NFL Nation: Bryan Robinson

Kevin KolbChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesSigning Kevin Kolb signals that the Cardinals are ready to bounce back after a transition season.

Kevin Kolb's arrival from Philadelphia gives the Arizona Cardinals renewed hope at quarterback and clear direction following Kurt Warner's retirement.

It provides a fresh start after a forgettable 2010 transition season for Arizona.

So much has changed for the Cardinals since their Super Bowl appearance following the 2008 season. Other rosters around the league have turned over since then, of course, but not every team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

Quite a few teams have sought change. For the Cardinals, it just happened.

Warner's departure, while easily the biggest change, was far from the only one. Between five and eight starters from that Super Bowl game project as starters in 2011, depending upon how many of the team's unrestricted free agents re-sign.

When Steve Breaston left the Cardinals for Kansas City this week, drawing attention to the cumulative effect of Arizona's roster upheaval, a Seahawks fan drew parallels between Seattle's post-Super Bowl decline and the Cardinals' plight last season.

"Don't misunderstand," Ricky Frey wrote on my Facebook wall, "I'm a Hawks fan, but it seems eerily familiar to watch this happen and know what happened to Holmgren/Mora. Writing on the wall?"

Not if Kolb has anything to say about it. Acquiring a relatively young, potentially ascending quarterback puts Arizona in position to avoid the decline Seattle experienced as a Matt Hasselbeck struggled with injuries while the roster around him withered away. The NFC West remains in transition overall, and the Cardinals know it.

"It’s obviously winnable, but it’s funny to think that everybody thinks you can just step in and win it," Kolb told reporters Friday. "You’re talking about NFL football teams here. I know last year 7-9 is what won it, but it doesn’t matter. ... The door is open, we know, and we’ll be ready to kick it in when it’s time, but it’s not going to be an easy task."

Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson and the recently re-signed Lyle Sendlein started for Arizona in the Super Bowl and remain starters in 2011. Another starter from that Super Bowl game, Gerald Hayes, was released this week. Three more are becoming unrestricted free agents: Deuce Lutui, Bryan Robinson and Gabe Watson.

Six Arizona starters from that game are retired or did not play last season: Mike Gandy, Warner, Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith, Chike Okeafor and Monty Beisel. Seven more play for other teams: Reggie Wells, Leonard Pope, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Smith, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and the recently traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Some were role players. Others were tougher to replace.

Breaston was a backup on that team, but he played extensively as the third receiver and finished the season with more than 1,000 yards.

Kolb's addition headlined a flurry of transactions the Cardinals announced Thursday and Friday.

Sendlein, safety Hamza Abdullah, cornerback Michael Adams, tackle D'Anthony Batiste, center Ben Claxton, punter Ben Graham, fullback Reagan Maui'a and tight end Stephen Spach re-signed.

Five draft choices have signed. Guard Daryn Colledge, defensive end Nick Eason, tight end Jeff King, receiver Chansi Stuckey and linebacker Stewart Bradley have signed as free agents from other teams.

Re-signing Sendlein while adding Kolb, Colledge and Bradley suggests the 2011 team is still coming together, not necessarily falling apart.
Alex Smith and Matt HasselbeckGetty ImagesAlex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck are both eligible for free agency this offseason.
It is possible, even likely, that the NFL and its players will continue their staring contest through the 2011 draft -- even with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson.

The appeals process could take weeks or longer, during which time it's unlikely the league would open for business. We're probably doomed to status quo, in other words.

But if ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson is correct, Judge Nelson will most likely end the lockout, leading to an immediate appeal -- a scenario I think would lead, eventually, to the league opening for business under 2010 rules while the sides continued their battle in the courts.

Those 2010 rules set the bar high for free agency. Only players with six accrued seasons would qualify for the unrestricted market. Starters such as Arizona's Steve Breaston, San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Seattle's Brandon Mebane would lose leverage and most likely return to their teams under relatively modest one-year deals.

The players listed in the chart -- those with at least six accrued seasons and no contracts for 2011 -- would be free to explore opportunities elsewhere.

Options and implications for this type of free agency in the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Overview: The Cardinals suffered more personnel losses than they could weather last offseason. They would benefit from a return to 2010 rules, however, because the restrictions would keep multiple starters off the market. Their list of potential free agents with six-plus seasons features no front-line players. The Cardinals would be better off focusing on a new deal with Larry Fitzgerald, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Top priority: Finding a veteran quarterback. Derek Anderson isn't expected back. Marc Bulger's name is heard most frequently in connection with the Cardinals. He turned 34 this week and did not attempt a pass in a regular-season game while with Baltimore last season. Bulger struggled during his final seasons with the Rams, but the team was falling apart around him. He last finished an NFL season with more touchdowns than interceptions in 2006. The down year has surely helped him get healthy.

Players in flux: Breaston, starting guard Deuce Lutui and starting center Lyle Sendlein wouldn't have enough accrued seasons to become unrestricted under 2010 rules. The situation is particularly difficult for Breaston, who has battled through knee problems without getting a long-term deal.

