NFC West: Larry JOhnson
Along similar lines, I'd like to know what the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson has in mind when he suggests an extension could be in the works for him as well.
Protecting the interests of all parties can be a challenge when great players are nearing the latter stages of their careers. Jackson, like Wilson, would ideally finish his career with St. Louis. He has plenty to offer in the short term, but there's no reason for the Rams to make a meaningful commitment beyond Jackson's current deal.
Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in 2012 and again in 2013, the final two years of his contract. He'll be 31 years old when the deal expires. How much longer than that does Jackson plan to play? How much longer than that will the Rams want to pay him? How long can Jackson remain productive?
The market for 31-year-old halfbacks barely exists. Jackson might become an exception, but the Rams should not realistically bet that will be the case.
NFL teams entered Week 1 last season with seven halfbacks age 31 or older at that time: Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chester Taylor, Larry Johnson, Maurice Morris and Derrick Ward. Those players combined for 16 regular-season starts. Retirement awaits some of them now.
Jackson has plenty to offer in the shorter term. Unlike many high-profile players, he has played well enough to justify the high salaries awaiting him late in his contract. His current deal seems appropriate for what Jackson has to offer and what the future probably holds -- a couple more good seasons for the Rams' all-time rushing leader.
This helps explain why quarterbacks earn the most money, why teams often draft pass-blocking tackles over top runners and why fullbacks have become endangered.
Teams still value running the ball, of course. Defenses would have an easier time defending quarterbacks if they knew with certainty a run was not coming. And every team seeking support for young or average quarterbacks would be better off with a strong ground game.
NFC West teams fall into this group. Each team in the division is on pace to produce a 1,000-yard runner.
One division has produced four 1,000-yard rushers in a season five times since divisional realignment in 2002. Each NFC West team's leading rusher is on pace for at least 1,100 yards. Only one division, the AFC North in 2010, has produced four players with at least 1,100 yards since realignment.
Frank Gore's yardage production for the 49ers has leveled off in recent weeks. Continued strong defense and increased production from quarterback Alex Smith have helped the team keep winning. Facing two backup quarterbacks -- Arizona's John Skelton and St. Louis' A.J. Feeley -- simultaneously lowered the bar for the 49ers in recent weeks.
I would expect the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch to gain the most rushing yardage in Week 14 among NFC West backs. Seattle wants to field a run-first offense, which makes sense this week.
The Rams rank second in most sacks per pass attempt, a threat now that Seattle's best pass protector, Russell Okung, has landed on injured reserve. The Rams are averaging fewer than one offensive touchdown per game. That gives Seattle a good chance to win without taking as many chances through the air. The Rams have allowed more rushing yards than any team in the NFL.
Note: With an assist from Anicra in the comments, I updated the projected totals for Jackson, Lynch and Wells to reflect their participation in only 11 games this season. I had previously divided their rushing totals by total team games (12 apiece), using the average to project totals for the remaining four games.
- The 49ers are the first team in 91 years to score, but not allow, a rushing touchdown in each of their first seven games of a season. The Buffalo All-Americans accomplished the feat in 1920 against a schedule featuring nonleague teams.
- Frank Gore joins Larry Johnson, O.J. Simpson and Terrell Davis as the only players since 1970 to reach at least 125 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown in four consecutive games. Johnson (2005) and Simpson (1975) made it five games. Davis (1998) and Gore (2011) are at four.
- The 49ers, at 6-1, have tied the best record through seven games for a team that lost at least 10 games the previous season. The New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers were the last teams to accomplish the feat, both in 2004.
The 49ers have matched their 2010 total for victories. Last season, they claimed their sixth victory in a Week 17 game played Jan. 2 of this year. They are 64 days ahead of schedule.
Also from Thomas: Jackson hopes for good news on his groin injury. Thomas: "League sources Sunday night told the Post-Dispatch that the Rams have been in contact with running back Larry Johnson and plan to have further discussions this morning. Johnson, the former Pro Bowler with Kansas City, opened this season with Washington but was cut last week. Team medical officials believe Jackson's injury is a pulled muscle, as opposed to a tear, but Jackson will have an MRI exam just to be sure."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams celebrated appropriately on the field following their 30-16 victory over the Washington Redskins. Center Jason Brown: "This has to be the first of many. You can't just go out there and shoot out a golden egg this week, then next week shoot out a dud and then everyone says ‘What is going on?'"
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post Dispatch offers a postgame report card in which he says Sam Bradford played his best game of the season against Washington. Also: "Coach Steve Spagnuolo showed some confidence in his offense by going for it on 4th and 1 at the 'Skins 43 in the fourth quarter. The Rams got the first down and finished the drive with a field goal that gave them a two-possession cushion."
Also from Coats: Thanks largely to Kenneth Darby, the Rams gained 79 of their season-high 133 yards rushing with Jackson on the bench.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com offers injury updates from the Rams' game. Rookie receiver Dominique Curry suffered a season-ending knee injury. Also, Chris Long was a regular in the Redskins' backfield.
Also from Wagoner: An emotional Darby explains why his touchdown run meant a great deal to him. Darby: "The first thing I could think of was to just holler. Just let it all out, the frustrations through the years in a good holler."
More from Wagoner: Spagnuolo says the Rams did not panic after falling behind in the second half. Bradford: "I think it was huge for us offensively to come out and start the second half the way we did, especially after the past two weeks where we struggled to get going after halftime. To come out and march down and score, I think that really gave a boost to the entire team."
The 49ers' depth at running back took a hit when backup Glen Coffee suffered a concussion Sunday.
That does not mean the 49ers will make a run at former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, cut by Kansas City. Coach Mike Singletary said during his news conference Monday that the team has no plans for Johnson at this point.
I would be surprised if any of the other NFC West teams signed him. The Cardinals are set at the position. The Rams could use a backup, but they have also emphasized the team concept, something the Chiefs felt Johnson did not value. The Seahawks could use a boost for their ground game, but I think adding someone as volatile as Johnson would be inconsistent with broader priorities.
The 49ers' commitment to running the football has allowed opponents to gang up against Frank Gore and Glen Coffee.
I think that helps explain why Gore and Coffee have combined for 25 plays that gained no yards or lost yardage. The totals reflect rushes and receptions.
A few notes on those plays, based on information in my play-by-play spreadsheet:
- All 25 of the 49ers' plays were running plays.
- The plays were distributed fairly evenly across quarters, not just when the 49ers were trying to run time off the clock late in games.
- The plays transcended typical early-down personnel groups.
- Ten were on first down, 11 on second down and four on third down.
- The 49ers needed an average of 7.88 yards for a first down on these plays.
- Nine of these plays were against the Cardinals, six against the Seahawks and 10 against the Vikings.
There wasn't any obvious mitigating factor, in other words.
Related: This chart's original advocate, Paul Kuharsky, advances the subject on his AFC South blog. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for providing the data.
|US Presswire/Mark J. Rebilas|
|Beanie Wells had a 15-yard run among his seven carries against the 49ers in Week 1.|
Robb from Marin County writes: Bay Area postgame radio suggested that Beanie Wells could be the full-time starter for the Cardinals by Week 3 or 4. How likely of a scenario is this? Could we see a running back by committee for a bit? I'm thinking partially along the lines of fantasy implications, but I am also interested in how quickly the Cardinals would switch to a new back after upgrading Tim Hightower over Edgerring James last year.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals went back to James last season, so the commitment to Hightower is not strong. If it were, the team probably could have found another use for the first-round choice it used for Wells. I see Wells' role only increasing. Hightower seems to challenge the perimeter only when the Cardinals throw him the ball there.
Wells looks like he's close to breaking long runs. I never get that feeling with Hightower. Hightower's longest run in 151 regular-season carries covered 30 yards. James had a 35-yarder last season. Wells already has a 15-yard run despite having only seven career carries.
I also think Hightower appears better suited for a two-back offense. The Kurt Warner-led Cardinals are at their best running a one-back offense with three wide receivers and a tight end or four wide receivers with no tight end. That is my opinion, anyway. The Cardinals might not have made that determination yet, but I suspect that is where things could head once Wells shows he can handle the basics of the offense, such as not stranding Warner in the backfield while overrunning the handoff.
There still could be a role for Hightower in the longer term, even with Warner at quarterback. Arizona was effective at times with two backs and only one wide receiver on the field. It's simply not something the team will do extensively as long as wide receiver remains a strength.
