NFC West: Matt Ware

The Arizona Cardinals addressed primary needs at receiver and offensive tackle in the NFL draft last month.

They did not address every need, however. Arizona was the only team not to use at least one draft choice for a defensive lineman or linebacker, one reason Vonnie Holliday and Clark Haggans are expected to return for another season.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says there's no rush to bring back either player. Somers: "Haggans, 35, started all 16 games last season but, if he returns, it will be as a backup. Holliday, 36, backed up Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett last season. He played in all 16 games and finished with 16 tackles, 15 of them solo. The coaches were pleased with his production and think he could provide a similar level of play this season." Noted: Re-signing Haggans in particular would buy time for the Cardinals at outside linebacker, a position where the team has promising young players, but few established options.

Also from Somers: catching up with Matt Ware.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com revisits defensive coordinator Ray Horton's philosophy on cornerbacks. Horton: "Covering is the main job, but you want the physicality, get guys out of their game and let them know they will get it every play. As a defense, you have to have the tough guy mentality regardless. We don’t want an offense pushing us around, and if they get some calls, we have to live with that sometimes."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com sizes up the team's wide receivers and says competition is running high. Farnsworth: "In fact, Ben Obomanu, Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette were so hungry during the players’ extended break following the season that they traveled to Alabama to work out with Tarvaris Jackson."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a position-by-position look at the Seahawks' roster and has this to say about letting linebacker David Hawthorne leave in free agency: "Even with a nasty front that does a nice job of keeping the linebackers clean, someone has to scrape, fill the right gap and make the tackles. Along with doing that the past three seasons, Hawthorne was considered one of the more cerebral players on the team. And he also made game-changing plays, evidenced by his seven interceptions and six sacks in three years as a starter. Second-round draft choice Bobby Wagner has some big shoes to fill." Noted: Hawthorne's health had to be a key variable. The injury he played through last season affected his ability to move effectively.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues what Rams coach Jeff Fisher will be watching most closely during the upcoming rookie camp. Jim Thomas: "About two-thirds of the players on the field will be undrafted rookies, but Fisher obviously will have his eyes on the 10 draft picks, particularly cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Are both capable of competing for a starting job right away? That seems to be the expectation. Ditto for wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens. The sooner they get the playbook down, the sooner they help QB Sam Bradford. This will be their first taste of NFL football, albeit in a minicamp setting."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch supports Kurt Warner's recent comments about player safety.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Frank Gore is anxious to see new 49ers running back LaMichael James in action. Maiocco on Gore: "Gore, who turns 29 on Monday, enters his eighth professional season. He has 7,625 rushing yards -- the most for any 49ers player since the club became a member of the NFL in 1950. And he is just 33 rushing attempts behind the club's all-time leader Roger Craig."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with 49ers archivist Jerry Walker, who is collecting memorabilia for display in the team's Hall of Fame, set to open at the new stadium in Santa Clara. Barrows: "The hall of fame will be at least 15,000 square feet, and the team wants items from ticket stubs all the way up to big-ticket items like a trolley car or even perhaps a portion of the 'Niner Liner' aircraft that flew Montana and teammates to their first Super Bowl in Pontiac, Mich. The hall of fame is sure to be popular on game days. But, like recent hall of fames built in Green Bay, Foxboro, Ma. and elsewhere, the intent is to make a year-round destination, especially one for school field trips."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says safety Donte Whitner expects the defense to play faster this season. Whitner: "This year you can expect guys to fly around a lot faster without hesitation and really understand what the scheme is and what we’re trying to do to offensive football teams. And I believe that we’re going to be the No. 1 defense in the National Football League this year. The guys believe it and we just have to go out there, work and prove it."

Monte Poole of Bay Area News Group says Alex Smith and the 49ers' offense are trying to close the gap with the team's defense.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle takes a closer look at 49ers first-round draft choice A.J. Jenkins. Branch: "Jenkins had 90 catches as a senior. The Illini’s second-leading receiver had 26. The disparity had something to do with the trust quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had in Jenkins, an exacting route-runner."

Arizona Cardinals cutdown analysis

September, 2, 2011
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The Arizona Cardinals have made their initial cuts to comply with the 53-man deadline Saturday.

Surprise move: Nothing too weighty here. The team kept four safeties initially instead of five, an indication that Adrian Wilson might be ready for the regular-season opener despite a torn biceps tendon. Veteran backup safety Matt Ware, signed as insurance when Wilson was hurt, was among those let go. Sixth-round pick Quan Sturdivant appeared to be on the bubble, but he made the initial 53-man roster. A couple veterans, namely punter Ben Graham and fullback Reagan Maui'a, lost roster spots to less-established players.

No-brainers: Deuce Lutui's status became topical throughout camp as he battled weight issues and played deep into the final preseason game. Keeping him around was a no-brainer, I thought, because Lutui can be an above-average starter. The Cardinals have him under contract on their terms after Lutui failed a physical with Cincinnati in free agency. Arizona is better on its line with Lutui as one of its options.

What's next: The Cardinals will be in the market for help at running back after losing rookie Ryan Williams to season-ending injury. Alfonso Smith made the cut initially, joining a group featuring Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and rookie fullback Anthony Sherman.

The team has eight offensive linemen after placing Floyd Womack on injured reserve. That number is one lower than typical for NFL teams, but the Cardinals had only eight on their Week 1 roster last season. They opened their previous three seasons under Ken Whisenhunt with nine.

The secondary is another area to watch after Greg Toler landed on injured reserve earlier in the week. The team has eight defensive backs on its roster, including four corners (Patrick Peterson, A.J. Jefferson, Richard Marshall and Michael Adams). Arizona has had 11, nine, eight and 10 defensive backs on its Week 1 rosters, respectively, under Whisenhunt.

2011 UFA market: NFC West scorecard

August, 23, 2011
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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.
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Next step: NFC West improvement areas

August, 14, 2011
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Where each NFC West team should expect improvement following preseason openers:

Arizona Cardinals

Area of focus: The secondary is still taking shape. Adrian Wilson's injury creates an opening for Rashad Johnson and Matt Ware. Johnson broke down in coverage against Oakland, allowing a long pass completion. At cornerback, the Cardinals are pleased with A.J. Jefferson on the left side, but first-round draft choice Patrick Peterson is going to get more playing time as the regular season approaches. The Cardinals are taking things slowly with Peterson.

Reasonable expectation next week: Improved play from Wilson's replacement(s) and increased playing time for Peterson.

Upcoming opponent note: The Cardinals travel to face a Green Bay team that has occasionally hammered opponents during preseason. The Packers memorably put up 48 points against Seattle in 2007 and 44 against Arizona last summer.

San Francisco 49ers

Area of focus: The pass protection against New Orleans was worse than anticipated even though the 49ers faced well-known challenges breaking in a new offense. This was a painful reminder that San Francisco remains in the very early stages of its offensive overhaul. In retrospect, the 49ers could have used a tamer opponent for their first game under Jim Harbaugh. The Saints exploited the 49ers' early shortcomings to maximum effect.

Reasonable expectation next week: Better coordination between offensive linemen, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks against pressure.

Upcoming opponent note: The 49ers play at home against the Oakland Raiders. Alex Smith completed 9 of 15 passes for 113 yards and one touchdown against the Raiders last summer. The 49ers did not allow a sack in that game. Oakland has a new defensive coordinator this year. The Raiders did occasionally bring pressure against Arizona in their preseason opener.

