NFC West: Manny Lawson

Parys Haralson and Delanie Walker departed the San Francisco 49ers' roster this offseason after entering the NFL has 2006 draft choices with the team.

Another member of that 49ers draft class, fullback Michael Robinson, was a valued contributor to the division-rival Seattle Seahawks when the team released him Friday with age and salary-cap considerations in mind.

The 2006 class has been good to the 49ers. The team continues to get top-shelf contributions from tight end Vernon Davis, one of the team's two first-round picks from that 2006 class.

Mike Nolan was coach and Scott McCloughan was general manager for the 49ers back then. Some of the personnel moves they made continue to sustain the team. Frank Gore, Tarell Brown, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Ray McDonald and Davis remain as players drafted under Nolan. All are valued contributors. Another Nolan-era pick, Adam Snyder, is back with the team as a reserve offensive lineman after spending 2012 with Arizona.

Davis is one of 10 first-round picks from 2006 playing with his original team. The list also includes A.J. Hawk, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Tamba Hali, Davin Joseph, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Lewis, Nick Mangold and Mathias Kiwanuka.
NEW ORLEANS -- Recent first-round draft choices such as Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith helped the San Francisco 49ers reach Super Bowl XLVII.

Failed first-round choices held back the team previously. One of them, 2003 first-rounder Kwame Harris, is in the news for the wrong reasons: allegedly assaulting an ex-boyfriend.

The San Mateo (Calif.) Daily Journal has the details.

Harris started 44 games for the 49ers over a five-year period.

Taken after Mike Rumph and before Rashaun Woods, Harris was part of a three-year run of unsuccessful first-round choices for the 49ers. The team then selected Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Manny Lawson, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley with its next five first-round choices. All but Lawson played key roles in helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl.

Harris last played for the 49ers in 2007.

2012 NFL Preview: San Francisco 49ers

August, 31, 2012
Five notes on the San Francisco 49ers from our recently published 2012 preview page:
1. Alex Smith has an opportunity: San Francisco ranked 31st in third-down conversion rate and 30th in red zone touchdown percentage last season despite higher rankings in time of possession (fourth) and scoring (11th). The 49ers upgraded their offensive personnel at wide receiver and running back. Now they'll find out whether their starting quarterback can take the offense to another level. Improving the third-down conversion rate in particular seems like a realistic goal. The 49ers did score touchdowns on eight of their final 14 red zone possessions, counting playoffs.

2. Defense can build: All 11 defensive starters from last season remain on the roster. That's a big change from one year ago, when the 49ers parted with Nate Clements, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson, Travis LaBoy, Takeo Spikes and Taylor Mays. Defensive continuity should help the 49ers become more cohesive on that side of the ball. That's a scary thought for opponents. The 49ers frequently dominated on defense last season while adopting a new scheme and assimilating new players on the fly. They have focused this offseason on little things such as improving communication.

3. Offensive philosophy intact: We could see the 49ers become more enterprising on third down and in the red zone, two problem areas last season. They've added to their offensive weaponry and have a better grasp of the system. But a broader philosophical change would come as a surprise. Coach Jim Harbaugh played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan. He loves a hard-nosed ground game. With a topflight defense and strong special teams, the 49ers should not need their offense to light up the scoreboard most weeks. They will still run their offense with the big picture in mind.

4. Randy Moss is an X factor: A similar lead-in appeared in this space one year ago, but it was Braylon Edwards, not Moss, serving as the headliner. Knee and shoulder injuries prevented Edwards from contributing much. Moss has remained healthy so far. What does he have left following a year out of the game? Even the threat of Moss could help loosen up defenses. The 49ers averaged only 11.5 yards per reception last season, down from 12.8 in 2010.

5. Justin Smith has the hardware: Smith earned first-team All-Pro honors at defensive tackle and second-team All-Pro honors at defensive end. He also won four of the 49ers' team awards for which veteran players are eligible (one of the others was for an offensive lineman, excluding Smith from consideration). His haul included the Len Eshmont Award (most inspirational), the Hazeltine Iron Man Award (durability and dedication), the Perry/Yonamine Unity Award (promoting unity on the team and in the community) and the Bill Walsh Award (MVP).
Earlier: 49ers Camp Confidential.

Parting shot from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: "I certainly understand why they are the consensus No. 1 in the division. They have improved their stable of weapons and Jim Harbaugh will know how to use those players well. The defense remains elite. I just have some questions about how sustainable their level of play is from last season to this season. I'm talking about the turnovers, the injuries, the schedule. Can they keep it up? They were fortunate in those areas. Now, if the Packers are fortunate in those things, I'd say it's fine. They have Aaron Rodgers. That is sustainable. But Alex Smith is still just a caretaker to me. I do believe in the coach. But in a year from now, they'll probably be playing Colin Kaepernick. I think that is why they are adding some of these deeper threats. I'm thinking Seattle can win the division this year. I'm not betting the mortgage on it, but it should be a close race."
Drafting a tight end sixth overall bucked convention when the San Francisco 49ers tried it with Vernon Davis in 2006.

