NFC West: Lawyer Milloy

710ESPN Seattle audio: Woodson's future

February, 18, 2013
Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Danny Amendola, Kevin Kolb, Charles Woodson, Dwight Freeney and Chris Clemons were among the subjects for conversation during a Monday chat with Dave Grosby and Bob Stelton on 710ESPN Seattle.

I've been away for a week and haven't spoken to anyone regarding suggestions Woodson could fit in Seattle based on ties to Seahawks general manager John Schneider. On the surface, however, I'm not seeing a great fit. Woodson is 36 years old. He turns 37 in October and missed nine games to injury last season.

Brian Dawkins, Ronde Barber and Lawyer Milloy are the only defensive backs over the past 10 seasons to play more than 10 games at age 36 or older. Woodson transitioned to safety from cornerback last season. The Seahawks don't need safeties. They could use a nickel cornerback. Woodson could probably help in that regard, at least to some degree. But would he have the quickness at this stage to cover shifty slot receivers? To what degree would he upgrade Seattle in that area?

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lobbied Green Bay to keep Woodson, pointing out that Woodson was still playing at a high level. Woodson was scheduled to count $10 million against the Packers' salary cap. Keeping him at that price didn't make sense to Green Bay. But if Woodson can still cover to some degree, he could help a team such as Seattle at a lower price.

ESPN's Brock Huard recently made a case for Woodson in Seattle. I've got an open mind and would like to hear more.
Sam AchoAP Photo/Paul ConnorsArizona LB Sam Acho should be pumped as his playing time increased heavily late last season.

Pull up a chair. Now, hand it over to Chase from Arizona and watch him pummel me with it.

A good rant can be so cathartic. This one, delivered to the NFC West mailbag, stemmed from my contention that teams tend to sign 35-year-old veterans as backups when they haven't acquired or developed younger alternatives.

I think it's a fair point, except I didn't word it the same way when offering thoughts regarding Clark Haggans' recent re-signing with the Arizona Cardinals.

"Haggans was 30 years old and his sack numbers were declining when Arizona signed him in free agency from Pittsburgh before the 2007 season," I wrote. "The fact that Haggans remains viable five years later is a tribute to him. It also reflects the Cardinals' protracted search for anyone as good, let alone better. Missing on 2009 second-round choice Cody Brown remains costly."

The wording I used wasn't as precise as it should have been, and Chase took me to task for it. Did he ever.

"Mike, why do you continually talk bad about Arizona and their OLBs?" Chase wrote. "Sam Acho had a breakout year as a rookie and played on par with Ryan Kerrigan, who everyone loves right now. Two rookie OLBs outplayed Acho: Von Miller and Aldon Smith, both top 10 picks. So, where exactly is your lack of faith coming from?"

Chase had me ducking for cover at this point.

"You mentioned it was because we brought back Haggans, but you fail to realize Haggans was brought back on a one-year contract as a backup," he continued. "What's wrong with bringing in an experienced player, one familiar with the team, the personnel and the scheme, to be a backup?"

This was getting good. And it was about to get better.

"You act like that move reflects poorly on O'Brien Schofield. Schofield, after all he went through when he was drafted til now, has emerged as a talented young LB. He had 4.5 sacks in no starts! He made key plays to help win games! He's able to drop in coverage and he's adequate against the run!"

At this point, Chase reached into his wallet. I knew what was coming. It could be only one thing. The dreaded "homer" card. Chase didn't just play it, either. He flipped it at my Pacific Northwest chest.

"But you believe Seahawks LBs are set and K.J. Wright is the man," he concluded, "even though he didn't play as well as Acho, and only played as good as Schofield. You're such a damn homer, Sando."

A good rant can be so cathartic. This one stemmed from my contention that teams tend to sign 35-year-old veterans as backups when they haven't acquired or developed younger alternatives. I think it's a fair point.

Chase took my comments about Haggans -- specifically, the part about the Cardinals' inability to find anyone better -- as a criticism of Acho and Schofield, the Cardinals' promising young pass-rushers. That wasn't my intent.

I like the Cardinals' young outside linebackers and have said so. Acho and Schofield getting more opportunities as the 2011 season progressed, as it should have been (and as the playing-time percentages indicate in the chart).

My point on Haggans was this: Ideally, the Cardinals would have a hard time finding a spot for a 35-year-old backup outside linebacker. Ideally, they would have better options with younger players. Ideally, they would be thanking Haggans for all his contributions while moving forward with someone younger. They did that with Joey Porter and it was the right thing to do. Acho's emergence hastened the move.

San Francisco took this route with Takeo Spikes last offseason. The 49ers respected and valued Spikes, who was 34 at the time, but they knew NaVorro Bowman was ready to take his place. Bowman earned All-Pro honors. The Seattle Seahawks parted with Lawyer Milloy, then 37 and another respected vet, because they were so excited about Kam Chancellor. Chancellor went to the Pro Bowl.

Arizona is justifiably excited about Acho and Schofield. There's no shame in bringing back Haggans, either. He should be a good backup and spot starter when needed. I just thought it was fair to point out the other side as well.

As for Wright and the Seahawks' linebackers, there's really no comparison to make. Wright is not an outside pass-rusher. He's a strong-side linebacker in a different scheme.

Seattle does have question marks at linebacker, in my view. The position was a need heading into the draft. We've certainly covered the Aaron Curry mistake in detail. Meanwhile, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. expressed strong reservations about Barrett Ruud, a linebacker Seattle signed in free agency.

In any event, thanks for the feedback, Chase. The chair didin't taste so bad.
Sam Bradford is on his third offensive coordinator in three seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

One constant for the young quarterback: running back Steven Jackson.

Jackson addressed Bradford's prospects, among other subjects, during the ESPN interview displayed above. He strongly supported NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for bounty-related punishments, including the one for current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Jackson's message regarding the Williams audio tape: "We just want to make sure even the little kids in the junior high and Pop Warner don't think this is the way that football should be played."

Jackson also reflected on the hardest hit he ever took, one from Lawyer Milloy during a game against the Buffalo Bills. That hit taught him a lesson about how to protect himself from undue punishment.

Just passing along.
Nearly five months have passed since I set team-by-team expectations for the NFC West based on what I'd seen at training camps.

The San Francisco 49ers outperformed expectations. The St. Louis Rams fell far short. The Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks finished right about where I had projected, but there were more ups and downs along the way than almost anyone could have anticipated.

Let's reconcile expectations with results and try to learn something along the way.

St. Louis Rams

Projected wins: 8

Actual wins: 2

Following up: A tough schedule meant the Rams would need quarterback Sam Bradford to make significant improvement under new coordinator Josh McDaniels. I expected that to happen after speaking with Bradford and McDaniels in some detail during camp. I also expected the Rams' defense to remain a strength after adding veteran role players from winning organizations. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Injuries played a significant role on offense in general and at cornerback, a position I outlined as lacking sufficient depth. But the offensive line wasn't playing well even when the starters were together.

Lesson learned: Bradford and the Rams struggled down the stretch to close out the 2010 season. That should have invited more skepticism from me. I gave Bradford and McDaniels the benefit of the doubt based on Bradford's poise and the confidence both showed heading into the season. The narrative of an ascending young quarterback should not have been so persuasive. Adding veteran role players seemed to make sense at the time because the Rams weren't making significant financial commitments to them. However, signing so many older players meant the team lacked young depth. That should have set off alarms.

Arizona Cardinals

Projected wins: 7-8

Actual wins: 8

Following up: It's tough to take full credit for nailing this projection given how it happened. The team started 1-6 and rallied to 8-8 despite never getting much from newly acquired quarterback Kevin Kolb. I thought Arizona would have needed more games from Kolb to improve its record by three victories. Arizona's ability to manufacture victories through the return game and fourth-quarter rallies made up the difference. The concerns I raised about Kolb's durability in relation to the Cardinals' pass protection hit the mark. The defense showed more improvement than I had anticipated.

Lesson learned: Never underestimate strong safety Adrian Wilson. I had a hard time believing Wilson would hold up physically through a full season after suffering a torn biceps tendon during camp. Wilson not only held up, he got stronger as the season progressed. Wilson even earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. The Cardinals drove home a couple additional lessons this season. They showed that wheeling and dealing aggressively in free agency and through trades can build excitement without delivering immediate results. They also reminded us to withhold final judgments until late in a season. The view from 8-8 looks a lot better than the one from 1-6. But as we look ahead to 2012, we should not assume the Cardinals will continue on their recent trajectory. Every season is different.

San Francisco 49ers

Projected wins: 6-7

Actual wins: 13

Following up: My general feel for the team was accurate. How it would translate into victories was not. I thought the 49ers would be difficult to analyze in the short term because they had a new coaching staff. I thought better-than-expected play at quarterback could quickly upgrade their prospects. And I figured lower expectations from the outside would help. "I am saying there's a chance," was how I put it back in August. A chance for 13-3? Never saw that coming. In retrospect, I should have listed the 49ers' win range as "6+7" instead of 6-7.

Lesson learned: New coach Jim Harbaugh and staff impressed during camp, but I underestimated how much competent coaching would mean for the 49ers right away. The current coaches have done a phenomenal job fitting together how the offense, defense and special teams complement one another. While I allowed for the fact that San Francisco's defensive changes were by design, I wasn't convinced they would pay off. They did, and hugely. The 49ers' personnel people also get credit for resisting temptations to spend lavishly in free agency. They trusted their instincts and got great contributions from NaVorro Bowman and Carlos Rogers in particular. They paid Ray McDonald and parted with Aubrayo Franklin when no one was saying they should do those things. So, if and when the 49ers let players walk in free agency, we should realize things could be going to plan.

