NFC West: Logan Mankins

Tom Brady was on injured reserve with a knee injury the last time his New England Patriots visited the Seattle Seahawks.

The year was 2008.

The Seahawks had a 2-10 record. Seneca Wallace was their starting quarterback. Mike Holmgren was their coach. Pete Carroll was at USC.

Now, for the really different part: The Seahawks' defense, currently ranked No. 1 in yards allowed, ranked 30th back then. It had allowed six total rushing and passing touchdowns in its previous two games, one more than the 2012 team has allowed in five games this season.

Brady is back and leading the NFL's top-ranked offense against Seattle's top-ranked defense in Week 6. The teams kick off Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, Brady's first road start against the Seahawks. The matchup has us talking already.

Mike Sando, NFC West blog: The last time an NFC West team drew New England, Arizona pulled off one of the more shocking upsets of the season, holding Brady to 18 points and leaving Gillette Stadium with a 20-18 victory. New England lost Aaron Hernandez to injury in that game. The Patriots have regrouped. They've scored 113 points in three subsequent games. Was that Arizona game an aberration, or should the Seahawks' defense expect similar results?

James Walker, AFC East: It feels like two different offenses since New England’s loss to the Cardinals, Mike. New England looked shell-shocked after losing Hernandez in that game. He's usually such a big part of the Patriots’ game plan that they had trouble adjusting on the fly. But New England made the proper changes. Tight ends no longer are the first option; now receiver Wes Welker is the top target. New England is no longer passing the ball 60 or 70 percent of the time; its run-to-pass ratio was 54-31 this past week against the Denver Broncos. The Patriots also used a no-huddle offense in all four quarters for the first time in that game. Can New England keep up that kind of pace, especially on the road? The Patriots are concerned about crowd noise in Seattle. Will the 12th man affect this game?

Sando: Yeah, the crowd will be a factor because the defense is good enough to make it one. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo combined for 19 points in Seattle. Brady and the Patriots are playing better offensively than Green Bay or Dallas, though. One key will be whether Brady can get the ball out to Welker quickly enough to avoid Seattle's pass-rushers. Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons and Jason Jones could have big games against the Patriots' offensive front if Brady holds the ball. But Welker should have a big advantage against nickel corner Marcus Trufant. Welker leads the NFL with 24 receptions from the slot over the past three games. Seattle's opponents haven't gone after Trufant all that much, but St. Louis slot receiver Danny Amendola did give him some problems. Welker is a tough matchup for everyone and should be a tough one for the Seahawks.

Walker: Seattle’s pass rush is the biggest concern for New England. Brady’s sack totals have gone up each of the past three seasons, and he already has been sacked 12 times in five games. Brady is not a young pup anymore and only has so many hits left in his 35-year-old body. New England’s pass protection hasn’t been the same after losing left tackle Matt Light and Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters in the offseason. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and guard Logan Mankins also have played hurt this year. The Patriots have done things schematically to counter their shaky pass protection. New England is running the ball more, and the no-huddle has slowed down opponents. But you wonder whether the inconsistent pass protection eventually will catch up to New England this season, especially this weekend against a good Seattle defense.

Sando: Seattle's defense was good last season, and it's better in 2012. This is a legitimate top-five defense with big, pressing cornerbacks and the potential for a strong pass rush, particularly at home. The Seahawks are allowing 3.2 yards per carry overall and 3.0 when we remove quarterback scrambles (Brady isn't exactly a running threat). There's speed at every level of the defense. Holding the Patriots' offense to a reasonable level -- say, somewhere in the 20-point range -- should be realistic as long as Seattle fares OK against Welker. The bigger question is whether Seattle's offense can score enough points to win the game. Russell Wilson is coming off his best game, but the offense isn't putting up enough points.

Walker: New England’s defense has improved in a lot of areas. The front seven is more physical and the pass rush is better, specifically with the addition of first-round pick Chandler Jones. However, New England is still 30th against the pass and continues to give up chunks of yards through the air. The safety play has been horrific at times. I think Seattle’s best chance to win is using play-action over the top. Patriots coach Bill Belichick usually tries to take one thing away, and I assume the focus this week will be Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. There will be plenty of opportunities in the passing game if Wilson can take advantage. Speaking of taking advantage, your NFC West division has crushed the AFC East at nearly every turn. What is going on here? Is this a special year for the NFC West, and will Seattle repeat what the Cardinals did by knocking off the top dog in the AFC East?