Casey from Medford, Ore., writes: I, as well as many other 49er die-hards, am pretty thown by the Michael Crabtree situation. With all the coverage of Jed York's invite the other day, has there been any response from anyone in Crabtree's camp and, if not, do you feel that there will be anytime soon?
Mike Sando: There's almost no chance a player's agent would submit to that type of arrangement. One of the agent's jobs is to insulate his client from caving to emotions. If Crabtree went along with such a meeting, I would consider it a victory for the 49ers and evidence that Crabtree was starting to break. I'd be surprised if Crabtree's camp responded in a meaningful way.
Richard from Dayton, Ohio writes: Can you tell us when the Crabtree spot on Dr. Lou was recorded? Your analysis related thereto would also be appreciated. It has significantly different implications if recorded, say, two months ago, rather than last week (assuming it was taken seriously by Crabtree at all).
If recent, it could indicate a signing forthcoming, and a way for Crabtree to gain back the favor of 49ers fans, though likely still orchestrated by Parker. Thanks!
Mike Sando: That video of Crabtree was not recent. It showed tape of Crabtree asking Lou Holtz, "Dr. Lou, what advice do you give players when dealing with an agent?" The question was posted generically -- not in relation to the current contract dispute -- and appeared to be from months ago.
Joe from Pittsburgh writes: Do you ever go home at night embarrassed that you cover the St. Louis Rams? Honestly, what needs to be done to get this team a red-zone visit now and then?!
Mike Sando: The Rams need more from the passing game. Everyone knows Steven Jackson is the focal point of the offense. Donnie Avery needs to make a big play. His long reception at Washington last season helped the Rams upset the Redskins. It's also reasonable to expect the Rams to cut down on the penalties. Penalties killed drives against Seattle and put the Rams in less favorable down-distance situations. The Rams will improve. They have to.
SeahawksOwnTheWest from Seattle writes: Do you believe that there is more pressure on the 49ers to win against Seattle at home? I think all the pressure has to be on San Francisco to win at home. If Seattle comes into San Francisco and leaves with a win, that will be HUGE for the Seahawks, but if the Seahawks were to lose they would more than likely split the two games with a win at Qwest Field.
If San Francisco loses at home, you couldn't expect them to win in Seattle. This early in the season, I don't think the one-game lead in the division is as important as being able to hold down home-field advantage and steal a game or two on the road within the division, not including the Rams. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando: There's not a lot of pressure on anyone in Week 2. However, I think the 49ers have more to gain from a victory because they are less established in recent seasons and they would have beaten their two primary challengers for the NFC West title in Mike Singletary's first full season as head coach.
Tanner from Southern California writes: Sando! Quick fantasy question: After Seattle shut down Steven Jackson last week, would you start Frank Gore against the Seahawks or would you rather start Larry Johnson against Oakland?
Mike Sando: You've come to the right place for fantasy advice. I'm ranking among the top 1,300 in the NFC West Gridiron Challenge. You know the 49ers will commit to Gore. You know the Seahawks have some injury concerns at linebacker and defensive tackle. Those would be good reasons to consider Gore. Larry Johnson's projected fate hinges on what you think of the Raiders' run defense, which was considered suspect heading into the season. I could justify starting either one.
Cheddar from "Sasquatch Country" writes: I'm a little surprised at Qwest Field only getting a "4 wow" factor? I dont think there is another stadium like it in the NFL (city views, water, 12th Man). How is the Texans' and Patriots' above Qwest? A retractable roof? Outdoor mall? These reasons are not valid to be over Qwest.
Mike Sando: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Qwest Field is better than either of those stadiums. I rated the NFC West stadiums. Bloggers covering other divisions rated the other stadiums. We used our own judgment independent of how the other bloggers rated stadiums. I never saw ratings for other stadiums when I rated the stadiums in the NFC West. Perhaps we will coordinate the ratings in the future. What seems like "4 wows" to me might seem like five to someone else.
Jimmy from Las Vegas writes: I don't know if you have touched on this before, but I recently discovered the Joe Show on the 49ers' Web site and now have a new appreciation for Shaun Hill. He is very funny and has great chemistry with Joe Staley, but most importantly, you can tell he gets along with everyone and that everyone likes him in that locker room. This probably played a factor in the QB decision this past offseason because I'm sure more teammates pushed for him than Alex Smith.