Seattle Seahawks

Area of focus: The first-team offense lacked rhythm against San Diego. Tarvaris Jackson was without his top three wide receivers. Seattle lost its left tackle to injury early in the game. Jackson faced too much pressure and relied on his mobility to buy time. Jackson enters his second week of practices with the team seeking to build a rapport with his top targets. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 13 yards against the Chargers.

Reasonable expectation next week: A few timing passes to receiver Sidney Rice and tight end Zach Miller would stand as something for the offense to build around.

Upcoming opponent note: The Seahawks are home against Minnesota. The game carries added interest for Jackson, Rice and former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. The Vikings scored three points, collected only one sack and allowed a 45-yard touchdown pass to Tennessee Titans rookie Jake Locker during their opener.

St. Louis Rams

Area of focus: The Rams were easily the most efficient NFC West team during their preseason opener. They committed only one penalty, picked off three passes, held Indianapolis to a 42.8 passer rating, got encouraging contributions from rookie tight end Lance Kendricks and generally impressed. But they didn't get much from their wide receivers beyond a couple contributions and near-contributions from Danario Alexander. Injuries kept Mike Sims-Walker from playing much. Other receivers, including Donnie Avery, did not play at all.

Reasonable expectation for next week: A few more connections between Sam Bradford and his wide receivers would help the Rams make better sense of the position as the regular season approaches. The receiver position has yet to define itself clearly.

Upcoming opponent note: The Rams are home against the Titans in their next preseason game. Rams fans might recall Tennessee rushing for 340 yards against a bare-bones St. Louis defense during the 2008 preseason. They do not have to fear a repeat.
No one but Adrian Wilson knew how badly the Pro Bowl safety was injured last season.

Everyone knows how badly he's hurting in 2011.

Wilson, who suffered a biceps injury at Arizona Cardinals camp Saturday, expects to play through the injury pending a second opinion, ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting.

Injuries are a touchy subject for players. An NFC West player I spoke with earlier in camp told me he suspected several teams went after his injured leg once injury reports made the condition known throughout the league. The player was not speaking for attribution.

Wilson underwent surgery this offseason to repair an abductor injury that likely affected his lateral movement and ability to change directions, one reason Wilson wasn't as effective in coverage. A tear in the biceps would be more apt to affect his tackling.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is expected to address Wilson's status when he meets with reporters following a walk-through practice Monday morning at Northern Arizona University. Rashad Johnson would likely start if Wilson were sidelined. The team also reportedly plans to re-sign veteran safety Matt Ware.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' rookies. On first-round choice Aldon Smith: "Most young pass rushers try to out-quick their offensive tackle opponent by going to the outside, and in doing so they are easily pushed wide of the play. Smith, however, has a wicked inside move in which he uses his long powerful arms like battle axes to club away the offensive tackle's hands. Smith is far more powerful than most rookies, much less those enter the NFL as underclassmen. He's working on his flexibility and on playing in space, which he must do as an outside linebacker."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks at potential quarterback options for the 49ers. Maiocco: "I'm told if there's a quarterback who shakes free or becomes available that Jim Harbaugh likes, the club will make an effort to get him. The No. 1 name on everybody's list is Tampa Bay backup quarterback Josh Johnson, who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego and greatly desires a chance to play for him again. Johnson enters the final year of his contract, and there are no long-term hopes of being a starter with Josh Freeman firmly entrenched as the Buccaneers' starter. There would be hope for Johnson if he came to the 49ers, as Alex Smith is signed to just a one-year deal and Colin Kaepernick is promising but very raw."

Cam Inman of the Contra Costa Times checks in with new 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin.

Also from Inman: a Harbaugh interview transcript.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider sizes up Goodwin and Braylon Edwards.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' changes on defense should help their pass defense. Cohn: "It’s fair to say the 49ers have the most talent in the NFC West. If the coaching staff lives up to expectations, the 49ers should win the division. So, all credit to Jed York, who let Trent Baalke do his job unhindered. Baalke said he had a plan, he said he wanted to be patient, and he was true to his word." The quarterback position will come into play as well. Can Alex Smith make it through a season? How ready will Kaepernick be as a rookie if called upon?

Also from Cohn: The 49ers' quarterbacks like operating from the shotgun.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Marshall Faulk shared his Hall of Fame experience with former teammates. Miklasz: "Faulk was more interested in giving credit than taking a bow.Of all the inductees that spoke on Saturday night, Faulk singled out more teammates than anyone at the podium. What does that say about the camaraderie and closeness of the 'Greatest Show' Rams?"

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Hall of Fame experience was a dream come true for Faulk. Thomas: "Faulk was emotional, yet composed; sincere and at times humorous. His eyes moistened and voice quavered at times; he wiped sweat from his brow with towel on a couple of occasions. But just like he did on the football field, Faulk never broke stride. His speech went 33 minutes, 50 seconds, outlasting his talkative predecessor on the stage, tight end Shannon Sharpe, who went 26 minutes. Faulk even outdid the last enshrinee to speak Saturday, the always-gabby cornerback, Deion Sanders, who went 24."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford tossed four touchdown passes during the Rams' scrimmage Sunday. Coats: "The defense controlled things early, as the offense struggled with new coordinator Josh McDaniels' system. When the offense went back to more familiar calls, it perked up. It was especially impressive in a red-zone session, scoring touchdowns on four of five opportunities."

Also from Coats: Mike Sims-Walker stood out at times for the Rams during their scrimmage.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says third-year running back Beanie Wells is looking to tighten his grip on the job as the Cardinals' starting running back. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "What Beanie's had to learn is you have to adapt to whatever you're faced with. It seems like Beanie's always been a very good football player, and it seems like dealing with adversity is not something he probably had done a lot of. It's not easy, and when you have to do it for the first time as a young back in a town that's unfamiliar to you, it's tough. Especially with as important as family is to him and they are not all out here (in Arizona)."

Also from Somers: losing Adrian Wilson to injury would be significant for the Cardinals. Somers: "The loss of Wilson for any amount of time is a huge blow, even though Wilson is coming off a down season. He is expected to thrive in the new scheme installed by coordinator Ray Horton. Even with Wilson, the Cardinals had little depth at safety. Rashad Johnson replaced Wilson after the injury on Saturday. The team also has Hamza Abdullah and now Matt Ware."

Diana C. Nearhos of the Arizona Republic says rookies face difficulties at Cardinals camp.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rookie Duke Lemmens is making a name for himself at Cardinals camp. That name is "Kenny G" to this point.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers notes regarding the Seahawks' evolving roster. O'Neil: "The Seahawks took a two-handed approach to recruiting. A scout and a coach were assigned each targeted free agent."

Also from O'Neil: a look inside the free-agency frenzy. O'Neil: "It was after 1 a.m. on July 28, which meant Thursday night had officially given way to Friday morning, and John Idzik was on the phone with Brandon Mebane's agent. Idzik is Seattle's vice president of football operations and its salary-cap expert. John Schneider and Pete Carroll were in the room, hearing half the conversation and becoming increasingly entertained by Idzik's hair. It was kind of sticking out, fittingly frazzled given the circumstances. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation or perhaps the knowledge Seattle was nearing an agreement to re-sign its starting defensive tackle, but all of a sudden there was a junior-high giddiness hovering around a deal worth millions. Schneider went behind Idzik, further mussing his hair as the coach laughed."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks appear to be making strides with their running game under assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable. Williams: "Cable’s trying to change the culture of the Seahawks’ running game, which finished in the bottom third of the league the past four seasons – including second-worst last season, averaging 89 yards a contest. Cable received help from general manager John Schneider in the talent acquisition department. Three of Seattle’s five line starters are first round picks in Gallery (second overall in 2004), left tackle Russell Okung (sixth overall in 2010) and right tackle James Carpenter (25th overall this year)."

Also from Williams: fullback Michael Robinson showcases his multimedia skills.

More from Williams: Red Bryant is looking to pick up where he left off before suffering a knee injury last season.
Alex Smith and Matt HasselbeckGetty ImagesAlex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck are both eligible for free agency this offseason.
It is possible, even likely, that the NFL and its players will continue their staring contest through the 2011 draft -- even with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson.

The appeals process could take weeks or longer, during which time it's unlikely the league would open for business. We're probably doomed to status quo, in other words.

But if ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson is correct, Judge Nelson will most likely end the lockout, leading to an immediate appeal -- a scenario I think would lead, eventually, to the league opening for business under 2010 rules while the sides continued their battle in the courts.

Those 2010 rules set the bar high for free agency. Only players with six accrued seasons would qualify for the unrestricted market. Starters such as Arizona's Steve Breaston, San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Seattle's Brandon Mebane would lose leverage and most likely return to their teams under relatively modest one-year deals.

The players listed in the chart -- those with at least six accrued seasons and no contracts for 2011 -- would be free to explore opportunities elsewhere.

Options and implications for this type of free agency in the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Overview: The Cardinals suffered more personnel losses than they could weather last offseason. They would benefit from a return to 2010 rules, however, because the restrictions would keep multiple starters off the market. Their list of potential free agents with six-plus seasons features no front-line players. The Cardinals would be better off focusing on a new deal with Larry Fitzgerald, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Top priority: Finding a veteran quarterback. Derek Anderson isn't expected back. Marc Bulger's name is heard most frequently in connection with the Cardinals. He turned 34 this week and did not attempt a pass in a regular-season game while with Baltimore last season. Bulger struggled during his final seasons with the Rams, but the team was falling apart around him. He last finished an NFL season with more touchdowns than interceptions in 2006. The down year has surely helped him get healthy.

Players in flux: Breaston, starting guard Deuce Lutui and starting center Lyle Sendlein wouldn't have enough accrued seasons to become unrestricted under 2010 rules. The situation is particularly difficult for Breaston, who has battled through knee problems without getting a long-term deal.

Veteran variable: Starting left guard Alan Faneca has considered retirement. The Cardinals invested in veteran guard Rex Hadnot for depth last offseason. The team lacks young depth on the line, but if Lutui and Sendlein return, the Cardinals have some flexibility.

Name to keep in mind: Ike Taylor, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals are hoping Greg Toler can build upon an up-and-down 2010 season. Taylor would give the team options. He played under new Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

St. Louis Rams

Overview: The Rams' most important players tend to be younger starters under contract for the long term (Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Rodger Saffold, Sam Bradford, Jason Smith). Most of their top veterans are also under contract (Steven Jackson, Fred Robbins, James Hall). Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is out of the picture after signing with the Washington Redskins following his salary-related release.

Top priority: The Rams could use a veteran guard with some nastiness. The team has invested heavily in its line, but this group could use more of an edge. Bringing back receiver Mark Clayton should be another consideration even though Clayton is coming off a serious knee injury. The rapport Clayton had with Bradford was strong.

Players in flux: Defensive tackles Gary Gibson and Clifton Ryan would remain property of the Rams under 2010 rules, as would cornerback Kevin Dockery and receiver Laurent Robinson. Gibson was the only full-time starter of the group last season. The Rams are expected to seek an upgrade at that position even with Gibson coming back.

Veteran variable: Adam Goldberg started all 16 games on the offensive line last season. The Rams could stand to upgrade, but I see value in bringing back Goldberg as a backup. He can play every position on the line but center. Goldberg has also taken an interest in mentoring younger players. His value off the field is a consideration.

Name to keep in mind: Daniel Graham, TE, Denver Broncos. Graham could make sense for the Rams in free agency. He played under the Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and could help upgrade the run blocking. Seattle has connections to Graham as well.

San Francisco 49ers

Overview: The 49ers signed some of their better young players to long-term contracts well before labor pains became so severe. Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley come to mind. The lockout has made it tougher for the 49ers' new coaches to get a feel for players. The 49ers like their talent overall and haven't been big players in free agency over the past couple of seasons. That isn't likely to change.

Top priority: Finding a starting quarterback trumps everything else. Alex Smith can become a free agent. Backups David Carr and Troy Smith are not expected back. The 49ers aren't expected to use the seventh overall choice to select or acquire a quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh prides himself in coaching up quarterbacks, but he needs quarterbacks to coach.

Players in flux: Goldson, outside linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive lineman Ray McDonald are among the 49ers players that would fall short of the six-season requirement for unrestricted free agency.

Veteran variable: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin played last season under a one-year franchise deal. The price tag for re-franchising Franklin appears prohibitive. The 49ers took a wait-and-see approach with Franklin because they hadn't seen him perform at a high level over the long term. They'll need a new nose tackle if Franklin departs.

Name to keep in mind: The 49ers' staff is coming mostly from the college ranks, so there aren't obvious connections to players from other NFL rosters. I expect the 49ers to focus more on re-signing some of their own players, from Spikes to David Baas and beyond.

Seattle Seahawks

Overview: The Seahawks have a long list of players without contracts for 2011. That was mostly be design. The team would like to continue turning over its roster without investing too much in older players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Raheem Brock and Olindo Mare.

Top priority: Figuring out the quarterback situation. Hasselbeck is headed for free agency and could leave if another team gives him some of the longer-term assurances Seattle has resisted. The Seahawks have shown some interest in Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, a player they inquired about last offseason. They still have Charlie Whitehurst. They could draft a quarterback early.

Players in flux: Defensive tackle Mebane heads the list of Seattle players who would not reach free agency under the rules used in 2010. General manager John Schneider called Mebane a "steady pro" when asked about him at the combine. That sounded like faint praise and an indication the Seahawks are not yet prepared to pay top dollar for Mebane if, and when, he hits the market.

Veteran variable: The Seahawks have a few of them, including Mare and Brock. But let's focus on offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer. They combined for 31 starts, but neither appears to be a priority for re-signing. Stacy Andrews is a candidate to step in for Locklear at right tackle. Max Unger could replace Spencer. Coach Pete Carroll thinks the team has upgraded its young depth on the line.

Name to keep in mind: Robert Gallery, guard, Oakland Raiders. Tom Cable's addition as offensive line coach makes Seattle a logical destination for Gallery, who has declared his intention to leave the Raiders.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at quarterback trade options for the Arizona Cardinals. Somers on Carson Palmer: "There are two issues. How much would the Cardinals be willing to give up for a quarterback whose best years might be behind him? Is Palmer the next Kurt Warner: a good quarterback in need of the right situation? If the Bengals are willing to trade Palmer, what will they want in return? Arizona would be a good fit for Palmer, who reportedly wants to return to the West. My guess is that Palmer would have to be willing to restructure his contract."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sees the potential for significant roster churn in Arizona this offseason. Urban: "That probably shouldn’t be a shock after a 5-11 season. Churning the bottom of the roster always is possible after every season, and with so many free-agents-to-be NFL-wide, it may be even more likely this offseason (once the CBA is determined). What that will mean specifically for the Cards is impossible to know. They’ve already plotted out free agency — they, like every team, needed to be ready by last weekend when free agency was originally supposed to start — and have players targeted. Does that mean current players would be on the backburner in case replacements are signed? Sure it could. It will also be interesting to see the demand on certain lower-tier players in a flooded market."

Also from Urban: Cardinals safety Matt Ware has played through diabetes.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com looks at projected draft choices for the team with the 25th overall choice. Rob Rang on his Jimmy Smith projection: "The Seahawks’ biggest needs are quarterback and the interior of the offensive line, but the team could throw a curveball should a cornerback of Smith’s talent fall into their lap. The 6-2, 210-pound Smith has top 15 talent but off-field concerns could push him down the board. His size and physicality, however, make him an ideal fit for a team looking for press corners. The Seahawks allowed 31 touchdowns and only intercepted 12 passes. That minus-19 TD/INT ratio was topped by only the Texans, who had minus-20."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times expects Matt Hasselbeck to test free agency. O'Neil: "That doesn't mean Hasselbeck's departure is a done deal. Far from it. Testing the open market can provide the nudge to bring the two sides together, another team's offer becoming a tangible, concrete milepost to negotiate off of. That's what happened with Kurt Warner in Arizona two years ago. The Cardinals were coming off a Super Bowl appearance yet Warner had to take a free-agent visit to San Francisco before agreeing to a new deal in Arizona."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks the Seahawks could make a run at Kevin Kolb. Williams: "Well, I know they were interested in Kolb last year, so that leads me to believe they will make a run after him again. If the cost is too prohibitive, then that opens the door for another free agent quarterback should they not bring Hasselbeck back. Maybe someone like Carson Palmer if Cincinnati decides to part ways with the USC product and makes him available in a trade. Whatever the team decides, I think they will bring two new QBs in to compete with Whitehurst."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle looks at options for Seattle if Hasselbeck leaves.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee doesn't expect the 49ers to pursue tampering chargers against the Eagles after San Francisco running back Brian Westbrook said he speaks regularly to Andy Reid. The NFL's tampering policy lays out parameters for tampering as follows, and I am paraphrasing: a team speaks with a player from another team; the other team shows interest in the player; the player and his current team experience problems in negotiations. From the policy: "In circumstances like those of the example above, tampering will be found even in the absence of a demonstrated cause-and-effect relationship between the player's contract problems and his prior involvement with the other club." In this case, the 49ers and Eagles presumably have no interest in Westbrook.

Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers legend Dwight Clark is landing in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider asks whether the 49ers should have interest in Cam Newton.

Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com says Oshiomogho Atogwe's departure from the Rams makes sense financially, but not in other ways.

Jason La Canfora of NFL Network says former Rams quarterback Marc Bulger performed at a high level in practices with Baltimore last season, citing a source as saying the ball never hit the ground when he was running the offense.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have a big hole at safety now that Oshiomogho Atogwe has agreed to terms with the Redskins. Thomas: "In the end, Atogwe chose a coach he is familiar with in Jim Haslett, but just as important is the fact that Haslett's system probably is a better match with Atogwe's skills. He didn't have as much freedom to roam the field and maximize his playmaking skills under Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, playing more in the box -- like a strong safety would -- and being used more as a blitzer." Craig Dahl, James Butler and Darian Stewart become the Rams' top three safeties minus Atogwe. The team clearly has a need at the position now.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says a lockout would hurt the Rams in particular. Miklasz: "Yes, all 32 teams have roster issues that can't be tackled right now. But how many have a second-year QB who must learn a new playbook, get on the same page with a new coordinator and connect with a new wide receiver? Things are awfully quiet at Rams Park. Some NFL teams have spent money this offseason by re-signing their own players or players released by other franchises. But the Rams haven't signed anyone. Just the opposite; they released fullback Mike Karney and made safety and team leader O.J. Atogwe a free agent by declining to pay an optional roster bonus. There's more work to do in St. Louis than most places."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks at how a lockout would hurt the 49ers. Maiocco: "There can be no player movement until there is a new CBA in place. Free agency will begin only when there's a labor agreement. The 49ers are prohibited from pursuing trades for a quarterback, such as Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb or Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, until there's a new CBA. It's possible the first opportunity the 49ers -- or any other team -- will have to add players will come April 28-30 during the NFL draft. The 49ers own 10 draft picks." It's looking more like labor talks could avert a lockout.

Sam Good of 49ers.com profiles former 49ers safety Eason Ramson, who has battled through substance abuse and other problems since retiring from football. Good: "The pain started when he was a little kid and was the driving force behind everything Ramson did. From becoming a star athlete in Sacramento, to earning his scholarship to Washington State, to becoming an NFL player, and even his drug addiction. It all stemmed from the pain. Ramson isn’t sure if his father ever loved him; he never heard him say it, and it’s a question that still lingers. If he did love his son, the elder Ramson never showed it. He was a provider – food, clothes, shelter – but that was it. No bonding, no hugs, not even an occasional pat on the back. Instead of fatherly advice, Ramson’s dad told his son, 'You’re never gonna be nothing.' "

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers have incentive to get a labor deal done.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has this to say about a lockout in relation to the 49ers: "Consider that seven other teams also have new head coaches, but, unlike Harbaugh, those coaches were NFL head coaches or coordinators last year. In addition, those seven teams all have more stable quarterback situations than San Francisco, which only has journeyman David Carr under contract."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider checks in with tackle Joe Staley for thoughts on the labor situation.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the recently released Chris Baker, 31, was the oldest of four tight ends on the Seahawks' roster. The team also released quarterback Nate Davis in a move that begs for some explanation. Davis was a project and it was unclear whether he would fit with the Seahawks' offense, but there was no obvious advantage to the timing of his release.

Brian McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog notes that Baker was due to receive a $500,000 bonus on the seventh day of the new league year. That helps explain why the Seahawks released Baker now. Baker finished the 2010 season on injured reserve. Fellow tight ends Cameron Morrah and John Carlson made key contributions in the playoffs.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says Matt Hasselbeck will have suitors in free agency.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals players have honored safety Matt Ware with the Ed Block Courage Award after Ware continued playing following a diagnosis showing he has Type I diabetes. Note: "Ware's return to the football field in 2010 was remarkable on multiple fronts. He has overcome Type I Diabetes and arthroscopy on his right knee following the 2008 season. His 2009 season was shortened by a knee injury that ended December 16, 2009, when he sprained his right knee ACL and MCL ligaments. Ware was first diagnosed in March of 2009 with Type I Diabetes. He had suffered from fatigue, an increase in thirst and a 15-pound weight loss during a three-week period. It was during the rehabilitation phase of his knee injury he began to experience the diabetic symptoms that slowed his workouts. His appetite had increased and his thirst mechanism was insatiable. Matt was referred to an endocrinologist for screening."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com lists Arizona players with expiring contracts.

Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald discusses the Cardinals' quarterback situation with Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio. Fitzgerald on landing a veteran or drafting a quarterback: "You can see it on both sides. You see veteran guys having success, and then you see the Matt Ryans and guys like that who come right in, Mark Sanchez, guys who can do it. I’m just about winning. We want to have success, and I know my coaches and teammates feel the same way. Whatever the way it is, I am for it."