The move worked out. Davis' four scoring receptions in two recent playoff games matched the combined regular-season scoring production for tight ends in Arizona (four), Seattle (zero) and St. Louis (zero).

With 26 touchdown receptions over the last three regular seasons, Davis has fared well enough to remain a top-10 pick in the 2006 re-draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr. put together for Insider subscribers. The other NFC West first-rounders that year -- Matt Leinart, Tye Hill, Manny Lawson and Kelly Jennings -- did not project among the top 32 choices in the do-over version.

Lawson did become a starter, giving the 49ers easily the best first-round haul among division teams that year. Kiper wound up giving the 49ers guard Jahri Evans at No. 6, two spots before he sent Davis to Buffalo, where the Bills actually took current 49ers safety Donte Whitner.

A look back at what Scouts Inc. said Insider about the NFC West teams' choices on draft day in 2006, edited down to a couple snippets per player:
  • On Davis at No. 6: "Davis is a rare specimen. He has the speed to stretch the field, the burst to consistently separate from man coverage and the athletic ability to produce after the catch. His big-play ability will make teams think twice about stacking the line of scrimmage in an effort to slow down the 49ers' running game, and he should develop into QB Alex Smith's go-to-guy. That's important, because there isn't great depth or talent at receiver."
  • On Leinart at No. 10: "Few experts thought Leinart would slip this far, and although Arizona has more urgent needs, incumbent QB Kurt Warner has had problems staying healthy and isn't getting any younger. Improving the depth behind Warner and drafting an heir apparent makes sense. Leinart doesn't have elite arm strength or mobility, but he has the poise, smarts and accuracy to develop into an excellent starter."
  • On Hill at No. 15: "Jerametrius Butler missed the entire 2005 season with a knee injury, 2005 second-round pick Ronald Bartell hasn't developed as quickly as hoped, and Travis Fisher can't stay healthy, so it comes as no surprise the Rams took a cornerback with their first pick."
  • On Lawson at No. 22: "San Francisco needed to have a strong draft, and with a second excellent first-round choice is off to an incredible start. Lawson will move to outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme and should be an excellent fit."
  • On Jennings at No. 31: "Once the Seahawks made Andre Dyson a salary cap casualty, they knew they needed a corner who can start opposite Marcus Trufant. With that in mind, this is a great pick for the Seahawks."

Davis did become Smith's go-to target. The 49ers still have depth issues a wide receiver, then as now. The Cardinals still are not sure whether they've found Warner's replacement. The Rams still have major injury concerns at corner. And the 49ers have finally found the first-round outside linebacker they wanted -- 2011 pick Aldon Smith, not Lawson. The Seahawks did fix their cornerback issues, but only this season.

On Carlos Rogers' rebirth with 49ers

October, 13, 2011
The San Francisco 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency recently.

None of the unrestricted free agents they added from other teams during the 2011 offseason received a deal exceeding three years in length or $4.25 million in average compensation.

One player in particular has stood out as a bargain.

Rogers' aggressive play at cornerback has given the 49ers a needed edge in their secondary. It's tough to say any other corner in the NFC West has made as positive an impact through Week 5. Rogers' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay was the latest in a string of impact plays from him for San Francisco.

Sometimes a change of address frees a veteran player to reach more of his potential. That seems to be the case with Rogers, a seventh-year veteran known during his six-year run with Washington for letting would-be interceptions slip through his hands. Rogers' three picks through five games exceed by one his single-season career high. He now has 11 for his career.

I was among several reporters gathered around Rogers in the 49ers' locker room Monday. A few highlights:
  • On matching up with Detroit's Calvin Johnson: "He present a lot. A big, strong guy that can run. Then you got a quarterback who gets him the ball no matter if he is covered or not. We’re going to have to have something special for him, roll some coverages to him. They’ve been rolling, he’s been outjumping everybody, scoring touchdowns, catching balls in many different places. You see him all over ESPN and what they are doing."
  • On his time with the Redskins: "I had coach (Joe) Gibbs, he basically ran our team. I had coach Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator that everyone would die to play for. After that, it was coach (Jim) Zorn, and he didn’t really run our team. Guys were able to run over him and get things they wanted by just going to the ownership. After that, coach (Mike) Shanahan is a good coach, but my mindset by the time he came in, I was just ready to leave."
  • On what bothered him about the Redskins: "We only re-signed Chris Samuels and Chris Cooley, which they deserve it, but everybody else was new guys they had brought in. It wasn’t guys who were drafted that we re-signed. I’m thinking once it comes to my turn, I’m not going to be here anyway. My whole mindset was like, 'Just get out of Washington, get a fresh start.' I’m always compared to what Shawn Springs do, what Fred Smoot do, what DeAngelo Hall do. I just couldn’t be Carlos. ... As a player, you get tired of that. You want something fresh. With this team, they just let me be me. They just let me play. I think right now I’m just playing at a level I know I can play at. I think back and it’s just like college. I’m back to my Auburn days, having fun."
  • On the 49ers' 4-1 start: "We got a long way to go. I was with coach Zorn and we went 6-2 into our bye. The next eight games, we was 2-6. It’s a long season. We have a long way to go. Right now, (Jim Harbaugh) is just leading us in the right direction, keeping our mind strong on what we’ve got to do, and the right mindset of thinking throughout this whole process. It’s better than people thought. I tell people, we was supposed to be sorry. We’re surprising everybody. But we don’t want all the credit now. We want it at the end of the season when we get to our ultimate goal."

The chart shows basic contract information for Rogers and the other unrestricted free agents added during the offseason. Manny Lawson, Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Jeff Reed, Travis LaBoy and David Baas were the UFAs leaving the 49ers for other teams.

Week 5 rematches: NFC West vengeance?

October, 5, 2011
NFC West teams went 0-3 last season against the teams they face in Week 5.

They lost those games by a combined 99-31 score.

Much has changed since then. Let's take a look:

Cardinals at Vikings

Score last season: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)

Key play: Brett Favre's 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the final minute of regulation tied the game, forcing overtime after the Cardinals had built a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead. Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards in the game.

Biggest change: Both teams have new quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb for Derek Anderson in Arizona, and Donovan McNabb for Favre in Minnesota. Also, the Vikings have a new head coach (Leslie Frazier) while the Cardinals have a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton).

Storyline: McNabb keeps a home in Arizona and was available to the Cardinals when their quarterback situation was in flux, but the team showed no interest in him. He is now trying to hold off a change to rookie Christian Ponder.

Lineup changes for Arizona (12): Beanie Wells for Tim Hightower at running back, Kolb for Anderson at quarterback, Daryn Colledge for Alan Faneca at left guard, Rex Hadnot for Deuce Lutui at right guard, Todd Heap for Ben Patrick at tight end, Andre Roberts for Steve Breaston at receiver, Anthony Sherman for Reagan Maui'a at fullback (although the team opened its 2010 game at Minnesota without a fullback), Dan Williams for Bryan Robinson at nose tackle, Daryl Washington for Gerald Hayes at linebacker, Clark Haggans for Will Davis at linebacker, A.J. Jefferson for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, Patrick Peterson for Greg Toler at cornerback.

49ers vs. Buccaneers

Score last season: Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0

Key play: Josh Freeman's 1-yard scoring pass to tackle Donald Penn midway through the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on the 49ers' first home shutout since 1977.

Biggest change: Jim Harbaugh has replaced Mike Singletary as the 49ers' head coach.

Storyline: Alex Smith gets a shot at Tampa Bay after watching Troy Smith struggle against the Bucs as the 49ers' starting quarterback last season. Troy Smith's approach centered around striking for big plays. The Bucs took away the big plays. Alex Smith gives the 49ers a chance to be more efficient.

Lineup changes for San Francisco (12): Alex Smith for Troy Smith at quarterback, Joe Staley for Barry Sims at left tackle, Adam Snyder for Chilo Rachal at right guard, Bruce Miller for Moran Norris at fullback, Isaac Sopoaga for Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle, Ray McDonald for Sopoaga at defensive end, Ahmad Brooks for Manny Lawson at outside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman for Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, Carlos Rogers for Nate Clements at cornerback, Tarell Brown for Shawntae Spencer at cornerback, Donte Whitner for Reggie Smith at strong safety.

Seahawks at Giants

Score last season: Giants 41, Seahawks 7

Key play: With Seattle already down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Giants returned Leon Washington's fumbled kickoff return to the Seattle 4, setting up Ahmad Bradshaw's touchdown run on the next play.

Biggest change: Tarvaris Jackson is the starting quarterback for Seattle. Charlie Whitehurst was a fill-in starter for Matt Hasselbeck when the teams played last season.

Storyline: The Seahawks' so-far-unproductive ground game faces a Giants run defense that has struggled. Seattle's young line improved in pass protection last week. Can it take a step forward in run blocking this week?

Lineup changes for Seattle (16): Sidney Rice for Deon Butler at receiver, Jackson for Whitehurst at quarterback, Russell Okung for Chester Pitts at left tackle, Paul McQuistan for Mike Gibson at left guard, Max Unger for Chris Spencer at center, John Moffitt for Stacy Andrews at right guard, James Carpenter for Sean Locklear at right tackle, Zach Miller for John Carlson at tight end, Brandon Mebane for Junior Siavii at defensive tackle, Alan Branch for Craig Terrill at defensive tackle, Red Bryant for Kentwan Balmer at defensive end, K.J. Wright for Aaron Curry at linebacker, David Hawthorne for Lofa Tatupu at linebacker, Leroy Hill for Hawthorne at linebacker, Brandon Browner for Kelly Jennings at right cornerback, Kam Chancellor or Atari Bigby for Lawyer Milloy, depending on Chancellor's availability.

Sando's best guesses: Week 3 predictions

September, 23, 2011
They're fearless predictions when we're right, just-for-fun guesses when we're wrong.

That means I'm a fearless 7-0 in predicting outcomes for NFC West games this season.

I'd settle for 8-2 after Week 3 given the choices:
  • San Francisco at Cincinnati, 1 p.m. ET: It's somewhat amazing the 49ers have controlled games without exceeding 209 yards against an opponent. Their defensive front seven should give the Bengals problems. On offense, Vernon Davis could be matched against former teammate Manny Lawson. Davis is due for a touchdown. My best guess: 49ers 23, Bengals 17.
  • Arizona at Seattle, 4:15 p.m. ET: The Cardinals have the better offense. They'll also be playing on the road, possibly in the rain, against a good defense. Their running back, Beanie Wells, has hamstring concerns. If the Seahawks cannot make offensive headway at home against a defense allowing 466 yards per game, look out below. My best guess: Seahawks 20, Cardinals 19.
  • Baltimore at St. Louis, 4:05 p.m. ET: The Ravens would be the easy choice based on some of the Rams' struggles and injury concerns to this point. I just don't see this Rams team opening a season 0-2 at home and 0-3 overall. Of course, it's easier to get there from where the Rams stand right now. My best guess: Rams 19, Ravens 17.

Where am I wrong?

Week 3 shines light on NFC West moves

September, 21, 2011
A few recent NFC West moves are coming into focus with an assist from NFC schedule makers. A quick run through some of them:
  • Kelly Jennings to Cincinnati: The Seattle Seahawks traded Jennings to the Bengals in part because they wanted to get bigger at cornerback. They were tired of seeing Jennings struggle more than a bigger corner might against Larry Fitzgerald and other big receivers. With Jennings gone, 6-foot-4 corner Brandon Browner will get his first look at Fitzgerald in Week 3. Jennings, meanwhile, will not have to worry about facing the San Francisco 49ers' biggest receiver, Braylon Edwards, this weekend. Edwards will miss the 49ers-Bengals game and possibly others after undergoing knee surgery, coach Jim Harbaugh announced. Jennings missed the opener with a hamstring injury and did not factor statistically in Week 2.
  • Kevin Kolb to Arizona: Seattle seriously considered acquiring Kolb from Philadelphia two years ago, and less seriously this offseason. The Cardinals traded starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft choice to the Eagles for Kolb. They also made Kolb very wealthy. Kolb leads the Cardinals into Seattle in Week 3 for a game that will offer some evidence as to which team took the right approach. Quarterback problems doomed Arizona to an 0-2 record against Seattle last season.
  • Various 49ers to Cincinnati: Manny Lawson, Nate Clements and Taylor Mays landed in Cincinnati after leaving the 49ers. Lawson and Clements are starting. A knee injury has prevented Mays from playing so far this season. The 49ers' pass defense struggled with Clements on the team last season. It struggled even more with the game on the line against Dallas in Week 2. Keeping Clements wasn't a realistic option for the 49ers given contractual dynamics. Clements won't have to face Edwards, and it's unclear whether fellow 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree will play after aggravating a foot injury. Lawson's sack totals were an item of interest annually when he was with the 49ers, but he's no longer playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
  • Justin Bannan to St. Louis: Bannan spent last season with Denver, but he was with Baltimore for the previous four seasons. The Rams have allowed more rushing yards than any team in the league through two games, a surprise given the team's emphasis on improving that area through various personnel moves. Bannan's addition was one of those moves. One of the NFL's better runners, Ray Rice, is coming to St. Louis in Week 3.
  • Alan Branch to Seattle: Thanks to pendulum80 for noticing I'd left this one off initially. Branch has so far been a welcome addition to the Seahawks' run defense as a starting tackle. He says he's a better fit for the Seahawks' scheme and it's tough to argue at this point, although consistency will be the key for Branch. He played well at times for Arizona as well. Can he play well for Seattle all season? I'm thinking he'll be ready to go Sunday.
  • Mark LeGree to Arizona: This one's a non-factor in terms of game-day impact, but in case you had not heard, the Seahawks' 2011 fifth-round pick did sign with the Cardinals' practice squad.

Of all these moves, the one involving Kolb carries the most interesting ramifications.

Intelligence report: San Francisco 49ers

September, 1, 2011
Five things to know about the San Francisco 49ers, straight from our newly published 2011 preview:

1. The clock starts anew: As frustrating as the past decade has been for 49ers fans and the organization as a whole, none of that serves as a relevant reference point for Jim Harbaugh. This will be a season of discovery for him. If the team reaches the playoffs, great. But the Harbaugh era is only beginning and there is much to figure out, starting at quarterback.

2. Patience is the name of the game: The 49ers could have drafted Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder with the seventh overall choice. All three quarterbacks went in the five slots immediately after the 49ers made outside linebacker Aldon Smith the seventh overall choice. After the draft, the 49ers could have engaged Arizona in a bidding war for Kevin Kolb. They passed. Harbaugh was content grabbing Colin Kaepernick in the second round and bringing back Alex Smith for a seventh season with the team. The 49ers showed patience again during free agency, reaching into the bargain bin while letting some of their own starters sign elsewhere uncontested. They appear to be in no rush.

3. The running game is king: The 49ers' lack of urgency at quarterback could at least partially reflect their desire to lean hard on the ground game. In that respect, the philosophy hasn't changed much from Mike Singletary to Harbaugh. San Francisco will continue to emphasize a power scheme on offense. Harbaugh brings many more variations within the running game. He's installing a short-passing game that will give Smith bailout options should he find no one open on vertical routes. But running the football will remain the top priority. Frank Gore has a new contract and should be happy about his role in the offense. He's going to get the ball plenty this season.

4. Braylon Edwards is an X factor: The one-handed, diving grab Edwards made for a 32-yard gain during preseason trumped any catch I can recall a 49ers wideout making in recent seasons. It was the sort of play the 49ers badly need their receivers to make. Smith isn't an elite quarterback. He isn't going to elevate the play of those around him. He needs playmakers to make him look better. Edwards has shown he has the ability to do that. His addition gives the team another big target with the physical traits to stretch a defense. Tight end Vernon Davis had been the only 49ers player with that ability

5. The defense is surprisingly new: Nate Clements, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson, Travis LaBoy, Takeo Spikes and Taylor Mays figured prominently into the 49ers' defensive plans at various points last season. None remains with the team. The middle of the defense has a fresh look with Isaac Sopoaga moving to nose tackle, NaVorro Bowman replacing Spikes at inside linebacker and the 49ers making a concerted effort to build depth at safety. Most changes were designed to upgrade the pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Josh Freeman and Matthew Stafford will put those changes to the test before the 49ers hit their bye in Week 7.

2011 UFA market: NFC West scorecard

August, 23, 2011
With training camps winding down, I've found time to update rosters and put together team-by-team reference material for unrestricted free agency.

The names below match official NFL counts.

These are for players with at least four accrued NFL seasons whose contracts expired following the 2010 season. I've added comments for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed (8): Ben Graham, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah, Ben Claxton, Lyle Sendlein, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Stephen Spach.

New to team (7): Chansi Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Daryn Colledge, Nick Eason, Stewart Bradley, Floyd Womack, Jeff King.

Still unsigned (3): Alan Faneca, Jason Wright, Bryan Robinson.

Signed elsewhere (5): Steve Breaston (Kansas City), Gabe Watson (New York Giants), Ben Patrick (Giants), Trumaine McBride (New Orleans), Alan Branch (Seattle).

Comment: Sendlein, Colledge and Bradley were the big signings. Marshall provides needed depth at cornerback. Faneca and Wright announced their retirements. The Cardinals weren't aggressive in trying to re-sign the players they lost to other teams. The biggest move Arizona made, acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, did not involve a UFA.

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed (4): Ray McDonald, Tony Wragge, Dashon Goldson, Alex Smith.

New to team (5): Braylon Edwards, Jonathan Goodwin, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, David Akers.

Still unsigned (5): Brian Westbrook, Troy Smith, Demetric Evans, William James, Barry Sims.

Signed elsewhere (6): David Baas (Giants), Travis LaBoy (San Diego), Jeff Reed (Seattle), Aubrayo Franklin (New Orleans), Takeo Spikes (San Diego), Manny Lawson (Cincinnati).

Comment: Re-signing McDonald signaled Franklin's departure. Getting Goldson back on the relative cheap was a victory. The 49ers wanted to keep Baas, but not at the price he commanded. The team thinks NaVorro Bowman has a bright future in Spikes' old spot at inside linebacker. Lawson wasn't strong enough as a pass-rusher to stick around. Safety depth is improved.

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed (7): Raheem Brock, Junior Siavii, Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy, Michael Robinson, Kelly Jennings.

New to team (8): Branch, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, Jimmy Wilkerson, Atari Bigby, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Reed.

Still unsigned (7): Jay Richardson, Craig Terrill, Chester Pitts, Brandon Stokley, Ruvell Martin, J.P. Losman, Lawyer Milloy.

Signed elsewhere (8): Will Herring (New Orleans), Olindo Mare (Carolina), Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), Chris Spencer (Chicago), Jordan Babineaux (Tennessee), Sean Locklear (Washington), Amon Gordon (Kansas City), Ray Willis (Washington).

Comment: Adding Jackson as the starting quarterback was the most significant move for the 2011 season. Mebane was the most important re-signing for the longer term. Hill was a bargain relative to how he's playing right now. Miller and Rice were the types of young, talented players who rarely change teams in free agency. The Seahawks were outbid for Herring and Mare. Can street free agent David Vobora fill some of the void Herring left?

