NFC West: Richard Seymour
SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-3 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday night:
What it means: The 49ers are making folks forget about their follies of losses to Seattle and to Indianapolis in Weeks 2 and 3. They were outscored 56-10 in those games. Since then, the 49ers have outscored the Rams and the Texans 69-14 and at 3-2 looking like a serious playoff threat. Sunday was a great all-around day for the 49ers. Not only did they dominate a strong AFC team, but Seattle lost to Indianapolis to fall to 4-1. So, the NFC West race just got tighter.
Stock Watch: Tramaine Brock has found himself a gig as the 49ers’ No. 3 cornerback. He played well last week against the Rams with Nnamdi Asomugha out with a knee injury. Sunday night, he had two interceptions, including one he returned 18 yards for a score on the first drive of the game. There is no way Asomugha is going to regain his job anytime soon. Brock is a keeper.
Another hit on defense: Standout defensive lineman Ray McDonald left with a biceps injury. If McDonald has to miss extended time, the 49ers will miss him dearly. They are already without starting nose tackle Ian Williams. Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial will be off the PUP soon. The 49ers have talked to free agent Richard Seymour and they could revisit talks if McDonald’s injury is serious. But Seymour wants a lot of money.
What’s next: The 49ers are navigating to the easier part of the schedule. They host Arizona on Sunday, then are at Tennessee and then play winless Jacksonville in London before the bye. Going from 1-2 to 6-2 at the halfway point is very feasible.
• CBS reported the 49ers reached out to free-agent defensive lineman Richard Seymour after pass-rusher Aldon Smith went to an alcohol treatment center nearly two weeks ago. But the report said the two sides could not come close to financial terms. Seymour would be a rotational player for the 49ers and they don’t have much cap room, so they’d likely not offer much.
• ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the government shutdown is delaying 49ers safety Donte Whitner from dropping the W in his name and becoming Donte Hitner. Whitner's lawyer has filed the paperwork in his home state of Ohio, but it cannot be processed until the government shutdown is over and federal employees are back to work.
Then, once they get back to work, the NFL expects it to take another six weeks for the paperwork to be filed with the league office. Plus, the league still has not decided if it would allow a player to change his legal name on a jersey in-season. Thus, it may take some time before the name change is reflected on his jersey.
Dorsey is a starting-quality player, but the 49ers are thin behind him. San Francisco will surely look to add at the position. But don’t expect any quick fixes. There might be some players on the street who can help, but none will be better than Dorsey. That’s fine. The 49ers just need depth there.
There is one available veteran who could potentially be attractive and that’s former Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour. He is best suited as a 3-4 defensive lineman.
But there are issues. Seymour will be 34 next month. His play has declined and there have been reports he is only interested in playing with a big contract. There is little chance the 49ers would break the bank for a player who would come in, need conditioning time and then just be a rotational player.
So, in the end, the 49ers will find someone, but don’t expect a major jolt here.
Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?
Arizona Cardinals: This was a tough assignment because I'm not of the mind that teams should rush out to sign free agents at inflated prices. In most cases, NFC West teams should let the market settle before striking. My first inclination for Arizona would have the Cardinals seeking to stabilize the quarterback position. Much depends upon whether Kevin Kolb remains in the picture. Kolb is due to receive a $2 million roster bonus March 17. Free agency begins five days earlier, potentially giving Arizona some time to decide upon its course. Indianapolis' Drew Stanton is a free agent and would come to Arizona already knowing the offense coach Bruce Arians is installing. Miami's Matt Moore was someone I thought might project as a solid backup with the potential to start if needed, but he re-signed with the Dolphins. Not that Stanton or Moore would excite anyone, but after watching John Skelton and Ryan Lindley struggle last season, the Cardinals need to get better at quarterback as soon as possible. They need options.
