NFC West: Mike Wallace

49ers' odds and ends

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
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Emptying the notebook on a rainy Friday afternoon:
    McFadden
  • If the 49ers were in the market for a veteran running back, I'd count Oakland free agent Darren McFadden as a real possibility. San Francisco running backs coach Tom Rathman was in Oakland when the Raiders drafted McFadden in 2008. While I'm sure the 49ers are studying McFadden, the need there just isn't strong. It would have to be the perfect, cheap situation for him to land with the 49ers, although, they could use him on screen passes.
  • Denver is in the market for a hard-hitting safety and are said to be willing to spend. You have to wonder if the Broncos will make a play for 49ers safety Donte Whitner. But they may have others in mind first.
  • The salary cap is projected to be set at $133 million. The 49ers should be at least $15 million under the cap. That should allow them to accomplish everything they want to get done. The word is the cap will reach up to $150 million in two years. That will benefit the 49ers as they have some big-ticket deals to get done.
  • Center Daniel Kilgore received a $1.35 million signing bonus for the three-year extension he signed Thursday. He will get first crack at taking over for the free-agent Jonathan Goodwin. But if Kilgore fails, the 49ers could look elsewhere because of his inexpensive deal.
  • There are reports Miami is putting speedy receiver Mike Wallace on the market. He'd fit what the 49ers do, But his deal is too pricey and the draft class is stacked. Thus, I don't see a deal happening with the 49ers unless he took a big pay cut.
Two of the better receivers from the 2009 NFL draft call the NFC West home after the Seattle Seahawks acquired Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings

Harvin and the San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree, both first-round choices, rank first and second, respectively, in receptions among wide receivers from that 2009 class.

The chart at right shows where they rank among the 26 wide receivers from the 2009 draft with at least one reception. Of those players, Harvin has by far the most rushing attempts with 107. Mike Thomas is second with 34. Crabtree has 14. Harvin ranks second in kickoff returns with 114, behind Brandon Tate (119).

The chart below ranks 2009 drafted wide receivers by receptions. Missing the cut: Brian Hartline (183), Thomas (176), Brandon Gibson (174), Austin Collie (173), Kenny Britt (146), Darrius Heyward-Bey (140), Johnny Knox (133), Mohamed Massaquoi (118) and Louis Murphy (115). No other receivers from that class have more than 69 career receptions.

Final Word: NFC West

December, 14, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Chasing Brady, record: San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith needs three sacks to tie the NFL's single-season record since 1982, when sacks became an official NFL stat.

While Smith will be matching up primarily against the New England Patriots' offensive tackles Sunday night, quarterback Tom Brady looks like his toughest adversary. Brady has taken 20 sacks on 517 dropbacks this season. He has held the ball three or fewer seconds on 70 percent of pass attempts. That means Smith and the 49ers' pass-rushers need to work quickly.

The 49ers have collected 24 of their 32 sacks this season after three seconds. That included all five of their sacks against New Orleans' Drew Brees, another tough-to-sack quarterback. San Francisco beat Brees thanks largely to a pair of interception returns for touchdowns. While Brady has thrown only four picks all season, he threw three of them during defeats to NFC West teams (Seattle, Arizona).

49ers scoreboard watching: The 49ers have scored at least 27 points in two of their past three games. That looks good on paper, but the offense hasn't always been functioning at optimum efficiency. Interception returns accounted for 14 of 31 points against New Orleans. Then, after a 16-13 defeat at St. Louis, the 49ers scored only six first-half points against the Miami Dolphins before pulling away to win 27-13.

New England has held its past three opponents beneath 20 points, the Patriots' best three-game stretch since 2009. The 49ers are 1-3 when failing to score 20 points.

Waiting game: Coaches generally instruct their quarterbacks to deliver the football in timely fashion. The sooner the better, sometimes. There are still times when good things come to those who wait.

Seattle Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice ranks tied for the NFL lead with four touchdown receptions on throws delivered at least four seconds after the snap.

Week 15 opponent Buffalo has allowed eight such touchdown passes, most in the NFL. Quarterback Russell Wilson's willingness to hold onto the ball is one key variable. One question this week is whether a foot injury will sideline Rice or limit his effectiveness. Rice has avoided concussions the past two weeks despite taking huge hits. He's unsure when he suffered the foot injury, but it has kept him from practicing.

Third-down prowess: The St. Louis Rams' Week 15 opponent, Minnesota, has surrendered first downs on 44 percent of third-down pass attempts, the highest rate in the league.

Can the Rams take advantage? Quarterback Sam Bradford has been outstanding on third down during fourth quarters and overtime. His 86.9 Total QBR in those situations ranks fifth in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Rams, Bradford ranks 35th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks in third-down QBR during the first three quarters of games. He's at 7.6, ahead of only Arizona's recently benched John Skelton.

Ben Roethlisberger (92.2), Brady (89.6) and Aaron Rodgers (84.8) lead the NFL in third-down QBR across all quarters. Bradford ranks 29th at 20.1. He has three touchdowns, three interceptions, 16 sacks and a 54.8 completion percentage on third down this season.

Third-down improvement could be key as the Rams try to follow through on coach Jeff Fisher's stated priority: keeping Vikings running back Adrian Peterson off the field.

