NFC West: Kevin Payne
The Seattle Seahawks have acquired 13 of them, including current contributors Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald.
Palmer, acquired by the Arizona Cardinals from the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday, joins Vonnie Holliday, Kevin Kolb and Kerry Rhodes as veteran acquisitions for the Arizona Cardinals over the past three seasons.
The chart lists all 27 for NFC West teams. Shading identifies players still on the acquiring teams' rosters.
No-brainers: The Rams kept only eight offensive linemen initially because the depth beyond their starters simply wasn't very good. On defense, safety Kevin Payne's injury situation cost him a chance at providing depth while James Butler recovers from a knee injury. Coach Steve Spagnuolo talked up rookie running back Keith Toston a few times, and he has long appreciated Kenneth Darby's toughness. But if the Rams can find upgrades, they should consider their options.
What’s next: The Rams hold the NFL's No. 1 waiver priority following their 1-15 record last season. Expect them to make a few claims in an effort to upgrade their roster. Most teams keep nine offensive linemen. The Rams could be active at that position. They could use a backup for Jackson. And with receiver Donnie Avery on injured reserve, the Rams could explore the trade market.
Rams players cut:
QB Keith Null
RB Chris Ogbonnaya
FB Dennis Morris
WR Danario Alexander
WR Jordan Kent
WR Brandon McRae
TE Darcy Johnson
OL Roger Allen
OL Tim Mattran
OL Ryan McKee
OL Drew Miller
OL Eric Young (IR).
DL Victor Adeyanju
DL Ernest Reid
LB Devin Bishop
LB Bobby Carpenter
LB Cardia Jackson
CB Quincy Butler
CB Marquis Johnson
CB Antoine Thompson
SS Brett Johnson
SS Kevin Payne (IR)
Keith Null, who started four games as a rookie in 2009, will not be the third-stringer behind A.J. Feeley.
Bradford's elevation, announced by coach Steve Spagnuolo, and Null's release brought clarity to the Rams' quarterback picture. The Rams have not announced all their cuts, but with Null out, rookie Thaddeus Lewis becomes the third quarterback heading into the regular season.
Starting Bradford was the most logical decision after the rookie No. 1 overall choice shined during much of the exhibition season, plus training camp. There's no sense in stunting Bradford's development if he appears mentally, emotionally and physically strong enough to dive right in.
Two other Rams moves: Kevin Payne and Eric Young to injured reserve.
On the radar: Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could show interest in San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson. Recently released Seattle Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is also a consideration, but I'm not sure what type of situation Houshmandzadeh might prefer. He's from Southern California, he's a veteran and he's guaranteed $7 million no matter what, so why not target a winning team somewhere relatively close to the West Coast? Just a thought.
With that in mind, let's take a position-by-position look at the Rams' roster heading into their second season under coach Steve Spagnuolo (current roster counts listed in parentheses):
Average number kept since 2003: 2.9
Keepers: Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley
Looking safe: Keith Null
On the bubble: Thaddeus Lewis
Comment: Lewis has played well enough to intrigue the Rams, but probably not well enough for another team to claim him off waivers. That makes Lewis a natural choice for the practice squad.
Running backs (5)
Average number kept since 2003: 5.3
Keepers: Steven Jackson, Mike Karney
Looking safe: Kenneth Darby
Not sure what to think: Keith Toston, Chris Ogbonnaya
Comment: The Rams are carrying as many running backs as teams typically keep, but multiple spots could be up for grabs depending on which running backs become available via waivers. I'd rather list Toston, Ogbonnaya and Darby in one group until it becomes clear which backs -- and which types of backs -- hit the waiver wire. Ogbonnaya showed potential last season and looked good early in camp, but his performance hasn't carried over to exhibition games and that could cost him. Perhaps expectations were too high. Darby's toughness and special-teams contributions could help him. Toston runs hard and could land on the practice squad.
Wide receivers (9)
Average number kept since 2003: 5.3
Keepers: Laurent Robinson, Mardy Gilyard, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Keenan Burton
On the bubble: Dominique Curry
Also: Brandon McRae, Jordan Kent, Danario Alexander
Comment: Curry stood out as an undrafted steal during camp. He has excellent size and has showed good ability on special teams. Burton's durability should remain a concern, but that's the case with Robinson and even Gibson at this point. Gibson's value rises with Donnie Avery on injured reserve.
Tight ends (6)
Average number kept since 2003: 3.0
Keepers: Billy Bajema, Mike Hoomanawanui
Looking safe: Fendi Onobun
Not sure what to think: Daniel Fells, Darcy Johnson
Also: Dennis Morris
Comment: But wait, Fells is the incumbent starter, right? Yes, but he hasn't been durable and there's so much to like about the rookies Onobun and Hoomanawanui. Bajema is an obvious keeper for his blocking and all-around game (he has caught the ball well on limited chances). Johnson has shown toughness and blocking ability, so he could be an option if the team wants to move on from Fells. Perhaps I'm over thinking things here, but the emergence of Onobun and Hoomanawanui during camp creates dilemmas.
Offensive linemen (13)
Average number kept since 2003: 9.3
Keepers: Jason Brown, Jacob Bell, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg, Hank Fraley
Looking safe: John Greco, Roger Allen III
Also: Eric Young, Drew Miller, Ryan McKee, Renardo Foster, Tim Mattran
Comment: It's tough finding nine keepers here, so the Rams could be active in the waiver-claim game. Greco's versatility works in his favor. Are the Rams still high on Allen's prospects? I know they liked him last season, but that was before reconstructive knee surgery. Trading Alex Barron made sense in the big picture, but the Rams would have better depth here if Barron were still around.
Defensive line (12)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.6
Keepers: Chris Long, Fred Robbins, Clifton Ryan, James Hall, Gary Gibson, Darell Scott
Looking safe: George Selvie
On the bubble: Victor Adeyanju, C.J. Ah You, Jermelle Cudjo
Also: Ernest Reid, Eugene Sims
Comment: Durability concerns could cost Ah You. Adeyanju also could be on the bubble depending on what options the Rams have beyond their own roster. Cudjo has made a positive impression during camp and preseason. Same goes for Selvie, although an injury sidelined him part of the time.
Average number kept since 2003: 6.3
Keepers: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant, Na'il Diggs, Chris Chamberlain
Looking safe: Bobby Carpenter
On the bubble: David Vobora, Josh Hull
Also: Devin Bishop, Cardia Jackson
Comment: Carpenter has gotten some work at defensive end. Perhaps his presence in an emergency capacity at that position could allow the Rams to keep one fewer defensive lineman, at least early. Chamberlain is probably the best special-teams position player on the Rams, enhancing his value. Hull could provide depth behind Laurinaitis because he's a true middle linebacker, whereas Vobora can back up every position. That could be a close call.
Defensive backs (14)
Average number kept since 2003: 9.7
Keepers: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Ron Bartell, Justin King, Bradley Fletcher, James Butler, Kevin Payne, Craig Dahl, Jerome Murphy, Kevin Dockery
Looking safe: Quincy Butler
On the bubble: Darian Stewart
Also: Brett Johnson, Marquis Johnson, Antoine Thompson
Comment: James Butler's knee injury probably makes keeping Payne a higher priority. Stewart could be a candidate for the practice squad.
Average number kept since 2003: 2.7
Keepers: Josh Brown, Donnie Jones, Chris Massey
Comment: Strong group here.
The Arizona Cardinals signed veteran linebacker Paris Lenon, whose value has increased with Gerald Hayes recovering from back surgery. The Seattle Seahawks added veteran offensive linemen Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts, players experienced in their new offense and potentially valuable mentors for first-round choice Russell Okung. And in St. Louis, the Rams brought in defensive tackle Fred Robbins from the New York Giants in an effort to bolster their run defense and provide veteran leadership.
"They had a bunch of young guys who had never played the game in the NFL before," Robbins said via phone this week in sizing up the 2009 Rams. "They had a lot of lineup changes, different guys playing different spots, injuries, this and that. But when you bring in some core veteran guys, you bring in some other key guys and you get guys with a better feel for what is going on and understand the game a lot better -- not just running to the football, but technique and learning your plays and keys. That is the part that carries over and makes teams better."
The Rams have added 13 veterans to their roster since Week 17 last season. Four of them -- Robbins, quarterback A.J. Feeley, center Hank Fraley and linebacker Na'il Diggs -- are 32 or 33 years old. A few others -- safety Kevin Payne and cornerback Kevin Dockery come to mind -- have starting experience. Like Dockery, Robbins was with Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo on the Giants. Diggs played for Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole in Carolina. Fraley and Feeley were with Spagnuolo and Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in Philadelphia.
"We're able to make the guys be aware of how to play the defense [or offense], what to expect, what to look for," Robbins said. "These guys know how to perform, how to practice and you look forward to games. When you bring in some veteran guys, we've been through it. This is a young team and a young team brings energy. We are just trying to show them how to exert their energy in the right way. Once guys learn how to get that feel, good things are going to happen for us."
Former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren took similar (if more aggressive) measures after a 6-10 season in 2000. He was even more aggressive by bringing in veterans Levon Kirkland, Chad Eaton, Marcus Robertson, John Randle and Trent Dilfer. Seattle finished 9-7 the next season.
Robbins singled out Chris Long and James Laurinaitis as defensive players who could exceed expectations in St. Louis this season. I also asked him about rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Robbins was with the Giants when Eli Manning was a rookie, so he knows what it's like to break in a young quarterback.
"What has surprised me was just how quick he is picking up to the NFL tempo, the NFL speed and everything that way," Robbins said of Bradford. "He's stepping in and doing a good job and the things he does on the practice field make it seem like he is not a rookie."
Everyone takes for granted how good of a blocker he is. I recall a few games where he completely shut down an opponent's best pass rusher, i.e. Jared Allen, and it would have been Joey Porter also if it were not for the last play where Porter sacked Shaun Hill.
It's just something that I have been trying to see film on and I just cant find any. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Mike. Keep up the great work.
Mike Sando: I'm with you on Davis' blocking. It jumped out at me right away when I started watching every play of every 49ers game. The first time I broke it down was following a 2008 game against the Saints. Davis was absolutely dominant, even against defensive ends.
As I wrote then, "Watching this game made me think Davis was one of the best pass protectors on the team. He regularly blocked (Will) Smith and fellow defensive end Charles Grant, tough duty for any tight end. Davis was effective as a run blocker. During the third quarter, he blocked Smith twice and Grant twice on runs that gained 9, 9, 6 and 7 yards."
The 49ers did not ask Davis to block nearly as much in pass protection last season. That is the main reason his receiving numbers took off. Davis is an every-down player, so he's in there on running plays and he's a willing blocker. It's a great sign with a talented pass-receiving tight end is a willing and effective blocker. It means he loves the game and isn't just going after stats.
Ryan from Dallas writes: Hey Mike, got a Rams question for you. I was reading an article you posted a link to that said the Rams only rushed four players 65 percent of the time last year which was most in the league. I was a bit shocked to find this out because I really thought Spags would put together craftier schemes than just a soft four-man rush that often.
Two years ago, the Rams were blitzing like crazy and the claim was that they had to out of necessity due to lack of playmakers. So what do you think would be the better route? Or is there a happy medium to be found in here? Thanks as always. Keep it up.
Mike Sando: I could not find that blog post, but I did write one discussing blitz percentages.
The knock on the Rams previously was that their schemes weren't all that sound. I had heard that from opposing players. ESPN Stats & Analysis tracked blitz numbers last season and the Rams rushed four or fewer players 71 percent of the time. The league average was 65.2 percent. The Titans, Panthers and Bucs -- all teams with defensive coaches -- all rushed four or fewer at least 76 percent of the time.
The Rams were pretty inventive with some of their blitzes, according to coaches for other teams. For example, then-Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp counted 12 unscouted blitzes the Rams used in the regular-season opener. That was a high number. By unscouted blitzes, I mean blitzes the Seahawks hadn't seen from Spagnuolo on video.
It's tough to blitz without having players who are good at it, particularly when you're running a 4-3 scheme without good coverage players. I think the Rams should be OK from a scheme standpoint with Spagnuolo influencing the defense.
Rick from Boise writes: We all know there is a point value for each draft pick that teams use to determine vaule in trading picks. My question is, in any given draft, are picks for future years valued differently from current-year picks?
Mike Sando: Yes, they are valued differently. A pick next year generally loses about one round's value. For example, a 2011 third-rounder would be worth a 2010 fourth-rounder (update: I initially had the rounds transposed).
Jeremy from Vallejo, Calif., writes: Are the 49ers' training camp practices free to the public? How do I get info on times?
Mike Sando: Tickets are sold out, according to the 49ers. Sorry about that, Jeremy.
Trevor from Kelowna, B.C. writes: Assuming the Seahawks have no pass rush (probable), what's the solution? Don't see any free agents out there. Maybe a trade? Whadya think.
Mike Sando: I think the Seahawks are stuck. They do not have outstanding pass-rushers and they aren't going to land one before the season.
Chris from San Diego writes: Do you see the 49ers' Navorro Bowman playing this year and where, inside or outside?
Mike Sando: Bowman projects as an inside linebacker even though he's not the biggest guy. Look for Takeo Spikes to start this season, but Bowman could get in there, particularly if Spikes wears down. The 49ers think Bowman is an instinctive player. Instinctive linebackers tend to get on the field sooner than guys who lack that feel for the game. Lofa Tatupu in Seattle is one example. He became an immediate starter and Pro Bowl player as a rookie drafted outside the first round.
Andrew from Fort Worth writes: What really stands out about the "Fortunate 50" list is the fact that the list is flooded with big name-stars -- that is, until you come across recent high NFL draft picks such as Matthew Stafford, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson and Mark Sanchez. All together, these second-year players will be collecting $103,487,280 in salary next year with none proving to be elite players or achieving any outstanding accomplishments (Sanchez did lead his team to the AFC title game).
This again highlights the NFL's issue with rookie salary structures and should be a major focus in the next CBA. While I have no sympathy for NFL owners, as they are by far the most powerful owners in professional sport, this is clearly a problem that deserves attention. Given that players can be cut at any moment and lose out on non-guaranteed portions of their contracts, is it somewhat surprising that you don't see more players hold out once they've outperformed their current contracts?
Mike Sando: Those NFL players are on the list largely because their rookie deals were structured to have massive payouts in the second year. Those players likely will not rank as high next year. I don't have a huge problem with player salaries in the NFL. These guys submit their bodies to brutal beatings. Their life expectancies shrink. They deal with life-long health issues.
NFL players generally do not hold out because teams hold the cards. Teams simply aren't beholden to a single player in the vast majority of cases. Football is such a team sport. Very few players are important enough to their teams for those teams to buckle when a player holds out.
Mitch from Austin, Texas writes: Sando, can you explain how the cap works? I'm lost. In your post about the uncapped year helping the Seahawks, it says that the 'Hawks basically would have had to eat Deon Grant's salary in a capped year, correct? I don't understand why a team is punished for cutting a player and therefore not paying his salary. In theory, if you cut a player, then you don't have to pay him, so why does it count against the cap?
Mike Sando: The base salary doesn't count against the cap after a team releases a player. Other aspects of the contract count against the cap (when there is a cap, obviously). Teams account for some bonus money over multiple years, not all at once. But when a player is released with time left on his deal, that money can accelerate against the current cap. In Grant's case, his base salary was about the same as the bonus money that accelerated upon his release.
Q from Victoria, B.C., writes: Hey Mike, do we give Louis Rankin any shot of making the team in Seattle?
Mike Sando: Yeah, he has a chance. I'm not sure whether the Seahawks will keep a traditional blocking fullback. If they do, it's tougher for Rankin.
Seth from Newport News, Va., writes: I saw article on NFL.com about the league pushing players to wear more padding this season and that something may be mandated for the 2011 season. The NFL anticipates a lot of resistance to this. I understand players want to maximize speed, but they need to compromise to protect their investment (themselves).
I was wondering if you could give some insight into how this would affect the CBA negotiations and if this gives the owners something to use ( i.e. wear more padding or we will pay you less). Thanks.
Mike Sando: This issue gives the owners an opportunity to show interest in player safety. I do think it's a valid issue, though. Even some linemen play without basic padding. I don't see this issue being a big one in CBA negotiations. Having padding built into pants is intriguing.
Jesper from Denmark writes: Hi Mike. I think you have already talked about this in an earlier chat, but I would like to hear your oppinion on Kevin Payne. As far as I have understood, he played strong safety in his second year with the Bears and was a really really good player. They then moved him to free safety, which did not work out so well. Now the Rams have moved him back to strong safety. Shouldnt that make him the starter over James Butler, who is solid at best?
Mike Sando: The book on Payne does say he was better at strong safety. I'm intrigued by his addition and wondering whether he'll take the starting job. Teams generally do not give away starting-caliber players, though, so we shouldn't assume Payne will win the job. He should be in the mix. It's one of the issues I'm interested in pursuing.
Scott from Boise writes: I don't understand why Seattle isn't hosting Pittsburgh next year. They only meet once every four years and last time around was in Pittsburgh. What's the justification for making it 12 years since the last time they were in Seattle?
Mike Sando: I don't understand the issue well enough to explain it as simply as I would like.
The NFL has made a couple alterations to its scheduling formula. One tweak spares teams from making two long trips to face West Coast teams. Also, the league reset the scheduling formula so that 2011 mirrored 2002 (instead of picking up where 2009 left off). The league wasn't able to make the home-and-home swaps match up evenly.
Let me try to get a better explanation for you. I know some readers of this blog follow scheduling stuff more closely than I do, and they might be able to explain it more concisely and definitively.
Keith from Seattle writes: Regarding your column, 'Much fantasy love for Gore, 49ers', where did you get those numbers for top TD scorers in 2009? I didn't even see Chris Johnson or Maurice Jones-Drew listed and they easily had over 10 TDs a piece!
Mike Sando: The chart showed NFC leaders but I did not make that clear. I've updated the item with clear labeling. Sorry about that.
Kyle from Tempe writes: Hey, Mike. I'm sure you record every nfc west game during the season and watch them when you return home. Is that how you plan on handling shark week being in the middle of training camp?
Mike Sando: I do record all the regular-season games and chart them. As for shark week, I'm sure my sons would like to watch that one with me. I wind up watching Top Chef with my wife. We also try to catch Pawn Stars and some true-crime shows.
Dave from Covington, Wash., writes: My question is regarding Earl Thomas. I just haven't heard many things on how he has done it organized team activities, and what we are to expect out of him this season and how close we are to signing both of our first-rounders. Thanks for your time and all the great insight you have for the blog.
Mike Sando: Hey, thanks for that. Earl Thomas looks like a cornerback out there. His ball-hawking ability shined through a few times at OTAs. He did not immediately dominate to the point where it was clear he would be an instant star. But I think he generally looked like a good coverage safety. As for signing statuses, I don't worry about them for early draft choices until training camps are nearly upon us. If they aren't signed when camp starts, we can evaluate the issue then. Right now, it's a non-issue.
Mastermind from San Francisco writes: Hi Mike, the 49er glory days were characterized by some great minds in the front office, coaching staffs and on on the field. Who are today's masterminds in the 49ers' organization in those three categories, and how to they compare to past greats? One of my nagging worries regarding the Niners is this aspect of what it takes to be a great franchise. I'm just not sure they have many great minds throughout their organization, even if they have much more talent than recent years. Even our best player, Patrick Willis, was noted for avoiding playcalling duties on the field and seemed to want to play mostly with his intincts. Thanks!
Mike Sando: If you're looking for Bill Walsh or Mike Holmgren types, keep looking. They don't exist in San Francisco or in most franchises. The people that made the 49ers great during the 1980s and beyond were exceptional people. They were exceptions. It's unrealistic to expect an organization to have those sorts of people forever.
The 49ers do have some sharp people. I think Paraag Marathe is very bright and he has shown himself to be capable in handling the team's contracts. That is one area where the 49ers are far ahead of where they were during the years that led to their salary-cap issues.
Fritz from Auburn, Calif., writes: Hi Mike. Interesting post on divisional age. Is there any correlation between division age and win/loss percentages? It would be interesting if divisional youth were a leading indicator for increased winning in a year or two. I don't have the raw data or I'd check myself. Thanks!
Mike Sando: I do not think we could safely make such a connection. Teams can be young for different reasons. For example, the Indianapolis Colts are among the very youngest teams year after year. It's the nature of how they build their team around a few big-time veteran stars. Other young teams tend to be rebuilding teams (the Rams last season, the Carolina Panthers this season). Going young is the easy part. Building that young team into a winner requires skill and good fortune.
Shane from Los Angeles writes: Sand-O, Can you believe Kurt Warner didnt even make an honorable mention on this list? As big as he has played in big games, I am shocked ESPN did not have him on here. Please comment on it in your mailbag or in your blog. Thanks!
Mike Sando: There have been quite a few great quarterback performances over the years. Which of Warner's games would you single out? I know he's had games with a perfect passer rating. Another time, he completed 20 of 23 passes for 323 yards, five touchdowns and one interception (against the 49ers in 1999). His playoff performance against the Packers has to go down as one of the great efforts. The list you cited covered regular season only, however.
Constantine from San Francisco writes: Mike, following up on your latest entries regarding the best lines in the NFC West, which team has the best linebacking corps? Receiving corps? One other question: I'm a bit confused as to why so many people are high on Josh Morgan, why is he considered an up-and-comer? His play has struck me more as a "split tight end" -- catching a few balls and being valued as a blocker. Is he really a legitimate second receiver? Thanks for the thoughts.
Mike Sando: The 49ers probably have the best linebackers in terms of how they've played recently. The Seahawks have the potential to have the best group, but it would help if they stayed on the field past Week 1. When you talk about receivers, do you mean wide receivers? The Cardinals probably have the best ones, even without Anquan Boldin. If you include tight ends, I could see giving the 49ers stronger consideration. On Morgan, I think he's viewed in the context of where the 49ers drafted him -- in the sixth round. That sets the bar lower for him. I think he can be a good No. 2 receiver.
The San Francisco 49ers' veterans report a day later and they won't be on the practice field together until Aug. 2, a reflection of coach Mike Singletary's belief in holding additional meetings to make sure players know their responsibilities ahead of time.
The NFC West had more high first-round draft choices than any other division. Signing all of those high picks in time for the start of camp could be a challenge.
FOUR BIG QUESTIONS
Arizona Cardinals: Will Matt Leinart look the part?
The Cardinals won't know for sure whether Leinart is their man until they see him perform in multiple regular-season games. They should have a better feel for how he's trending after only a couple weeks of training camp.
How Leinart performs at camp -- what he says, the way he commands the huddle, how he interacts with teammates -- will be important and instructive. This is his fourth year in coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense. No excuses.
St. Louis Rams: When does Sam Bradford take over?
Bradford's presence at camp becomes the overriding storyline the minute he signs his contract and steps onto the practice field. The Rams, a team eager to reconnect with disillusioned fans, become a much more compelling story once they install Bradford as the starting quarterback.
It's hardly a given that Bradford will make that happen during training camp. Coach Steve Spagnuolo doesn't like handing anything to rookies. The team brought along 2009 first-rounder Jason Smith slowly, but when the regular season rolled around, Smith was in the lineup.
Bradford has a chance to follow a similar timetable. It's not as though he has to beat out an all-time great to win the starting job, either. Veteran A.J. Feeley was signed as a mentor and potential interim starter, but there's no question Bradford should appear more talented right away.
San Francisco 49ers: Does Nate Clements bounce back strong?
That's why I've singled out Clements' status as a key question for training camp.
Clements struggled last season and didn't seem like himself. It was almost a relief when an injury ended his season. Clements trained on his own this offseason, so the 49ers can't be certain what they'll get from him upon his return. The secondary, already a potential weakness on a team without many glaring holes, needs Clements to regain top form.
Seattle Seahawks: Who starts at running back?
With the quarterback situation settled for now -- sorry, Charlie Whitehurst, but this is still Matt Hasselbeck's show heading into the season -- every practice and exhibition game becomes a tryout at running back.
Justin Forsett and Julius Jones are the favorites to start. Both are good all-around backs with a nose for pass protection. Jones lacks panache. Forsett became the more appealing runner last season and I suspect his talents and running style will continue to grow on coach Pete Carroll.
Leon Washington will push for playing time if his surgically repaired leg heals sufficiently. Even Quinton Ganther has a chance to get some carries. This position is pretty wide open.
Cardinals: Leinart. Whisenhunt has proved he'll make changes at the most important position. There is no unconditional love at quarterback in Arizona. Even Warner had to play a certain way before Whisenhunt would go with him over Leinart as the starter heading into the 2008 season. Whisenhunt has expressed confidence and support for Leinart this offseason. Leinart must hold up his end to keep the job.
Rams: Feeley. It's only a matter of time before Bradford becomes the starter. Everyone knows what's up. That's why I'll also mention veteran strong safety James Butler in this spot. The team acquired Kevin Payne from the Chicago Bears, and Craig Dahl seemed to play pretty well last season. I'm not sure where Butler stands or how the strong safety position will shake out.
Seahawks: Deion Branch. On the surface, this was a tough call between Branch, who has had problems staying healthy, and linebacker Leroy Hill, who has had problems staying healthy and out of trouble. Both are scheduled to earn fat salaries this season, but only Hill's deal features guaranteed money. Seattle needs Branch, so he's safe as long as he's healthy, but can he stay healthy enough to be a factor?
Seahawks RB Leon Washington. The 49ers' Ginn might have been a candidate here as well, but Washington is more intriguing because he was a better player before suffering a ghastly leg injury while with the New York Jets last season. Washington is scheduled to make his Seahawks practice debut at training camp. If the leg heals correctly, Washington could become a player defenses must worry about.
Washington is a rarity among running backs in that he realizes he isn't an every-down back. He will not require 20 or 25 touches to get into a rhythm. He'll be fine getting limited touches.
Carroll is known to covet gadget players. Washington is more than that when healthy, but he does fill a specific role. He's definitely a secret weapon at this point because no one, including the Seahawks, can be sure what he'll offer this season. He could become a home-run threat or he might not make it out of camp.
Two of the teams with defensive-minded head coaches -- the 49ers and St. Louis Rams -- held more physical camps last summer. Former Seahawks coach Jim Mora held a grueling camp from a conditioning standpoint. And while it was misleading to suggest the lone offensive-minded coach in the division ran an easier camp, I think it's fair to say Whisenhunt sometimes seemed more concerned with keeping players healthy.
Spagnuolo promoted live tackling even against prized running back Steven Jackson. Spagnuolo said he needed to get an immediate feel for the team in his first season as head coach, and that was true. But with Jackson now coming off back surgery and Spagnuolo entering his second season, the Rams might be wise to scale back the amount of contact this summer.
Singletary's famous "nutcracker" drill is expected to remain a fixture at 49ers camp even though Patrick Willis, David Baas, Michael Robinson and Tarell Brown missed time after competing in the primal exercises pitting teammate against teammate.
Players are going to get hurt no matter how coaches run their camps. That's just football. But if coaches promote additional hitting and tackling, they'll hear about it when they suffer casualties.
Ocho (Seattle): Mike Williams or Deion Branch?
Mike Sando: Fans have grown weary of Branch and understandably so, but he's a probably safer bet than Mike Williams at this point. Williams is the more intriguing player because he has more physical talent. There's this feeling that he could really become something if he would just apply himself. But players who do not apply themselves for years and years cannot be trusted to do what it takes, even though Williams has, by all accounts, made a positive impression so far. If you're a Seattle fan, keep your fingers crossed on that one.
blazingcards (anchorage ak.): I am so perplexed about this media coronation of the 49ers. This current crop has NEVER won a significant game. Meanwhile Ken Whisenhut has a 4-2 record in the playoffs. Doesn't everyone seem to be shortchanging the Cardinals coach?
Mike Sando: I've made a point to temper the 49er-related coronations by giving the Cardinals their due. People anointing the 49ers are following logic. They know the 49ers already swept the Cardinals last season and they figure Kurt Warner's retirement will cost them a few additional victories. Doesn't mean Arizona will disappear, but I do think the 49ers have a good chance this season.
Dave (Columbus): How do you think the Cardinals O-line stacks up against the 49ers D-line? Looks to me as if Arizona is a little light in the middle to go at Aubrayo Franklin with the run game.
Mike Sando: That has been a tough matchup for Arizona in recent years. I did think Beanie Wells had some success running the ball at San Francisco last season. We'll see if that carries over. Justin Smith has been a big problem for the Cardinals. Arizona is moving Levi Brown to left tackle, with Alan Faneca taking over at left guard. The matchups and overall dynamics will change this season. I still think it's a tough matchup for Arizona -- or any team.
Jerry (Folsom, CA): Hey Mike, welcome back. The Rams have 4 safeties with starting experience and while one of them (Dahl) started because those ahead of him were hurt, that still leaves 3 with starting experience. Who sits? They traded for Payne so I'm wondering if he starts over James Butler. Thoughts?
Mike Sando: The book on Kevin Payne was that he was more comfortable at strong safety than free safety while with the Bears because he's better as a hitter than in coverage. He started five games for Chicago last season. That suggests he could be a factor at the strong safety spot. I think it's too early to say how it'll shake out. We need to see how well Oshiomogho Atogwe holds up physically, too.
Former Rams quarterback Marc Bulger is available on a conference call shortly. I'll monitor for a bit to see if there's anything Rams-related.
NFC West teams have acquired 10 veteran players by trade this offseason. Which one will have the greatest impact in 2010?
Let's define impact first.
Seahawks running back Leon Washington and 49ers receiver Ted Ginn Jr. have the best chance to make an electrifying play or two, perhaps swinging a game in their team's favor. Washington first must overcome a broken leg. Ginn scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns for the Dolphins last season. He had a 53-yard TD reception last season and a 40-yard scoring run in 2008.
Charlie Whitehurst, the quarterback Seattle acquired from San Diego, could make the greatest impact -- positive or negative -- based on the nature of his position. Early returns suggest Matt Hasselbeck will hold off Whitehurst for the starting job, but injuries have slowed Hasselbeck over the past two seasons. If Hasselbeck is banged up again, the Seahawks will presumably turn to Whitehurst.
A quick look at the veteran players NFC West teams have added and subtracted this offseason:
Arizona: added Rhodes; subtracted receiver Anquan Boldin.
St. Louis: added linebacker Bobby Carpenter and safety Kevin Payne; subtracted tackle Alex Barron and defensive lineman Adam Carriker.
49ers: added Ginn; subtracted quarterback Shaun Hill.
Seahawks: added Whitehurst, Washington, running back LenDale White, defensive end Chris Clemons, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and defensive end Robert Henderson; subtracted guard Rob Sims, defensive end Darryl Tapp and quarterback Seneca Wallace.
Seattle has been the busiest NFC West team in the trade market this offseason. I think that is because the Seahawks are the only team in the division with a new coaching staff and new general manager. They wanted to shake up the roster.
Also from Barrows: Singletary as stadium salesman.
Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat quotes Baalke this way on 49ers first-round choice Mike Iupati: "Look at the quickness. You don't see 330-pound guys come off the ball with this quickness very often, not in college and not in the NFL. You give Frank (Gore) those kind of holes, and you'll be winning a lot more games than not."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says it's clear that Taylor Mays needs to focus more on tackling and less on hitting.
Brian McIntyre of Scout.com sizes up the Seahawks' defense, position by position.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com previews the team's upcoming minicamp. Offensive line coach Alex Gibbs on new guard Ben Hamilton's role in mentoring Russell Okung: "Ben just went through this with the kid at Denver (with Ryan Clady). You can’t throw them out there without someone to guide them. We needed a player that had done that, and knew the system that I knew, to help with the transfer. That’s what Ben is for. Ben will line up inside of (Okung) and guide him daily through the whole process. So he’s Coach One, I’m Coach Two."
Also from Farnsworth: an appreciation of Walter Jones' exploits. Steve Hutchinson: "Walt was the epitome of an offensive lineman. He didn’t get beat. He never talked. As an offensive lineman, it’s an unwritten rule where you don’t talk to the media; you don’t want to be the quote guy. Walt was all that stuff. When you think of offensive linemen -- big, silent, strong -- that was Walt." See also: document declaring Friday as "Walter Jones Day" in Washington.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Trent Dilfer on Jones: "It took me a year of being here before I realized this. Every time we lined up, the best player on the field was my left tackle."
Also from O'Neil: Seahawks general manager John Schneider addresses the "Elephant" position in Seattle's defense. Schneider: "It is a position that my roommate in college made up! Kidding, we actually call it the 'leo' position here and yes, it is the weakside defensive end position, much like Charles Haley played in Dallas and San Francisco."
More from O'Neil: a Jones timeline.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Mike Holmgren called Jones the best offensive player he has coached. Holmgren: "I did. And then I got so much flak on that from the quarterbacks, they all started phoning me saying, 'What are you doing?' He's one of the best offensive players I've ever coached, absolutely. And he’s the best tackle. It’s the feeling that you have when you have a left tackle that can play like he does, and you don’t have to monkey with your protections that much that way. You just can say, 'OK, you’ve got that guy and we’ll help in other areas.' Very few teams can say that." Holmgren was fortunate to inherit Jones in Seattle and Joe Thomas in Cleveland.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic thinks Bryan Robinson's re-signing could put Gabe Watson on notice. Somers: "Watson hasn't been able to beat out Robinson the past two seasons, and the club took Dan Williams in the first round. Robinson, who turns 36 this summer, can also play end."
Also from Somers: Alan Faneca was excited to join the Cardinals largely because his "great friend" Russ Grimm is coaching the offensive line. Somers: "He likely will be plugged in at left guard, with Reggie Wells moving to either right guard or right tackle. Deuce Lutui, the incumbent at left guard will be in the mix when, or if, he signs his free-agent tender. So will Rex Hadnot, a free agent signed in the off-season. Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges are expected to compete for the right-tackle job."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with new Cardinals draft choice O'Brien Schofield for a lesson on the origins of the player's name. "Alacce" is his first name. His middle name was bestowed by accident.
Also from Urban: a look at key issues heading into the Cardinals' postdraft minicamp. Somers: "Can Daryl Washington show something early? Will the pressure of replacing Karlos Dansby fall to Paris Lenon? And what about a guy like Ali Highsmith -- can he make a run at playing time while Washington grows up in the NFL?"
More from Urban: a shot of Faneca and Grimm walking through the facility. They look like they could have been teammates. Great mustache on Faneca.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with new Rams tight end Fendi Onobun. General manager Billy Devaney: "We're taking a flier, guys. We know that. It's a project in its truest sense."
Also from Coats: a few words from new Rams safety Kevin Payne.
Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Bears thought Payne was better suited to strong safety than free safety. Rodenbush: "The Bears drafted Payne in 2007 out of Louisiana-Monroe, prompting the team to trade his former college teammate and safety Chris Harris to the Panthers. The Bears selected safety Major Wright in the third round of last week’s draft and reacquired Harris on Tuesday in advance of Payne’s trade to the Rams." The Bears had also signed Adam Archuleta in 2007.
The Bears drafted him in 2007, then traded his former college teammate and fellow safety, Chris Harris, to the Panthers. The Bears drafted another safety, Major Wright, and re-acquired Harris within the last week, precipitating Payne's departure to the Rams via trade.
"It's crazy," Payne said during a conference call Thursday. "You could write a book on it."
The book on Payne is that he was more comfortable at strong safety than free safety because hitting, not coverage, is his strength. Payne said he does love to hit -- it's one of the reasons he prefers safety to running back, the position he played early in college -- but he also stood up for his coverage skills.
"I am a very physical safety," Payne said. "I feel I can play any position, strong or free. I have the speed to play free and can (hit)."
The Rams need safety depth anyway and especially with starter Oshiomogho Atogwe unsigned. The team must upgrade its offer to Atogwe from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million by June to keep his rights. Atogwe plays free safety and has been a ball hawk in past seasons, although not so much in 2009.
The Rams' moves to draft cornerback Jerome Murphy in the third round and add Payne via trade suggest the team would like to get more physical in the secondary.
Also from Barrows: says 49ers director of player personnel Trent Baalke will walk reporters through film sessions featuring the team's new draft choices.
Art Spander of the San Francisco Examiner looks back on the career of late 49ers minority owner Frank Mieuli. Spander: "He put chandeliers in the Cow Palace and Rick Barry’s jersey behind an office door, delivered bags of fruit to sports writers and delivered a championship to the Bay Area. You could call Franklin Mieuli eccentric. I preferred to call him passionate. He had a beard, a deerstalker hat and a love of life. A character, that’s what Mieuli was: delightful and charming, if manipulative. He was the last of the mom-and-pop team owners, and the team he owned, the Golden State Warriors, did him proud."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune pays tribute to retiring Seahawks tackle Walter Jones. Former teammate Robbie Tobeck: "He's more of a competitor than people realize. He’s so good and has such great ability, it almost looks effortless when he's putting somebody on his back. And the reason for it is how hard he works. He wasn’t some superstar who took days off. He’s also one of toughest human beings I’ve ever been around … the man laughs at pain."
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times quotes former Seahawks line coach Howard Mudd this way on Jones: "He had this phenomenal athleticism. Walt is the kind of guy who does things so easily, it almost looks like he's playing at 75 or 80 percent. Like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, he never really struggles to get his job done, even when he's playing against the top NFL players. I don't think he ever lined up in a game where he thought he was closely matched, athletically, to the guy across from him."
Brian McIntyre of scout.com offers positional thoughts on the Seahawks' offense. He lists Deon Butler among the "locks" at receiver, a bit of a surprise.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times shoots down reports suggesting Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke could leave to run the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nothing against hockey, but why would someone cede control of three professional sports franchises -- the Seahawks, Trail Blazers and Sounders -- to run an NHL team? Doesn't made sense.
Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks have made a couple roster moves. DeAngelo Willingham and Tom Malone are out. Matt Overton and Quinton Teal are in.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says new Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons has high expectations.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says during a chat that he was surprised Golden Tate remained available to Seattle at No. 60. Williams: "I thought he would be a late first round, early second round pick. He's a playmaker that will help them immediately. I like getting Kam Chancellor when they did. I think he gives them a different dimension in the back end of the defense that they have not had in a while."
Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com provides a photo of LenDale White and Pete Carroll chatting in Carroll's office at team headquarters.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says two Cardinals rookies -- Jim Dray and John Skelton -- come from families accomplished in business.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who offers thoughts on how the team might proceed after adding Alan Faneca. Left guard Reggie Wells could move to right tackle, competing with Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges for the starting job.
Also from Urban: Quarterback Matt Leinart has switched lockers so he can be closer to the Cardinals' offensive linemen. Does he know what he's getting into from a pranks standpoint? Leinart: "I just wanted to be with my linemen -- simple as that. Now it’s all business. I’m not trying to do it to make a statement or anything, I’m just doing it because these are my guys. I just want them to know I’ll be a leader and I’ll have their back too. We can’t be an offense without them."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will have about 30 players at their postdraft camp on a tryout basis. That is a high number. Coats: "Two practices are planned for both Friday and Saturday, with a final session scheduled for Sunday morning. All are closed to the public. The mandatory full-squad minicamp is June 10-12 and will be surrounded by four weeks of OTAs -- organized team activities, or light practices. Training camp begins in late July, also at Rams Park."
Also from Coats: Acquiring safety Kevin Payne from the Bears could be a hedge against losing Oshiomogho Atogwe.
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams need to keep Alex Barron as insurance this season.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Barron told the team before the draft that he would sign his one-year tender and report to postdraft camp, according to Barron's agent. Thomas: "Barron has been an enigma since being drafted No. 19 overall out of Florida State in 2005. He has been one of the league's most penalized players over that span and occasionally has struggled blocking lesser players. But he frequently plays well against top tier defensive ends and has been durable. He has missed only two games because of injury in his career -- both late in his rookie season -- playing in 67 consecutive games, including 66 starts."
The Rams offered another potential sign Wednesday when they acquired free safety Kevin Payne from the Bears for a 2011 draft choice. Payne has started 22 of 32 games for the Bears over the past three seasons, picking off four passes.
Atogwe becomes a free agent in June if the Rams do not upgrade their offer to him from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million. Payne, 26, is signed through the 2010 season.
The Rams have not closed the door on Atogwe, but they appear to be protecting themselves in case they cannot work out a deal with him. It's pretty clear the team is not going to pay the nearly $7 million this season. If Atogwe decides to leave, the Rams now have better depth at the position.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals hold the 31st, 63rd, 95th, 131st, 167th, 204th, 240th and 254th choices in the 2009 draft. For perspective, I've singled out the last four players chosen in those spots.
Teams have certainly found tight ends at No. 31 in recent years. The Bears drafted Greg Olsen (2007). The Ravens drafted Todd Heap (2001).
In 2005, my first year of NFL blogging, more than a few Seattle fans wanted the Seahawks to select linebacker Darryl Blackstock. The Cardinals drafted him instead at No. 95. They have the 95th pick again this year. Blackstock is the only linebacker drafted in that spot since the 49ers drafted Mitch Donahue from Wyoming in 1991.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was with the Steelers in 2006 when they drafted guard Willie Colon with the 131st overall choice. Colon has started every game over the last two seasons. Arizona could stand to find starting-caliber depth for its line at some point in the 2009 draft.
Whisenhunt was also with the Steelers in 2005 when they drafted eventual starting guard Chris Kemoeatu with the 204th choice, another slot Arizona inhabits this season. In 2001,
the Bengals found T.J. Houshmandzadeh in that slot. Hall of Famer Art Donovan was also drafted 204th -- in 1947.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
SEATTLE -- Bears fans comprised perhaps 15 or 20 percent of the fans at Qwest Field tonight. It's tough to blame the locals for selling tickets to a fake game on a warm night in the Puget Sound area. Fans saved their loudest applause for news that swimmer Michael Phelps and the U.S. relay team had won gold medals. This game still has 7 minutes remaining, but I'll pass along some Seahawks observations before those of you on the East Coast hit midnight:
Offensive line -- Center Steve Vallos played well in the first quarter, not so well in the second quarter. His quickness helps, but sometimes he just gets overpowered. ... Ray Willis struggled after replacing the injured Sean Locklear at right tackle. Officials flagged Willis for a facemask penalty and for holding. Willis appeared to hold on several other plays. ... Left guard Mike Wahle's terrific mobility is going to help Seattle attack the edges more effectively.
Quarterback -- Charlie Frye made poor decisions and poor throws in this game. His stats also suffered from a couple of near-misses. He nearly connected with Courtney Taylor and Jordan Kent on plays that might have produced long touchdowns. Other times, Frye obviously held the ball too long. And he threw into coverage when the rush was in his face. This was not what the Seahawks wanted from Frye, their third quarterback. He has thrown three interceptions to this point.
Running back -- Julius Jones is a good fit for this offense. He blocks very well in pass protection. Officials flagged him for holding Brian Urlacher when Frye held the ball too long. I've got no problem with a running back holding Urlacher. Jones stayed with him as long as could be expected. The fumble Jones lost works against him. Bears safety Kevin Payne delivered the perfect shot to knock it loose (a helmet on the ball just as Jones was getting what would have been a first down on third-and-8).
Meanwhile, rookie Justin Forsett continues to show flashes as a playmaker, both on special teams and as a running back. He has seven carries for 55 yards (7.9-yard average) to this point. It's tougher to make a merit-based case for keeping T.J. Duckett over Forsett, although I did notice Duckett making a nice play in blitz pickup. And Duckett did just score a touchdown behind fullback Owen Schmitt on third-and-goal from the 1. The Bears had stuffed Forsett and Duckett on consecutive runs from the 1, but Forsett's running was what put Seattle in position. He had a 13-yarder on second-and-5 from the 16. Update: Forsett now has nine carries for 66 yards and a touchdown. He just scored on a 10-yard touchdown run with 5:22 left.
Tight end -- I noticed early in the game that Seattle replaced starter John Carlson with Jeb Putzier in the "Zebra" personnel grouping with one back, three wide receivers and one tight end. Seattle uses that grouping regularly, often on third down. Putzier is a good receiving tight end when healthy. Carlson had a rough night with penalties. Officials caught him holding and for false starts.
Receiver -- Poor play at quarterback made the receivers more difficult to evaluate. Kent had his hands on a deep ball in the end zone. The defender broke it up, but Kent could have made a play on the ball. Taylor nearly made a diving grab on another Frye deep ball. I wouldn't blame Frye or Taylor for this near miss. They simply haven't played together much, so the timing wasn't quite perfect. Kent was the most productive receiver for Seattle. Logan Payne, playing with a broken rib, put his body on the line with a short grab over the middle. He could have alligator-armed this one, but he did not.
Defensive front seven -- The Seahawks blitzed far more than usual for an exhibition game. I wondered if they felt more comfortable going after the Bears' quarterbacks while their own starter, Matt Hasselbeck, sat out this game. Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton have not looked good tonight, but it's tough to function in the preseason when the opposing defense is sending three blitzers at a time. It's not like the Bears were game-planning for it. Rookie defensive end Lawrence Jackson dropped into pass coverage early in the game, helping to break up a short pass.
Secondary -- Cornerback Josh Wilson broke up an intermediate pass early in the game. The ball might have been slightly late, but Wilson made a good play on the ball. The defensive backs had an easy night because the front seven pressured Grossman and Orton frequently. Before the game, safety Deon Grant was the one firing up defensive teammates by engaging them in violent arm hooks. Wilson joined Leroy Hill and Julian Peterson in forcing Grossman into an intentional-grounding penalty. Safety Jamar Adams just made a very nice form tackle to stop the Bears' Fontel Mines for a 1-yard reception. Cornerback Kevin Hobbs picked off Caleb Hanie on the next play.
Special teams -- Olindo Mare was getting good depth o
n his kickoffs in the warm, relatively muggy (for here) conditions. He sent the opening kickoff about 12 yards deep, landing it beyond the end zone. Brandon Coutu has hit on field goals of 48, 26, 46 and 39 yards. Forsett averaged a healthy 10.8 yards on his first four punt returns and an even more impressive 35 yards on two kick returns. Seattle allowed a return touchdown, but that sort of things happens when you're changing up personnel on the coverage teams.