St. Louis Rams: The Rams would be well served finding a right tackle in free agency, knocking off a clear need before the draft. The big question, as usual, is whether the price would make sense. But after using 16 starters on the offensive line over the past two seasons, St. Louis could justify the investment. New England's Sebastian Vollmer or Minnesota's Phil Loadholt would give the Rams an imposing presence on that side of the line. Both are proven and young, an ideal combination. Last offseason, the Rams spent big for veteran center Scott Wells, with underwhelming results. Wells was 31 years old at the time. He struggled getting and staying healthy. He had played 111 regular-season games when St. Louis signed him. Vollmer (51) and Loadholt (63) have played 114 games between them. They've got fewer miles. In looking through the available tackles, I also noticed Sam Baker, who played left tackle for Atlanta when Rams line coach Paul Boudreau was with the Falcons. Baker has been hurt, however.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers could use depth along their defensive line and insurance for Justin Smith while the All-Pro end recovers from arm surgery. Oakland's Richard Seymour has the experience, versatility and talent to instantly upgrade the 49ers' rotation. Signing Seymour to a short-term deal would be the goal here. San Francisco could address the line further by re-signing its own free agents and targeting a future starter in the draft. Signing Seymour would be a shorter-term proposition as the 49ers attempt to maximize their championship window. The team would be buying time to acquire and develop longer-term solutions along the line. General manager Trent Baalke did recently say he thinks the team has adequate depth along its line. He suggested that coaching philosophy explained why the 49ers used such a limited rotation last season. Whatever the case, San Francisco could stand to add defensive linemen. I can't endorse signing Seymour to a lucrative deal, but if the 49ers could get good value, the move could make sense.
Seattle Seahawks: Again, there's no urgency to overspend early in the signing process. Seattle mostly needs to continue building through the draft. Targeting 49ers tight end Delanie Walker should appeal on a couple of levels, however. It would give the Seahawks a chance to weaken a division rival while helping their own offense and special teams. Walker matched or set career highs in receiving yards (344), receiving touchdowns (three) and yards per reception (16.4) last season. He's 28 years old and possesses versatility Seattle could use as the team continues to diversify its offense. Seattle has more pressing needs, of course. Defensive end is a position for the Seahawks to address while Chris Clemons recovers from knee surgery. I'm not sure the team should rush out to sign one of the older pass-rushing veterans such as John Abraham or Dwight Freeney. But if Seattle targeted a veteran pass-rusher early in the process, that would be defensible, too.
These are detailed looks at each team with sections on offensive and defensive philosophies, team needs and suggested free-agent additions.
For example, the section on the Rams' offensive philosophy gets into the types of routes the team likes to run and which ones they're interested in improving the most.
With that in mind, let's take a quick run through these Insider playbooks:
What struck me: Horton and Yates don't necessarily see a quick solution at quarterback. They do think the Cardinals might be wise to consider offensive tackle Jake Long in free agency. "Long's physical attributes have not diminished to the point where he can no longer be effective," they write, "and a change of scenery could help to rejuvenate his previously stellar career." Drafting a tackle would be cheaper. Signing Long and still drafting for the line would fulfill promises from general manager Steve Keim to make the offensive line a top priority. Levi Brown is still part of the equation. His five-year contract, signed less than one year ago and carrying $1.4 million in annual bonus proration, is scheduled to count $6.4 million against the cap. Brown has played right tackle in the past. Trying him at guard might be another option.
St. Louis Rams
What struck me: Horton and Yates list wide receiver over offensive line as the top team needs. The point they made about Chris Givens and Austin Pettis resonated. Givens became a big-play threat early last season. He showed an ability to catch a wider variety of passes as the season progressed and the team played without Danny Amendola. Pettis showed up in the red zone. But as Horton and Yates point out, "They are young guys who can't be counted on every down." I think the Rams were wise to withhold the franchise designation from Amendola because the $10 million-plus price tag was too high. It's tough to envision another team paying more for Amendola than the Rams would be willing to pay for him, namely because Amendola has been injured lately. So, if the Rams can re-sign Amendola, draft another wideout and continue to develop their younger options, including Brian Quick, they can make progress at the position.
San Francisco 49ers
What struck me: While there's broad consensus the 49ers will want to use the draft to supplement their defensive line, Horton and Yates see former Oakland and New England defensive lineman Richard Seymour as a good fit in free agency. Seymour is coming off a hamstring injury. That could lower his price on the market, which would be important. The 49ers already have $8 million in 2013 cap space committed to Justin Smith. How much could the team justify allocating to Seymour, possibly as a rotational player? Seymour had been playing better than 75 percent of the defensive snaps when healthy in recent seasons. He's 33 years old, same as Smith. The contract Seymour signed with Oakland is voiding, making him a free agent. His cap number was $8.8 million last season. It was scheduled to hit $19.1 million in 2013, but all parties had to know the Raiders would let the deal void before assuming that kind of charge.
What struck me: Horton and Yates, while noting that Seattle plans to use multiple tight ends frequently, did not list tight end among team needs this offseason. While Zach Miller has played well for Seattle, I think the team could use a second tight end to use in tandem. I wouldn't be surprised if the Seahawks drafted for the position relatively early, even with the 25th, 56th or 87th choices. Adding weapons for quarterback Russell Wilson makes sense. Miller's production as a receiver in the playoffs -- 12 receptions for 190 yards and a touchdown -- reinforced his status as a player the team should feature as Wilson continues to grow. While Miller has a $6.8 million salary and $11 million cap figure for the 2013 season -- big numbers for a player with 75 catches over three seasons -- Seattle has the flexibility to carry those charges. Miller's contract, like the one for receiver Sidney Rice, becomes easier on the cap in 2014.
On the surface, at least, the rest of the NFC West has to hope Arizona general manager Steve Keim is serious when he says the Cardinals would consider drafting a guard with the seventh overall choice in the 2013 NFL draft.
No NFL team has taken a guard among the top seven overall choices since the Kansas City Chiefs used the seventh pick of the 1986 draft for West Virginia guard Brian Jozwiak. Jozwiak started three games in three seasons before suffering a career-ending hip injury.
Some of the tackles drafted among the top seven overall choices have transitioned to guard in the NFL. The Cardinals used the second pick of the 2001 draft for Leonard Davis, who had played tackle in college. They moved him to guard, with so-so results. Davis went to Pro Bowls years later with Dallas.
Michael Vick was the first overall choice in that 2001 draft. Justin Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson and Richard Seymour joined Davis among the top six overall choices. Each would have brought more value to the Cardinals than even a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, in my view. Steve Hutchinson, drafted 17th overall by Seattle, was the best guard in that 2001 class.
As the chart shows, teams rarely draft college guards among the top seven picks. That is because teams value other positions higher than they value guard. Teams figure even a great guard isn't going to help the team as much as a very good player at many other positions.
"If you think he is a Pro Bowl guard, how high is too high?" Keim said in explaining his reasoning. "If you're convinced that player is a Pro Bowl talent and an elite type player, you take him and don't look back. People say that's too high to take a guard or take a tight end. But I don’t subscribe to that theory."
The Cardinals have used free agency to target guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder in recent offseasons.
Division-rival San Francisco used the sixth pick of the 2006 draft for tight end Vernon Davis, who has grown into a very good player. Arizona used the 10th pick that year for quarterback Matt Leinart. In that case, drafting a tight end would have made more sense than drafting a quarterback. I think that is one of the points Keim is addressing. He'd rather have a Pro Bowl guard than a disappointing player at a position of greater value.
That is a reasonable position to take. Still, all else equal, the Cardinals would be better off getting a good player at a position of greater value. Their NFC West rivals would have an easier time preparing to face a top guard than they would have preparing for a top player at most other positions.
1. Progress on offense. The 49ers opened the game with a 16-play drive to the Oakland 2. Their first four drives in the preseason opener totaled 12 plays. That is progress. Alex Smith completed 8 of 13 passes for 126 yards and one interception. He made good use of timing throws to beat pressure early in the game, another improvement. One pass for Vernon Davis on a quick slant drew a pass-interference penalty. Another found Braylon Edwards after the 6-foot-3 receiver pushed off without officials noticing. On the down side, Smith didn't see Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy dropping into coverage on a third-and-8 play. Schaughnessy picked off Smith's pass intended for Davis, killing the 49ers' second drive. The highlight for Smith and San Francisco: Edwards' one-handed, diving grab for a 32-yard gain. Overall, the 49ers can feel better about how their offense is performing.
2. More Aldon Smith. The 49ers' rookie first-round draft choice worked with the starters late in the first half. Before that, Smith affected the game without even being on the field. His presence on the roster and strong showing in the first preseason game gave the man ahead of him on the depth chart, Parys Haralson, ample incentive. Haralson stood out early in the game, including when he brought down Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell for a fourth-down sack in the red zone. Once Campbell left the game injured, backup Trent Edwards threw an interception into double coverage even though Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer locked down Smith on the play. Early in the third quarter, Smith fought off Raiders tight end Brandon Myers to make a tackle against the run. Later, Smith beat backup left tackle Seth Wand to the inside, pressuring Kyle Boller into an incomplete pass on third-and-7.
3. Right guard Chilo Rachal. The 49ers are seeking better consistency from their right guard. They got it during a 16-play drive to open the game. Rachal caught my attention early by peeling off his original man, Richard Seymour, to pick up Tommy Kelly. Rachal's awareness on the third-down play allowed Smith to find Davis for a reception past the first-down marker. Later in the drive, Rachal pulled to the right and impeded Jerome Boyd just long enough for Anthony Dixon to reach the corner for a 12-yard gain on second-and-10. As the drive wound down, Rachal trapped Shaughnessy to free Frank Gore for a 4-yard gain to the 2. On the 49ers' second drive, Rachal strung out Kelly long enough for Dixon to cut back and knife into the secondary for a 9-yard gain. The 49ers ran the ball almost at will and Rachal did his part from what I could tell. His replacement, Tony Wragge, helped spring Kendall Hunter for a 53-yard touchdown run.
Starters Robert Gallery, Michael Bush and Richard Seymour will not play for the Oakland Raiders. Gallery's absence weakens an already suspect offensive line. Bush, who would share time with Darren McFadden, remains sidelined. Seymour is the most established player on the Raiders' defensive line.
The Rams will be without starting defensive tackle Clifton Ryan, who did not make the trip after experiencing migraine headaches.
Inactive for Oakland: Walter McFadden, Hiram Eugene, Travis Goethel, Chaz Schilens, Seymour, Gallery and Bush. Former Rams backup Kyle Boller is the third quarterback.
The Rams released third quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to help them juggle injury issues in the secondary. Cornerbacks Justin King and Kevin Dockery are inactive, as are Fendi Onobun, Chris Chamberlain, Brandon Gibson, John Greco, Michael Hoomanawanui and Ryan.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:
Derek Anderson in perspective. The Arizona Cardinals' trip to Atlanta marks homecomings for coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett. The challenge is clear. Arizona finds itself on the wrong end of another team's home opener for the second week in a row, this time against a better opponent. Quarterback Derek Anderson probably needs to show more consistent accuracy for the Cardinals to defeat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. The rest of us could also use a little more accuracy at times. For as erratic as Anderson appeared when throwing eight consecutive incomplete passes in Week 1, his 85.1 passer rating for the game was better than eight of the 17 regular-season and postseason ratings posted by a certain now-retired Cardinals quarterback last season. Kurt Warner posted nine ratings between 100.8 and 154.1 last season. His ratings in the remaining eight games ranged between 44.9 and 79.2. Anderson might never play like Warner when Warner was hot. He could potentially be more consistent from game to game. At the very least, we shouldn't measure him against the very best Warner offered without giving at least some consideration to those other eight games.
The Jeremy Bates Show. Alex Gibbs' abrupt departure as the Seattle Seahawks' offensive line coach one week before the season left me thinking the team's offensive line might suffer an implosion reminiscent of 2009, particularly with rookie left tackle Russell Okung sidelined by injury. That might still happen, but it seems less likely after Bates, the Seahawks' offensive coordinator, put together such a successful plan against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. Protection issues weren't an overriding problem. As much as the Seahawks respected and valued Gibbs, they've shrugged off his departure as if they weren't counting on him to be around that long anyway. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck keeps crediting Bates by name when answering questions about the offense. In retrospect, Bates was the most important hire coach Pete Carroll made for his offensive staff. The early results appear promising. Bates, a coaching grinder known to sleep in the office, presumably will have a good plan for Denver, his former employer (the Broncos wanted to keep Bates after firing Mike Shanahan, but it wasn't an ideal fit for Bates once the team hired Josh McDaniels).
Sam Bradford's first career victory. The Rams believe in Bradford, and they should. He's shown the starting job isn't too big for him. Now the Rams need to win a game with him. The Raiders aren't a particularly good team. They couldn't stop Vince Young from completing 76.5 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and a 142.8 rating. Like Young, Bradford benefits from having a top running back on his side. Steven Jackson is hungry. Coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams lamented missed opportunities following their 17-13 defeat against Arizona in the opener. Losing to the Raiders would count as another one.
Breaker-breaker one-Nine(r). The 49ers' communication problems are getting lots of attention, as they should. Any team should be able to communicate plays from its coordinator to the quarterback without inducing panic. Let's not lose sight of the fact that San Francisco lost its opener because the team didn't block, tackle, throw, catch and cover well enough. I'm expecting better from the 49ers against the Super Bowl champions on Monday night. Largely the same 49ers team led the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts on the road in the fourth quarter last season. Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis are cashing fatter checks after signing long-term extensions during the offseason. Safety Dashon Goldson wants one, too. Alex Smith is playing for his career this season. Time for those guys to produce.
The Rams take Sam Bradford first. The Lions and Bucs go with defensive tackles. The Redskins take an offensive tackle.
That leaves Kansas City as a pivotal wild card at No. 5, one pick before Seattle.
If the Chiefs take a tackle and Seattle also wants one, the Seahawks would have to weigh whether to use the sixth overall choice on what could be their third-rated tackle. Under this scenario, the Seahawks would have better options if Kansas City drafted for defense.
What might the Chiefs do?
Their general manager, Scott Pioli, has a close association with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, leading to speculation that the Chiefs could draft Hawkeyes tackle Bryan Bulaga. Perhaps not. A chat question from Taylor in Salt Lake City offered an opportunity to address Pioli's draft history -- more specifically, the draft histories of his teams. My answer:
I think KC goes defense. I was looking at the picks Scott Pioli's teams have made since he entered the NFL and noticed this: His teams have taken nine players in the top 13 overall picks and seven were defensive players, including five from the SEC. Four were defensive linemen and three of those were from the SEC. I think they go with Eric Berry if available. Then Seattle could probably get the second tackle. I'm thinking it would be Williams or Okung. It's a guessing game with the tackles that early, to an extent.
Pioli's teams have drafted seven players among the top 13 since 2000. All seven played defense: Tyson Jackson, Richard Seymour, Jerod Mayo, Shaun Ellis, John Abraham and Ty Warren. That gives us a pretty good feel for how things might play out (even if the Chiefs do not take Berry, a safety).
That is something I wouldn't have expected to happen.
Long did show improvement. Getting 5.0 sacks doesn't make him a dynamic pass-rusher, but the figure puts him in decent company.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Egravning from Santa Monica writes: This might seem like an out-of-division comment, but trust me, if you root for the Rams, you hate the Patriots, and if you root for the Seahawks, you hate the Raiders. So, what do you make of this trade between the Patriots and the Raiders? I mean, an aging vet, Richard Seymour, for a 2011 first-round pick? And the Raiders are such a poorly run organization, we can almost assume that the Patriots will land a Top 5 guy. This is ridiculous!
There's no underestimating what Al Davis has contributed to the world of football, but it's time to take away the keys. The NFL needs to institute a fantasy-league rule whereby other owners can veto a trade. Davis has lost his mind, and competitive balance is at stake here.
