NFC West: Matt Wilhelm

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 

10 NFC West thoughts after Super Bowl

February, 7, 2011
2/07/11
5:00
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Those responsible for making sure fans had Super Bowl seats weren't responsible for maintaining seats on airplanes leaving Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

I'm home, in other words.

Ten thoughts relating at least tangentially to the NFC West following the Green Bay Packers' 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl:

  • Packers general manager Ted Thompson was doing a good job whether or not Green Bay beat the Steelers. The victory only bolsters his credibility as a primary architect for Super Bowl teams with multiple franchises. Thompson played a role in the Packers' two Super Bowl appearances of the 1990s. He played a bigger role in putting together the Seattle team that appeared in the Super Bowl following the 2005 season. More recently, he won a championship after replacing a successful head coach (Mike Sherman) and legendary quarterback (Brett Favre).
  • [+] EnlargeBryant McFadden
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPittsburgh's Bryant McFadden, 20, had a rough day against Jordy Nelson and the Packers.

  • Cornerback Bryant McFadden, traded from Arizona back to Pittsburgh before the 2010 season, had a tough game. After recovering from an abdominal injury to start the Super Bowl, McFadden suffered a hip injury that forced him to leave the Super Bowl. The Packers had already completed a couple passes against him to that point. With McFadden out, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers beat McFadden's replacement, William Gay, for a touchdown. McFadden returned and the Packers continued to have success through the air.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers linebackers Diyral Briggs and Matt Wilhelm won Super Bowl rings with Green Bay. The 49ers released Briggs early in the 2010 season. They parted with Wilhelm on the reduction to 53 players even though the move seemed to leave them a little thin, at least at the time. Wilhelm made one special-teams tackle Sunday, after an 18-yard kickoff return. Briggs made one assisted special-teams tackle, after a 2-yard punt return.
  • Lots of things would have changed had the 49ers drafted Rodgers first overall in 2005. Around here, we generally approach the subject in terms of what Rodgers might have meant to the 49ers. The Packers would obviously be vastly different, too. Perhaps they wouldn't have drafted a quarterback in the first round. Would they have kept Brett Favre?
  • NFC West teams loaded up on pass catchers in the 2008 draft. Donnie Avery, John Carlson, Early Doucet, Keenan Burton and Josh Morgan come to mind. The Packers drafted Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. Avery went 33rd overall. Nelson went three spots later.
  • The punt Green Bay muffed early in the game did not cost the Packers because they recovered. A turnover there might have changed the game. At the time, I thought of Steelers special-teams coach Al Everest, who was fired by Mike Singletary following the 2009 season.
  • The Cardinals plan to again pursue one or more members of the Steelers' defensive staff about possibly becoming defensive coordinator in Arizona. That makes sense. Pittsburgh has been very good on defense overall. The Steelers' pass defense has had problems in the team's past two Super Bowls, however. Rodgers and Kurt Warner combined for 681 yards passing and six touchdowns with one interception in those games.
  • On second thought, those passing numbers against the Steelers' defense don't look so bad. Arizona allowed 664 yards passing and seven touchdowns with one interception in its last two playoff games, both after the 2009 season. Rodgers and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees did the damage.
  • Former 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle played in the game for Pittsburgh, but he did not register a statistic.
  • Former Rams defensive tackle Ryan Pickett -- chosen right before Reggie Wayne, Todd Heap and Drew Brees in the 2001 draft -- started at left defensive end for the Packers. He made tackles following runs of 1 and 3 yards.

By the way, thanks to those who offered ideas for the blog via Facebook. Nicely done.

Update: Another thanks goes to those who pointed out ex-Seahawk Howard Green's role in pressuring Roethlisberger into an interception.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
2:06
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Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)


Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)


Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)


San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)


The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.
Tags:

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Dre' Bly, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Mike Teel, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nick Reed, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Ken Lucas, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Mike Hass, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Jay Feely, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Rob Sims, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Nate Ness, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Max Hall, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Max Komar, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Jim Dray, Dominique Curry, Josh Hull, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

First wave of post-cut moves in NFC West

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
3:58
PM ET
NFL rosters blew up Saturday. Teams will spend Sunday picking up the pieces even amid additional fallout.

Among the moves we've seen so far:
  • The Seahawks released veteran nose tackle Kevin Vickerson although Vickerson seemed to look good during camp, even getting snaps with the first-team defense. This comes amid news that Seattle planned to sign veteran nose tackle Junior Siavii. The Dallas Cowboys terminated Siavii's contract Saturday. Scouts Inc. had this to say about him: "Siavii played in a backup role to Jay Ratliff at nose tackle in 2009 and showed decent power to hold the point as a run defender, but little strength to push the pocket when rushing the passer."
  • The 49ers announced eight signings to their practice squad: quarterback Jarrett Brown, fullback Jehuu Caulcrick, linebacker Bruce Davis, receiver Kevin Jurovich, tackle Matt Kopa, linebacker Keaton Kristick, safety Chris Maragos and defensive lineman Will Tukuafu.
  • The 49ers appear thin at inside linebacker after listing Matt Wilhelm among their cuts. Wilhelm was placed on injured reserve, giving the team five days to work out an injury settlement that could, in theory, make Wilhelm available to the team later. Wilhelm suffered a sprained knee against San Diego during the exhibition season.
  • The Rams have signed receiver Danario Alexander, receiver Brandon McRae, offensive lineman Drew Miller, offensive lineman Ryan McKee and cornerback Marquis Johnson.
  • The Cardinals claimed outside linebacker Cyril Obiozor and cornerback Brandon McDonald off waivers. Obiozor was active with Green Bay last season. McDonald has been a part-time starter in Cleveland. It's not yet clear which players the Cardinals plan to release.

We're early in the process. Many more moves to come, most likely.
SEASIDE, Calif. -- Scott McKillop was already facing an uphill fight to eventually replace Takeo Spikes as the San Francisco 49ers' inside linebacker.

That fight might be impossible after McKillop suffered a torn ACL and patella tendon in practice Wednesday. The diagnosis, reported by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, means McKillop will miss the 2010 season.

Niners coaches preferred veteran Matt Wilhelm to McKillop when they needed to replace Spikes last season. The team subsequently used a 2010 third-round choice for linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com points to one indicator suggesting Matt Leinart should succeed as the Cardinals' starting quarterback. Urban: "The idea? If a guy scored at least a 26 on the infamous Wonderlic exam at the combine, had at least 27 college starts and completed at least 60 percent of his collegiate passes, usually, it means the guy can succeed on the NFL level. Leinart scored a 35 on the Wonderlic. He started 39 games in college. And he completed 64.8 percent of his passes. Check. Check. Check." I think Leinart can succeed in the NFL, but will he? The evidence has been mixed, but we should have a very good idea by midseason unless injuries sideline Leinart first.

John P. Lopez of SI.com doesn't mention Leinart during the piece Urban cites. Lopez: "Since 1998, these are some of the NFL quarterbacks who aced all three parts of the Rule of 26-27-60: Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Kyle Orton, Kevin Kolb, Matt Ryan, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Stafford. Meanwhile, among the once highly-touted prospects who failed at least one part of the formula: Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, Michael Vick, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Daunte Culpepper, David Carr, Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell."

The Arizona Republic says Cardinals seventh-round choice Jim Dray has signed his rookie contract. Dray became the first 2010 Cardinals draft choice to sign a contract.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says fans can begin registering to attend training camp Monday. Farnsworth: "Camp kicks off July 31, and both practices that Saturday will be open – starting at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. There will be 13 other practices open to the public at Virginia Mason Athletic Center and those dates will be announced later."

Also from Farnsworth: Running backs coach Sherman Smith is back with the team that gave him his NFL start. Smith: "Playing pro football, that never was an aspiration of mine. When I went to Miami of Ohio after I graduated from high school, my desire was to be a high school coach and a teacher. That was it. That’s all I knew I wanted to do. That was the plan all along. There was no hesitation when my career was over. I knew what I was going to do."

Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune says the Seahawks were one of the NFL teams to speak with BYU running back Harvey Unga after his workout Thursday. Drew: "Unga's agent, Eric Metz said 20 teams were in attendance and another six teams called in the morning and requested tape from the drills. I noticed these teams there, based on logos on their shirts, caps, etc: Packers, Chiefs, Rams, Colts, Steelers, Eagles, Lions, Bears, Falcons, Saints, Seahawks, Patriots, Buccaneers, Giants, Bengals, Browns and Dolphins. Obviously, I missed a few. I do know that the Panthers, Titans, 49ers, Vikings and Texans were not there, based on what the Packers scout told me."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Scott McKillop and Navorro Bowman will compete for the No. 2 job behind inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. They should get plenty of practice reps because Spikes, 33, doesn't practice all the time. Veteran Matt Wilhelm provides a safe alternative to his younger competitors. Maiocco: "Bowman is a player who caught the 49ers' eyes with his instinctive style of play. But he learned in the 49ers' offseason program that he first had to learn his role -- and all the adjustments off every play -- before he would be allowed to put those instincts to work. Personnel chief Trent Baalke said Bowman and McKillop made a lot of plays in college. Both are physical players, but Bowman runs better."

Gil Brandt of NFL.com says the 49ers were one of four teams to send their personnel director to watch Illinois defensive tackle Joshua Brent-Price work out in preparation for the supplemental draft July 15. Brandt: "Despite the humid conditions, Price-Brent had what was described as a very good work out. Price-Brent measured in at 6-foot-1 3/4 and 321 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash twice, each time clocking in at 5.38 seconds. He did 22 reps on the bench press to go with a 29-inch vertical jump. He had an 8-foot, 10-inch broad jump, a 7.71-second three-cone drill and a 4.74-second short shuttle."

Steve Wyche of NFL.com says Sam Bradford expects to sign with the Rams by training camp. This note was from late June, but I wanted to pass it along as a way to address the subject of rookie contracts. The vast majority of rookies sign in time for training camp, with all but a few others missing only limited practice time. The Rams and Bradford both have incentive to get a deal done in time for camp. Bradford doesn't want to miss valuable practice time. The Rams want him on the field. Both sides would be making a mistake if Bradford were to miss any significant camp time. I would expect a deal to get done on time.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he hasn't heard anything about a potential trade sending Adam Carriker to the Redskins as a 3-4 defensive end in Jim Haslett's defense. Thomas: "I've done some checking, and I can't find any validity to these Carriker/Redskins trade rumors. But that doesn't necessarily mean he has a future here. For the most part, the current regime doesn't seem to be too fond of players who preceded them. Carriker didn't play at all last year and his been bugged by injuries his first two years, so I don't think he would bring much. A late-round pick maybe?"

Also from Thomas: Mark Setterstrom returns for a fifth season with the Rams after signing a one-year deal.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks reached into defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's past when they signed free-agent linebacker Matt McCoy.

Also from O'Neil: Former Seahawks coach Jim Mora says he will not be coaching at the high school level in 2010, contrary to what a high school coach said recently. O'Neil: "With four children, Mora has had a busy schedule attending all of their events and has volunteered working with lacrosse, baseball and basketball. He also may help with his 11-year-old son's youth football team, but that's more a matter of offering encouragement and equipment assistance."

More from O'Neil: Darryl Tapp says he's happy to have a job.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Tapp was "overjoyed" to be joining a team as good as the Eagles.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Joey Porter isn't the first potential Cardinals linebacker to visit the Redskins. Larry Foote also made the trip to Washington, only to sign with the Steelers. Urban: "What does that mean with Porter and the Cardinals? Well, I don’t pretend to know. The Cards and Porter haven’t agreed to a deal yet, and I find it hard to believe Porter will suddenly drop his price before going to Washington. The Skins, I suppose, will set the market."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 says the Cardinals need help at linebacker. Andrew602: "The front office is making an attempt, but let's be honest with ourselves, the Cardinals linebacking group is not as good as it was eight weeks ago. In all fairness, free agency isn't over and Porter could be wearing a Cardinals jersey sometime soon. The draft is also next month and the Cardinals are undoubtedly going to draft a linebacker with their 1st round pick. When that time comes, maybe we can re-evaluate the group and see where they stand heading into next year."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers want to re-sign Barry Sims, and Sims wants to re-sign with the 49ers. But with the Redskins showing interest, Sims will find out what the market bears.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explains how the 49ers view free-agent visitor Akin Ayodele. Maiocco: "The 49ers have been clear with Ayodele that they envision him as a backup to Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis. Currently, the 49ers have veteran Matt Wilhelm and Scott McKillop, a fifth-round draft pick last year, as the backup inside linebackers."

Also from Maiocco: a free-agent scorecard for the 49ers. He expects Texans guard Chester Pitts to visit Thursday.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' decision to offer Oshiomogho Atogwe the lowest possible tender might not go over well in the locker room. Thomas: "It's doubtful the move will go over big in the locker room. With 10 days to go before the start of the team's offseason conditioning program, Rams players remain scattered all over the country. But one player's reply to the move, via text message Thursday, was: 'What!!!' " The Rams either had to offer $1.226 million non-guaranteed or more than $6.9 million guaranteed. Their decision reveals the team's true feelings for Atogwe. The Rams like him, but only so much. They do not consider him to be a franchise cornerstone or they would have paid him the higher number. In other Rams news, Thomas notes that Marc Bulger and Richie Incognito were at Rams Park.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says Atogwe's representatives knew the team would not offer the higher number, which almost would have amounted to naming Atogwe their franchise player for a second consecutive season. Balzer: "The Rams have been trying to reach a long-term agreement with Atogwe since last year when he was the team’s franchise player, but Kevin Demoff, the Rams executive vice president of football operations/chief operating officer, said, 'I have met numerous times with his representative at the combine and Senior Bowl and they knew we weren’t going to franchise him again. We just haven’t been able to agree on his value. We are hoping market forces come into play and help get a deal done.' "

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals hope to re-sign Antrel Rolle even as the safety tests the market. Somers: "Rolle was good but not great last year in his second season at safety after moving from cornerback. He was a Pro Bowl alternate and played in the game after several other safeties backed out. But Rolle is a player who should continue improving in years to come. The eighth overall pick in the 2005 draft, Rolle struggled at cornerback for three seasons before moving to free safety."

Also from Somers: Cardinals safety Matt Ware could have a visit planned to an unnamed NFC West rival.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com quotes Karlos Dansby as telling ESPN he plans to visit the Dolphins.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers re-signed veteran linebacker Matt Wilhelm. Barrows: "Wilhelm, 29, was added last year to fill in for Jeff Ulbrich after Ulbrich suffered a career-ending concussion in an early-season game against St. Louis."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat provides a quick overview of protocol in free agency. Maiocco: "The 49ers are expected to take it slow and easy in free agency. The club is not expected to schedule any free-agent visits over the weekend. And there's a better-than-even chance the 49ers will not gather any starters during the free-agent signing period."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says this about the 49ers' draft plans: "What we know about McCloughan: He values game performance over combine measurements. Last year, ultra-productive Michael Crabtree was nursing a broken foot and didn't run at the combine, which surprisingly made him available for the 49ers, who were picking 10th. Crabtree held out for several months, but when he showed up to play, he produced."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says he would be "shocked" if the team drafted two offensive linemen in the first round. Farnsworth: "The line (Alex) Gibbs had in 2004 with the Atlanta Falcons 'featured' a fourth-round draft choice, a trio of seventh-rounders and a player they signed in free agency – former Seahawk Todd Weiner, who was a second-round pick. The Falcons led the league in rushing for three consecutive seasons without having a first-round pick on their line. Gibbs looks for smart, mobile, athletic players, even if they don’t fit the prototype when it comes to height and weight."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times confirms Nate Burleson's departure from the Seahawks to the Lions. O'Neil: "Burleson said repeatedly his hope was to remain in Seattle, his hometown and where he attended O'Dea High School. He wasn't offered a contract he found satisfactory. Free agency began at 9 p.m. Pacific on Thursday. By 11, he had a deal in Detroit."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks appeared to take a slow approach to free agency Thursday night.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 3, 2010
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Arizona Cardinals

Unrestricted free agents: TE Anthony Becht, LB Monty Beisel, LB Bertrand Berry (retired), LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, FB Dan Kreider, WR Sean Morey, LB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware.

Restricted free agents: SS Hamza Abdullah, WR Steve Breaston, G Ben Claxton, FB Justin Green, LG Deuce Lutui, TE Ben Patrick, C Lyle Sendlein, TE Stephen Spach, WR Jerheme Urban, NT Gabe Watson.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Cardinals generally do not pursue marquee free agents from other teams. That trend figures to continue. The Cardinals have too many of their own free agents to re-sign for them to worry about chasing other teams' castoffs. We might see Arizona plug the roster with a few lower-tier free agents. They had success doing that last offseason, particularly with Becht at tight end. Dansby leads the list of 2009 starters expected to depart. Arizona is reportedly interested in quarterback David Carr.

St. Louis Rams

Unrestricted free agents: QB Kyle Boller, DE James Hall, SS Clinton Hart, LB Paris Lenon, DE Leonard Little, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.

Restricted free agents: S Eric Bassey, S Craig Dahl, TE Daniel Fells, LS Ryan Neill, DT Clifton Ryan, CB Jonathan Wade, DE Victory Adeyanju, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, T Alex Barron, RB Sam Gado, DT Gary Gibson, WR Ruvell Martin, G Mark Setterstrom.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Rams could be in the market for a veteran quarterback such as Chad Pennington. Beyond quarterback, coach Steve Spagnuolo said the Rams could use a little more seasoning in the form of veteran role players. The Rams will remain a young team, but they could add some experience. The team parted with players fitting that profile last offseason, but most had inflated salaries. The ones St. Louis adds this year figure to carry lower price tags in most cases. The Rams have said they want Little and Hall back. McMichael figures to be gone.

Seattle Seahawks

Unrestricted free agents: WR Nate Burleson, FB Justin Griffith, LS Kevin Houser, LB D.D. Lewis, CB Ken Lucas, T Damion McIntosh, S Lawyer Milloy, DE Cory Redding, LS Jeff Robinson.

Restricted free agents: T Brandon Frye, WR Ben Obomanu, LB Lance Laury, G Rob Sims, G Chris Spencer, DE Darryl Tapp.

Franchise player: K Olindo Mare

What to expect: The Seahawks are a little difficult to figure. Their owner has the money to bankroll aggressive spending if Seattle chooses to go that route. Coach Pete Carroll surely realizes the team could use talent upgrades. The new general manager, John Schneider, comes from the Ted Thompson school of personnel. Thompson's aversion for free agency is well established, although Schneider has characterized himself as slightly more aggressive. The problem, of course, is finding good players on the market. Burleson will hit the market. He could return if the price is right. Carroll has said nice things about Redding, who should be affordable.

San Francisco 49ers

Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre Bly, CB Walt Harris, T Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, T Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich (retired), LB Matt Wilhelm.

Restricted free agents: LG David Baas, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Marcus Hudson.

Franchise player: NT Aubrayo Franklin

What to expect: The 49ers have largely turned their back on free agency now that they feel better about their roster. I would expect the team to lay low again when the signing period begins late Thursday night on the West Coast.

Free agency: NFC West

February, 16, 2010
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AFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

An early look at the free-agent situation in the NFC West.

Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.

Arizona Cardinals

[+] EnlargeKarlos Dansby
Tony Medina/Icon SMIKarlos Dansby has led the Cardinals in tackles in each of the past two seasons.
Unrestricted free agents: LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, OLB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, WR Sean Morey, TE Anthony Becht, DE Bertrand Berry, LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, FB Dan Kreider, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware, LB Monty Beisel.

Key figures: The more than $17.7 million Arizona has paid to Dansby over the past two seasons should suffice as a parting gift if, as expected, the linebacker leaves in free agency. Dansby could be leading an exodus. Okeafor turns 34 in March and could be on his way out. Berry announced his retirement. Morey has had concussion problems. Gandy's return probably depends on whether he's willing to stay for less than the $5 million he earned last season. Safety Antrel Rolle does not appear on the list, but he would hit the market when free agency begins if the Cardinals decline to pay a $4 million roster bonus.

San Francisco 49ers

Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre' Bly, NT Aubrayo Franklin, CB Walt Harris, RT Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, LT Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich, LB Matt Wilhelm, CB Keith Smith.

Key figures: The 49ers have been proactive in re-signing their own players. That explains why relatively few big names appear on this list. The franchise tag appears well suited for Franklin, the only marquee UFA on the 49ers' list this offseason. Tagging Franklin at the $7 million franchise rate makes sense heading into labor uncertainty. Why spend lavishly on a long-term deal? Franklin has played at a high level consistently for only one season, and a lockout could keep him off the field in 2011. Re-signing Sims for depth would make sense. Ulbrich, meanwhile, has retired and joined the Seahawks' coaching staff.

Seattle Seahawks

Unrestricted free agents: WR Nate Burleson, DE Cory Redding, CB Ken Lucas, K Olindo Mare, LB D.D. Lewis, FB Justin Griffith, LT Damion McIntosh, SS Lawyer Milloy, LS Kevin Houser, LS Jeff Robinson.

