NFL Nation: Leonard Little

Kurt WarnerAl Pereira/Getty ImagesKurt Warner won two league MVPs and a Super Bowl title during the Rams' memorable run from 1999-2001.
Editor’s note: ESPN.com revisits the NFL’s most compelling teams since Y2K with a five-part “Most Dynamic Teams of the Century” series. We begin with the Greatest Show on Turf -- the 2001 St. Louis Rams.

The Greatest Show on Turf won one Super Bowl, lost another and unraveled so furiously that its epitaph requires some reassembly.

Dramatic narratives have sought to explain why the St. Louis Rams fell so hard after a 1999-2001 run featuring three consecutive MVP awards, a 37-11 record and an average of 32.7 points per game.

Coach Mike Martz’s ego swallowed the team, some say. Front-office infighting poisoned the culture. Quarterback Kurt Warner’s deteriorating health precipitated a controversial and regrettable departure. Draft failures wrecked the roster. The team lost its soul when key role players departed in free agency.

Whatever the reasons, the Rams were never the same after Adam Vinatieri delivered an 48-yard field goal to put the underdog New England Patriots past St. Louis 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI, launching one NFL dynasty at the expense of another.

Throw in spying allegations against New England as a Super Bowl subplot -- more on that in a bit -- and those 2001 Rams easily qualify on ESPN.com’s short list for "Most Dynamic Teams of the Century." They're relevant for what they accomplished and for what happened next: a 7-9 record in 2002 and just one additional winning season for the Rams to this day.

About that epitaph ...

"It's one that escapes me as to how, one, we didn't stay together and, two, how things from that point forward did not continue to roll on," Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said recently.

If only the Rams could have known then what has become apparent now.

"Success is something that you have to know how you are going to deal with it before it hits you," Faulk said. "We ran into that in a sense of people wanted credit for putting the team together. Guys on the team who had roles, they wanted to move on and become the actual guy."

So, while some of the Patriots’ core players stuck around instead of chasing more prominent roles elsewhere -- Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi come to mind -- the Rams watched Grant Wistrom, Kevin Carter, London Fletcher and others cash in elsewhere. And who could blame them? Certainly not Faulk, who had escaped Indianapolis via trade and became an MVP in St. Louis. Teams look out for their own interests, and players often must do the same. But free agency has proven over time that money doesn’t always buy the right fit.

"That core group of guys that might not be the highest paid, might not be the most visible guys, their roles and them understanding the roles is kind of what keeps it together," Faulk said. "They might not be the guys who make it into the Hall of Fame, but they are for more or less a lot of the reasons why a lot of games are won, multiple championships are won."

Defensive back Aeneas Williams, himself a Hall of Fame finalist in recent years, was new to the Rams in 2001. The team expected Williams to do for the defense what Faulk had done for the offense. That wasn't far from what happened.

Williams famously picked off Brett Favre twice in the playoffs that postseason, returning both for touchdowns. He clinched the Rams' Super Bowl berth by picking off Donovan McNabb late in the NFC Championship Game.

With Williams and first-year coordinator Lovie Smith, that Rams defense ranked among the NFL's statistical leaders almost across the board, a reversal from 2000. They were third in yards, fifth in yards per play, third in rushing yards, sixth in net yards per pass attempt, second in first downs, sixth in third-down conversion rate and seventh in scoring.

"It was one of the best seasons I had, not just the winning but the amount of talent and the amount of humility that was on the team," Williams said. "That team was special."

The Rams knew it, too. They were 3-0 and coming off a 42-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins when Smith, recently hired away from Tony Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay, delivered just the right message. Players were reveling in the victory and newfound elite status of the defense when Smith stood up to address the team. He listed off the team's accomplishments and exulted in how good it all felt. Players exulted along with him.

Smith then delivered a message that resonates with Williams to this day.

"There are some of you who are still making the same mistakes, and I'm telling you that we are looking to replace you," Smith told the team.

Silence.

There was nothing condescending or demeaning about Smith's delivery or his message. He did not name names. But the message was clear.

"To have that sobering thought from your leader in such a respectful and honoring way, which was intentional as it relates to accountability, I'll never forget it," Williams said. "The teams that have coaches who hold the players accountable no matter how good they are will be the ones that consistently win."

And yet the way that 2001 Rams season ended, and what happened next, might always publicly define that team more than the 14-2 record or revitalized defense.

"That team was loaded," Faulk said. "But this is why we play the greatest sport. There is no Game 5. No Game 7. There is one game, and you have to get it right or it doesn't matter how great you were the rest of the year."

Williams, now a pastor in St. Louis, pointed to the Rams' relatively narrow 24-17 victory over the Patriots during the regular season in suggesting the fat Super Bowl point spread was more about perception than reality. He downplayed the Spygate angle while acknowledging that some teammates are more passionate about whatever advantages the Patriots might have gleaned through taping opponents' hand signals or worse.

"Without knowing, we can only speculate," Williams said. "I relish the moment and the other thing, once we played 16 games and two or three playoff games, rarely are you fooled by what a team does. In that game, it boils down to turnovers."

Faulk carries a different perspective as someone familiar with every aspect of the Rams' offensive plan. He questions whether the Patriots could have anticipated previously unused wrinkles without spying. He has alluded in the past to red zone and third-down plays. The Rams scored on their lone red zone possession. Pressed for specifics, Faulk cited the way New England adjusted to tweaks in the way Faulk went into motion, including on Warner's quarterback sneak for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"It's extremely hard to tell you what it was, or what we did, but I will say this," Faulk explained. "The play that Kurt Warner scored on, Mike [Martz] drew that up in the dirt. The motion that I used on that play, I would love to show it to you and love to show you other plays how I went in motion and what I did so you could see it. It's just talk when you talk, but here is what we normally do and this is what we put into this game."

Related comments from Faulk made waves during Super Bowl week. Then as now, Faulk wearies of charges he's pushing conspiracy theories.

"I didn’t make the news, I didn’t make up the news about what happened, but it is what it is," he said. "You accept the loss. They beat us. It happens. You are going to lose games. Is Bill Belichick a great mind? Yes.

"But when a guy like Aeneas Williams sits at home and has to wonder whether he lost the Super Bowl or was cheated out of it, that is who I feel bad for."

Faulk, Warner, Fletcher, Wistrom, Carter, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Leonard Little and others from that 2001 team can reflect knowing they won it all two years earlier. For some, that Super Bowl against New England would be as close as they came to football immortality. At least they can know the 2001 team will not be forgotten anytime soon.
RENTON, Wash. -- Thoughts and observations after watching the Seattle Seahawks open their rookie camp Friday:

  • First-round pick Bruce Irvin impressed coaches with his ability to grasp defensive concepts. That can be a concern for any rookie and particularly for one with Irvin's unusual background (out of football for two years while living on the streets). Irvin practiced with intensity. He did not get great results immediately and it was easy to see why. Alex Barron, who has practiced against Leonard Little and DeMarcus Ware over the years, was one of the few veterans in camp. While Barron's career has faltered, he remains a first-round talent and it showed in the first practice. The Seahawks are giving him a tryout. Barron, a first-round pick for St. Louis in 2005, is 29 years old and spent last season on injured reserve with New Orleans. He looked healthy and was obviously more talented than the free-agent offensive linemen in camp.
  • Coach Pete Carroll raved about running back Robert Turbin. He loved Turbin's quickness and feel for the zone running game. Turbin has huge biceps, but his lower body looks like it belongs to a smaller man.
  • Third-round quarterback Russell Wilson took twice as many snaps as any rookie and made a resoundingly positive first impression. Wilson threaded perfect passes all over the field, hitting receivers and tight ends in stride. Height, not talent, is the concern for the 5-foot-11 Wilson. He did have three passes tipped near the line of scrimmage, by my count. A couple deep balls failed to find their targets, Carroll noted. Wilson is going to get the attention of the veteran quarterbacks, it looks like.
  • Fourth-round pick Jaye Howard, a defensive tackle from Florida, impressed Carroll with his quickness.
  • The Seahawks invited draft choices' families to watch practice. All 10 picks had family in attendance on a spectacularly sunny day on the shores of Lake Washington.
  • Linebacker Korey Toomer, a fifth-round pick from Idaho, appeared athletic. He picked off a batted pass and headed for the end zone with it.
  • The Seahawks fared well with undrafted receiver Doug Baldwin last season. Phil Bates from Ohio was the undrafted receiver I noticed the most during this practice. He made a leaping grab on a deep ball. He also made a one-handed grab in traffic. He also dropped a pass later in practice. Overall, though, he looked good. Bates is 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds.

Players were wearing helmets, but no pads. It's tough to make lasting judgments from a camp such as this one. First impressions will have to suffice.

Draft hindsight: Big Ben and beyond

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
5:21
PM ET
SteelersUS PresswirePittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and LaMarr Woodley are all playing in Super Bowl XLV, but could they have ended up in the NFC West coming out of college?
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers appeared loose and comfortable during their first Super Bowl 45 media session.

They've been in big games before, and frequently, thanks largely to shrewd drafting.

This is the Steelers' third Super Bowl appearance in the last six seasons.

The team made available James Farrior, Flozell Adams, Hines Ward, Brett Keisel, Ben Roethlisberger and LaMarr Woodley during its initial media session Monday -- just the opportunity I needed to produce an item corresponding to the one titled, "Draft hindsight: Aaron Rodgers and beyond".

The idea: to examine a Super Bowl team's featured players -- in this case, the ones made available Monday -- with an emphasis on draft status and the decisions NFC West teams made in the same rounds. Not every team held a choice in every featured round.

The Arizona Cardinals had a shot at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they came out OK.

Here goes ...

1997 Draft: James Farrior, LB, Virginia

Round: First (eighth overall, by the New York Jets)

NFC West spin: Farrior is a two-time Pro Bowl choice, but the NFC West offers no apologies for passing over him. Orlando Pace and Walter Jones became perennial Pro Bowl tackles. Jones became the best player in Seahawks history, in my view. Shawn Springs made one Pro Bowl trip and picked off 33 passes during a 13-year career. The Cardinals had no shot at Farrior. They chose Tommy Knight one pick later. He started 54 games in six NFL seasons. Rumor says the 49ers selected a quarterback in the first round of this draft.

First-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (first overall): Pace, T, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (third overall): Springs, CB, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (sixth overall): Jones, T, Florida State
  • Cardinals (ninth overall): Knight, CB, Iowa
  • 49ers (26th overall): Jim Druckenmiller, QB, Virginia Tech
1998 Draft: Flozell Adams, T, Michigan State

Round: Second (38th overall, by Dallas)

NFC West spin: Adams became a five-time Pro Bowl choice with Dallas. His career appeared finished, or close to it, until injuries led the Steelers to call on him this season. Arizona passed on Adams twice. Safety Corey Chavous, chosen five spots before Adams, went to a Pro Bowl with Minnesota. He was a productive player for roughly a decade. Tackle Anthony Clement, chosen two spots before Adams, started more than 100 games for three teams.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Corey Chavous, SS, Vanderbilt
  • Cardinals (36th overall): Anthony Clement, T, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Rams (37th overall): Robert Holcombe, FB, Illinois
  • Seahawks (47th overall): Todd Weiner, T, Kansas State
  • 49ers (58th overall): Jeremy Newberry, C, California
1998 Draft: Hines Ward, WR, Georgia

Round: Third (92nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Rams and Seahawks found Pro Bowl-caliber players when they passed over Ward in the third round. Seattle gave up on Ahman Green prematurely, however, after coach Mike Holmgren grew weary of early fumble problems. The 49ers missed on tackle Chris Ruhman three choices before Ward went to Pittsburgh. Ruhman played in six games with the 49ers, starting none. He played in 11 NFL games with two starts overall. The 49ers passed on Ward even though Jerry Rice had suffered a devastating knee injury in the 1997 opener.

Third-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (65th overall): Leonard Little, DE, Tennessee
  • Seahawks (76th overall): Ahman Green, RB, Nebraska
  • 49ers (89th overall): Chris Ruhman, T, Texas A&M
2002 Draft: Brett Keisel, DE, BYU

Round: Seventh (242nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The 49ers drafted longtime starting guard and center Eric Heitmann three spots before the Steelers found Keisel. Pittsburgh could use Heitmann this week after the Steelers' starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, suffered a severely sprained ankle during the AFC Championship Game. Keisel became a Pro Bowl choice for the first time this season, distinguishing him from 2002 NFC West seventh-rounders. The Rams found their mainstay snapper in this draft. Keisel was gone when the 49ers found guard Kyle Kosier, who started 29 games for them and remains a starter with Dallas.

Seventh-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (223rd overall): Mike Banks, TE, Iowa State
  • Seahawks (232nd overall): Jeff Kelly, QB, Southern Mississippi
  • 49ers (239th overall): Heitmann, C, Stanford
  • Rams (243rd overall): Chris Massey, LS, Marshall
  • 49ers (248th overall): Kyle Kosier, G, Arizona State
  • 49ers (256th overall): Teddy Gaines, DB, Tennessee
2004 Draft: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami of Ohio

Round: First (11th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals passed over Roethlisberger and came away with a potential Hall of Fame receiver. No complaints there, even though quarterbacks are more valuable than receivers. None of the other NFC West teams had a shot at Roethlisberger. Seattle and St. Louis were set at quarterback, anyway.

First-round selections in the division: 2007 Draft: LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Michigan

Round: Second (46th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals could certainly use Woodley now, and badly, but they had already invested millions in the position heading into the 2007 draft. Free-agent additions Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry had combined for 14.5 sacks during the 2006 season. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they haven't gotten enough from their second-round investment in Alan Branch.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Branch, DL, Michigan
  • Rams (52nd overall): Brian Leonard, FB, Rutgers
  • Seahawks (55th overall): Josh Wilson, CB, Maryland

OK, all done, and just in time. ESPN.com teammates Mike Reiss, Kevin Seifert and I are heading out to the Packers' media session next. Seifert is driving and he doesn't wait for anyone. Gotta jam.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
2:21
PM ET
Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)


Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)


Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)


San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)


The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.
Tags:

Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, William James, Justin Green, Raheem Brock, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, David Carr, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Isaac Bruce, Charlie Whitehurst, Chris Clemons, Shaun HIll, Junior Siavii, Leroy Hill, Kevin Dockery, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rex Hadnot, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Brandon McDonald, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Ryan Neill, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Clinton Hart, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Leger Douzable, Jerome Johnson, Trumaine McBride, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Shane Andrus, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Leon Washington, Troy Smith, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Randy McMichael, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Brian St. Pierre, Ruvell Martin, Mark Clayton, Ben Hamilton, Anquan Boldin, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Chester Pitts, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Chris Baker, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Hank Fraley, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Jason Hill, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Brandon Frye, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Quinton Ganther, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Seneca Wallace, Thomas Clayton, Paris Lenon, Deon Grant, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Steve Vallos, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Anthony Becht, Na\'il Diggs, Damion McIntosh, Tyler Polumbus, Derek Walker, Louis Rankin, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Cyril Obiozor, Mike Iupati, Kevin Houser, Dan Williams, Russell Okung, Golden Tate, Anthony Dixon, Anthony McCoy, Mardy Gilyard, Earl Thomas, A.J. Jefferson, Kennard Cox, Andre Roberts, Walter Thurmond, Rodger Saffold, George Selvie, Daryl Washington, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, John Skelton, Nate Byham, Eugene Sims, Jermelle Cudjo, Ricky Schmitt, Dominique Curry, Fendi Onobun, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Phillip Adams, Stephen Williams, Thaddeus Lewis, Chris Patrick, Clint Gresham, Danny Gorrer, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, LaJuan Ramsey, Roger III Allen, Ryan McKee, Ted Jr. Ginn, Tramaine Brock, Trevor Canfield

Age rankings for every NFL team

July, 12, 2010
7/12/10
12:10
PM ET
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).

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:03
PM ET
NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

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 needs revisited.

Arizona Cardinals

Losing Karlos Dansby in free agency and not signing Larry Foote left the Cardinals with a need at inside linebacker even though Paris Lenon's addition helped some.

Safety could have been another concern, but the Cardinals acted quickly to replace Antrel Rolle with Kerry Rhodes. The Cardinals also protected themselves on the offensive line by adding guard Rex Hadnot and re-signing tackle Jeremy Bridges. Those moves bought some flexibility in the draft.

The Cardinals aren't picking early enough to seriously consider landing a franchise quarterback, although that could be a position of need even after the team signs a veteran to push Matt Leinart. Leinart's contract balloons in value in 2011.

Arizona still could stand to bolster its defensive line in the draft, particularly at nose tackle.

San Francisco 49ers

The opening weeks of free agency have only confirmed the 49ers' needs on the offensive line. It's important for the team to find a starting right tackle. A starter or at least quality depth at guard would also help.

