NFC West: Ricky Manning

Despite record, Rams made right changes

December, 4, 2009
12/04/09
12:01
PM ET
The Rams' offseason roster overhaul has failed to produce immediate improvement in the standings.

The natural question is whether the organization went too far in pushing out higher-priced veterans.

I suspected they might have gone too far when they released linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. I also thought they might have been premature in parting with Orlando Pace despite the tackle's steep salary and history of injuries.

The reality, though, is that the Rams got it right.

They have gone from being a bad, old team with significant salary-cap problems to being a bad, young team with a much brighter salary-cap future.

The younger players finding their way this season have a chance to help the team in the future. That wasn't the case in 2008, when losing got old, literally.

The Rams have the third-youngest roster in the league. They had the third-oldest last season. Their offense has moved the ball much better than I would have anticipated. A glaring lack of playmakers has turned the red zone into a dead zone, preventing the Rams from scoring enough points to compete on the scoreboard. But I think it's safe to say the Rams have the most promising young offensive line in the NFC West.

This team needs to find playmakers in the draft, plain and simple.

Kicking the Seahawks when they're down?

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
1:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kraig writes via Facebook: Sando, you pity the Rams, but you ridicule the Seahawks. You're a believer in the new 49er formula, although not always its execution. The Cards are an enigma, but undeniably talented. Interesting. But kicking the Seahawks when they're down is starting to stand out. What gives?

Mike Sando: Expectations frame the analysis. The Rams were a 2-14 team rebuilding. They parted with Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey, Brett Romberg, Chris Draft and others. This was a total roster overhaul. I thought the Rams might have gone too far with a couple of these moves, but once the moves were made, the expectations were set accordingly.

With a new head coach and a younger roster, the Rams were going to struggle for a while. I thought 0-7 was likely and said so on the blog. The fact that the Rams are 0-6 is bad, but not a shock. It's Year 1 of a total rebuild. The Seahawks did not see themselves in the same light. Holding them to the same standard as the Rams would have been a bigger insult to the Seahawks than holding them accountable as I have tried to do.

Seattle thought injuries were pretty much to blame for a 4-12 record. The team thought Walter Jones would be fine this season. The team thought depth at tackle would be fine after re-signing Ray Willis. I thought the team needed to do more to shore up the position. Sean Locklear had missed a few games in the past, Willis has had knee issues and Jones was coming off surgery at age 35. I questioned whether the team could stay healthy in predicting a 7-9 record when schedules came out, upgrading the outlook slightly when Matt Hasselbeck seemed to pass a few injury-related milestones.

The outlook for Seattle darkens when we consider advanced ages for some of these injured players. Jones and Patrick Kerney are into their 30s. Both needed to play at a high level for Seattle to succeed. The fact that both are dealing with injury problems should surprise nobody. It was entirely predictable even if there was a chance both might beat the odds.

I think it's an even worse sign for Seattle if we start judging them with the same standards applied to the Rams. It's not that bad.

NFC West training camp preview

July, 24, 2009
7/24/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals

Division Camp Previews
Tuesday: NFC North | AFC North
Wednesday: NFC East | AFC East
Thursday: NFC South | AFC South
Friday: NFC West | AFC West

MORE
Camp battles: AFC | NFC

Schedule: Training camp dates
Training camp site: Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, Ariz.)

Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.

Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.

Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.

 
  Jeff Mills/Icon SMI
  Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?

Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?

The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.

Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.

Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.

Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.

Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?

Money men: Key players Karlos Dansby, Anquan Boldin and Darnell Dockett want lucrative long-term deals.

Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.

While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.


San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
 
  Kyle Terada/US Presswire
  Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?

Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.

The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.

On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.

Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.

The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.

Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.

Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.

On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.

That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.

Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.


Seattle Seahawks

 
  Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
  The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.

Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)

Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.

Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.

Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season. If S
pencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.

Camp will be a downer if  ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization. 

Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.

Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.

Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.

Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.


St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)

 
  G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)
  Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?

Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.

Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.

None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.

Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.

Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them. 

Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.

The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.

Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers rookie Alex Boone has pledged to keep a low profile socially, to better avoid the type of drunken mayhem that affected his draft stock. Boone: "I'm 22 years old. All you want to do after practice is go out and have fun and relax and stuff like that. But the truth is, I am really just not into it anymore. ... This is a job for me right now and I have to do what's best. I like to go home, lay down, watch some TV and go to bed. That's my daily plan. That's easy."

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the relationship between 49ers running backs Frank Gore and Moran Norris. "He's like a brother to me," Norris says.

The San Francisco Chronicle questions the 49ers' stadium plan by saying the $79 million in proposed public financing doesn't include $35 million from a proposed hotel tax. I thought the $114 million figure was well known.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers rookie Kory Sheets is still adjusting to the complexities of an NFL playbook.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Ben Patrick's four-game suspension hurts his chances for building on the Cardinals' appearance in Super Bowl XLIII. Somers: "He caught a TD pass in the Super Bowl and looked good in off-season workouts. Under the policy, he will be able to participate in training camp but the suspension will start the day the regular 53-man roster is set. The Cardinals have five other tight ends on the roster, signing Anthony Becht and Dominique Byrd this off-season. Leonard Pope has starting experiences, as does Stephen Spach, who is coming off ACL surgery. Alex Shor spent most of last year on the practice squad."

Also from Somers: contract details for some of the Cardinals' rookies.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sizes up Patrick's suspension this way: "It's the latest hit for Patrick, the 2007 seventh-round pick who had been hoping to use his touchdown catch in the Super Bowl as a jumping-off point to win the starting job for the Cards' nebulous tight end situation. Patrick's 2008 season was tumultuous because of various nagging injuries."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at how Colin Cole's addition to the Seahawks' defensive line affects Brandon Mebane. Coach Jim Mora says Mebane should be more effective as a three-technique tackle. Mora explains why: "His explosiveness off the ball, his first step. His ability to get up the field in the run game. He's got some pass-rush ability. He'll spend less time on double teams at that position. He can be more disruptive. They call him a dancing bear. He's got initial quickness, he's got quick feet and that's what you're looking for at that position."

Peter King of SI.com checks in with Mora and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. King: "I asked Mora for a couple of defensive players who'd stood out in the offseason, and he said Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson. Both defensive ends. Both former high picks. So maybe there will be less pressure on [Aaron] Curry to be a 12-sack guy if these bookend ends emerge and if Patrick Kerney can stay healthy and give Seattle the production he's used to giving." Twelve sacks for Curry sounds like a two- or three-year total.

Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says the team is expected to hold its first practice of training camp July 31.

John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Owen Schmitt's rookie season in Seattle. Morgan: "He has a couple troubling snags. His blitz awareness is weak. He's a bit stiff, especially at or near full speed. I don't think he'll develop into a great receiver. The most important of those three, his blitz awareness, should develop, and though I'm not fond of punting receiving ability at any skill position, [Greg] Knapp doesn't pass to his fullbacks, and Knapp is the man calling plays." An assistant coach for another team told me he questioned whether Schmitt had the lateral movement required to pick up blitzes from various angles.

VanRam of Turf Show Times sees few options for the Rams among the lists of available free agents. Quite a few of those available players were with the Rams last season. Among them: Gary Stills, Dante Hall, Ricky Manning, Rob Petitti, Travis Minor, Jason Craft, Fakhir Brown, Cory Withrow, Anthony Davis, Dane Looker and the presumably retiring La'Roi Glover.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Notable Rams to Leave Roster in 2009
Pos. How Departed Roster
Torry Holt
WR Cut
Orlando Pace
OL Cut
Drew Bennett
WR Cut
Trent Green
QB Cut
Anthony Becht
TE Cut
Corey Chavous
SS Cut
Pisa Tinoisamoa
LB Cut
Brian Leonard
RB Trade/Bengals
Gary Stills
LB UFA/unsigned
Jason Craft
CB UFA/unsigned
Ricky Manning
CB UFA/unsigned
Fakhir Brown
CB UFA/unsigned
La'Roi Glover
DT UFA/unsigned
Dane Looker
WR UFA/unsigned
Travis Minor
RB UFA/unsigned
Dante Hall
WR UFA/unsigned
Cory Withrow
OL UFA/unsigned
Rob Petitti
OL UFA/unsigned
Anthony Davis
OL UFA/unsigned
Brandon Gorin
OL UFA/Broncos
Nick Leckey
OL UFA/Saints
Brett Romberg
OL UFA/Falcons

The Rams weren't an 8-8 team seeking a few tweaks to regain their footing. They needed a franchise overhaul after posting a 5-27 record over the past two seasons.

That overhaul has continued with Brian Leonard's trade to the Bengals on Thursday and Pisa Tinoisamoa's release Friday.

Changing over a roster means adding new players in key positions. Adding new players means losing existing ones, and the Rams have parted with quite a few this offseason.

The chart shows notable Rams players to leave the roster since general manager Billy Devaney spearheaded Steve Spagnuolo's hiring as head coach.

Some of the changes were difficult to miss. The releases of Torry Holt and Orlando Pace come to mind. Other changes have come via attrition. In this case, the Rams have decided against re-signing numerous unrestricted free agents. It's significant to note that quite a few of them remain unsigned.

The Rams could always re-sign a free agent or two as they set their roster for training camp. In most cases, however, the team appears eager to move on without them.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Roster Category
ARI SF STL SEA
Active Players
68 60 65 64
Franchise Players
1 0 1 1
UFA Offense
2 2 6 4
UFA Defense
0
1 5 1
UFA Specialists
0 0 0 1
UFA Re-signed
7
2 3 2
UFA Added
2 4 4 3
UFA Lost 5 7 3 7
Traded Away
0 0 0 1
Acquired by Trade
0 0 1 1
Net Gain/Loss
+4
-1
+5 -2

Tight end Sean Ryan's signing with Kansas City leaves the 49ers with three unrestricted free agents: Quarterback Jamie Martin, pass rusher Roderick Green and running back DeShaun Foster.

Consider that list an indication of how irrelevant unrestricted free agency becomes as the draft approaches.

A quick look at unsigned UFAs from each NFC West team:

Arizona (2): Guard Scott Peters and tight end Jerame Tuman.

San Francisco (3): Martin, Green and
Foster.

St. Louis (11): Linebacker Gary Stills, receiver Dante' Hall, cornerback Ricky Manning, tackle Rob Petitti, running back Travis Minor, cornerback Jason Craft, cornerback Fakhir Brown, center Cory Withrow, tackle Anthony Davis, receiver Dane Looker, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.

Seattle (6): Linebacker Wesly Mallard, guard Chris Gray, quarterback Charlie Frye, receiver Koren Robinson, center Steve McKinney, snapper Jeff Robinson.

I do not see priority free agents on those lists. Former Rams cornerbacks Manning, Craft and Brown could have some value, while Glover is expected to retire. Former Seahawks Koren Robinson and Jeff Robinson could conceivably help in a pinch, as could former Cardinals tight end Tuman. Green, the former 49er, has occasionally shown promise. Foster might be able to help on a limited basis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Brian from Maryland writes: Hey Mike, been reading since you started the blog, first time posting though. I wanted to cover the long-looming question about the Niners' first round pick. Everyone keeps stressing the "obvious needs" like SAM, OT, WR, QB ... the list goes on. We have heard names ranging from Orakpo, Maybin, Brown, A. Smith, Oher, Sanchez, Maclin ... the list seems to go on and on.

What I think people fail to realize is that the Niners will fill multiple positions in the draft, so it is important to find where the largest drop-off occurs per position.

