NFC West: Tom Malone
Defensive linemen (13)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.8
Safest bets: Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Robert Quinn
Leading contenders: William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Darell Scott, Matt Conrath, Jermelle Cudjo
Longer odds: Trevor Laws, Jamaar Jarrett, Cornell Banks, Scott Smith
Comment: The Rams have three relatively recent first-round draft choices starting on the line, plus Langford, a free-agent addition from Miami. The position should be a strength for years to come. Brockers and Langford give the team needed bulk in the middle. It's tough to know what the new coaching staff thinks about some of the other talent. Hayes received a $100,000 roster bonus, an indication the team has hopes for him. Sims and Scott each played more than 20 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Cudjo was on the roster but did not play.
Average number kept since 2003: 6.3
Safest bets: James Laurinaitis, Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Leading contenders: Rocky McIntosh, Mario Haggan, Josh Hull, Aaron Brown, Sammy Brown, Alex Hoffman-Ellis
Longer odds: Justin Cole, Noah Keller
Comment: Laurinaitis is the only mainstay player at the position. Dunbar projects as a starter after the Rams paid a $1 million signing bonus to him in free agency. McIntosh and Haggan are veteran newcomers with starting experience. They're stopgaps until the Rams can address the position next offseason. It's looking like at least one undrafted rookie linebacker will stick on the roster.
Defensive backs (14)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.2
Safest bets: Cortland Finnegan, Darian Stewart, Quintin Mikell, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher
Leading contenders: Matt Daniels, Josh Gordy, Jerome Murphy
Longer odds: Kendric Burney, Quinton Pointer, Jeremy Caldwell, Rodney McLeod
Comment: Secondary depth is vastly improved, and not just through improved health. Fletcher was arguably the most promising cornerback on the roster last season. Now, it's tough to know whether he fits into the team's long-term plans. Depth at safety might be better than it appears. The Rams had a high enough grade on Daniels to give him a $10,000 signing bonus as an undrafted free agent from Duke.
Special teams (4)
Average number kept since 2003: 3.1
Safest bets: Greg Zuerlein, John Hekker, Jake McQuaide
Leading contenders: Tom Malone, Garrett Lindholm
Longer odds: Travis Tripucka
Comment: McQuaide, the snapper, is back from last season, but this group lacks experience overall. Zuerlein was a sixth-round pick. Hekker was an undrafted free agent. The Rams wanted better directional punting than Donnie Jones provided, particularly after watching Patrick Peterson score twice on returns last season.
1. Signing Steve Smith. The former Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants receiver is three seasons removed from a career year featuring 107 receptions for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. Microfracture knee surgery imperiled his career and made him available to the Rams on the cheap. Smith has been healthy to this point in the offseason. He could be an under-the-radar difference maker for the Rams.
2. Special-teams overhaul. This one could work out well or backfire. Either way, the Rams have remade their special teams in dramatic fashion. Their kickers, punters and snappers are the youngest in the NFL on average. Josh Brown and Donnie Jones are out after mostly successful runs with the team. Jones was not the best directional punter and that seemed to hurt the Rams at times last season (including on one of the punts Patrick Peterson returned for a touchdown). New special-teams coach John Fassel had his ups and downs with Oakland. He doesn't get to bring Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski or Jacoby Ford with him. Sixth-round pick Greg Zuerlein is the new kicker. Tom Malone and Johnny Hekker are the punters.
3. Signing Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The Rams were desperate for linebackers. Dunbar, signed from New Orleans at modest cost, appears likely to start this season. His value goes beyond whatever Dunbar contributes on the field. His knowledge of the system should benefit the Rams' other linebackers, especially defensive leader James Laurinaitis. That seemed even more important after the NFL suspended coordinator Gregg Williams, who coached Dunbar in New Orleans.
Also from Branch: 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio offered thoughts during a recent conversation with KNBR radio.
Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle says former 49ers linebacker Dan Bunz is worried about recent short-term memory issues after sustaining numerous concussions during his career. Bunz: "I'm nervous about it. I read, exercise and try to do everything I can (to stay healthy). It worries me, because I'm forgetting more things recently. I can remember what I did in high school and the NFL, but sometimes I can't remember what I did yesterday or today. I don't know if that's because I'm 55 or because of old football injuries, but it shouldn't be happening."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers a mock draft with LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson heading to the 49ers at No. 7, leaving Von Miller on the board. Barrows: "The Peterson v. Von Miller debate gets put to the test in this scenario. Niners conclude that Peterson is slightly closer to being Charles Woodson than Miller is to being Clay Matthews."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along information on the 49ers' ticket refund policy should games be canceled. The policy reads, in part: "A full refund will be issued for any canceled preseason or regular-season home games. Refunds may be received in either the original form of payment or as a credit towards future games." Interest accrues at a higher rate for refunds applied toward future games.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at the last 10 players drafted fifth overall, including current Cardinals tackle Levi Brown. Urban: "Certainly this is the one all Cards’ fans know about, as well as the guy who went seventh. Brown has his share of critics, but he has stayed in the lineup and the Cardinals consistently have said they aren’t unhappy with his play."
Also from Urban: Cardinals president Michael Bidwill offers thoughts on the state of NFL labor relations. Bidwill: "We’ve been intent on keeping things as normal as possible. From a football standpoint, we continue our evaluations and preparations for the NFL Draft which is our primary focus right now. There are certain rules in place as a result of the current labor situation and the process is constantly evolving but we will be ready for whatever scenarios may emerge. No doubt there is some uncertainty surrounding this offseason, but I am absolutely certain of our team’s readiness and commitment to winning in 2011."
Ian Hamilton of the Regina Leader-Post says Seahawks punter Jon Ryan plans to train with Green Bay's Mason Crosby, among others, while locked out. Ryan: "Normally we would start training on Monday and, for me, that's usually when I start kicking again," said Ryan, noting the Seahawks traditionally report in the third week of March to begin offseason training. "So I'm on my way to my place in Phoenix and I'll start kicking and doing my regular workouts as always. I don't think (the lockout) is going to hurt me in any way physically. It's always nice to train with your teammates, especially in the off-season, but you've got to keep on training, so you just do it on your own." Beyond Crosby, Ryan plans to work out with UFL punters Tom Malone and Danny Baugher, plus Carolina Panthers snapper J.J. Jansen.
Note: That's all I'm seeing on this Tuesday morning.
Also from Barrows: says 49ers director of player personnel Trent Baalke will walk reporters through film sessions featuring the team's new draft choices.
Art Spander of the San Francisco Examiner looks back on the career of late 49ers minority owner Frank Mieuli. Spander: "He put chandeliers in the Cow Palace and Rick Barry’s jersey behind an office door, delivered bags of fruit to sports writers and delivered a championship to the Bay Area. You could call Franklin Mieuli eccentric. I preferred to call him passionate. He had a beard, a deerstalker hat and a love of life. A character, that’s what Mieuli was: delightful and charming, if manipulative. He was the last of the mom-and-pop team owners, and the team he owned, the Golden State Warriors, did him proud."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune pays tribute to retiring Seahawks tackle Walter Jones. Former teammate Robbie Tobeck: "He's more of a competitor than people realize. He’s so good and has such great ability, it almost looks effortless when he's putting somebody on his back. And the reason for it is how hard he works. He wasn’t some superstar who took days off. He’s also one of toughest human beings I’ve ever been around … the man laughs at pain."
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times quotes former Seahawks line coach Howard Mudd this way on Jones: "He had this phenomenal athleticism. Walt is the kind of guy who does things so easily, it almost looks like he's playing at 75 or 80 percent. Like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, he never really struggles to get his job done, even when he's playing against the top NFL players. I don't think he ever lined up in a game where he thought he was closely matched, athletically, to the guy across from him."
Brian McIntyre of scout.com offers positional thoughts on the Seahawks' offense. He lists Deon Butler among the "locks" at receiver, a bit of a surprise.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times shoots down reports suggesting Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke could leave to run the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nothing against hockey, but why would someone cede control of three professional sports franchises -- the Seahawks, Trail Blazers and Sounders -- to run an NHL team? Doesn't made sense.
Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks have made a couple roster moves. DeAngelo Willingham and Tom Malone are out. Matt Overton and Quinton Teal are in.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says new Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons has high expectations.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says during a chat that he was surprised Golden Tate remained available to Seattle at No. 60. Williams: "I thought he would be a late first round, early second round pick. He's a playmaker that will help them immediately. I like getting Kam Chancellor when they did. I think he gives them a different dimension in the back end of the defense that they have not had in a while."
Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com provides a photo of LenDale White and Pete Carroll chatting in Carroll's office at team headquarters.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says two Cardinals rookies -- Jim Dray and John Skelton -- come from families accomplished in business.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who offers thoughts on how the team might proceed after adding Alan Faneca. Left guard Reggie Wells could move to right tackle, competing with Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges for the starting job.
Also from Urban: Quarterback Matt Leinart has switched lockers so he can be closer to the Cardinals' offensive linemen. Does he know what he's getting into from a pranks standpoint? Leinart: "I just wanted to be with my linemen -- simple as that. Now it’s all business. I’m not trying to do it to make a statement or anything, I’m just doing it because these are my guys. I just want them to know I’ll be a leader and I’ll have their back too. We can’t be an offense without them."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will have about 30 players at their postdraft camp on a tryout basis. That is a high number. Coats: "Two practices are planned for both Friday and Saturday, with a final session scheduled for Sunday morning. All are closed to the public. The mandatory full-squad minicamp is June 10-12 and will be surrounded by four weeks of OTAs -- organized team activities, or light practices. Training camp begins in late July, also at Rams Park."
Also from Coats: Acquiring safety Kevin Payne from the Bears could be a hedge against losing Oshiomogho Atogwe.
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams need to keep Alex Barron as insurance this season.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Barron told the team before the draft that he would sign his one-year tender and report to postdraft camp, according to Barron's agent. Thomas: "Barron has been an enigma since being drafted No. 19 overall out of Florida State in 2005. He has been one of the league's most penalized players over that span and occasionally has struggled blocking lesser players. But he frequently plays well against top tier defensive ends and has been durable. He has missed only two games because of injury in his career -- both late in his rookie season -- playing in 67 consecutive games, including 66 starts."
I've updated my 26-column rosters (they're not really on steroids, of course) and you can download a copy here.
Kurt Warner and Bertrand Berry remain listed on the Arizona Cardinals' roster because the team has not moved either onto its retired list. I didn't add punter Tom Malone to the Seattle Seahawks because his reported deal isn't official, to my knowledge. It's also worth remembering that quite a few players will drift off the rosters for good when free agency begins March 5 (Seattle presumably is not taking four snappers to camp, for instance). This is a snapshot showing how rosters appear.
The summary information atop each roster page provides some perspective. For instance, the Seahawks have 15 players from the Pac-10, most in the league and eight more than the league average. Arizona's offensive and defensive players each rank among the seven oldest in the league (losing Warner and Berry will affect those figures). The St. Louis Rams have eight players in their 30s, seven fewer than any team in the division. Seattle has only 28 defensive players, second-fewest in the league. And so on.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com doesn't expect NFL teams to throw around lots of bonus money when the new league year begins March 5, although rules governing the final eight teams in the playoffs aren't as restrictive as they might initially seem.
Also from Urban: Five plays that defined the Cardinals' 2009 season, including Anquan Boldin's 39-yard touchdown catch against the Vikings.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the NFL will approve Shahid Kahn as majority owner of the Rams. Miklasz: "I believe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a man of integrity. I would be absolutely shocked if Khan is treated less than fairly by the NFL or the owners. And if Khan's finances check out, he should be fine. (More on that later.) I would think the NFL would be proud to open the doors to its inner sanctum to Khan -- an ambitious, self-made man who represents the American dream."
Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Illinois football coach Ron Zook as calling Khan self-confident. McDermott: "How will that confidence translate at the Edward Jones Dome? People here who know Khan say to expect a hands-on approach, stopping somewhere short of meddlesome. He won't spend lavishly, except in instances where he sees it as necessary to achieve quality, a topic he is obsessive about. Fans who want flashy behavior and controversy will be disappointed. Players and staff will be able to talk to him."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Khan could enlist a limited partner or two. Thomas: "Not because he needs to, but because he wants to. Those who know Khan are confident he will have no problems in this setting and under this scrutiny. He was described to the Post-Dispatch by one league source as the type of person who 'won't run at the first sign of problems.' Barring any unforeseen obstacles, it's conceivable Khan could be approved as early as the May 24-26 owners meetings in Dallas. But if there is a hiccup or two, the approval process could spill over into the summer."
