NFC West: Pat McQuistan
First, though, let's take a quick look around the division.
- Cards' OL moves: Through injuries, misfortune and questionable planning, the Arizona Cardinals finished last season with offensive linemen D'Anthony Batiste and Pat McQuistan in their lineup. Neither is employed in the NFL at present even though each team is allowed to carry on its roster 90 players, 37 more than during the regular season. It's refreshing to see recent draft choices Nate Potter, Bobby Massie and Jonathan Cooper factoring along with 2007 first-rounder Levi Brown as coaches experiment with various combinations.
- Big names, small injuries: Reports suggest there's no reason to worry about seemingly minor injuries that recently sidelined Seattle Seahawks tight end Zach Miller and San Francisco 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin during practice. Those are two valuable veterans, however, so any time they miss practice, it's at least a note around here.
- Mangini watch: 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told reporters he hasn't talked football with new senior offensive consultant Eric Mangini, who built his reputation on the defensive side of the ball. Fangio: "We haven’t to this point, and right now he's knee-deep into the offensive side trying to learn our offense. So, it's nothing that’s been planned that that would happen. But, just sitting around the table eating lunch or something one day, you might have a conversation. But, that's not the intent."
Paris Lenon, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Snyder and Adrian Wilson each started at least 14 games last season before departing the roster. D'Anthony Batiste, an unrestricted free agent, started 10 games.
Quentin Groves, Beanie Wells, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and LaRod Stephens-Howling were part of a group of former Cardinals to start between five and seven games for Arizona last season.
Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Lindley, Pat McQuistan, Early Doucet, Greg Toler, Reagan Maui'a, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday and Todd Heap started between one and four games for the team before leaving the roster.
You get the point. The Cardinals have a new head coach and new general manager. They weren't very good on offense last season. Some of their players' contracts reflect what the team's previous leadership once thought of those players. They've become outdated. And so the Cardinals are turning over a pretty fair percentage of their roster by design.
They were also thinking about the NFC West.
"Our division is so physical," coach Bruce Arians told reporters Thursday night, "and the thing that sets San Francisco, Seattle, and now St. Louis also, apart is their offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage are extremely good."
It's not yet clear whether Cooper will play left guard or right guard for the long term. The Cardinals can use him against NFC West interior defensive lines featuring Brandon Mebane, Michael Brockers and Justin Smith in base and/or sub packages.
"We have to match that physicality on both sides of the ball," Arians said.
Daryn Colledge, Rex Hadnot, Deuce Lutui, Alan Faneca, Adam Snyder, Rich Ohrnberger and Pat McQuistan have started at guard for the Cardinals over the past three seasons.
The Cardinals see Cooper becoming a perennial Pro Bowl player. They embraced comparisons to Larry Allen, who was recently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He has a unique skill set, maybe one of the more athletic offensive linemen I've [scouted] in the 15 years I've been in the business," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "He has tremendous feet, bend, athleticism, space skills, and the ability to pull and play on the perimeter."
Keim is in his first season as the Cardinals' GM. He played on the offensive line at North Carolina State, potentially giving him special insight into the position.
Drafting a guard will never captivate the broader public, but evaluators with experience in line play can border on giddiness when they see a prospect as talented as Cooper. That was the sense in Tennessee when Titans coach Mike Munchak and line coach Bruce Matthews drafted Chance Warmack, the other highly rated guard in the 2013 draft. Munchak and Matthews were Hall of Fame linemen.
"I've known Munchak and Matthews since 1996," Paul Kuharsky wrote on the AFC South blog. "I can't recall ever seeing the two low-key, business-like football men beam quite so brightly. The glow they gave off at the news conference at the Titans' headquarters after making the 10th pick made me believe it when they said there was no question Warmack was their man early on -- something virtually every coach stated Thursday night."
The feeling had to be similar for Keim in Arizona.
"I think the question was first posed to me at the combine in Indianapolis of whether I thought No. 7 was too high to take an offensive guard," Keim said. "I think that we have our answer."
The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.
A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:
UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling
UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler
RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.
Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.
St. Louis Rams
UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams
UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh
RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.
Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.
San Francisco 49ers
UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker
UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga
RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.
Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.
UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale
UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant
UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell
RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.
Lynch is active for the game. Seattle named the following players inactive: Kregg Lumpkin, Byron Maxwell, John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Golden Tate, Jaye Howard and Greg Scruggs.
Moffitt was the starting right guard early in camp, but rookie J.R. Sweezy took over the job. Lemuel Jeanpierre is the primary backup at the interior offensive line spots. He started some last season.
Arizona named cornerback Greg Toler inactive. Others: Ryan Lindley, LaRon Byrd, William Powell, Jamaal Westerman, Senio Kelemete and Pat McQuistan.
The new starter, right guard Alex Boone, has been with the team since 2010.
This was by design. The 49ers have used first-round picks for three of their five starters on the line. They'll be looking for a jump in performance as they enter another season together.
"You look at guys around the league who have had success as an offensive line and a lot of times they’ve played together in the same system for a while," left tackle Joe Staley said from 49ers training camp. "You see that moreso on the offensive line than at any other position."
You don't see it much in the NFC West, at least outside the 49ers.
The chart shows offensive linemen for every NFC West team, sorting them by starters, reserves, practice-squad players and those placed on injured reserve. Asterisks identify linemen who started for their current teams last season. Seattle has seven such players after shuffling its line constantly last season.
The Cardinals have two key linemen on injured reserve, Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges. Two others, Blake DeChristopher and Ryan Bartholomew, landed there after being waived/injured.
I've shaded the backups to highlight depth. The backups for Arizona and San Francisco started zero NFL games last season. Seattle's backups combined for 26 starts, with each of the four starting at least three games. The Rams' Wayne Hunter started 16 games for the New York Jets. No other Rams backups started in 2011.
Rookie Rokevious Watkins projects as a likely starter for St. Louis -- if not now, then at some point -- after the team released Quinn Ojinnaka. How he plays this season could determine how seriously the Rams need to address left guard in free agency or the draft. The Rams could also consider drafting at least one tackle, at which point Rodger Saffold could become a candidate to move from left tackle to left guard. In the meantime, the Rams appear likely to continue combing the waiver wire.
Arizona, having already lost Brown, appears most vulnerable to injury. As it is, D'Anthony Batiste will be making his fifth career start and first at left tackle when Arizona faces Seattle in Week 1. Right tackle Bobby Massie is a rookie.
The 49ers could find themselves scrambling if one of their tackles were lost. Boone, the swing tackle last season, has moved into the lineup at guard. The team doesn't have another true tackle on its roster. Boone could move to tackle in a pinch, with Leonard Davis or Joe Looney stepping in at guard. Looney, a rookie coming off foot surgery, could project as a long-term starter at right guard. Boone will have something to say about that, however.
The Seahawks have options, particularly on the interior, after rookie J.R. Sweezy emerged as a surprise candidate at right guard. Incumbent starter John Moffitt can back up the three interior spots if he's not starting, as can Lemuel Jeanpierre. Former starting right tackle James Carpenter will become a candidate to start at left guard if his knee rehabilitation continues on schedule. He was expected to practice with the backups this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoThe Rams hold the second, 35th, 66th, 103rd, 138th, 176th and 211th choices in the 2009 draft. For perspective, I've singled out the last four players chosen in those spots.
Two of those players play for the Rams now: defensive end Chris Long, chosen second overall by the Rams last year, and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, chosen 66th overall by the Rams in 2005.
Going back one additional year would have shown Rams guard Jacob Bell as the 138th player chosen in 2004, by Tennessee.