Offensive tackle was a draft need even before Tony Pashos signed with Cleveland and Barry Sims scheduled a visit with the Redskins. Sims has had value as a swing tackle. Pashos provided more depth even though he was one-dimensional as a right tackle only

Cornerback remains an obvious position for the 49ers to target in the draft. They've relied on older veterans at the position in recent seasons. Nate Clements' long-term future with the team is in some question. The 49ers haven't addressed the position in free agency. The draft awaits.

Finally, the 49ers have been visiting with free-agent linebacker Akin Ayodele. Signing Ayodele would give the team welcome veteran depth at inside linebacker behind Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes. That type of signing would address a potential draft need.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' needs have become more obvious since the free-agent signing period opened. Deon Grant's release left Jordan Babineaux and Jamar Adams as the only safeties under contract. That's a position the Seahawks need to address, probably in the draft.

Existing needs included offensive tackle, guard, quarterback, defensive end and cornerback.

Seattle could sensibly address the need at guard by signing a veteran free agent such as Ben Hamilton, who has experience in line coach Alex Gibbs' system. The Seahawks' interest in Chargers backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst could lead to a trade that would address another need.

The team is different but not necessarily better at defensive end after sending Darryl Tapp to the Eagles for Chris Clemons and a 2010 fourth-round choice. Defensive end remains a need as Seattle tries to improve its pass rush.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams' draft scenarios came into clearer focus when the team signed A.J. Feeley as its No. 2 quarterback before adding defensive tackle Fred Robbins.

The moves set up the Rams to select a quarterback first overall if Sam Bradford appeals to them. Feeley could mentor Bradford while Robbins provided needed muscle on defense (the Rams would be bypassing defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy under this scenario).

The Rams haven't upgraded their front-line talent in free agency. Their core draft needs remain. Losing pass-rushers Leonard Little and/or James Hall in free agency would accentuate the immediate need for help in that area. The Saints might have interest in one or both.

Placing the lowest tender on restricted free agent Oshiomogho Atogwe showed the Rams could be willing to part with him. Losing him would create another need along with linebacker. The Rams have shown interest in veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs, but they need more young talent at the position and the draft could help.
New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis met with the local media Friday morning for a “season wrap-up’’ session. Yes, it came about two months later than the rest of the wrap-ups around the division.

But we’ll give Loomis a pass on this one. The man has been very business because the Super Bowl win kept the Saints playing a month longer than the rest of the teams in the division. Loomis also had to quickly get ready for the combine and free agency.

But he made time to summarize the season and look ahead and the Saints PR department passed along the transcript of his interview. Loomis covered more ground than we can include here, so we’ll touch on the highlights.

The contract talks with free-agent safety Darren Sharper:

“I have all of the love in the world for Darren Sharper. I just don’t have all the money in the world for Darren Sharper. We’d like to have Darren back. We really would and again, no different than any player, if it fits under the salary structure and the resources that we have, then we’ll definitely want to have him back. If it doesn’t and he has an opportunity somewhere else, we understand that.”

The loss of free-agent linebacker Scott Fujita to Cleveland:

“Scott just got an offer that was too good to turn down. He wanted to return to New Orleans. We wanted him to return to New Orleans, but we understand what free agency is. We’re going to miss Scott and [wife] Jaclyn. They were the first to commit to the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina, after the 2005 season and Scott really exemplified the type of player we want in New Orleans, intelligent, tough, high-character and a great leader for our team. We wish them all the best.”

Who will fill Fujita’s position:

“That remains to be seen. We have some guys in our program right now in Jonathan Casillas and Stanley Arnoux, young players. We have some other candidates, Anthony Waters, Troy Evans, but that will be determined in training camp.”

On free agents who are visiting:

“We’re going to have Jake [Delhomme] visit later today. We have James Hall in here today. We had a visit scheduled with Leonard Little and an emergency came up and he’s had to postpone that, so we’ll see what happens.”

On if running back Reggie Bush will remain with the Saints:

“Yes. He’ll be back and he’ll be back at his current salary.”

NFC West free-agency scorecard

March, 9, 2010
3/09/10
1:04
PM ET
NFC West teams have yet to re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents since the signing period began late last week.

None of the Rams' UFAs has signed elsewhere, although defensive ends Leonard Little and James Hall were reportedly drawing interest from New Orleans.

Just passing along ...

Checking in with Rams' new DT

March, 8, 2010
3/08/10
5:53
PM ET
New Rams defensive tackle Fred Robbins just finished a conference call with reporters covering the Rams.

Robbins
Robbins
He definitely sounds the part.

Robbins' baritone voice should hold up well against the run.

As for what the 32-year-old defensive tackle has left after 10 NFL seasons, the last six with the Giants? That could be tougher to say. He started 12 games last season and played in all 16, taking about half the snaps for an inconsistent defense.

Mike Garafalo of the Newark Star-Ledger summed up Robbins' time with the Giants this way:
They’ve been six up-and-down years for Robbins, who arrived as a starter in Tom Coughlin’s first year as Giants coach, was then demoted to a backup role because of the team’s concerns over his inconsistent effort, regained his spot with the first team, played a key role in the run to Super Bowl XLII, showed top form through the first half of the 2008 season, struggled through hand, shoulder and knee injuries the past 15 months, and was finally relegated to backup duty once again after the Thanksgiving loss to the Broncos this season.

The Rams may need a veteran presence on their defensive line. Leonard Little is reportedly visiting the Saints in free agency. The Rams could draft a defensive tackle first overall, putting Robbins in the mentor's role, or they could select a quarterback, relying more heavily on Robbins for his contributions on the field.

I was late to the conference call and didn't get a chance to ask Robbins about the "inconsistent effort" reference in relation to his first year with the Giants. It could be a non-issue given how much time has passed, and given that Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo had not yet joined the Giants at that point. Robbins played an important part in the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl season.
The Rams went young -- too young -- almost out of necessity last season.

They dumped declining veterans with inflated salaries, going from one of the NFL's three-oldest teams to one of the five youngest in one offseason.

The team planned to add some veteran seasoning on more favorable terms this offseason, coach Steve Spagnuolo said at the NFL combine. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins, who turns 33 this month and played under Spagnuolo with the Giants, will add some of that seasoning after the Rams reached agreement with him Monday.

Robbins becomes the oldest player on the Rams' roster, beating Marc Bulger by less than two weeks. Quarterback A.J. Feeley, the Rams' other free-agent addition so far this offseason, becomes the third-oldest player on the roster, ahead of kicker Josh Brown (30), punter Donnie Jones (29) and offensive linemen Adam Goldberg and Jacob Bell (both 29).

Unrestricted free-agent defensive ends Leonard Little (35) and James Hall (33) would be the oldest if re-signed.

Even with Robbins, the Rams are the fourth-youngest team in the league, counting only signed players and reflecting known roster moves through Monday morning.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
6:17
PM ET
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.

Cards at risk as free agency nears

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
12:35
PM ET
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).

Free agency: NFC West

February, 16, 2010
2/16/10
1:00
PM ET
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.

Final Word: NFC North

December, 4, 2009
12/04/09
4:03
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

We should have a better picture of the NFC wild-card picture by the time Green Bay takes the field Monday night against Baltimore. At 7-4, the Packers and Philadelphia are leading the conference’s wild-card standings. But the Eagles will travel Sunday to face at Atlanta, which is one game back at 6-5. The conference’s other 6-5 team, the New York Giants, face a tough matchup at home Sunday against Dallas. So one way or the other, it’s very possible the Packers will have an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the wild-card field with a victory over the Ravens.

[+] EnlargeRice
James Lang/US PresswireRay Rice has become one of the Ravens' top weapon in the passing game.
Baltimore running back Ray Rice will test Green Bay’s tackling skills Monday night. Rice leads the NFL with 593 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and has become arguably the Ravens’ top weapon in the passing game. Although the Packers miss the veteran leadership of linebacker Aaron Kampman, his replacements might have a better chance to contain Rice. Rookie Brad Jones and veteran Brady Poppinga are more comfortable making open-field tackles. On the other side, we’ll find out how far rookie Clay Matthews has come. This is one of the primary reasons the Packers traded up in the draft for Matthews: To combine speed and tackling ability on the outside.

Minnesota is expecting a heavy dose of three-step drops and max protection Sunday night from Arizona’s offense, whether or not Kurt Warner starts at quarterback. Warner and backup Matt Leinart were hammered in last season’s matchup between the teams, a 35-14 Vikings victory, taking four sacks and being hit on six other occasions. This season, the Vikings enter the game with an NFL-high 40 sacks, and teams are starting to make adjustments. “We ended up getting a lot of three-step drops from the team we just played [Chicago],” said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “I wouldn’t doubt that will be the case this week.”

It will be a doozy of a matchup Sunday at Soldier Field, where the Bears will try to avoid the embarrassment of a home loss to St. Louis (1-10). There’s nothing on paper to suggest the Rams have the capacity to win Sunday, but the Bears haven’t shown much of that themselves lately. If you want an in-game focus, watch where the Rams line up pass rusher Leonard Little. He’s technically listed as the Rams’ left end, meaning he would line up over the right tackle. Normally, that would be 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams. But it’s likely that Williams will make his first career start at left tackle. Will the Rams move Little to that side to take advantage of Williams? Or will they like the matchup better against new right tackle Kevin Shaffer? Tune in to find out. Or not.

To say that Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco is licking his chops is an understatement. Ochocinco couldn’t even bring himself to talk his usual trash about Detroit’s pass defense. During a conference call with Detroit-area reporters, Ochocinco said the Lions’ secondary is “beautiful.” Presumably, he’s referring to its capacity to give up a monster game. The Bengals have relied on their running game this season, but that could change when they realize that opponents are completing an incredible 70.5 percent of their passes against the Lions this season. Opposing quarterbacks also have a 111.8 passer rating against them, having thrown 27 touchdowns against only six interceptions.

Midseason Report: Rams

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:36
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Power Rankings: Preseason: 32. This week: 30.

2009 Schedule/Results

Fernando Medina/US Presswire
Steven Jackson has emerged as a leader under new head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
Where they stand: The Rams are fourth in the NFC West with a 1-7 record. Expectations were low because the Rams parted with so many established players as part of a massive rebuilding project. The Rams are showing signs of improvement, particularly on offense, and they have continued to battle admirably despite glaring deficiencies at some positions, notably receiver. Beating the Lions before the bye week might have been critical for the Rams' psyche. They have bought into rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo, but believing would have been tougher if the Rams had taken an 0-8 record into their bye week.

Disappointments: The Rams knew they would struggle some as a young team finding its way amid significant scheme changes. To be competitive and win a few games to this point, they needed more from safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, cornerback Ron Bartell, defensive end Chris Long, receiver Donnie Avery, tight end Randy McMichael, quarterback Marc Bulger, tackle Alex Barron and defensive tackle Adam Carriker (placed on injured reserve). The team has invested considerable resources in each of those players. None is enjoying a particularly strong season. Veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon was another player expected to contribute. The Rams waited for him to emerge before trading him to the Eagles. Losing receiver Laurent Robinson to a season-ending injury was crushing. He had emerged as the Rams' best option.

Surprises: Defensive-minded coaches can sometimes be combustible, as Mike Singletary and Jim Mora have shown within the division. Spagnuolo has shown unwavering poise despite the Rams' struggles. He has been consistent with his message and unflappable. The team's veteran players have bought into Spagnuolo to a degree the Rams could not have anticipated. Having the previously volatile Steven Jackson onboard with the program was critical for Spagnuolo. Jackson has become a leader and a leading Spagnuolo proponent. His growth and maturity has helped the Rams stick together through brutally tough defeats, notably the overtime loss at Jacksonville after defensive end Leonard Little scored to put the Rams ahead in the final minutes of regulation.

Outlook: Jackson gives the Rams their best chance at being competitive. He has four 100-yard rushing games and a 4.8-yard average per carry even though defenses have little else to fear from the Rams' offense. The Rams play a relatively tough schedule over the second half of the season, starting with a home game against the undefeated Saints in Week 10. They have a chance to win a couple more games, but the rough schedule and the Rams' limitations make any final record projection better than 3-13 seem optimistic. The final eight games will stand as a success if the Rams win a couple of them while watching some of their core players develop. Even then, the Rams could very well need to consider drafting a franchise quarterback. The team also needs better young talent on its defensive line. Little and fellow veteran James Hall are the best pass-rushers on the team. That is not a good sign for a team that has recently used high first-round choices for defensive linemen.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider