NFC West: Steve Hutchinson

It's homecoming week in the NFC West.

The Tennessee Titans' Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Hutchinson, Mike Reinfeldt, Ruston Webster and other former Seattle Seahawks will be returning to the Northwest for an exhibition opener at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, former 49ers coach Mike Singletary will return to Candlestick Park with the Minnesota Vikings for an exhibition opener Friday night.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News caught up with Singletary by phone and found him to be gracious. Singletary: "No. 1, I'll always be indebted to the 49ers. They gave me an opportunity when they could have chosen many others in their organization. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to get a first-hand look at an organization that really wants to win."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Colin Kaepernick remains the No. 2 quarterback despite some inconsistent play. Maiocco: "Veteran Josh Johnson has not closed the gap with some inconsistent play of his own. Johnson threw an interception to Chris Culliver. Alex Smith also threw an interception, as Perrish Cox picked off a ball intended for Randy Moss."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are listing "Randy Moss or Mario Manningham or Ted Ginn" as the starting receiver opposite Michael Crabtree. Noted: Moss coming off the bench? That's a tough sell if Moss remains on the roster.

More from Maiocco: 49ers safety Cory Nelms watched his girlfriend, Olympian T'erea Brown, post a personal-best time of 54.21 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh singled out Kendall Hunter and Ahmad Brooks for having strong camps to this point.

Seahawks.com has a photo showing Terrell Owens working out for the team.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com asks Eugene Robinson why Cortez Kennedy wasn't enshrined in the Hall of Fame a few years earlier. Robinson: "If Tez had played in New York or Dallas, oh my goodness. They would have changed the rules. Tez would have been in the Hall before his career was over. He was that good. He was that dominating."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times thinks the Seahawks are taking a big risk by adding Owens. Brewer: "On a team that already must monitor Marshawn Lynch, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards (if he makes the team) for various reasons, this is both a dangerous acquisition and a fascinating experiment."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle thinks signing Owens is a smart move for Seattle on various levels, including this one: "The signing of Owens clearly shows this receiving group needs help. Ricardo Lockette has a tight hamstring and tighter hands. Kris Durham has lacked separation and suddenness and got banged up once again in Sunday's scrimmage. Sidney Rice will see very little contact on his surgically repaired shoulders all preseason. Baldwin has a tweaked hamstring. Golden Tate is not a legitimate outside receiver down-in and down-out." Noted: Huard also points to the minimum salary Owens will be earning. Money defines where a player stands in an organization. Owens and the 49ers' Moss are scheduled to earn relatively low salaries. That's important in giving the team leverage.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic revisits the Cardinals' preseason opener against New Orleans, offering notes on offense and defense. Somers: "Inside linebacker Paris Lenon suffered an ankle injury near the end of the first possession. After the game, he said he was fine. His replacement, Stewart Bradley, played well, batting down a pass near the goal line and registering a sack."

Also from Somers: finding his bearings in Missouri, where the Cardinals are practicing this week.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals saw good things from Bradley, who must have been having fun to go with the dance he revealed following a sack Sunday night. Bradley: "I've been messing around in camp with the dorkiest dance I could think of, and I came up with that. Guys were like, 'There is no way you will do that, but if you do, it would be awesome.' I said, 'Hey, if I get a sack or a big play, I’m going to put it out there.' "

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are getting healthier, particularly in the secondary. Thomas: "Jeff Fisher's approach when it comes to ailing players seems to be a proactive one, at least as much as possible. After 16 full seasons in the NFL as a head coach, he knows the Lombardi Trophy isn't awarded in August. He's trying to have a healthy team on the field for the regular season, starting with the Sept. 9 opener in Detroit. If that means holding a player out of practice now for an extra day or two, so be it."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams receiver Danario Alexander, who his continually battling to get healthy. Alexander: "Too many knee injuries, too many operations, too many major and minor aches and pains and way too many frustrating rehab stints repeatedly have hit the pause button on a career that once seemed destined for greatness, but now is on the verge of an unhappy ending."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com offers Rams notes, including one on rookie receiver Brian Quick getting some reps with the first-team offense.

Erica Sherman of stlouisrams.com says backup quarterback Kellen Clemens' knowledge of Brian Schottenheimer's offense effectively gives the team another assistant coach.
A look at the Seattle Seahawks' offseason to this point ...