  • QB -- While there is absolutely no reason for the Niners to draft a signal-caller after cutting Alex Smith's contract [see end of 2006, start of 2007 when he was last fully healthy], we must explore it due to everyone else's concerns. I think we are fine with Hill and Smith for now, as Smith will get his shot and get to learn, making him more comfortable with the system. Hill enters as the starter, and Smith will get a shot. Per Matt Maiocco, if Smith never gets a shot, then Hill was the right call. If not, he will be ready and the fans will love him since they will want a change at the position. Can anyone honestly tell me that we would be talking about Matt Cassel like we do if he did not sit for years behind Brady? I think they sit with what they have at QB ... plus the drop-off in QB's cannot be fully determined with the inconsistencies of drafting the position.
  • OT -- A very deep position in this draft, where the drop-off is almost negligible from rounds one and two. Unless looking for a book-end left tackle, any team can find a quality starting tackle [specifically a strong right tackle] in the second round. This is where the Niners need to be focused. Although it is not popular that the Niners have not signed an OT, Phil Loadholt seems to be a perfect fit for the supposed "run-heavy" Niners, and will be around for pick 43. Enough said, Singletary and McCloughan should be writing this draft card today.
  • WR -- While it remains a position of need for the Niners, Josh Morgan and Jason Hill are emerging, and Brandon Jones makes me comfortable enough for now. If the Niners were to add a player, it should be a big-body or someone proven (the anti-thesis of Maclin, Harvin, Heyward-Bey, etc.). I don't trust Nicks' separation ability for the next level, so if Crabtree were to fall, I think it's a no-brainer, but I don't see that happening. I think we can forget WR for the Niners in round 1. Once again, with QB also, it is an unpredictable position to draft, (Morgan a 6th, Hill a 3rd, Bryant Johnson a 1st).
  • SAM -- The Niners need an imposing force on defense, someone who strikes fear in opposing QBs. While Willis is amazing, he is not a rush 'backer who can get into the QB's head. Orakpo would be the perfect fit, but it is looking like he will not be available for the Niners at 10. For this reason, I think the Niners bite the bullet a bit and go with Everette Brown, who will need to add weight. Maybin showed he needs to play at 235, not 255, 265 like necessary for a SAM. So Orakpo or Brown look like the candidates. I think decent options can be found later, but the Niners need their version of Merriman/Suggs who not only gets sacks, but alters gameplans. Orakpo is this player, and hopefully Brown will be. If the Niners do not go with a rush OLB in the first round, I have to think it will only be because someone unexpected falls to them in the first round, [see Crabtree, Raji, Monroe].

So, the Niners go Orakpo/Brown in 1st and Loadholt in 2nd. Sounds like a quality draft to me ... fairly easy on the cap too.

Mike Sando: Great stuff, Brian. You have done the heavy lifting here. Not much more for me to say, other than to keep it coming. I agree that the 10th overall choice is too high for targeting a right tackle. The team should probably focus on a linebacker with pass-rush ability in that spot. And if someone falls to them unexpectedly, reconsider.

(Read full post)

St. Louis Rams 2009 UFA Watch
Pos. Status
Ron Bartell
CB
Re-signed
Eric Moore
DE
Re-signed
Jason Brown
C
Added
James Butler
SS
Added
Brandon Gorin
OL
UFA
Rob Petitti
OL
UFA
Cory Withrow
OL
UFA
Anthony Davis
OL
UFA
Adam Goldberg
OL
UFA
Travis Minor
RB
UFA
Dane Looker
WR
UFA
Dante Hall
WR
UFA
Ricky Manning
CB
UFA
Jason Craft
CB
UFA
Fakhir Brown
CB
UFA
Gary Stills
LB
UFA
La'Roi Glover DT
UFA
Nick Leckey
C
Saints
Brett Romberg
C
Falcons
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams have more unrestricted free agents -- 13 -- than any NFL team. That is not by accident.

The team is rebuilding with younger players while trimming fat from the payroll and making very targeted additions through free agency.

St. Louis entered the offseason needing to get stronger up the middle on both sides of the ball.

Signing center Jason Brown and fullback Mike Karney helped the cause on offense (Karney is not listed on the chart, which covers only unrestricted free agents). Signing strong safety James Butler should help the defense, although the front seven still needs work.

The Rams are carrying only eight offensive linemen, tied for the league low with the Cardinals, Panthers, Bears, Lions and Jets. NFL teams are carrying 10.5 offensive linemen on average.

The unsigned Adam Goldberg proved valuable last season. As we discussed, the Rams will certainly be targeting offensive linemen in the draft.

St. Louis Rams Defensive Back Pos. Age Status
Jason Craft
CB
33 UFA
Fakhir Brown
CB 31 UFA
Todd Johnson
SS
30 Signed
Ricky Manning
CB 28 UFA
Oshiomogho Atogwe
FS 27 Franchised
Quincy Butler
CB 27 Signed
Ron Bartell
CB 27 Signed
Tye Hill
CB 26 Signed
James Butler
SS 26 Agreed
Eric Bassey
S 26 Signed
Jonathan Wade
CB 24 Signed
David Roach
FS
23 Signed
Justin King
CB 21 Signed

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' contract agreement with Giants free agent James Butler, confirmed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, came together amid a tough market for strong safeties.

The Rams had already invested in franchise free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and cornerback Ron Bartell. The softening market presumably made it easier to justify adding Butler. The Rams certainly had a need at the position -- even before they released Corey Chavous.

We can now envision a Rams secondary featuring Bartell, Butler and Atogwe as starters. Butler started 26 games for the Giants over the last two seasons.

Scouts Inc.'s profile on Butler described him as a player with "upside" and one with good on-field communication skills:

He is an interchangeable player who moves downhill quickly off pre-snap reads. He has good size and range, but is still raw in coverage. He is a competitive player with toughness, but does have some space limitations in deep zones. He shows good transitional skills, but does have some tightness in his hip rotation off speed turns. Butler looks to be more natural in short zones than deep zones. Even though he does have some straight-line range in deep zones, he has average quickness and burst when closing. He has above-average anticipation and downfield awareness.

He does have some ball skills and knows how to use his size and long arms to make plays. He shows a good knack for timing up blitzes off zone fires. As a run defender, he is reckless with his body when he attacks downhill. He is a willing insert player who plays with balance and control in run support. He displays the speed to attack alleys while maintaining leverage on the ball carrier. However, he does have a tendency to play out of control at times. Overall, Butler is an intriguing young player who should eventually move to the next level as he continues to develop.

Rams free-agency update: Week One

March, 6, 2009
3/06/09
11:45
AM ET
St. Louis Rams
2009 UFA List
Pos. Age
Gary Stills
LB 34
La'Roi Glover
DL 34
Cory Withrow
OL 33
Jason Craft
CB 33
Dane Looker WR 32
Fakhir Brown
CB 31
Brandon Gorin
OL 30
Dante' Hall
KR 30
Travis Minor
RB
29
Brett Romberg
OL 29
Anthony Davis
OL 28
Adam Goldberg
OL 28
Ricky Manning
CB 28
Eric Moore
DL 28
Ron Bartell CB 27
Nick Leckey
OL 26
Rob Petitti
OL 26
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

One week into the NFL free agency period, teams have yet to sign away one of the Rams' unrestricted free agents.

Cornerback Ron Bartell drew interest from the Saints before re-signing in St. Louis, but none of the Rams' other 16 unrestricted free agents has signed a contract.

Former starting center Brett Romberg visited the Falcons.

Half of the Rams' unsigned UFAs are in their 30s, with a quarter of them at least 33.

Seven of the 16 are offensive linemen. No other team has more than four UFA offensive linemen (Seahawks). The Rams still have seven offensive linemen under contract. They will surely draft additional players at the position.

Rams UFA re-signed: Bartell, CB.

Rams UFA lost: none.

Rams UFA added: Jason Brown, C, Ravens.

Restricted free agents: RG Richie Incognito and DE Victor Adeyanju.

Rams DB Pos. Age Status
Jason Craft
CB 33 UFA
Fakhir Brown
CB 31 UFA
Todd Johnson
SS 30 Signed
Ricky Manning
CB 28 UFA
Oshiomogho Atogwe
FS 27 Franchised
Quincy Butler
CB 27 Signed
Ron Bartell
CB 27 Signed
Tye Hill CB 26 Signed
Eric Bassey
S 26 Signed
Jonathan Wade
CB 24 Signed
David Roach
S 23 Signed
Justin King
CB
21 Signed

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' contract agreement with cornerback Ron Bartell ends a suspenseful few days for both parties. The Rams wanted to keep Bartell without overpaying. Bartell wanted to maximize his value as an ascending young player.

The four-year, $28 million agreement allows Bartell to claim a $7 million average, while the Rams get to keep their best young corner.

The Rams legitimately feared the cornerback market might sweep up Bartell and leave the team with few promising prospects at the position. That's why the team must be happy with this outcome.

The chart breaks down the Rams' current defensive backs, with unrestricted free agents in lighter font. The Rams still could use a strong safety to replace Corey Chavous. They have spoke with James Butler. A handful of other strong safeties remain unsigned.

With significant money invested in Bartell and franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe, the Rams might become more selective in filling out their secondary.

Age before beauty: Rams free agents

February, 26, 2009
2/26/09
11:43
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

St. Louis Rams 2009 UFA Candidates
Pos. Age
Gary Stills
LB 34.6
La'Roi Glover
DL 34.6
Cory Withrow
OL 33.8
Jason Craft
CB 33.0
Dane Looker WR 32.8
Fakhir Brown
CB 31.4
Brandon Gorin
OL 30.6
Dante Hall
KR 30.4
Travis Minor
RB
29.6
Brett Romberg
OL 29.3
Anthony Davis
OL 28.9
Adam Goldberg
OL 28.5
Ricky Manning
CB 28.2
Eric Moore
DL 27.9
Ron Bartell CB 27.0
Nick Leckey
OL 26.9
Rob Petitti
OL 26.7

The Rams could conceivably part with every one of their unrestricted free agents this offseason.

They will try to re-sign cornerback Ron Bartell. They could bring back a few others. But when a new front office and new coaching staff inherit a team with five victories over two seasons, serious roster trimming tends to ensue.

The chart ranks the Rams' scheduled unrestricted free agents from oldest to youngest, with ages rounded down to the tenth. Four are at least 33 years old. Four more are at least 30. Two more -- Travis Minor and Brett Romberg -- turn 30 during the 2009 season.

Bartell is clearly the Rams' most attractive UFA candidate. His case is a tough one for the Rams.

While the team would like to retain its best young talent, the coaching staff doesn't know Bartell well enough to make informed judgments about his longterm potential. And with the market for cornerbacks drying up, Bartell might command a significant contract on the open market.

12-game checkup painful for some

December, 4, 2008
12/04/08
6:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

As a followup to the item about injury situations that matter, here's a quick look at the players on injured reserve for each team in the NFC West:

Note that some players leave IR through injury settlements or waivers (the Cardinals' handling of center Al Johnson comes to mind). The players listed above remain on injured reserve.

I also went through and counted how many players for each team have started all 12 games for their teams this season. The counts:

  • 49ers: 11
  • Cardinals: 10
  • Seahawks: 6
  • Rams: 6
Kurt Warner is the only quarterback in the division to start every game for his team this season. The Cardinals have remained remarkably healthy in terms of not losing key players for extended periods. They have their share of players battling through injuries -- Mike Gandy on a bad ankle, Adrian Wilson with a bum shoulder -- but key players remain available.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Receiver Billy McMullen has joined nine other Seattle players on injured reserve as the Seahawks matched Baltimore for the most players on IR heading into Week 7.

Seattle's list features four receivers: McMullen, Logan Payne, Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu. All but Obomanu started a regular-season game for the Seahawks this season. Obomanu surely would have started had he not been injured during the exhibition season.

Also on IR for Seattle: guard Rob Sims, guard Chris Gray, long snapper Tyler Schmitt, tackle William Robinson, cornerback DeMichael Dizer and linebacker Wesly Mallard.

A quick look at IR lists for the other NFC West teams:

The Rams' IR list includes several players expected to contribute this season. McMichael was a big part of the offense. King was likely going to be the third corner. Manning was playing extensively after injuries sidelined King and Tye Hill. Setterstrom and Gorin comprised much of the team's depth on the offensive line.

Rams' move at cornerback makes sense

October, 13, 2008
10/13/08
4:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams have brought back cornerback Fakhir Brown. Releasing Brown earlier in the season seemed to make little sense from a personnel standpoint.

Brown's ties to new Rams coach Jim Haslett -- they were together in New Orleans -- made this re-signing seem likely. Injuries to Tye Hill and Ricky Manning made Brown's return even more logical.

In another roster move, the Lions re-signed fullback Moran Norris. I had wondered if the 49ers might have some interest in Norris after Zak Keasey suffered an injury Sunday.

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