Veteran variable: Starting left guard Alan Faneca has considered retirement. The Cardinals invested in veteran guard Rex Hadnot for depth last offseason. The team lacks young depth on the line, but if Lutui and Sendlein return, the Cardinals have some flexibility.

Name to keep in mind: Ike Taylor, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals are hoping Greg Toler can build upon an up-and-down 2010 season. Taylor would give the team options. He played under new Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

St. Louis Rams

Overview: The Rams' most important players tend to be younger starters under contract for the long term (Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Rodger Saffold, Sam Bradford, Jason Smith). Most of their top veterans are also under contract (Steven Jackson, Fred Robbins, James Hall). Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is out of the picture after signing with the Washington Redskins following his salary-related release.

Top priority: The Rams could use a veteran guard with some nastiness. The team has invested heavily in its line, but this group could use more of an edge. Bringing back receiver Mark Clayton should be another consideration even though Clayton is coming off a serious knee injury. The rapport Clayton had with Bradford was strong.

Players in flux: Defensive tackles Gary Gibson and Clifton Ryan would remain property of the Rams under 2010 rules, as would cornerback Kevin Dockery and receiver Laurent Robinson. Gibson was the only full-time starter of the group last season. The Rams are expected to seek an upgrade at that position even with Gibson coming back.

Veteran variable: Adam Goldberg started all 16 games on the offensive line last season. The Rams could stand to upgrade, but I see value in bringing back Goldberg as a backup. He can play every position on the line but center. Goldberg has also taken an interest in mentoring younger players. His value off the field is a consideration.

Name to keep in mind: Daniel Graham, TE, Denver Broncos. Graham could make sense for the Rams in free agency. He played under the Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and could help upgrade the run blocking. Seattle has connections to Graham as well.

San Francisco 49ers

Overview: The 49ers signed some of their better young players to long-term contracts well before labor pains became so severe. Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley come to mind. The lockout has made it tougher for the 49ers' new coaches to get a feel for players. The 49ers like their talent overall and haven't been big players in free agency over the past couple of seasons. That isn't likely to change.

Top priority: Finding a starting quarterback trumps everything else. Alex Smith can become a free agent. Backups David Carr and Troy Smith are not expected back. The 49ers aren't expected to use the seventh overall choice to select or acquire a quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh prides himself in coaching up quarterbacks, but he needs quarterbacks to coach.

Players in flux: Goldson, outside linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive lineman Ray McDonald are among the 49ers players that would fall short of the six-season requirement for unrestricted free agency.

Veteran variable: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin played last season under a one-year franchise deal. The price tag for re-franchising Franklin appears prohibitive. The 49ers took a wait-and-see approach with Franklin because they hadn't seen him perform at a high level over the long term. They'll need a new nose tackle if Franklin departs.

Name to keep in mind: The 49ers' staff is coming mostly from the college ranks, so there aren't obvious connections to players from other NFL rosters. I expect the 49ers to focus more on re-signing some of their own players, from Spikes to David Baas and beyond.

Seattle Seahawks

Overview: The Seahawks have a long list of players without contracts for 2011. That was mostly be design. The team would like to continue turning over its roster without investing too much in older players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Raheem Brock and Olindo Mare.

Top priority: Figuring out the quarterback situation. Hasselbeck is headed for free agency and could leave if another team gives him some of the longer-term assurances Seattle has resisted. The Seahawks have shown some interest in Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, a player they inquired about last offseason. They still have Charlie Whitehurst. They could draft a quarterback early.

Players in flux: Defensive tackle Mebane heads the list of Seattle players who would not reach free agency under the rules used in 2010. General manager John Schneider called Mebane a "steady pro" when asked about him at the combine. That sounded like faint praise and an indication the Seahawks are not yet prepared to pay top dollar for Mebane if, and when, he hits the market.

Veteran variable: The Seahawks have a few of them, including Mare and Brock. But let's focus on offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer. They combined for 31 starts, but neither appears to be a priority for re-signing. Stacy Andrews is a candidate to step in for Locklear at right tackle. Max Unger could replace Spencer. Coach Pete Carroll thinks the team has upgraded its young depth on the line.

Name to keep in mind: Robert Gallery, guard, Oakland Raiders. Tom Cable's addition as offensive line coach makes Seattle a logical destination for Gallery, who has declared his intention to leave the Raiders.

In-depth look at NFC West defenses

December, 23, 2010
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I've asked Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information to sift through defensive charting information for performance clues regarding NFC West teams.

Among his findings, with my thoughts as well ...

San Francisco 49ers

What they do well: The 49ers appear very stout against the run while in their base 3-4 with seven defenders in the box. The Steelers (2.8 yards per carry) and Jets (2.8) are the clear 1-2 in this area, but the 49ers come in at 3.5, third-best in the league. The NFL average is 4.4 yards.

What they do not do as well: The 49ers stay in their base 3-4 defense a league-high 21.3 percent of the time against three or more wide receivers. San Francisco has not fared well when doing so. The 49ers realize only slight gains against the run in these situations, but they allow an additional yard per pass attempt -- up to 8.1 from 7.1 -- when staying in their base 3-4 against three-plus wideouts. The 49ers also struggle in general against passes traveling at least 15 yards. Opponents have a league-high 108.7 passer rating on these throws.