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed (2): Adam Goldberg, Gary Gibson.

New to team (9): Daniel Muir, Quinn Ojinnaka, Harvey Dahl, Ben Leber, Zac Diles, Jerious Norwood, Cadillac Williams, Quintin Mikell, Mike Sims-Walker.

Still unsigned (5): Chris Hovan, Michael Lewis, Darcy Johnson, Clifton Ryan, Mark Clayton.

Signed elsewhere (4): Daniel Fells (Denver), Laurent Robinson (San Diego), Derek Schouman (Washington), Kevin Dockery (Pittsburgh).

Comment: Dahl and Mikell were the big additions. Clayton could return if and when his surgically repaired knee allows. Sims-Walker is a wild card. The team didn't flinch when any of its own UFAs signed elsewhere. Most of the moves made on defense were designed to improve St. Louis against the run. Remember that newcomer Justin Bannan was not a UFA. Denver released him.
The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers are taking opposite approaches to free agency and the trading period this offseason.

Arizona keeps adding players, from quarterback Kevin Kolb to guard Daryn Colledge to tight end Todd Heap and others. San Francisco keeps subtracting them, from linebacker Takeo Spikes to nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, center David Baas, outside linebacker Manny Lawson, cornerback Nate Clements and possibly free safety Dashon Goldson.

Both teams could be operating in the best interests of their respective organizations, but fans usually feel better when their teams are active in the market. Those wishing their favorite teams were as active as Arizona has been can pretend the following quote came from their teams' general managers, and not from Cardinals president Michael Bidwill.

"We knew we wanted to step in and be very aggressive, and we weren’t going to let the market settle or anything like that," Bidwill told reporters at Cardinals training camp. "We just wanted to go out there and put our best foot forward, really go out there and take a shot at some of the best players across the league."

Cardinals fans know what 49ers fans are going through. Last offseason, they watched their team wave goodbye to high-profile players such as Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and Anquan Boldin. But after finishing 5-11 in 2010, the Cardinals felt as though they needed to act decisively.

"I think we really improved the team over the last several days," Bidwill said.

The Cardinals wanted to add a quarterback quickly, but several days passed before the trade for Kolb went through. Fans and analysts, including former Cardinals tight end Anthony Becht, questioned whether the organization was being sufficiently proactive in upgrading the one position Arizona had to address.

"We felt like there was a lot of aggressiveness that people would eventually see, in terms of seeing how we executed the plan," Bidwill said. "We had a lot of [salary-cap] space to work, we intended to use it, and to go out there and not only take care of the free-agency market and executing a couple of trades, but also leave space so that we could extend some key veterans later this training camp."

The Cardinals went though last season with significant cap space. Their payroll plummeted. Some other teams also cut back as a potential lockout loomed. Holding back again this offseason would have carried additional risk for the Cardinals. Sitting back and suffering through another down season would have fed perceptions that gains made during coach Ken Whisenhunt's initial years would be fleeting.

This offseason, no one can fault the Cardinals for a lack of trying.
Manny Lawson's departure from the San Francisco 49ers appeared all but certain this offseason, particularly once the team drafted Aldon Smith.

Expectation became reality Monday night when Lawson, a 49ers' first-round pick in 2006, reached agreement with the Cincinnati Bengals on a one-year deal for $3 million, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The Bengals have become a halfway house for NFC West castoffs, welcoming Nate Clements and Deuce Lutui before Lawson signed with them. Lutui failed his physical -- he was overweight -- and went back to the Arizona Cardinals.

Lawson keeps himself in tremendous physical condition, so there's little risk he'll fail a physical.

The 49ers have steadily bled talent on defense recently. Takeo Spikes and Clements already left. Dashon Goldson and Aubrayo Franklin remain unsigned.

Each situation has appeared readily explainable. Spikes was getting up there in years. Clements' salary was untenable. Goldson was seeking riches despite coming off a so-so year. Franklin wasn't going to command the money associated with the franchise tag he bore recently.

The cumulative effect of those departures and potential departures could be significant, however. Are the 49ers better without Spikes? Are they better without Clements? Are they better without Lawson? Would they be better without Goldson or Franklin?

In most cases, the answers are in the negative.

Re-signing Goldson and/or Franklin would help quite a bit. They were the 49ers' highest-profile defensive free agents this offseason.

49ers back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The 49ers lag in this area for a team that has maintained relatively strong roster continuity over the past few seasons. San Francisco has a new head coach, three new coordinators (counting special teams) and one of the younger offensive lineups in the NFL. The 49ers needed minicamps and the offseason program as much as any team. The lockout was costlier for them. It's a tribute to Jim Harbaugh, his staff and the players if they open the season strong.

Biggest challenge: Getting Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and the offense synced up quickly will be tough. Smith, who plans to re-sign with the team once free agency opens, did all he could in meeting with Harbaugh before the lockout and leading player-organized workouts. Smith's smarts and team-first attitude made him an ideal candidate to communicate Harbaugh's plans to the players attending workouts. That all sounds great in June and July, but it's doubtful the impact will carry the team far. This is a tough situation for a first-time NFL head coach with an unaccomplished quarterback.

Don't forget the defense: Smith's leadership during player-organized workouts drew considerable attention. Meanwhile, Patrick Willis and the defense spent the offseason without access to playbooks. Their new coordinator, Vic Fangio, is known for favoring veterans with the experience needed to run his complex scheme. The 49ers will need their veterans on defense to learn quickly.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Quarterback Alex Smith, linebacker Takeo Spikes, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, outside linebacker Manny Lawson, tackle Barry Sims, safety Dashon Goldson, defensive end Ray McDonald, offensive lineman David Baas, outside linebacker Travis LaBoy, offensive lineman Tony Wragge.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch caught up with Rams running back Steven Jackson, no small feat during the offseason. Burwell: "Over the past three years alone, he has been to about a dozen foreign countries, swam with blood-thirsty sharks, zip-lined through the tree tops of tropical rain forests against howler and Capuchin monkeys, sat in the stands in South Africa cheering at the World Cup, walked through the catacombs of the Roman Colosseum, co-produced award-nominated documentaries, studied the architecture of Europe's great cities and gotten an up-close-and-personal glance at Mona Lisa's smiling face. So, when I ask him how he spent this summer's vacation, Jackson is eager to retell this year's odyssey." Jackson says he did not attend player-organized practices this offseason in part because he's better served learning from coaches on the field than by studying a playbook on his own. Also, Jackson said he was concerned about injuries.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have so far weathered the lockout well from a business standpoint, according to team executive Kevin Demoff. Miklasz: "The Rams have season-ticket renewal rate of 94 percent -- assuming that fans follow through on their deposits, which is a fairly safe bet. According to Demoff, this will be the Rams' highest season-ticket renewal rate in more than a decade. The Rams already have sold 4,000 new season tickets, which doubles what they sold in new season tickets a year ago. And the Rams figure to get another boost from the end of the lockout and the start of camp."

Darren Urban of sizes up the Cardinals' situation at quarterback heading toward free agency. Urban: "Speculation has made Kevin Kolb, the Eagles’ backup to Michael Vick and a free-agent-to-be after the 2011 season, the name to watch once teams can begin to make moves. The price the Eagles demand for Kolb figures to be a factor. His potential is just that -- potential -- and no sure thing. Does Kyle Orton make more sense? Or, given the fact both Orton and Kolb are scheduled to become free agents after 2011, maybe the Cards wait and pick up a free agent this year. After the position as a whole underperformed last season, any added veteran projects to an upgrade."

Clare Farnsworth of checks in from Jacob Green's annual charity golf tournament in the Seattle area, noting that the retired pass-rusher has raised millions to fight cancer. Farnsworth: "Green [led] the Seahawks in sacks nine times -- including 1983, when he had a career-best 16; and the four-season stretch from 1983-86 when he produced 54.5. He was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 1995, selected to the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s 25th Anniversary team in 2000 and voted the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team last year."

Also from Farnsworth: The Seahawks' facility got high marks from Manchester United players visiting over the weekend.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee passes along a story from an HBO show reflecting early signs of the competitiveness that typifies 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Barrows: "Jim Harbaugh once beaned a little girl square in the back with a fastball. He was only nine years old at the time, but that didn't seem to make a difference to the horrified parents watching from the stands."

Also from Barrows: 49ers fullback Bruce Miller is hanging out with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Barrows: "Kaepernick said he trained with Miller before the combine in February. Back then Miller thought he would play defensive end, his position at Central Florida, at the NFL level or perhaps try his hand at outside linebacker. The 49ers, however, view Miller to as a fullback, and Kaepernick has been impressed with what he's seen from him at that position so far."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers snapper Brian Jennings has been teaching his craft to youngsters this offseason, including during a camp Saturday. Branch: "Jennings hosted a long-snapping camp at San Jose State on Saturday for 20 high-school-aged hopefuls and has plans to develop an online long-snapping school. The six-hour camp was filmed and Jennings will use the footage as content for his online school, which will feature drills and coaching tips. Jennings is passionate about providing an affordable way to teach others across the nation the finer points of his craft."

Matt Maiocco of asks whether the lockout will lead to more false-start penalties as the 49ers break in a new offensive scheme.

Also from Maiocco: He offers thoughts on the comments 49ers general manager Trent Baalke recently made to San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami. Maiocco: "Outside linebacker Manny Lawson and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin will get some free-agent attention around the league. The 49ers drafted Lawson's replacement, Aldon Smith, with the No. 7 overall pick. And the 49ers have contingency plans to place a priority on re-signing defensive end Ray McDonald, starting him at left defensive end, and shifting Isaac Sopoaga to nose tackle to replace Franklin."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch fears the lockout could diminish Marshall Faulk's experience heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Burwell: "Unless the lockout ends this week, the chances are high that the NFL will be forced to cancel this year's Hall of Fame game, and that would be a shame. One of the rare treats of the Hall of Fame weekend is when the streets of the city are full of fans from the two teams that are scheduled to play, and both teams have a former player being enshrined. This year, with the Rams and Bears scheduled for that Sunday afternoon -- Aug. 7 -- nationally-televised contest, it figured that there would be quite a few car caravans rolling across I-70 from the 'Lou and the Windy City to pay tribute to Faulk and former Bear Richard Dent. ... How much better would it be if the celebration of the first St. Louis Ram to reach Canton isn't cut short by a day?"

The Rams' website says the team plans to send a large contingent to Joplin, Mo., for continuing relief efforts following the tornadoes there. Among the details: "The Rams' staff will assist with projects including removing debris, unloading trucks, organizing donations and staffing the call center and data entry center. Upon arrival in Joplin, the Rams will report to the volunteer check-in area at Missouri State Southern University where they will be deployed to the various project locations. A group of cheerleaders, alumni and the team’s mascot, Rampage, will also be on hand to help lift the spirits of the community."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis is part of the group heading to Joplin. Softli: "Seventy-five Rams employees and selected media members will depart the Russell Training Center on two buses at 5 a.m. with an anticipated arrival into Joplin around 10 a.m. The Rams have worked with the United Way and AmeriCorps of St. Louis to identify a variety of volunteer options. ... Upon arrival in Joplin, we will report to the volunteer check-in area at Missouri State Southern University to be dispatched to the various project locations and work until approximately 1:30 p.m."

Matt Maiocco of checks in with 49ers safety Chris Maragos as part of a piece examining how college free agents will work from a disadvantage this offseason. Maragos: "This year is quite a bit different. It's a huge transition from college to the NFL. I played in Big 10, so I was already acclimated to a high level of physicality. But the NFL is definitely a big jump in the level of competition. I needed the time (in the offseason) to learn the playbook, get up to speed and develop an understanding of what it takes at this level."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects Aubrayo Franklin and Manny Lawson to leave the 49ers in free agency this offseason. Barrows: "Last year the 49ers were able to hold onto Franklin with the franchise tag. This year his tag number is expected to jump to more than $12 million, and the 49ers opted not to retain him in that fashion. It looks like Franklin, who has wanted to reach the open market for two years, finally will get his wish barring some sort of right-of-first-refusal language in the new collective bargaining agreement. Furthermore, there promises to be a strong market for him. Reports out of Washington this offseason have said that the nose tackle-desperate Redskins (See: Haynesworth, Albert; the saga of) have triple underlined Franklin's name on their list of free-agent targets." I can see why the 49ers wouldn't want to pay a premium for either player, but the team will be worse off without Franklin and Lawson.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says defensive lineman Ray McDonald hopes to re-sign with the 49ers. McDonald: "Before we left, there was a good vibe amongst me and the coaching staff and the GM. They said they liked the way I played and want me back, so I'm just going off that. I want to be back here. I'm comfortable out here."

Also from Branch: The 49ers' players have much to learn offensively despite maximizing their offseason under difficult circumstances.

Clare Farnsworth of offers details on Ralph Goldston's tenure with the team. Goldston, who passed away recently at age 82, spent 14 years with Seattle. Farnsworth: "While the Associated Press story mentioned Goldston being one of the first African Americans to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, there are no details about his post-playing career. He was a scout for the Seahawks for 14 years, arriving in 1975 -- the year before the team played its first game. Goldston came to the Seahawks after serving as offensive backfield coach for the Chicago Bears and remained with the Seahawks through the 1988 season."

Also from Farnsworth: a look back at the 1987 Seahawks. Farnsworth: "Steve Largent was voted the team MVP after a 58-catch, 912-yard, eight-TD season, as well as to his seventh -- and final -- Pro Bowl. The ’87 season also was the 12th -- and final time -- Largent would lead the Seahawks in receptions."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says Kevin Kolb isn't worth the risk for the Seahawks.

Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus gives Larry Fitzgerald a slight edge over Andre Johnson as the NFL's best receiver over the past three seasons, counting playoffs, as Darren Urban of notes. Elsayed: "When the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald was our top ranked receiver after a monstrous year and tremendous post season. He still found himself near the top (seventh) when the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals went to the playoffs, and improved on that with a sixth place finish last year despite some horrible quarterback play. Essentially, whether you’re feeding him caviar or out of the garbage, Fitz is a receiver hungry to make the most of any opportunity. The best hands of any of the top receivers." Fitzgerald's performance through the playoffs does set him apart. I've rated Johnson slightly higher more recently based on his superior speed. Pick your favorite between the two and I'll take the other one without complaint.