What went right: The Seahawks signed quarterback Matt Flynn in free agency without paying an exorbitant price. That made it easier to justify using a third-round choice for quarterback Russell Wilson. ... Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before free agency and Red Bryant during free agency was critical. Lynch is the focal point of the offense. His running style became inseparable from the Seahawks' identity on offense. Bryant was the most important defensive player against the run and a leader in the locker room. ... Highly valued offensive line coach Tom Cable returned to the team after some speculation that a college program such as UCLA might consider him as head coach. ... Free-agent defensive tackle Jason Jones chose Seattle over St. Louis at a reasonable price, making it easier for the Seahawks to part with Anthony Hargrove, who subsequently incurred an eight-game suspension. ... The linebacker market was soft enough for Seattle to bring back Leroy Hill without overpaying.

What went wrong: The Seahawks tried and failed to get Peyton Manning's attention this offseason. ... Tight end John Carlson was determined to leave in free agency and able to find a lucrative contract in Minnesota. That combination made keeping Carlson unrealistic for Seattle, creating a need where none existed previously. Seattle might be left to wait out former Vikings starter Visanthe Shiancoe in free agency as the team seeks a viable partner for Zach Miller in its two-tight end personnel groupings. ... Middle linebacker David Hawthorne wasn't willing to return for the contract Seattle was offering, putting more immediate pressure on the team to draft and develop a player at the position. ... The injury rehabs for tackle James Carpenter and cornerback Walter Thurmond raise questions about whether either will be ready for the upcoming season. ... Steve Hutchinson found a richer deal in Tennessee after initially appearing likely to sign with Seattle on the relative cheap.

The bottom line: The quarterback situation is different. There is more promise at the position. The status quo wasn't very appealing. From that standpoint, the offseason represented a step forward.

Your turn: Any significant omissions here?
NFL teams rarely select offensive guards among the top overall choices in a given draft.

Mike Pouncey (15th 2011) and Mike Iupati (17th in 2010) were the only projected guards drafted among the top 17 overall selections in the last 10 drafts.

Before that, Steve Hutchinson was on a short list of highly drafted guards as the 17th player chosen in 2001.

So, how seriously would the Seahawks consider selecting a guard, David DeCastro, with the 12th overall choice this year?

Kevin Calabro, Jim Moore and I spent about 10 minutes Monday discussing that and other issues relating to the Seahawks on 710ESPN Seattle (audio here).

History says 12th overall is earlier than teams select guards, but I would not rule out the possibility.

The Seahawks did not value guards at a high level, in theory, when Mike Holmgren and Ted Thompson decided to select Hutchinson. But they obviously thought Hutchinson was good enough to warrant an exception. On a side note, current Seahawks general manager John Schneider was the Seahawks' player personnel director at the time.

Note: The chart shows guards drafted among the top-17 overall picks since 1995. Robert Gallery and other tackles have moved to guard during their NFL careers. The chart shows only those players drafted as guards. Damien Woody, chosen 17th overall by New England in 1999, was a candidate for inclusion. He was drafted as a center, however.
A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' recently announced contract agreements with guard Deuce Lutui, linebacker Barrett Ruud and cornerback Roy Lewis:
  • Lutui: The Seahawks wanted a veteran guard at an affordable price after releasing Robert Gallery. They considered Steve Hutchinson, but he signed with Tennessee. Lutui has considerable starting experience with the Arizona Cardinals, but weight issues contributed to his decline into a backup role. Lutui and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll were together at USC. Can the Seahawks get more from Lutui than the Cardinals were getting from him recently?
  • Ruud: Ruud, 28, was a longtime starter in Tampa Bay before signing with Tennessee last season. He played nine games for the Titans, starting all of them. But a groin injury forced him onto injured reserve. Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was with Tampa Bay when Ruud played for the Buccaneers. Bradley coached linebackers for part of Ruud's tenure there. That connection means the Seahawks should have a good idea what they're getting. Ruud's arrival comes after the Seahawks watched starting middle linebacker David Hawthorne sign with New Orleans. I would expect Seattle to address linebacker in the draft as well.
  • Lewis: Lewis returns for what will be his fourth season with the Seahawks. He played in 10 games last season, starting one, and participated in about 40 percent of the defensive snaps overall. Lewis adds depth and familiarity to the secondary.