Where Fitz stands: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley has completed six of 30 attempts when targeting top receiver Larry Fitzgerald. That is one reason Fitzgerald ranks only fourth in receiving yardage among NFC West players this season.

Fitzgerald ranks second on his own team behind Andre Roberts even though Roberts has 42 fewer targets (126-84) and one fewer game played.

Michael Crabtree (761), Roberts (675) and Rice (658) have more receiving yardage than Fitzgerald (652) this season. The Rams' Chris Givens (584), Danny Amendola (576) and Brandon Gibson (537) have a chance to overtake Fitzgerald.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

Quick look at award-winning Fitzgerald

September, 26, 2012
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Larry Fitzgerald is the NFC's offensive player of the week after playing a key role in the Arizona Cardinals' 27-6 victory against Philadelphia.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's key 37-yard scoring reception and the Cardinals' 3-0 record combined to make him a worthy choice even though his nine catches for 114 yards did not represent an off-the-charts statistical line by his elevated standards.

Somewhat amazingly, Fitzgerald never won the weekly NFC award during his first 116 career games. He has now won it twice in his past 11 games.

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, ranks wide receivers by yardage totals for Week 3. Note that Fitzgerald caught all nine passes thrown his way.

Congrats to those of you who left Fitzgerald in your fantasy lineups following a slow first couple games. That list would include my 7-year-old son, but not my wife. Live and learn. The great ones produce eventually.

Related: Chris Brown's piece for Grantland.com on Fitzgerald's big play against the Eagles.

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert says the team will not trade receiver Mike Wallace, Ed Werder reports.

That would obviously affect our plans for Wallace here in the NFC West.

The direct quote from Colbert: "Mike Wallace is not available for trade."

Colbert did not say the Steelers would never consider trading Wallace. He said Wallace is not available for trade. There could be a difference. Circumstances change. For now, though, Colbert's comments tell us to sit back and let the situation play out. Wallace isn't on the trading block at this time.

More from Jamison Hensley here.
Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson belong on any list featuring wide receivers with the ability to make plays well downfield.

New England's Brandon Lloyd, formerly of St. Louis, lacks their breakaway speed, but he's deceptively fast. And if you're familiar with the elevated yards-per-reception stats he's posted in recent years, you know he deserves a mention as well.

Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald fits a different mold physically. He's at least three inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than the others. He's not scary fast by NFL standards.

But in a rankings package ESPN Stats & Information distributed recently, Fitzgerald showed up with Wallace, Jackson and Lloyd as the only NFL players with more than 25 receptions covering 25-plus yards over the past two seasons. Fitzgerald averaged a career-high 17.6 yards per reception last season, up from 12.6 in 2010 and 11.3 the year before. I'm not entirely sure why the average jumped so much, but its' something that could be worth investigating as the offense takes shape for this season.

The chart, provided by Kareem White of ESPN Stats & Information, breaks out additional information on the receptions covering at least 25 yards since 2010. We see that Fitzgerald gained a higher percentage of his yardage after the catch, no surprise given his size and the others' speed. Lloyd gained far less of his yardage that way, a reflection of the downfield passing attack Josh McDaniels ran in Denver and St. Louis.

The Cardinals struggled with consistency on offense last season, but they did connect for big plays in the passing game. They finished with 15 receptions of at least 40 yards, fifth-most in the league. Arizona had sufficient playmakers even before adding Michael Floyd in the first round of the draft this year. The key for the Cardinals will be gaining consistency without losing explosiveness.
There's little sense in taking the bait when San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh tells a radio program Michael Crabtree "has the best hands I've ever seen on a wide receiver."

Anyone with a strong grasp of NFL history would place Cris Carter, Raymond Berry and Steve Largent on a short list for receivers with the surest hands.

Hall of Famer Ken Houston, speaking for a 2008 piece on all-time great wideouts, stood up for AFL stars Otis Taylor and Lionel Taylor.

"Lionel Taylor, I mean, he would catch a BB," Houston said.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, speaking for the same piece, said Randy Moss, then with New England, had the best hands in the NFL at that time (2008).

"A lot of guys can catch," Thompson said then. "He can catch on any platform, as we say in scouting. He can adjust and catch it over the top of somebody's head, catch it falling down, and it doesn't matter if he is covered."

With Moss now on the 49ers, it is possible Crabtree does not possess the best hands among wide receivers on his own team.

Oops. I wasn't going to take the bait on this one, but now it's too late. Time to regroup.

Bottom line, I suspect Crabtree has impressed Harbaugh this offseason, and Harbaugh would like that to continue for as long as possible. By offering such strong public praise for Crabtree, Harbaugh is setting a standard for Crabtree to meet this season. He realizes Crabtree has the ability to meet that standard, or else he wouldn't make the statement.

We should all recall Harbaugh's calling quarterback Alex Smith "elite" and promoting him for the Pro Bowl last season. Then as now, Harbaugh was standing up for his guy. Smith enjoyed the finest season of his career and even outplayed the truly elite Drew Brees at times during the 49ers' playoff victory over New Orleans. The way Harbaugh backed Smith played a role in that performance, in my view.

Back to Crabtree. He has the ability to rank among the most sure-handed receivers in the game. He has not yet earned that status, but now he has little choice, right?