Sando: I've gone into several of these nondivision games a little skeptical about whether the NFC West team would score enough to win. The offenses in Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis lag in the rankings. But the defenses and special teams have more than made up the difference. I think Seattle has a winning formula and a good shot at pulling it off, but I still think Brady is more likely than Wilson to reach 20-plus points.

I've had similar thoughts before and been wrong. I really thought some of these top opposing quarterbacks would enjoy greater success against the NFC West. Brady, Jay Cutler, Rodgers, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Romo, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are a combined 2-8 against the division, and both victories were against St. Louis. Those quarterbacks have seven touchdown passes and nine picks against the division. Outside the division, NFC West teams have gone 10-0 at home and 11-3 regardless of venue.

I'll probably wind up picking the Patriots, but Seattle's defense gives the Seahawks a good chance.

Walker: It looks as if the AFC East is having a second consecutive down year, and the arrow is certainly pointing up for the NFC West. But the Patriots are a legit team. Barring significant injuries, I expect New England to carry the banner for the division all season. I’m 15-2 predicting AFC East games this year, so I feel pretty confident in my picks. I think New England will pull this one out. The Patriots’ offense is very balanced, and their tempo puts a lot of pressure on teams. If they score points early, it could put too much pressure on Wilson to answer. Wilson has beaten Rodgers, Romo and Newton this year. But I don’t think Wilson will add Brady to that list.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Belichick seemed to weigh his options carefully when asked about Aaron Rodgers' complaints about the Pro Bowl lacking a certain competitive zeal.

"Um, what I'm going to say wouldn't be probably what I should say," the New England Patriots' coach said Wednesday during his Super Bowl news conference.

Belichick paused.

"I'm going to let that one go," he said.

Another pause.

"What it was and what it is now is a lot different," he added.

What the Pro Bowl was long ago -- a marginally competitive all-star game featuring final scores such as 10-6, 23-21 and 23-10 -- has turned into a game where the losing team routinely has 30-plus points. Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl quarterback, lamented the NFC squad's lack of competitiveness during a 59-41 defeat Sunday. He said some players from the NFC squad embarrassed themselves with their lack of effort.

Rodgers did not name guilty parties, of course. NFC West teams had 17 Pro Bowlers this season, including some who withdrew from the game.

Once Belichick's news conference finished, I went across the hall to poll New England players on the subject during their daily media session.

"I tried to go hard in the game," said linebacker Jerod Mayo, a Pro Bowl selection in 2010. "The harder you go, the less likely you are to get injured. You try to tempo it a little bit, you're probably going to get hurt."

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a four-time Pro Bowl choice, advocates caution.

"Guys play a full season, they play physical through a full season, and you get rewarded," Wilfork said. "The last thing you want to do is go out in a game like that and hurt yourself. That is not good for the individual or for the organization."

Guard Logan Mankins, also a four-time Pro Bowl selection, said he doubts there's a realistic way to ramp up competitiveness.

"I don't know how you fix it," Mankins said. "You're going to give a little effort, but you're not going to get out of control. Some guys are free agents over there. You get hurt in a Pro Bowl and it's going to affect that contract with another team. Who would want to get hurt in a Pro Bowl and not be able to play the next season?"

How franchise moves affect NFC West

February, 15, 2011
Quick thoughts on how NFL teams' decisions regarding the franchise tag could affect the most glamorous division:
  • San Diego's decision to name receiver Vincent Jackson its franchise player would not prevent an NFC West team -- think St. Louis -- from at least considering a trade. I just find it implausible to think the Rams or another team would part with significant draft capital for the right to pay huge sums to a receiver with off-field concerns. Jackson is probably staying in San Diego for another year.
  • Philadelphia's decision to name Michael Vick its franchise player tells backup Kevin Kolb what he already knew. Vick is the main man in Philly heading into the 2011 season. Kolb will draw interest if and when the trade market opens this offseason, but the Eagles would be wise to set the price high. Vick's ability to hold up physically over the course of a season could be an issue. Also, what if Vick's play levels off this coming season? The Eagles have too much riding on their season to sell Kolb at a discount.
  • The Eagles put the transition tag on kicker David Akers. Seattle previously used the franchise tag on kicker Olindo Mare. Re-signing a kicker shouldn't be a stressful endeavor. If the Seahawks use a tag on Mare, it's probably just to buy another year.
  • New England's decision to name guard Logan Mankins its franchise player should not impact the NFC West very much. The Seahawks can probably find a more affordable alternative at the position, possibly with Oakland's Robert Gallery.

