NFC West: Shayne Graham

Rookie kickers have made 86.7 percent of field goal attempts over the past five seasons. Veteran kickers have made 83 percent over the same period.

That is something to keep in mind when wondering what veteran kicker the San Francisco 49ers might pursue after releasing David Akers this week.

While the 49ers likely will sign a veteran, they should consider using one of their league-high 12 draft choices -- a total expected to rise when the NFL distributes compensatory selections -- for the best rookie kicker they can find.

Those percentages for rookies versus veterans say as much.

Of course, field goal percentages aren't everything because all attempts aren't created equal, even when from the same distance. It's also possible an aversion to trusting rookie kickers has removed from the pool all but the exceptional ones, distorting comparisons to a broader field of veteran kickers.

But that 86.7 percent success rate should get the 49ers' attention as they seek low-cost alternatives to an acclaimed veteran such as Akers, whose 69 percent success rate ranked 34th out of 36 qualifying kickers last season.

Minnesota's Blair Walsh (92.1 percent), Baltimore's Justin Tucker (90.9) and St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein (74.2) combined to make 86.3 percent as the only rookies to attempt field goals last season.

Filtering for venue and distance, I noticed that rookies made 29 of 42 field goal tries (69 percent) since 2008 when kicking outdoors on natural grass from longer than 40 yards. Veterans made 621 of 913 (68 percent).

The results cited here are far from conclusive, which is the point. A rookie kicker might not be a bad option for the 49ers.

Phil Dawson, Rob Bironas, Nate Kaeding, Lawrence Tynes, Nick Folk, Josh Brown, Mike Nugent, Jason Hanson, Steven Hauschka, Ryan Longwell, Shayne Graham, Olindo Mare and Nick Novak are among the veterans without contracts for 2013. Check out our Free Agent Tracker Insider for ranks of kickers Insider and all free agents.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
2009 NFL Franchise Player Pos. Team Status
Dunta Robinson
DB Texans Unsigned
Max Starks
OL Steelers Long-term deal
Matt Cassel
QB Chiefs Long-term deal
Terrell Suggs
LB Ravens Long-term deal
Brandon Jacobs
RB Giants Long-term deal
Julius Peppers
DE Panthers One-year deal
Antonio Bryant
WR Bucs One-year deal
Darren Sproles
RB Chargers One-year deal
Bo Scaife
TE Titans One-year deal
Shayne Graham
PK Bengals One-year deal
Michael Koenen
P Falcons One-year deal
Oshiomogho Atogwe
DB Rams One-year deal
Karlos Dansby
LB Cardinals One-year deal
Leroy Hill
LB Seahawks Tag withdrawn

All three franchise players from the NFC West are under contract after Oshiomogho Atogwe signed the Rams' one-year offer.

The chart shows how the franchise system generally rewarded players at premium positions: left tackle (Max Starks), quarterback (Matt Cassel) and pass-rusher (Terrell Suggs). Giants running back Brandon Jacobs also landed a long-term deal.

Eight franchise players signed one-year deals and only one of them, Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, played a premium position (tackle, quarterback, pass-rusher, cornerback).

The fact that only three of the 14 franchise players had been to a Pro Bowl shows that teams use the franchise tag as a tool in free agency, not only as a mechanism to guard against losing true franchise cornerstones. The Seahawks demonstrated this by revoking the tag from linebacker Leroy Hill, who then settled for a discounted contract.

Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson is the only unsigned franchise player. Refusing to sign the one-year franchise offer prevents the Texans from fining him for missing training camp. Refusing to sign made little sense for Atogwe, who wanted to be in camp and was practicing even before he signed the franchise offer Wednesday.

From the collective bargaining agreement: "Any Club designating a Franchise Player shall have until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on July 15 of the League Year (or, if July 15 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the first Monday thereafter) for which the designation takes effect to sign the player to a multi-year contract or extension. After that date, the player may sign only a one-year Player Contract with his Prior Club for that season, and such Player Contract may not be extended until after the Club's last regular season game."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
2009 NFL Franchise Player Pos. Team Salary
Julius Peppers
DE Panthers $16,683,000
Matt Cassel
QB Patriots $14,650,000
Dunta Robinson
CB Texans   $9,957,000
Antonio Bryant
WR Bucs   $9,884,000
Karlos Dansby
LB Cardinals   $9,678,000
Max Starks
OL Steelers   $8,451,000
Leroy Hill
LB Seahawks   $8,304,000
Terrell Suggs
LB Ravens   $8,304,000
Brandon Jacobs
RB Giants   $6,621,000
Darren Sproles
RB Chargers   $6,621,000
Oshiomogho Atogwe
FS Rams   $6,342,000
Bo Scaife
TE Titans   $4,462,000
Shayne Graham
K
Bengals   $2,483,000
Michael Koenen
P Falcons   $2,483,000

Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe knows how to maximize risk. He has an NFL-high 32 forced fumbles and interceptions over the last three seasons.

Still, I went to St. Louis last week thinking Atogwe was taking an unnecessary gamble by declining to sign the Rams' one-year, $6.342 million franchise offer.

Hadn't Atogwe seen Leroy Hill take a lesser deal after the Seahawks rescinded their unsigned $8.3 million franchise offer? What if the Rams' priorities changed unexpectedly or Atogwe suffered an injury?

The NFL's other unsigned franchise players -- Julius Peppers, Dunta Robinson and Terrell Suggs -- play premium positions. Peppers and Suggs are pass rushers. Robinson is a cornerback. The NFL values those positions at a higher level. Safeties? Only punters, kickers and tight ends have lower franchise-player values.

There's much to admire about Atogwe's approach. He continues to participate fully in the Rams' offseason program, from organized team activities (OTAs) to minicamps. He isn't publicly complaining about his contract situation. The Rams have noticed. They probably will reward him with a long-term deal at some point.

It's just that Atogwe arguably could have it both ways by signing the contract. The money would become guaranteed and the Rams still would consider a long-term deal. At present, the Rams are free to rescind the tag and Atogwe is free to skip training camp and the regular season without incurring fines. Both scenarios appear unlikely, but circumstances can change unexpectedly.

The Rams are rebuilding whether or not Atogwe shows up. As much as they value him, their long-term future doesn't depend on a safety. Atogwe seemingly has more to lose. I raised these issues with Atogwe. A transcript of our conversation follows.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
2009 NFL Franchise Player Team Status Salary
Julius Peppers
CAR Unsigned $16,683,000
Matt Cassel*
KC Signed $14,650,000
Dunta Robinson
HOU Unsigned $9,957,000
Antonio Bryant
TB Signed $9,884,000
Karlos Dansby
ARI Signed $9,678,000
Max Starks
PIT Signed $8,451,000
Leroy Hill
SEA Unsigned $8,304,000
Terrell Suggs
BAL Unsigned $8,304,000
Brandon Jacobs
NYG Signed $6,621,000
Darren Sproles
SD Unsigned $6,621,000
Oshiomogho Atogwe
STL Unsigned $6,342,000
Bo Scaife
TEN Unsigned $4,462,000
Shayne Graham
CIN
Unsigned $2,483,000
Michael Koenen
ATL Signed $2,483,000

Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe was among 14 franchise players this offseason. He isn&#
39;t complaining about it, which I find refreshing.

"It's a blessing to come out here and play," Atogwe told reporters from the Rams' ongoing minicamp. "And to be thought of as one of the top five at my position is an honor. I relish this."

How hard was that? Even if Atogwe were unhappy about having his options restricted in free agency, complaining about being a millionaire qualifies as bad form.

"I don't have to be [here] contractually," Atogwe said, "but I feel like I'm obligated to be here for my teammates and for my coaches. Going forward in this year, if I want to be a part of this team, I want to be a part of this team from the beginning to the end and I think it's important that we all put aside our own personal stuff and just really sacrifice for the team. Put the team first and allow us to come together as one unit so we can get a lot done this year."

Atogwe's actions line up with what new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said at the NFL owners' meeting late last month. Spagnuolo wanted new leaders to emerge in place of some of the older players St. Louis released as part of its rebuilding plan this offseason.

The chart shows the contract status of each of the 14 franchise players. Matt Cassel's status changed when the Patriots traded him to Kansas City, but I left him on the list.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
2009 NFL Franchise Player Pos. Team Salary
Julius Peppers
DE Panthers $16,683,000
Matt Cassel
QB Patriots $14,650,000
Dunta Robinson
CB Texans $9,957,000
Antonio Bryant
WR Bucs $9,884,000
Karlos Dansby
LB Cardinals $9,678,000
Max Starks
OL Steelers $8,451,000
Leroy Hill
LB Seahawks $8,304,000
Terrell Suggs
LB Ravens $8,304,000
Brandon Jacobs
RB Giants $6,621,000
Darren Sproles
RB Chargers $6,621,000
Oshiomogho Atogwe
FS Rams $6,342,000
Bo Scaife
TE Titans $4,462,000
Shayne Graham
K
Bengals $2,483,000
Michael Koenen
P Falcons $2,483,000

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFC West tied the NFC South and AFC North with three franchise players when the deadline passed Thursday.

NFC West teams played some horrid defense in 2008, but all th
ree franchise players came from that side of the ball.

The Seahawks tagged linebacker Leroy Hill after ranking 25th in points allowed. The Cardinals tagged linebacker Karlos Dansby after ranking 28th. The Rams tagged safety Oshiomogho Atogwe after ranking 31st.

The franchise tag evolved into an insurance policy for an unpredictable market. Teams were willing to make one-year bets at inflated salaries in exchange for a chance to size up the long-term market once free agency begins Feb. 27. At that point, teams will have a better idea of how much players might command on long-term deals.

Eleven of the 14 franchise players this year have never earned Pro Bowl status. Julius Peppers, Terrell Suggs and Shayne Graham are the exceptions.

Divisional franchise scorecard: NFC West 3, NFC South 3, AFC North 3, AFC South 2, AFC East 1, NFC East 1, AFC West 1.

Houshmandzadeh to the rescue?

February, 16, 2009
2/16/09
7:36
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

  Houshmandzadeh
The Bengals' decision to use the franchise tag on punter Shayne Graham clears the way for Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to reach unrestricted free agency.

That could be good news for NFC West teams hoping to upgrade at receiver. I'm still not sure how much money Houshmandzadeh will command on the market, but the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams could conceivably use help at the position.

Houshmandzadeh has been trapped on losing teams in Cincinnati for some time. He will presumably look for situations where he thinks he can win quickly.

Beyond the Cardinals, who appear set at receiver even if Anquan Boldin does not return, the teams in this division probably feel better about their chances than outsiders feel about their chances. The 49ers seemed to find this out when they searched for offensive coordinators.

Still, signing an established receiver has appeal. Teams routinely miss on receivers in the draft, particularly after the first few choices. If an NFC West team could address that need in free agency, the team could target a lower-risk position early in the draft.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD