NFC West: Raheem Brock

Seattle's Clemons primed for Rams encore

September, 29, 2012
Seattle's Chris Clemons is coming off a four-sack first half against the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks' next opponent, St. Louis, noticed.

Rams fans should already be quite familiar with the veteran defensive end.

Clemons has a league-high 6.5 sacks against St. Louis since Seattle acquired him from Philadelphia for defensive end Darryl Tapp (Seattle also received a fourth-round choice as part of the deal). Clemons has collected five of those 6.5 sacks in the Edward Jones Dome, site of the Seahawks-Rams game Sunday. That included three sacks against the Rams in Week 11 last season, when Mark LeVoir was the Rams' left tackle on an emergency basis.

The chart shows sack leaders against St. Louis since 2010. Clemons appears to have a favorable matchup in Week 4.

Former Seahawks draft choice Wayne Hunter is the Rams' starting left tackle after the team lost Rodger Saffold to a knee injury. Hunter has been playing despite a knee injury of his own. He did not practice Friday and was listed as questionable on the injury report. The Rams also claimed tackle Joe Barksdale off waivers from Oakland.

Highlights and interpretations from coach Pete Carroll's news conference following the Seattle Seahawks' first practice of training camp Saturday:
  • Pass-rush thoughts. The Seahawks think their pass rush will be vastly improved with defensive end Bruce Irvin taking over Raheem Brock's old role opposite Chris Clemons in passing situations, and with Jason Jones rushing from the interior. Carroll: "Out of all of the aspects of our football team, I'm most excited about our potential to improve there." Perhaps it would be better for the team if Carroll were most excited about the possibilities at quarterback. Then again, Carroll is a defensive-minded head coach, so he might be inclined to think about defense first.
  • Proceeding with caution. The Seahawks, much like the Arizona Cardinals with Beanie Wells, are taking a conservative approach to rehab with one of their top offensive players. Receiver Sidney Rice is wearing a non-contact jersey in practice. The team has bet big on Rice and doesn't want to do anything to risk injury as Rice returns from surgeries on both shoulders. Carroll: "I just think he’s had enough that he’s been through that it warrants taking our time here and not rushing him back."
  • Closing the door: The law prohibits burial of the living, but Carroll broke out a figurative shovel when asked about recently released receiver Mike Williams. Carroll: "First off, it was just time to move on. Mike had come back and he had done some good things for us, and I just felt like it was time to just go ahead and move on. Mike had probably topped out what he was going to do for us at this place. Hopefully, he'll get another chance to do something somewhere else."
  • Forgotten contributors: Cornerback Walter Thurmond's return from a leg injury appears less important to the team now that the secondary has placed three starters in the Pro Bowl and a fourth, Richard Sherman, with similar ability. Carroll thinks Thurmond will need a month or longer to get back on the field. Carroll: "We think he’s unique on this team with his quickness and style; he’s a very aggressive kid. If he comes back to us in four weeks or six weeks whenever it is, when he does come back to us that can be a heck of a boost for us." Byron Maxwell is another nearly forgotten cornerback with the ability to make an impact, health permitting.
  • DUI fallout: Carroll shed no light on expectations for running back Marshawn Lynch, who could be subject to NFL discipline -- most likely a fine, possibly a suspension -- following a DUI arrest this offseason. The team doesn't know how the league might proceed. The NFL can act in the absence of a legal judgment, but that could be less likely in the absence of aggravating circumstances. And so the Seahawks wait.
  • Setting up the roster: Carroll pointed to new contracts for Lynch, Clemons, Red Bryant and Max Unger as a signal to the locker room that the organization will take care of productive players. Carroll: "We’re working really hard to have a really well structured roster, and if you guys take a look at it and look at the offensive side of the ball, how complete it is right now. There are not many question marks going forward contractually. We're very solid defensively, it’s very much the same. We’re committed to our guys and we want to demonstrate that whenever we can."

The Seahawks are holding their second camp practice Sunday at 10 a.m. PT.
Three-day NFL minicamps featuring no permissible contact aren't going to settle position battles. They're unlikely to set the tone for a season still three months away. They won't reveal where teams figure to stand in December.

I'm en route to the San Francisco 49ers' mandatory camp for veterans Tuesday in search of a better feel for the team five months after its appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Trips to the Arizona Cardinals (Wednesday), Seattle Seahawks (Thursday) and St. Louis Rams (extended training camp visit) await.

Once teams assemble on their practice fields, the focus invariably falls on those players present. These camps are also notable for the familiar faces, suddenly absent, that will soon fade from memory. For some longtime NFL vets, these camps are the beginning of the end. George Koonce's message about the difficult transition into retirement should resonate for them.

Some older free agents will surely catch on elsewhere. Some might re-sign with their most recent teams. Here's a quick look at four older 2011 contributors who remain unsigned as their former NFC West teams assemble this week:
  • 49ers: fullback Moran Norris (33). Norris suffered a broken fibula in Week 2 and did not return until a Week 14 game at Baltimore, when a concussion sidelined his replacement, Bruce Miller. Norris started two games and played in five, logging 10 percent of the 49ers' offensive snaps. Miller played three times as much and was also a key contributor on special teams. The 49ers are trying several non-fullbacks at the position this offseason. Norris became a free agent after the season.
  • Rams: defensive end James Hall (35). Hall had six sacks in 15 games, all starts, while playing about two-thirds of the defensive snaps last season. The team plans for 2011 first-round choice Robert Quinn to take over as the starter in Hall's spot on the right side. The Rams have become the youngest team in the NFL this offseason. They released Hall and former starting defensive tackle Fred Robbins as well.
  • Seahawks: defensive end Raheem Brock (34). Brock's playing time held steady at about 50 percent last season, but his sack production fell from nine to three. The Seahawks used their first-round choice, No. 15 overall, for defensive end Bruce Irvin. Irvin is expected to fill Brock's role this season. Brock became a free agent after the season.
  • Cardinals: outside linebacker Joey Porter (35). Porter collected one sack in six starts before knee problems forced him to the sideline. Rookie Sam Acho took over as the starter and showed considerable promise, finishing the season with seven sacks. The Cardinals placed Porter on injured reserve late in December. Porter became a free agent after the season.

My flight is landing shortly. More from 49ers camp as the day progresses. The team will not be off the practice field until around 5:30 p.m. PT.
NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

The St. Louis Rams in particular used the UFA signing period to get younger. The 12 UFAs they added (11) or re-signed (one) averaged 2.49 years younger than the 20 UFAs they lost (six) or have not re-signed (14). The gap was 1.39 years younger on average throughout the division. The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL, based on averages I maintain for every team in the league.

Some older UFAs never sign another NFL contract. They disappear from rosters and realize, perhaps a year or two later, that they've been retired.

The chart shows age differences for the 38 UFA players added or re-signed versus the 47 lost to other teams or still unsigned. According to the NFL, 143 UFAs changed teams across the league this offseason. Another 112 re-signed with their 2011 teams.

Unsigned players remain free to sign with another team, but the NFL will not count them as UFA signings. The distinction matters in part because only UFA additions and losses count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft choices. That formula relies heavily on player salaries. UFAs available this late in the process generally wouldn't command enough money to affect compensatory picks, anyway.

A quick look at which UFA players from NFC West teams did not sign or re-sign as UFAs:
The 27 unsigned UFAs from the NFC West average 31.38 years old, about 3.3 years older than the 22 UFAs signed from other teams.

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones was my choice for the Seattle Seahawks after trading down in the ESPN Blogger Mock Draft.

The long-armed pass-rusher seemed to represent good value with the 27th overall choice, acquired from New England in our mock.

The reality, of course, is that Seattle enters the NFL draft Thursday with the 12th overall choice, not the 27th pick. But in speaking with Steve Muench of Scouts Inc., Jones could be a logical consideration in that spot as well.

Sando: OK, Steve, you liked where San Francisco and Arizona stood in this draft. I'm sensing a trend here.

Muench: The Seahawks are in good shape, yes. The interesting thing about this draft is that Quinton Coples is going to drop. I think Coples or Chandler Jones would make sense for Seattle. The Seahawks are going to get an edge rusher and those guys are two of the bigger defensive ends/edge rushers in this class.

Sando: Right, but every time I speak with an NFL scout about Coples, the response is less than enthusiastic.

Muench: Some are concerned with his work ethic. From what I've seen on film, he's a hard worker. With everything that went on at North Carolina, if the kid had any inclination of being a troublemaker, it would have happened there. He was dominant at the Senior Bowl, by far the best defensive lineman there. I understand why people say, 'No, is he going to work.' They say where there is smoke, there is fire. I haven’t been able to find it.

Sando: It's interesting to me that you brought up Jones unsolicited. I had read a scouting report comparing him to Calais Campbell and pointing out Jones' extremely long arms. Right away, I thought Jones would appeal to Pete Carroll, who values players with what he describes as unique or unusual traits.

Muench: Jones is skyrocketing up boards. He didn't have a monster workout at the combine. I watched his 2010 and 2011 film, and you can clearly see him improving in terms of technique and off-the-field work ethic. He put on a lot of weight at Syracuse and it's good weight. Even though he is not as explosive as an Melvin Ingram or Fletcher Cox, he bends the edge, he’s flexible. Put him opposite Chris Clemons in pass-rushing situations and that would work for them.

Sando: The chart shows Seattle's sack leaders from last season. Clemons was the only one with more than four. The team signed Jason Jones to replace Anthony Hargrove. Raheem Brock is a free agent and not expected back. There's no question the team could use another defensive end with pass-rush ability.
Brock Huard, Mike Salk and I spent 13-14 minutes Thursday discussing where the Seattle Seahawks stand heading toward the 2012 NFL draft.

One question: Should the team focus on adding a front-line receiver to help new quarterback Matt Flynn, or should finding pass-rush help (and possibly linebacker help) stand as top priority?

I lean toward making pass-rush help a higher priority while the team finds out whether Flynn has the ability to maximize the existing weapons and make full use of additional ones.

The chart shows which players accounted for the Seahawks' 33 sacks last season.

Five of the players with at least 3.0 sacks are unsigned and/or will not return.

Anthony Hargrove has agreed to terms with Green Bay, Leroy Hill is unsigned and Raheem Brock is not expected back. Jason Jones, signed from Tennessee, should help pump up the numbers to a degree. But there's definitely room for another contributor.

Audio here.
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 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 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 notes that Marshawn Lynch will represent Seattle in the Madden cover contest.

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

March, 16, 2012
Michael Robinson's expected re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks would give the team a league-high four re-signings in the unrestricted free-agent market.

Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.

Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...

Seattle Seahawks

UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)

UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)

UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.

Arizona Cardinals

UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.

St. Louis Rams

UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.

The chart below shows a general overview.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
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.
The Seattle Seahawks' top priorities in free agency appear clear, at least when it comes to their own players.

Re-sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant.

Lynch's agent of record, Mike Sullivan, recently took a job with the Denver Broncos. That would not affect negotiations as much if Lynch remained with Octagon Worldwide. The agent game can be an unpredictable one, however. That is something to file away.

Bryant has said he strongly wants to re-sign with Seattle.

The charts below expand upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added offensive and defensive snap counts from ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows what players earned per year on their most recent contracts.

The second chart shows restricted free agents. Teams can retain rights to RFAs by making one-year qualifying offers.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Brock Huard, Mike Salk and I offered thoughts on Peyton Manning, the Super Bowl and the Seattle Seahawks' free agents during our discussion Thursday.

I was taking part in a chat and trying to track down Kurt Warner at the same time, but hopefully that wasn't too obvious. The audio has been discounted from free to freer.

Not having the Seahawks' list of free agents handy slowed my response at one point. Upon looking at the list, I would loosely prioritize the top 10 this way: Marshawn Lynch, Red Bryant, Breno Giacomini, Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne, Michael Robinson, John Carlson, Paul McQuistan, Heath Farwell and Raheem Brock.

Those are not necessarily the 10 best Seattle players headed for free agency. Justin Forsett would be on such a list. But with the Seahawks likely adding a bigger back to provide depth behind Lynch, Forsett could be the odd man out.

The Seahawks will presumably seek a younger replacement for Brock. Carlson might search for an opportunity elsewhere after the team signed Zach Miller to a long-term contract. Hawthorne would rank higher if healthy.

Chat wrap: Willis to return vs. Seahawks?

December, 22, 2011
Two memorable plays from the San Francisco 49ers' Patrick Willis came at the Seattle Seahawks' expense. One was an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown during an overtime victory at the former Qwest Field in 2008. Another was the rib-breaking hit he put on then-Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in 2009.

The 49ers could certainly use Willis against Seattle in Week 16, when Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks will try to snap two San Francisco streaks: 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher and 15 games without allowing a rushing touchdown.

Willis was back on the practice field Thursday for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 4. That information could be helpful in answering the question Dave from Pueblo, Colo., asked during the most recent NFC West chat, although I would expect the 49ers to proceed with caution regarding Willis.
Dave from Pueblo wanted to know the chances of Lynch rushing for 100 yards and/or scoring a touchdown on the ground. LeSean McCoy didn't get much going against the 49ers, Dave noted.