Seattle Seahawks

Projected wins: 5-7

Actual wins: 7

Following up: The Seahawks met expectations and probably exceeded them after suffering so many injuries to their offensive line and elsewhere. Seattle was, as expected, a team "eager to let young players develop before acting more boldly to upgrade the quarterback position in the offseason." The Seahawks were an easy team to read for those not blinded by coach Pete Carroll's public support for Tarvaris Jackson. They still need another pass-rusher and better play at quarterback to take the next step.

Lesson learned: Tom Cable is a fantastic offensive line coach, for one. Also, general manager John Schneider and the Seahawks' personnel people should get the benefit of the doubt on their evaluations. They repeatedly got positive results when turning to young players. They replaced Lawyer Milloy with Kam Chancellor and came out way ahead. They replaced Aaron Curry with rookie K.J. Wright and were correct, again. They continually churned the roster and made themselves deeper. They turned a project from the CFL (Brandon Browner) into a Pro Bowl first-alternate even while rookie fifth-round choice Richard Sherman became their best corner. So, if the Seahawks do not show interest in Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn, we can trust it's because Schneider, formerly of the Packers, knows better.

Chat wrap: Four big-picture questions

December, 15, 2011
We've gone from wondering whether Arizona would win another game to having one NFC West chat participant asking whether the Cardinals might suffer a letdown against Cleveland.

The Browns-Cardinals game could become a Backup Bowl after both teams' starting quarterbacks suffered concussions in Week 14.

Thankfully, we had much more to discuss. A few notes:
Jordan from Boise thinks the St. Louis Rams' coaches have made too many mistakes of game management and too few effective in-game adjustments to avoid a coaching change.

Mike Sando: Changes are likely. Is there enough evidence for Stan Kroenke to know for sure he has the right head coach and general manager? I doubt it. If Steve Spagnuolo were watching the current Rams as an assistant for another team, he would be right if he thought, "Hey, I realize they've had some bad breaks, but it's been three years. The record is what it is. Give someone else a try." And it would be very hard to argue with that thinking.

9er Fan East asks whether a poor showing from Alex Smith in the playoffs could lead the team to move forward with Colin Kaepernick next season.

Mike Sando: I see Alex Smith returning. He should return. He fits well with the team and would, at the very least, serve as a good bridge quarterback. I've been thinking about how quickly perceptions change. The 49ers have lost two of three. If they were to lose a couple more and then lose in the wild-card round with Smith playing poorly, then it's pretty easy for the team to consider other options at the position. But all parties must know San Francisco is the best fit for Alex Smith, whether or not Smith projects as a starter.

Amro from Arizona thinks defensive improvement is about all the Cardinals will have to show for this season, with the quarterback situation remaining unresolved.

Mike Sando: Beanie Wells made strides. Daryn Colledge was a good pickup. The run blocking was pretty good overall. Those would be some positive things to take away from this season. I'm with you on the QB front. They probably have to pay the $7 million bonus to Kolb in March, get him up to speed during the offseason and give him the best possible chance to succeed in 2012. They do not know enough right now, most likely.

James from Seattle questions whether using an early draft choice for a pass-rushing defensive end would make sense for the Seattle Seahawks. He suggests a pass-rushing linebacker to replace Leroy Hill might work better because a defensive end would take away plyaing time from Red Bryant.

Mike Sando: I remember when Leroy Hill was going to be a pass-rush force at one point. Going young on defense seemed to make it tougher for the Seahawks to dial up some of the DB pressures that worked well with Lawyer Milloy and Jordan Babineaux around. Seattle needs to improve in that area. Red Bryant has played about 65 percent of the snaps. I think this team could justify using a high pick on a pass-rushing defensive end type. They would have insurance for Chris Clemons and a possible replacement for him, plus someone to pair with him on passing downs.

On Kolb, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic gets the feeling John Skelton will start Sunday even though Kolb is doing more in practice. Kolb has attempted 26 passes in games over the past six weeks.

Week 5 rematches: NFC West vengeance?

October, 5, 2011
NFC West teams went 0-3 last season against the teams they face in Week 5.

They lost those games by a combined 99-31 score.

Much has changed since then. Let's take a look:

Cardinals at Vikings

Score last season: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)

Key play: Brett Favre's 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the final minute of regulation tied the game, forcing overtime after the Cardinals had built a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead. Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards in the game.

Biggest change: Both teams have new quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb for Derek Anderson in Arizona, and Donovan McNabb for Favre in Minnesota. Also, the Vikings have a new head coach (Leslie Frazier) while the Cardinals have a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton).

Storyline: McNabb keeps a home in Arizona and was available to the Cardinals when their quarterback situation was in flux, but the team showed no interest in him. He is now trying to hold off a change to rookie Christian Ponder.

