NFC West: Michael Spurlock

The list of available unrestricted free-agent receivers continues to dwindle.

The St. Louis Rams aren't going to find the playmaking help they covet on a list featuring Plaxico Burress, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Patrick Crayton, Rashied Davis, Deion Branch, Jerheme Urban, Bryant Johnson, Roy Williams, Greg Camarillo, Jerricho Cotchery, Mark Clayton, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock, David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Donnie Avery, Maurice Stovall, Andre Caldwell, Ted Ginn Jr., Steve Smith (Philly version), Jerome Simpson and Devin Thomas.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked colleagues how the Rams will address the issue. Jim Thomas: "There’s not much left at the position in free agency. The wide receiver shelves were cleaned out quickly, so barring a trade of some kind -- which seems unlikely -- the Rams are almost limited to getting help via the draft. And at No. 6 overall, there’s no guarantee that Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State will be available. So yes, the team is in a bit of a predicament at wide receiver."

Also from Thomas, regarding Mike Wallace: "He has a first-round tender. And you can only use your original first-round pick as compensation. The Rams no longer have their original first-round pick after trading down with Washington. So they can't acquire Wallace through the regular process of restricted free agency. Now, the Rams could always offer less in a sign-and-trade situation. But why would the Steelers want less than a first-rounder? They put the tender on him in an attempt to keep him." Noted: The Rams could, in theory, offer the sixth overall pick, but that would be a steep price to pay.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams should steer clear of Tim Tebow.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' search for a backup quarterback continues in the absence of attractive options.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com quotes 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh regarding Harbaugh's relationship with Alex Smith: "It's been good -- strong relationship, as always. It's a very strong relationship."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about the situation with Smith: "It's unclear if Smith agrees with Harbaugh that they are as tight as they've ever been. The team's offer did not exactly mesh with Harbaugh's statements of devotion during and after the season. While it's all but certain Smith will be the 49ers' quarterback this season, it also leaves an opening for backup Colin Kaepernick to take over before the three years are complete. Kaepernick has been a regular at the 49ers' training facility this offseason."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have ruled out Tebow, according to CEO Jed York.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Early Doucet's re-signing means the Cardinals will return their top receivers from last season. Urban: "Doucet set career-highs in 2011 with 54 receptions, 689 yards and five touchdowns in his fourth NFL season, playing in 16 games for the first time. He came up with a pair of long touchdown catches against Carolina (70 yards) and San Francisco (60 yards) and scored on a game-winning screen pass in Philadelphia."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals have little salary-cap room, and there are tradeoffs associated with gaining flexibility.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle quotes Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as saying Peyton Manning reached out to the Seahawks while figuring out which team to join. Carroll: "He had contacted me about wanting to talk about coming here. By the time we got down to where we had our chance he had already set his sights on going in the direction wound up going, with Denver."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the market for free-agent linebacker David Hawthorne. O'Neil: "Hawthorne has led Seattle in tackles each of the past three years, but right now, the market for free-agent linebackers looks to be a little softer than some expected." Noted: Looks like we're approaching that period where players reset their expectations before taking deals for less than they had hoped.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com puts together an overview of free agency from the Seahawks' perspective.
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' roster appears most interesting at running back and receiver.

The more I think about how much the 49ers want to pound the ball on offense, the more I see them keeping two fullbacks on the Week 1 roster.

Zak Keasey's broken forearm prevents him from becoming part of the equation early, and it's tough to see a team waiting two months for a backup fullback to get healthy. Enter Bill Rentmeester. Formerly of the Chargers, Rentmeester offers what preseason touchdown machine Brit Miller does not: experience at fullback. For the sake of this roster exercise, I'll pencil in Rentmeester for Week 1.

The numbers at receiver figure to swell while the team waits for Brandon Jones to heal and Michael Crabtree to sign and get ready to contribute.

San Francisco 49ers Week 1 Roster Counts since 2003 QB RB WR TE OL DL LB DB ST
Fewest 3 4 5 2 8 5 6 7 2
Most 4 7 7 4 10 9 8 11 4
Average 3.2 5.2 5.8 3.2 8.8 7.2 7.3 9.3 3.0
Currently on roster
4
8 12 4 14 9 12 14 4

The chart provides a framework for how many players the 49ers might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the Cardinals.

Here's a quick look at which 49ers players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players (I made one change, moving Cody Wallace into the group of offensive linemen at Joe Toledo's expense):

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' exhibition opener at Pittsburgh has led them to review Super Bowl video. Cardinals guard Reggie Wells: "I don't think anybody who was there thinks they stole the game from us. They earned the win. They made fewer mistakes and they capitalized on ours. Winning this game isn't going to give us that ring we ultimately wanted. But it'll be good to go back out there and bang on somebody and, hey, it may as well be the team you lost to."

Also from Somers: a few questions heading into the exhibition opener, including one about the tight ends.

More from Somers: three areas Cardinals coaches will be monitoring Thursday night. Will the first-team offense appear sharp? Will Brian St. Pierre challenge Matt Leinart? Will Calais Campbell look the part at defensive end?

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic sees good things from Cardinals running back Tim Hightower. Bickley: "There have been many pleasant surprises in training camp, from stunning crowds to Jerheme Urban's hands to the smile on Anquan Boldin's face. Hightower's sharpness and focus are near the top of the list, and possibly the most important sign of all."

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind wants to see how the Cardinals align on defense, among other things.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers were pleased with Michael Spurlock's handling of the Wildcat offense, dubbed the "Taser" in 49ers terminology. The Wildcat gets more attention per snap than any personnel group out there.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Kentwan Balmer and Justin Smith become inside pass-rushers on passing downs. Balmer had a sack during the 2-minute drill.

Also from Maiocco: Spurlock seems to be having a better camp than Jason Hill. Perhaps there's a spot for him on the 53-man roster.

More from Maiocco: Some accused Mike Nolan of game-planning to throw off Aaron Rodgers during an exhibition game last season. What might Nolan have in store for Alex Smith?

More yet from Maiocco: Perhaps there's a roster spot for Thomas Clayton somewhere around the league, if not with the 49ers.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Smith was effective on short passes while Shaun Hill succeeded with the deep ball, a departure from usual form.

Also from Barrows: Smith still seems like the nice guy while Hill shows his emotions.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com wonders if the Seahawks will wear predominantly green jerseys at any point this season. The Seahawks aren't saying for sure.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes a position-by-position look at the Seahawks on defense.

Also from O'Neil: Lofa Tatupu and Chris Spencer were back at practice after resting injuries. Also, Ken Lucas is practicing harder than O'Neil anticipated.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Steve Vallos worked at center with the first unit while Spencer missed team drills nearly a week after suffering a sprained ankle. Spencer: "I'm lucky and blessed to be able to get out here so fast after what happened last Friday. It was real scary. With all of the offseason work I've done to get back to where I am now and have something I can't control happen, it was a little scary. But God puts his hands on me and had a good blessing for me, and I dodged a bullet on it."

Also from Williams: T.J. Houshmandzadeh wouldn't mind wearing predominantly green.

William P. Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts summarizes Seahawks-related radio interviews.

John Morgan of Field Gulls saw Seahawks rookie Mike Teel throwing off his back foot in practice. I saw Rams rookie Keith Null do the same thing -- deliberately, it appeared -- when lofting passes into the end zone.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Null is very much looking forward to his NFL debut, even if it's "only" the exhibition season. Thomas also takes a look at other rookies from smaller college programs.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Adam Carriker's ankle injury is giving Gary Gibson a chance to work with the starters. Coaches also want to take a look at rookie defensive tackle Darell Scott, who was slowed by a knee injury this week.

Also from Coats: Steven Jackson is eager to see what the new Rams are about.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN.com previews the Rams' exhibition opener. Stull: "Yes, it is just a preseason game -- the first of four and not everything will be decided with these snaps. But it is a chance to see the beginning of the rewards of the work of the last few months."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com recaps Steve Spagnuolo's emotionally draining day, which included attending Jim Johnson's funeral. Spagnuolo: "It was very soothing for me to see all of the people that showed up. I can't tell you the overwhelming display of love for Jim Johnson in Philadelphia today. There were more people coming back there that hadn't been there in a long time. It was one of those days where everybody gets together and you mourn a friend and a family member."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wasn't surprised when Rams tackle Alex Barron opened the scrimmage with a false-start penalty. Thomas: "First-round draft pick Jason Smith is still having trouble blocking Leonard Little on the pass rush. But working with the starting offense, Smith made a nice block on what would've been a touchdown by Steven Jackson."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Leonard Little, Chris Long and James Hill consistently got pressure during 2-minute drill.

Also from Korte: a refresher on NFL rules changes as officials visit Rams camp.

Turf Show Times' Hetfield72 files a detailed report from the Rams' scrimmage. He thought the interior offensive line appeared strong.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Brandon Jones' injury and Michael Crabtree's absence opens the door for 49ers receiver Dominique Zeigler. Teams tend to need their depth at receiver as injuries prevail throughout the course of camp. 

49ers guard David Baas blogs about his foot injury. Baas: "It's just a minor setback and it won't take that long. I've been through this before so I always come out ahead in the end. It's no big deal and I've been going to all of the meetings and so I'm still around my teammates."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers practiced in shorts for the first time since camp opened. Also, coach Mike Singletary says he "hates" to see Jones injured after a strong start to camp.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee charted receiver snaps during 11-on-11 drills to see which ones were getting the most reps without Jones or Crabtree. The results: Josh Morgan 15, Arnaz Battle 14, Michael Spurlock 14, Jason Hill 12, Dominique Zeigler 10, Maurice Price 3, Mark Bradford 3 and Dobson Collins 2. Isaac Bruce had the afternoon off.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sizes up the most exciting part of any training camp practice, at least to me: one-on-one pass-rush rills. The accompanying photo of Bryan Robinson apparently attempting to decapitate Lyle Sendlein says it all. Also, injured fullback Dan Kreider returned to practice.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew 602 predicts a fast start for the Cardinals despite a projected home loss against the Colts early in the season. 

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers added a 3-second clock to help quarterbacks get a feel for when the ball should be thrown. Maiocco: "Neither quarterback is separating himself in the QB competition. Hill was much better in the morning session, and Smith won the afternoon. Smith completed 12 of 15 passes in the recently completed practice. Hill was 7 of 11 with an interception by Parys Haralson off a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage."

Also from Maiocco: an assessment of the situation at receiver. Maiocco: "Jones and Crabtree represent the 49ers' biggest offseason investments. And now there are legitimate concerns about when either will be available to make contributions."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says he thinks the Cardinals are deeper on the offensive line than any team Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm have coached since 2001, according to Whisenhunt. Somers lists five backups Whisenhunt likes. Teams generally keep no more than four backup offensive linemen, however.

Also from Somers: Beanie Wells did some light running Friday. He could be back from a sprained ankle early next week.

More from Somers: High winds in Flagstaff prompted Whisenhunt to hold for kicker Neil Rackers.

More still from Somers: Kurt Warner revisits a theme he touches upon from time to time, assessing how the pressure to succeed can become draining.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says basketball great Bill Russell addressed the team at Jim Mora's request. Russell was sitting in the lobby at Seahawks headquarters when I left following practice Thursday night. He looked good.

Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts provides an in-depth report from the Seahawks' practice Friday night. Sullivan: "Ben Obamanu is doing a fantastic job of reminding everyone why he was the favorite to get real playing time in 2008 before he broke his shoulder. He looks very good in every aspect of the game. Great hands, good feet, a decent block or two, and crisp routes."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Deion Branch was back at practice for the Seahawks on Friday night, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh scored the most points -- thanks to an extended autograph session with fans.

Tim Booth of the Associated Press says a few thousand people sat through rainy conditions to watch the Seahawks practice at
Husky Stadium. Houshmandzadeh made an impression on Huskies defensive back Quinton Richardson.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times visits with Seahawks rookie Nick Reed as part of an overview from camp. Reed says he's a fan of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says injuries raise concerns for the Seahawks, again. Boling: "The vision of a sore-backed Walter Jones walking gingerly onto the field, and the absence of Marcus Trufant and top draft pick Aaron Curry, added to sundry infirmities and potential manpower shortages, are enough to give pause to even those watching through the rosiest of glasses."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ryan from Phoenix writes via Facebook: Some of the talk radio guys were saying there's a chance that boldin will hold out to get a new contract. Have you heard anything about that and do you think that the fact no one came out and offered much for Boldin during the draft that plays in favor for the Cards saving some money?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals said from the beginning they weren't shopping Anquan Boldin. They were willing to listen if teams wanted to initiate talks. It's tough for the Cardinals to know what they could really get for Boldin -- his ultimate value to another team -- without the Cardinals actively trying to find out what they could really get for Boldin. In that respect, the process worked against Boldin. He comes out of this looking like a guy no one wants seriously to acquire. And that diminishes his leverage in future negotiations with the Cardinals.

The deck is stacked against Boldin right now. He has two years left on his deal, he'll be 30 when it expires and Larry Fitzgerald has supplanted him as the Cardinals' best receiver. The team is coming off a Super Bowl season. The head coach is highly popular. The Cardinals were generally effective without Boldin last season, so there's no pressure on management to move quickly.

If Boldin holds out and the Cardinals open quickly while playing three of their first four at home, then what?

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A quick look at 53-man rosters from Feb. 1, date of Super Bowl XLIII, provides a reference point for seeing how NFC West teams have changed so far this offseason.

I'll start with San Francisco.

Gone from the 49ers' 53-man roster and injured reserve list in the 58 days since the Super Bowl (13):

 
  Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  J.T. O'Sullivan is a former 49er.

Offense

Jamie Martin, QB

J.T. O'Sullivan, QB

Billy Bajema, TE

DeShaun Foster, RB

Sean Ryan, TE

Bryant Johnson, WR

Jonas Jennings, T

Damane Duckett, T

Defense

Keith Lewis, S

Donald Strickland, CB

Roderick Green, LB

Ronald Fields, DL

Tully Banta-Cain, LB

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the 49ers' attitude toward Shaun Hill in light of recent events. Ratto: "Because [Mike] Singletary is so invested in his power to make others see his visions, the fact that he has left the door so open for [Alex] Smith surely indicates that Hill still has some persuading to do. And, no, the fact that Hill outranks [Jeff] Garcia in Singletary's mind doesn't count."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the Rams' decision to name Oshiomogho Atogwe their franchise player deprived the 49ers of a potential target in free agency. That's the thing about free agency in the NFL. The possibilities seem so much better in early February than they seem once we realize most of the top players won't be hitting the market.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation breaks down the 49ers' special-teams performance from 2008. Fucillo: "Kicker and punter are clearly fine going forward. The big question is in the return game. Allen Rossum is a free agent and the 49ers have to decide if they want Rossum back, or if they want to work on developing a returner of the future. They signed Michael Spurlock, a man who became the first Buccaneer to return a kickoff for a touchdown, to reserve/futures contract. If they want Rossum back, or they want to grab somebody in the draft, that sort of contract will not get in their way."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have concluded a hectic two-week period in which their coaching staff has taken on a new look. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "The thing I feel the best about is there won't be a change in philosophy or terminology on both sides of the ball."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains the reasoning behind the Cardinals' coaching moves, including the decision for Mike Miller and Russ Grimm to share coordinating duties on offense while Whisenhunt calls the plays. Grimm: "I don't see [my role] changing a whole lot. Maybe [I'll do] a little bit more if we need something for the running game. But for me to do both jobs, I couldn't do it and for [Whisenhunt] to do both, it's not smart. We'll all do it, and Mike will tie it all together."

John Morgan of Field Gulls ties together his thoughts on Matthew Stafford as a player the Seahawks could consider with the fourth overall choice. Morgan doesn't think the Seahawks need to select a left tackle with that choice.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer cites a Pro Football Weekly article in which Leonard Weaver's agent suggests the fullback probably won't return to the Seahawks in 2009.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks could used the transition tag instead of the franchise tag in restricting Leroy Hill's options this offseason. If they do that and Hill pulls a Steve Hutchinson on them, look out.

Also from Williams: A Seahawks roster analysis in which he says Will Herring or D.D. Lewis could fill in nicely for Hill if needed.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will place the franchise tag on Atogwe while they try to work out a long-term deal with the ball-hawking free safety. The Rams are scheduled to meet with Ron Bartell's agent at the combine Thursday.

VanRam of Turf Show Times says Chris Long's devotion to the game means the defensive end will develop consistency while striving to improve.

Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders sizes up the NFC West with thoughts on Long, Vernon Davis, Jim Mora and the Cardinals' coaching changes.

Roided-out NFC West rosters: Week 20.5

January, 24, 2009
1/24/09
10:58
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

I've updated the NFC West roided-out rosters to include moves made this week. Those are available for download.

I'll tack on a Steelers version in the next edition, scheduled for Super Bowl week. In the meantime, let's take a quick look at players NFC West teams have signed to future contracts. These players will become part of the 80-man rosters after the Super Bowl.
Arizona: punter Waylon Prather, quarterback Tyler Palko, running back Justin Green, guard Ben Claxton.

St. Louis: receiver Nate Jones, defensive tackle Willie Williams, receiver Joel Filani, receiver Travis Brown, running back Samkon Gado, defensive end C.J. Ah You.

San Francisco: tight end J.J. Finley, tackle Joe Toledo, receiver Mark Bradford, linebacker Justin Roland and kick returner Michael Spurlock.

Seattle: defensive back Marquis FLoyd, tight end Joe Newton, receiver Michael Bumpus, defensive tackle Kevin Brown, tight end John Tereshinski, long snapper Ryan Senser, receiver Mike Hass and Receiver Billy McMullen.

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