Mike Sando: I'd bet against the 100 yards and give Lynch an outside shot at a rushing touchdown. The 49ers' defensive front seven should -- repeat, should -- handle the Seahawks' offensive line. I do think the environment at CenturyLink Field, coupled with the Seahawks' strength on defense, could make this a tough game for the 49ers. And I think we've all seen that Lynch can break tackles. Lynch is also one of the very best in the NFL at scoring from near the goal line. It's no embarrassment if the 49ers allow a single rushing touchdown one of these weeks.

Rodney from Atlanta sees the St. Louis Rams finishing 2-14 and picking second overall in the draft. He asks whether the team should draft receiver Justin Blackmon, draft an offensive lineman or trade for additional picks.

Mike Sando: The trading-down scenario always appeals, and perhaps it's more feasible given the new salary structure atop the draft. This team has many needs, but quarterback is not currently one of them. That would give the Rams great flexibility to trade down. Short of that, I think they need people to make big plays: at the skill positions and on defense. They've taken offensive linemen early. The next coach and GM, should there be a change, needs to find those guys in the middle rounds.

Al from Wausau, Wis., asks whether John Skelton could challenge Kevin Kolb as the Arizona Cardinals' long-term starter, or whether Skelton projects as nothing more than a backup.

Mike Sando: Skelton looks like a good backup now, with a chance to develop into more. We're not close to the point, in my view, where the organization commits to him as its starter longer term. But Skelton needs to be part of the mix. And if that means saying he has a chance to compete for the job, fine.

Dugan from Spokane, Wash., asks how close the Seahawks are to fielding an "elite" defense and which position needs improvement the most.

Mike Sando: Close. The team needs additional pass-rush help. We see that in the diminished sack numbers for Raheem Brock. There is no No. 2 pass-rusher on this team. Chris Clemons needs help. They have a good foundation against the run, great size at corner and tremendous prospects at safety. If I were crafting a dream offseason scenario for the Seahawks, it might include: extending Red Bryant's contract, adding a veteran pass-rusher in free agency, hitting on another linebacker in the draft (as the case was with K.J. Wright) and getting Walter Thurmond healthy again. This assumes the first-round pick needs to be set aside for QB. If that is not the case, seek pass-rush help in the draft as well.

With the 49ers playing this past Monday night and all four division teams playing Saturday, the week seems to be flying by. That's a good thing. Very much looking forward to Saturday.

NFC West injury situations that matter

December, 14, 2011
Arizona: Kevin Kolb's concussion symptoms have cleared, allowing him to resume practicing with the team Wednesday. Kolb told reporters he plans to take things slowly at first, adding reps each day before starting against Cleveland. This news was about as good as the Cardinals could have expected. The Cardinals are relatively healthy overall. Free safety Kerry Rhodes, recovered from a broken foot, is practicing without limitation. It's unclear how the Cardinals will work him back into the secondary rotation. Strong safety Adrian Wilson and the defense in general are playing better now than when Rhodes was injured. Several other players are working through nagging injuries, including Beanie Wells (knee) and Clark Haggans (hamstring).

St. Louis: Quarterback Sam Bradford played hurt Monday night and continues paying the price. He did not practice Wednesday and told reporters the situation had gotten worse. Bradford is back in a walking boot. The team placed fullback Brit Miller on injured reserve. Tackle Mark LeVoir, defensive end James Hall, defensive end Chris Long, cornerback Josh Gordy, safety Craig Dahl and defensive lineman Eugene Sims missed practice, as did Bradford and backup quarterback A.J. Feeley. Injuries are preventing a struggling team from competing for a full game. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins, sidelined by back trouble against Seattle, did return on a limited basis.

San Francisco: The 49ers do not play until Monday night, pushing back by one day the requirement for publishing an injury report. Left tackle Joe Staley (concussion) and linebacker Patrick Willis (hamstring) are the two most important players likely to appear on the injury report. Staley or backup left tackle Alex Boone will not have to face suspended Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison. That will presumably help. Then again, the Steelers were 4-0 and had 13 sacks when Harrison missed four games earlier in the season. The team has not had more sacks in any four-game stretch. The season appears to be wearing on 49ers running back Frank Gore. His snaps were limited against Arizona and could be in the future.