Mike Sando: That's a fun idea. Can you imagine the hostility that would create within the league if, say, the 49ers cast the deciding vote to block, say, the Cardinals from acquiring a player considered key to Arizona's success?
Regarding Al Davis, I've met Raiders fans who also feel he has lost the edge. While I do not know Davis, I did speak with him informally at the league meetings. He was physically frail, but mentally sharp. At least that was the impression I got. I was among several reporters kidding with him about paying all that money to Nnamdi Asomugha. Davis joked about how he was catching grief from "the great Willie Brown" -- the Raiders Hall of Famer who never made anywhere close to what Asomugha is making.
After several minutes, Davis asked each reporter to introduce himself. He shook each of our hands. The last reporter worked for the rival Chargers' Web site. Davis, upon learning this, withdrew his hand and said, "We'll see you in the opener." It was vintage Al and perfectly hilarious, evidence to me that his mind remained nimble. Remember, too, that people were saying the game had passed him by 10 years ago, before the Raiders returned to the Super bowl.
That doesn't mean Davis made the right move on Seymour. The move looks like a "win" for the Patriots and less promising for the Raiders. Seymour turns 30 in October and his contract expires after this season. The Raiders' recent draft record at the top hasn't been great, though, so perhaps a high pick in 2011 is less valuable to Oakland than even one good season from an excellent defensive lineman.
Josh from Richmond, Calif., writes: Gene Wojciechowski's predictions had the NFC West ending with 1-Seattle, 2-Arizona, 3-St. Louis, 4-San Francisco. I can respect Seattle bouncing back (it would be hard not to), I can see Arizona slipping a bit, I know St. Louis has a lot of room to do better than last year ... but San Francisco fourth? If San Francisco commits to the run and keeps the defense off the field, Shaun Hill won't have to throw more than 150 yards a game to win. It won't win them the division, but it should help them to finish ahead of the Rams (who will need to do a lot more than this to win some games) and possibly finish second. Your take?
Mike Sando: Gene had the Rams third and said he thought five or six victories would not be out of the question for them. He then ranked the 49ers below the Rams, implying San Francisco would win fewer games. I'm with you. The 49ers should learn how not to lose this season. I'm not sure they'll learn how to win, but they shouldn't throw away games the way they did last season. And I think that's enough for them to beat out the Rams.
|Best of the best: Michael Strahan, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Randy Moss.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Ranking the 25 best NFL players of the decade seemed easy.
AFC West blogger Bill Williamson sent an initial list to me for review. The list appeared strong. I suggested a couple minor tweaks.
The hard part came when we considered those who fell just short of the list.
Guard Alan Faneca has gone to eight Pro Bowls this decade. John Lynch and Will Shields went to seven. Brian Dawkins, La'Roi Glover, Kevin Mawae, Olin Kreutz, Matt Birk, Larry Allen, Chris Samuels and Zach Thomas went to six. Ronde Barber, Keith Brooking, Al Wilson, Julian Peterson, Donovan McNabb, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Chad Ochocinco were among those with five.
None of them made the top 25 list. Had all of them made it, only six spots would have remained for the 25 players you see in the chart.
We settled on five quarterbacks, four receivers, four offensive linemen, three linebackers, three defensive ends, two running backs, two safeties, one cornerback, one tight end and zero defensive tackles (few dominated consistently for extended periods).
Seven of 10 league MVPs this decade made the top 25. Marshall Faulk, Rich Gannon and 2003 co-MVP Steve McNair were the exceptions.
Ben Roethlisberger made the list despite only one career Pro Bowl appearance. It's not his fault Manning and Brady play in the same conference.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Fitzgerald: Seems like part of the curse is injuries, so I ask 'Moose' if the short off-season has any impact. 'I don't think so,' he says. 'We lost Steve Smith in Week 1 because somebody fell on his leg. Last year, somebody fell on Tom Brady's knee. Those injuries aren't about conditioning. Call it a jinx.' Well, that's the last thing I need. I'm on the cover of Madden, and we know how that goes.
Might Fitzgerald be jinxing the jinx by acknowledging it publicly?