Mike Sando: I have seen the Joe Show featuring Joe Staley and I linked to it some time ago. The way the quarterback interacts with teammates and how teammates respond to the quarterback is indeed part of the evaluation process. Mike Singletary said from the beginning that players would know which quarterback should lead the team. Singletary said he would merely affirm that decision, which he did.
Justin from Orangevale, Calif., writes: As a 49ers fan, the whole Michael Crabtree situation has got me thinking harder about the allegations of him supposedly not wanting to play for the 49ers. I think he does not care if he plays for the 49ers, but have you or any of your fellow colleagues ever thought that maybe he just does not want to play for Mike Singletary? The coach did make him cry during the summer when he caught 'Crabs' working out when he was not cleared to. Plus, with the grueling practices that go on each week maybe Crabs is looking for a little less hostile atmosphere.
Mike Sando: The crying incident seemed overrated and misunderstood. Crabtree wanted to be out there practicing. Singletary wasn't bullying him off the field. I could buy potential dissatisfaction with the 49ers' offensive philosophy than any issues with Singletary personally. This is probably an issue between the agent and the team. Sometimes these things get done when the player finally has had enough. If that never happens, then it's pretty clear the player and agent are on the same page.
Adam from Spokane writes: I wanted your feelings on whether you think the Seahawks will finally turn into a team that finishes games with Jim Mora as coach. I don't want to disrespect Mike Holmgren, but it was infuriating watching Seattle constantly let teams back into games with ultra-conservative play after they would build a lead. I think Holmgren held back the raw talent the Hawks have/had by not letting them be aggressive.
Mike Sando: It's too early to know how the Seahawks will call plays in those situations. They put away the Rams with a 62-yard run and a few passes to the tight end. Those plays did not result from putting the hammer down as a play caller.
I do think you are onto something, however. In the past, the defensive coordinator had to worry about incurring Holmgren's wrath when opponents exploited blitzes. There's no fear of incurring the wrath when the head coach is the one ordering the blitzes. That's where having a defensive-minded head coach could result in more aggressive play defensively. Having a defensive-minded head coach has also vastly changed the way Seattle approaches practices. The team now has separate blitz periods, for example. I think the Seahawks will naturally become better coached on defense -- from the top down -- which could let them be more aggressive.
Tony from Tacoma writes: Why does ESPN not have any coverage of the Seattle Seahawks? I watched all of Sunday's football coverage and Monday Night football and there was no mention of them or how well they did in their opener. 28-0. Anybody have that big a win in their first game this year? All I heard was over and over about Farve. Feel like we get snubbed in the Pacific Northwest.
Mike Sando: I'd love to stick around to answer your question, but ESPN is sending me to San Francisco to cover the Seahawks-49ers game. Gotta catch a plane.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explains why he thinks the 49ers might not select Mark Sanchez, if available, with the 10th overall choice. Maiocco: "The reason there is a question whether the 49ers would take Sanchez is because there is doubt whether he could be of any help this season. I think the 49ers would take a step backward if they were to draft a rookie QB in the first round. I'm not sure how much the decison-makers are thinking about this, but what if there's a work stoppage in 2011? That's about the first season that you could expect a QB selected this season to contribute. My best guess is that Shaun Hill will begin the season as the starter. He's done enough to win the job. As for a report that Smith didn't look good in minicamp, that -- in my opinion -- was a little off the mark. The guy was throwing his first live passes since early September. I thought the minicamp was a great success for Smith to get back on the field and start the process of knocking off the rust."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic illustrates why a proposed trade involving Anquan Boldin and two Ravens players wouldn't make sense from a salary-cap standpoint. As much as the Ravens might want to part with Willis McGahee, they would absorb a massive cap charge for trading him.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune polls draft analyst Rob Rang on running backs the Seahawks could consider drafting in each round. Candidates: Chris Wells, Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, James Davis, Arian Foster and Devin Moore. Rang on Wells: "The anti-Ruskell pick. Similar ability and inconsistency as Kansas City star Larry Johnson." On Wells: "Comparable build and versatility to Tiki Barber. Led nation with 2,083 rushing yards in 2008."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are considering four players with the No. 2 overall choice: Aaron Curry, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Mark Sanchez. Drafting a quarterback with the second pick would surprise me quite a bit.
Also from Thomas: a look at the Rams' primary needs on defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com describes Larry Fitzgerald as "totally recharged" following his adventure through Africa and the Middle East. Fitzgerald: "Best trip ever. I am totally recharged. It feels so good to get back in here. I'm so happy to see a good turnout and getting ready to get it again. I was itching to get back in the gym. It's home away from home." Fitzgerald has lots more planned for his offseason, starting with a trip to Minnesota for the annual golf tournament honoring his late mother, Carol.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says Karlos Dansby's unsettled contract situation could affect the Cardinals' draft plans. I think the team needed to address linebacker anyway. The need certainly grows if getting a deal with Dansby isn't likely.
Dave Mahler of Seattle's KJR radio checks in with Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones. This link goes directly to an audio file. Jones sounds relaxed and upbeat in discussing the change from Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora. Jones says he feels good, still loves competition and feels invigorated learning a new offense. Jones on the Cardinals: "They are a team that won the conference, they won the division, so they are the team to beat. That is your motivation."
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com found a grateful prospective Seahawk in former Western Washington linebacker Shane Simmons. Simmons has worked construction and as a personal trainer since the Raiders released him after the 2008 preseason. Simmons is participating in the Seahawks' minicamp on a tryout basis.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Jim Mora appears comfortable in his new role as the Seahawks' head coach in the post-Mike Holmgren era. Boling: "Here's a difference that's fair to mention, although probably meaningless: Mora has a whistle. Holmgren let others blow the whistle. Draw your own conclusions."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Jones and Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari. Solari says the Seahawks installed zone concepts last season in anticipation of using them in 2009. The team did not use them in 2008.
Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts isn't buying talk that the Seahawks are seriously considering Matthew Stafford with the fourth overall choice. Steffes: "[Matt] Stafford maybe, but choosing Mark Sanchez would be counter to everything this team has done since 2005. Hopefully there is enough hype that someone wants to move up, but I wouldn't count on it."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck expressed frustration over how his injury situation was handled last season. Hasselbeck put it this way: "Knowing that there's a high likelihood that I'm not going to play and not necessarily being able to come out and say."
Also from O'Neil: Seahawks long-snapper Tyler Schmitt says he's 100 percent after undergoing back surgery last season.
Don Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune says Holmgren watched practice at the University of Washington. Holmgren and new Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian have strong ties to USC.
Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times says Holmgren watched practice Wednesday at the University of Washington. Holmgren's son-in-law coordinates recruiting for the Huskies. Sarkisian: "It's an honor and hopefully our kids recognized that and hopefully he can continue to come out. It's fun. ... Hopefully we play a little better as a team the next time he comes out."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat leans on draft analyst Rob Rang in assessing which running backs the 49ers might consider in the draft. Iowa's Shonn Greene is one candidate. Rang also thinks Chris Wells could go in the top 10. Rang: "I have a hard time thinking they would do that because I think they have too much respect for what Frank Gore brings. They don't want to [upset him]. But Beanie Wells is a spectacular talent. He's a Larry Johnson -- almost an Adrian Peterson -- kind of talent. But he needs to be coddled, and Mike Singletary's strength probably is not in coddling players."
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are sprucing up their facilities while expanding square footage from 45,000 to 54,000.
Florida Danny of Niners Nation unveils a roughly 4,500-word dissertation on the 49ers' draft history since 1994. Lots of information in here. I checked some of it against my own information and it matched up. For example, the 49ers have indeed drafted 20 players from Pac-10 schools and 19 from SEC schools since 1994, more than they have drafted from other conferences.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Norfolk State cornerback Don Carey is visiting the 49ers and Seahawks, among other teams. Purdue running back Kory Sheets is also visiting the 49ers.
VanRam of Turf Show Times wonders how the Rams can upgrade at receiver, noting that Football Outsiders has suggested Eagles restricted free agent Hank Baskett. VanRam: "That seems unlikely until you consider that the Eagles are interested in some big names like [Chad] Ocho Cinco and earlier talk about being a player for Anquan Boldin. If that happens, they might be willing to let Baskett walk since they also have Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown on the roster, unless they see his productivity from last season as a sign of things to come."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says holding training camp away from their facility wasn'
;t practical for the Rams this year, in part because changes to the coaching staff and front office left little time to formulate plans.