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the speed of the Rams' sale could hinge on the plans of minority owner Stan Kroenke. Balzer: "Kroenke owns 40 percent of the team and has 60 days from the time the sale agreement is signed and submitted to the league to make his intentions known. Kroenke could retain his 40-percent share, provided he feels good about his potential relationship with Khan. He could sell his 40 percent to Khan, who is prepared for that possibility. He could also elect to exercise his right of first refusal on the other 60 percent, but that appears unlikely because to do that he would have to either sell his NBA and NHL teams in Denver or convince the NFL to change its cross-ownership rules."
Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams hired Panthers assistant trainer Reggie Scott to replace Jim Anderson as head trainer in St. Louis.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at Maryland's Bruce Campbell, among others, as potential offensive tackles the 49ers could consider in the draft. Maryland's strength coach compared Campbell to the 49ers' Vernon Davis in terms of raw athleticism. Barrows: "When I visited the Maryland campus last year for a story on Vernon Davis, I, of course, had to check in with Terps strength coach Dwight Galt. As predicted, Galt gushed about Davis' weight-room prowess. But he also mentioned he had another pupil in Davis' mold. That's Campbell, who like Davis is a muscular, freakish athlete who will put up eye-popping numbers in the weight room."
Also from Barrows: He expects the 49ers to use the franchise tag on nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. That seems like a good way to hedge bets while teams face an uncertain labor future, particularly given the fact Franklin has not yet strung together multiple productive seasons.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the 49ers' specialists, noting Josh Morgan was highly productive in limited opportunities as a kick returner. Maiocco: "His 28.2-yard average on kickoffs would've ranked him third in the NFL if he'd had enough returns to qualify. (He had 13 returns.) But the 49ers do not want to have a starting receiver handling kickoffs. He'll be only an emergency option in 2010. Signed through 2011."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Patrick Kerney, John Carlson, Will Herring, Olindo Mare, Deion Branch, Steve Vallos and Mansfield Wrotto will participate in the NFL Business Management Entrepreneurial Program via Harvard and Wharton business schools. More than 500 NFL players have participated over the years.
Also from Farnsworth: Snappers Pat MacDonald and Matt Overton could compete for the job Jeff Robinson filled in recent seasons. Farnsworth: "In 2007, the Seahawks used Derek Rackley and Boone Stutz with less-than-stellar results, before coaxing Robinson out of retirement for the final three games. In 2008, they spent a sixth-round draft choice on Tyler Schmitt, only to discover he had a degenerative back problem. Enter Robinson, again."
Brian McIntyre of scout.com takes a look at the Seahawks' specialists, calling punter Jon Ryan "arguably" the Seahawks' MVP last season. McIntyre: "The overall need for more team speed is evident in Seattle’s kick and punt coverage units, which ranked 19th (kick) and 30th (punt) in the NFL last season. Less than half of Ryan’s 88 punts were returnable, but those that were, went for an average of 11.1 yards per return."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks added punter Tom Malone to compete with Ryan this offseason.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says CFL pass-rusher Ricky Foley signed with the Seahawks after drawing interest from the Rams, Jets and Patriots. Johns: "It's reasonable to wonder where Foley might fit in, given the Seahawks already have smaller speed-rush type ends in Reed and Darryl Tapp, while also getting ready to try linebacker Aaron Curry in a similar role." This looks like a case of Seattle filling out its numbers toward an 80-man roster, hoping to find a developmental player.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kyle from Austin, Texas, writes: I know it's a long way off and a lot can happen between now and the draft. But, for the sake of argument, if you're Mike Nolan and the rest of the 49ers brass, where do you try go with your number one pick next year? QB? WR?
Mike Sando: I would seek pass-rush help or a dominating nose tackle, with the offensive line as a fallback. First-round quarterbacks and receivers fail at a high rate. Rarely do they produce good things as rookies. Offensive linemen tend to become at least serviceable starters. Ideally, the 49ers would improve their pass rush or find the anchor they need to run the 3-4 and still hold up against the run. Imagine how good Patrick Willis might become with a dominant nose tackle in front of him. Scary.