Lineup changes for Arizona (12): Beanie Wells for Tim Hightower at running back, Kolb for Anderson at quarterback, Daryn Colledge for Alan Faneca at left guard, Rex Hadnot for Deuce Lutui at right guard, Todd Heap for Ben Patrick at tight end, Andre Roberts for Steve Breaston at receiver, Anthony Sherman for Reagan Maui'a at fullback (although the team opened its 2010 game at Minnesota without a fullback), Dan Williams for Bryan Robinson at nose tackle, Daryl Washington for Gerald Hayes at linebacker, Clark Haggans for Will Davis at linebacker, A.J. Jefferson for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, Patrick Peterson for Greg Toler at cornerback.

49ers vs. Buccaneers

Score last season: Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0

Key play: Josh Freeman's 1-yard scoring pass to tackle Donald Penn midway through the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on the 49ers' first home shutout since 1977.

Biggest change: Jim Harbaugh has replaced Mike Singletary as the 49ers' head coach.

Storyline: Alex Smith gets a shot at Tampa Bay after watching Troy Smith struggle against the Bucs as the 49ers' starting quarterback last season. Troy Smith's approach centered around striking for big plays. The Bucs took away the big plays. Alex Smith gives the 49ers a chance to be more efficient.

Lineup changes for San Francisco (12): Alex Smith for Troy Smith at quarterback, Joe Staley for Barry Sims at left tackle, Adam Snyder for Chilo Rachal at right guard, Bruce Miller for Moran Norris at fullback, Isaac Sopoaga for Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle, Ray McDonald for Sopoaga at defensive end, Ahmad Brooks for Manny Lawson at outside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman for Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, Carlos Rogers for Nate Clements at cornerback, Tarell Brown for Shawntae Spencer at cornerback, Donte Whitner for Reggie Smith at strong safety.

Seahawks at Giants

Score last season: Giants 41, Seahawks 7

Key play: With Seattle already down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Giants returned Leon Washington's fumbled kickoff return to the Seattle 4, setting up Ahmad Bradshaw's touchdown run on the next play.

Biggest change: Tarvaris Jackson is the starting quarterback for Seattle. Charlie Whitehurst was a fill-in starter for Matt Hasselbeck when the teams played last season.

Storyline: The Seahawks' so-far-unproductive ground game faces a Giants run defense that has struggled. Seattle's young line improved in pass protection last week. Can it take a step forward in run blocking this week?

Lineup changes for Seattle (16): Sidney Rice for Deon Butler at receiver, Jackson for Whitehurst at quarterback, Russell Okung for Chester Pitts at left tackle, Paul McQuistan for Mike Gibson at left guard, Max Unger for Chris Spencer at center, John Moffitt for Stacy Andrews at right guard, James Carpenter for Sean Locklear at right tackle, Zach Miller for John Carlson at tight end, Brandon Mebane for Junior Siavii at defensive tackle, Alan Branch for Craig Terrill at defensive tackle, Red Bryant for Kentwan Balmer at defensive end, K.J. Wright for Aaron Curry at linebacker, David Hawthorne for Lofa Tatupu at linebacker, Leroy Hill for Hawthorne at linebacker, Brandon Browner for Kelly Jennings at right cornerback, Kam Chancellor or Atari Bigby for Lawyer Milloy, depending on Chancellor's availability.

Intelligence report: Seattle Seahawks

September, 1, 2011
Five things to know about the Seattle Seahawks, straight from our newly published 2011 preview:

1. Tarvaris Jackson is the answer: Just make sure you're asking the right question. Jackson was convenient and available to Seattle once the team decided against re-signing Matt Hasselbeck for legitimate starter money. The Seahawks aren't banking on Jackson as their long-term starter. They're buying time to build up the rest of the roster before going after a quarterback next offseason. Sure, there's a chance Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst could surprise them. It's an outside chance. Using a 2012 first-round pick on a quarterback seems more likely.

2. Youth is served: The Seahawks went through training camp and the exhibition season with the NFL's youngest projected starters for 2011. Marcus Trufant and Robert Gallery were the only ones in their 30s. Gallery was the oldest, and he turned 31 only recently. Teams talk about getting younger. Few have the daring to go with so many younger starters when more established options were readily available. The Seahawks replaced longtime starters such as Hasselbeck, Lofa Tatupu, Lawyer Milloy, Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer with younger alternatives. Coach Pete Carroll's recent history in the college game has made him more comfortable going young than most NFL coaches would be.

3. Size matters in the secondary: Starting strong safety Kam Chancellor towers over most NFL defensive backs at 6-foot-3. He wasn't even as tall as the Seahawks' tallest cornerback -- that's right, cornerback -- through training camp and preseason. Brandon Browner, all 6-4 of him, was one of the more impressive cornerbacks in camp. The team used a fifth-round pick for cornerback Richard Sherman, who stands 6-3. Every defensive back on the roster is at least 5-10. Seven of 13 on the roster heading into the final preseason game are at least 6-0. Carroll wants big, rangy cover corners.

4. Leroy Hill lives: A year or two ago, it would have been unthinkable to hold up Hill as the Seattle linebacker whose future with the team appeared brighter than the futures of Tatupu or Aaron Curry. Tatupu had been to three Pro Bowls. Curry was the fourth player chosen in the 2009 draft. Hill was coming off a serious injury and multiple off-field incidents. Tatupu is gone. A restructuring for Curry chopped off two years from his rookie deal and made 2011 quite possibly his final one with the team. Hill, meanwhile, has recaptured the aggressive, borderline violent form that made him a potential rising star a few years ago.

5. The OL looks good on paper: Left tackle Russell Okung's recurring ankle problems aren't the only concern on an offensive line the Seahawks have worked hard to upgrade. Gallery represents an upgrade over his 2010 predecessors at left guard, but he has appeared a bit sluggish. Center Max Unger has yet to flourish since returning from a toe injury. Right guard John Moffitt and right tackle James Carpenter are suffering through typical rookie struggles. The Seahawks are counting on line coach Tom Cable to get the most from this mostly young group.
Well, this will stir up some dust.

Scouts Inc.'s 2011 season projections, available to Insider subscribers, call for the St. Louis Rams to win the NFC West with a 9-7 record.

I'll run through their projections, revisit mine and single out two aspects of the Scouts Inc. analysis, one I like ("Amen, Scouts Inc.") and one I think needs clarification (Picking nits).

St. Louis Rams

Scouts Inc. projection: 9-7

My post-camp win range: 8

Amen, Scouts Inc.: They recognize the Rams will try to be more aggressive with their downfield throws even though the team's wide receivers aren't burners overall.

Picking nits: The outside linebackers did give up too many plays last season, but the team will have two new starters in those positions for 2011.

Seattle Seahawks

Scouts Inc. projection: 7-9

My post-camp win range: 5-7

Amen, Scouts Inc.: I agree that we'll see Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback before long unless the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, sees something in Tarvaris Jackson that others do not see. There's also a good chance for a quarterback change by injury unless Seattle tightens up its pass protection considerably.

Picking nits: How the pass defense performed last season might not mean much for 2011. The team traded away Kelly Jennings, lost Jordan Babineaux and did not re-sign Lawyer Milloy. Walter Thurmond looks completely different athletically in his second season back from knee surgery. The secondary is younger and bigger overall.

Arizona Cardinals

Scouts Inc. projection: 7-9

My post-camp win range: 7-8

Amen, Scouts Inc.: I've focused more on questions regarding the Cardinals' pass-rush, but Scouts Inc. raises legitimate concerns about the run defense. The team's aging outside linebackers were "too slow to execute as playmakers" last season. Now, they're a year older. The team clearly needs some of its younger players to emerge.

Picking nits: While Patrick Peterson's skills should eventually help the Cardinals play more aggressively, the first-round draft choice has so far eased into the role. He has not yet been named a starter.

San Francisco 49ers

Scouts Inc. projection: 6-10

My post-camp win range: 6-7

Amen, Scouts Inc.: The run defense should indeed remain strong even though the 49ers changed some of their personnel up the middle. I went to 49ers camp questioning the defensive changes and came away with a better understanding of what the team was thinking.

Picking nits: There weren't any nits to be found here, at least from my perspective. I had not considered the Scouts Inc. observation regarding the 49ers' rush offense, which read, "We'll see a run-first power attack with a FB and a lot of two-TE sets. Although the new coach wants his backs to be one-cut guys to set up play-action, Gore tends to be more of a patient runner."

Seahawks' starters in NFC West context

August, 27, 2011
Teams relying on players coming off injuries and others who are unproven head into the 2011 NFL season with fewer returning starters.

The Seattle Seahawks are one of those teams.

Four projected Seattle starters -- Kam Chancellor, Leroy Hill, John Moffitt and James Carpenter -- started zero games last season. Three more -- Tarvaris Jackson, Max Unger, and Walter Thurmond -- made a single start.

Those are high numbers, a reflection of the Seahawks' youth movement and reliance upon talented players coming off injuries.

The figure for the San Francisco 49ers is one projected starter with zero 2010 starts (Ray McDonald). It is likewise one for the St. Louis Rams (Lance Kendricks) and up to three for the Arizona Cardinals (Dan Williams, possibly Anthony Sherman and A.J. Jefferson or Patrick Peterson).

Arizona has a high number of 2010 starts for players projected as backups for 2011, even after I moved Deuce Lutui into the lineup over Rex Hadnot at right guard. Richard Marshall, Floyd Womack, Stephen Spach, Jeff King and Paris Lenon or Stewart Bradley are backups with at least 11 starts last season.