Key figures: New coach Pete Carroll is on the record saying he likes what he's seen from Redding. Mare is coming off an outstanding season. Lucas has the size Seattle's new leadership wants in its cornerbacks. Milloy played for Carroll in New England. There isn't much more to say about this relatively nondescript group, and it's unclear how much the new regime will value these UFAs. Unrestricted free agency isn't the only road out of Seattle this offseason. The team will probably part with a few established players who haven't lived up to their salaries because of injuries and other factors. Patrick Kerney and Deion Branch come to mind. Update: I've added Nate Burleson to the list of free agents. He has a contract for 2010, but it voids. Thanks to CowboyP893 for the assist.

St. Louis Rams

Unrestricted free agents: DE Leonard Little, DE James Hall, LB Paris Lenon, QB Kyle Boller, S Clinton Hart, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.

Key figures: Boller, 28, is the only player on the Rams' list younger than 30. Franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe and starting tackle Alex Barron become only restricted free agents under rules governing the uncapped year, explaining their absence from the Rams' UFA list. It's unclear how seriously Little and Hall figure into the team's plans for 2010. Chris Long's emergence late last season should make it easier for the team to move on without them, but the aging defensive ends did combine for 27 starts and 11 sacks last season.

Around the NFC West: Extending Ruskell

November, 18, 2009
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Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times revisits Steve Hutchinson's departure from the Seahawks. O'Neil: "Tim Ruskell's future as Seattle's president is being weighed as he enters the final months of his contract with the Seahawks, and he will come eye-to-eye once again with the biggest mistake in his tenure when the Seahawks play at Hutchinson's Vikings on Sunday. Ruskell was not made available for comment on this story."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Ruskell will "almost certainly" get a two-year extension "because he drafted well in April and because he needs more than one year with (Jim) Mora." There's no question the team needs to stand behind Mora longer than one season. Replacing the GM would conceivably complicate things for Mora. "Almost certainly" is pretty strong wording with seven games remaining. I do expect the Seahawks' offense to gain momentum as the season progresses. Ruskell was hired largely to remake the defense. He has done that. Independent of any decision on Ruskell's future, the Seahawks need to see more from their defense down the stretch. Significant improvement on that side of the ball would make everyone -- well, not everyone, but more people -- feel better about moving forward with the current arrangement.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team is in search of a pass rush.

Also from Farnsworth: Justin Forsett and Louis Rankin will be getting the carries while Julius Jones sits out.

Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer suggests former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren might have met with Browns ownership Tuesday. The story also suggests Holmgren lost his personnel power when Ruskell arrived for the 2005 season. That happened after the 2002 season. Bob Ferguson served as GM before Ruskell arrived. Holmgren held those powers for the 1999 through 2002 seasons.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Forsett and Rankin livened up the Seattle ground game against Arizona.

John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks' Brandon Mebane is excellent off the snap before struggling to separate from blockers consistently.

Also from Morgan: He thinks Mebane might be better playing in Colin Cole's spot on the nose.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt spends Friday afternoons going through his offensive plan. Somers: "Two weeks ago, he was driving home from the office late and thought of a run-pass check that would work against the Bears. So he wouldn't forget, Whisenhunt immediately called passing-game coordinator Mike Miller. Whisenhunt declined to detail the scheme because the Cardinals might use it again, but it proved to be effective, he said."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the NFL's decision to move back the Cardinals' kickoff against the Titans shows how far the team has come. Urban: "The Cardinals’ game this weekend against St. Louis is a late afternoon start – rather than the early start it’s been for years – because Fox needed for a game in that spot, and the Super Bowl runner-up Cards were attractive (and the side story of Kurt Warner returning to St. Louis doesn’t hurt). But that was decided before the season. Word came down Tuesday the Cardinals’ game the following week in Tennessee will also be shifted from an early (11 a.m. Arizona time) kickoff to later (2:15 p.m. Arizona time) to work with TV issues. It doesn’t mean the Cards-Titans game will suddenly be beamed everywhere, but there were a couple of other games Fox could have turned to for a later start but decided the Cards were worthy."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says during a chat he cannot understand why the Rams keep only four wide receivers active on game days. I think it's because the team runs so few three-receiver personnel groups. The Rams pound the ball with fullback Mike Karney or a second tight end. In short, they do not have three receivers good enough to command playing time together regularly. Thomas: "It's mind-boggling to me. When it comes down to it, I think Spags wants that extra body for special teams. (And not many wide receivers do much on special teams unless they're returners.) But the Rams have been caught with only three receivers to finish a game on several occasions this season."

Also from Thomas: A local television blackout could loom in St. Louis even though Kurt Warner is returning to town. Thomas: "Last week, with half as many tickets to move, the Rams needed an extension of the Thursday blackout deadline and a promotion in which members of the military were given free tickets for every ticket sold during the week to meet sellout requirements and get the game televised on local TV."

More from Thomas: Rookie receiver Brandon Gibson is catching on quickly.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Josh Morgan has supplanted Isaac Bruce in the 49ers' starting lineup. I guess I'd forgotten that hadn't happened already. The 49ers have been phasing out Bruce for a while. I'm not sure they would have brought him back if the team had known it would draft Michael Crabtree in the first round. Coach Mike Singletary: "I talked to Josh Morgan the other day and just let him know that I liked what he's doing. I like the progression. I just want to see it faster. I want to see, when Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree line up, [the defense] has issues on both sides. It's not, 'We'll take away one, and deal with the lesser.' "

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are very pleased with what Barry Sims has provided at left tackle. They should be. He has held up well to this point.

Also from Maiocco: Bruce says he knew he was "holding a spot" for Morgan.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Alex Smith this way on the Aaron Rodgers comparisons: "I understand that we will forever be connected because of that. But I don't at all feel like I am competing with him in that sense. I am competing with him to win the game on Sunday."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says two of the three interceptions Smith threw against the Titans were intended for Morgan.

Also from Crumpacker: Matt Wilhelm has shown enough to start at linebacker for the 49ers if Takeo Spikes cannot play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thanks to those who dropped by the NFC West chat Thursday. Full transcript here. Highlights below:

Chuck (SF): I know its easier said than done, but how can the 49ers go into next season with Shaun Hill or Alex Smith at QB? With Crabtree, Morgan, Bruce, Gore, Vernon Davis, a decent O-line, and promising defense, dont you absolutely have to make a play at QB?

Mike Sando: On paper, yes, but the 49ers haven't seemed too concerned. They like Shaun Hill. They couldn't really name Hill their starter because they needed to promise Alex Smith a chance to compete for the job in exchange for reducing his contract. And of course they are still holding out hope that Smith will develop. The 49ers weren't going to make a move at QB unless they were convinced they would be upgrading the position. They didn't think Jeff Garcia would be better than Hill. A lot of us might disagree, but Hill was 7-3 as a starter last season. He was effective on third down. There's a feeling he'll be competent, if not excellent.

Paul (Albany, OR): Why did the Rams go for an Ohio State linebacker in the draft. It is not like they have proven themselves in the NFL since who, Spielman. I cannot figure that front office out. Are they headed in the right direction?

Mike Sando: OK, you got me on this one. I just dialed up the most recent Ohio State linebackers in the draft: James Laurinitis and Marcus Freeman this year, Larry Grant in 2008, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel in 2006, Robert Reynolds in 2004, Cie Grant and Matt Wilhelm in 2003, Courtland Bullard in 2002, Na'il Diggs in 2000, Andy Katzenmoyer in 1999, Mike Vrabel in 1997 -- hey, we found a terrific one. Looks like you have made a decent point, sir.

cgolden: (Fort Worth, TX): With the trade of Julian Peterson and basically a release of LeRoy Hill, is the addition of Curry really an improvement for just a lateral move, at best?

Mike Sando: That depends some on whether Curry is a much more dynamic player in terms of his ability to grasp concepts and help Seattle implement a more sophisticated defense. Lofa Tatupu is one of those coach-on-the-field guys. Curry strikes me similarly. Hill and Peterson never struck me that way. Let's see what the Seahawks' new staff does with Curry and the defense as a whole.

James (Indy): Have to remember that the Draft is just a bunch of projecting. Until we see results on the field, it's kind of a fruitless exercise to declare "winners" or hand out "grades."

Mike Sando: I tend to ask whether a draft fell the way teams wanted it to fall. The Cardinals wanted a running back and got one. Last year, they wanted a cornerback and got one. Things fell their way and they got highly-rated players. Teams can still enjoy strong drafts even when the draft doesn't fall their way. The 49ers wanted pass-rush help and OL help, but got neither. They still might come out with a great draft given Crabtree's obvious value.

The more I think about the 49ers' draft, the more I wonder if they have helped themselves the most among NFC West teams, at least in the short term. More on that in a bit.

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