As the chart shows, Crabtree finished the 2011 season with 12.2 receptions per drop, which ranked 28th in the NFL among players targeted at least 100 times. Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 80 receptions and only one drop. Those numbers are according to ESPN Stats & Information, which defines drops as "incomplete passes where the receiver should have caught the pass with ordinary effort."

Crabtree suffered six drops last season by that standard, a few too many for the player with the best hands his head coach has ever seen on a wide receiver.
A word for those curious about comment functionality on the blog lately: Changes made to some of the commenting infrastructure could require users to log out and then log back into ESPN.com. This did not resolve the issue for me, and I've passed along the word.

Update: Issue resolved. Looks like we're fully operational. Thanks for hanging in there.

Now, back to the NFC West mailbag.

JohnBloodletter from right here asks about the Arizona Cardinals' secondary and, specifically, what to expect from Patrick Peterson in his second season. He asks about the Cardinals' third-round corner, how the safeties are holding up and how important the secondary will be to the team's overall success.

Mike Sando: Expect Pro Bowl-caliber play from Peterson. His defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, is a former NFL cornerback and should know exactly how to bring along such a highly talented player. Peterson works hard and wants to be great, by all accounts. There should be no limitations for him. He should take a big jump forward given the advantages he'll have in terms of experience and offseason preparation time.

The NFC West sent multiple corners to the Pro Bowl last season (Carlos Rogers, Brandon Browner). Peterson should be the best of the group from a talent standpoint.

I did think the secondary would have benefited from the right pass-rusher, had the Cardinals chosen to go in that direction early in the draft. But the sack numbers in Arizona were already good. I just thought a more dominant presence at outside linebacker would have further unlocked this defense.

File this away: Arizona was the only team to select zero front-seven players in the 2012 draft.

The third-round corner, Jamell Fleming, will presumably contribute on special teams right away, with a chance to earn playing time in multiple roles on defense. Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. mentioned Fleming as a later-round possibility Insider for Arizona back in March.

Horton, speaking to reporters in Arizona during the draft, said Fleming's smarts were appealing. The team plans to try Fleming in some of the roles Richard Marshall played previously.

"I'm going to try him at the nickel, I'm going to try him at the corner, I'm going to try him at the safety," Horton said. "He'll get the opportunity to show me what he can do. If you don’t have this kind of depth going against the Green Bay Packers, who are on the schedule and running five wides, New England with the big tight ends, with New Orleans and the Hall of Fame game with the big tight ends -- if you can’t play more than one thing, you are kind of forcing yourself to the way of the fullback, which is a kind of an extinct position right now."


Miles from Seattle asks whether the Seattle Seahawks might be wise to sign a veteran stopgap wide receiver, or would they be OK sticking with their current group.

Mike Sando: I'd stick with the current group. Drafting a receiver would have made sense if that receiver were a special player. There was no sense in drafting another receiver indistinguishable from the group. There would likewise be no advantage to signing a veteran stopgap in free agency.

We might revisit that stance if Sidney Rice doesn't rebound from the two shoulder surgeries he underwent this offseason. But with Rice back and the team also expecting more in the receiving game from tight end Zach Miller, I'd be inclined to give the younger players a shot.

Golden Tate finished strong last season. He had no dropped passes. He has a chance to take a big step forward now that he's been in the offense for a year.

Doug Baldwin is already a good slot receiver and top option on third down.

Ricardo Lockette flashed ability late last season and has a chance to become a dynamic threat down the field (two catches for 105 yards in the final two games last season).

Kris Durham is back from injury and projects as a potential replacement for Mike Williams. He's a big receiver. Ben Obomanu is still an option. Deon Butler will get another chance.

I'd rather give snaps to some of the younger prospects than lean on a stopgap veteran unnecessarily.


Bryan from Philadelphia liked the recent piece examining where draft analysts -- all of us -- might have erred in making projections this year.

Mike Sando: The key will be to remember the errors of our ways.

We're still getting a feel for how the San Francisco 49ers will operate with Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, how the Seattle Seahawks will operate with Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, and how the St. Louis Rams will operate with Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead.

The one NFC West pick I got right in our ESPN Blogger Mock 2.0 -- Michael Floyd to Arizona at No. 13 -- was for the team in the division with the longest-tenured head coach and general manager. That was also the easiest pick to forecast given that St. Louis and Seattle traded out of their spots.


Matt from Santa Cruz, Calif., recently came away impressed after listening to San Francisco 49ers rookie LaMichael James on KNBR radio. He wondered why James remained available in the second round. "Sounds like a really good kid, and he was a beast (and super fast) in college," Matt writes.

Mike Sando: I can think of a few reasons.

James is a change-of-pace back with limited size and questionable blocking ability. That limits his snaps in a conventional offense, diminishing his value. Teams around the NFL are valuing the passing game in general, knocking down the value for runners in general and one-dimensional ones in particular. James also came into the draft with a couple off-field concerns, one relating to a domestic incident and others to NCAA violations.

James was the fifth running back drafted, behind Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson and Isaiah Pead. Pead and James were the first change-of-pace backs selected. They were the only second-round backs selected.

The 49ers had a better feel for James because their staff coached against him in the Pac-12.