Now, a look at Seattle's projected starters and why so many weren't in NFL lineups much last season:
  • Leroy Hill, LB (0): Opened last season as a backup, then suffered Achilles' tendon injury that landed him on injured reserve Oct. 1.
  • James Carpenter, RT (0): Was finishing his college career at Alabama last season.
  • John Moffitt, RG (0): Was finishing his college career at Wisconsin last season.
  • Kam Chancellor, SS (0): Spent rookie season backing up veteran Lawyer Milloy.
  • Tarvaris Jackson, QB (1): Backed up Brett Favre in Minnesota.
  • Max Unger, C (1): Suffered toe injury in opener, landed on injured reserve.
  • Walter Thurmond, CB (1): A rookie last season, Thurmond was still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in college.
  • Alan Branch, DT (3): Rotation player for the Cardinals.
  • Michael Robinson, FB (4): Fullbacks aren't always on the field.
  • Sidney Rice, WR (5): Missed most of the season following hip surgery.
  • Red Bryant, DE (7): Suffered season-ending injury to ACL against Oakland.
  • Russell Okung, LT (10): Multiple ankle injuries set him back as a rookie.
  • Robert Gallery, LG (12): Had a hamstring injury and missed four games with Oakland.
  • Brandon Mebane, DT (12): Missed four games after suffering a calf injury.
  • Mike Williams, WR (13): Foot injuries sidelined him for stretches.
  • Marshawn Lynch, RB (14): Played 16 games, but did not start first and last games of regular season.
  • Zach Miller, TE (15): While with Raiders, missed game against Kansas City with foot injury.
  • Marcus Trufant, CB (16): Played through the ankle injury he suffered against San Diego.
  • Earl Thomas, FS (16): Thomas isn't big for a safety, but he throws his body around and held up well as a rookie.
  • David Hawthorne, LB (16): Has played in all but two games during three-year career.
  • Aaron Curry, LB (16): Started every game in 2010 after missing final two of rookie season.
  • Chris Clemons, DE (16): Played hurt and still produced, leading the division in sacks.

Four projected Seattle starters missed at least half the 2010 season to injuries (Hill, Unger, Rice, Bryant). Three others missed at least one-fourth the season to injuries (Okung, Gallery, Mebane). Four others were backups (Jackson, Thurmond, Branch, Chancellor). Two more were in college (Moffitt, Carpenter).

The team is counting on increased production from most of these players.

The chart totals 2010 starts for current NFC West players, regardless of where they played last season. An initial league-wide analysis showed the Rams with the highest figure and the Seahawks with the lowest, but I haven't had time to verify the numbers for every team in the league. I did verify them for NFC West teams, breaking out the numbers for projected backups and starters.

The Rams have added quite a few veteran players to their roster this season.
A few thoughts on NFC West rosters after calculating age ranks for NFL teams based on the rosters I maintain:
  • The chart ranks teams from oldest to youngest, excluding special-teams players who can sometimes play into their 40s. The first column shows overall rank, counting offensive and defensive players. The third and fourth columns show where teams rank on each side of the ball. These are for starters and backups. In some cases, teams might plan to release older backups on the reduction to 53 players.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Earlier in the preseason, Kevin Kolb referred to the Cardinals as a young team. They do have young players, some of whom played extensively last season and should be better for it. But the Cardinals have the sixth-oldest roster in the league overall. Vonnie Holliday (35), Clark Haggans (34), Joey Porter (34), Paris Lenon (33), Floyd Womack (32), Adrian Wilson (31), Todd Heap (31) and Nick Eason (31) are some of them. The team has also favored veteran offensive linemen, including veteran backups.

  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams got older on purpose, adding seasoning to their defense through players added on one-year deals. Al Harris (36) is the oldest non-specialist on the team. James Hall (34) and Fred Robbins (34) remain valuable contributors. Both start. Rookie Robert Quinn will likely replace Hall at some point. Drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2012 draft could make sense, too. Some of the Rams' additions could come at the expense of incumbent veterans such as Hank Fraley (34 next month) and Na'il Diggs (33).

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have gotten younger this offseason, particularly on defense. They subtracted Takeo Spikes (34), Aubrayo Franklin (31 this week), Travis LaBoy (30), Brian Westbrook, Nate Clements (31), Brian Westbrook (32 next month), William James (32), Barry Sims (36) and Demetric Evans (32 next month).. Fulback Moran Norris (33) is their oldest non-specialist. The team has only six non-specialists in their 30s, half as many as the Cardinals have.

  • Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have been getting younger by design over the past two seasons. Like the 49ers, they have only six non-specialists in their 30s, with none older than 33 (Raheem Brock). They have subtracted Sean Locklear (30), Matt Hasselbeck (36 next month), Stacy Andrews (30), J.P. Losman (30), Brandon Stokley (35), Lawyer Milloy (37), Chester Pitts (32) and Craig Terrill (31). Most general managers want to make their teams younger when starting out. In Seattle, the head coach is also amendable to that approach. But a few players such as Brock (33), Junior Siavii (32), Colin Cole (31), Marcus Trufant (30) and Atari Bigby (30 next month) have kept the Seahawks defensive ranking from sinking further. Seattle is 16th oldest on that side of the ball.

I've sprouted a couple new gray hairs just typing in some of these names. Might be time to squeeze in an afternoon workout.

2011 UFA market: NFC West scorecard

August, 23, 2011
With training camps winding down, I've found time to update rosters and put together team-by-team reference material for unrestricted free agency.

The names below match official NFL counts.

These are for players with at least four accrued NFL seasons whose contracts expired following the 2010 season. I've added comments for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed (8): Ben Graham, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah, Ben Claxton, Lyle Sendlein, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Stephen Spach.

New to team (7): Chansi Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Daryn Colledge, Nick Eason, Stewart Bradley, Floyd Womack, Jeff King.

Still unsigned (3): Alan Faneca, Jason Wright, Bryan Robinson.

Signed elsewhere (5): Steve Breaston (Kansas City), Gabe Watson (New York Giants), Ben Patrick (Giants), Trumaine McBride (New Orleans), Alan Branch (Seattle).

Comment: Sendlein, Colledge and Bradley were the big signings. Marshall provides needed depth at cornerback. Faneca and Wright announced their retirements. The Cardinals weren't aggressive in trying to re-sign the players they lost to other teams. The biggest move Arizona made, acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, did not involve a UFA.

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed (4): Ray McDonald, Tony Wragge, Dashon Goldson, Alex Smith.

New to team (5): Braylon Edwards, Jonathan Goodwin, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, David Akers.

Still unsigned (5): Brian Westbrook, Troy Smith, Demetric Evans, William James, Barry Sims.

Signed elsewhere (6): David Baas (Giants), Travis LaBoy (San Diego), Jeff Reed (Seattle), Aubrayo Franklin (New Orleans), Takeo Spikes (San Diego), Manny Lawson (Cincinnati).

Comment: Re-signing McDonald signaled Franklin's departure. Getting Goldson back on the relative cheap was a victory. The 49ers wanted to keep Baas, but not at the price he commanded. The team thinks NaVorro Bowman has a bright future in Spikes' old spot at inside linebacker. Lawson wasn't strong enough as a pass-rusher to stick around. Safety depth is improved.

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed (7): Raheem Brock, Junior Siavii, Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy, Michael Robinson, Kelly Jennings.

New to team (8): Branch, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, Jimmy Wilkerson, Atari Bigby, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Reed.

Still unsigned (7): Jay Richardson, Craig Terrill, Chester Pitts, Brandon Stokley, Ruvell Martin, J.P. Losman, Lawyer Milloy.

Signed elsewhere (8): Will Herring (New Orleans), Olindo Mare (Carolina), Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), Chris Spencer (Chicago), Jordan Babineaux (Tennessee), Sean Locklear (Washington), Amon Gordon (Kansas City), Ray Willis (Washington).

Comment: Adding Jackson as the starting quarterback was the most significant move for the 2011 season. Mebane was the most important re-signing for the longer term. Hill was a bargain relative to how he's playing right now. Miller and Rice were the types of young, talented players who rarely change teams in free agency. The Seahawks were outbid for Herring and Mare. Can street free agent David Vobora fill some of the void Herring left?

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed (2): Adam Goldberg, Gary Gibson.

New to team (9): Daniel Muir, Quinn Ojinnaka, Harvey Dahl, Ben Leber, Zac Diles, Jerious Norwood, Cadillac Williams, Quintin Mikell, Mike Sims-Walker.

Still unsigned (5): Chris Hovan, Michael Lewis, Darcy Johnson, Clifton Ryan, Mark Clayton.

Signed elsewhere (4): Daniel Fells (Denver), Laurent Robinson (San Diego), Derek Schouman (Washington), Kevin Dockery (Pittsburgh).

Comment: Dahl and Mikell were the big additions. Clayton could return if and when his surgically repaired knee allows. Sims-Walker is a wild card. The team didn't flinch when any of its own UFAs signed elsewhere. Most of the moves made on defense were designed to improve St. Louis against the run. Remember that newcomer Justin Bannan was not a UFA. Denver released him.

NFC West: What's left in free agency

August, 23, 2011
The time has come for some accounting now that the top unrestricted free agents have found homes. Others continue to wait.

I've put together charts showing how many and which UFAs for NFC West teams remain unsigned. The deadline passed Saturday for teams to make qualifying offers to these players.

The charts rank unsigned UFAs from oldest to youngest. I've ordered the players this way because so many older players find out through free agency where they stand.

A couple players, Alan Faneca and Jason Wright, have announced intentions to retire. They have chosen to go out on their own terms. Retirement becomes a process for others. Free agency comes and goes, the phone seldom rings, teams get on with their lives and before long, a player realizes he is finished.

Some players listed below could help teams if they found the right situations. Lawyer Milloy started 16 games for the Seattle Seahawks last season. The St. Louis Rams have kept in touch with Mark Clayton to monitor the receiver's recovery from knee surgery.

Note: UFAs are defined strictly as players whose contracts expired following at least four accrued NFL seasons. Released players are not UFAs in the same sense even though they can sign with any team.

Deep breaths, Seattle Seahawks fans.

No need to hyperventilate over the building quarterback competition between Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst.

A few things to take into account before exercising your SportsNation voting privileges:
  • The Seahawks have no real starter. Jackson and Whitehurst are making backup money. The Seahawks haven't committed to either one as a long-term starter. Jackson is the starter until he is no longer the starter. Seattle will revisit the quarterback situation down the line. Carson Palmer could become an option. The team could draft a quarterback or trade for one. This is a transitional year for the team at quarterback. Not particularly dramatic.
  • Lawyer Milloy does not get a vote. The former Seahawks safety stirred conversation by supporting Whitehurst, his former teammate, as worthy of the starting job. Milloy credits Whitehurst for helping the Seahawks reach the playoffs last season. He likes what he's seen from Whitehurst during the preseason. Fair enough, but Milloy should know better than most just how misleading preseason performance can be. Despite a 93.1 rating, Whitehurst is averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, which ranks 19th among 22 qualifying quarterbacks.
  • Whitehurst has responded. Coach Pete Carroll was a little premature in naming Jackson his starter before camp got under way. The move is looking like a smart one in retrospect. Whitehurst, a non-factor during his first season with the team, has responded well enough to become relevant. He has made strides with his accuracy, mechanics and overall feel for the game. He looks better now than he has in the past. That is a good thing for the Seahawks. Carroll will have to choose between continuing to dangle the carrot or letting Whitehurst have a bite of it.
  • Jackson hasn't had any help. It's tough to fault Jackson for struggling with the first-team offense. Pass protection has been weak. Whitehurst has benefited from working against backup defenses. Any quarterback would likely look better going against lesser competition. That goes for Jackson, too.
  • Whitehurst has earned first-team reps. I'm with Milloy in thinking Whitehurst has done enough through two preseason games to get a longer look. The third preseason game awaits. That is generally when teams play their first units the longest. Why not give Jackson and Whitehurst an equal number of chances with the starters? Seems like something to consider.

Your thoughts?
Regular contributor K.C. Joyner has shared a few NFC West notes from his 2011 fantasy football guide, including this one for the Seattle Seahawks:

Joyner: "The Seahawks posted 37 sacks last year, a total that ranked a respectable 13th in the league, but there is a strong reason to think they will improve on that mark in 2011. The guide looks at how many sacks each team’s opponents allowed in the previous season, the idea being that a high total here is an indicator that a team will have lots of favorable pass rush opportunities. The Seahawks' opponents allowed 624 sacks last year, a total that was the most of any team in the NFL. Getting the sack total over 40 should be the low-end goal for this defense."

My thoughts: Seattle surprisingly collected 22 of its 37 sacks last season away from home. That included six against the Mike Martz-coordinated Chicago Bears, five against the quarterback-challenged Arizona Cardinals and four against St. Louis Rams rookie Sam Bradford. The Seahawks need to crank up their sack production at home while replacing the 5.5 sacks they got from veteran defensive backs Lawyer Milloy (4.0) and Jordan Babineaux (1.5). Side note: Seven of the Seahawks' 16 games come against teams with new head coaches and/or new starting quarterbacks. This includes games against San Francisco (twice), Arizona (twice), Denver, Oakland and Carolina.

Why Seahawks wanted Bigby, not Milloy

August, 16, 2011
Atari Bigby's signing in Seattle gives the Seahawks experienced, hard-nosed depth at strong safety with one giant "if" to consider.

Bigby has missed 24 games to injury over the past three seasons. He has value only if he can get and stay healthy.

The former Green Bay Packers starter tuns 30 next month, making him considerably younger than unsigned 2010 starter Lawyer Milloy. Milloy, 37, has missed only six games since 1996. He has played all 16 games in a season 13 times.

Why not just bring back Milloy, one of the toughest players of his generation?

There's a tradeoff in re-signing such a durable, competitive player amid a youth movement. Milloy returned to the Seahawks last season only after coach Pete Carroll promised to restore him as the starter. Milloy had not been happy as a backup in 2009. Any leadership he might have provided would have been muted from the bench in 2011.

Kam Chancellor is going to start at strong safety for the Seahawks this season. He's having a strong training camp. The team envisions pairing him with free safety Earl Thomas for years to come. Seattle considered bringing back veteran safety/cornerback Jordan Babineaux for veteran depth, but the Tennessee Titans signed him.

Back to Bigby. Ankle, groin and hamstring injuries limited him to four games with Green Bay last season. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert put it this way in a November item entitled, "Another setback for Atari Bigby":
The Packers had envisioned Bigby as a long-term starter but he has slowly slid off their radar because of injuries and contract disputes. They opened the season with rookie Morgan Burnett as their starter, and Charlie Peprah took over after Burnett suffered a season-ending knee injury. We're a long way from next season, but you would have to consider Peprah and Burnett to be in much higher standing from an organizational perspective.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider was with the Packers when Bigby started 11 games for the team in 2009. Bigby comes to Seattle without the lucrative deal he once coveted, and with much to prove.