One other franchise move -- the New York Jets' decision to use the tag for linebacker David Harris -- should have little bearing on the NFC West. Harris is looking to get as much or more on a long-term deal as former Arizona Cardinals linebackers Calvin Pace (Jets) and Karlos Dansby (Miami Dolphins) are getting from AFC East teams.

Logan Mankins and the NFC West wish list

February, 14, 2011
Signing Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins away from New England has gone from unlikely to an even longer shot after the Patriots named Mankins their franchise player.

The NFL and NFL Players Association cannot agree upon whether the franchise tag even exists this offseason, but if it does, the tag will effectively take Mankins off the market.

It's unclear whether any NFC West team would make a strong push for Mankins given the expected price tag, but the thought had appeal for Seattle Seahawks fans still stinging over Steve Hutchinson's departure as a transition player following the 2005 season.

Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Mike Wahle, Mansfield Wrotto, Steve Vallos, Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus have started at left guard for Seattle since Hutchinson got away. Trading away Sims last offseason proved unfortunate once Alex Gibbs retired as line coach and Seattle stopped favoring smaller guards.

Tom Cable's hiring as offensive line coach puts Seattle in prime position to consider Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery, a projected free agent.

Mailbag: How to approach QBs in draft

January, 29, 2011
Jon from New York writes: One thing you've mentioned a few times on the blog recently is that the vast majority of elite QBs were first-round selections. This year's QB class seems a little weak, however, and I keep hearing that next year's class is supposed to be excellent.

With that in mind, would it be wise for the 49ers to draft a second-tier quarterback -- Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, etc. -- in a middle round instead of a first-round guy, and then take a first-round guy next year if it looks like it's not working out?

Mike Sando: I do not think the 49ers, or any team, can make draft decisions based on what might be available to them a year later. The 49ers cannot know how early they will draft in 2012, and they cannot know whether they will like any of the quarterbacks available to them at that time. Jake Locker's shifting stock comes to mind.

Until the 49ers have a legitimate long-term starter, they should draft a quarterback in the first round every time they value one as a first-round selection.

NFL teams tend to draft quarterbacks in the first round more frequently than they take them in the second or third rounds. That helps explain why so many more good ones -- and not-so-good ones -- were first-round choices.

Teams have drafted 143 quarterbacks since 2000. They drafted 28 in the first round, 12 in the second round, 14 in the third round, 12 in the fourth round and 77 in the final three rounds.

Sixteen of the 143 have earned Pro Bowl honors. This includes nine of the 28 first-round choices, but only three of the 38 quarterbacks drafted in the second, third or fourth rounds. None of the 23 fifth-round choices has earned a Pro Bowl berth. Three of 30 sixth-rounders and one of 24 seventh-rounders have earned the honors.

Alex from Spokane writes: Hey Mike, love the blog. I just read an article saying Logan Mankins may become a free agent. If that's the case what do you think the chances are of the Seahawks making a play for him?

Mike Sando: Seahawks general manager John Schneider comes from the Ted Thompson school of personnel. Thompson has never valued guards as much as other teams have valued guards. Thompson has also proven relatively averse to free agency.

That doesn't exclude Seattle from pursuing a player such as Mankins. Schneider has described himself as more apt than Thompson to use free agency. We have already seen Schneider and coach Pete Carroll move aggressively to remake the roster. We have also seen the Seahawks struggle to field a sturdy offensive line. Adding Mankins would finally fill the void left when Steve Hutchinson departed following the 2006 season.

So, in the end, I'm saying there's a chance until we learn otherwise.

Travis from Cave Creek, Ariz., writes: I have been a Rams fan all of my life I am a football freak. Ever since that Week 17 loss to Seattle, I have been pondering the best possible offseason for the Rams.