Ursa from Fort Wayne writes: Sando, As much as the 49ers could use a QB in this upcoming draft, are there not much more pressing needs elsewhere? The offense Coach Singletary will use is reportedly going to be very run heavy and blue collar. Would they not be better off looking for some kind of road-grading right tackle? Then there is the issue of a pass rusher that puts the fear into opposing offenses, we could use one of those too.
As for other needs, the secondary hasn't exactly been impressive the past couple of years and they have not had an legit #1 wideout since TO left (as much as it pains me to admit that). What direction might they be most likely to go? What is the most pressing need? Having been burned by the last QB they chose will they not be more likely to look elsewhere? Now granted consecutive OC's have not helped Alex Smith, but seriously...where do you think they will be looking? Thank You! I enjoy your blog and column!!
Mike Sando: I'm with you. The 49ers probably should not draft a quarterback at No. 10 if they can find an immediate starter at another position. That spot in the draft is a little high to target a right tackle, but as I have noted, if they found an elite left tackle at No. 10, they could come out OK.
This is probably a good opportunity for me to clear up confusion over my position on Joe Staley as the 49ers' starting left tackle. Some have asked via the mailbag and Facebook whether I'm suggesting Staley isn't good enough to stay at left tackle. That's not at all what I'm trying to convey.
Staley is fine at left tackle. I would move him only if I could draft a left tackle who was better at that position than Staley will be. If you take a tackle at No. 10, that tackle is probably going to be a left tackle. And if you take a left tackle at No. 10, you're hoping as an organization that he'll be better than the tackle you drafted 28th overall (Staley in 2007). That isn't a slight on Staley, but rather a reflection of what you expect from a player drafted 10th.
The 49ers see Staley as a long-term starter and a very good player, whether he's on the left or right. Will he be a perennial Pro Bowl player? Not so sure. If the 49ers could find a perennial Pro Bowl type and play him at left tackle, they could move Staley to right tackle and have their bookends for years to come.
I do think Staley's aggressive mentality is suited for the right side. The best left tackles tend to be patient. They let the action come to them and deal with it accordingly. Staley likes to mix it up. He almost has a guard's mentality. I like that in him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Powering my way through the mailbag. Some of these were submitted prior to the start of free agency. I've singled out the ones that held up over time.
Thomas from Antigonish writes: Hi Mike. The Rams are well documented in not drafting pretty much any good players, and so one draft pick of the old regime -- Ron Bartell -- has finally developed, and the team will probably lose him to FA ... this just seems so disappointing.
Mike Sando: The Rams might come out OK on this one, after all. Bartell left the Saints without a contract. The Rams would appear to be in better position to re-sign him as a result. They wanted him. They just couldn't justify paying established corner money to an emerging corner their coaches didn't know very well.
I understand both sides on this one. The corner market was hot enough for Bartell to take a look, but if he didn't find what he wanted, perhaps the Rams will find him more affordable.
Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey, Mike. With free agency upon us, can you give us some insight into its importance. Who would say have been the biggest free-agent pick ups in the NFC West in the past 3-4 seasons?
Kurt Warner comes immediately to mind, but who else do you feel has made a big impact in the division as a free agent? I am going to assume that there wouldn't be that many names as most of the time impact players are built through the draft and not found in free agency.
Would you agree that more often than not free agents do not meet expectations, i.e Edgerrin James in Arizona?
Mike Sando: Yes, I would agree that most free agents do not meet expectations. Teams pay so much more money for free agents than they do for draft choices.
Nate Clements is a good cornerback for the 49ers. Has he met expectations? No. Edgerrin James pretty much met expectations. Kurt Warner exceeded them. Patrick Kerney met them until injuries intervened. Julian Peterson has generally met expectations. Justin Smith played well for the 49ers last season, albeit at a high price.
The Steelers generally are not big players in free agency. They're confident enough in their drafting ability to let players leave instead of overpaying. The Steelers have also won two of the last four Super Bowls. Meanwhile, the Cowboys collect Pro Bowl players at great expense. They haven't won a playoff game since the 1990s.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kevin from Phoenix writes: Mr. Sando, Anquan Boldin is easily my favorite football player in the game today, and I would be heartbroken to see him leave. With that said, I understand the business side of the league, and I think that if the Cardinals don't plan to keep him long term, they should seriously consider trading him now.
I think the perfect trade idea would be sending Boldin to Philly for Sheppard and their 21st pick. This would allow us to throw Hood in at nickel with two number 1 corners, and give us a better shot at landing Brandon Petitgrew, TE out of Oklahoma State. What are your thoughts. Will they trade Boldin? If so is this a viable option? Thanks Mike.
Mike Sando: That wouldn't be too difficult from a salary-cap standpoint because Boldin and Lito Sheppard are past the heavy salary proration in their contracts. The Cardinals do need help at cornerback. I do not know what the Cardinals think of Sheppard or if they would consider him a good fit for their scheme. They'll have a new defensive coordinator now, so that could factor into such a decision.
I do think the Cardinals will consider trading Boldin. Some of this could depend on whether Ken Whisenhunt wants to deal with an unhappy Boldin for another season. If Whisenhunt wants to end this relationship, he appears well positioned to push for a trade. He's coming off a Super Bowl season and he was able to make a bold staff move in parting with Clancy Pendergast, a coach he inherited, after the defense played very well during the playoffs.
I have thought the Cardinals should try to patch up their relationship and find a way to make Boldin part of their future. However, that becomes impossible if the player is determined to force his way out. Joey Galloway took that tack in his negotiations with Seattle years ago. He flat-out wanted to leave the Seahawks, and eventually he got his way.
Boldin would have significant value in the market. If the Cardinals could get first- and third-round draft choices for him, or another attractive compensation package, I think they would have to consider it strongly.
Doug from Chicago writes: Martz to Arizona? I'm not saying I'm for it. I'm just curious as what you think. Could it be incentive enough for Kurt to want to come back? They seem to have the weapons to do what Martz did in STL. They don't have a Faulk, true. But possibly drafting McCoy out of PITT could be a nice start. But all of that being said, do you see this as a possibility? Thanks, Mike.
Mike Sando: Warner really has nowhere to go if he doesn't sign with the Cardinals. Sure, he could uproot his family and finish his career elsewhere. I just don't see that happening. If he plays, I think he stays. The Cardinals will look to maintain what they have going offensively in terms of the system. Whisenhunt knows what he wants to do offensively. He didn't become a head coach so he could hand over the offense to someone else, in my view.
Edward from Tempe writes: Sando, With Todd Haley now in the midst of trying to pick up the pieces of a down and out Kansas City Chiefs team, are the odds against Kurt Warner returning to the Cardinals as QB and will this also affect other key free agents from signing with the Red Birds?
Mike Sando: Losing Haley will not help the Cardinals bring back Warner, but neither will it increase the chances of Warner landing with another team, in my view. Warner wants to keep his family in Arizona. The Cardinals would like to fill the coordinator's position from within. Whisenhunt will strive for offensive continuity. I think they'll set it up as favorably as possible for Warner.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
A few things to consider when assessing Steven Jackson's expected arrival at Rams camp following a protracted holdout:
- Jackson is not eligible to practice until the Rams remove him from the reserve/did not report list.
- Jackson is not counting against the 80-man roster limit while he remains on the reserve/did not report list.
- The Rams might be eligible to receive a 10-day roster exemption, allowing Jackson to practice (but not play in games). Jackson would not count against the 80-man limit during this time. I base the 10-day estimate on precedent set in the Larry Johnson holdout last summer. Johnson went on the exempt list Aug. 21 and was eligible to stay there until Aug. 31. I'm in the process of confirming the exemption status. Update: The NFL has clarified how roster rules apply to Jackson.
- Jackson is under contract, but he would need to pass a physical examination before joining the team for practices.
- The Rams have 80 players on their active roster after signing running back Lavarius Giles, a rookie free agent from Jackson State.
- The Rams would have to open a roster spot before Jackson can count against the 80-man limit; this could be easy because the team is expected to place additional players on injured reserve, notably Mark Setterstrom and Justin King;
- Jackson's arrival at camp signals a likely agreement on a long-term contract extension, but I have no details on any agreement.