NFL Nation: Rock Cartwright

PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 214th, 220th, 241st, and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

UFA market revisited: How NFC West fared

February, 28, 2013
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Those eagerly awaiting the start of NFL free agency March 12 with visions of your favorite team loading up on accomplished veterans should revisit the list of unrestricted free agents NFC West teams signed last season.

St. Louis, badly in need of a talent infusion following the worst five-year run in NFL history, opened its checkbook to sign a long list of veteran players, some of them at high cost.

That was the exception in the NFC West and I'd be surprised if St. Louis took a similarly aggressive approach this offseason. The Rams have stabilized their roster and positioned themselves to build around young talent.

With that in mind, I'll take a team-by-team look at the unrestricted free agents each NFC West team signed last offseason. UFAs are defined as veterans who reached the market when their contracts expired. Teams also acquired players by other means.

Arizona Cardinals

2012 UFA signings from other teams: cornerback William Gay, linebacker Quentin Groves, safety James Sanders and guard Adam Snyder

Comment: Gay started and played 93 percent of the defensive snaps as a replacement for Richard Marshall, who left in free agency. He wasn't a star, but the defense was solid. Gay gave Arizona the snaps it sought. Groves played 43 percent of snaps as a situational pass-rusher. The Cardinals needed him when an injury sidelined O'Brien Schofield. Sanders played 11 percent. Snyder started 14 games and played much of the season with an injury for a line that was among the NFL's least effective for much of the season. Arizona's young tackles made progress. I thought the team overspent for Snyder, a player San Francisco eagerly replaced with the undrafted Alex Boone, who provided a clear upgrade. Note that three of the four UFA additions last offseason played defense. Arizona needs to target offense this offseason. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim have praised the existing talent. Arizona might not load up on free agents the way some teams do when new leadership takes over.

St. Louis Rams

2012 UFA signings from other teams: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Mario Haggan, defensive end William Hayes, defensive tackle Kendall Langford, defensive lineman Trevor Laws, guard Quinn Ojinnaka, tackle Barry Richardson, receiver Steve Smith, center Robert Turner and center Scott Wells

Comment: The Rams were major players in the UFA market. Results were mostly positive. Finnegan gave the Rams the production and veteran presence they sought. He was instantly a playmaker for St. Louis. Dunbar was much better than I had anticipated and well worth his contract, which included a $1 million signing bonus and $1.5 million annual average. Hayes provided good depth on the defensive line, and at a reasonable cost ($900,000 for one year). Langford needed time to transition from the 3-4 scheme he ran previously in Miami. The Rams signed him after Jason Jones signed with Seattle instead. Injuries prevented Wells from stabilizing the offensive line, a major disappointment and a reminder of the risks associated with signing older players from other teams.

San Francisco 49ers

2012 UFA signings from other teams: fullback Rock Cartwright, quarterback Josh Johnson, receiver Mario Manningham

Comment: Does this look like a team poised to strike for Darrelle Revis in the trade market? Does this look like a team ready to throw around cash in free agency? Not based on the list of signings last offseason. The interest San Francisco showed in Peyton Manning doesn't apply here. Indianapolis released Manning. Manning was not a UFA. I'd put him in a separate category, anyway. Teams make exceptions for Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Back to the 2012 UFA list. Cartwright and Johnson never played for the team. Neither earned a spot on the 53-man roster. Both served a purpose by initially increasing competition at their positions. For example, Anthony Dixon moved fro halfback to fullback and became a more valuable player, including on special teams. Johnson provided early insurance, but in retrospect, Colin Kaepernick was obviously ready to serve in the No. 2 role before becoming the starter. Manningham provided sufficient value before a knee injury ended his season. The 49ers missed him late in the season, including during the Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks

2012 UFA signings from other teams: quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive lineman Jason Jones, guard Deuce Lutui and linebacker Barrett Ruud

Comment: Flynn would have started if Russell Wilson hadn't emerged unexpectedly as the clear choice. Seattle invested $6.5 million per year in Flynn, a sum the team could live with even if Flynn became the backup. It's tough to fault the Seahawks for signing Flynn. They had no idea Wilson would be available in the draft, or that Wilson would perform at such a high level so early in his career. Jones finished the season on injured reserve. That made it impossible for him to provide the interior pass-rushing push Seattle sought when signing him to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Lutui and Ruud never earned roster spots. Neither was a liability financially. Both were low-cost insurance policies. Seattle parlayed Ruud into a 2013 draft choice by trading him to New Orleans after the Saints lost Jonathan Vilma.

Oakland Raiders cut-down analysis

September, 1, 2012
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Click here for the complete list of Oakland Raiders' roster moves.

Most significant move: Putting starting linebacker Aaron Curry on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. He has been out all camp with knee problems. This is good news, because there was a thought he could end up on the injured reserve. Now Curry can come back to practice Oct. 16. He will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by fourth-round pick Miles Burris. I think Oakland will look for some linebackers in the coming days as well. As expected, young tight end David Ausberry made the team and he will continue to develop. They are high on sixth-round pick, defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi. He is raw, but he has big potential and he can learn without urgency because he is on a top-notch line. Cornerback Bryan McCann made the team and he could be the starting punt returner. As expected, punt returner Roscoe Parrish, who was cut by the Chargers on Monday and quickly signed by the Raiders, was cut after he fumbled two punts Thursday at Seattle.

Onward and upward: Defensive lineman Dominique Hamilton was caught in a numbers game. He was impressive in the preseason but he is likely headed to the practice squad. Rookie free-agent receiver Derek Carrier is probably not headed to the practice squad at this point. The team was very high on him after the draft, but he fell behind other rookie receivers such as fifth-round pick Juron Criner and fellow undrafted rookie Rod Streater. Both those players made the team and should be part of the rotation. However, rookie receiver Brandon Carswell could be practice-squad bound. Rookie linebacker Chad Kilgore could also be headed to the practice squad. He looked good in the preseason. Linebacker Nathan Stupar, a seventh-round draft pick, was a surprise cut after he had a strong preseason. I could see him being claimed elsewhere. If not, I'm sure Oakland will try to put him on the practice squad.

What’s next: I expect the Raiders to be very busy in the next few days. Depth is a big problem because of a salary-cap issue and a lack of draft picks the past two years. The Raiders’ lack of depth was a serious problem in the preseason. I think the Raiders could use help at running back, tight end, the offensive line, and linebacker and in the secondary. Yes, they could be busy. Among the players Oakland could look at include Rock Cartwright, Tim Hightower, Joselio Hanson, Justin Miller and Chris Cooley. Oakland could also be on the lookout for a pass-rusher. It worked out Andre Carter recently, but he reportedly isn’t healthy enough to sign anywhere.

Preseason: Up and down for Vikings

August, 11, 2012
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Reviewing Friday's action at Candlestick Park:

San Francisco 49ers 17, Minnesota Vikings 6

Preseason record: 0-1
Of interest: Quarterback Christian Ponder had a solid preseason debut, completing a 52-yard deep post to receiver Stephen Burton -- who started for an inactive Percy Harvin -- and moving the team in position for two field goals. Ponder completed 4-of-9 passes overall, but two clearly qualified as drops by Burton and receiver Jerome Simpson. His chemistry with tight end Kyle Rudolph was clear. … The defense played without defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield, all of whom were healthy scratches, and was gashed in the running game, giving up nearly 200 yards in the first half alone. Brandon Jacobs hit them for a 23-yard gain, Rock Cartwright had a 19-yarder and backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran 78 yards for a touchdown. Safety Mistral Raymond took a poor angle on Jacobs' run, and cornerback Chris Cook couldn't tackle Kaepernick near the end of his run. … Rookie placekicker Blair Walsh drilled attempts from 39 and 26 yards and also had two touchbacks. … Nose tackle Letroy Guion suffered a knee injury that likely will sideline him for a few weeks. … The scattered performance of backup quarterback Joe Webb was concerning. The Vikings have limited him to quarterback this summer, electing against using him at other positions, but thus far he appears to have taken a step back if anything.

Local coverage: The Vikings need to elevate rookie safety Harrison Smith to the first team, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "The Vikings left Webb in for nearly half the game, likely hoping he'd end on a high note. But his last two possessions ended in incompletions on third down." … Ponder, via Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune: "I thought it was a pretty good start. Obviously we’d rather come out with touchdowns rather than two field goals. But I thought we moved the ball pretty well against a good defense. A lot of positives. It also gives us a lot of film to look at come Sunday." … It's possible that tailback Adrian Peterson could be activated to the roster as early as Sunday, notes Pelissero.

Up next: Friday, Aug. 17 against the Buffalo Bills

Three things revisited: Vikings-49ers

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
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Looking back upon three things discussed here before the 49ers' 17-6 exhibition victory Friday at home against Minnesota:

1. Pass protection. No real concerns here. I listed this subject first in our preview only because quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick took a pounding from the blitz-happy New Orleans Saints in the 2011 exhibition opener. In this game, Smith completed all three attempts for 16 yards and a touchdown to Brett Swain. He was not sacked. The running game dominated. Pass protection benefited from the balance. The 49ers' offense was exponentially better in this game than in their opener a year ago.

2. New life at running back. With starter Frank Gore sitting out, the 49ers got runs of at least 11 yards from Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and even fullback Rock Cartwright. Jacobs was effective in short-yardage situations, including a fourth-and-1 during the opening drive to a touchdown. Fullback Bruce Miller did a good job clearing holes in two-back groupings. New right guard Alex Boone caught my attention with aggressive blocking in the run game. The 49ers got exactly what they wanted from their backup runners in this game. San Francisco finished with 42 carries for 260 yards.

3. Backup QB race. Kaepernick dazzled with a 78-yard touchdown run on a designed keeper out of the no-huddle offense. That play showed why the 49ers will probably design a few special plays for Kaepernick even as Smith remains the starter. It showed why Kaepernick has a chance to become a dynamic running quarterback. It showed why the 49ers' offense will likely change fundamentally if Kaepernick is the quarterback. Kaepernick completed 5 of 9 passes for 40 yards. He found rookie A.J. Jenkins for a 15-yard gain. Kaepernick appeared late in delivering another pass. Kaepernick's presumed competition for the No. 2 job, Josh Johnson, took over late. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 30 yards. Scott Tolzien got into the game before Johnson. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 84 yards and a pick. On one play, Tolzien stood firm in the pocket and drove the ball to tight end Garrett Celek over the middle.
NAPA, Calif. -- One of the biggest curiosities in the NFL this summer is what is occurring in Wine Country. Graced with the prettiest training camp setting in the league, the Oakland Raiders are changing in front of our very eyes.

On the same practice field where the late Al Davis used to famously stalk practice from a nearby golf cart, the Raiders are a drastically different franchise as they enter their first full season since Davis died last October at the age of 82.

The team is now run by first-time general manager Reggie McKenzie, a respected former Green Bay executive and former Raiders linebacker. He was handpicked by several of Davis’ closest confidantes. McKenzie chose Dennis Allen, who at 39 is the NFL’s youngest coach, to take over the team.

For a franchise that was closely ruled by Davis until his death, the Raiders are hoping a dose of NFL modern structure will pay dividends. Even though it has been 8-8 in the past two seasons, Oakland hasn’t had a winning record in 10 years and it is tied for the second-longest playoff drought in the league.

Perhaps McKenzie and Allen are the winning combination for Oakland.

“I think everybody is interested to see what happens,” said Oakland safety Michael Huff, who has been with the Raiders since 2006. “I’ve only known one way. To have this new structure is new to me.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Keep McFadden healthy: The Raiders’ best player is running back Darren McFadden. He has to stay healthy, but that hasn’t been easy for the fifth-year player. He has missed at last three games in each of his four NFL seasons. He missed the final nine games of last season with a serious foot injury. If McFadden can stay healthy, the Oakland offense will be dangerous and it will help quarterback Carson Palmer make a difference in his first full season in Oakland. If McFadden can’t stay healthy, the Raiders could be in trouble. They are not deep behind him and lose a major dimension with McFadden sidelined. McFadden has looked good so far, but the key is that he looks healthy.

2. Improve on defense: Allen is the first defensive-minded head coach of the Raiders since John Madden, who was hired in 1969. There is a reason McKenzie went with a defensive coach: the Raiders need the most help on that side of the ball. Oakland has been sloppy and has allowed too many big plays on defense. Allen helped change the defensive culture in Denver last year during his one season as the defensive coordinator there. His quest to improve Oakland’s defense begins now.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
AP Photo/Derek GeeA healthy Darren McFadden is crucial for Oakland's success.
3. Cut down on penalties: The Raiders set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage last season. It has long been a problem in Oakland. Now, it is up to Allen to get it figured out. Playing disciplined, correct ball is a focus of every camp. It has to be drilled into this team on a daily basis. To his credit, former coach Hue Jackson tried to fix penalties on a weekly basis last year and it didn’t work. It's now one of Allen’s greatest challenges. Allen stresses the importance of discipline every day and he will need to change this self-destructive trend.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

This roster has a lot of talent on it. The Raiders were on the edge of the playoffs last year, and there are lot players who think they are capable of taking the next step. Palmer has talked playoffs, and McKenzie says he thinks his team is headed in that direction.

The offense has the capability to score a lot of points, and the defense is loaded up front. It’s not like this team is going to be horribly overmatched on a weekly basis. You can watch training camp and you see good players on the field.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

This team is pretty thin at a lot of places because of the loss of several players through free agency, salary dumps and small draft classes the past two years. Again, there is talent assembled in this camp, but there are holes on this team. Positions such as running back, tight end, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary cannot afford too many injuries.

This camp is about keeping the top players healthy and hoping it all comes together. If injuries occur, Oakland will have to get creative to stay competitive.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The offense looks crisp. The pace of practice has been fast as the team adjusts to playing in the West Coast offense under coordinator Greg Knapp. The unit does not look behind.
  • Carson Palmer
    Harry How/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer threw for 2,753 yards in 10 games with the Raiders last season.
    Palmer throws a pretty deep ball. With the Raiders’ speed at receiver, they should parlay that combination into a lot of fast scores this season.
  • There is a lot of talent at receiver. I can see this team using five receivers in a game. There will be a lot of options.
  • Defensive lineman Tommy Kelly looks to be in good shape. He is one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the league.
  • Defensive linemen Matt Shaughnessy is looking good after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. He is known as a stronger pass-rusher, but he can also stop the run. He is aiming for a big year.
  • I don’t anticipate a big adjustment period for second-year player Stefen Wisniewski as he moves from guard to center. He has played center before and he originally projected as an NFL center. He is a smart player who seems comfortable at the position.
  • Don’t expect too much from quarterback Terrelle Pryor right away. He is a work in progress and he will be up and down in camp. I think Matt Leinart has a pretty strong hold on the No. 2 job as of now.
  • Second-year cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke has a chance to make a push for a starting job. He opened camp as a starter with Ronald Bartell out with a hamstring injury. I could see Van Dyke pushing Bartell or Shawntae Spencer at some point.
  • The team is impressed with rookie linebackers Miles Burris and Nathan Stupar. Both players are instinctive and professional. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burris earns major playing time.
  • The team is high on third-round guard Tony Bergstrom. The game doesn’t look too big for him, and he is a mature player.
  • New defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has a lot of energy. Watching him operate with his lively personality and blond hair invokes memories of a young Jon Gruden wearing the Silver and Black. Like Gruden, the intelligent Tarver is a young coach to watch.
  • I think we will see tight ends Brandon Myers, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon all get ample playing time in the preseason. I think that can continue into the regular season if each player carves their own niche.
  • Safety Mike Mitchell is the early leader in the clubhouse to replace Rock Cartwright, now in San Francisco, as the punt protector.
  • Receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford will get most of the camp looks at punt returner for now.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver Rod Streater has taken off where he left off in the OTAs. He has been an early camp star.
  • I could see a scenario in which the Raiders keep fullback Owen Schmitt in addition to Marcel Reece. The tough Schmitt and the versatile Reece offer different things to the offense.

Have the Raiders fallen behind?

March, 30, 2012
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Reggie McKenzie, Dennis AllenAP Photo/Paul SakumaOakland's salary-cap woes have Reggie McKenzie, left, and Dennis Allen in a tough spot.

The Oakland Raiders are one of the most intriguing franchises in the NFL these days. How will the post-Al Davis Raiders evolve?

After Al Davis' death in October, the much-less-involved Mark Davis turned his father’s beloved franchise over to Reggie McKenzie, a respected personnel man from Green Bay, who is embarking on his first journey as a general manager. McKenzie has entrusted former Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who at 39 is the youngest coach in the league, to be the next coach of a team that finished 8-8 last season and barely out of the playoffs.

The first focus for McKenzie has been clearing the Raiders’ roster of bloated contracts given to players as the Raiders desperately, and unsuccessfully, chased championships in Davis’ final years.

It has been a necessary exercise as Oakland begins the process of getting out of salary-cap jail. But Oakland has lost more talent than it has brought in the past month.

The question begs to be asked: Has Oakland fallen behind the rest of the AFC West for the 2012 season? It depends on whom you ask, of course. Asked this week if his team will be stronger or weaker in 2012, McKenzie, without explanation, said this: “Honestly, I envision it being stronger.”

However, many folks around the league wonder how.

“I think they have fallen behind,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “They are in a tough salary-cap position and they are paying for it now. I just don’t see the improvement.”

Added Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “I do think they have slipped.” Williamson, in an Insider piece, gave the Raiders one of the worst free-agent grades in the AFC.

It’s difficult to look at the list of players Oakland has added and lost and not come to the same conclusion. Even given the need for salary-cap repair, a loss of talent mustn’t be brushed aside.

Some of the key players who were either cut or departed Oakland as free agents: linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, running back Michael Bush, quarterback Jason Campbell, cornerback Stanford Routt, tight end Kevin Boss, defensive tackle John Henderson, running back Rock Cartwright, receiver Chaz Schilens, defensive end Trevor Scott and cornerback Chris Johnson.

The projected starters who have been brought in: guard Mike Brisiel and cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.

“You look who has come and who has gone, and it’s scary,” Horton said. “I like Mike Brisiel. He will help. But the two cornerbacks are just guys. They are not starters for a good team. The defense needs improvement and I don’t see it. All I see is the loss of talent. Where is the coverage coming from? Where is the pass-rush coming from?”

In addition to not having much cap room, the Raiders have a small draft class. They have five picks and their first pick is No. 95, at the end of the third round. McKenzie has said the Raiders need a starting outside linebacker. He might not know who that player is for some time.

Compounding the concern in Oakland is the fact that the rest of the AFC West has been aggressive this offseason.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesDarren McFadden is an elite running back when healthy -- but the Raiders are an injury or two away, at many positions, from serious trouble.
Denver added the big prize of the NFL offseason --quarterback Peyton Manning. Kansas City added several players, including Routt and Boss after they were jettisoned in Oakland. The Chargers lost star receiver Vincent Jackson and key backup running back Mike Tolbert, but added several pieces and have been lauded by scouts around the league for using their resources properly and adding to their overall talent level. Speaking this week solely about his own team, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said he felt the need to improve his roster because of the improvement around him in the division.

Meanwhile, McKenzie and Allen are seemingly beginning their tenure in Oakland by taking a step back. Asked about the loss of talent while at the NFL owners meetings this week, Allen took a realistic approach.

“You know what, we knew what the situation was when we were going into it,” Allen said. “We knew it was going to be a tough situation. I think Reggie’s done a great job of managing everything as we’ve gone through this. You go through it every year. Every year, you have good players that you lose. And you’ve got to find a way to regroup and replace those guys and that’s what we’re trying to get done.”

The problem is that Oakland has more holes than it did at the end of last season. In the past couple of seasons, the Raiders were intriguing because they were both young and didn’t have many glaring needs. All they needed was their young talent to continue to improve. Now, though, Oakland has holes at tight end and at linebacker and depth issues at all layers of the defense, running back, the offensive line and at quarterback.

“What if this team gets hurt a lot?” Horton asked. “There is no depth in this team.”

Still, not all is lost in Oakland. Running back Darren McFadden is an elite runner when healthy, the defensive line is an upper-echelon unit, the interior offensive line is strong, the special teams are top-notch, the receiver crew is potentially dynamic and the team believes quarterback Carson Palmer will benefit from a full offseason in the program.

The Raiders are hopeful that their talent can withstand this necessary offseason of cap repair. In a couple of years, if McKenzie continues to be financially prudent, the Raiders should be out of cap jail.

“This team wasn’t far away when I got here,” Allen said at the owners meetings. “We’re excited about trying to build on that and develop this team into a playoff-caliber team. Obviously, we took a couple hits because of the cap situation, but we’re looking forward to trying to develop the team, and the players.”

The only question: Has the rest of the AFC West left the Raiders behind in the immediate future?

AFC West free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Denver Broncos

Key additions: QB Peyton Manning, CB Tracy Porter, TE Joel Dreessen, TE Jacob Tamme, S Mike Adams, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Andre Caldwell.

Key losses: DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR, Eddie Royal, TE Daniel Fells, QB Tim Tebow, QB Brady Quinn, TE Dante Rosario.

Did they get better? The Broncos added Manning and that move changes the course of the entire division. Denver is instantly the favorite to win the AFC West again because of this addition. Yes, there are risks as the 36-year-old Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury that required several surgeries. Denver is convinced Manning is fully recovered and has been cleared to play.

If the 2012 Manning is anything like the Manning we last saw, Denver will be in good shape and the offense will be dangerous. The key is on defense. It has improved greatly and the Porter and Adams additions should help, even while losing Bunkley will hurt. Overall, this team made huge strides in the offseason.

What’s next: Denver’s biggest need areas are at defensive tackle (the Broncos may need two), running back, safety, receiver and linebacker. However, much of that need is for depth purposes.

Denver’s only true glaring hole is at defensive tackle. Expect the Broncos to use their No. 25 pick on the position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team’s second-round pick is used on a running back unless the Broncos like one of the remaining veterans on the market.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key additions: CB Stanford Routt, RT Eric Winston, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, QB Brady Quinn.

Key losses: CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Demorrio Williams.

Did they get better? Had it not been for the Manning blockbuster, everybody would be taking about what the Chiefs did. I think the Chiefs’ work in free agency was among the best five in the NFL.

Instead of giving quarterback Matt Cassel serious competition, the Chiefs further committed to him by giving him some strong pieces on offense. Hillis will team with Jamaal Charles to make a dangerous running tandem. Winston is one of the league’s better right tackles and Boss and Tony Moeaki will give opposing defenses fits in double tight end sets. This will be a varied offense that will have many weapons. The Chiefs are solid on defense and Routt is a veteran who is comparable to Carr, but more experienced and is less expensive.

What’s next: The Chiefs could use a nose tackle, help at inside linebacker, secondary depth and offensive line depth. They will get a good player with the 11th pick and I think they will try to solidify the middle of the defensive line with someone like Memphis’ Dontari Poe. If the Chiefs can add an impact defender with that pick, it will complete an outstanding offseason.

Oakland Raiders

Key additions: G Mike Brisiel, CB Ron Bartell, CB Shawntae Spencer, CB Pat Lee.

Key losses: LB Kamerion Wimbley, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, CB Stanford Routt, TE Kevin Boss, DT John Henderson, RB Rock Cartwright, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, CB Chris Johnson.

Did they get better? It’s difficult to argue this team improved. Just look at all the losses. It’s a pure fact of numbers, Oakland lost much more than it brought in. This team has more questions than it did at the end of last season and it has more holes. With limited cap space and the fact Oakland doesn’t pick in the draft until No. 95, the Raiders will have a difficult time adding any more impact players. Depth can be an issue.

I understand why this has happened. The new Oakland regime had to get things in order, and sometimes, before a team can make major steps forward as an organization, it may have to take a step back. There is still a lot of talent in Oakland, but it is clear the other three teams made more impactful additions.

What’s next: Oakland will be challenged to find impact players, but it will need to add depth at several places after finding a starting outside linebacker. Oakland needs depth at linebacker, the secondary, offensive line, running back and at quarterback. I think we will see Oakland be patient and add at spots all the way up into the season.

San Diego Chargers

Key additions: WR Robert Meachem, LB Jarret Johnson, WR Eddie Royal, FB Le’Ron McClain, QB Charlie Whitehurst, S Atari Bigby, TE Dante Rosario, LB Demorrio Williams

Key losses: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert, G Kris Dielman, S Steve Gregory, QB Billy Volek.

Did they get better? I’ve talked to a lot of scouts who believe the Chargers improved. The truth is they lost two good players in Jackson and Tolbert and so did not improve as much as Denver and Kansas City did. But the Chargers did get creative and added a lot of pieces for the price it would have cost to keep Jackson. They also retained key offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Jared Gaither. Meachem and Royal give quarterback Philip Rivers some interesting weapons.

Johnson will help the defense and he will make it tougher. The Chargers may have gotten a little deeper while losing some star power.

What’s next: The Chargers still haven’t addressed their greatest need outside of keeping its offensive line intact. San Diego will no doubt use its No. 18 pick on the best available pass-rusher to help Johnson is not a great pass-rusher.

Other needs include a big backup running back, offensive line depth and some more depth in all layers of the defense.

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

March, 16, 2012
3/16/12
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Michael Robinson's expected re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks would give the team a league-high four re-signings in the unrestricted free-agent market.

Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.

Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...

Seattle Seahawks

UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)

UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)

UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.

Arizona Cardinals

UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.

St. Louis Rams

UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.

The chart below shows a general overview.
NFL Network is reporting that the Denver Broncos and the Tennessee Titans are not just competing for Peyton Manning, but also for Atlanta pass-rusher John Abraham.

Abraham
Abraham
Abraham will turn 34 in May, but he can still be effective. He had 9.5 sacks last season. He is a consistent pass-rusher who has 112 sacks in 12 NFL season. He's reached double-digits in sacks in three of the past five seasons.

Adding Abraham to a pass-rush that includes Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil would give Denver one of the very best pass-rushes in the NFL.

In other AFC West news:

NFL Network is reporting the 49ers will sign Oakland special teams ace Rock Cartwright, pending a physical. Cartwright was a pivotal part of the Raiders’ locker room. The loss would sting some.

In addition to visiting with former St. Louis cornerback Ronald Bartell on Thursday, the Raiders are showing a lot of interest in New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter. That makes total sense. He played for new Oakland head coach Dennis Allen in New Orleans. Porter is visiting Cincinnati. Expect the Raiders to expires interest in several cornerbacks. It’s their biggest need area.

AFC West labor impact

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
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NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Denver Broncos: A long labor impasse would stunt the development of second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. Like all young quarterbacks, Tebow needs time in the offseason to work with his coaches, study the playbook and work with teammates in the system. If Tebow missed an entire offseason, he would have a difficult time catching up once training camp starts, seriously damaging his chances to be the opening day starter.

New Denver coach John Fox is not going to be comfortable going with Tebow as his starting quarterback unless he gets ample time to see him perform in the offseason. If the impasse extends well into the summer, Denver may be forced to take a look at Kyle Orton instead of trading him. If there is a quick resolution before the draft, Denver could be tempted to move Orton.

Kansas City Chiefs: The biggest key in Kansas City is Matt Cassel’s continued development. He flourished in 2010 under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. However, Weis is now at the University of Florida. Cassel struggled in the two games after it was disclosed that Weis was leaving.

Kansas City promoted offensive line coach Bill Muir to offensive coordinator. But in addition to head coach Todd Haley, Cassel will work closely with new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, a former NFL quarterback and head coach. He has a strong reputation for working with quarterbacks.

Cassel and Zorn need time to work together. The two won’t be able to communicate during the labor impasse. It will be troublesome for the two to miss months of study time. This would put Cassel behind. He’d have to cram to learn Zorn’s ways. That could hurt the entire offense.

Oakland Raiders: A lengthy labor impasse would keep Oakland from knowing exactly what this team will look like. The Raiders have locked up defensive players Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley and John Henderson in addition to special-teams player Rock Cartwright. They also have re-signed reserves Kyle Boller, Hiram Eugene and Daniel Loper. But Oakland still has many free agents to deal with, including star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller, safety Michael Huff, running back Michael Bush and guard Robert Gallery. Gallery said he is not planning to return to Oakland. Oakland gave tenders to Bush and Miller, but they could end up being unrestricted free agents in a new CBA.

The Raiders have created some risk for themselves with their aggressive strategy of re-signing free agents. If there is a salary cap in the new CBA, they don't know how high or low it will be. So it's possible they have have painted themselves into a corner by giving out too many contracts.

Also, if the draft occurs before the impasse is resolved, the Raiders will have to make some tough decisions, based on the uncertainty of their remaining free-agent class.

San Diego Chargers: Like Oakland, San Diego has a lot of free-agent uncertainty. The Chargers didn’t enter the offseason with as many high-profile free agents as Oakland, but they have key players to deal with. Unlike Oakland, though, the Chargers haven’t been aggressive with their free agents during this uncertain time. The only way San Diego addressed free agency was by giving receiver Vincent Jackson the franchise tag. Keeping Jackson is key.

There are other issues. San Diego needs to figure out what to do with safety Eric Weddle and receiver Malcom Floyd . They put restricted free-agent tenders on them, but there is a chance they could be unrestricted free agents in a new CBA. They are two key players.

The Chargers have a good roster, but it does need to be enhanced. A long impasse will keep the Chargers from fully knowing exactly what their roster will look like. That could create some anxiety for a team that thinks it can make a Super Bowl push with the right moves. However, adding former defensive player of the year Bob Sanders was a sign that when free agency does begin, this team could be active on the open market, which hasn't been the case in recent years.

It's tricky in Oakland

November, 7, 2010
11/07/10
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OAKLAND – Todd Haley and Tom Cable are a couple of fakers.

Both coaches called for a fake punt on back-to-back possessions. Both attempts failed.

First, Haley had rookie Javier Arenas take a direct snap on a punt, but he was stopped at Oakland’s 41. On the next drive, Oakland’s Rock Cartwright took the ball and was stopped at Oakland’s 48. Kansas City then scored a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead in the next drive. The Chiefs then took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter after kicking a field goal after recovering a Darren McFadden fumble at the Oakland 31.

It was no surprise Haley tried the trick play. That man doesn’t like to punt. He has gone for it 12 times this season and has converted six times.

While the Raiders are not as big of risk-takers as Kansas City, Cable did get tricky in the first quarter. The Raiders used the Wildcat formation on four plays in the first quarter. McFadden took the direct snaps while quarterback Jason Campbell lined up as a receiver. Oakland also tried a flea flicker in the second quarter, but it was an incomplete pass from Campbell intended for rookie Jacoby Ford.

The game has had plenty of drama thus far. Cable has challenged two Kansas City touchdowns (on the same drive). One worked. One didn’t.

The officials also made a tremendous mistake when it was ruled a Tony Moeaki touchdown was actually stopped at the 1. He caught a five-yard pass from the six on 3rd-and-2. After the review, the officials ruled that it was fourth and goal from the 1, when it should have been first and goal from the 1. Quarterback Matt Cassel scored on a touchdown – yes, the Chiefs thought they had touchdowns three times on the drive – on the play but the Chiefs were called for holding. It wasn’t until after that play that officials realized they made a flub.

It’s early, but this AFC West showdown has been plenty of fun already.

Skins re-sign Rabach, release 10

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
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So much for Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and coach Mike Shanahan easing their way into free agency. The Skins began a major overhaul of their roster Thursday evening, re-signing Casey Rabach to a three-year contract but releasing 10 other players.

Rabach
Rabach
The other three teams in the NFC East have extended tenders to players but none of them rivaled the Redskins in terms of purging their rosters. Veteran guard Randy Thomas and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El were the most notable releases. It's not surprising the Redskins would release them, but the timing is certainly interesting. Shanahan has talked about improving from within, but now he'll also have to look elsewhere for help.

Rabach agreed to a three-year contract worth $12.3 million, according to ESPN's John Clayton. It's obvious the veteran center placed more emphasis on security than money by not testing the free-agency waters. The Redskins also released former starting cornerback Fred Smoot as well as veteran backup running backs Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright, who was a valuable specials teams player. Cartwright was also a vocal leader on the team but apparently that wasn't enough to convince Shanahan.

Basically Clinton Portis is the last running back left standing, although that will change via free agency or the draft. Keep in mind that Shanahan is a great admirer of LaDainian Tomlinson after playing against him for so many years in the AFC West. No matter what you think of the Skins' moves, no one can say they weren't decisive Thursday.

"Obviously, it's a day of change for the Redskins," Allen told reporters at Redskins Park earlier this evening.

Last year at this time, the Redskins were paying huge money to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in free agency. This time around, the Redskins appear to be more interested in creating vacancies.

Redskins' WR Thomas injures ankle

December, 21, 2009
12/21/09
10:42
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LANDOVER, Md. -- For those brave souls who continue to monitor this game, Redskins wide receiver Devin Thomas has left the game with an ankle injury and his return is questionable. In other news, quarterback Jason Campbell has returned to the field after leaving with a shoulder injury in the first half.

And he just completed a 51-yard pass to Rock Cartwright. This team refuses to go away. Kidding.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 27, 2009
11/27/09
4:00
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesQuarterback Jason Campbell has had to adjust while playing behind a leaky line.
Three nuggets of knowledge about the Redskins-Eagles game in Week 12:

The Eagles need more from their pass rush against the Redskins on Sunday. In the first game against the Skins, the Eagles sacked Jason Campbell six times and he was constantly under duress. The Eagles only have three sacks in the past two games and they need their front four to generate more pressure in order to help a banged-up secondary. Sack leader Trent Cole (8.5) needs to have a big game against Redskins left tackle Levi Jones. It's a matchup that should favor the relentless Cole. The Eagles have allowed five yards per carry over the past two games, but I have a hard time believing that Rock Cartwright is going to go off on them. I'd be more worried about him in the passing game.

The Eagles will have some favorable matchups on the outside. I know the Redskins have the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the league. Skins fans remind me of this all the time -- even though I think those rankings can be misleading. I like to trust my eyes, which allowed me to see Brandon Marshall running free behind the Redskins' secondary two Sundays ago. And the fact that DeAngelo Hall could miss the game with a knee injury is a major issue. That means that Fred Smoot could end up on DeSean Jackson from time to time. That's a matchup the Eagles really, really like. LaRon Landry better be playing about 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and I'm sure fellow safety Reed Doughty will be in retreat mode, too. Jackson and Jeremy Maclin only need one play to knock you out, so the Redskins have to be on guard at all times.

What do the Skins have to lose? I'd like to see Jim Zorn and his playcaller Sherm Lewis loosen up a little in this game. They bogged down in the red zone against the Cowboys last Sunday, in part, because they went conservative for no apparent reason. If you have a chance to take a shot at the end zone before settling for a field goal, then by all means. Believe it or not, this season has actually been good for quarterback Campbell's development. He'll never again play behind an offensive line this bad. In a few short weeks, he's learned how to unload the ball quickly and how to successfully identify hot routes. I thought he played perhaps his best game of the season in a 7-6 loss to the Cowboys. That might sound crazy, but his ability to keep getting up after repeated shots to the chin was pretty remarkable. Keep your eye on this Richard Bartel situation. The Redskins tried to quietly insert a third-string quarterback onto their roster. I think they'd love to take a look at him soon. Maybe not in a divisional game against the Eagles, but you may see the Grapevine, Texas, native out there at some point this season.

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