"I've seen all the things he can do and lost games to his team, in large degree because of his efforts," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters. "We felt like we knew this player. All of the background information, people that we've talked to, the tape we've watched. His reputation as a person and as a football player, is very near impeccable."

That last comment from Harbaugh will be one to file away given the off-field concerns mentioned by others.


abiRam from Simi Valley, Calif., asked before the draft about whether the St. Louis Rams should seek to acquire Mike Wallace from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The question was worth a followup, I thought, after the Rams waited until the second round to draft a wide receiver.

Mike Sando: The Steelers want to keep Wallace. I don't anticipate a trade. Wallace is doing what he can to increase his leverage, threatening to stay away until the last minute. That is typical under the circumstances.

The Rams do have four first-round selections over the next two drafts. They could dangle one or both of those picks to make an offer for Wallace, but this is probably fantastical thinking. I'll admit, the idea has appeal from a Rams perspective. Imagine injecting Wallace into the offense with slot receiver Danny Amendola and second-round pick Brian Quick. Sam Bradford would have to love that combination. But it's just not likely.

The Rams would have to overpay in draft compensation to pry away Wallace from the Steelers while Pittsburgh is trying to contend for a championship. The Rams would also have to fork over a huge contract to Wallace, disrupting their salary structure. The team's cap outlook is outstanding right now because the Rams have so many draft choices to use at a time when the rookie wage scale is depressing salaries for early draft choices.

As tempting as it might be to overpay in an effort to get better right now, that might not be the best move -- even if the Steelers were willing to let him go.

NFC West free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay

Key losses: CB Richard Marshall

Sando's grade so far: C-minus. Arizona gets credit for making a strong run at Peyton Manning and securing a visit with him at Cardinals headquarters. That was a bold move and one that could have instantly transformed the Cardinals into a contending team. But it did not work. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had a point when he said the Cardinals were comfortable moving forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their quarterbacks. However, it was still telling that Arizona would aggressively pursue another quarterback eight months after allocating $12.4 million per year to Kolb. Most of the other teams making big investments in quarterbacks last offseason sat out the Manning sweepstakes.

Overall, Arizona has done little to upgrade its roster. Committing $19 million in bonus money to Snyder, Levi Brown and Kolb will not make the team $19 million better. Marshall was a valued contributor and the MVP on defense last season, according to coordinator Ray Horton. He'll be missed after signing with Miami. On the other hand, the Cardinals did win seven of their final nine games last season. Perhaps they have fewer holes than conventional wisdom suggests.

What’s next: The Cardinals need help at offensive tackle and have shown interest in Buffalo Bills free agent Demetrius Bell. The team would be fortunate to address the position before the draft. Whisenhunt has consistently defended Brown, who has played both tackle spots since 2007. The team's decision to give Brown a $7 million signing bonus as part of a streamlined contract showed Whisenhunt wasn't bluffing. But another starting tackle would help.

The Cardinals have yet to reach a long-term agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell. Getting a deal done with Campbell would reduce the defensive end's salary-cap charge ($10.6 million for now). It would reward a rising young player and head off future headaches associated with using the tag a second time next offseason.

Receiver and possibly outside linebacker are also areas where the Cardinals could use reinforcements.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, RB Brandon Jacobs

Key losses: Snyder, WR Josh Morgan, ST Blake Costanzo

Sando's grade so far: B-plus. The 49ers had relatively few holes on their roster after a 13-3 season. Pursuing Manning provided a temporary distraction without inflicting long-term damage. The 49ers needed to keep together their core, and they accomplished that goal. Alex Smith's re-signing to a three-year deal was key. Smith will return to the team, maintaining continuity and giving the 49ers' offense a chance to build on last season. But the contract terms will not limit the 49ers' options beyond this season, a plus.

The 49ers succeeded in re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers after using the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Those moves solidified the secondary. Addressing the situation at wide receiver was a top priority heading into free agency. Moss and Manningham were low-risk, high-reward additions. Both have the potential to provide qualities the 49ers were lacking last season, but neither carried a high price tag. Retaining receiver Ted Ginn Jr. restored firepower to the return game.

What’s next: Using the draft to improve the long-term outlook at receiver still could be an option. But with Moss, Manningham and Ginn on the roster, the 49ers should not feel pressured to select a wideout with the 30th overall choice in the draft. The team now has flexibility. There has been no indication that the 49ers or any team will seriously pursue Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald money.

The 49ers could use a veteran right guard for insurance in case Daniel Kilgore isn't ready for the starting job. They have visited with Leonard Davis and Deuce Lutui, both former Cardinals. Keeping Snyder would have been nice, but the Cardinals paid a $5 million signing bonus to get him. That price was too high for the 49ers, who similarly balked last offseason when the New York Giants gave center David Baas an $8.5 million bonus.

St. Louis Rams

Key additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith

Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, P Donnie Jones, OLB Chris Chamberlain

Sando's grade so far: B. The Rams would get a higher grade for their offseason in general, but this item focuses on free agency. That excludes from consideration Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach, and general manager Les Snead's ability to maximize value for the second overall pick in the draft. The Finnegan and Wells signings give the Rams welcome leadership while upgrading important positions. Langford should help the run defense.

The Rams have yet to address their playmaking deficiencies. They did not land any of the high-profile wide receivers in free agency. There's a chance Smith will recapture old form in his second season back from microfracture knee surgery, but the Rams are not counting on that. They will almost certainly emerge from free agency without even marginally upgrading the weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford. That is a disappointment.

What’s next: The outlook remains bright for St. Louis. The team owns the sixth, 33rd and 39th choices in the 2012 draft, plus two first-rounders in each of the following two drafts. There will be time and opportunity for the Rams to add the offensive firepower they need so badly, perhaps with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 6 overall.

Much work lies ahead. The Rams emerged from this week with eight fewer players on their roster than the average for the other 31 teams. Using free agency to address holes at outside linebacker and left guard would provide flexibility heading into the draft. The Rams still need a backup quarterback as well. Bradford is the only QB on the roster. It's looking like the team is serious about bringing back right tackle Jason Smith despite injury concerns and a fat contract that will presumably require adjustment.

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones

Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove

Sando's grade so far: B-plus: The Seahawks knew for months that Manning would probably hit the market and still could not secure a meeting with him. Their pursuit included a flight by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to Denver in a desperation move that failed to impress Manning. That was a rare disappointment for Seattle in free agency.

Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before the signing period took off much of the pressure. Re-signing Red Bryant without using the franchise tag rewarded the Seahawks for a disciplined approach to the market. That approach paid off again when the Seahawks landed Flynn without rushing into an imprudent contract. Flynn spent five days on the market before signing with Seattle. The Seahawks got him for about half as much per season as Kolb cost a year ago, without even promising him the starting job. That was impressive.

What’s next: Quarterback and pass-rusher were Seattle's top two needs heading into free agency. Flynn solved one of them for now, at least. Jones, an inside pass-rusher signed from Tennessee, should help the other area. But the need for outside pass-rush help persists. The team could use the 12th overall choice in the draft for a defensive end.

Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.
A first-round draft choice isn't the only asking price for teams interested in Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

Wallace, arguably the most formidable deep threat in the NFL, will command a fat contract as well.

How fat?

Matt Barrows of the Sacrament Bee says the San Francisco 49ers checked into Wallace, only to realize the receiver wanted a contract more lucrative than the one Larry Fitzgerald signed. Barrows: "Combine that with the first-round pick any team that signs Wallace to an offer sheet would lose if the Steelers didn't match the offer, and you start to understand why we've heard so little about Wallace in the last week and a half. That, of course, could change. Teams have another month to sign restricted free agents. But at that price, the 49ers aren't interested, and it's hard to imagine the Patriots, Bengals and Ravens paying that either." Noted: Restricted free agency has always been a mirage. It will remain one, largely, even though the price tag has come down now that the most expensive tender does not include a third-round choice on top of a first-rounder. Teams don't like giving up draft choices for the right to overpay.

Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee isn't buying Alex Smith's contention that there were no hard feelings when the 49ers pursued Peyton Manning. Voisin: "There isn't an athlete in pro sports who wouldn't be seething, wounded and increasingly distrustful of his bosses. Those chummy Smith-49ers family ties have been severely strained." Noted: The key variable is whether the 49ers were honest and forthright with Smith during the process.

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's coping ability serves him well. Purdy: "Will Smith be affected by Harbaugh's desire to seek a better quarterback alternative this offseason? Answer: Can't see why. Smith's mental toughness might have been an issue his first few seasons in the league, but his grittiness should never be questioned after that playoff performance against a New Orleans Saints team that, we now know, was just as concerned with maiming quarterbacks as stopping them."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers had to re-sign Smith after missing out on Manning.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com updates 49ers signings.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams can still install Gregg Williams' defense even without the indefinitely suspended Williams. Miklasz: "The Rams may have not known about the New Orleans bounties -- but they knew Williams was no angel. He is who they thought he was. To fire Williams now would be a phony, hypocrisy-filled move. Why would the Rams bring Williams back if Roger Goodell reinstates him? I can think of a few reasons. The Fisher-Williams friendship is a factor. Williams has been a successful coordinator who cultivates the kind of defensive mindset that Fisher wants. That's also a factor. I'm also assuming Fisher has empathy, figuring that Williams deserves a second chance if Williams cooperates with the league, helps the league educate players on this serious issue and convinces the league that he's a reformed coach." Noted: The question I have is whether Williams can ever again coach credibly in the NFL, or whether the unapologetic brashness that made him appealing can survive these sanctions.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams sources as downplaying any interest in Tim Tebow.

Also from Thomas: a look at positions where the Rams have yet to address needs in free agency.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at how the NFL's punishment against Williams and the New Orleans Saints affects Arizona. Urban: "To begin with, the Cardinals will be the first team to play the Saints, since the teams will match up Aug. 5 in the Hall of Fame game to kick off the preseason. Wonder what the talking points will be during that broadcast? You wonder if the Cards are just going to be in the background, because it’s hard to see the Saints’ storylines not dominating. ... The Saints lose second-round picks this year and next. That’ll move up the Cards’ third-round pick a slot sooner. We’ll see what it means in 2013."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle quotes Seahawks general manager John Schneider on why free-agent defensive tackle Jason Jones was eager to sign with Seattle. Schneider: "He saw what Chris Clemons has done and what Raheem [Brock] has done and Dexter [Davis] in his first year. So to be able to come in here and be a situational interior pass-rusher -- which we've really been lacking over the last several years -- to come in here and be able to jump off the ball, really that noise factor was a big deal for him. We think he's got a big upside, and he thinks he's got a big upside as well, so he's looking at this as a proving ground. And again I think it's a credit to the 12th Man, because he saw this is a stadium he could come into and be incredibly effective."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says free-agent defensive end Dave Tollefson visited the Seahawks.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com notes that Marshawn Lynch will represent Seattle in the Madden cover contest.
Brandon Lloyd's trajectory has changed dramatically and so has that of his original team, the San Francisco 49ers. The parties will scarcely recognize one another when Lloyd pays a free-agent visit to the team Wednesday.

The 49ers won as many regular-season games last season, 13, as they did during the three seasons Lloyd spent on the roster beginning in 2003.

Lloyd, despite enjoying a bright moment or two, ranked only 93rd among NFL players with 2,370 yards receiving from 2003 through 2009, bouncing from San Francisco to Washington to Denver along the way. He improbably has 2,414 yards over the past two seasons, sixth-most in the NFL behind Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Wallace and Wes Welker.

Playing with a long list of sub-mediocre quarterbacks surely contributed to Lloyd's disappointing first seven seasons. Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, J.T. O'Sullivan, Cody Pickett and Chris Weinke were among the starters while Lloyd was with San Francisco through 2005. Jason Campbell, Mark Brunell and Todd Collins were the starters when Lloyd was with Washington.

Lloyd's two-year run of production has come with Josh McDaniels as head coach (in Denver) or offensive coordinator (in St. Louis). McDaniels is now in New England, but if Lloyd is going to follow him there, it will be after first giving the 49ers a look.

Michael Crabtree and the newly signed Randy Moss are the top two receivers on the 49ers' roster. Josh Morgan agreed to terms with Washington. Ted Ginn Jr. is testing the market and reportedly plans to visit the Detroit Lions.

Lloyd's reputation in San Francisco as an immature player unconcerned with winning appears outdated. He is now 30 years old and meeting expectations. The 49ers have largely new leadership, creating the opportunity for a fresh start.

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Peyton Manning drove much of the discussion for the most recent NFC West chat. I've featured items on other subjects below, capped by a one regarding the San Francisco 49ers' apparent decision to stick with Alex Smith instead of considering Manning.

Full chat transcript here. Highlights below.
Roland from Winnipeg asks whether the St. Louis Rams would pursue Mike Wallace in restricted free agency if they traded down in the draft and did not sign Vincent Jackson.

Mike Sando: That would be a lot to give up. Wallace would have to get a fat contract. He would be a terrific addition, but how badly would he want to play for a rebuilding team at this point? The money would have to be off the charts, and then the Rams would be parting with such a high pick. The Steelers drafted Wallace in the third round. The Rams need to draft their own Wallaces at some point. That is why they hired Les Snead. He needs to find those types of players.

Northwest Guy from Gig Harbor, Wash., asks for my thoughts on the Marshawn Lynch contract with Seattle. He thinks it favors the team.

Mike Sando: The franchise tag hung over his deal and compromised his bargaining position. That allowed the Seahawks to sign him at a reasonable rate. He was never going to hit the market. He got what he could get, which means he got what he was worth under the circumstances.

Trev from Portland, Ore., says the Cardinals are best positioned land Manning because for reasons consisting of an indoor stadium, grass field, weather, receivers, running backs, staff (former Colts assistant Frank Reich), holding a mid-range draft pick available for a quality offensive tackle and having an extra 15 days for training camp in advance of the Hall of Fame game.

Mike Sando: You make good points. The mid-range draft choice isn't going to be a selling point, in my view. The Hall of Fame game does buy extra practice time, which Manning would value. I don't think 15 extra days of work would swing the deal, but if things did come together overall, that would be a plus. This division would get fun in a hurry with Manning playing for one of its teams, particularly with the 49ers deciding to stay the course.

Chris from Fairfield, Calif., realized in retrospect that San Francisco knew what it was doing when it opted to sign Carlos Rogers instead of Nnamdi Asomugha last offseason. He is now inclined to trust the 49ers as they appear likely to stick with Smith over Manning.

Mike Sando: The 49ers built up what Jim Harbaugh called a lot of "equity" with Alex Smith and other players. Bringing in Manning would change the entire team dynamic, a dynamic the 49ers like very much. There is a risk in not going after him, but the 49ers do not see the payoff as worth the risk. They were already in the NFC Championship Game, a play or two away from the Super Bowl. They feel as though they have a good chance to remain on a similar level if they stay the course. Betting big on Manning introduces a level of risk that does not exist in their minds if they stay the course. I see both sides of it. Just not sure the fit with Manning and Jim Harbaugh would be all that great, either.

Thanks to @dubbacee and others for sending a reminder to post the chat highlights and link to the full transcript. That got away from me Thursday.
Mel Kiper Jr. is back Insider with his third 2012 NFL mock draft for the first round.

We discussed the previous one before the combine, summarizing Kiper's thoughts and supplementing them with my own.

This updated look works from Kiper's updated mock, beginning with the San Francisco 49ers, who hold the 30th overall choice.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Kiper's give: Hill set Indy ablaze, going sub-4.4 in the 40 while measuring 6-foot-4. San Francisco, meet the deep threat you've been looking for. It's no secret the 49ers need more out of their wide receivers, and Hill brings a new aspect to the table, with elite size and track speed to stretch defenses both for himself, and to open up things underneath.

Sando's take: Kiper went with another receiver, LSU's Rueben Randle, in this spot during his previous mock. Receiver is an obvious focal point for the 49ers, who have relatively few holes on their roster. The team will almost certainly address the position in free agency, buying flexibility in the draft. The goal should always be to enter a draft without feeling undue pressure to target any one position. Plucking Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh carries obvious appeal, but hitting on a draft choice provides better value than overspending for one from another team. The Steelers drafted Wallace with the 84th overall pick in the 2010 draft, 10 picks after the 49ers selected running back Glen Coffee, who retired after one season. Tis better to be right on draft day than forced to play catchup.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
12:00
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals

Key free agents: DE Calais Campbell (franchise tag), CB Richard Marshall, OLB Clark Haggans, WR Early Doucet, T Brandon Keith, G Deuce Lutui, K Jay Feely.

Where they stand: A strong finish to the 2011 season on defense gives the Cardinals a glass-half-full feel heading into free agency. Going from 1-6 to 8-8 was an impressive achievement. Arizona does have serious concerns on its offensive line. The situation at tackle is particularly questionable even if Levi Brown returns (and maybe especially if he returns, depending on your view). The line concerns might actually dissipate some if the team lands Peyton Manning, a quarterback with the ability to beat pressure with quick throws. But tackle is still an area that needs addressing for the long term. Injuries throughout the offensive backfield raise questions about that area as well. Kevin Kolb (concussion), Beanie Wells (knee), Ryan Williams (knee) and Anthony Sherman (ankle) missed extensive time or played at a diminished level for stretches.

What to expect: The Cardinals are one of the teams chasing Manning. That pursuit could consume them for the short term. Landing Manning would signal the end for Kolb in Arizona. The Cardinals have until March 17 to exercise a $7 million option on Kolb, the quarterback they acquired from Philadelphia for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a fat contract. I'm expecting a resolution to Manning's situation before the Kolb bonus comes due simply because interest in Manning should be high enough to accelerate the process. The Cardinals had about $3 million in salary-cap space entering the week, according to ESPN's John Clayton. That figure could increase substantially once the team releases Brown or reworks his contract. Arizona still has strong coaching ties to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball, but it's an upset if the Cardinals seriously pursue any of the aging veterans recently released by the Steelers. Developing young talent is the priority now. Re-signing Marshall, who fared well at corner, should be a priority. Does free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley still factor prominently into the team's plans, particularly at such a high price?

St. Louis Rams

Key free agents: WR Brandon Lloyd, G Jacob Bell, CB Justin King, OL Adam Goldberg, LB Chris Chamberlain, G Tony Wragge, TE Billy Bajema, WR Mark Clayton, DT Gary Gibson, P Donnie Jones.

Where they stand: The Rams have no interest in staying the course from a personnel standpoint after going 15-65 over the past five seasons. They will seek fresh talent almost across the board as Jeff Fisher's new coaching staff seeks players for its schemes. The Rams are seeking playmakers in particular, starting at wide receiver. The offensive line needs addressing, although the Rams might try to minimize the turnover at offensive tackle for the short term, figuring they cannot afford to create new needs. But former starting center Jason Brown, benched last season, appears unlikely to return. The team also needs two starting outside linebackers, starting defensive tackles and perhaps two starting cornerbacks on defense.

What to expect: Mass roster turnover. I could see the team retaining as few as one or two players from its list of 21 projected unrestricted free agents. The Rams have a disproportionate amount of their salary cap tied up in recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith. The rookie wage scale will provide them cap relief even if the team remains among the teams picking very high in the 2012 draft. Bradford and Long are cornerstones. Smith could stick around at a reduced rate. The team still has hope for him under new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Jason Jones, both free agents from Tennessee, have ties to Fisher and could make sense for the Rams. Despite the need for playmakers on offense, the Rams did not use the franchise tag on Lloyd, their most talented receiver. Questions persist about how effective Lloyd might be outside Josh McDaniels' offense.

San Francisco 49ers

Key free agents: QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Dashon Goldson (franchise tag), G Adam Snyder, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, FB Moran Norris, LB Blake Costanzo.

Where they stand: Coach Jim Harbaugh has said it's a bit unsettling heading through the offseason with his starting quarterback unsigned. Smith and the 49ers are expected to reach agreement eventually. This relationship will almost certainly continue even if Smith does reach free agency without a deal in place. Smith would not fit nearly as well anywhere else. Harbaugh likes to use the word "equity" when describing players he wants to keep. The 49ers would rather bring back Smith than invite the disruption that Manning would bring, were they able to land him. The team needs help at wide receiver and possibly cornerback, depending upon what happens with Rogers. Getting Goldson at the relatively reasonable franchise rate ($6.2 million) was a plus for the 49ers' continuity in the secondary.

What to expect: Not a whole lot, most likely. The 49ers were a good team last season after taking a low-keyed approach to the free-agent market. They will presumably show interest in Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace and any high-profile, productive receiver with the talent to upgrade their offense. It's a small upset if the 49ers land one of them, however, because their philosophy is built on a measured approach resistant to overpaying. They will have to address the receiver position in free agency one way or another, however. Re-signing Morgan would help. Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Plaxico Burress and Robert Meachem are among the other options in free agency. An upgrade at right guard would help the line, but the 49ers might be apt to develop 2011 draft choice Daniel Kilgore after investing first-round choices in their left tackle (Joe Staley), left guard (Mike Iupati) and right tackle (Anthony Davis).

Seattle Seahawks

Key free agents: DE Red Bryant, LB David Hawthorne, LB Leroy Hill, OL Paul McQuistan, DE Raheem Brock, DL Tony Hargrove, FB Michael Robinson, RB Justin Forsett, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Matt McCoy, TE John Carlson, LB Heath Farwell.

Where they stand: The Seahawks' long-term quarterback situation hangs over them as they head toward the 2012 draft with only the 12th overall choice. The team has built up the rest of its roster to a point where sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as the primary starter could hold back the team to a degree it did not through much of last season. Upgrading the pass rush is another priority for the Seahawks. With defensive end Raheem Brock publicly stumping for Seattle to land Manning, his former teammate, I couldn't help but wonder which one of them had a better shot at earning a roster spot with the team in 2012. It might be Manning, even if the Seahawks are relative long shots for his services. Brock failed to provide the pass-rush push Seattle needed opposite Chris Clemons. Linebacker is another position the Seahawks need to address, whether or not Hawthorne and Hill return.

What to expect: The Seahawks have roughly $30 million in cap space, according to Clayton, and will make every effort to land Manning. They feel they've got a shot as long as they can persuade him to get on a plane and check out what they have to offer in terms of the roster, coaching, facilities, ownership and more. If Manning goes elsewhere, I would expect the Seahawks to consider Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. Securing him at a price lower than what Arizona paid for Kolb would be the goal. As badly as the Seahawks want to upgrade the position, they have said they will not panic. Overpaying for Flynn could represent panic in their eyes. On the pass-rush front, I'm increasingly skeptical the team will shell out for Mario Williams. The price could be too high for a player Houston has decided to let hit the market. Re-signing Bryant is a priority, but using the franchise tag for him was never an option given the $10.6 million price. A deal slightly north of the one teammate Brandon Mebane signed seems likelier if Bryant returns.
Facebook friend Jonathan makes a simple request of the San Francisco 49ers: get Mike Wallace.

Wallace
Wallace
"How valuable could the 30th pick be?" he asks.

This is the most enticing argument for chasing after a young, talented restricted free agent such as Wallace, who might qualify as the best deep-threat receiver in the NFL. NFC West fans might remember Wallace's 95-yard touchdown reception against Arizona last season, or his 53-yard reception against Seattle, or his 46-yarder against St. Louis.

Wallace would give the 49ers the deep-threat wideout their rotation has been lacking.

A few considerations:
  • Price: The 49ers would have to pay Wallace enough for two things to happen. One, Wallace would have to sign an offer sheet, forcing the 49ers to outbid any other suitors. Two, the deal would need to be structured so that Pittsburgh would not match it. The 49ers would then have to send their first-round choice, 30th overall, to the Steelers.
  • Fit: The 49ers have carefully identified which players in their locker room to hold up as leaders. Patrick Willis, Joe Staley and Vernon Davis have gotten lucrative long-term deals. Justin Smith and Frank Gore have also been highly paid. Smith is the perfect example of a free agent from another team who was worth the investment. The 49ers would have to feel good about how Wallace would react to a payday. Signing him affects dynamics at the position, putting Wallace over Michael Crabtree and the other receivers.
  • The pick: It's easy to discount the value of that 30th choice because so many draft choices fail to pan out. But that is why teams employ personnel departments. The 2009 first round was largely disappointing, but the Green Bay Packers nonetheless landed B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews. Tennessee stood pat at No. 30 and drafted Kenny Britt, who averaged 17.5 yards per reception with 15 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury early last season. Niner fans will point to the 2004 draft, when San Francisco took receiver Rashaun Woods at No. 31. But a look at receivers drafted from the 28th through 32nd picks since 2001 shows Woods was more exception than rule. Hakeem Nicks, Britt, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Michael Jenkins and Reggie Wayne were the other receivers in that group.
  • The offense: Would the 49ers maximize their investment in a deep-threat receiver? Would Wallace open up their offense, taking them to another level? Or would the nature of the 49ers' approach and potential limitations at quarterback leave us wondering why Wallace's production had failed to carry over?

I'd have a hard time criticizing the 49ers if they made a strong play for Wallace. They need help at the position. Wallace is only 25 years old. Wallace is established and ascending.

It's true that receivers often disappoint, but very few in Wallace's position hit the market. The new labor agreement gives the best restricted free agents more freedom. This would seem to be a relatively low-risk proposition for the 49ers as long as Wallace's personality and work ethic checked out.

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