It starts in free agency by signing Nnamdi Asomugha to help out a Rams secondary that has been allowing way too many big plays. Then we could go sign a big-time wide reciever to help out Sam Bradford. I'm thinking Vincent Jackson or Santonio Holmes, if they indeed become free agents.

Lastly, in the draft, the Rams need to help out Steven Jackson, and I cannot think of a better way to do that than drafting Mark Ingram at No. 14. Mel Kiper has him going to the Dolphins at No. 15, so there is a great chance of him falling to 14.

How plausible is all of this? And if indeed most or all of these things happened, where do you think the Rams would be going into next year?

Mike Sando: The Rams would firm up their status as NFC West favorites if those things fell into place. And that is one thing I love about the offseason; it dares us to dream.

I think it's questionable as to whether one of those things will happen, let alone all three. Oakland showed a willingness to pay huge money to Asomugha a couple years ago. Why wouldn't the Raiders do it again? Al Davis loves cornerbacks. His team has made strides. Asomugha is a terrific player and team-oriented guy. I would think the Raiders would be the favorites to keep Asomugha.

On the receiver front, yes, I could see the Rams making an aggressive play to acquire one of the better free agents at the position. Going that route before the draft would take off the pressure to find a top-tier talent from the college ranks -- always a risky proposition, especially at receiver after first few overall choices.

At running back, I just do not think the Rams will have an easy time justifying using a first-round selection for the position. They have too many needs at other positions. Jackson should be able to get them through the next couple seasons. The team would not, ideally, use a first-round pick for a running back right now.

Howie from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: The Jaguars reportedly denied the Rams permission to interview offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. This struck me as odd. How often does one team deny access to another team's coaches? Isn't that slap in the face to the requesting team? Why would the Jaguars do this? How does Koetter feel about being blocked for possible advancement with another team?

Mike Sando: Teams must allow coaches to interview for head coaching vacancies. In this case, Koetter was already an offensive coordinator. Why should the Jaguars let him interview for a lateral move at the potential expense of their own organization?

My feel from speaking to assistant coaches over the years is that teams regularly deny permission, and that we do not know about it most of the time.

Randy from Peoria, Ariz., writes: Hello Mike. Arizona needs a quality quarterback to assist for the near term (two years), quality on-field personnel at various positions, a quality defensive coordinator, quality offensive coordinators, good draft choices for future development, players who will not demand inordinate income, fans who will not abandon the team while it searches for a way back to the win column, a moneyed partner for a Bidwill family business, new uniforms (my son designed one I'd like to promote) and the need to suspend reality while we hope the previous nine point will be addressed.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals fans I encounter seem relatively unmoved by the success the team enjoyed during its first three seasons under Ken Whisenhunt. They often seem pessimistic, as if conditioned over the years to expect bad fortune to be lurking right behind success. Getting the right quarterback would make some of those other perceived needs seem a lot easier to overcome.

Buddy from Highland, Ill., writes: Hey Mike, I'm just gonna ask a question that's been rollin' through my mind since the Rams announced Josh McDaniels' hiring as offensive coordinator and Dick Curl's retirement as quarterbacks coach. How big of a possibility is it that Kurt Warner can return to St. Louis to replace Curl?

I know it depends on what the coaches want and what's going on in Warner's life, but I think this could be a great hire for the team, and not to mention how much the fans would love it.

Mike Sando: No chance, in my view. Warner doesn't want to trade his new lifestyle for the grind and pressure associated with coaching. McDaniels would have no incentive to hire someone with no coaching experience, no experience in his offense and a profile large enough to overshadow the rest of the staff. Mainly, though, I do not think Warner would want to take his life in that direction, at all.

2005 re-draft gives 49ers you know who

January, 25, 2011
A few thoughts on Mel Kiper's 2005 NFL re-draft, covering the first round and available to Insider subscribers:

1. San Francisco 49ers

Actual pick: Alex Smith, QB, Utah

Kiper re-draft pick: Aaron Rodgers

My thoughts: The question, of course, is to what extent Rodgers would have transcended the bad luck and dysfunction that framed Smith's career with the 49ers. Rodgers benefited from having a few years to learn the pro game before taking over for Brett Favre. Rodgers walked into a far more talented offense than the one that helped drag down Smith early in his career. The disparity between Smith and Rodgers has to do with more than circumstances, however. Rodgers has been better across the board. I think his personality would have helped him fare better than Smith has fared. Matt Cassel, the second quarterback selected in Kiper's re-draft, lacks the physical skills Rodgers possesses. I think he might have become another Smith if the 49ers had selected him. The 49ers would have been just fine selecting DeMarcus Ware, the second player chosen in Kiper's re-draft.

8. Arizona Cardinals

Actual pick: Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami

Kiper re-draft pick: Jay Ratliff, NT, Auburn.

My thoughts: Rolle converted to safety and earned Pro Bowl recognition before leaving Arizona in free agency. He wasn't good enough over the course of his time with the Cardinals to justify the early choice, however. Ratliff would have upgraded the Cardinals' defense. Arizona wouldn't have leaned so heavily on veteran nose tackle Bryan Robinson, who has played too many snaps. I might have sent Frank Gore to the Cardinals on a re-draft, however (Gore went 17th in Kiper's version). Taking away Gore from the 49ers and sending him to Arizona would have headed off the Edgerrin James signing while weakening a division rival. Having Gore and Kurt Warner in the same backfield would have upgraded an offense that already had outstanding weapons in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

19. St. Louis Rams

Actual pick: Alex Barron, T, Florida St.

Kiper re-draft pick: Logan Mankins, G, Fresno St.

My thoughts: Mankins would have provided needed toughness and leadership. Barron's tenure became a yellow blur thanks to all the penalties he incurred. Darren Sproles was available in Kiper's re-draft and he would have given the Rams an scary one-two punch at running back, but building along the offensive line would have made more sense. Mankins became a Pro Bowl guard. The Rams wound up selecting guards Richie Incognito and Claude Terrell in this draft. Incognito lacked self-control and flamed out of St. Louis. Off-field issues drove Terrell out of the league. Selecting Mankins early would have averted the mistake on Barron while sending the team in another direction in the later rounds.

26. Seattle Seahawks

Actual pick: Chris Spencer, C, Mississippi

Kiper re-draft pick: Barrett Ruud, LB, Nebraska

My thoughts: The Seahawks got more immediate help at linebacker by selecting Lofa Tatupu in the second round and Leroy Hill in the third. Seattle would not have reached the Super Bowl following the 2005 season without Tatupu bringing together the defense, in my view. Ruud did not start as a rookie. Tatupu went 15th overall to Kansas City in Kiper's re-draft. Some of the other players I would have sent to Seattle in the 26th spot were also gone in the re-draft. Given how Super Bowl XL turned out, the Seahawks could have used another safety. The team liked safety-turned-linebacker Thomas Davis that year. Nick Collins and Oshiomogho Atogwe were gone on a re-draft.

Mailbag: Re-evaluating the NFC West race

October, 9, 2010
Kelphelper from Anchorage writes: The Niners were your pick to win the division, and they are not only in last place at 0-4, but seem ready to implode. The Cardinals were your pick to be the runner-up, and there may not be a worse 2-2 club in the history of time. Your assessment of the mediocre Seahawks seems like your only correct pick, as they have indeed been tough at home while struggling mightily on the road.

The Rams have defied everyone's predictions, including yours. They are no longer the weakest link, and in fact look to be the most complete team in the division. Four games into the season, and the division is almost turned upside down. Are you ready to concede that the landscape is changing much quicker than you anticipated?

Mike Sando: The landscape is definitely changing faster than anticipated and the Rams could have the best team in the division as early as next season -- and even sooner -- just because they have Sam Bradford. But my predictions have held up pretty well.

I've predicted every Rams and Cardinals outcome correctly to this point in the season (see all predictions here). I predicted the Rams would get to 4-4 before losing seven of their final eight games. That could still happen, although Bradford has looked good enough for the Rams to expect more, provided their depth holds up well enough over the course of the season (something that did not happen last season).

The Cardinals have indeed been worse than anticipated even though my game-by-game predictions for them remain correct to this point. I had them losing to New Orleans in Week 5, then beating the Seahawks in Seattle. Let's see how they perform over the next couple of games.