Post-camp roster analysis: Cardinals

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
5:50
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Matt Leinart apparently has no idea where he stands with the Arizona Cardinals. That makes it tough for the rest of us to predict exactly what might happen.

Will Leinart start at quarterback for the Cardinals in Week 1? Will he serve as the backup? Will the Cardinals release him? Might they trade him?

The next week to 10 days should provide answers. NFL teams have until Saturday to reduce their rosters to 53-man limits, with the 75-man deadline passing Tuesday.

After looking at the Seahawks' roster earlier Monday, here's a quick run through the Cardinals:

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Keepers: Derek Anderson

Looking safe: Max Hall

On the bubble: Leinart, John Skelton

Comment: Coach Ken Whisenhunt's handling of Leinart suggests there's more than tough love at work here. It's fair to question whether Leinart fits into the team's plans at all this season. The smart move, it seems, would be to keep Anderson, Leinart and the winner of the Hall-Skelton competition. But it's clear Whisenhunt isn't convinced Leinart has what it takes to be a starting quarterback.

Running backs (8)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jason Wright

On the bubble: Reagan Maui'a, Charles Scott

Also: Alfonso Smith, Nehemiah Broughton

Comment: Scott arrived via trade this week after Broughton suffered a season-ending knee injury. Maui'a could be the choice heading into the regular season. Scott provides depth for the final exhibition game, but it's unlikely he would be refined enough as a blocker to factor into the offense in a meaningful way. Smith's speed caught my attention early in camp.

Wide receivers (11)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.1

Keepers: Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet

Looking safe: Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams

On the bubble: Onrea Jones, Max Komar

Also: Isaiah Williams, Darren Mougey, Mike Jones, Ed Gant

Comment: Gant serves a suspension to open the season. Roberts will make the team as a third-round pick. Williams pretty much wrapped up a spot with his latest strong performance (at Chicago). Jones and Komar could be competing for a sixth and final spot at the position.

Tight ends (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.1

Keepers: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht, Stephen Spach

Also: Jim Dray

Comment: The team released Dominique Byrd on Monday. The top three appear set. Not much drama here. Dray looks like practice-squad material.

Offensive linemen (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.9

Keepers: Lyle Sendlein, Alan Faneca, Brandon Keith, Reggie Wells, Levi Brown, Deuce Lutui, Rex Hadnot, Jeremy Bridges

Looking safe: Herman Johnson

Also: Ben Claxton, Tom Pestock, Jonathan Palmer

Comment: Lutui could be trending toward a spot back in the starting lineup despite reporting to camp overweight. Johnson also reported overweight. He isn't a starter, and that's why I listed him separately from the keepers (even though it's an upset, most likely, if Johnson does not stick).

Defensive line (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.4

Keepers: Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Bryan Robinson

Looking safe: Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Kenny Iwebema

Also: John Fletcher, Jeremy Clark

Comment: This position appears pretty much set. I would expect seven to earn roster spots.

Linebackers (14)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.1

Keepers: Gerald Hayes, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington

Looking safe: Will Davis, Cody Brown

Bubble: Monty Beisel, Reggie Walker

Also: O'Brien Schofield, Steve Baggs, Mark Washington, Chris Johnson, Pago Togafau

Comment: Hayes and Schofield could open the season on reserve/physically unable to perform, opening two roster spots. Beisel and Walker could be competing for the final spot at this position.

Defensive backs (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.9

Keepers: Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kerry Rhodes, Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, Matt Ware

Looking safe: Michael Adams, Hamza Abdullah, Rashad Johnson

On the bubble: Marshay Green

Also: A.J. Jefferson, Trevor Ford, Justin Miller

Comment: Toler could be passing McBride on the depth chart as the starting right cornerback, fulfilling expectations. Johnson appeared more physical early in camp. Haven't heard much about him lately, though.

Specialists (3)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Keepers: Jay Feely, Ben Graham, Mike Leach

Comment: Arizona has three on the roster and that's how many the team will keep. Simple enough.
The question in the headline seems misplaced given popular perceptions about the team that subtracted Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and others.

But all is not lost for the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals.

It'll take a team effort for Arizona to pull off another division title, just as it took one to complete this blog entry -- the fourth and final one in our series asking whether NFC West teams have improved this offseason. Facebook friend Barrett came through with the portion of our analysis focusing on offense. Branden, a Facebook friend I've tailgated with before Cardinals games, joined fellow Cardinals fans Jack and Jacob in filling out the remaining categories. I'm pleased by the final result and hope you find it thought-provoking.

Thanks to all the others who answered the call. My only regret was not being able to use them all.

Quarterback

Barrett: It's Matt Leinart's time to prove capable of leading an NFL team from behind center. If he falters, Derek Anderson will be waiting to show that he can return to his Pro Bowl form from 2007 -- when he had targets such as Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards. Fifth-round rookie John Skelton may have the physical attributes Ken Whisenhunt looks for in a quarterback, but he remains a project. Verdict: worse.

Sando: Max Hall is another rookie quarterback to watch on the Cardinals' roster. I hear they like what they've seen so far. I also think Leinart can outperform the low expectations his critics have set for him. But there's no getting around the obvious here. The Cardinals were better at quarterback when they had Warner.

Running back

[+] EnlargeBeanie Wells
Fernando Medina/US PresswireBeanie Wells should have a larger role in the offense this season.
Barrett: In a pass-oriented offense, Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower combined to rush for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns, but they also fumbled the ball nine times and lost six of those. Both backs are looking to get even more carries this season, with Jason Wright and LaRod Stephens-Howling perhaps having an increased opportunity to get touches over last season (combined nine attempts for 32 yards last season). Verdict: same.

Sando: This group should only improve as Wells gets more seasoning and the Cardinals give him more opportunities. The knock on him coming out of college was that he was soft. Cardinals players challenged Wells to prove doubters wrong. Wells responded by running tough and running hard. The prime-time game against the New York Giants comes to mind. I think Wells can take it to another level.

Wide receiver

Barrett: Even with Boldin being traded away to the Ravens, Larry Fitzgerald will still be a top receiver. Steve Breaston is no stranger to lining up as the No. 2 in Boldin's absence. Early Doucet showed what he is capable of during last season's playoff run. Now, let's see if he can produce similarly over the course of a full season. Andre Roberts is an excellent draft pick for depth to compete with Onrea Jones at the No. 4 spot and I expect him to spell Breaston for punt-return duties. However formidable this receiving corps still seems, the Cardinals will miss what No. 81 brought as a player, competitor, teammate and leader. Verdict: worse.

Sando: The Cardinals somehow won a higher percentage of games recently when Boldin did not play. I agree they'll miss the toughness he brought. Boldin might have helped an inexperienced quarterback such as Leinart more than he helped Warner. Breaston brings more speed to the offense. Depth is certainly worse without Boldin, but it was also apparent Boldin might be declining some. I'll agree with your general assessment.

Tight end

Barrett: Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach are all back from last season, plus Dominique Byrd. Tight ends caught a whopping 23 passes for the Cardinals last season. It seems their primary function in Whisenhunt's offense is to offer run blocking and an occasional check-down. However, this may change ever so slightly as the focus shifts to a more balanced attack. Verdict: same.

Sando: If there's an upgrade, it comes from having Patrick for a full 16 games. He missed the first four last season while serving an NFL suspension. Once Patrick returned, the Cardinals felt more comfortable using two tight ends. Wells had good success running from some of these double-tight personnel groupings. I think we could see more of those now that Warner is gone and the team has fewer front-line options at wide receiver.

Offensive line

[+] EnlargeAlan Faneca
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Jets released Alan Faneca this offseason after just two seasons in New York.
Barrett: With the free-agent additions of Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot, starting quality and depth are already improved on a unit that has seen more postseason action in the past two seasons than any other offensive line in the NFL. This lessens any blow the line might take if an overweight Deuce Lutui does not return. There's also a second-year man by the name of Herman Johnson who just might be big enough to take over his spot. Verdict: better.

Sando: Faneca is a huge name and I think he's got something to prove after the New York Jets dumped him. The word among NFL people is that Faneca has fallen off significantly and he could be a liability. The leadership and toughness he brings will have value, but how well can he play at this stage? I do not know. The Cardinals have in recent seasons stressed the importance of continuity on the offensive line. They'll have new people in three or four of the five starting spots, so the continuity is gone. Throw in a new starting quarterback and there's a lot of work to do. This group is better on paper based on the additions, but I'm not sure it'll be more effective (although the shift to more of a power running game could play to the strength of these linemen, something to keep in mind).

Offense overall

Barrett: Whisenhunt has always geared his offenses to the players' strengths. With key losses in Warner and Boldin and the acquisition of Faneca, it sure looks like the Cardinals are shifting toward a more balanced attack. But one thing is for certain, and that is the quarterback cannot be expected to produce the way Warner did. Verdict: worse.

Sando: You're right about Whisenhunt and his staff. They'll rise to the challenge and give the Cardinals their best chance to succeed on offense. The running game should be strong. They'll play to Leinart's strengths as well. But the points will be harder to come by and that'll make it tougher for the Cardinals to win games. The offense will be different and less prolific.

Defensive line

Branden: The line up front starts and ends with the performance of Darnell Dockett. He has become more of a leader this offseason and his play on the field already speaks for itself. Calais Campbell has made many lists as one of the breakout players in the league. Whisenhunt has brought many of his rookies along slowly, so Bryan Robinson will most likely start at nose tackle, but rookie Dan Williams should get plenty of time and I expect him to take over the starting role by midseason. Depth-wise, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson are in make-or-break seasons, and while Branch showed more ability and versatility last year in his time at defensive end, they will have to step up to strengthen depth at the position. Kenny Iwebema is a serviceable backup and special-teamer. Verdict: better.

Sando: It'll take a while for Williams to hit stride, but his addition can only improve what was already a pretty good situation for Arizona. Having the pressure on Watson and Branch can only help. It's tough for 3-4 defensive ends to get much notice, but Arizona has two of them worth our praise.

Outside linebackers

[+] EnlargeJoey Porter
Kim Klement/US PresswireJoey Porter has 92 career sacks.
Branden: There has been talk about the age of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Both are 33. While they will start, expect to see plenty of others in special situations -- including Will Davis, who played well last year as a rookie until suffering a knee injury. Cody Brown is practically a rookie and needs to contribute to help this position. Others at the position include Mark Washington and CFL star Stevie "Shakespeare" Baggs. Are they better as a unit than last year? Questionable. Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor performed average last year, and I'm not sure how much Porter has left. Verdict: same, but young guys need to step up.

Sando: Someone pointed out to me that Porter and Haggans are younger than Berry, but it's small consolation for Arizona. You're right about the young guys needing to step forward. I could see Porter getting close to double-digit sacks even though Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks Porter has declined dramatically. Others have said Porter collected "cheap" sacks in recent seasons. Cheap ones are better than none at all. This group probably isn't going to decline dramatically. It wasn't all that great last season. Okeafor is out of the league, after all, and Berry retired.

Inside linebacker

Branden: Losing Karlos Dansby will be difficult to overcome because he was a jack of all trades. However, I'm not as high on him as many others were -- Dansby had no Pro Bowls -- and I'm glad the Cardinals did not overpay for him. The addition of Paris Lenon as a stopgap and the drafting of Daryl Washington should help somewhat, but the injury to Gerald Hayes is a major issue. This group is thin and I believe the Cardinals will look to add a veteran when cuts are made. Verdict: worse.

Sando: There's little getting around the problems Arizona faces at this position. We can talk about the defensive line being strong enough to cover somewhat, and that might be the case once Williams develops at nose tackle, but we're not fooling anyone in the meantime. The Cardinals tried to sign Keith Bulluck, but they lost him to the New York Giants. They also claimed Alex Hall off waivers, but the Giants beat them to the punch on that one, too, thanks to a higher waiver priority. Expect Arizona to keep monitoring the waiver wire here.

Cornerback

Branden: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowler, so that helps with one side of the field. Bryant McFadden, traded back to Pittsburgh this offseason, was not much help on the other side last year, but he fared well in run situations. Greg Toler has the physical tools to be a good corner, but he is raw and needs to show his ability this preseason. Michael Adams is a special-teamer and the others, including Trumaine McBride, are OK backups. The Cardinals generally bring multiple safeties on the field in passing situations, so depth isn't a huge concern, but it's a valid question. The performance of this group hinges on DRC's ability to stay healthy and Toler's performance. Verdict: same or better if Toler steps up.

Sando: The Cardinals aren't afraid to make changes, that's for sure. They could have stuck with McFadden, but his contract was a little steep for what they were getting in return. Whisenhunt seemed quite strong in his praise for Toler and he generally isn't wrong on these things. There's potential for this group to drop off, though. At least McFadden was a known quantity. The Cardinals take pride in developing young players and they'll need to be right on Toler to justify their decisions at the position.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Wilson
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAdrian Wilson is a three-time Pro Bowler.
Safety

Branden: Adrian Wilson is one of the five best safeties in the league, and it is a shame more people don't realize that. I think Kerry Rhodes will actually be an upgrade over Rolle as he knows where he is supposed to be, while Rolle was just learning the free safety position. I think Rolle has the potential to be better in the long run, but the starting tandem should be fine. Second-year man Rashad Johnson needs to step up and perform to the high praise from college coach Nick Saban. He just seemed lost last year. Matt Ware is a solid backup and plays well in passing situations. Hamza Abdullah is also a decent backup. Verdict: same, with the ability to be better in passing situations.

Sando: I've found informed fans to be a bit overly critical of safeties. I'm not saying that's the case with Branden, but there's definitely a feeling among some Arizona fans that Rolle was overrated and Rhodes will actually provide an upgrade. I don't really see it athletically or for the long term, but acquiring Rhodes showed the Cardinals had a plan once Rolle's contract forced their hand. The Cardinals seem encouraged by what they're seeing from Johnson recently. I heard nothing positive about him last season. Re-signing Ware stood out as an underrated move. He's had some value as one of the first defensive backs off the bench.

Defense overall

Branden: The Cardinals had more than 40 sacks last season and I think they can achieve that number again this year with their defensive line and some contribution from the outside linebacker position. I'm concerned about their inside linebackers' ability to stop the run, but again, I think much of that hinges on their ability to penetrate up front. The secondary has a chance to be very good, but I'm not sold. This was not a spectacular unit last year as evidenced by their giving up 90 points in two playoff games. They are more acquainted with the scheme and I think Billy Davis is a good defensive coordinator, but he will have to get creative again this year. The offense will not be scoring 50-plus points this year, so this unit will have to perform well for ...

Sando: Branden's evaluation cut off there for some reason, but that's OK. We've got a deep roster of contributors and I'll lean on them for the rest of this exercise. The last point Branden raised was the one I wanted to touch upon in this space. It'll be tougher getting to 40 sacks again with fewer points on the board. It'll be easier, in theory, for the other team to stick with its running game. That appears problematic for Arizona given the issues at inside linebacker. But if Hayes can return in September, perhaps the Cardinals can stabilize the middle of their defense. They're fortunate to have such a terrific box safety in Wilson. I'll now turn to Cardinals fan Jack for the section on special teams.

Special teams

Jack: I'm very excited about the special teams of the Cardinals, actually. Stephens-Howling performed quite well as a rookie returning kicks, and he should do even better this year now that he has his feet wet. Breaston didn't do well returning punts last season, so the Cardinals need to make a change, particularly with Breaston as the No. 2 receiver. I hope Andre Roberts gets a shot. As for the kickers, I hope that Jay Feely will be more consistent than Neil Rackers. Ben Graham was great last season, and I expect the same from him this year. Verdict: better.

Sando: Rackers did some great things during his tenure in Arizona, but seeing him line up in the clutch was enough to make even non-fans nervous for him. Kicker is one position where teams can plug in free agents pretty easily, so Arizona could be fine with Feely. Stephens-Howling is already one of the best special-teams players in the league. He deserves Pro Bowl consideration. Cards fan Jacob is on deck with a look at the coaching.

Coaching

Jacob: What more can be done by Whisenhunt? He is a proven winner and has taken this Cardinals franchise to heights never before imagined. Russ Grimm is widely considered one of the best head-coaching candidates. People will bang on the fact that the cardinals play in the NFC West and have been inconsistent at times throughout the year. However, they are 4-2 in the playoffs under Whisenhunt with both losses to the Super Bowl champions. Winning in the playoffs comes down to game plans, managing the emotions of the game and players -- and that is where Whisenhunt excels. His best coaching job will be showcased this year if the Cardinals can capture another division title. Verdict: same or better.

Sando: I'm sure Whisenhunt is relishing the challenge. The Cardinals are being counted out prematurely. Whisenhunt will probably get the most from them. The coaching staff will deserve high praise if Leinart develops into a winning quarterback. Whisenhunt's Arizona legacy is largely established. He can only help it this season. With that, we go back to Jack for the final two sections.

Schedule

Jack: I'd love to see the Cardinals take advantage of playing the AFC West this season. They still do have some tough games, though, most notably against Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota and New Orleans. Still, if they don't get eight or nine victories out of this schedule, it will be a disappointment.

Sando: Three of the first four games are on the road. The fifth game is at home -- against the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. Welcome back to the lineup, Matt Leinart. Finishing the season against Dallas and San Francisco gives the Cardinals an opportunity to gain ground in the NFC, but neither game will be easy.

Final thoughts

Jack: I want so badly to say the Cardinals are better than the 49ers. They can be, but they'll have to prove it. Perhaps the Cardinals' best chance is to take advantage of an easy schedule and snag a wild-card spot. I believe they'll get eight or nine victories, though. I hope for more.

Sando: The Cardinals won 10 games last season with more talent. It's reasonable to expect them to slip back into the 8-8 range. That's where I see the Cardinals finishing and it'll be no shock if they fail to reach .500 for the first time under Whisenhunt. This is a transition year. They'll find out whether Leinart is their quarterback and if they win more than eight games along the way, or even if they avoid a losing season, I'd consider 2010 a success.

What PUP designations mean

July, 27, 2010
7/27/10
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NFL teams are starting to declare players "physically unable to perform" as they convene for training camps.

Wes Welker of the New England Patriots recently became a high-profile addition to a PUP list. We'll see NFC West teams take advantage of PUP lists as well, making this a good time to lay out exactly what PUP status means for players.

Players who do not pass physical examinations before training camp cannot practice. Teams place these players on their PUP lists. The players remain on the active roster and count against 80-man limits. They can come off the PUP list and begin practicing as soon as they pass physical examinations.

Players remaining on PUP lists at the Sept. 4 mandatory reduction to 53 players are not eligible to play until after the first six games. They continue to receive their salaries in full.

The chart shows current NFC West players who finished the 2009 season on NFC West injured reserve lists. Some could be candidates for PUP lists as camps open. Their ages are rounded down to the nearest tenth, making it easy to see, for example, that Rams long snapper Chris Massey is much closer to 31 than he is to 30.

Some players not shown in the chart could be candidates for PUP lists.

The Arizona Cardinals Gerald Hayes is one obvious candidate. The St. Louis Rams have said they expect Steven Jackson to be recovered from back surgery in time for camp. The Seattle Seahawks' T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Leon Washington have missed time recovering from surgeries this offseason.

There's not necessarily reason for panic when a team places a high-profile player on its PUP list to open camp. Sometimes the player misses only a short time.

On the radar: Surprise injuries

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
1:00
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

A sore hip bothered Kurt Warner at Arizona Cardinals camp last summer. It wasn't a big deal.

[+] EnlargePatrick WIllis
Brett Davis/US PresswirePatrick Willis has already practiced after his offseason knee surgery and will seemingly be ready for training camp.
Two summers ago, the Seattle Seahawks downplayed Matt Hasselbeck's bad back because they didn't know the full extent of the problem. That one turned out to be more serious than expected.

Having the right feel for each injury situation can be tough. I'm sure a surprise injury or two will become a story after NFC West teams report for training camps in late July.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (knee), St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (back), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee) and Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (pectoral) are among the high-profile NFC West players coming off surgery rehabs. Their situations will bear monitoring.

The following players ended last season on injured reserve (some are no longer with NFC West teams):

Arizona Cardinals

Matt Ware, Mike Gandy, Justin Green, Cody Brown

San Francisco 49ers

Tony Pashos, Ricky Schmitt, Thomas Clayton, Jeff Ulbrich, Walt Harris, Kentwan Balmer, Curtis Taylor

Seattle Seahawks

Tyler Roehl, Walter Jones, Kevin Houser, Brandon Frye, Tatupu, Mike Hass

St. Louis Rams

Marc Bulger, Adam Carriker, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Eric Bassey, C.J. Ah You, Brooks Foster, Gary Gibson, Jacob Bell, Daniel Fells, Chris Massey, Bradley Fletcher, Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks do not plan to pursue Terrell Owens unless "something drastic" happens, according to what general manager John Schneider told 950KJR radio in Seattle. Interest in Owens could have made more sense for Seattle before the team drafted Golden Tate in the second round. Mike Williams' emergence this offseason has also filled a void. The team also held onto Deion Branch and liked what he showed earlier this offseason.

Bryan McIntyre of scout.com summarizes Schneider's interview with Mitch Levy of 950KJR Seattle. Schneider on the need for more pass-rush help: "That’s definitely a concern for us, there’s no question. We’re going to be active [scouring the wire]. Right now, we’re excited about some young guys. We’re excited about [Chris] Clemons, he’s doing some real nice stuff. The guy we got from Philadelphia. [2010 seventh-round pick] Dexter Davis has some pass-rush ability. Ricky Foley, who we signed from the CFL, is a good special teams player and a very active pass-rusher. But, it’s definitely an area, I think if you talk to 9 out of 10 teams in the league, they’d say they’re looking for a pass-rusher, too, so we will continue. We hold the sixth spot in the claim order right now. We’ll continue to talk to other teams about possible trades, and try to work that wire and to continue to upgrade this team, not only at the pass-rush position, the 'Leo' position, I guess, for us, but at every position."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says second-year receiver Deon Butler continues to make strides during organized team activities. Butler: "I feel like I’ve been working on running routes and getting better each day. Today, it just happened that a lot of opportunities went my way. I was the first read in a lot of the progressions, so it just turned out to be a good day."

Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from OTAs.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times shows where the Seahawks' rushing offense has ranked relative to the rest of the division over the past five seasons. O'Neil: "If Pete Carroll's history at USC is any indication, the lead back could change from month to month and from game to game. Consider that over the past four seasons total there wasn't a single back who had more than five 20-carry games."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times checks in with running back Leon Washington, who has this to say about his recovery from a broken leg: "I can only move forward. I can't live with regrets. I live by the quote, 'Man is not alive if he lives with regrets.' Right now, I think the greatest lesson I can show my two little boys is that, 'Hey, Dad bounced back from a compound fracture and was able to get back on the field and have a successful career.' That's my goal."

John Morgan of Field Gulls compares Clemons to Colin Cole in that both might be a little more one-dimensional than a starter should be.

Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are counting on Joey Porter for more than pass-rush help. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Besides the good play, a part of the reason for bringing in a guy like Joey is because I know the way he works in practice, I know the way he works in the weight room, I know what kind of teammate he is, and that type of leadership is what's important."

Also from Gintonio: a look at Cardinals rookie quarterback John Skelton, who never thought he'd wind up playing college ball at Fordham. Skelton: "I never even heard of Fordham until I went up there. I visited Columbia [where his uncle played quarterback], Fordham and Holy Cross, schools that you don't really associate football with, but to go up there and learn about the storied tradition of Fordham, Vince Lombardi and everything, it was a good school to be a part of."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Nehemiah Broughton has a chance to become the Cardinals' fullback this season. Whisenhunt: "It’s a position that is hard to find guys. Nehemiah has good size [at 6-foot, 255 pounds] and is very athletic. He came in and worked hard for us. I am excited to see how he develops because obviously, it’s a position where we need someone to do it. You are looking for someone to step up and he’s got a little bit of a leg up because of the work he did with us last season."

Also from Urban: photos of players laughing as linebacker Clark Haggans fields a punt during practice, avenging an embarrassing drop from last offseason. Also: "One play did stand out today that I noticed during 11-on-11. Matt Leinart threw a dart into a seam that safety Matt Ware was sitting on, arms open, waiting for an interception. Then suddenly Steve Breaston burst back on the ball, making the catch in front of a stunned Ware and sprinting upfield. It just underscores the timing needed with some of these passes."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom, who had this to say about Stan Kroenke's bid to buy the team: "Stan will help us fulfill our desires to stay a part of the organization's family, so to speak, whether it's through community activities or just being huge fans of the team."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says it appears as though Kroenke's efforts are gaining momentum. Burwell on Rosenbloom: "The world of ownership in the NFL has changed dramatically since current owner Chip Rosenbloom's socialite mom and millionaire dad got into the family business more than 50 years ago. The need for participating in this high-priced playground now is no longer millions. It's billions. Rosenbloom and his sister Lucia are millionaires, not billionaires. They don't have the deep pockets to stay in the NFL ownership club for an extended period of time."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with third-team Rams quarterback Keith Null.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams are much more comfortable in their second season under coach Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo: "There’s a huge comfort level there. I felt that, and I actually jotted something down on my notes here that we’re certainly ahead of where we were last year defensively with the communication and getting things set and people feeling comfortable. Defenses are reactionary, so when you eliminate the learning curve of thinking instead of reacting, you usually play better defense. They play faster, so I think we’re getting there."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says he's eager to see rookie running back Anthony Dixon once the 49ers open training camp. Maiocco: "During his two days of practices last week, he showed some nice moves and a burst of speed for a 235-pounder. He also appears to be a capable pass catcher. His biggest chore will be learning and performing all of the blitz pickup assignments RBs coach Tom Rathman will throw at him. My first impression of Dixon is that his style reminds me of Kevan Barlow, a 238-pound back who did a bit more dancing than his 49ers coaches wanted to see from him."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes a recent NFL Network discussion between Mike Lombardi and Jamie Dukes regarding the 49ers. Dukes: "This 49ers team is ready. The defense is there. It's ready to make things happen. Offense, you've got weapons. You've got [Michael] Crabtree, you've got [Vernon] Davis, a Pro Bowl tight end. Think about it. Crabtree is gonna be I think an exceptional player. He's a young guy who's learning the system. Then I think Ted Ginn is going to give them something not only in the kick-return game but also I think as a third, second or third, wide receiver because he's such an explosive player."

Carroll hasn't really left the Pac-10

April, 30, 2010
4/30/10
11:19
AM ET
The Seahawks have 26 players from Pac-10 schools on their roster heading into their post-draft minicamp.

The rest of the NFC West has a combined 25 players from the conference.

Seattle had more Pac-10 players than most teams even before the team hired Pete Carroll away from USC as head coach.

The numbers have only grown (and I have added the newly acquired LenDale White to Seattle's list).

Update: The team has re-signed safety Lawyer Milloy, formerly of the University of Washington. That makes the total 26.

A look at Pac-10 players from each NFC West team:

Arizona (7)

Quarterback Derek Anderson (Oregon State), quarterback Matt Leinart (USC), safety Matt Ware (UCLA), safety Hamza Abdullah (Washington State), tight end Jim Dray (Stanford), tight end Dominique Byrd (USC) and unsigned restricted free agent guard Deuce Lutui (USC).

St. Louis (7)

Quarterback A.J. Feeley (Oregon), receiver Brandon Gibson (Washington State), running back Steven Jackson (Oregon State), fullback Mike Karney (Arizona State), guard Mark Lewis (Oregon), receiver Jordan Kent (Oregon) and unsigned restricted free agent safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (Stanford).

San Francisco (11)

Safety Taylor Mays (USC), safety Dashon Goldson (Washington), cornerback Karl Paymah (Washington State), linebacker Keaton Kristick (Oregon State), guard Brian De La Puente (California), guard Chilo Rachal (USC), center Eric Heitmann (Stanford), tackle Adam Snyder (Oregon), receiver Kyle Williams (Arizona State), snapper Brian Jennings (Arizona State) and receiver Jason Hill (Washington State).

Seattle (26)

Linebacker Reggie Carter (UCLA), receiver Mike Williams (USC), cornerback Josh Pinkard (USC), receiver Reggie Williams (Washington), receiver Mike Hass (Oregon State), receiver Michael Jones (Arizona State), running back Justin Forsett (California), cornerback Marcus Trufant (Washington State), cornerback Walter Thurmond (Oregon), cornerback Roy Lewis (Washington), safety Will Harris (USC), running back Louis Rankin (Washington), fullback Ryan Powdrell (USC), linebacker Lofa Tatupu (USC), defensive end Dexter Davis (Arizona State), guard Max Unger (Oregon), center Jeff Byers (USC), guard Mike Gibson (California), receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Oregon State), tight end Anthony McCoy (USC), tight end Cameron Morrah (California), defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (California), defensive end Lawrence Jackson (USC), LenDale White (USC), Lawyer Milloy (Washington) and defensive end Nick Reed (Oregon).

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