NFC West: Kyle Boller

48 NFC West starters since Manning debut

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
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Cool note from ESPN Stats & Information: First-year San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is the last quarterback other than Peyton Manning to start a regular-season game for the Indianapolis Colts.

That will change when Kerry Collins replaces an injured Manning in the Colts' lineup for Week 1.

The first preseason game I covered as an NFL beat reporter featured Manning making his first start against the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome. His very first pass found Marvin Harrison for a 49-yard touchdown. Preseason games are generally without much meaning, but could there have been a more fitting beginning for Manning?

For a fuller appreciation of Manning's durability and consistency in starting 227 consecutive games, I went through Pro Football Reference counting how many quarterbacks had started for current NFC West teams since Manning made his regular-season debut. There have been 48. That figure includes 14 for the St. Louis Rams, 13 for the 49ers, 11 for the Arizona Cardinals and 10 for the Seahawks.

A few notes on the 48 players to start for current NFC West teams since 1998:
  • There have been two Brocks (Berlin, Huard), two Charlies (Frye, Whitehurst), two named Chris (Chandler, Weinke), two Jeffs (Plummer, Martin), three Johns (Friesz, Navarre, Skelton), one Jon (Kitna), two Matts (Hasselbeck, Leinart), two Shauns (Hill, King), three Steves (Young, Bono, Stenstrom) and two Trents (Dilfer, Green).
  • Two, Young and Warren Moon, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Manning's streak began.
  • Dilfer and Warner started for more than one current NFC West team since Manning's streak began. Warner started 57 games for Arizona and 50 for St. Louis. Dilfer started 12 for Seattle and six for San Francisco.
  • Hasselbeck has the most total starts for current NFC West teams with 131, followed by Marc Bulger (95 for St. Louis), Jake Plummer (73 for the Cardinals) and Jeff Garcia (71 for the 49ers).
  • Smith -- Alex, not Troy -- owns the most starts among current NFC West players with 50, all for San Francisco.
  • Eight of the 48 were one-and-done as starters: Berlin, Scott Covington, Ty Detmer, Glenn Foley, Friesz, Frye, Navarre and Weinke. Nineteen have made at least 10 starts.

The NFC West will have two starters new to the division in Week 1: Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb.

The chart shows start totals by team for the 48. The NFC West changed membership with realignment in 2002. I'm going back to 1998 for the four teams currently in the division.

Three things revisited: 49ers-Raiders

August, 21, 2011
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Looking back upon three things discussed here before the San Francisco 49ers' 17-3 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday night:

1. Progress on offense. The 49ers opened the game with a 16-play drive to the Oakland 2. Their first four drives in the preseason opener totaled 12 plays. That is progress. Alex Smith completed 8 of 13 passes for 126 yards and one interception. He made good use of timing throws to beat pressure early in the game, another improvement. One pass for Vernon Davis on a quick slant drew a pass-interference penalty. Another found Braylon Edwards after the 6-foot-3 receiver pushed off without officials noticing. On the down side, Smith didn't see Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy dropping into coverage on a third-and-8 play. Schaughnessy picked off Smith's pass intended for Davis, killing the 49ers' second drive. The highlight for Smith and San Francisco: Edwards' one-handed, diving grab for a 32-yard gain. Overall, the 49ers can feel better about how their offense is performing.

2. More Aldon Smith. The 49ers' rookie first-round draft choice worked with the starters late in the first half. Before that, Smith affected the game without even being on the field. His presence on the roster and strong showing in the first preseason game gave the man ahead of him on the depth chart, Parys Haralson, ample incentive. Haralson stood out early in the game, including when he brought down Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell for a fourth-down sack in the red zone. Once Campbell left the game injured, backup Trent Edwards threw an interception into double coverage even though Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer locked down Smith on the play. Early in the third quarter, Smith fought off Raiders tight end Brandon Myers to make a tackle against the run. Later, Smith beat backup left tackle Seth Wand to the inside, pressuring Kyle Boller into an incomplete pass on third-and-7.

3. Right guard Chilo Rachal. The 49ers are seeking better consistency from their right guard. They got it during a 16-play drive to open the game. Rachal caught my attention early by peeling off his original man, Richard Seymour, to pick up Tommy Kelly. Rachal's awareness on the third-down play allowed Smith to find Davis for a reception past the first-down marker. Later in the drive, Rachal pulled to the right and impeded Jerome Boyd just long enough for Anthony Dixon to reach the corner for a 12-yard gain on second-and-10. As the drive wound down, Rachal trapped Shaughnessy to free Frank Gore for a 4-yard gain to the 2. On the 49ers' second drive, Rachal strung out Kelly long enough for Dixon to cut back and knife into the secondary for a 9-yard gain. The 49ers ran the ball almost at will and Rachal did his part from what I could tell. His replacement, Tony Wragge, helped spring Kendall Hunter for a 53-yard touchdown run.

No linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles has finished a season with more than 2.5 sacks since 2006.

Only one, Akeem Jordan, has picked off more than one pass in a season during that span. Jordan had two in 2009.

As much as linebacker Stewart Bradley enjoyed his time with the Eagles, it's easy to understand why he bolted for a 3-4 defense once becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

"Linebackers are more featured in this system," Bradley said when I caught up with him at Cardinals training camp last week.

Bradley, who signed a five-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, projects as the likely starter at inside linebacker next to Daryl Washington. Incumbent Paris Lenon remains the starter for now.

Bradley played defensive end as a freshman at Nebraska. He is 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, bigger and rangier than Lenon (6-2, 240).

"I thought when I got drafted I was going to go to a 3-4 team," Bradley said. "It's kind of a linebacker's dream to play in a 3-4. It's a system I've wanted to play in."

The Cardinals are still searching for an ascending outside linebacker with proven pass-rush ability. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are back as the starters. Both are 34 years old and coming off five-sack seasons. While the team expects second-year pro O'Brien Schofield and rookie Sam Acho to develop as pass-rushers, Bradley and Washington figure to get blitz opportunities from the inside.

Lenon had two sacks last season. Washington had one.

Bradley had one sack and one interception in each of his three NFL seasons. He sacked Oakland Raiders quarterback Kyle Boller for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-1 play during the preseason opener Thursday night. It was the first preseasons sack of his career. Ray Horton, the Cardinals' new defensive coordinator, has promised to unleash more blitzes.

"We would play a lot of coverages [with Philadelphia] where you're not facing the quarterback," Bradley said. "It was hard to make a lot of plays on the football. It's a good defense. It's a good scheme. I just think big plays aren't as easy to get."
Alex Smith's candidacy as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback heading into 2011 sent me searching for some context.

The charts show some initial findings.

Smith
The first one shows quarterbacks since 1970 who met the following criteria, as provided by Pro Football Reference:
  • First-round draft choice;
  • Has thrown between 40 and 60 touchdown passes;
  • Career passer rating was no higher than 85.0;
  • Has played in no more than six seasons.

Smith's new coach, Jim Harbaugh, is one of the players on the list. Some of the players enjoyed moderately successful careers. Vince Young, Greg Landry, Harbaugh, Dan Pastorini and Archie Manning were named to at least one Pro Bowl.


The second chart eliminates Smith's statistically horrible rookie season, when he had one touchdown and 11 interceptions for a very bad team.

It shows statistics for quarterbacks drafted in first rounds since 1970 based on the following criteria, also according to Pro Football Reference:
  • Second through sixth seasons only;
  • Had thrown between 40 and 55 touchdown passes;
  • Had thrown no more than 45 interceptions;
  • Had started at least 40 games during this period.

Harbaugh again makes the list, but I was most struck by similarities between the numbers for Smith and Harbaugh's old teammate, Jim McMahon.

Smith and McMahon could not be less similar in terms of personality, overall approach, supporting cast and on-field results. McMahon went 22-1 as a starter from 1985-87.

The Harbaugh comparison is much more relevant. Both players failed to meet expectations early in their careers despite their diligence. Harbaugh's personality was much more aggressive, however, and that raises a very fair but harsh question: Does Smith have the right makeup to salvage his career in a manner the way Harbaugh did after leaving Chicago?

Colleague Kevin Seifert showed some daring by sending TCU quarterback Andy Dalton to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 in a recent ESPN.com mock draft.

He wasn't arguing for Dalton's value so much as saying the Vikings' need for a quarterback might compel them to take one there.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDid the Rams "reach" to get quarterback Sam Bradford in the first round last year?
"To me," Seifert later wrote with first-year Vikings coach Leslie Frazier in mind, "there is no better time to jump to the other side than in a coach's first year, giving him a building block for the rest of his program."

The key, of course, is not mistaking anchors for building blocks.

Steve Mariucci was the San Francisco 49ers' first-year coach when the team used a 1997 first-rounder for Jim Druckenmiller, a blunder softened only by Steve Young's presence on the roster. That experience should not directly influence the 49ers' thinking as they consider first-round quarterbacks for new coach Jim Harbaugh, but it's a reference point.

With Harbaugh and the 49ers in mind, I went through recent drafts to see which teams with first-year head coaches used first-round selections for quarterbacks. More precisely, I looked at all first-round quarterbacks since 2000 to see which ones had first-year head coaches.

Six of the last eight first-round quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and JaMarcus Russell -- joined teams with first-year head coaches. All but Russell remain franchise quarterbacks in their teams' eyes. All but Russell are still playing for their original head coaches. Four of the six had winning records in 2010.

For most of those franchises, value and need lined up pretty well, and first-year coaches benefited.

"If you don't have a quarterback, you're drafting maybe a different kind of running back, maybe a different kind of offensive lineman, than if you have somebody," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told reporters at the scouting combine. "We had Calvin Johnson, but our ability to get Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson in free agency, to draft Brandon Pettigrew -- those pieces were because of the quarterback that we have."

We could also argue that the St. Louis Rams were better off building their offensive line and other areas of their roster before making Sam Bradford the first overall choice in 2010. They could have drafted Sanchez or Freeman instead of defensive end Chris Long in 2009, then spent subsequent selections on players to build around one of those quarterbacks.

Bradford and Denver's Tim Tebow were the "other" first-round quarterbacks in the eight-man group featuring Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman, Ryan, Flacco and Russell.

In general, getting the right quarterback for a first-year head coach puts a franchise in strong position for the long term. There's no sense forcing the issue, however, because the wrong quarterback can drag down any coach, regardless of tenure.

A coach such as the Vikings' Frazier might have a harder time waiting. His contract runs only three seasons and ownership expects quick results. Harbaugh has a five-year deal with the 49ers. Expectations are high, but there's less urgency for immediate results.

The first chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with returning head coaches.

The second chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with first-year head coaches.

Mailbag: NFL head coach rankings

April, 6, 2011
4/06/11
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Vishal from parts unknown stretched the NFC West mailbag at the seams with a two-part, nearly 400-word dispatch critiquing my ballot ranking the 10 best coaches in the NFL. I'll break out the main points in bullet items before responding. He wanted to know ...
  • Why past performance mattered more for head coaches, specifically Mike Shanahan, than it did for players in our previous power rankings;
  • How I could justify leaving off the Atlanta Falcons' Mike Smith based in part on playoff losses to teams with inferior records, since those teams advanced to the Super Bowl;
  • Why Tom Coughlin ranked third despite enjoying the organizational support and stability that contributed to a lower ranking for Mike Tomlin.
Mike Sando: These were difficult decisions. Some of the trade-offs weren't very satisfying. I put together my ballot over the weekend. Upon revisiting it Tuesday morning, I initially thought I'd left off Smith by accident. Then I remembered he was basically just an odd man out. He's a guy I do think of as being one of the best coaches in the league. John Harbaugh is another one. Those guys are deserving of the recognition they received from our voters. I could have felt good about including them as well.

The point you make on Coughlin and Tomlin is compelling. The Giants have strong ownership. They have had only three general managers in the last 30-plus years. I stand by the No. 3 ranking, but acknowledge that I might have considered ranking him lower if this conversation occurred prior to voting.

Coughlin ranked higher than Tomlin on my list for a few reasons I haven't explained:
  • Coughlin brought quick success and stability to Jacksonville when the Jaguars were an expansion franchise. That was impressive.
  • The Giants became more productive offensively under his watch, even with a young, inconsistent quarterback. Eli Manning is not the greatest passer. The Giants have ranked among the NFL's top eight in scoring four times under Coughlin after never ranking higher than 12th over a 15-year span under four other coaches.
  • Coughlin showed a capacity to change during his Giants tenure, becoming more responsive to players.That was important during the Super Bowl season.

Your question about Shanahan is easier to answer. The abilities a coach possesses early in his career do not necessarily deteriorate the way a player's physical skills deteriorate. Shanahan's 152-108 regular-season record, 8-5 postseason record, nine winning seasons and two Super Bowl titles worked in his favor.


