NFC West: Ryan Swope
Catch us if you can.
That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.
It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.
By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.
It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?
The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.
Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.
The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.
The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?
Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.
Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.
Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.
Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.
The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?
Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.
Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.
Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.
Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.
@TerryBlountESPN The Cards and Rams are pretty good. They'll be fighting for 2nd place behind the Seahawks.- Danny ®" (@Dah_knee) March 26, 2014
Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?
Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.
Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.
Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.
Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.
If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?
Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.
Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.
Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.
Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.
@BWilliamsonESPN Wilson. Controls the game & makes all the plays. Kaeps athletic advantage will fade overtime as Wilson's mental edge grows.- HTB (@HoldenTyler) March 25, 2014
Mathieu is Arizona's fourth drafted rookie to suffer a season-ending injury this season, following guard Jonathan Cooper in the preseason and linebacker Alex Okafor in Week 3. Wide receiver Ryan Swope was forced to retire after suffering a concussion during minicamp. Arizona only has four draft picks on its active roster after releasing tight end D.C. Jefferson, a seventh-round pick, in early November.
The Cardinals' four injured draft picks are tied for most in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans this season.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was concerned another rookie was about to be sidelined two weeks ago when rookie running back Andre Ellington, Arizona's second sixth-round pick, tweaked his left knee leading up to the Eagles game on Dec. 1. Arians thought Ellington, who was sidelined for the game, had hurt his ACL. But it turned out to be not nearly that bad as Ellington played Sunday against the Rams.
Arians doesn't expect Mathieu to return by training camp next year, but the other rookies, Cooper and Okafor, are slated to be healthy by July.
“It definitely has got us,” the coach said. “We got lucky with Andre Ellington.
“But, yeah, with Swope and Coop and the rest of them, it's a shame because we really needed them.”
The Arizona Cardinals' Jonathan Cooper, chosen seventh overall, suffered a season-ending leg injury during preseason. He is on injured reserve. The San Francisco 49ers' Tank Carradine, chosen 40th overall, remains on the reserve/non-football injury list while recovering from a knee injury.
Twenty-five of 39 NFC West choices this year remain on their original teams' 53-man rosters. That includes all seven picks for the St. Louis Rams and seven of nine for the Cardinals. The 49ers and Seattle Seahawks had a higher number of picks arranged lower within each round, and fewer open roster spots to accommodate them.
Injuries have left six picks from the division on various injured lists. Three of the Seahawks' top five picks will not help the team anytime soon. That includes Harper, defensive tackle Jesse Williams (injured reserve) and cornerback Tharold Simon (reserve/physically unable to perform). Percy Harvin, who cost Seattle its 2013 first-round choice, is also injured.
Five 2013 draft choices from the division landed on their original teams' practice squads. One of them, fourth-round choice Chris Harper, subsequently left his original team (Seattle Seahawks) to sign with the 49ers' 53-man roster.
Three picks from the St. Louis Rams and one from the 49ers are scheduled to start in Week 1. Cooper would have started for the Cardinals if healthy.
Harper wasn't the only NFC West draft choice to land on another team. The 49ers' Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round choice, wound up with Kansas City after the Chiefs claimed him off waivers.
QB numbers: There had been some thought that the Cardinals might choose between keeping a third quarterback (Ryan Lindley) or a fifth running back (Ryan Williams). Arians had already said Williams was going to stick around. We didn't know whether Lindley would remain on the roster after finishing his 2012 rookie season with zero touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Lindley played well against Denver in the final exhibition game, however, and he wasn't among the players Arizona released on this initial reduction to 53. It's still too early to say whether Lindley has any roster security.
What's next: The Cardinals could be in the market for another interior defensive linemen after the team released nose tackle David Carter. Carter played 272 snaps on defense last season. His status heading into camp appeared somewhat secure based on past playing time. Carter was excited about transitioning to a scheme that he thought would free up defensive linemen to use their talents as pass-rushers. Dan Williams appears to be the only true nose tackle on the roster.
Players cut: OT Jamaal Johnson-Webb, LB Kenny Rowe, DT Padric Scott, WR Kerry Taylor, LB Reggie Walker, S Jonathon Amaya, C Adam Bice, WR Dan Buckner, DT David Carter, TE Alex Gottlieb, WR Charles Hawkins, G Senio Kelemete, LB Zack Nash, LB Colin Parker, TE Richard Quinn, G Chilo Rachal, S Curtis Taylor, WR Mike Thomas
1. Williams' performance. Running back Ryan Williams appears to be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster two years after suffering a torn patella tendon during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. He has only two carries during this preseason. Will the Cardinals emerge from this final preseason game thinking Williams can become a relevant contributor? This game could provide some answers.
2. Speed at wide receiver. Coach Bruce Arians has sought a vertical threat for his offense. Rookie Ryan Swope was a candidate for the role on some levels until concussion concerns forced his retirement. Mike Thomas, who spent part of last season with the Detroit Lions, could provide something along those lines. To what extent can the final preseason game provide some answers at wide receiver?
3. Third QB. About half the teams in the NFL figure to keep fewer than three quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters. Is there any reason the Cardinals should keep a third this year? Ryan Lindley gets one last chance in this preseason to show he's worth a spot. Lindley has no touchdown passes in 17 attempts this preseason. He had no touchdown passes and seven interceptions on 171 regular-season attempts as a rookie in 2012. He had one touchdown on 92 attempts during the 2012 preseason. It all adds up to one touchdown pass in 280 preseason and regular-season attempts. He has played under less than ideal circumstances. Can Lindley emerge from this preseason on an upward trajectory?
Seattle Seahawks: Seventh-round choice Michael Bowie played extensively yet again and remains on course to earn a roster spot as one of the backup tackles. He and undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey are combining to give Seattle much greater depth on the line than the team enjoyed in previous seasons. ... Fifth-round tight end Luke Willson blocked effectively against Denver. ... Tharold Simon remains sidelined by injury, making it impossible for him to compete for relevance at cornerback, the position where Seattle might have its greatest depth.
San Francisco 49ers: I was struck by how many special teams snaps third-round outside linebacker Corey Lemonier and sixth-round inside linebacker Nick Moody played. Both figure to contribute in that regard. ... Quarterback B.J. Daniels inserted himself into the conversation with Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien in the race to become the No. 2 quarterback. Having both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick was a luxury last season. Now, the 49ers are like most teams: in big trouble if an injury knocks out their starting quarterback. ... Too bad second-rounder Vance McDonald was hurt. He flashed ability in the preseason opener.
Arizona Cardinals: Second-round inside linebacker Kevin Minter has been overshadowed at times, through no fault of his own. I noticed him right away during camp practices for the hits he was delivering on special teams. The Cardinals are happy with him. ... The starting offense went 10 plays longer than it had in the preseason opener, giving first-round pick Jonathan Cooper welcome reps. Arizona needs Cooper and its offensive line up to speed for quarterback Carson Palmer to connect on the deeper passes coach Bruce Arians favors. ... Running back Andre Ellington had a 24-yard run and a 28-yard kickoff return, a pretty good debut.
St. Louis Rams: I wondered on draft day whether Zac Stacy would factor as the potential starting running back. That obviously isn't going to happen right away. Stacy missed this game to injury and hasn't seriously challenged Daryl Richardson for the starting job. ... The Rams need to develop young offensive line depth, so it was good for Barrett Jones to get 37 snaps. ... Nick Wagoner has the full Rams rookie review for those seeking a deeper look.
LG Jonathan Cooper, first round, No. 7 overall. Cooper played 17 snaps at left guard with the starting offense. The line's pass protection was good enough for quarterback Carson Palmer to complete 4 of 6 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Arizona didn't get much going in the run game, but the team was also without its top backs.
LB Kevin Minter, second round, No. 45 overall. Minter played behind starting inside linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Reggie Walker (the team was without Karlos Dansby, and Daryl Washington came off the bench). Minter finished the game with three tackles. He played 45 percent of the snaps on defense and 23 percent on special teams.
DB Tyrann Mathieu, third round, No. 69 overall. Mathieu led all Cardinals rookies in scrimmage snaps (38) and special-teams snaps (11). He broke up a pass early in the game. He collected a sack for a 12-yard loss on a blitz from the slot. He had two tackles on defense, two tackles on special teams, one pass defensed and a 24-yard punt return. Arizona must be very pleased with what it saw from Mathieu.
DE Alex Okafor, fourth round, No. 103 overall. An ankle injury caused Okafor to miss the game.
G Earl Watford, fourth round, No. 116 overall. Watford came off the bench to play 35 percent of the offensive snaps, plus 27 percent on special teams. As noted, the running game never seemed to get going. To be fair, however, I didn't watch Watford closely enough to have a feel for his performance one way or another.
RB Stepfan Taylor, fifth round, No. 140 overall. Taylor carried 20 times for 64 yards (3.2 per carry) while playing 55 percent of the snaps on offense. He did not play on special teams, perhaps because the Cardinals were so short-handed at running back with Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington sitting out. I'll be interested in hearing from coach Bruce Arians regarding how Taylor fared in the finer points, including pass protection. Getting so many reps had to be a positive for Taylor in the long run.
RB Andre Ellington, sixth round, No. 187 overall. A neck injury caused Ellington to miss the game.
TE D.C. Jefferson, seventh round, No. 219 overall. The Cardinals were without injured tight ends Kory Sperry and Jeff King, but Jefferson did not capitalize on the opportunity. He failed to secure two passes he should have caught. Jefferson finished with zero catches on three targets while playing 32 percent of the snaps on offense and none on special teams.
The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams opened training camps Thursday. The Arizona Cardinals will follow suit with a first practice scheduled for 2 p.m. local time Friday.
The division is already making headlines.
The Cardinals announced deals with veterans John Abraham and Eric Winston. They also cut projected starting outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield while announcing rookie receiver Ryan Swope's concussion-induced retirement.
Tarell Brown, cornerback for the 49ers, was in the news unexpectedly when Brian McIntyre reported Brown had unwittingly lost $2 million in salary simply by failing to show up for the team's offseason program.
The hip injury preventing Percy Harvin from practicing with the Seahawks was the biggest story of them all even though it's tough to know whether Harvin will miss an extended time.
One of the more positive NFC West developments slid a bit under the radar. James Carpenter, the Seahawks' first-round pick in 2011, participated fully in practice after battling a career-threatening knee injury over his first two seasons. Having a healthy and productive Carpenter would count as a significant bonus for Seattle. His situation is one to watch as camp progresses.
The Arizona Cardinals announced John Abraham's addition and O'Brien Schofield's release on a Thursday packed with roster moves.
Abraham represents an upgrade for the pass rush even though he's a short-term solution at age 35.
Schofield was an injury risk coming out of Wisconsin in 2010. The Cardinals used a fourth-round selection for him while Schofield was rehabbing from a serious knee injury. Schofield fought his way back, collected 4.5 sacks in a situational role during his second season and won a starting job last summer. His 2012 season ended after nine games and four sacks when a chain reaction of events left him with a season-ending injury.
Schofield leaves the Cardinals with 10.5 sacks in 35 games. Abraham had 10 sacks with the Atlanta Falcons last season.
The Cardinals also announced a contract agreement with veteran offensive lineman Eric Winston, who becomes a leading candidate to start at right tackle. Also Thursday, the team placed receiver Ryan Swope on the reserve-retired list and signed linebacker Kenny Rowe.
That could be a good thing in the long run for receiver Ryan Swope, whose concussion problems led the team to place him on the reserve/retired list Thursday as training camp approached. The move spares Swope from suffering additional damage to his brain, a matter of increasing concern in the NFL.
The Cardinals used a sixth-round pick for Swope because they thought he could provide quickness on shorter routes and straight-line speed on deeper ones. They knew concussions had been a problem for Swope, but they thought he was worth a sixth-round choice in part because the head injuries hadn't kept him off the field much.
"Then to couple that with the amount of production he had, and then going into the combine, the guy has answered every test," general manager Steve Keim said after the draft. "His times at Indy were remarkable. He ran in the high 4.3s. His three-cone, which is one of my favorite drills, which judges a lot of the change-of-direction and movement skills, he ran a high 6.5, low 6.6, which was easily one of the best times at Indy this year."
We should expect the Cardinals to remain in the market for a receiver with vertical speed, an element new coach Bruce Arians values more than some other coaches do. Arians was with the Pittsburgh Steelers when Mike Wallace was an emerging deep threat for the team. He's installing an offense emphasizing deeper routes.
Update: Swope says through @Rep1Sports that he suffered another concussion during spring practices and retired on the advice of doctors. He'll go back to school and reassess in a year. Note that the Cardinals will retain his rights while he's on the reserve/retired list.
Coach Bruce Arians suggested nine days ago that Swope would be fine.
General manager Steve Keim compared Swope to Brandon Stokley when assessing Swope on draft day. The comparison seemed to emphasize their playing styles. Stokley has also had a significant concussion history.
Swope, who had two documented concussions at Texas A&M, was a sixth-round draft choice.
Keim acknowledged Swope's concussion history while noting that Swope had not missed much playing time, a positive in the Cardinals' assessment.
"Then to couple that with the amount of production he had, and then going into the combine, the guy has answered every test," Keim said. "His times at Indy were remarkable. He ran in the high 4.3s. His three-cone, which is one of my favorite drills, which judges a lot of the change-of-direction and movement skills, he ran a high 6.5, low 6.6 three-cone, which was easily one of the best times at Indy this year."
- Arizona Cardinals: Rookie receiver Ryan Swope did not participate Monday, several days after teammate Larry Fitzgerald suggested Swope was suffering from symptoms related to his concussion history. Coach Bruce Arians had no details when reporters asked about Swope. Arians did say he thought Swope would be fine. The Cardinals felt great about getting Swope in the sixth round. I'm guessing they still feel that way. The injury history was part of the deal. Meanwhile, the team is wasting no time in reconfiguring its offensive line, with rookie Jonathan Cooper at left guard and Daryn Colledge at right guard.
- St. Louis Rams: The Rams rescheduled their Monday session. The team now has OTAs scheduled for Tuesday through Friday. The Thursday and Friday sessions are open to media. I'm planning on attending the Rams' OTAs next week.
- San Francisco 49ers: Defensive back Raymond Ventrone's signing, announced by the team, reunites him with 49ers special-teams coach Brad Seely, new kicker Phil Dawson and new consultant Eric Mangini. Those four were together with the Browns for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Cleveland led the NFL in expected points added (EPA) by special teams during those two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Having Josh Cribbs on those teams certainly helped.
- Seattle Seahawks: Seattle continues to emphasize versatility throughout its defensive front seven, making it tougher to project exactly where certain players will align within the scheme. John Boyle's report from OTAs caught my attention on this front. Note, also, that running back Marshawn Lynch was on a short list of no-shows for this session. There's no questioning Lynch's commitment based on how he runs the ball during the season. His absence does seem conspicuous relative to those players maximizing every chance to improve alongside teammates, however.
Injury news in the NFC West has been better this week than last.
There were a couple revelations Tuesday.
Joe Staley, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl left tackle, expects to be fine for training camp after undergoing what he called "minor" surgery to address a meniscus issue in his left knee. Staley has started every game over the past two seasons after missing seven in each of the previous two.
Meanwhile, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald alluded to general concerns regarding teammate Ryan Swope, a sixth-round choice in the 2013 draft. Fitzgerald, speaking on SiriusXM radio, indicated Swope has missed practice time while working through issues related to the concussions Swope suffered in college.
Second-hand medical information from a player hardly qualifies as an official diagnosis, of course. In this case, the comments from Fitzgerald help form a line of questioning for when there's an opportunity to follow up.
As a result, the Seattle Seahawks announced Friday they had signed seven draft choices. The San Francisco 49ers announced they had signed five of theirs. The Arizona Cardinals announced they had signed four of theirs.
Players can participate in rookie minicamps with or without signed contracts. The process is largely a formality at this point. There's less tension between players, agents and teams as training camps approach. Rules prevent players from renegotiating their rookie contracts until they've played three seasons, warding off the issues that can arise when a player outperforms his contract.
- 49ers signings: defensive tackle Quinton Dial, linebacker Nick Moody, quarterback B.J. Daniels, tackle Carter Bykowski and cornerback Marcus Cooper.
- Seahawks signings: defensive tackle Jordan Hill, receiver Chris Harper, defensive tackle Jesse Williams, tight end Luke Willson, guard Ryan Seymour, linebacker Ty Powell and guard Jared Smith.
- Cardinals signings: running back Stepfan Taylor, receiver Ryan Swope, running back Andre Ellington and tight end D.C. Jefferson.
The St. Louis Rams have yet to announce signings of draft choices. That is not a big deal.
Among the NFC West veterans on alert as 2013 rookies arrive for minicamps Friday:
- Arizona Cardinals: Adding guards Jonathan Cooper (first round) and Earl Watford (fourth) precipitated Adam Snyder's release from the team. Sixth-round receiver Ryan Swope could push Andre Roberts for playing time as the season progresses. Alex Okafor's arrival could put additional pressure on outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield to stay healthy. The Cardinals also drafted two running backs, but one of them, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, cannot report until after minicamps for reasons relating to graduation schedules. Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams should be safe for now.
- St. Louis Rams: The Rams' draft choices tend to fill vacancies more than they threaten veterans. That is because St. Louis has already parted with the veterans who would have been affected by this rookie class' arrival. Tavon Austin would have threatened Danny Amendola. Alec Ogletree joins a group of outside linebackers that has been undermanned for years. T.J. McDonald fills a massive void at safety after the Rams released Quintin Mikell and watched Craig Dahl leave in free agency. Zac Stacy might have pressured Steven Jackson, but with Jackson off the roster, Stacy joins a committee of young, unproven running backs.
- San Francisco 49ers: Veteran Parys Haralson remains on the roster as a backup to Ahmad Brooks at outside linebacker, but Corey Lemonier's arrival as a third-round draft choice signals change on the depth chart. Meanwhile, Quinton Patton's arrival as a fourth-round pick affects the situation at receiver. I'm not sure which wideout is threatened the most, but Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams should be on alert.
- Seattle Seahawks: The decision to use a second-round pick for running back Christine Michael got most of the attention, but sixth-rounder Spencer Ware could be the running back putting a veteran on notice right away. Seattle will give Ware a look at fullback, putting pressure on incumbent Michael Robinson. Drafting defensive tackles Jordan Hill (third round) and Jesse Williams (fifth round) puts pressure on a group that includes Jaye Howard, Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel.