NFC West: Ryan Clark
Both players rank among the NFL leaders in penalties for unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct and less specific personal fouls.
Their history dating to their NFC West days came to mind upon reading about Smith pulling off Incognito's helmet and swinging it at Incognito's head. Last season, the NFL fined Smith for kicking Incognito in retaliation for Incognito allegedly twisting Smith's ankle to inflict injury. These are the sorts of grudges we tend to enjoy reading about years later, after players are retired, even if their actions crossed lines. We're looking for evidence players were as emotionally invested as fans tend to be.
Of course, violating the rules isn't a requirement for emotional investment. Plenty of players go all out while avoiding the penalties outlined in the chart below. Six of the 10 players listed have NFC West ties. The penalty counts date to 2006, so the chart is biased to show longer-tenured players.
Filtering to show only the past two seasons only enhances the NFC West flavor as Dashon Goldson (10), Aaron Curry (six), Kam Chancellor (six), Breno Giacomini (six) and Brandon Browner (five) are among the eight players with more than four such penalties over that span. Incognito has four and Smith two.
The Seahawks aren't exactly set for life at safety, either.
What to do?
I've gone through the list of available safeties -- NFC West fan favorites Brian Russell and Mark Roman are out there -- and come up with a few fallback options, listed with their 2009 teams:
- Ryan Clark, Steelers. The 30-year-old longtime starter couldn't work out a long-term deal with Pittsburgh. The Cardinals are running their defense in the Pittsburgh mold. Clark could fit.
- Brodney Pool, Browns. Teams generally do not sever ties with productive 25-year-old starters, but the Browns decided against tendering Pool as a restricted free agent after he suffered a series of head injuries last season. Pool picked off four passes in 11 games last season, making 10 starts before his season was ended.
- Darren Sharper, Saints. The 34-year-old Pro Bowl choice would upgrade every secondary in the NFC West, but at what price? Sharper is probably most valuable to the Saints.
- Jermaine Phillips, Bucs. Injuries have severely limited Phillips' contributions recently. It's probably not a great sign that Tampa thought about moving him to linebacker. Still, Phillips is 30 years old, hardly ancient by safety standards, and he has 74 starts.
Other safeties who are unrestricted free agents: Ware, Russell, Roman, Nick Ferguson, Sean Jones, Will Allen, Todd Johnson, Clinton Hart, Roy Williams, Vernon Fox, Marquand Manuel, Mike Brown, Tyrone Carter and Lawyer Milloy.
Other safeties who are free agents (but technically not UFAs): John Busing, Hamza Abdullah, Aaron Francisco, Kennard Cox, Eric Bassey, Jamaal Fudge and Quinton Teal.
Also: ESPN's John Clayton notes that Jets safety Kerry Rhodes could be an option for Arizona via trade.
Ursa from Fort Wayne writes: Sando, As much as the 49ers could use a QB in this upcoming draft, are there not much more pressing needs elsewhere? The offense Coach Singletary will use is reportedly going to be very run heavy and blue collar. Would they not be better off looking for some kind of road-grading right tackle? Then there is the issue of a pass rusher that puts the fear into opposing offenses, we could use one of those too.
As for other needs, the secondary hasn't exactly been impressive the past couple of years and they have not had an legit #1 wideout since TO left (as much as it pains me to admit that). What direction might they be most likely to go? What is the most pressing need? Having been burned by the last QB they chose will they not be more likely to look elsewhere? Now granted consecutive OC's have not helped Alex Smith, but seriously...where do you think they will be looking? Thank You! I enjoy your blog and column!!
Mike Sando: I'm with you. The 49ers probably should not draft a quarterback at No. 10 if they can find an immediate starter at another position. That spot in the draft is a little high to target a right tackle, but as I have noted, if they found an elite left tackle at No. 10, they could come out OK.
This is probably a good opportunity for me to clear up confusion over my position on Joe Staley as the 49ers' starting left tackle. Some have asked via the mailbag and Facebook whether I'm suggesting Staley isn't good enough to stay at left tackle. That's not at all what I'm trying to convey.
Staley is fine at left tackle. I would move him only if I could draft a left tackle who was better at that position than Staley will be. If you take a tackle at No. 10, that tackle is probably going to be a left tackle. And if you take a left tackle at No. 10, you're hoping as an organization that he'll be better than the tackle you drafted 28th overall (Staley in 2007). That isn't a slight on Staley, but rather a reflection of what you expect from a player drafted 10th.
The 49ers see Staley as a long-term starter and a very good player, whether he's on the left or right. Will he be a perennial Pro Bowl player? Not so sure. If the 49ers could find a perennial Pro Bowl type and play him at left tackle, they could move Staley to right tackle and have their bookends for years to come.
I do think Staley's aggressive mentality is suited for the right side. The best left tackles tend to be patient. They let the action come to them and deal with it accordingly. Staley likes to mix it up. He almost has a guard's mentality. I like that in him.