Doug from Newbury Park, Calif., wonders whether I thought the San Francisco 49ers replaced Gary Plummer because they felt he was too critical as the team's radio color commentatory.

Mike Sando: Plummer has been outspoken for years. If his outspokenness were a problem, the team presumably would have replaced him years ago. He had handled the job since 1998 and never held back. Fans accustomed to Plummer will be paying close attention to see how his replacement, Eric Davis, couches his criticisms. I expect Davis to speak his mind in his own style -- a style less combative than the one Plummer brought to the job as a former linebacker.


Joe from Phoenix wonders whether the St. Louis Rams could trade out of the 14th overall choice with a team looking to draft running back Mark Ingram in that spot. He thinks teams are better off with one dominant runner than a committee approach, and he wonders specifically whether New England might be a team to watch from a trade standpoint.

Mike Sando: The Patriots traded up to get Daniel Graham in 2002. They traded up into the 13th spot for Ty Warren a year later. New England has been much, much more likely to trade down in the first round over more recent drafts, however.
  • 2003: The Patriots traded down from the 19th spot with Baltimore, which took Kyle Boller.
  • 2007: They traded out of the 28th spot with San Francisco (Joe Staley).
  • 2008: They traded down from the seventh pick with New Orleans (Sedrick Ellis).
  • 2009: They traded out of the 26th spot with Green Bay (Clay Matthews).
  • 2009: They traded out of the 23rd spot with Baltimore (Michael Oher).
  • 2010: They traded out of the 22nd pick with Denver (Demaryius Thomas).
  • 2010: They traded out of the 24th spot with Dallas (Dez Bryant).

The Patriots would likely have to part with their third-round choice, 92nd overall, to jump three spots to No. 14. Recent history says that is unlikely.

As for running backs, the trend has been toward having multiple backs share the load. No more than seven backs in one season have reached 300 carries since 2007. There were at least nine backs with 300 or more carries in 10 of the previous 12 seasons, peaking with 13 in 2003.

The Patriots have had only one such player -- Corey Dillon in 2004 -- since Bill Belichick became head coach.

None of this prevents New England from climbing three spots to nab Ingram. If it happens, however, it'll be a little surprising.


Rob from Phoenix wonders whether the Cardinals would select Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley with the fifth overall choice, if available, even though the team doesn't have obvious needs on its defensive line. Texas A&M pass-rusher Von Miller would not be available under this scenario.

Mike Sando: The scouting reports say Fairley projects better in a 4-3 defense. The same could be said for Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett, however, and the Cardinals have learned the hard way about favoring need (tackle Levi Brown) over value (running back Adrian Peterson) when picking fifth.

So, if Fairley is available and clearly the best player, the Cardinals would have to consider him. But I tend to think he projects as a higher-risk prospect based on concerns over his emotional stability and the consistency of his effort. That could scare off Arizona. Throw in other factors -- fit and need specifically -- and I envision the Cardinals going in another direction.

Mailbag: Troubling reality on QB front

January, 21, 2011
1/21/11
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Chris from Houston writes: What free-agent quarterbacks do you expect Arizona to be looking at this offseason? I know of Marc Bulger, but who else is there for them to even consider that wouldn't require a trade? Thanks! Love the blog! Thanks for helping keep us all sane until next season.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Chris. This could be a rough offseason for signing or even acquiring quarterbacks from other teams.

One, the list of quarterbacks likely to hit the market is once against weak. Two, a lockout would prevent teams from trading for players -- even via draft-day trades involving picks. A lockout lasting past the draft would limit options further, in other words.

Peyton Manning and Michael Vick are scheduled to become free agents, but Manning is going nowhere, obviously, and the Eagles will presumably keep Vick, too. Brett Favre is retiring, it appears, so forget about him.

The next tier of quarterbacks with expiring contracts goes like this: Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington and Bulger. These are older, likely declining players -- not necessarily guys to build around. Pennington's health is a major issue. Vince Young is available.

Several highly drafted, not-yet-old quarterbacks could hit the market, but none has met expectations. That list will feature Kyle Boller, Patrick Ramsey, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, Alex Smith and Matt Leinart. The Cardinals aren't bringing back Leinart, obviously, and the other guys on this list will not project as starters.

Tarvaris Jackson, Brodie Croyle and Matt Moore could be available, too.

Several career backups could become available: Todd Collins, Todd Bouman, Billy Volek, Bruce Gradkowski, Seneca Wallace, J.T. O'Sullivan, Chris Simms, Luke McCown, etc.

Still not sold?

The names get smaller from there. Brian St. Pierre, Jim Sorgi, Charlie Frye, Kellen Clemens, Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, Brian Brohm, Caleb Hanie, Jordan Palmer, Dennis Dixon ... we're not finding the Cardinals' next starter from that list, either.

Arizona should probably make a play for Bulger, consider drafting a quarterback and see how the trade market shakes out. The Cardinals have too many needs, in my view, to part with multiple picks of value for an unproven quarterback such as Kevin Kolb -- unless they're convinced that quarterback will become a very good player.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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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

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers could slash payroll by targeting their secondary. Nate Clements is getting closer to the heavily backloaded part of his contract. Barrows on safety Michael Lewis: "Lewis' status this year largely depends on Taylor Mays' progress. My guess is that Lewis begins the season as the safety starter and that Mays gradually takes over as the year goes on (provided that Lewis remains healthy)."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea says the 49ers are working toward a contract agreement with Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis. Maiocco: "But can the 49ers, among the lower-revenue teams in the NFL, afford to pay Davis so soon after (Patrick) Willis was awarded a five-year, $50 million extension? It’s a legitimate question for an organization that is campaigning for a new stadium that would provide a huge increase in revenue streams." The 49ers have shown creativity in how they structure deals. If they really want to sign Davis, they can get it done.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider revisits some of the 49ers' disappointing first-round picks over the years. Jim Druckenmiller makes the list.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry, who fizzled out after a strong start to the 2009 season. O'Neil: "There has been a lot of speculation that Curry might play the hybrid linebacker/end role that has been referred to as 'the elephant' but is actually called 'the Leo' in Seattle's defensive scheme. That's not Curry's role now, though. He is playing strongside -- or SAM -- linebacker, but expect him to have a heavy dose of pass-rushing responsibilities."

Also from O'Neil: Signing Chester Pitts would add depth to Seattle's offensive line.

Jason LaCanfora of NFL.com says the draft-day energy Pete Carroll and John Schneider brought to Seattle was palpable. LaCanfora: "I could have sworn Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was going to hoist himself on the shoulders of general manager John Schneider and begin galloping around the war room like Angus Young jamming above the head of Bon Scott at an AC/DC concert."

John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up the Seahawks' defensive line. In watching minicamp, I wondered if the new staff would find a place for Craig Terrill, who has put together a six-year run in Seattle as a sixth-round pick.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on the Cardinals following their post-draft camp. He also says coach Ken Whisenhunt left open the door for the team signing another veteran quarterback to a team that already has Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson. Whisenhunt: "We've got two rookies who are vying for the third position and we feel good about Derek and Matt. I don't think we would ever not look at a player if we felt like he could help us win games, but at this point in the season, with what we have on the roster, I'm very encouraged by what we saw from Matt and Derek. But I am realistic about the rookie being the third quarterback and the progress he's going to have to make to fill that role."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with former Steelers teammates Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, who are reunited in Arizona. Urban: "For the third time, Porter and Haggans are teammates. They met playing together at Colorado State University. They were each drafted -- a year apart -- by the Pittsburgh Steelers, spending seven seasons together. And now, after Porter signed a free-agent deal with the Cardinals in March, the two 33-year-olds have been reunited in Arizona."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raises questions about the recent report suggesting Stan Kroenke's plan to buy the Rams might involve Kroenke's wife taking over the team. Thomas: "On April 12, Kroenke exercised a right of first refusal to match Shahid Khan's purchase agreement with the Rams. Kroenke has to match Khan's agreement. It is believed Kroenke would not be allowed to match and then put together a group to represent the match. It also is believed that he would not be allowed to match Khan's offer and then say -- essentially -- that it's really his wife who is matching. Some league sources feel that if Kroenke's wife, Ann, were an option, Kroenke would've proposed this to Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez nearly two years ago, or several months after the death of their mother, Georgia Frontiere. That's when it became clear that the team could be up for sale."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the latest reported Kroenke proposal is one of several options being floated as Kroenke tries to comply with NFL rules on cross-ownership. Miklasz: "Why didn’t Ann Kroenke simply bid for the Rams at the time the Rosenblooms had their 60 percent share on the market? This would have been easier than (A) having Stan Kroenke match Khan and (B) Kroenke having to work around the cross-ownership guidelines. (Likely answer: the Kroenkes didn’t want to get in a bidding battle with Khan that would drive the price up; they probably preferred to wait, let Khan make a reasonable bid, then match. I’m only guessing here.)"

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams were pleased with Duke rookie quarterback Thaddeus Lewis at their post-draft camp. Coats: "Sam Bradford and veteran A.J. Feeley -- not necessarily in that order at this point -- appear to be in place as the Rams' top two quarterbacks. After the release last week of Mike Reilly, who spent the last month of the 2009 season with the team, the only other QBs on the roster are Lewis and Keith Null. Because of injuries to Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller, Null, a sixth-round draftee last year, started the last four games of his rookie season. He's probably in line for the No. 3 job — but could face a challenge from Lewis."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News Democrat wonders how Kroenke's wife could exercise Kroenke's option to purchase full ownership of the Rams.

Updated: NFC West UFA list

March, 12, 2010
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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.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks should not acquire Brandon Marshall from the Broncos. Boling: "Aside from being a distracting malcontent with the Denver Broncos, Marshall’s history of arrests includes disorderly conduct, drunken driving, and, most alarmingly, a number of incidents of alleged domestic violence … with two different women. I don’t care how talented this guy is, or how badly the Seahawks need a receiver, or how many of the charges against him have been dropped, this much involvement with domestic-violence charges should be an absolute non-negotiable deal-breaker from the start." I'm guessing the Seahawks' division opponents also hope Seattle doesn't add Marshall, albeit for reasons limited only to on-field production.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Seattle traded more than a backup quarterback when dealing Seneca Wallace to the Browns. Farnsworth: "A gifted athlete, Wallace also was used sparingly last season as a situational runner, receiver and passer in a version of the Wildcat offense that was dubbed the SeneCat. He completed 78 of 120 passes for 700 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions; had 16 carries for 2 yards; and caught two passes for 29 yards."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times recalls Wallace's finest moment in Seattle. O'Neil: "As a Seahawk, Wallace will best be remembered for the 28-yard pass he caught at Qwest Field early in the NFC Championship Game four years ago. As a Brown, Wallace will have the chance to be part of a rebuilding process under (Mike) Holmgren, the coach who oversaw his development with the Seahawks."

Also from O'Neil: a partial list of NFL trades involving restricted and franchise free agents, including the one that sent Joey Galloway to the Cowboys for draft choices that became Shaun Alexander and Koren Robinson.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks could go in any number of directions at quarterback after trading Wallace. Johns: "It surely increases the likelihood of the team drafting a quarterback at some point this April. The Seahawks have lined up an individual workout with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, but they'll have numerous options there or could pursue a veteran backup in free agency. Chad Pennington just re-signed with Miami, so the list of potentially available veterans include the likes of Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, Jon Kitna and Chris Redman."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Kerry Rhodes is looking forward to a fresh start with the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt downplayed concerns about the talent drain in Arizona so far this offseason. Whisenhunt: "This off-season or this free-agency period started just this past week. We still have five months ahead of us before we ever take the field in Flagstaff (for training camp). There are a lot of things that can happen between now and then. I think it's tough to make judgments this early on the preseason."

Also from Somers: Cardinals secondary coach Donnie Henderson shares the thoughts he had when the Jets drafted Rhodes. Henderson: "I can remember him being on the board, and I thought at one time he had the potential to be a first or second-round draft pick. We were excited to get him (in the fourth round). He started as a rookie in our scheme, either at the free or the strong. They were interchangeable at that time. We utilized him in different positions, brought him off the corner a lot blitzing, let him cover the tight end a lot, the third receiver sometimes, the back."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com passes along reports suggesting the Cardinals could visit with Rex Hadnot, Nick Eason and Wade Smith, plus Joey Porter and Larry Foote.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams signed defensive tackle Fred Robbins while two of their free-agent defensive ends, Leonard Little and James Hall, planned to visit the Saints. Thomas: "Little arrives in New Orleans on Wednesday and departs Thursday morning. Hall arrives Thursday, so he and Little may just miss each other in Louisiana. The Saints released defensive end Charles Grant, so they have at least one opening on their line. Joe Vitt, the Saints' linebackers coach and assistant head coach, knows Little well from spending the 2004 and '05 seasons on Mike Martz's staff in St. Louis."

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says Robbins' connections with Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo played a significant role in the veteran defensive tackle's decision to sign with St. Louis. Robbins: "Throughout my career I played both nose tackle and three-technique. I played both the left side and right side and I think that’s the different options I can bring to the table. That’s what helped us when he was with us in New York. We had guys that could play multiple positions."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Shaun Hill's agent took the high road when asked about the 49ers' decision to sign David Carr. Barrows: "The truth is that Hill isn't holding any cards. He's under contract at a modest figure -- $1.5 million -- and the 49ers are under no obligation to release him. What likely will happen is that the 49ers will see if Hill has any trade value before letting him get to the open market. The 49ers have not said what they plan to do with Hill, perhaps because they have not officially signed David Carr yet. He's only agreed to terms on a two-year deal."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Hill plans to attend the 49ers' offseason conditioning program when it begins next week.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' pursuit of David Carr shows the team wasn't satisfied with its situation at quarterback.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle wasn't impressed when the 49ers added Carr. Ratto: "After a day of seemingly meaningless jousting, the 49ers and Carr agreed to a deal Sunday that dooms Shaun Hill but in no other way makes San Francisco materially better. Now that he's signed, Carr becomes nothing more than the new Hill, only Alex Smith is an easier hurdle to clear than Eli Manning was for Carr last year." I think perceptions would be significantly different if, all else being equal, Hill were once a No. 1 overall draft choice and Carr had entered the league as an undrafted free agent. Carr's failures are defined by expectations for him and not so much by how he has actually played.

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.

Download: 2010 NFL projected free agents

February, 20, 2010
2/20/10
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I've taken the NFL's list of projected free agents and put it in a format you'll find quite powerful.

Download it here.

And if you're not quite sure how to maximize the information, check out the demo.

This file lets you sort all 235 projected unrestricted free agents, plus all fourth- and fifth-year restricted free agents, by accrued seasons, team, position, starts, agent and division. I've added sheets with the breakdowns used for earlier items on which agents have the most UFA clients, how many projected UFAs each team has by position and the number of projected UFAs by division.

I've updated the file to reflect Troy Williamson's new deal with the Jaguars and Leigh Bodden's recent hiring of agent Alvin Keels.

The chart below is also based on information in the file. It shows all quarterbacks projected to become UFAs this offseason. Chad Pennington might be the most appealing name on the list. The Rams could certainly do worse.

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.

Not to be negative, but ...

January, 28, 2010
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Facebook friend Alex writes: "As a 49ers fan I have a question for either Jimmy Raye or Mike Singletary. Why do they favor throwing the ball 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage? OVER & OVER & OVER! It get's them nowhere! Why not look at the 80s and 90s and see the the slant pass works so much better. Or at least throw it close to the line of scrimmage! 49er fans are tired of that play!"

Mike Sando: Seems to me those 49ers teams of yesteryear had better players, particularly at quarterback. But this question does seem worth indulging after Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information independently passed along numbers showing how many negative plays each NFL team suffered.

The 49ers lost yardage on 14 percent of plays (not counting incomplete passes). Only the Chiefs lost yardage a higher percentage of the time (14.2) last season. The NFL average was 11.6 percent. Five teams were below 10 percent: Patriots (8.6), Dolphins (8.9), Saints (9.2), Falcons (9.4) and Colts (9.6).

The Seahawks (12.8) and Rams (12.4) were worse than the league average. The Cardinals (11.6) were average.

Also according to ESPN Stats & Information, Alex Smith's passes traveled 7.2 yards in the air on average, well off the NFL average of 8.4 air yards. Only Trent Edwards (7.1), Matt Hasselbeck (6.9), Keith Null (6.8), Jason Campbell (6.7) and Kyle Boller (6.3) had lower averages among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts. Shaun Hill averaged 8.3 air yards per pass attempt.

The numbers don't say anything definitively -- Matt Schaub was at 7.7 air yards and he enjoyed a Pro Bowl season -- but they support your general thought about the 49ers suffering too many negative plays.

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