Seattle: Linebacker Leroy Hill practiced fully Wednesday despite a neck injury, a good sign for Seattle given the team's depth issues at the position. Linebacker David Hawthorne rested his injured knee, no surprise. He's playing with an MCL injury that needs monitoring. Receiver Doug Baldwin (ankle), left guard Robert Gallery (hip), defensive end Raheem Brock (calf) and linebacker David Hawthorne (knee) did not practice. They were expected to play Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson remained a full participant in practice despite his pectoral injury. Jackson seems to be getting stronger.

Around the NFC West: Rams' QB options

December, 8, 2011
One starting quarterback in the NFC West has made it through 12 games without missing a snap to injury. That one quarterback is Alex Smith, who previously had started more than 10 games in a season just once, back in 2006.

Sam Bradford, who took every snap for St. Louis as a rookie in 2010, has already missed three games to an ankle injury this season. He could miss a fourth when the Rams visit Seattle on Monday night. Bradford's backup, A.J. Feeley, is expected to miss the game after suffering a thumb injury.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch runs through the Rams' contingency plans for the position. The team has added Kellen Clemens off waivers after signing Tom Brandstater to its 53-man roster, and Matt Gutierrez to its practice squad. Nelson: "Brandstater worked with the starters as the Rams began installing the game plan for Monday night's matchup in Seattle against the Seahawks. Bradford ran in the pool and on the stationary bike. Feeley still had swelling in his fractured thumb and was unable to grip the ball."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Feeley could miss more than one game. Thomas: "With rookie T.J. Yates now the starting quarterback, Texans coach Gary Kubiak cited the extensive NFL experience of Delhomme, 36, and Garcia, 41, in keeping them over Clemens. Between them, Delhomme and Garcia have 215 NFL regular-season starts and have thrown nearly 6,700 regular-season passes. In comparison, Clemens has only nine NFL starts and 284 regular-season passes, all as a member of the New York Jets. That may pale in comparison to Delhomme and Garcia, but from where the Rams sit, Clemens is an NFL graybeard compared to Brandstater."

Matt Maiocco of expects Alex Smith to return to the 49ers next season after playing under a one-year deal in 2011. Maiocco: "The 49ers will not have make Smith among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. Early speculation around the league is that the 49ers could re-sign Smith to a two- or three-year contract for $8 million to $11 million annually. It's possible that Jim Harbaugh and his staff had no idea that Smith would be as efficient this season as he has turned out. But working with him every day, there is a belief that Smith can get better and the passing game can continue to improve."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers use offensive plays rarely seen in the NFL. Branch: "In last week's 26-0 win over the Rams, 49ers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. ran the fly sweep for the third time this season. Running in motion at close to full speed from the left side of the formation, Ginn ran behind quarterback Alex Smith, who took the snap, pivoted to his left and, in one seamless motion, handed off to Ginn. Smith then faked a handoff to Frank Gore, lined up on the left, attracting the defense's attention to that side. The result? A 16-yard gain around right end. The play has been just as effective when run in the other direction. Ginn had run the fly sweep at Glenville (Ohio) High School and at Ohio State, but he'd never run the play in his five-year NFL career until he sprinted 24 yards in a 48-3 win against Tampa Bay on Oct. 9. Smith, a seven-year veteran, hadn't called a fly sweep since he played at Utah."

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes a doctor for insight on when Patrick Willis might return from a Grade 2 hamstring injury. Lynch: "A wide window would be 3-6 weeks in recovery time for Willis. However, he cautioned that hamstring injuries can be 'frustrating' because of the propensity for re-injury."

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along Steve Young's recent radio comments regarding prospects for the 49ers' offense. Young: "I’d love to see some no-huddle. I’d love to see something that felt like, 'Man, we’re behind by 14, what do we do?' Just kind of react as if it was happening. I think you've got to test the boundaries of what the offense can do because at some point if you're going to win deep into January, you figure you’re going to be tested that way, so why not kind of practice that? Maybe open up the game in no-huddle. Maybe give Alex a little more ability to throw the ball downfield."

Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus ranks the Seahawks' offensive line last overall in a ranking of 32 lines across the league. Elsayed: "The Seahawks opted to get some rookies some experience when it was clear the veterans in their way offered no long-term prospects. It resulted in a combined grade of minus-47.3 on the right side of their line as neither James Carpenter nor John Moffit were ready to start in the NFL. Perhaps more worrying is the play of Russell Okung, who while not terrible, didn’t have quite the year we expected after a good rookie year." Noted: Okung seemed to be improving over the last several weeks. He was trending in the right direction. He'll spend the final four games with Carpenter and Moffitt on injured reserve, a setback for the line's development.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle thinks Robert Griffin III would make sense for Seattle in the upcoming draft.

Clare Farnsworth of says the team is getting solid play from linebacker Leroy Hill.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says defensive end Raheem Brock faces DUI charges stemming from his arrest last year.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the Seahawks' improved young depth along the offensive line.

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals' second-half rally and overtime victory over Dallas gave the team a needed boost. Urban: "Coach Ken Whisenhunt called Kevin Kolb’s play down the stretch 'progress' and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he was encouraged by the offensive rally and 'happy' for Kolb. Earlier in the season, Kolb and the Cards had the ball against the Redskins (Chansi Stuckey fumble), Seahawks (interception) and Giants (fourth-down incompletion) late in the fourth quarter with the chance to tie or take the lead. They couldn’t convert."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes, who is back at practice after suffering a broken foot earlier in the season. Somers: "The Cardinals replaced Rhodes with two players. Rashad Johnson moved into the starting lineup in the base defense. Cornerback Richard Marshall moved to safety in passing situations, replacing Johnson. There was a trickle-down effect, too. With Marshall at safety, cornerback Michael Adams became the nickel back, with A.J. Jefferson and Patrick Peterson playing the outside spots. It was a gamble the Cardinals were forced to take. Johnson, a third-round draft pick in 2009, had yet to prove himself. And Marshall, signed as a free agent before the season, was playing safety for the first time. The adjustments worked."

2011 Seahawks Week 7: Five observations

October, 25, 2011
Five things I noticed while watching the Seattle Seahawks during their 6-3 defeat to the Cleveland Browns in Week 7:
  • All's quiet against Joe Thomas. The Browns' Pro Bowl left tackle operated with quiet efficiency against a long list of Seattle defenders. Red Bryant, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, K.J. Wright and others went against Thomas without making much headway. Brock came closest to beating Thomas around the corner. Finding another pass-rusher to pair with Clemons will presumably be a priority for Seattle in the offseason.
  • Whitehurst had man open. The Seahawks settled for a field goal after having first-and-goal from the 9 and another first-and-goal from the 2 during a critical stretch late in the third quarter. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst threw away the ball on one play despite having tight end Cameron Morrah open in his field of vision. Pressure on the play forced the decision to throw away the ball, but in looking at the play, this appeared to be a missed opportunity. It seemed like a touch pass would have worked here.
  • Zach Miller badly, badly missed. With Miller sidelined by a concussion, John Carlson on injured reserve and Morrah just returning from injury, the Seahawks relied heavily on Anthony McCoy at tight end. They paid a high price. McCoy dropped multiple passes. He missed a blitzing Chris Gocong, leading to a sack. The Seahawks hope to get Miller back this week. They need him. The team's relative strength at wide receiver and depth issues at tight end show up in personnel charting. Seattle has run only 84 plays with two tight ends this season, the third-lowest total in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The rest of the league averages 143 such snaps.
  • Rough game for wideouts. Seattle's wide receivers had not dropped a single pass heading into this game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ben Obomanu and Doug Baldwin dropped passes Sunday. Throw in McCoy's two drops and Seattle suffered four in this game, one more than in the previous five games combined. Whitehurst targeted wide receivers 15 times, completing only four through a combination of errant throws and drops. Seattle had been much better in the passing game recently and I suspect they will be much better in the future. This was an unusually horrible game on that front.
  • Offensive line depth tested. The Seahawks have sought to upgrade their depth along the offensive line. They seem to be succeeding. Seattle went into this game with 24-year-old former undrafted free agent Lemuel Jeanpierre at center. Jeanpierre was making his first career start. His presence in the lineup wasn't a big deal going into the game or coming out of the game. That is a good sign. The Seahawks have been willing to continually churn their roster on the line. Tyler Polumbus was at least serviceable as a spot starter at tackle last season, but the team released him because Jarriel King, claimed off waivers from the New York Giants, has more upside. The team is also getting healthier up front, making it easier to carry fewer linemen on the roster.

It's looking like I'll be following the San Francisco 49ers quite a bit in the second half of the season. First, though, I'll be at CenturyLink Field for the Seahawks' game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8. Here's hoping the teams combine for more than nine points.