On a side note, Lutui had worked out for the San Francisco 49ers earlier in free agency. San Francisco continues to look for veteran depth at guard.
Free agency has slowed considerably now that the quarterback market has settled out, save for Alex Smith's unresolved status in San Francisco.

I've put together a chart showing what happened to free agents known to have visited NFC West teams since the signing period opened one week ago.

Demetrius Bell showed promise at left tackle for Buffalo last season and would seem to make sense for Arizona.

New Orleans Saints free-agent corner Tracy Porter is not listed, but he remains one of the few young starting-caliber players at the position, and he has ties to the St. Louis Rams' coaching staff.

I've ordered the chart by how many starts each player made in 2011, an attempt to add a qualitative element to the listings.

Note: The 49ers brought in a long list of players for tryouts recently. I've focused on unrestricted free agents making visits. I have added Jacob Tamme, Corey Graham and Visanthe Shiancoe to the list. All three visited the Seahawks recently.
Lots of little things to cover while waiting for Peyton Manning to choose his next employer:
  • The market for Matt Flynn appears flat ... unless the Miami Dolphins are willing to drive up the price for him. ESPN's Adam Schefter expects that to happen, suggesting that the Dolphins realize they're probably not going to land Manning. Flynn is visiting the Seattle Seahawks and now has a visit lined up for Miami. If he gets starting money, expect it to be from the Dolphins.
  • Carolina guard Travelle Wharton, Philadelphia receiver Steve Smith, Green Bay center Scott Wells, New York Giants receiver Mario Manningham and Detroit quarteback Shaun Hill were among the free agents visiting with the Rams on Thursday, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
  • The Rams are only getting started. By my accounting, they had a league-low 48 players on their roster Thursday, counting restricted free agents and franchise players. They are the youngest team in the NFL at present, but that will change as they fill out their roster with a mix of veterans and draft choices. Seattle is threatening the Rams to field the NFL's youngest roster after releasing veteran guard Robert Gallery and not signing 34-year-old Steve Hutchinson.
  • The Rams and Seahawks appear to be primary suitors for former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jason Jones. St. Louis should have the advantage with Jones' former coach in Tennessee, Jeff Fisher, now in St. Louis. The Rams could also offer more playing time, at least as their roster sets up presently.
  • Manningham, who spent Thursday visiting San Francisco, was a natural candidate for the 49ers. The team needs a receiver. Manningham is one of the better free agents out there. He also went to Michigan, which never hurts as long as Jim Harbaugh is coaching the 49ers. The first veteran free-agent wideout the 49ers signed during the Harbaugh era also played there. Braylon Edwards was a Michigan man, as was his father. Edwards and Randy Moss are the only veteran free-agent receivers to sign with San Francisco under Harbaugh.
  • The receivers with whom San Francisco has visited -- Manningham, Brandon Lloyd and Chaz Schilens -- fit different molds. That makes it tough to say for sure what the 49ers are looking for specifically. The team appears to be in no rush. Manningham left without a deal, no surprise.
  • Whether Ted Ginn Jr. leaves in free agency could affect the 49ers' thinking, too. Schilens might fill some of the void left when Josh Morgan, another wideout with good size, left for Washington. Lloyd could make more sense as a downfield threat if Ginn isn't in the 49ers' plans. Manningham has good quickness. Like Lloyd, he's slighter than Morgan or Schilens.
  • It's looking like the Arizona Cardinals will bring back tackle Levi Brown, Kent Somers reports. That is good for the Cardinals, who need tackles, but not necessarily bad news for opposing pass-rushers, either.
  • Hutchinson's deal with Tennessee is expected to pay him a $6.5 million guarantee. There's some history behind that number. Titans executive Mike Reinfeldt was with the Seahawks when the team lost Hutchinson to Minnesota in 2006. Back then, the Seahawks used the transition tag for Hutchinson, setting his one-year value at $6.391 million. Seattle was offering a $6.5 million average on a long-term deal at the time. Reinfeldt wound up getting Hutchinson for the $6.5 million price, albeit six years later and multiple time zones away. That won't do the Seahawks any good.
  • The Cardinals have less than 24 hours before a decision on a $7 million bonus to Kevin Kolb comes due. If Manning doesn't make a decision by then, will he at least tip off the Cardinals if he's leaning toward Denver or Tennessee? That would help, but sometimes the teams themselves are the last ones to know when they're out of the running.

Enjoy your Thursday. I'm sure we're not finished for the day.

