best receiver before suffering a season-ending injury. Hasselbeck's back held up fine, but the rest of his body, including his ribs and throwing shoulder, didn't fare so well. Injury concerns regarding Hasselbeck were not overrated, in other words. In San Francisco, Snyder fared OK, but the 49ers do need to address that position. All in all, I could have appeared a lot more foolish.

Best additions in free agency

McFadden
McFadden
Cardinals: "Cornerback Bryant McFadden. His physical style should complement Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's pure cover skills. McFadden also brings more of the Pittsburgh mentality Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has sought to instill."

49ers: "Fullback Moran Norris. New offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye needed a traditional fullback to run his offense. Bringing back Norris made Frank Gore a happy man. Gore thinks he can approach or exceed his career-best numbers from 2006."

Seahawks: "Ken Lucas from Carolina. The veteran cornerback's value to Seattle has grown significantly now that a back injury has sidelined Pro Bowl corner Marcus Trufant. Lucas gives the Seahawks' undersized secondary needed size."

Rams: "Center Jason Brown. The Rams badly needed an anchor for their offensive line. Brown seems like a strong leader. He has unusual size for a center."

My thoughts after the season: These picks were easier than they might appear because teams signed relatively few high-profile unrestricted free agents from other teams. The Cardinals signed only two, McFadden and fullback Jason Wright. Even if you view McFadden as a disappointment, he was still the best addition in free agency based on playing time alone. The 49ers used Norris less than expected, transitioning away from their run-oriented intentions. But Brandon Jones, Demetric Evans, Marques Harris and Marvel Smith were the only other UFA additions. For Seattle, Lucas played quite a bit while Trufant was away, although T.J. Houshmandzadeh might have been a better choice. It's tough to question Brown's selection for the Rams. He had a strong year.

Best veterans without a Pro Bowl

Cardinals: Karlos Dansby

Witherspoon
Witherspoon
49ers: Justin Smith

Seahawks: Leroy Hill

Rams: Will Witherspoon

My thoughts after the season: Dansby was a good choice. Smith earned a Pro Bowl berth as an alternate after another strong season. Injuries knocked out Hill. Seahawks teammate Brandon Mebane probably would have been a better choice. I whiffed on linebacker Witherspoon. He was terrific during training camp practices, only to disappear during the season. The Rams traded him to the Eagles and Witherspoon made an immediate impact. I'm just not sure why he never factored in St. Louis.

Best-kept secrets

Warner
Warner
Cardinals: "Quarterback Kurt Warner, although considered an injury risk, owns the seventh-longest starting streak among active quarterbacks, counting playoffs. He hasn't missed a game to injury since 2005."

49ers: "Tight end Vernon Davis, though heavily criticized as an erratic player, was an alternate to the Pro Bowl last season. He's a sensational blocker. Increased opportunities in the passing game should pump up his numbers."

Seahawks: "The Seahawks ran a rugged training camp. They didn't hit as much as the Rams or 49ers, but new coach Jim Mora worked them harder than players anticipated. Mora's own obsession with fitness made conditioning a higher priority this season."

Rams: "The Rams had the highest-rated projected starting offensive line in the division using 'Madden 10' player ratings (with rookie Jason Smith in the lineup). The group hasn't worked together enough to validate such a rating, but some of the long-term building blocks appear to be in place."

My thoughts after the season: The first two held up quite well. Warner started 15 games and was at his best in the first round of the playoffs. Davis did indeed pump up his numbers. The Seahawks might have been in good shape from a conditioning standpoint, but they still suffered quite a few injuries. They also faded badly late in the season, rendering my best-kept secret pretty much irrelevant. I'll stand by the note on the Rams' offensive line to the extent that the line avoided injuries. The running game was productive. The line simply ran out of healthy players late in the season.


Arizona Cardinals

Consensus ESPN.com predicted division finish: First

Actual division finish: First

What Sando said then: "The Cardinals need more consistency on defense and a stronger commitment to the running game. They also need Kurt Warner to defy age once again."

Dissenting view: Seth Wickersham predicted a fourth-place finish for Arizona. "Too many breaks went Arizona's way last season," he wrote. "Remember, this team is coming off a 9-7 performance, lost talent on the coaching staff and is depending on a 38-year-old future Hall of Fame QB to work magic."

My thoughts now: The Cardinals did become more consistent defensively until the playoffs, when it mattered most. They did show a stronger commitment to the running game. Warner did defy age once again, missing only one game. Arizona was better on the road than I anticipated, but this prediction held up nicely.

San Francisco 49ers

Consensus ESPN.com predicted division finish: Third

Actual division finish: Second

What Sando said then: "The 49ers can win this division if Shaun Hill approximates his 2008 passer rating (87.5), but it'll be tough if Kurt Warner or Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy. Not sure if the 49ers can score enough points."

Dissenting view: Bill Williamson predicted a first-place finish for San Francisco. "Surprise. I've liked this team for a couple of seasons. I think Mike Singletary is going to get a lot out of this team this season. It's a winnable division and I think the young talent in San Francisco is going to come together."

My thoughts now: I thought the 49ers would finish 8-8 or possibly 9-7, and they were 8-8. But I think Williamson was right-on in predicting good things for the 49ers' young talent. Michael Crabtree was more of a contributor than expected after the contract dispute. Davis exceeded outside expectations. Chilo Rachal finished the season on a higher note after struggling early. Dashon Goldson justified the team's decision to move him into the lineup at free safety.

Seattle Seahawks

Consensus ESPN.com predicted division finish: Second

Actual division finish: Third

What Sando said then: "Matt Hasselbeck is looking good and building a rapport with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and John Carlson. Injuries on the offensive line could send this team south in the standings, however."

Dissenting view: Jeffri Chadiha predicted a third-place finish for Seattle, lower than any other ESPN.com prediction for the Seahawks. "They'll be better with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck returning this season," he wrote. "But the Seahawks still have too many other questions to consider them contenders."

My thoughts now: Injuries along the offensive line did indeed send the Seahawks south in the standings. And Chadiha was right in noting that the team had too many questions throughout the roster. I thought the offense would gain momentum late in the season. The opposite was true and that contributed significantly to coach Jim Mora's firing after the season. The Seahawks were worse than I expected, for sure.

St. Louis Rams

Consensus ESPN.com predicted division finish: Fourth

Actual division finish: Fourth

What Sando said then: "It's tough finding more than four or five likely victories on the Rams' schedule. They open with three of their first four on the road, circumstances hardly conducive to Marc Bulger's reviving his career."

Dissenting view: Wickersham was the only ESPN.com contributor to foresee anything higher than a last-place finish for the Rams. He picked them third and wrote, "A talented front seven coupled with Marc Bulger's knowing he's gone if he doesn't produce this year will put the Rams in the 6-8 win category."

My thoughts now: Four or five victories? The Rams have five over their last three seasons. They have gone from 3-13 to 2-14 to 1-15 during that stretch. I thought they were improving until about midseason. The Rams, like the Seahawks, were worse than expected.


Finally, I went back into our preseason predictions for division winners, conference winners, MVP, coach of the year and more.

Yikes.

Jeremy Green of Scouts Inc. was the only one of 16 forecasters to pick the Saints to even win the NFC South.

I hit on three of four division winners and one of two wild-card teams in the AFC. The NFC picks weren't quite so accurate. Arizona was the only division winner I predicted right in the conference. I did hit one of two wild-card teams right (Eagles). And I could have done worse than predicting Brian Orakpo and Mark Sanchez as the defensive and offensive rookies of the year, respectively.

But my Super Bowl pick -- Patriots over Packers -- doesn't seem so good now.

Oh, well.

There's always next season.

Schneider, Carroll and the elephants

January, 25, 2010
1/25/10
4:24
PM ET
Seahawks general manager John Schneider expanded on his philosophy during a recent interview with John Clayton on 101ESPN Seattle. New Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did the same thing during a recent interview with KJR950's Mitch Levy.

Thoughts and highlights:
  • Schneider favors taller cornerbacks to combat the growing number of large receivers in the NFL. This was the approach Seattle took when Schneider and one of his mentors, Ted Thompson, were with the Seahawks several years ago. Ken Lucas and Ike Charlton are among the taller corners Seattle selected under that mindset.
  • Schneider favors bigger receivers. Schneider said it's a "big man's league" and this has "more to do with corner and receiver than any other position."
  • Finding linebackers, running backs, defensive linemen and offensive linemen is more about finding people to fit schemes. Seattle will pursue offensive linemen and running backs to fit the zone blocking scheme, for example.
  • The Seahawks could draft quarterbacks regularly, independent of perceived need. Another mentor for Schneider, Ron Wolf, believed in drafting quarterbacks frequently, developing them and then deciding whether to promote them or trade them. Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck were examples from Schneider's early years in Green Bay.
  • Carroll cleared up confusion over whether the Seahawks were considering incorporating 3-4 principles on defense, something Carroll alluded to during the news conference to introduce Schneider. The team will run a 4-3 scheme. The team might deploy its 4-3 defense with some personnel that might project more naturally in a 3-4 alignment. Hence references to "elephant" linebackers such as Brian Cushing, formerly of USC and now with the Texans. Background info here.

By the decade: NFC West cornerbacks

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
3:17
PM ET
Aeneas Williams bounced between safety and cornerback while playing with the Cardinals and mostly the Rams during the first part of this decade.

It wasn't his fault he could do it all.

Williams was a clutch player and big-play threat. I made him a cornerback for the sake of this exercise because it wasn't fair to penalize him for his versatility. I'll probably count him as a safety, too, when it's time to evaluate the best NFC West players of the decade at that position. He'll rank high there, too.

No other NFC West cornerback from 2000 to 2009 could match Williams' accomplishments.

While the Rams' offense earned most of the attention during the 2001 season, Williams was the one largely responsible for helping St. Louis advance to the Super Bowl. He returned two Brett Favre interceptions for touchdowns in the divisional round. He picked off Donovan McNabb late in the NFC title game, preserving a 29-24 victory.

Williams went to the Pro Bowl as a cornerback after that season.

Seattle's Marcus Trufant played more games and earned a Pro Bowl berth. He was a consistently good cornerback for several years during the decade. No one could match the impact Williams made.

For more on these and other NFC West corners during the decade, check out Pro Football Reference (Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, 49ers).

Update: In retrospect, Nate Clements' name probably belongs on the list somewhere. He's been a good all-around cornerback for a few years.

Around the NFC West: Winds of change

January, 5, 2010
1/05/10
9:59
AM ET
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com 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 seattlepi.com 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 azcardinals.com 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 stltoday.com 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.

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