My thoughts: The 49ers' pass defense hasn't been as good as expected even though the team has gotten younger and more athletic at safety. San Francisco has also faced some top quarterbacks, including Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Matt Cassel is also enjoying a strong season. Kyle Orton was playing well when the 49ers faced Denver. Sam Bradford was also more efficient back when the 49ers faced him.

Arizona Cardinals

What they do well: Arizona has been much better against run and pass when loading the box with more defenders than offenses have available to block them. Against the run, the Cardinals allow 3.3 yards per carry with a loaded box, down from 4.5 when not loaded. The Cardinals allow a lower completion percentage (52.4 vs. 63.1), passer rating (70.8 vs. 85.3), yards per attempt (6.7 vs. 7.3) and yards after the catch average (2.8 vs. 3.3) with a loaded box.

What they do not do as well: The Cardinals' inability to slow down opposing running games out of their base defense with seven defenders in the box hurts them. Arizona is, in some ways, average overall against the run, allowing 4.4 yards per carry. That number balloons to 5.2 per carry against the Cardnials' base 3-4 with seven defenders in the box, third-highest in the league (4.4 is average).

My thoughts: The Cardinals should be much better against the run after using a first-round draft choice for nose tackle Dan Williams. Williams has improved, but 36-year-old Bryan Robinson has continued to start. Any team with Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and two big safeties, notably Adrian Wilson, should hold up better against the run. The Cardinals have been weak at linebacker, compromising the defense up front and in the secondary. Campbell hasn't played as well as expected, either, and a shoulder injury has made life tougher for Dockett.

St. Louis Rams

What they do well: The Rams have been above average with their third-down passing defense when they bring in an extra defensive back, especially when the opponent's pass attempt does not go beyond the first-down marker. Using that as our criterion, the Rams are allowing a 42.5 percent completion percentage, good for third in the NFC. The league average is 47.2 percent. The Rams are allowing a 54.0 passer rating in these situations (league average is 69.9). St. Louis' extra-DB packages have also been the best in the NFC West at making sure teams do not gain first downs after catching the ball short of the first-down marker. The Rams allow 34.2 percent of completed passes short of the marker go for first downs. The NFL average is 37.3 percent.

What they do not do as well: Like the Cardinals, the Rams struggle out of their base defense with seven defenders in the box. They allow 5.18 yards per carry in these situations, right ahead of the Cardinals' 5.2 average.

My thoughts: The Rams haven't faced as many elite quarterbacks this season after going against Rodgers, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Brees and Matt Schaub when all five were enjoying monster years in 2009. That has helped. The Rams were also stronger than anticipated at linebacker until losing Na'il Diggs to a season-ending injury. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins has been stout, but the Rams need another big interior defender to pair with him. They need help at linebacker, particularly on the weak side. This defense appears well-coached.

Seattle Seahawks

What they do well: Their strongest unit appears to be their five-plus DB pass defense, with a caveat. The overall numbers aren't great, including an 84.7 passer rating, which is above the league average (81.1). But Seattle has gotten 22 of its 32 sacks when going with these "small" packages. Opponents are completing only 54.9 percent of their passes against these packages, which ranks fourth in the NFL (60.1 is average). When the Seahawks do allow completions against these packages, however, they tend to be big ones. Seattle has allowed 30 pass plays of at least 20 yards against its small sets.

What they do not do as well: Seattle has struggled against short-to-intermediate passes (those thrown 14 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage). The Seahawks are allowing a 102.4 passer rating on throws in that range, well above the NFL average of 89.2. Seattle allows 4.7 yards after the catch on these throws, a yard more than the league average and the second-highest figure in the league. If the Seahawks were just average at allowing yards after the catch, they would have allowed about 125 fewer yards on these throws.

My thoughts: The coaching staff has sometimes effectively unleashed creative blitzes with extra defensive backs. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy has led the way. But Seattle has essentially fielded three defenses this season. The first one featured Red Bryant, Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane along the line, providing cover for a healthier Lofa Tatupu at middle linebacker. The second one struggled without two and sometimes three of those linemen. Tatupu's health also deteriorated. The third defense has Cole and Mebane, but no Bryant, who is on injured reserve. The Seahawks have tried to adjust. They tackled much better against the Falcons.

Beanie Wells among Cardinals' inactives

September, 12, 2010
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ST. LOUIS -- Injured running back Beanie Wells wasn't expected to play Sunday after not practicing all week. Sure enough, Wells was among the players named inactive.

Tim Hightower will start at running back, which would have happened anyway, and Hightower will probably get more carries than usual. This marks the second consecutive season an injury suffered before the opener will affect Wells' snap counts. The ankle injury he suffered in camp as a rookie made him play catch-up.

Also inactive for Arizona: receiver Andre Roberts, cornerback A.J. Jefferson, cornerback Brandon McDonald, linebacker Cyril Obiozor, center Ben Claxton and nose tackle Gabe Watson.

The Cardinals will have two rookie receivers active and Roberts, a third-round choice, is not one of them. The undrafted Max Komar appears likely to return punts. Fellow undrafted rookie Stephen Williams is active as a receiver.

Watson's inclusion on the list reflects his standing behind rookie first-round choice Dan Williams as the primary backup to Bryan Robinson.

Age rankings for every NFL team

July, 12, 2010
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Rookie free agents and other young prospects drag down age stats for NFL teams this time of year.

The relative averages are more relevant than the averages themselves.

The chart shows where NFL teams ranked in average age heading into the weekend. The figures count undrafted free agents and unsigned draft choices. They do not count kickers, punters or snappers because older players at those positions could distort averages in a misleading way.

Having an older roster can be fine and even preferable as long as the team is contending. Being old and bad leads to massive roster overhauls. The St. Louis Rams fit the profile two years ago, leading to a dramatic roster overhaul that continued this offseason.

Quick thoughts on each NFC West team's current age ranking, based on the rosters I maintain for every team, and not counting specialists:

12. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals subtracted Kurt Warner, but they're counting on 33-year-olds Clark Haggans, Alan Faneca and Joey Porter. The team also re-signed 36-year-old nose tackle Bryan Robinson.

Arizona does have good young players, though.

13. Seattle Seahawks

This ranking was higher than I would have anticipated given how much coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have talked about embracing youth.

Seattle re-signed Lawyer Milloy and added two more older players, receiver Sean Morey and guard Ben Hamilton, as free agents.

18. San Francisco 49ers

More than half the 49ers' starters could be 26 or younger, the highest total in the division (based on tentative projections): Vernon Davis, Parys Haralson, Alex Smith, Manny Lawson, Dashon Goldson, Joe Staley, Patrick Willis, Josh Morgan, Chilo Rachal, Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree and the youngest player on the roster, 20-year-old tackle Anthony Davis.

28. St. Louis Rams

The Rams were generally among the three youngest teams on average last season. They added some seasoning this offseason by signing Fred Robbins, A.J. Feeley, Chris Hovan and Na'il Diggs. Those four players are between 32 and 33 years old.

The Rams remain one of the NFL's youngest teams after adding 11 draft choices, releasing Marc Bulger and failing to re-sign three unrestricted free agents in their 30s (Randy McMichael, Leonard Little and Clinton Hart).
The Cardinals' interest in free-agent pass-rusher Joey Porter hinges in part on whether the team feels comfortable with his ability to assimilate a strong personality into the locker room.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt made that clear during his recent interview with XTRA910 radio. He pointed to Bryan Robinson and Kurt Warner as veteran players secure enough in their own careers to help develop younger players. The team would want Porter or any veteran to embrace that style as the team develops young outside linebackers Will Davis and Cody Brown.
"I think you have to be very clear about this process when you bring a guy in like that," Whisenhunt told XTRA910. "You have to make sure they understand what the expectations are for them not only as a player but as a leader."

Porter has apparently gotten the message.
"I feel like I can fill the need for what they are looking for as far as an outside linebacker and that I can bring that whole presence of making sure I get to the quarterback," Porter told reporters during his visit to Cardinals headquarters. "Doing my job, but not trying to step on anybody's toes, just doing my job and helping them get back on the track that they want to go on."

The part about not stepping on toes was important. Porter's reputation for bravado and bluster can be a positive if channeled in the context of team.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 3, 2010
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Arizona Cardinals

Unrestricted free agents: TE Anthony Becht, LB Monty Beisel, LB Bertrand Berry (retired), LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, FB Dan Kreider, WR Sean Morey, LB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware.

Restricted free agents: SS Hamza Abdullah, WR Steve Breaston, G Ben Claxton, FB Justin Green, LG Deuce Lutui, TE Ben Patrick, TE Lyle Sendlein, TE Stephen Spach, WR Jerheme Urban, NT Gabe Watson.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Cardinals generally do not pursue marquee free agents from other teams. That trend figures to continue. The Cardinals have too many of their own free agents to re-sign for them to worry about chasing other teams' castoffs. We might see Arizona plug the roster with a few lower-tier free agents. They had success doing that last offseason, particularly with Becht at tight end. Dansby leads the list of 2009 starters expected to depart.

St. Louis Rams

Unrestricted free agents: QB Kyle Boller, DE James Hall, SS Clinton Hart, LB Paris Lenon, DE Leonard Little, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.

Restricted free agents: S Eric Bassey, S Craig Dahl, TE Daniel Fells, LS Ryan Neill, DT Clifton Ryan, CB Jonathan Wade, DE Victory Adeyanju, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, T Alex Barron, RB Sam Gado, DT Gary Gibson, WR Ruvell Martin, G Mark Setterstrom.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Rams could be in the market for a veteran quarterback such as Chad Pennington. Beyond quarterback, coach Steve Spagnuolo said the Rams could use a little more seasoning in the form of veteran role players. The Rams will remain a young team, but they could add some experience. The team parted with players fitting that profile last offseason, but most had inflated salaries. The ones St. Louis adds this year figure to carry lower price tags in most cases. The Rams have said they want Little and Hall back. McMichael figures to be gone.

Seattle Seahawks

Unrestricted free agents: WR Nate Burleson, FB Justin Griffith, LS Kevin Houser, LB D.D. Lewis, CB Ken Lucas, T Damion McIntosh, S Lawyer Milloy, DE Cory Redding, LS Jeff Robinson.

Restricted free agents: T Brandon Frye, WR Ben Obomanu, LB Lance Laury, G Rob Sims, G Chris Spencer, DE Darryl Tapp.

Franchise player: K Olindo Mare

What to expect: The Seahawks are a little difficult to figure. Their owner has the money to bankroll aggressive spending if Seattle chooses to go that route. Coach Pete Carroll surely realizes the team could use talent upgrades. The new general manager, John Schneider, comes from the Ted Thompson school of personnel. Thompson's aversion for free agency is well established, although Schneider has characterized himself as slightly more aggressive. The problem, of course, is finding good players on the market. Burleson will hit the market. He could return if the price is right. Carroll has said nice things about Redding, who should be affordable.

San Francisco 49ers

Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre Bly, CB Walt Harris, T Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, T Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich (retired), LB Matt Wilhelm.

Restricted free agents: LG David Baas, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Marcus Hudson.

Franchise player: NT Aubrayo Franklin

What to expect: The 49ers have largely turned their back on free agency now that they feel better about their roster. I would expect the team to lay low again when the signing period begins late Thursday night on the West Coast.

Taking questions for Graves, Whisenhunt

February, 26, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Cardinals general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt are scheduled to address reporters as part of the NFL combine media schedule Saturday.

Both signed contract extensions recently. Both will try to keep the Cardinals atop the NFC West despite several significant threats to the roster, including Kurt Warner's retirement and the potential loss of defensive starters Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle.

I'll have access to Graves and Whisenhunt during their news conference. If you have questions for them, please share. I'll put together an item Saturday based at least in part on their responses.

Among the challenges facing this team during the offseason:

  • Developing Matt Leinart as Warner's replacement
  • Finding a long-term successor for nose tackle Bryan Robinson
  • Developing Will Davis and Cody Brown into starting-caliber outside linebackers
  • Deciding how to handle Anquan Boldin as the receiver heads into the final year of his contract
  • Possibly replacing Rolle, who could hit the market soon without a reworked deal
  • Deciding for sure what to do at tackle if Mike Gandy departs as expected
  • Replacing Dansby if and when the linebacker leaves in free agency

Those are some of the main ones. I'm sure you'll think of others.

Cards at risk as free agency nears

February, 18, 2010
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The NFL-provided list of projected unrestricted free agents included a column showing how many games each player started last season.

Getting the information into a spreadsheet allowed me to break down those figures by team, position and starts.

The chart shows projected UFAs with at least nine starts last season, by position.

The Cardinals are tied for the league lead with five: nose tackle Bryan Robinson, linebacker Chike Okeafor, linebacker Karlos Dansby, left tackle Mike Gandy and tight end Anthony Becht.

Take away 15-game starter Kurt Warner, who retired, and it's clear this offseason could be very disruptive for the Cardinals. The team could also lose free safety Antrel Rolle, whose contract includes a $4 million roster bonus and $8.1 million salary.

Another key role player, Bertrand Berry, is retiring.

The Rams had four players make the list, but all four are older players nearing the ends of their careers (Leonard Little, James Hall, Paris Lenon and Randy McMichael).

Draft Watch: NFC West

February, 17, 2010
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: biggest team needs.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals need to get younger in their defensive front seven while improving their outside pass rush. Bryan Robinson is still the most dependable nose tackle on the team. He turns 36 in June. At outside linebacker, 34-year-old Bertrand Berry is retiring and Chike Okeafor turns 34 shortly after becoming an unrestricted free agent next month. It's a tough situation for a team that could lose linebacker Karlos Dansby, 28 and in his prime, to free agency.

Arizona had the right idea when drafting outside linebacker Cody Brown in the second round last year. Brown spent his rookie season on injured reserve. The Cardinals need to get him on the field. They need to develop young linebacker Will Davis, who has shown promise. They need to supplement their front seven in the 2010 draft.

On offense, Kurt Warner's retirement reduces the margin for error. The Cardinals do not need to draft a quarterback early this year, but they do need to continue upgrading their offensive line. Drafting a tackle could make sense. Tight end was a need in the past, but the Cardinals seemed to get through that position OK once Ben Patrick returned from suspension last season.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers need to find a long-term starting right tackle, preferably in the draft. They're set at left tackle and center. Both guards showed improvement late last season. Right tackle has been a question mark for too long. Time to find the answer.

The quarterback issue lurks in the background because San Francisco still cannot count on Alex Smith. With two first-round choices, the 49ers could justify selecting a developmental quarterback early while still addressing a short-term need such as tackle. It's not a must, but it should be a consideration if any of the college quarterbacks appeals.

San Francisco is strong on defense, but every team needs pass-rush help and the 49ers are no different. They had 44 sacks, an impressive total, but 24 came against the Rams (two games), at Seattle and home against Jacksonville. And while it's natural for teams to rack up sack numbers against inferior opponents, the 49ers gain nothing from pretending they were a consistently great pass-rush team. Drafting an outside linebacker with a nose for the quarterback surely wouldn't offend defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

The 49ers also could use an inside linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis, a strong safety to replace Michael Lewis and a cornerback to pair with Shawntae Spencer as the team transitions away from Nate Clements in the coming years.

Seattle Seahawks

Linebacker stands as one of the few offensive or defensive positions Seattle doesn't need to address in the draft, and even that position isn't as strong as it appears on paper. Leroy Hill, Aaron Curry and Lofa Tatupu made it through part of one game last season. They were never on the field at the same time after an opening-week victory over the Rams.

The Seahawks need to upgrade their offensive line to give Matt Hasselbeck -- or any quarterback -- a chance to function more consistently. They need a big-play threat at running back and receiver. They need to identify and acquire Hasselbeck's eventual successor. They need to get bigger at cornerback. They could use an outside pass-rusher to give them what Patrick Kerney gave them before injuries derailed him.

Seattle had zero sacks in five of 16 games last season. The offense's inability to score points created fewer situations ripe for effective pass-rushing, and the Seahawks could help their pass rush with additional scheming. It's also possible the new coaching staff will get more from Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp. I just don't see how the Seahawks can count on these things. They need more raw pass-rushing talent.

St. Louis Rams

Coach Steve Spagnuolo recently reiterated his belief in building a team from the inside out, starting with the lines. The Rams can be good enough up front on offense when their line is healthy. They need more young talent on their defensive line to help Chris Long. They need to build around James Laurinaitis at linebacker. They could use another cornerback, too.

But anyone who watched the Rams last season realizes this team is going nowhere without an impact player at receiver and a quarterback the team -- and city -- can get excited about. Marc Bulger can be OK, but the sense here is that he's finished in St. Louis and the Rams need to find a stronger leader to rally around.

The Rams' draft position and long list of needs makes it tough to draft a quarterback early when there doesn't appear to be an elite prospect at the position in this draft. For that reason, the Rams might be wise to acquire a veteran such as Michael Vick or Chad Pennington to get them through the season while they continue to bolster the roster elsewhere.

The draft board might dictate selecting a defensive lineman first overall, and that's OK. But this team badly needs a playmaking receiver to give the offense punch beyond Steven Jackson. The Rams were unable to address that need in the 2009 draft, but they need to find a way this time.

It's a bonus if the Rams also come out of this draft with a change-of-pace back and an all-around tight end.

Free agency: NFC West

February, 16, 2010
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» AFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

An early look at the free-agent situation in the NFC West.

Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.

Arizona Cardinals

[+] EnlargeKarlos Dansby
Tony Medina/Icon SMIKarlos Dansby has led the Cardinals in tackles in each of the past two seasons.
Unrestricted free agents: LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, OLB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, WR Sean Morey, TE Anthony Becht, DE Bertrand Berry, LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, FB Dan Kreider, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware, LB Monty Beisel.

Key figures: The more than $17.7 million Arizona has paid to Dansby over the past two seasons should suffice as a parting gift if, as expected, the linebacker leaves in free agency. Dansby could be leading an exodus. Okeafor turns 34 in March and could be on his way out. Berry announced his retirement. Morey has had concussion problems. Gandy's return probably depends on whether he's willing to stay for less than the $5 million he earned last season. Safety Antrel Rolle does not appear on the list, but he would hit the market when free agency begins if the Cardinals decline to pay a $4 million roster bonus.

San Francisco 49ers

Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre' Bly, NT Aubrayo Franklin, CB Walt Harris, RT Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, LT Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich, LB Matt Wilhelm, CB Keith Smith.

Key figures: The 49ers have been proactive in re-signing their own players. That explains why relatively few big names appear on this list. The franchise tag appears well suited for Franklin, the only marquee UFA on the 49ers' list this offseason. Tagging Franklin at the $7 million franchise rate makes sense heading into labor uncertainty. Why spend lavishly on a long-term deal? Franklin has played at a high level consistently for only one season, and a lockout could keep him off the field in 2011. Re-signing Sims for depth would make sense. Ulbrich, meanwhile, has retired and joined the Seahawks' coaching staff.

Seattle Seahawks

Unrestricted free agents: DE Cory Redding, CB Ken Lucas, K Olindo Mare, LB D.D. Lewis, FB Justin Griffith, LT Damion McIntosh, SS Lawyer Milloy, LS Kevin Houser, LS Jeff Robinson.

Key figures: New coach Pete Carroll is on the record saying he likes what he's seen from Redding. Mare is coming off an outstanding season. Lucas has the size Seattle's new leadership wants in its cornerbacks. Milloy played for Carroll in New England. There isn't much more to say about this relatively nondescript group, and it's unclear how much the new regime will value these UFAs. Unrestricted free agency isn't the only road out of Seattle this offseason. The team will probably part with a few established players who haven't lived up to their salaries because of injuries and other factors. Patrick Kerney and Deion Branch come to mind.

St. Louis Rams

Unrestricted free agents: DE Leonard Little, DE James Hall, LB Paris Lenon, QB Kyle Boller, S Clinton Hart, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.

Key figures: Boller, 28, is the only player on the Rams' list younger than 30. Franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe and starting tackle Alex Barron become only restricted free agents under rules governing the uncapped year, explaining their absence from the Rams' UFA list. It's unclear how seriously Little and Hall figure into the team's plans for 2010. Chris Long's emergence late last season should make it easier for the team to move on without them, but the aging defensive ends did combine for 27 starts and 11 sacks last season.
Dominique Rodgers-CromartieAP Photo/Matt YorkAn injury to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie worried the Cardinals more than Sunday's result.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Sly grins bordering on smirks flashed across Ken Whisenhunt's face more than once during his postgame news conference Sunday.

The Arizona Cardinals' coach seemed to know something the scoreboard failed to reveal at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Whisenhunt dismissed suggestions a 33-7 defeat to Green Bay would mean anything when the teams meet again in the wild-card round.

"I think our team is ready to play in the playoffs," Whisenhunt said.

The Cardinals were not ready to play Sunday even before Whisenhunt removed key starters. Green Bay led 14-0 when Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner played his final snap late in the first quarter. Back in August, the Packers led the Cardinals 38-10 at halftime when both teams played their starters in the third exhibition game.

"We're not worried about that," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "When we come to play and are playing on all cylinders, we can play with anybody. I'm confident of that and I know everybody else in this locker room feels the same way."

As in August, Arizona didn't do much game planning. The Packers presumably didn't do much, either, but they left QB Aaron Rodgers in the game through their final possession of the third quarter. The Cardinals played vanilla defense and failed to get much pressure. They never sacked Rodgers.

"That was difficult," Whisenhunt said, "but our hope is that will pay off for us next week."

It should.

The Cardinals rely heavily on scheming to succeed with a 38-year-old quarterback and a defense without a dominant outside pass-rusher. Warner sets up opponents and beats them by anticipating throws. Few quarterbacks look better when everything is working. Few look as bad on a rough day.

Warner didn't play long enough Sunday for anyone to say anything meaningful about how he might perform in a week. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 31 yards.

On defense, 13 players contributed to the Cardinals' 42-sack total during the regular season. Those are the marks of a team that must prepare well to win.

Unlike last season, when the unproven Cardinals limped into the playoffs after a rough December, this team entered Week 17 with three victories in its past four games and a Super Bowl experience on its résumé. The Packers were the upstart team looking to keep their momentum.

"I'm not going to say we didn't try to win," nose tackle Bryan Robinson said, "but we are looking at the big picture. If this happens next week, then bring that same question to me and I will try to dissect it for you."

Watching Pro Bowl CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie leave the field on a cart less than 2 minutes into the game surely didn't help the Cardinals' mindset. By then, Arizona already knew the Vikings had beaten the Giants, ending Arizona's outside shot at securing the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

"We didn't give our best effort today and that probably had something to do with it," Warner said.

Injuries worried the Cardinals more than their performance.

Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a bruised kneecap. Receiver Anquan Boldin suffered knee and ankle injuries after surpassing 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career. Defensive end Calais Campbell suffered a thumb injury.

The Cardinals did not yet know the status of any of the players for the playoffs. They need all three.

Rodgers-Cromartie gives them a chance against Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and the Packers' explosive passing attack. Boldin gives Arizona the best chance to target Packers nickelback Jarrett Bush, who has struggled. Campbell, tied for the team lead with 7.0 sacks, gives Arizona its best chance at pressuring Rodgers.

Take away any one of those players and the Cardinals could have problems. They could have problems anyway.

Green Bay has won seven of its final eight games. Rodgers has played at a higher level than Warner, throwing four more touchdown passes and seven fewer interceptions. Driver and Jennings have combined for 11 receptions covering at least 40 yards, 10 more than Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

Unlike Fitzgerald, who stayed in the game to pad his stats, Boldin said he wanted out of the game one series earlier. Such was the conflicted nature of this performance all the way around.

"We were impressed with their team," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Hopefully, we can keep up with them this weekend and hopefully we do a lot of studying and a lot of things so we can try to keep the game close."

Those final eight words told us Dockett was facetious. Like Whisenhunt, he wasn't reading anything into what happened Sunday.

Were the Cardinals disappointed?

"I guess, a tad bit," Dockett said. "But the game didn't really mean anything. I think they played their starters a little more than intended. At the end of the day, if they want to celebrate it, they can go ahead. We know we have some work to do and our main focus is [wild-card] weekend."

Drawing hard conclusions from any single Cardinals performance has proven futile in the recent past.

The Cardinals made it through the 2009 season without suffering back-to-back defeats, a first for the organization since 1975.

Expect this Arizona team to bounce back.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations from the Cardinals' game against the Chargers on Saturday night:

  • Tim Hightower looked good. He carried nine times for 42 yards and broke one for a 19-yard gain. Beanie Wells appeared to be favoring his injured ankle during warm-ups. He did not play. Hightower is getting a better feel for the offense. He effectively chipped Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips deep in Arizona territory to help the Cardinals pick up a first down. Backup running back Jason Wright missed Shawne Merriman in protection. It's looking like Arizona can trust Hightower.
  • Calais Campbell is sustaining it. The second-year defensive end held up against the Chargers' Pro Bowl left guard, Kris Dielman. Campbell beat Dielman one-on-one for a sack. Dielman later cleared out Campbell effectively on a running play, but Campbell answered by shedding Dielman to deck LaDainian Tomlinson.
  • The offense was out of sync. Kurt Warner and Brian St. Pierre both threw interceptions in the red zone, curious for a team that fared so well inside the 20 last season. Arizona used an unusual mix of personnel -- two running backs and three wide receivers -- on the play ending with Warner's interception. Arizona used that general grouping five times in the red zone last season and 39 times overall, including 17 times against Carolina and Washington. It's not a group I expect to see much this season unless the Cardinals suffer injuries at receiver and/or tight end. Injuries to Steve Breaston and Early Doucet have limited the Cardinals' four-receiver options this summer.
  • The starting tight end must block. As much as the Cardinals would like to have a versatile tight end, their strength at receiver means they do not need lots of receptions from the position. The tight end must block in this offense. That's why I think Stephen Spach has the edge if he's healthy. Arizona used Spach and Ben Patrick effectively in clearing out defenders for an 8-yard gain on the ground, with Patrick leading.
  • The sideline featured intensity. Todd Haley's offseason departure deprived the Cardinals of a passionate and sometimes combative presence. Haley's style worked well in challenging some of the Cardinals' best players, including Larry Fitzgerald. Cameras showed an animated Warner explaining something to receiver Anquan Boldin after they combined on a pass play that failed to gain first-down yardage.
  • The pass rush was effective. Darnell Dockett, Bryan Robinson, Karlos Dansby and Campbell each had sacks against the Chargers' first-team offense.
I previously noted LaRod Stephens-Howling's excellent performance. I'm now watching the second half of the game on replay. Rookie linebacker Will Davis made a positive impact. He had a quarterback hurry after quickly sniffing out a play. Rookie right tackle Herman Johnson still looks good from what I am seeing. He has made significant improvement since minicamps, more evidence of Russ Grimm's impact as line coach.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

TAMPA, Fla. -- Karlos Dansby got the interception for Arizona, but nose tackle Bryan Robinson made it possible by batting Ben Roethlisberger's pass at the line of scrimmage.

The Cardinals' defensive linemen are very good at putting up their hands to affect the quarterback's decision or the flight of his passes. We discussed this in our recent look at the Cardinals' defense. To review:

"The Cardinals' pass rushers have a good feel for when to raise their hands to obstruct passing lanes. If you watch the NFC Championship Game closely, you'll see [Donovan] McNabb decide against throwing to an end-zone receiver on a two-point conversion try after [Gabe] Watson raised a hand."

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Two of the more prominent names circulating as possible quarterback targets for Chicago are pending free agents Chris Simms (Tennessee) and Byron Leftwich (Pittsburgh). Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times takes the pulse of both situations in his Inside the Bears blog.

Leftwich is two years removed as a starter. But speaking to reporters in Tampa this week, he said his year with the Steelers has made him a better quarterback:

"Just picking up from a Pro Bowl quarterback like Ben [Roethlisberger], the way he does things. And just being around good football players, any time you are around good football players, the Troy Polamalus and Hines Wards, you become a better player by understanding guys who have been in this league longer than you and what they do on a day-to-day basis."

Meanwhile, Simms' father said he is unaware of any interest the Bears might have in his son but said he is the "wrong guy to ask." Phil Simms, who was in Tampa this week as part of his broadcasting duties with Inside the NFL, also said he believes that potential free agents won't view Chicago as a place they can go to win a job:

"I was on the record all year, I know Kyle Orton. I followed him through college, I saw him early with the Bears and I thought he grew up. He was a different-looking guy this year. I thought he had a little moxie to him. There is a little something he has that I like. Whoever goes in there, it would be awfully tough to think that you're going to take Kyle Orton's job. I know that.''

Orton will be the Bears' starter in 2009, but backup Rex Grossman is likely to depart and the Bears probably don't want to enter training camp with second-year player Caleb Hanie as their backup. Simms is right: Whomever Chicago signs will almost certainly be in line for a role as a strict backup.

Continuing around the NFC North on a Thursday morning:

  • Former Bears defensive tackle Bryan Robinson, who now starts for Arizona, said he knows what most Bears fans are asking: "I know people may be like, 'How is Bryan Robinson still in the league?'" David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Robinson at the Super Bowl.
  • Green Bay will hire Dave Redding as its new strength and conditioning coach, according to Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Redding is considered one of the pioneers of modern strength training in the NFL. He worked for Kansas City when current Packers coach Mike McCarthy was the Chiefs' quarterbacks coach.
  • Former Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders has surfaced as Buffalo's new defensive line coach. Here is the Bills' press release on the news.
  • Former Detroit president/general manager and current NBC broadcaster Matt Millen isn't talking to the media during the Super Bowl buildup, but he did take a blimp ride with Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.
  • Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson won the FedEx NFL Ground Player of the Year award. FedEx will donate $25,000 to Safe Kids USA in Minneapolis in Peterson's honor.

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