Update: Manningham is also visiting the Rams.
The St. Louis Rams commanded a premium from the Washington Redskins for the second pick in the 2012.

Holmgren
Holmgren
I haven't seen anyone, anywhere suggest the Rams offered the pick at a discount. They secured first-round picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014, plus a second-rounder this year.

But to hear Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren tell it, his team was offering at least as much. The problem for Cleveland, Holmgren suggested to Browns season-ticket holders, was the close relationship between the Rams' and Redskins' brass.

Jamison Hensley has the details on the AFC North blog, noting that Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his Redskins counterpart, Mike Shanahan, have a close friendship dating to their days with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1990s.

"I'm not sure anything we offered would have been good enough," Holmgren told Browns fans.

Holmgren was not necessarily complaining. He has benefited from similar connections, including when he helped the Seattle Seahawks acquire Matt Hasselbeck from Green Bay back in 2001.

The Miami Dolphins were offering the 26th overall pick in the 2001 draft to Green Bay. A deal appeared near when Holmgren called his old friends in the Packers' front office. Seattle got the deal done, sending the 10th overall choice and a third-rounder to the Packers for Hasselbeck and the 17th pick.

The trade helped reverse more than a decade of disappointment for Seattle. The Dolphins never did find a long-term quarterback.

Hasselbeck eventually became a Pro Bowl quarterback. The Seahawks entered that draft with no plans to select a guard, but when Steve Hutchinson was available at No. 17, they felt compelled to take him. He also became a Pro Bowl player.

The Packers used the 10th pick for Jamal Reynolds and the third-rounder for Torrance Marshall. Neither player made much impact. The Dolphins used the 26th pick for Jamar Fletcher, who started 12 games for five teams over eight seasons.

Even if Holmgren is right about the Rams-Redskins friendship playing a role, there's nothing to complain about. Relationships factor into personnel decisions regularly. The Browns, with former Philadelphia executive Tom Heckert as general manager, have made trades with the Eagles. The Rams are fortunate if their head coach has been around long enough to develop productive relationships around the league.
The three-year deal guard Steve Hutchinson has accepted in Tennessee raises questions about his motives beyond the obvious financial considerations.

Hutchinson
Hutchinson
Might Hutchinson know something about the quarterback situation there? His agent, Tom Condon, also represents Peyton Manning. A chance to play with Manning could appeal, but Hutchinson also has strong personal ties to Matt Hasselbeck, who would remain with the Titans if Manning did not sign with them.

It is also possible that the Titans paid a premium for Hutchinson, because they knew it might enhance their chances with Manning. Hutchinson, 34, is a seven-time Pro Bowl guard.

The Seattle Seahawks brought in Hutchinson for a visit Wednesday. They have an opening at left guard after releasing Robert Gallery, who would have earned $6.5 million in 2012. They released Gallery without knowing whether Hutchinson would sign with them. That indicates they did not value Gallery at his price, independent of who they might get to replace him.

Stay tuned on this one. We need to find out whether Hutchinson's decision to sign with the Titans carries additional meaning.
Steve Hutchinson is paying a free-agent visit to the Seattle Seahawks on Wednesday.

We can file this one under things once considered less likely than, say, Mike Holmgren hiring former front-office nemesis Tim Ruskell as his general manager in Cleveland.

Hutchinson's disputed departure from the Seahawks to the Minnesota Vikings following their 2005 Super Bowl season remains a painful chapter in team history.

But with new leadership in the front office and beyond, there is no one left in Seattle with any direct connection to Hutchinson's messy exit. Hutchinson remains close to some long-time employees, and his former offensive coordinator in Minnesota, Darrell Bevell, is now the Seahawks' offensive coordinator.

Ruskell was team president and general manager when the Seahawks named Hutchinson their transition player, unwittingly opening the door for Hutchinson's agent to conspire with the Vikings on a "poison-pill" contract offer that, for practical purposes, prevented Seattle from keeping him. The situation widened divisions in the Seahawks' front office, and hard feelings persisted for years.

That is ancient history now. Hutchinson, 34, was arguably the best guard in franchise history, earning Pro Bowl honors in each of his final three seasons with the team. He went to four more Pro Bowls with the Vikings, most recently following the 2009 season. Injuries limited him some over the past two seasons, but he still made 14 starts last season.

The Vikings had a youth movement and salary-cap concerns in mind when they released Hutchinson. A seven-time All-Pro selection by the Associated Press, Hutchinson visited the Tennessee Titans before coming to Seattle. The Seahawks already have veteran Robert Gallery at left guard, and 2011 first-round pick James Carpenter is a candidate to play that position after recovering from knee surgery.

Gallery has a $5 million base salary for 2012. He is also set to earn a $1.5 million roster bonus. Hutchinson had been scheduled to earn $7 million from the Vikings in 2012, the final year of the seven-year, $49 million deal he signed six years ago.

It's not clear whether the Seahawks will pursue Hutchinson aggressively. The fact that they're meeting with him at all should help heal old wounds, at least.
Two moves making NFL headlines Saturday recall the Seattle Seahawks' finest season.

Lofa Tatupu's contract agreement with Atlanta came just as Minnesota was releasing seven-time All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson. Both players earned Pro Bowl honors with Seattle when the team made its lone Super Bowl appearance following the 2005 season.

Tatupu's health was a primary factor in his absence from the NFL last season. Knee and concussion problems slowed the linebacker during his time with Seattle, affecting his play and leading the Seahawks to release him before the 2011 season.

Hutchinson was in his prime when the Seahawks lost him to the Vikings six years ago in one of the more dubious episodes in team history. The team hoped using the transition tag on Hutchinson following the 2005 season would spur the sides to a long-term agreement. Instead, Hutchinson's agent, Tom Condon, worked with the Vikings to craft a contract the Seahawks could not match without guaranteeing all $49 million of the deal. The so-called poison pills inserted into that contract stirred controversy and hard feelings while exposing the Seahawks to harsh criticism, even though few foresaw the poison-pill route as a threat.

I'm not sure what Hutchinson envisions for his future, but he is 34 years old and could presumably play a couple more years. Rejoining the Seahawks seems unlikely even though the team has new leadership since Hutchinson left on unpleasant terms. Robert Gallery is the projected starter at left guard, and 2011 first-round pick James Carpenter could project for the role. Hutchinson did play for current Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and with two current offensive starters, Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice.

Hutchinson has played left guard his entire career. If he were a right guard, the San Francisco 49ers or Arizona Cardinals could certainly use his toughness, talent and veteran presence. I actually think the Rams could use a Hutchinson type, but would he want to join a rebuilding team at this stage of his career? That seems doubtful. The Rams might prefer to move forward with younger players, anyway.

Whatever path Hutchinson takes from here, he will go down in Seahawks history as one of the greatest linemen the team ever employed. He and perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones comprised one of the all-time great left sides in league history. As the chart shows, Shaun Alexander averaged 1,500 yards rushing and 19.6 total touchdowns per season when Jones and Hutchinson were together from 2001 through 2005, with the only dip coming when Hutchinson missed 12 games to injury in 2002.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' WR options

February, 21, 2012
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The San Francisco 49ers signed David Akers, Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, Jonathan Goodwin and Braylon Edwards as unrestricted free agents from other teams last offseason.

None signed for more than $4.25 million per season.

That track record could remove the 49ers from serious consideration for the big-name wide receivers scheduled to hit the market next month. Those options could be diminishing anyway.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Kansas City's decision to sign former Oakland Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt could indicate the Chiefs will use the franchise tag on receiver Dwayne Bowe, winnowing down the list of free agents San Francisco might consider this offseason. Maiocco: "Bowe is another significant wide receiver who will probably not be on the open market for the 49ers to explore. And without Bowe available, it might drive up the prices for the other receivers, most notably Vincent Jackson. Also, it could make it more difficult for any team wishing to make a run at restricted free agent Mike Wallace, as his price could be rising, too." Noted: I would not expect the 49ers to sign a high-profile wideout from another team to a lucrative deal. Last offseason, the 49ers bowed out of the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes and came out ahead by signing Rogers to a one-year deal. That course seems likely at receiver as well.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Williams' rehab from a broken arm is progressing slowly and steadily, with Williams recently passing the 100-pound mark in the bench press, a weight just about anyone in relatively good health could press without much trouble. Urban: "Williams actually believes his weight has been one of the easiest things to handle since he got hurt that miserable day against the 49ers, when the helmet of teammate Stewart Bradley slammed into his arm, shattering the bone to the point he needed two rods to be inserted. His foray into the bench press has been important, a 'sign of encouragement' for a man who normally benches more than 300 pounds. Right after the surgery, Williams said he was told he could only pick up things like a bottle of water, 'and only the 16-ounce bottle, not the 20-ounce one.' Living everyday life and doing things like getting dressed was difficult."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former St. Louis Cardinals running back Stump Mitchell interviewed to coach running backs on Jeff Fisher's staff amid questions about whether Mitchell will return as head coach at Southern University. Thomas: "A versatile player, Mitchell was an accomplished receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner, finishing with nearly 11,000 all-purpose yards and scoring 42 touchdowns. He even threw a 15-yard TD pass in 1986. At the conclusion of his playing career, Mitchell was a head coach at the high school and college (Morgan State) levels in the 1990s before joining Mike Holmgren's inaugural staff in Seattle as running backs coach in 1999. He was with the Seahawks for eight seasons then joined Washington's staff as assistant head coach/running backs coach in 2008."

The Associated Press says former Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson could become a salary-cap casualty for Minnesota as the Vikings implement a youth movement. Hutchinson says he played "great" last season after an injury rehabilitation slowed him in 2010. Hutchinson has one year remaining on the controversial contract he signed with Minnesota after the Seahawks named him their transition player following their 2005 Super Bowl season. Noted: Hutchinson would upgrade Seattle's line if he returned to the Seahawks, but with Robert Gallery under contract and familiar with the team's blocking scheme, the team does not have an immediate need at left guard. Second-year right tackle James Carpenter is a candidate to play there after Seattle re-signed Breno Giacomini amid expectations Giacomini will remain at right tackle.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle suggests recent comments from Seahawks general manager John Schneider could indicate an unwillingness to draft Ryan Tannehill or another quarterback with the 11th or 12th overall choice. ESPN's Todd McShay had this to say about Tannehill: "He still has a lot to learn in an offense that struggled this year at times and was very inconsistent in terms of the supporting cast, but I think with his athleticism, his arm, his ability to make throws on the run and create after the initial play breaks down, there's a lot of potential there. And certainly if you have time to develop him properly he has a chance to be a really good starter in the NFL."

Where NFL teams rank in line continuity

December, 1, 2011
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NFL teams strive for continuity along their offensive lines.

Seattle Seahawks fans remember the five players largely responsible for their team's Super Bowl appearance following the 2005 season. Left tackle Walter Jones, left guard Steve Hutchinson, center Robbie Tobeck, right guard Chris Gray and right tackle Sean Locklear started every game.

When the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl a few years later, the same five linemen started all season: left tackle Mike Gandy, left guard Reggie Wells, center Lyle Sendlein, right guard Deuce Lutui and right tackle Levi Brown.

Teams shuffling their lines during a season usually do so for negative reasons such as injuries or poor performance.

The chart ranks NFC West teams by percentage of offensive snaps played by the most frequently used combination of five offensive linemen this season. The Seahawks' leading five has played 26.2 percent, third-lowest in the NFL behind those for Indianapolis (19.6 percent) and Buffalo (24.1). Download full NFL rankings here.

The most frequently used five for Seattle featured left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Robert Gallery, center Max Unger, right guard John Moffitt and right tackle James Carpenter. They have played 183 snaps together. That is two more than than a group featuring the same five, but with Paul McQuistan instead of Gallery at left guard. The current group, this one featuring Gallery at left guard, McQuistan and right guard and Breno Giacomini at right tackle, has 130 snaps. Three others line combinations have at least 50 snaps.

The Houston Texans (98.9) and Denver Broncos (95.8) are the only teams to use the same five linemen on more than 85 percent of snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They rank among the NFL's top three teams in rushing yardage, with Denver's totals including 455 yards from quarterback Tim Tebow.

The 49ers' most frequently used fivesome ranks 13th at 62.8 percent. The Cardinals' primary five ranks 16th at 53.1 percent. The Rams' five ranks 29th at 34.5 percent.

San Francisco has averaged 5.1 yards per carry with Adam Snyder at right guard (418 total plays) and 3.1 per carry with Chilo Rachal in that spot (201 plays). No other frequently used combinations in the division feature such disparities. Seattle has averaged 3.6 yards per carry with its current line, down from the 4.2 and 4.3 range with the lines it used most frequently earlier in the year. Sack percentage is also up slightly.
Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus started at left guard for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

No wonder the team went after Robert Gallery when the free-agent negotiating period opened Tuesday.

Gallery
Gallery and Seattle agreed to terms on a three-year deal, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The contract length suggests this will be a relatively modest deal financially for Seattle, a bit of a surprise.

Gallery, 31, missed four games last season and 10 in 2009, but he's a significant upgrade at the position for Seattle. The team has struggled to find a long-term starter at left guard since losing Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota following the 2005 season.

The line has been a mess overall. Seattle started 11 combinations last season alone, but the line is taking shape. First-round draft choice James Carpenter projects as the starter at right tackle, with third-rounder John Moffitt at right guard. Max Unger will step in at center, with Gallery at left guard and 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung at left tackle.

For the first time in years, Seattle has what appears to be a coherent, sustainable and promising plan for its offensive line. Gallery's durability is the biggest concern. The Seahawks felt good about adding another veteran guard, Mike Wahle, several years ago. His injury problems prevented him from holding down the job for long, however.

Gallery's connections to new Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable were important in getting this deal done. Both were together in Oakland for years. Gallery let it be known he wanted to leave Oakland and stay with Cable. Cable's presence means the Seahawks know what they're getting from an injury and production standpoint.
Someone somewhere (and I apologize for misplacing the note) asked whether the NFL-approved labor agreement would hamstring the Seattle Seahawks in free agency under "Final Eight" rules in effect under the old agreement.

Mike Sando: The previous labor agreement imposed rules limiting free-agency options for playoff winners only in an uncapped year.

So, even if the new deal included "Final Eight" clauses, those clauses would presumably apply only in the absence of a salary cap. The new deal will have, by all accounts, a salary cap for the 2011 season and beyond. Therefore, the Seahawks wouldn't have to operate with "Final Eight" limitations once free agency opened.

That would be my read on the situation. We won't know anything for sure until the players sign off and rules go into effect. Seattle fans should feel optimistic about having plenty of resources in free agency, however.


Sam from St. Louis strongly disagrees with my push for later kickoff times when West Coast teams visit teams in later time zones. He despises 3 p.m. CT kickoffs for Rams games in St. Louis and thinks visiting teams should have to deal with disadvantages associated with playing on the road.

Mike Sando: I'd be interested in hearing why you don't like the later starts for Rams games in St. Louis. The Rams have embraced those games in general because they think more fans are likely to attend. For one, the noon starts make it tougher for the church-going population to attend on Sundays. Early starts on the East Coast begin at 1 p.m. locally, giving parishioners an additional hour. Just a thought.


Ray from Corona, Calif., was heartened to see me finally support Nnamdi Asomugha as a free-agent target for the San Francisco 49ers. He also likes Johnathan Joseph as an option in free agency.

Mike Sando: My resistance to Asomugha as an option was more from the perspective of what I thought was likely. And I did not think the evidence suggested the 49ers would go in that direction. The evidence remains strong against such a move, but I do think going after Asomugha would make sense for San Francisco. Seattle also could be in the market for a top-flight cornerback. John Clayton has mentioned Joseph as a possibility.


Shane from Los Angeles does not think Asomugha would make sense for the 49ers. He thinks the team would be committing too much cap space to an older player at a position other than quarterback. As a Cardinals fan, he thinks Larry Fitzgerald will want more money than an unproven quarterback such as Kevin Kolb, and he'd like my thoughts on committing that much to a non-quarterback.

Mike Sando: I've got no trouble with teams paying the market rate for great players. The Cardinals should keep Fitzgerald because there's a good chance Fitzgerald will remain an elite player throughout his next contract. He's a hugely important part of that team.

I believe the Seahawks named Steve Hutchinson their transition player instead of their franchise player in part because he was "only a guard" and not a player at a position of greater perceived value. There's no sense in rehashing what happened in that situation, but franchising Hutchinson certainly would have helped Seattle.

Players at positions other than quarterback should be elite/special for a team to commit an unusually large amount of its resources toward keeping them. Fitzgerald qualifies as that type of player.


Brandon from Tacoma thinks Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was right in questioning the athletic ability of race drivers. Brandon read the latest item citing G-forces and breathing difficulties when saying, "Is it possible for anyone to learn how to breath in those situations? I don't believe anyone can learn to hit a fastball or throw a football 60 yards."

Mike Sando: Some athletes are more talented than others. I feel safe in saying lots of NBA or NFL players could not dominate, succeed or even become mediocre at racing if they dedicated their lives to it.

Different sports require different abilities. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player ever, did not become even average among professional baseball players. Was he more athletic than the typical Double-A outfielder? Most of us would say so, but his athletic ability did not translate as well to another sport.


Dan from Los Angeles point to Frank Gore's long runs against Seattle in Week 2 of the 2009 season as the likely reason behind Gore's inflated rushing stats against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box. Dan even provides a link to an earlier post on the subject.

Mike Sando: Thanks so much for that, Dan! You remembered that previous item better than I did, but you're right. The item lays out how Gore's per-carry averages against eight-man fronts was weak without those 80- and 79-yard touchdown runs in the Seattle game. Now, those runs count, of course, so we shouldn't exclude them entirely. But at least we know Gore wasn't enjoying consistent success against those fronts. He popped a couple long ones against one team.


Don from Scotland thinks the Seahawks should consider re-signing center Chris Spencer. He points to Marshawn Lynch's run as evidence, noting that Spencer threw key blocks.

Mike Sando: That was a sensational run in many regards, but not representative of the Seahawks' performance in the running game last season. It didn't validate anything. I'll agree to the extent that I think Spencer has been pretty solid a lot of the time. I also think the Seahawks need a new identity up front with new personalities and new leadership.


Patrick asks via Twitter whether new NFL rules allowing for 46-man rosters on game days and no third quarterback might give 49ers rookie Colin Kaepernick a better shot at getting on the field.

Mike Sando: Kaepernick will likely be the No. 2 or even No. 1 quarterback for the 49ers this season, so the third-QB designation would not apply to him.


Jason from Tennessee thinks the Titans, Eagles and Cardinals should consider a three-way trade sending Vince Young and Cortland Finnegan to Philadelphia, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Tennessee and Kevin Kolb to Arizona.

Mike Sando: I like your creativity. Young to the Eagles would be an interesting one given Vick's presence, Andy Reid's presence and the overall stability there in Philadelphia. Young's hefty contract would need adjusting. The teams would need Young's cooperation. Young would presumably want to become a free agent.

Arizona would be parting with Rodgers-Cromartie and getting Kolb, a trade some fans have found problematic based on the known (Rodgers-Cromartie's talent) vs. the unknown (Kolb). What the Eagles wind up getting for Kolb stands as one of the more fascinating uncertainties heading toward free agency.


Dominic from Santa Clara, Calif., asks whether any NFC West teams would go after the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson.

Mike Sando: Dominic submitted this question when it appeared as though Jackson might receive unrestricted free agency this offseason. It now appears as though Jackson will return to San Diego as the Chargers' franchise player.

I'll stand by what I wrote on the matter back in February: "San Diego's decision to name receiver Vincent Jackson its franchise player would not prevent an NFC West team -- think St. Louis -- from at least considering a trade. I just find it implausible to think the Rams or another team would part with significant draft capital for the right to pay huge sums to a receiver with off-field concerns. Jackson is probably staying in San Diego for another year."
Just what Seattle Seahawks fans want to read: a piece from NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert analyzing Steve Hutchinson's prospects for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hutchinson

Hutchinson



I might have to consider a piece asking whether anyone at Renton City Hall near Seahawks headquarters would recognize Hutchinson's many successors at left guard.

If Hutchinson does become a Hall of Famer, however, he'll do so largely for his accomplishments during the best years in Seahawks history, culminating with the 2005 Super Bowl season. Seatte fans stung by Hutchinson's controversial departure through a loophole in the transition tag can take some solace in that if Hutchinson does earn enshrinement -- or even if he does not.

The years Hutchinson spent playing between left tackle Walter Jones and center Robbie Tobeck will surely rank as the most memorable and satisfying of his career. Those Seattle teams won playoff games and developed camaraderie through continuity. Hutchinson has played in three playoff games, winning one, during five seasons with Minnesota. He played in five, winning two, with Seattle. The Seahawks, for all their struggles since losing Hutchinson, own a 3-3 playoff record since his departure.

Hutchinson's seven Pro Bowls and appearance on the all-decade team for the 2000s does put him in the conversation for Hall of Fame status.

As Seifert notes, guards elected to the Hall of Fame often faced extended waits for enshrinement. Larry Allen, who finished his career with the San Francisco 49ers, might rank atop my initial list of the guards listed among Hutchinson's contemporaries. Has there been a more physically dominant guard?

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