On the 49ers, there's no question I thought this team should perform better than it has performed. I stand by that; it's not my fault they're not meeting reasonable expectations. I did warn that this team could struggle some early in the season because three of the first four games were on the road.

If the 49ers do not implode, I still give them a good chance to win the division. They've shown some very good things in games against New Orleans and Atlanta. They simply haven't been able to put things together or finish games, but with a victory over Philadelphia, it's not a huge stretch to think San Francisco could gain ground on every team in the division. That implosion still could happen, though. I do not trust Mike Singletary's coaching or Alex Smith's quarterbacking, and those two areas are hugely important.

Alex from San Francisco writes: Do they keep stats on YAC? When I watch the 49ers play this season, it seems like all of the completed passes are stopped almost as soon as they are caught. Is this an issue of not getting wide receivers into open space, or are opposing defenses scheming this way? It would seem that with big wide receivers and tight ends, the 49ers should be stronger in this area.

Mike Sando: The 49ers lead the NFL in percentage of yards gained after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This doesn't mean you're on the wrong track. YAC stats include yards gained by running backs after screens and other dump passes, and we all recall Frank Gore racking up lots of ultimately meaningless yardage this way in the Kansas City game specifically.

The 49ers have 920 yards receiving, with 566 of those gained after the catch. That means 61.5 percent of receiving yards were gained after the catch. This is the highest percentage in the league. As noted, though, this has more to do with Gore leading the NFL in YAC (279 yards) than with the 49ers' wide receivers making plays down the field.

Twenty-two of the NFL's top 50 players in total YAC this season are wide receivers. The rest are running backs and tight ends, which makes sense given that they're going to catch underneath passes, then get extra yardage. None of the 49ers' wide receivers made the top 50. Austin Collie (199), Eddie Royal (167), Terrell Owens (152), Wes Welker (131), Santana Moss (126), Lance Moore (126), Miles Austin (120), DeSean Jackson (115), Reggie Wayne (112), Anquan Boldin (110), Danny Amendola (106) and Mark Clayton (100) are the only wide receivers with at least 100 yards after the catch this season.

Brian from Frederick, Md., writes: Mike, is there anyway you can do a piece on budget cuts for the NFC West to show us how much money teams have cut from the team from either trades or releasing players. And also see how much they have spent on players? I know that might take some time, but it would be really interesting to see how well some teams have done so far. Thanks.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals in particular have slashed projected payroll. This has not always been intentional. They happily would have paid Kurt Warner what remained on his contract. They tried to keep Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby. Keeping Warner, Rolle, Dansby and Anquan Boldin would have cost tens of millions. Arizona did funnel some money Darnell Dockett's way, but overall, the Cardinals have reduced payroll more significantly than the other teams in the division. It is a subject I'd like to explore in more detail.

Arlan from San Francisco writes: Hey Mike, I was wondering why more teams don't tap into their former greats as position coaches or at least hire them as mentors to teach them how to watch film or read defenses. Is it because great players aren't always great teachers or because they just dont want to do it? It would seem beneficial, especially in the Niners' case, to get someone like Jerry Rice to teach receivers or Steve Young to teach quarterbacks. Maybe even be coordinators. They should understand the flow of a game right, when plays should work and when they shouldn't, right?

Mike Sando: Sounds good in theory, but coaching is a grind and the great players you mentioned have enough money to go on about their lives without working 16-hour days. Also, great players are not always the best teachers.

Mike from Seattle writes: Sando, with all this talk about Deion Branch possibly being traded back to the Patriots, what do you think the chances are of getting Logan Mankins in the deal? The value might not match up, but throw in a draft pick and there might be an outside shot, at least. What do you think?

Mike Sando: That would surprise me for a couple reasons. One, Seattle has already parted with its third- and fourth-round choices for 2011. The team doesn't have much draft capital remaining, and what it does possess should be precious for a rebuilding team. Two, Seahawks general manager John Schneider comes from the Ron Wolf/Ted Thompson personnel tree. That personnel tree generally hasn't valued guards at the going rate for elite ones. That thinking was at least partially in play when Seattle named Steve Hutchinson its transition player. Giving up picks and then huge money for Mankins would not fit that philosophy.

Joel from Seattle writes: I'm a big Seahawks fan. Do you see this team as a possible playoff team this year and future Super Bowl contender in the next three years?

Mike Sando: The state of the division makes every NFC West team a possible playoff team this season. Too much work lies ahead to say Seattle will be a Super Bowl contender anytime soon. The Seahawks probably still need to find their next quarterback. They need to improve their offensive line. They will try to find a dynamic receiver. They need pass-rush help.

The current regime has made some good moves. The only really shaky one, in my view, was trading guard Rob Sims to Detroit. That was clearly an Alex Gibbs-type move, and now Gibbs is gone and Seattle could use Sims. The Charlie Whitehurst move might have been a stretch, although Seattle still wound up getting a good player, Golden Tate, with the second-round pick it acquired from San Diego as part of the deal.

Brady from Port Hadlock, Wash., writes: What do you think the NFC West Standings will be at the end of October? Seahawks 4-3, Rams 4-4, Cardinals 3-4 and 49ers 3-5? Of course, I am a Seahawks fan. It would cool to hear what you think.

Mike Sando: I've got the Rams at 4-4 through October, followed by the Seahawks and Cardinals at 3-4. The 49ers would be 3-5. Seattle would have to win at Chicago or at Oakland (while beating Arizona at home) to reach 4-3. I do think Seattle should beat the Cardinals at Qwest Field. I'm not quite ready to trust this team on the road, but at least the Oakland game is on the West Coast and against a flawed team.

Chris from Portland, Ore., writes: As a Seattle fan, it seems like every year our bye week is really early in the season? Is this true and if so, can you comment on how the NFL determines which week a team will take their bye? It seems like it would be more of an advantage to have the bye later in the year as the wear and tear of the season really becomes an issue.

Mike Sando: I'm not sure what specifically determines bye placements. You are right about Seattle, though. Seattle's bye has fallen in Week 5 or earlier six times in the last nine seasons.

Tim from parts unknown writes: Just like to say you do a great job covering the Rams. We appreciate it, sir.

Mike Sando: Thanks. They're more fun to cover now that they're more competitive.

Nick from Salt Lake City writes: Hey Sando! As always, love the blog and I'm jealous that you got to witness my Rams give it to the Hawks. Guess I'll have to wait til they travel to Denver, but that's neither here or there. My question: How do you think the Rams truly feel about Kenneth Darby and Keith Toston? In a week where the Rams obviously needed my hero, Steven Jackson, don't you think they should have tried to lighten his load at least a little bit with their number No. 2 and No. 3 backs? Any other rumors for prospective signings in the coming weeks? Thanks again for all you do!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. The Rams have to feel better about the situation behind Jackson after watching Darby score touchdowns in the last couple of games. Darby has exceeded my expectations. I would have expected St. Louis to make a move for a Julius Jones type. At this point, it's possible Jones is biding his time and looking for a situation that might offer more carries. The Rams have wanted to upgrade their depth at that position, though.

Draft grades get 'F' for futility

April, 26, 2010
Report cards immediately following the 2005 NFL draft -- this one and this one should suffice -- singled out the Vikings for their excellent work in landing Troy Williamson and Erasmus James.

Twenty of 32 team received lower grades for their 2005 draft classes when Scouts Inc. reevaluated the class in 2008.

I do enjoy reading postdraft report cards. ESPN Insider subscribers can check out a formula-based model listing Seattle and San Francisco as having the best drafts this year. But it's pretty much impossible to grade fairly without knowing whether, say, Sam Bradford will become a Hall of Famer, solid starter, journeyman or complete bust.

Mel Kiper and Todd McShay acknowledge the uncertainty up front in explaining their grades during a recent ESPN Radio appearance featuring thoughts on the Rams right away and Seattle later.

We're basically left to evaluate whether teams appeared to fill needs without making unexpected decisions. Some of those unexpected decisions wind up being right, of course. In that 2005 draft, the Patriots raised questions by selecting guard Logan Mankins in the first round. Mankins has become a Pro Bowl regular. Williamson has 87 career catches. James has been out of the league since 2008, finishing with 5.0 career sacks.

Things to keep in mind before ordering Hall of Fame busts for Russell Okung, Anthony Davis, Earl Thomas, Mike Iupati, Dan Williams or any of the other NFC West choices in 2010.

Every NFC West team filled its biggest need in this draft. The Rams drafted a franchise quarterback. The Seahawks drafted a franchise left tackle. The 49ers filled a big void at right tackle. The Cardinals landed a nose tackle. All four teams get high marks for those decisions at this point. Next we'll find out which ones can play.

A few notes on the RFA market

March, 15, 2010
This is about the time in free agency when we start hearing more about the restricted market.

It's generally not much of a market. As Pro Football Weekly noted, only 62 RFAs have changed teams over the past 17 years.

Perhaps this offseason will be different in the NFC West.

The Seahawks and Cardinals have interest in Chargers RFA Charlie Whitehurst. Seattle has also visited with Broncos RFA Brandon Marshall. Rams RFA Oshiomogho Atogwe could hit the market without restrictions if St. Louis doesn't increase its one-year offer to him from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million by June 1.

In sizing up the RFA market, I noticed that 16 of the first 32 players chosen in the 2005 NFL draft are RFAs. All but three of them -- Braylon Edwards, Travis Johnson and Fabian Washington -- remain with their original teams.

The chart ranks them by draft order while showing RFA tender levels for each. Of the 16, only the Rams' Alex Barron was tendered at less than a first-round level.

What Pro Bowlers command as RFAs

March, 4, 2010
NFL teams have or will be announcing tender levels for their restricted free agents.

I've put together an unofficial early list of Pro Bowl players and their known tender levels.

All but the Jets' Leon Washington would command at least a first-round choice if their current teams declined to match offers or negotiate a lower price via trade.

I think the price tags are mostly prohibitive, particularly given that each would require a long-term contract to justify the investment.
Posted by's Mike Sando

Steve from Ukiah, Calif., writes: Mike, love the blog. Best source of info on the NFC West that's out there. The loss of Joe Staley seriously hurts the 49ers' [chances] for even modest success. In fact, losing any starting lineman for a team could have that impact and it seems as if the guys in the trenches are always getting hurt. If you watch most college games, the entire o offensive line is on the field with braces on each knee. Seems to me like this is a preventative measure to avoid injuries and seems like a great idea. If the league and the teams are concerned with player safety, why not require lineman to wear braces and try and prevent some of these serious knee injuries?

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support, Steve. I think there's conflicting information about how much knee braces help as a preventative measure, particularly for players who have not suffered knee injuries previously. I asked Jason Smith of the Rams about the subject when I spoke with him at Rams training camp. He was wearing braces on both knees. He said it was something he did in college and wanted to continue in the pros, just to be safe. He then missed time with a sprained knee this season. Did the brace prevent more serious injury? Tough to say.

I've found a couple of studies online -- one here and an earlier one here -- discussing this matter. The former link included this statement regarding knee braces worn at the amateur level: "There has been controversy regarding whether knee braces prevent injury. Some researchers have found that knee braces can prevent injury, while others have not or have found increased injuries with knee braces. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that although prophylactic knee braces have not been shown to be effective in preventing injury, rehabilitative knee braces for individuals who have already had knee injuries have been proven effective. The AAOS further recommended that muscle strengthening and conditioning programs and well-groomed grass athletic fields are better prevention measures for knee injuries than prophylactic braces."

This might be a subject to investigate further. Staley had never missed a snap until this season. I'll ask around.

Jeff from Ellensburg, Wash., writes: Sando, what is your take on the Seahawks in the long term? During the Mike Holmgren era, the Seahawks were an above average team. They consistently made the playoffs but were never able to attain elite status. As that era has come to an end, we are left with many aging players who are injury prone. I just don't see how a few drafts could remedy what ails the Seahawks. Despite the doom and gloom tone here, I know the Hawks do have potential in their young starters. I just wonder if it is going to be a long road back to top of the NFC West. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks can compete for the NFC West title quickly if they can fix their offensive line and find ways to replace what Patrick Kerney provided a couple of years ago. Matt Hasselbeck seems to have conquered the back issues that bothered him last season. Those can come and go, so there's always a risk for recurrence, but that part of him has held up better than I would have anticipated. He could conceivably have a couple of more good seasons left -- if only Seattle could protect him. Fixing the offensive line would also help the running game and take pressure off the defense.

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