NFC West: Matt Wilhelm
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).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.