NFC West: Rich McKay

The NFL has bigger things to worry about than reseeding the playoffs to prevent another division winner from qualifying with a losing record.

The Atlanta Falcons' Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, told reporters during a conference call Wednesday the issue could be losing support. As a result, the issue is off the agenda for the 2011 owners' meetings, which begin next week.

The Seattle Seahawks made history last season by winning the NFC West with a 7-9 record, the first team to ever win their division with a losing record. They earned a playoff berth while the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed the NFC postseason cut despite 10-6 records.

The Giants and Bucs had reason to be frustrated with their fates last season. Both teams defeated Seattle convincingly during the regular season. Both teams finished three games ahead of Seattle in the overall NFC standings.

My feeling, however, was that winning a division should still count for something significant -- a guaranteed home playoff game, in this case -- or else why have divisions at all? Also, why revamp the playoff system in reaction to something so historically rare?

It's a question that could beg for revisiting in the future. Realignment into four-team divisions has increased the likelihood that losing teams will prevail.

As noted last month, the NFL produced four losing teams within the division on four occasions between 1990 and 2001, the years immediately prior to realignment. Those divisions had more than four teams, however.

A look back at the "offending" divisions -- those with at least four losing teams -- from 1990 through this past season ...

The 2001 AFC Central featured the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and a Pittsburgh Steelers team that went 13-3 with Kordell Stewart at quarterback.

The 1997 San Francisco 49ers went 13-3, including 1-0 with Jim Druckenmiller as the starting quarterback. The rest of the NFC West that season? Not so good.
Eric Pegram and Bam Morris carried the rushing load for the 1995 AFC Central champion Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals went 7-9 that season despite getting 28 touchdown passes from Jeff Blake.

The 1990 Chicago Bears won the NFC Central with quarterback Jim Harbaugh posting a 10-4 starting record. Harbaugh finished that season with 10 touchdown passes and four more scores on the ground.

John from Gansevoort, N.Y., has no problem with the NFL Players Association encouraging college prospects to skip the televised draft proceedings during a lockout. He says those affiliated with ESPN who expressed views to the contrary are toeing the company line in the interests of enhanced television ratings.

Mike Sando: There's room for multiple views on this one, inside and outside ESPN. Most of the feedback I've heard from the outside lines up with the viewpoint I expressed. Several others used the mailbag to raise questions such as yours.

ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd supported the NFLPA on this issue during his show Tuesday morning. I was on the show and told him I had no issue with any college prospect deciding on his own to skip the event on principle. The NFLPA would seem petty, in my view, if it pressured prospects to stay away.

My general thought was that the draft should be bigger than a labor dispute. That seems reasonable.

The NFLPA has subsequently clarified its intentions, suggesting it could hold an alternate event for players after NFL teams make their selections. Let's see what they have in store.

Gregory from San Jose, Calif., thinks the NFL draft could be just fine without the top prospects in attendance. He could see them greeting their new teammates someplace off site. After all, he says, the players are the game, not the owners or the commissioner. Who cares about Rodger Goodell welcoming Cam Newton and posing for pictures?

Mike Sando: I'd enjoy watching draft prospects interact with their new teammates right away.

Alex from Philadelphia wants to know how much pressure I feel to "toe the company line" and he wonders whether I would be reluctant to express a viewpoint that "went directly against the fiduciary interests" of ESPN.

Mike Sando: I have felt no pressure, ever. I have never even thought of these issues in relation to what they might mean for ESPN. In retrospect, it stands to reason that the networks might favor an 18-game regular-season schedule and the opportunity to generate additional revenue. I'm completely against the 18-game schedule because I think it would dilute the product and put players -- quarterbacks in particular -- at additional risk.

Tom from Winnipeg thinks NFL owners are doing far more than the NFLPA to hurt players by attempting to extend the schedule, impose a rookie wage scale and skim additional revenue. He thinks there's nothing "petty" about the NFLPA "merely recommending" players skip the draft.

Mike Sando: I was advocating on behalf of the fans and the players because I thought the draft experience for both would suffer if college prospects skipped the draft.

This doesn't mean the NFLPA is wrong on other issues.

As I noted, "The NFLPA naturally wants to make life tougher for the league in big and small ways during the lockout. That is understandable, but urging players to avoid such a quintessential fan-friendly event would come off as yet another slap in the face for the people paying the bills."

This subject has dominated the mailbag in the last 24 hours or so, but there's room to discuss a football-related question. Here goes ...

John from Walla Walla, Wash., thinks the Seattle Seahawks have too many needs to stand pat in the draft. He thinks they need to trade down for more picks and he wonders about potential trading partners.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks hold the 25th overall choice. They have shown they're willing to deal with just about anyone. Take a look at the seven teams picking right after Seattle in the first round and you'll see the possibilities:
  • No. 26: Baltimore. The Seahawks and Ravens swung a trade involving Josh Wilson last season.
  • No. 27: Atlanta. Seahawks executive John Idzik worked with Falcons executive Rich McKay in Tampa Bay. Neither makes the personnel decisions, but at least there's a connection.
  • No. 28: New England. The Patriots and Seahawks made the Deion Branch trade last season.
  • No. 29: Chicago. Former Seahawks president Tim Ruskell works for the Bears now. He worked some current members of Seattle's personnel team.
  • No. 30: New York Jets. The Seahawks and Jets made the Leon Washington trade during the 2010 draft.
  • No. 31: Green Bay. Seahawks general manager John Schneider worked under Packers general manager Ted Thompson for years. They are close friends.
  • No. 32: Pittsburgh. No obvious connections stand out.

The Seahawks' front office has multiple ties to other teams around the league, from Tennessee to San Francisco to Cleveland and beyond.

We know Schneider and coach Pete Carroll aren't afraid to wheel and deal, but it's difficult to project what might happen. How the draft unfolds often dictates the urgency teams feel to move up. Without knowing how the draft will unfold, we cannot know how those pressures will affect trades.

In theory, yes, the Seahawks could use additional picks as they look to upgrade their roster. They are without a third-round choice. They have a long list of potential unrestricted free agents. They have much work to do, in other words, and the lockout could force them to rely more heavily on the draft in getting that work done.

I tend to think we'll have free agency at some point before the season, however.

Chat wrap: Discussing the big issues

December, 31, 2009
Thanks to those who dropped by the latest NFC West chat. The offseason mindset has arrived for some teams, leading to broader questions. Full transcript here. Highlights below:

Tre (Florida) : The Cards are in, the rest of us are done. So I'm not going to talk about the current season. Let's talk off-season. Do you think the 49ers have a legit chance at prying Oshiomogho Atogwe from the Rams? Also, I think this is the draft to trade down for extra picks with all of the talent. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: Oshiomogho Atogwe should be available in free agency as long as the labor situation allows him to become unrestricted. The Rams likely would not break the bank for a good-but-not-special safety. I do not think the 49ers will be big spenders for Atogwe's services, either. They have been focusing on building through the draft and taking care of their own guys.

OMAR (BALTIMORE, MARYLAND): Having watched every snap of the Alex Smith '09 season, there's definitely some promise and I think he doesn't get enough credit for doing a decent job. That being said, I think Sam Bradford is easily the best QB in the upcoming draft class and don't think he'll make it past the Niners' picks. Do you think Bradford is too good for the Niners to pass on should he fall that far despite o-line problems?

Mike Sando: The 49ers should absolutely consider taking Bradford if available, based on what scouts have told me about him. The 49ers do need options at the position. Good teams can find offensive linemen after the first round. The 49ers do need help for their offensive line, but they also have to recognize value when value is there. They did that in selecting Michael Crabtree (even though it set back their line). I would expect them to do it again with Bradford if they also thought he were a very good pro QB prospect.

Demitri (Redmond, WA): Tim Ruskell was known as a defensive talent evaluator. For our new GM, should we be looking for a more offensive talent evaluator since that was the gaping hole in the Ruskell draft era (sans Unger)?

Mike Sando: Ruskell seemed to pay more attention to how players fit on defense than how they fit on offense. I think that is a fair criticism of him. Deion Branch comes to mind. Julius Jones might be another example. The next GM needs to have more of a proven record building on both sides of the ball. Seattle pretty much took Rich McKay's advice in identifying Ruskell as a candidate. Ruskell did some good things. I think his addition played a key role in getting the team to the Super Bowl. But when you look at that Tampa personnel tree now, you see McKay toiling in obscurity, Jerry Angelo struggling in Chicago and Ruskell resigning during the season.

Adam (Atlanta): Do you think the Cardinals organization is really past its cheap, penny-pinching days of the past? Or do you think we'll see the real Bill Bidwill show up again with all of the impending contracts that need re-upping?

Mike Sando: The organization has spent some more money and I think it's clear the new stadium has played a role in that. The team is shelling out huge money for Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby and Adrian Wilson. A totally cheap owner would have let Dansby walk and waited to franchise Wilson. I think the Bidwills have earned some credit for making some of those moves. I also think your question has some merit. Let's see what they do with Ken Whisenhunt, the coaching staff and some of those key veteran players.

As I mentioned in concluding the chat, Happy New Year to all.