NFL Nation: Scot McCloughan

Parys Haralson and Delanie Walker departed the San Francisco 49ers' roster this offseason after entering the NFL has 2006 draft choices with the team.

Another member of that 49ers draft class, fullback Michael Robinson, was a valued contributor to the division-rival Seattle Seahawks when the team released him Friday with age and salary-cap considerations in mind.

The 2006 class has been good to the 49ers. The team continues to get top-shelf contributions from tight end Vernon Davis, one of the team's two first-round picks from that 2006 class.

Mike Nolan was coach and Scott McCloughan was general manager for the 49ers back then. Some of the personnel moves they made continue to sustain the team. Frank Gore, Tarell Brown, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Ray McDonald and Davis remain as players drafted under Nolan. All are valued contributors. Another Nolan-era pick, Adam Snyder, is back with the team as a reserve offensive lineman after spending 2012 with Arizona.

Davis is one of 10 first-round picks from 2006 playing with his original team. The list also includes A.J. Hawk, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Tamba Hali, Davin Joseph, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Lewis, Nick Mangold and Mathias Kiwanuka.
Kevin Kolb/Matt Flynn/Sam BradfordGetty Images/AP PhotoQuarterback play will be something to keep an eye on in the NFC West this season.
San Francisco 49ers fans were skipping along toward training camp when Aaron Schatz threw the book at them.

The book, all 574 pages of it, knocked some of them off their stride.

How could anyone familiar with the defending NFC West champions project only seven victories for the coach Jim Harbaugh's second season? After all, the 49ers are bringing back all of their most important players -- Harbaugh's mighty men, as the coach likes to call them -- from a squad that went 13-3 and nearly reached the Super Bowl.

Here is the deal: Even Schatz himself, lead author of the 2012 Football Outsiders Almanac, believes the 49ers will outperform the modest expectations set forth by his book's widely cited win projection system.

"Subjectively, I'd expect the 49ers to win the division at 9-7," Schatz said Tuesday during an hour-long conversation on all things NFC West.

Anyone interested in more fully understanding the projection system can find an explanation, plus detailed reports for every NFL team, in the almanac Football Outsiders made available for sale recently.

I've singled out key points for consideration here and will run through one per NFC West team, supplemented as needed with material from my conversation with Schatz.

Arizona Cardinals

The point: Kevin Kolb should be an easy choice over John Skelton as the team's starting quarterback.

Yes, the Cardinals posted a 5-2 record when Skelton started and a 3-6 mark when Kolb was in the lineup. Skelton was even the primary quarterback during one of those victories credited to Kolb. (He performed rather impressively during an upset over the 49ers after a concussion sidelined Kolb early in the game.)

The disparity in win-loss records largely accounts for coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to let Skelton compete with Kolb for the starting job in camp. But the way Schatz sees things, that thinking ignores the context for each player's performance.

"Skelton got away with close wins playing an easier schedule, and the idea that he had more wins and therefore is a better quarterback, no way," Schatz said. "Should there be a battle between Kolb and Skelton? No, it's silly."

For evidence, the almanac points to the schedule. The New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens were on the schedule right before an injury to Kolb opened the door for Skelton. The Cardinals then played St. Louis twice and the then-struggling Philadelphia Eagles with Skelton in the lineup. And they needed some miraculous plays, including punt returns for touchdowns from Patrick Peterson, to eke out victories over the Rams.

The assessment shoots down Skelton more than it endorses Kolb, but there are obvious reasons for the organization to take a longer look at Kolb this season.

Kolb had very little prep time following his acquisition last summer. Injuries kept him off the field for long stretches. The team also invested millions in Kolb. The point is basically that Skelton, despite his 5-2 starting record, hasn't shown enough for the team to disregard all those factors.

"Frankly," the almanac concludes, "even if Kolb or Skelton does a reasonable job, the Cardinals will still be in the market for a franchise quarterback in the 2013 draft."

Seattle Seahawks

The point: History suggests new quarterback Matt Flynn will be at least serviceable, and probably better than that, despite extremely limited evidence (two career starts, 132 career attempts).

Schatz, writing recently for Insider Insider, allowed that sample size generally means a great deal. But in looking at Flynn's 480-yard game for Green Bay against Detroit, a performance complete with six touchdown passes, Schatz made a basic conclusion.

"Bad quarterbacks simply don't have games that good, even as flukes," he wrote.

For evidence, Schatz noted that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger were the only other quarterbacks with similar performances over the past five years.

"Going back to 1991," Schatz wrote, "the worst quarterback who had a single game this good was Scott Mitchell. As bad as Mitchell was at times, he also threw for more than 4,000 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 1995. Seattle would gladly take those stats from Flynn."

The almanac actually projects slightly more victories for Seattle than for San Francisco (the mean projection is 7.2 for each, but the Seahawks' total is slightly higher). But much will hinge upon something that is uncertain: how good Flynn might become. Talk of rookie Russell Wilson possibly winning the starting job in camp didn't resonate with Football Outsiders, even if the Lewin Career Forecast suggests "Wilson can win in the NFL if he has an offensive coordinator who knows how to take advantage of his skills."

San Francisco 49ers

The point: There's almost no way the team will approach its 13-3 record from last season.

In covering this ground previously, I noted that the 13 teams finishing with 13-3 records from 2004 through 2010 had won 8.3 games on average the following season. Three finished better than 9-7. Over the same period, the 19 teams finishing 13-3 or better all finished with lesser records the next year. The average drop was 4.1 victories per team.

Schatz's reasoning for projecting a drop takes into account historical data.

"Teams that improve dramatically from one season to the next do tend to settle to previous levels in the third year," he said. "That is exacerbated for the 49ers by having the quality of their team wrapped up in defense and special teams. Offense tends to be most consistent from year to year. Special teams is the least consistent of the units. Defense is second. The 49ers' defense and special teams are likely to come back to the pack."

Schatz also thinks the 49ers were unusually healthy on defense last season, and that they'll most likely be less healthy in 2012. The 49ers current and former leadership put together their roster, particularly the defense, with size in mind. Former general manager Scot McCloughan, borrowing from Ron Wolf, believed bigger players held up better over the course of a season. The thinking intrigued Schatz, whose company tracks injury information. By combining injury information with data for size, might we have an easier time predicting injuries for certain players and teams?

"It's an interesting theory," Schatz said. "There are teams that no doubt have a record of better health. The 49ers do not quite count as one of those teams. They have been healthy on defense three of the last four years. Dallas is a team that tends to suffer fewer injuries. Kansas City was a team. Cleveland tends to suffer more. New England has suffered more than average and gotten away with it."

St. Louis Rams

The point: Quarterback Sam Bradford wasn't all that much worse last season than he was as a rookie.

Bradford's individual passing stats were worse, but Rams fans worried about their team's franchise quarterback should find some consolation in Football Outsiders' analysis.

Basically, the Rams suffered injuries on a level nearly unprecedented over the past decade, all while facing a schedule that was tougher than anticipated.

Football Outsiders uses a metric called "Adjusted Games Lost" to measure injury impact. The 2011 Rams suffered a league-worst 110 AGL, which the almanac equates to "losing seven key players for the year in training camp." Only the 2009 Buffalo Bills (122.8 AGL) fared worse since 2002.

Meanwhile, the Rams became the first team since at least 1991 to go from playing the NFL's easiest schedule one season (2010, when the Rams were 7-9) to playing the hardest.

"On average," the almanac reads, "the 10 teams since 1991 with the biggest year-to-year rise in strength of schedule had 4.1 fewer wins."

The Rams declined by five victories from 7-9 to 2-14.

None of this means Bradford will lead the Rams to prominence. The evidence does suggest, though, that the Rams faced unusually difficult obstacles last season.

"Everything points to them being in process," Schatz said.

The upcoming season should be one of discovery, in other words. Absent some of those unusually difficult obstacles, the Rams will have an easier time evaluating their personnel. They'll find out more about Bradford, tackle Jason Smith, tight end Lance Kendricks and other potentially key players. They'll learn about their wide receivers and outside linebackers.

"In the end, though, the team's ultimate fate will lie in the hands of [coach Jeff] Fisher's first acquisition in St. Louis, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer," the almanac predicts.

That is a subject for another day.
RENTON, Wash. -- A buzz is rising in the Seattle Seahawks' draft media room as the main event approaches.

Radio shows are broadcasting live from this room, with others taking their spots at tables like the one I'm using here.

The whiteboard in front of the room features rows for each round of the draft and columns for all 32 teams. A member of the media relations staff places the appropriate magnetic cards with players' names onto the board as teams make their picks. There's space for an eighth round on the board -- presumably left over from years past.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider popped in a few minutes ago. I also ran across senior executive Scot McCloughan, the former San Francisco 49ers GM, a bit earlier. Their prep work is finished, and now they wait.

I'll be heading over to our "Countdown Live" conversation shortly. See you there.
Raise your hand if you had the San Francisco 49ers selecting Aldon Smith with the seventh overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft.

Not seeing many hands out there. Not seeing any hands, actually.

OK, let's try this again.

Raise your hand if you had the Seattle Seahawks selecting James Carpenter at No. 25.

Hmmm. Not seeing many hands out there. Not seeing any, actually.

Do not feel bad. Even if you knew which 32 players would become first-round picks in a given NFL draft, there would be more than 263 decillion possible combinations.

The number looks like this: 263,130,836,933,693,530,167,218,012,160,000,000.

With that in mind, our 2012 NFL Blog Network mock draft comes guaranteed not for accuracy but for its ability to promote conversation, a process that has already begun here on the NFC West blog.

"Kendall Wright pick makes no sense" CHI-TOWN-BULLS protested upon seeing the Baylor receiver projected for the49ers at No. 30.

More on that in a minute.

We penciled in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III at the top with a reasonable degree of confidence. Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne and Justin Blackmon fell third through sixth. Most choices seemed logical, but somewhere among the top five or 10 selections, an NFL team breaks from projected form, tapping into those 263 decillion combinations.

Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars obliterated mock drafts by selecting Tyson Alualu with the 10th pick. Last year, four quarterbacks went among the top 12 choices, with Christian Ponder a surprise choice for Minnesota at No. 12.

My thinking for the NFC West was rather straightforward:
  • Rams at No. 6: Blackmon was an easy choice. The team has an obvious need for a wide receiver. Blackmon is widely regarded as the highest-rated one in this draft class, to the point that some question whether he will be available to the Rams. Going in another direction for this mock would have represented over-thinking a simple situation. Sure, St. Louis could trade back or select a player at another position. Richardson or Claiborne would carry appeal if available. But when Blackmon was available, I turned in the imaginary card right away.
  • Seahawks at No. 12. I wondered going into the mock whether Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly might be available for Seattle in this slot. Would the team take an inside linebacker that early? San Francisco fared well taking Patrick Willis with the 11th pick in 2007. Scot McCloughan, now a top Seahawks personnel executive, was the driving force behind the Willis decision. Would the Seahawks see Kuechly in a similar light? They do need help at linebacker, after all. The thought became a fleeting one when Kuechly went to Carolina at No. 9. That made it easier to focus on the highest-rated pass-rushers. Quinton Coples was the choice because he seemed to be the most talented one available, based on scouting reports.
  • Cardinals at No. 13. This choice was tougher than the previous two. I went with Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, figuring he might fit the profile for a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme. He's on the shorter side at not quite 6-foot-2, and there is no clear consensus on whether Upshaw projects as an outside linebacker. The height factor seemed less important given that Arizona patterns its defensive scheme after the one Pittsburgh has used under Dick LeBeau. The Steelers' LaMarr Woodley (6-2) and James Harrison (6-0) get the job done. Could Upshaw enjoy situational success the way Smith did as a rookie for San Francisco last season? Receiver Michael Floyd was a consideration for Arizona. I thought the Cardinals needed improved quarterback play more than they needed improved receiver talent.
  • 49ers at No. 30. Wright was the choice simply because he appeared to be the highest-rated receiver available, but the 49ers could easily go in another direction. Quite a few mock drafts have linked Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill to the 49ers, but he was not available to them in this mock, having gone 22nd to Cleveland. I was drafting more for position than for the specific player. The 49ers could use another cornerback. Perhaps Janoris Jenkins would have been a better value choice. He went 31st to New England in our mock. The 49ers could use a starting right guard, but they might already have one in Daniel Kilgore, a 2011 draft choice. Besides, how many first-round picks can one team use for offensive linemen? Current starters Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis were first-rounders. Ultimately, the 49ers are picking this late for a reason. They don't have as many clearly defined needs as less successful teams. They're in good position to keep an open mind.

I used ESPN's 2012 NFL Draft Machine to make selections and keep general track of which players remained available as the mock unfolded. Toggling between the overall list and specific position lists made it easier to balance value with need.

This conversation is to be continued.
Alex Smith visiting the Miami Dolphins had to get the San Francisco 49ers' attention.

An upcoming trip to the Seattle Seahawks? Now we're really talking.

That's the plan for Smith, as the free-agent quarterback, while the 49ers show interest in Peyton Manning, Matt Barrows reports. And it's only logical.

The Seahawks had interest in Smith before Smith jumped into Jim Harbaugh's waiting arms last offseason. They have an opening at quarterback after making no effort to re-sign Charlie Whitehurst. Scot McCloughan, one of the men primarily responsible for drafting Smith in San Francisco, now works as a senior personnel executive in Seattle.

Losing Smith to Miami or Seattle wouldn't seem to matter much from a 49ers perspective if the team landed Manning. But if the 49ers missed out on both Manning and Smith, they might suffer a net loss at the position.

Barrows cites sources saying Smith is ticked off with the 49ers for what he perceived as a gap between their public comments and the contract offer they made him. We might have previously assumed hard feelings had developed between the 49ers and Smith, but this is the first I've seen it reported. The presence of hard feelings recasts this situation. We should no longer see this as simply a case of both sides doing their professional duty by exploring options available to them.

None of this means the relationship between the 49ers and Smith cannot be salvaged. It just means the relationship has changed. And it means Smith, who already took a trip to Miami, could be less likely to return.
Of all the 2007 NFC West draft picks, the Cardinals' Levi Brown and the 49ers' Patrick Willis have started the most games.US PresswireOf all the 2007 NFC West draft picks, the Cardinals' Levi Brown and the 49ers' Patrick Willis have started the most games.
JaMarcus Russell's demise as an NFL player is back in the news, shining light upon the perils of investing millions in unproven prospects.

The 2007 NFL draft was about more than Russell, of course.

That draft also produced Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis and Lawrence Timmons among the top 15 choices.

For as much criticism as the Arizona Cardinals have taken for selecting tackle Levi Brown fifth overall, Brown has started 59 regular-season games, second only to Willis (63) among NFC West draft choices that year. He has also started six playoff games, including a Super Bowl, and coach Ken Whisenhunt expects good things from him.

I've put together a couple charts showing what NFC West teams have gotten from their draft choices that year. More on those in a bit.

First, I've taken a team-by-team look at the players selected, whether they remain with their original teams and how many games each has started for his drafted team.

The 49ers had the best draft among NFC West teams. They also had the most draft capital to work with, selecting twice in the first round. The Seattle Seahawks had no first-rounder that year thanks to the Deion Branch trade, so expectations were lower.

Arizona Cardinals

Total picks: five

Still with team (4): Brown (59), Steve Breaston (26), Ben Patrick (20), Alan Branch (3)

No longer with team (1): Buster Davis (0)

Comment: The Cardinals had fewer total selections than any team in the division. Hitting on Breaston in the fifth round was outstanding, but the Cardinals haven't gotten enough from their top three selections that year. Branch never panned out as a second-rounder. Davis, the third-rounder, didn't make it out of camp. Whisenhunt takes pride in making roster decisions with less regard for draft status. He wasn't going to give Davis or anyone a free pass. That's admirable, but in the bigger picture, Arizona still came up short in this draft.

San Francisco 49ers

Total picks: nine

Still with team (5): Willis (63), Joe Staley (50), Ray McDonald (9), Dashon Goldson (34), Tarell Brown (5)

No longer with team (4): Jason Hill (2), Jay Moore (0), Joe Cohen (0), Thomas Clayton (0)

Comment: Former general manager Scot McCloughan gets credit for selling former coach Mike Singletary on Willis as an elite prospect. That seems odd given Singletary's background as a Hall of Fame linebacker, but the 49ers got the right guy, so the "how" part matters less. That one selection makes this draft the best in the division for 2007. Staley is the starting left tackle. McDonald has been a solid rotation player. Goldson became a starter. All in all, this was a strong draft.

Seattle Seahawks

Total picks: eight

Still with team (2): Brandon Mebane (53), Will Herring (7)

No longer with team (6): Josh Wilson (24), Steve Vallos (8), Mansfield Wrotto (5), Courtney Taylor (4), Jordan Kent (1), Baraka Atkins (0)

Comment: Not having a first-round selection severely hurt this class' overall potential. Wilson seemed like a solid selection in the second round given the playmaking value he offered, but multiple changes in organizational leadership left him on the outside in terms of fit. Mebane was a solid choice in the third round. Vallos and Wrotto remain in the league elsewhere.

St. Louis Rams

Total picks: eight

Still with team (1): Clifton Ryan (27)

No longer with team (7): Adam Carriker (25), Brian Leonard (7), Jonathan Wade (6), Dustin Fry (0), Ken Shackleford (0), Keith Jackson (0), Derek Stanley (0)

Comment: This draft was a disaster for the Rams and made worse by massive organizational changes. On the bright side, the Rams might not have been in position to select Sam Bradford first overall in 2010 without selecting so many non-contributors in 2007.

Now, on to the charts. The first one takes a round-by-round look at the number of starts each team has gotten from its 2007 selections. I have used dashes instead of zeroes to show when teams did not have a selection in a specific round.

The second chart divides the number of starts by the values of the selections each team held, using the draft-value chart.

For example, the value chart said the Seahawks' picks that year were worth 669.2 points, far less than the picks for other NFC West teams were worth. Using this measure, Seattle got more bang for its buck if we valued all starts equally (and we should not value them all equally, but we can still use this as a general guide).

Some of the choices were compensatory and could not be traded, so the chart would not have valued them for trading purposes. I assigned values to them for this exercise, however, because we were not considering the picks for trading purposes.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft philosophy.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals expect their draft choices to address immediate needs even if the players they choose do not start right away. They pay less lip service to the "best player available" mantra than some teams.

"There is a line you walk between both of them, where you draft the best available player for your need," coach Ken Whisenhunt explained before the 2010 draft. "You always consider where your depth is, where your greatest margin of improvement is going to come, and that is kind of what we look toward when we do that."

The Cardinals put together two draft boards. One rates players on overall NFL potential. The other lists the 120 players Arizona would consider drafting, taking into account the Cardinals' needs as well.

San Francisco 49ers

General manager Trent Baalke puts an old-school emphasis on measurables in the belief that bigger, stronger athletes hold up better over the course of a season. His former boss, Scot McCloughan, shared the same philosophy, which he traced back to Ron Wolf.

I expect that philosophy to continue. It fits well with new coach Jim Harbaugh's belief in establishing a power running game to facilitate play-action opportunities.

The first three players San Francisco selected in the 2010 draft -- tackle Anthony Davis, guard Mike Iupati and safety Taylor Mays -- fit the "size matters" philosophy.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams feel good enough about the foundation they've built to tolerate more risk than they were willing to accept when GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo were in the early stages of remaking the roster.

We saw that last year when the Rams used a third-round choice for cornerback Jerome Murphy and a fourth-rounder for receiver Mardy Gilyard. Murphy had been suspended from his college team for violating team rules. Gilyard was more flamboyant than most recent Rams choices. Draft analysts raised potential character concerns in both cases.

This is not to suggest the Rams have abandoned their core values. They are simply far enough along in the building process to expand their options.

Side note: Over the past two seasons, the Rams have used both first-round choices on players from the Big 12 Conference and both second-rounders on players from the Big Ten.

Seattle Seahawks

Any struggling team with new leadership will be active in addressing weaknesses.

The Seahawks have taken it to another level under coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider. These guys are energetic, aggressive and unapologetic. They would rather wheel and deal than stand pat, an approach that led to multiple trades in their first draft together.

The lockout will prevent teams from trading veteran players, limiting the Seahawks' options this year.

The team is more unified philosophically this year because offensive line coach Tom Cable shares more conventional views on prospects at his position. Cable's predecessor, Alex Gibbs, was more particular in what he wanted, affecting the overall approach.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals' leadership team remains basically unchanged for a fifth consecutive offseason.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt is the face of the organization, even during the draft, in part because general manager Rod Graves keeps a low profile. Both earned contract extensions last offseason. Whisenhunt was coming off back-to-back division titles and had been to a Super Bowl at that point, so his profile within the organization was growing. One losing season hasn't changed that.

Whisenhunt, Graves, team president Michael Bidwill and player personnel director Steve Keim are the primary decision-makers. Whisenhunt appears most prominent among them.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers pulled a surprise of sorts when they named Trent Baalke general manager and made him the No. 1 personnel decision-maker in the building.

The feeling previously had been that the 49ers might have to hand over personnel power to their next head coach if they were serious about landing Jim Harbaugh or another top candidate. That did not happen. Baalke, whose profile became more prominent following Scot McCloughan's departure from the organization one year ago, will make the call during the draft.

The rapport between Baalke and Harbaugh appears much stronger, by all accounts, than the relationship between Baalke and former coach Mike Singletary. That is natural because Baalke played a leading role in hiring Harbaugh; he wasn't part of the process when the team promoted Singletary.

Seattle Seahawks

Coach Pete Carroll has the final say on personnel matters. It's in his contract, but not something he flaunts. Carroll played a role in hiring John Schneider as general manager last offseason. Their personalities mesh and the two worked together well in making multiple draft-day moves in 2010.

This is the Seahawks' most comfortable front-office arrangement in recent memory, largely because Carroll and Schneider were brought in together. Each is invested in the other to a degree that did not exist when Mike Holmgren was working with Bob Whitsitt, Bob Ferguson and Tim Ruskell over the years.

The Seahawks' decision-making process has more clarity heading into this draft now that Alex Gibbs has retired as offensive line coach. Gibbs' strong preference for a very specific type of offensive lineman affected how the team approached personnel decisions, especially at guard. His retirement has freed the team to more comfortably pursue the bigger guards its personnel department preferred.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have new ownership with Stan Kroenke purchasing a majority stake, but the day-to-day decision-makers remain in place for a third consecutive offseason.

General manager Billy Devaney takes the lead in personnel matters with input from coach Steve Spagnuolo and executive vice president/chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.

Kroenke hasn't said whether the team will eventually hire a president. It doesn't matter heading into this draft.

The organization is coming off a transforming 2010 draft in which it landed quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Rodger Saffold with its first two choices. Two other recent high picks, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, are also working out well.

That has to work in Devaney's favor as Kroenke assesses where the organization stands.
Fred Robbins/Chris ClemonsAP Photo/US PresswireFred Robbins, left, and Chris Clemons were among the best acquisitions in the NFC West last season.
The Seattle Seahawks acquired their leading sacker for 2010, Chris Clemons, from the Philadelphia Eagles one year ago Tuesday.

They acquired their backup quarterback and potential future starter, Charlie Whitehurst, from San Diego one year ago Wednesday.

By this time in 2010, the Arizona Cardinals had traded receiver Anquan Boldin, lost Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby in free agency, acquired safety Kerry Rhodes from the New York Jets and signed linebacker Paris Lenon, among other moves.

This March, we hear only crickets as the NFL lockout prevents teams from making roster transactions of any kind. The quiet period has shifted our football-related energies to the draft, which the league intends to operate pretty much as normal.

While draft classes can take multiple years to fully assess, free-agent crops tend to produce more immediate results, for better or worse. Let's take a look back at what NFC West teams got -- and still might get -- from their wheeling and dealing last offseason.

2010 unrestricted free agency

Best UFA signing: Fred Robbins, defensive tackle, St. Louis Rams.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo reached into his past with the New York Giants in seeking a needed upgrade to the Rams' defensive interior. Robbins outplayed the three-year deal he signed averaging $3.75 million per season.

Robbins started 16 games and collected a career-high six sacks for a defense that outperformed expectations. His presence on the line helped defensive ends Chris Long and James Hall produce at a higher level.

Worst UFA signing: David Carr, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeDavid Carr
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDavid Carr attempted only 13 passes last season.
The 49ers signed Carr and traded backup Shaun Hill in an effort to upgrade the position, but when they needed Carr to play, coach Mike Singletary gave him virtually no chance. Carr finished up the Carolina game before Singletary turned to third-stringer Troy Smith to start while Alex Smith recovered from injury.

It's tough to fault Carr much for what was, by all accounts, a messed-up situation. The 49ers' general manager, Scot McCloughan, left the organization shortly after the team acquired Carr. The team changed offensive coordinators early in the season. Singletary didn't know how to handle quarterbacks.

Conclusion: NFC West teams signed relatively few UFAs last offseason, in part because new rules prevented players with fewer than six accrued seasons from hitting the market. Jay Feely, Paris Lenon and Rex Hadnot signed with Arizona. Robbins and A.J. Feeley signed with the Rams. Ben Hamilton and Sean Morey signed with Seattle. Carr and William James signed with the 49ers.

2010 additions by trade


Best acquisition: Chris Clemons, defensive end, Seahawks

Seattle and Philadelphia seemed to be swapping spare parts when the Seahawks sent Darryl Tapp to the Eagles for Clemons.

Neither player had reached his potential previously.

Clemons set career highs with 11 sacks and 16 starts while filling the "Leo" position in coach Pete Carroll's defense. Tapp had three sacks and one start for the Eagles, making this deal a clear "win" for Seattle.

The Seahawks also received a fifth-round choice in return from the Eagles, but the player they selected with the choice, defensive end E.J. Wilson, was released during the season.

Worst acquisition: Stacy Andrews, guard, Seahawks.

The Seahawks could still come out OK on this one. The team had Andrews in mind as a candidate to play tackle in 2011, and that could still happen. But Andrews wasn't effective enough as a starting guard to stay in the lineup even though Seattle had serious manpower problems on its offensive line.

Perhaps Seattle can put Andrews to better use in 2011.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Whitehurst
Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesThe Seahawks acquired Charlie Whitehurst last year from San Diego as a potential future starter.
Conclusion: Charlie Whitehurst could have made the "worst" list for Seattle because he hardly played even though quarterback was a trouble spot, but his performance in Week 17 carried Seattle into the playoffs. He could still validate the trade. Ted Ginn Jr. was a disappointment as a wide receiver for the 49ers, but injuries and quarterback instability contributed. Ginn upgraded the return game. NFC West teams fared well in acquiring Leon Washington, Kerry Rhodes and Mark Clayton. Marshawn Lynch's memorable run against New Orleans in the playoffs made that deal look better.

2010 subtractions by trade

Best subtraction: Alex Barron, tackle, from the Rams.

St. Louis got nothing of lasting value in return for Barron, but the penalty-prone tackle was not missed. Rookie Rodger Saffold stepped in at left tackle and outperformed reasonable expectations for a rookie. Barron's time in St. Louis had run its course. The team was taking a risk with its depth by dumping Barron for linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who did not stick on the roster, but the move worked out well from the Rams' perspective.

Worst subtraction: Rob Sims, guard, from the Seahawks.

Seattle's thinking on the offensive line seemed disjointed.

Line coach Alex Gibbs retired a week before the season, changing the qualities Seattle valued in its linemen. Gibbs preferred smaller linemen, particularly guards. Sims was a solid starter, but he didn't fit the Gibbs profile. Seattle sent Sims and a seventh-round choice to Detroit for Robert Henderson, who did not earn a roster spot. The Seahawks also landed a fifth-round choice, used for strong safety Kam Chancellor.

The Seahawks used 11 starting combinations on their offensive line last season, and every one of them would have been better with Sims at left guard. Sims started 16 games for the Lions and played well, by all accounts. His presence in Seattle would have allowed the team to get more from Lynch in the ground game.

Conclusion: The trade that subtracted Boldin from the Cardinals might have qualified under different circumstances, but the time had come for Arizona to part with the exceptional wideout. The team picked up a third-round choice as partial compensation, a pick used for promising receiver Andre Roberts. The 49ers get mention here for the deal that sent Hill to Detroit and cleared the way for Carr's signing. Hill had a 10-6 record as a starter for San Francisco. Even if he wasn't the answer long term, he would have give the team better options in 2010. NFC West teams also parted with Deion Branch, Lawrence Jackson, Josh Wilson, Adam Carriker and Kentwan Balmer, among others, by trade last offseason.

Looking to the future

NFL teams remain unsettled from a roster standpoint while they wait for a labor resolution of some kind.

The Rams are the only NFC West team without serious question marks at quarterback. Lingering questions at that position will hang over the 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks while the lockout continues.

Getting a new collective bargaining agreement in place before the draft would help those teams more than others by clearing the way for them to pursue veteran passers. Otherwise, these teams could feel extra pressure to address the position in the draft -- a difficult predicament given the hit-and-miss nature of quarterback evaluation in general.

What happened to the flagship 49ers

February, 3, 2011
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STEVE YOUNGUS PresswireThe 49ers haven't won the Super Bowl since Steve Young held the Lombardi Trophy on Jan. 29, 1995.
DALLAS -- Sixteen years have passed since Steve Young defined his legacy while leading the San Francisco 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl championship.

The 49ers haven't been back to a Super Bowl since and they haven't even sniffed the playoffs since 2002. That was four head coaches and one interim coach ago.

Ten quarterbacks have started games for the 49ers since 2000; the number was 12 for the previous 19 seasons, and two of those guys are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The losing and instability stand in stark contrast to the standards two other proud franchises, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, have set in reaching this Super Bowl. The Packers and Steelers have weathered downturns and gotten stronger.

What happened to the 49ers? Who deserves the blame? Why? What will it take to restore the 49ers' status? Those were the questions I asked on the blog Wednesday. There was no shortage of material in the comments section, but one of the shortest answers summarized most of the feelings.

"Bad ownership picking bad leadership picking bad coaches picking bad talent," Claatuop wrote.

Total system failure, in other words.

It's the ownership

Green Bay and Pittsburgh feature arguably the strongest, most stable ownership situations in the NFL.

The Packers have had the same basic philosophy toward personnel since Ron Wolf became their general manager in 1991. Wolf has long since retired, but the Packers' current GM, Ted Thompson, learned under him. Green Bay has likewise run a version of the West Coast offense since Mike Holmgren became their coach in 1992.

The Steelers have had three head coaches since 1969.

The 49ers enjoyed stable ownership until legal troubles forced Eddie DeBartolo Jr. to give up control of the team in 2000. The team posted winning records under coach Steve Mariucci in 2001 and 2002, but Mariucci was out after that season and the team hasn't had a winning record in any season since.

"For the 49ers, it all comes down to ownership," caseytb4949 wrote. "After the Eddie DeBartolo fiasco, ownership of the team transitioned to his sister, Denise, who had little interest in the 49ers. Her husband, who exerted practical control of the team, was and is not a football guy. What's worse, his ego was such that it precluded him from hiring sound football minds. He hired an inexperienced GM, Terry Donahue, and forced out a winning coach in Steve Mariucci. His GM then went on to completely gut the team's talent."

Harsh words, but the evidence supports the general idea, minus the ego part. Quite a few comments suggested the 49ers have put business before football since DeBartolo's departure.

"It was 'Eddie D' leaving and the departure from the Bill Walsh coaching/personnel tree," kingjames988 wrote. "When you move away from what made you great, you almost always end up with less success."

John York and Denise DeBartolo York have handed control of the team to their son, Jed. Jed York, as team president, has shown he values the 49ers' past and the values that made the organization great, but there's little evidence to this point he knows how to return the team to its previous standing.

Its' the leadership

The 49ers have bounced from one leadership team and front-office model to another.

They've handed over total control to a head coach (Mike Nolan). They've had a GM (Scot McCloughan) work with a head coach (Mike Singletary) who had final say over the 53-man roster. They've gone without a GM (after McCloughan left the team abruptly last year).

The current setup is more traditional, with new coach Jim Harbaugh working under new general manager Trent Baalke.

Frequently shifting leadership has made it tougher for the team to develop players and maintain a consistent philosophy. Bad luck has compounded matters, as when offensive coordinators Mike McCarthy and Norv Turner took head coaching jobs.

The 49ers sustained Walsh's philosophy on offense and overall, at least to an extent, into the last decade. But Walsh's influence was eroding all the while. And when Donahue took over as general manager in 2001, Walsh was available only as a consultant. He was out of the organization by 2005 and died in 2007.

"Going from Walsh to Donahue was a complete swing-and-miss, and he fired Steve Mariucci after a year where the Niners went 10-6 and won one of the most epic playoff games of all time," Joey Barrows wrote. " 'Mooch' was perfect for the Niners and bad management messed that up."

What started as a reasoned explanation turned into a more emotional rant mentioning Dennis Erickson, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, the York family's ownership, Turner and Mike Nolan. It concluded with, "And don't get me started on Mike Singletary. Dear Lord."

It's the coach

Walsh set the standard. George Seifert sustained the legacy. Mariucci maintained offensive continuity. They all won.

The 49ers haven't had a winning season since Mariucci lost an internal power struggle.

Singletary projected strong leadership, but he had never been even a coordinator, let alone a head coach. Nolan had never been a head coach, either. In retrospect, the 49ers could have benefited from more seasoned leadership on the sideline, particularly without more experienced leadership in the front office.

"It seems that every department performed poorly after Mariucci left," catterbu wrote. "There is also a certain chicken-egg sort of scenario that has taken place. Instability with coaching leads to poor development of players since the same coaches are not there for very long, which leads to poor performance and firing of the coaches. It's the cycle that must be broken. I think that many of us 49ers fans still love the team, but have almost grown numb to the pain."

Harbaugh has succeeded as a head coach at the college level. He has expertise on offense, something the 49ers haven't had in a head coach since Dennis Erickson replaced Mariucci. The 49ers ranked fifth in yards and ninth in points under Erickson while going 7-9 in 2003, but they parted with quarterback Jeff Garcia after the season.

Which leads to the next problem area.

It's the quarterback

[+] EnlargeJerry Rice
Justin Kase Conder/US PresswireFormer 49ers receiver Jerry Rice says the team's instability at quarterback has been a major reason for it's lack of success in recent seasons.
One of the greatest 49ers, retired receiver Jerry Rice, offered his thoughts Thursday morning between appearances on ESPN. He pointed to management problems and the 49ers' decision to draft Alex Smith over Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the first overall choice in 2005.

"I mean, there are certain draft choices that you make or you don't make and it's going to cost you," Rice said. "This guy (Rodgers) was right there at Cal. He wanted to be a 49er. But we decided to pass on him and go with Alex Smith. This is not all his fault, but Alex Smith at Utah was more of just a shotgun passer. That is a whole different scenario there. Then with him having so many offensive coordinators and stuff like that, it was major."

The 49ers won at least 10 games in every non-strike season between 1981 and 1998. Young played only three games in 1999 before retiring.

Joe Montana and/or Young were the quarterbacks during that brilliant run from 1981-1998. The 49ers had limited success with Jeff Garcia in subsequent years, but they haven't acquired or developed the right quarterback. Sometimes it's that simple.

"The Niners were once a team that was built upon a strong mixed offense," SFDM12 wrote, "but over the years they have had some key ingredients, but always lack one important piece: a stable quarterback that can handle the pressure and deliver."

Having the wrong quarterback magnifies problems that might not matter so much otherwise, whether it's losing a coordinator or making a mistake in the draft. Rice thinks the quarterback issue is even bigger now than when he played, because players are less apt to rally around a lesser one.

"When I played the game, if it was not Montana or Young, I had to do whatever I had to do to make that guy under center better, and I took pride in that," Rice said. "But with the guys today, they are not going to do that. If they feel you are not capable of doing it, they are not going to waste their time. You are done. It's a whole different generation of guys. I'm not saying they don't love the game, but I could tell with the Niners that they did not feel confident that this guy was the leader and they could win games with him."

For that reason, and because the 49ers have pretty good talent elsewhere on the roster, Rice said he thinks the 49ers should pursue a veteran quarterback.

The road back

The 49ers' ownership isn't likely to change. The leadership and coaching positions appear set.

Quarterback remains a massive question mark.

Harbaugh has a five-year contract and a clear offensive philosophy. He should be able to offer some continuity on offense, at least. And he has said he'll reach back into the West Coast tradition Walsh established three decades ago.

"That was the philosophy he was using at Stanford," Rice said. "It is very simple where these players can just go play football. I think that is going to help. I think having a GM in place is going to help because it takes some of the pressure off Jim Harbaugh."

They will, of course, need the quarterback.

"Since the hiring of Nolan, they have at least tried to do the right thing, and the roster talent has grown immensely," WakeTripper wrote. "With Jed at the helm, there seems to be a new attitude, more similar to the 'Eddie D' days. And now, capped with the hiring of Harbaugh and his desire to bring back the West Coast Offense, us longtime fans can at least have hope that the Niners can regain their team identity and return to their former status as one of the great teams in the league."

Thoughts as 49ers name Baalke GM

January, 4, 2011
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Thoughts after the San Francisco 49ers promoted Trent Baalke to general manager:
  • Team president Jed York said he wanted to consider as many candidates as possible. He wound up interviewing four guys out of the NFL -- Tony Softli, Mike Lombardi, Ted Sundquist and Rick Mueller -- and one in his own building. Baalke might be the right guy. The 49ers would know best; they've watched him work in a GM-type role for nine months. But York is not setting any trends here. This was not, by all appearances, an exhaustive search. That reflects well on Baalke, but not on the 49ers' ability to attract hot candidates.
  • Fans clamoring for a seasoned NFL power broker to take control of the team will be disappointed. Baalke appears to be a strong scout, just like his predecessor, Scot McCloughan. Is he suited to oversee a football operation? Again, the 49ers would know better than outsiders, but it's looking like top personnel people around the league were not lining up outside 49ers headquarters for a chance to speak with York. They could have known Baalke was going to get the job all along, or they could have had no interest, or a combination of these and other factors.
  • Quite a few reporters I respect have suggested hiring Baalke could clear the way for the 49ers to land Stanford's Jim Harbaugh as their head coach. I do not know why this would be true, unless hiring a lower-profile GM clears the way to offer more power for Harbaugh. Still, if I'm a hot coaching candidate -- and Harbaugh seems to be one -- why rush into the 49ers' arms?
  • The 49ers have not yet done anything to seriously disrupt their power structure. That could change if they arm a coach with control over football operations. For now, though, it's looking like York and Paraag Marathe, the team's executive vice president of football and business operations, carry on as before. That means the 49ers are basically blaming former coach Mike Singletary for their troubles, confident that replacing him will fix what ails them.
  • The 49ers might be right on that last point, provided they also find a decent quarterback. We'll have a much fuller picture once the team hires a head coach and enunciates its plan.
  • York could have rushed Baalke into the role when McCloughan resigned unexpectedly before the 2010 draft. Waiting until after the season was the right thing to do. The 49ers bought time to consider what structure they wanted.

What are your thoughts?

Why 49ers decided to go with Troy Smith

October, 27, 2010
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David Carr was the San Francisco 49ers' No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, but he ranked a distant third in terms of backing from within the organization.

That largely explains the 49ers' decision to bypass Carr and name third-stringer Troy Smith the starter while Alex Smith recovers from an injury to his left shoulder.

[+] EnlargeTroy Smith
Ric Tapia/Icon SMITroy Smith hasn't started a regular-season game since the 2007 season.
The San Francisco 49ers' commitment to Alex Smith as their starting quarterback has been unflinching. The 2005 first-round choice enjoyed strong backing from former general manager Scot McCloughan and current coach Mike Singletary. He would still enjoy strong backing from Singletary if he were healthy enough to remain in the lineup.

Troy Smith came to the 49ers with strong backing from assistant coach Mike Johnson, who had worked with him in Baltimore. Johnson has gone from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator since the 49ers added Troy Smith, meaning his influence within the organization has grown. His support for Troy Smith matters more now than it would have when Johnson held less sway.

I wasn't sure how early the 49ers would turn to Troy Smith if Alex Smith could not play, but the move seemed likely whenever the team felt Troy Smith had spent enough time in the offense. There simply wasn't any indication the 49ers had confidence in Carr to get the job done.

Carr never enjoyed or had much chance to generate the support either Smith enjoyed this season. I also think Troy Smith's natural leadership ability -- his personality -- made him more attractive to the 49ers under the current circumstances. The 49ers need a spark. They also need a quarterback with an ability to operate behind a line that hasn't handled pressure consistently well. While Carr has extensive experience working behind leaky offensive lines, he took too many sacks (never entirely the fault of an offensive line). The Houston Texans' sack totals plummeted once Carr left following the 2006 season.

The Scouts Inc. Insider report on Troy Smith calls him "an ideal backup ... because of his leadership and playmaking abilities" while suggesting Smith hasn't had much chance to prove himself in game situations. The report raises questions about Smith's lack of height -- he is 6 feet tall -- while noting that he is most effective on roll-outs.

The fact that Troy Smith hasn't played much works to his advantage. Singletary is coaching for his job and he knows ownership will not view Carr as the long-term answer at quarterback. Singletary might as well find out whether a younger quarterback can spark the offense and show long-term potential, particularly if he isn't all that excited about Carr, anyway.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 31, 49ers 10

September, 26, 2010
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What it means: The 49ers will take an 0-3 record into Atlanta and their strength will be tested. Having three of the first four games on the road put the 49ers at risk for a slow start, although winning at least one of the first three seemed like a reasonable expectation. Allowing more than 450 yards to the Chiefs did not. The schedule eases some after Week 4 and the other teams in the division aren't exactly perfect (Seattle and Arizona were outscored 72-21 in Week 3, after all). This division race is still only beginning. The key for San Francisco will be weathering the rough start emotionally and psychologically. Coach Mike Singletary's leadership style will be tested. Singletary talked last week about having more than one gear as a coach. Can he really mix it up? Or will his reaction to the disappointing start consist of backing up a few steps and ramming into the wall even harder?

Big Revelation: The 49ers' powerful defense can be exposed by teams with speed on offense. New Orleans' Reggie Bush had some success early in the Saints' game at San Francisco last week. The Chiefs' Jamaal Charles was a track star in college. Fellow Kansas City running back Dexter McCluster has big-play ability. The 49ers countered with a big, rugged front seven, but they had problems containing the Chiefs' speed on the outside. With the 49ers paying attention to the Chiefs' big-play perimeter threats, Kansas City beat them for a 45-yard touchdown on a trick play. Running back Thomas Jones took the snap and handed off to McCluster, who tossed back to quarterback Matt Cassel. Cassel tossed three touchdown passes, becoming the third quarterback this season to post a passer rating in triple digits against the 49ers.

Hindsight: The 49ers might have been better off sticking with Adam Snyder at right guard. Snyder started the Monday night game against New Orleans and the offensive line played what Singletary called its best game since he's been on staff. Snyder is a versatile veteran. Singletary put youngster Chilo Rachal back into the lineup against the Chiefs, as promised, once doctors cleared Rachal to return. I wondered why the 49ers would mess with a good thing, particularly given that Rachal has hardly been a consistently productive performer. The offensive line seemed to fall apart Sunday. Officials flagged Rachal for holding to wipe out an 11-yard scramble by Alex Smith. The 49ers probably could have used a veteran at right guard to help calm rookie right tackle Anthony Davis, who struggled and lost his cool, drawing a 15-yard penalty for fighting.

It's a team game: Smith's success against the Saints had much to do with the 49ers' strong running attack in that game. The Chiefs took away the 49ers running game and Smith wasn't going to make up the difference, particularly in that environment. Smith needs strong support to succeed.

Trending: The 49ers haven't looked very good when trying to get cute. They stalled on a third-down play last week when Brian Westbrook took a direct snap and found no running room. They tried a flea-flicker against the Chiefs and fooled no one. Trick plays are not the sign of creativity on offense. They're also tougher to pull off when key elements of the offense aren't working very well. The Chiefs had the 49ers' running game under control.

Trending II: Smith is not having much success connecting with tight end Vernon Davis on those familiar routes down the middle. The team hasn't tried many of them, either. Are defenses taking it away? Have the 49ers not done enough to exploit Davis' physical advantages? Those are questions I'd like to see answered.

Youth not served: San Francisco entered the 2010 season with the youngest starting offense in the league. That youth should serve the team well in the long term, but the immaturity has betrayed the 49ers in both road games this season. Michael Crabtree struggled in the opener at Seattle. Davis' struggles at right tackle stood out Sunday.

Coaching watch: The Chiefs were the second team this season with answers for everything the 49ers tried. Seattle had some additional familiarity with San Francisco based on having Jeff Ulbrich, Michael Robinson and Scot McCloughan on their side. That type of familiarity can be overrated, but it probably helped Seattle because the Seahawks had a new staff. Seattle also made some in-game adjustments that paid off well. Chiefs coach Todd Haley had a handle on the 49ers' defense after a successful run as the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. My initial impression was that Kansas City won the coaching battle in this game. Of course, the 49ers also got beat Sunday on both lines and that has much to do with making coaches look smart.

What's next: The 49ers visit the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Oakland.

Thoughts following Alex Gibbs' abrupt resignation as the offensive line coach of the Seattle Seahawks eight days before the regular-season opener:
  • Gibbs cited burnout. He's 69, extremely intense and has burned out before. This is a plausible explanation.
  • I've seen no evidence a personnel dispute precipitated this resignation. The Seahawks' decision to trade for Philadelphia Eagles guard Stacy Andrews seemed curious at first because Andrews is much bigger than the typical Gibbs guard. But the acquisition makes more sense now that we know Seattle plans to play Andrews at tackle. The Seahawks placed backup right tackle Ray Willis on injured reserve Saturday. They needed a tackle.
  • This is no time to be looking for an offensive line coach. Art Valero served as Gibbs' assistant after coming to Seattle from the St. Louis Rams this offseason. Valero has coached mostly running backs and tight ends since making his NFL debut in 2002. He played offensive line at Boise State and has coached the position extensively at the college level, but Gibbs was an icon among all-time NFL line coaches. Replacing him will not be easy. I would expect the Seahawks to look outside the organization for a potential long-term replacement.
  • Gibbs stepping down does not come as a shock to those who have followed his career. The timing was a surprise. I figured Gibbs would last at least a season or two. But he's known for pouring everything he has into the job, at the expense of balance in his life.
  • The Seahawks should wince in Week 1 when they look across the field to see their former line coach, Mike Solari, manning that job for the San Francisco 49ers. Seattle tried to retain Solari as tight ends coach, but he declined the demotion and quickly landed in San Francisco, where he was already familiar with 49ers coordinator Jimmy Raye. Former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan was one of Solari's biggest advocates in San Francisco, but he now works for the Seahawks.
  • Did I mention the horrendous timing of this change for Seattle? It might be more important for Seattle to keep around players familiar with Gibbs' scheme. Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts come to mind (although Andrews' arrival could precipitate the departure of another lineman).
  • The impact of Gibbs' resignation on the Seahawks is only part of the story. Gibbs' welfare is also important. At this point, it appears as though he gave all he could.

What a day in the NFC West, huh?

San Francisco 49ers cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2010
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Biggest surprise: Veteran running back Michael Robinson was one of the best special-teams players in the league, but he wasn't a factor on offense and that hurt him. It's worth noting that the 49ers have a new special-teams coach, and Robinson hurt his chances for a roster spot by fumbling on the first play of the exhibition opener. Keeping third tight end Nate Byham as a potential backup fullback allowed the 49ers to keep only four running backs, at least initially. Robinson was also the emergency quarterback, but with third stringer Nate Davis surviving the mandatory reduction to 53 players, Robinson wasn't as important in that capacity, either. Former 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich is a first-year assistant special-teams coach in Seattle. Former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan also works for the Seahawks. Perhaps Seattle can find a place for Robinson. I was also surprised to see the 49ers release veteran inside linebacker Matt Wilhelm.

No-brainers: Receiver Jason Hill was lost in the shuffle all through training camp, so his release came as little surprise. The team kept rookie Kyle Williams, who showed potential as a return specialist before suffering a toe injury. Dominique Zeigler also stuck after stepping up his game during camp. Zeigler's sure hands and precise route running worked in his favor. Hill could have some value elsewhere, but his future in a 49ers uniform was shaky. At tight end, Byham's development made J.J. Finley and Tony Curtis expendable. The 49ers kept only two tight ends last season. Byham proved worthy as the third tight end and as a potential backup fullback. The 49ers usually load up on defensive backs and this year might be no different; they kept 11, a high number. They also kept 10 offensive linemen, one more than usual -- not a surprise while center Eric Heitmann recovers from a broken leg.

What’s next: This is the initial 53-man roster, not the final one, and some players surviving the first cut cannot celebrate too wildly. Coach Mike Singletary has made clear his unhappiness with Davis, whose talent and potential have outweighed his preparation to this point. Davis might now have an opportunity to prove he's serious about becoming a professional and taking advantage of this second chance. On defense, the 49ers will need to monitor outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks' recovery from a lacerated kidney. Keeping Diyral Briggs and Travis LaBoy gives them pretty good depth at the position.

49ers players cut:
K Shane Andrus
LB Mike Balogun
QB Jarrett Brown
FB Jehuu Caulcrick
TE Tony Curtis
LB Bruce Davis
G Brian de la Puente
TE Joe Jon Finley
WR Bobby Guillory
WR Jason Hill
WR Kevin Jurovich
T Matt Kopa
LB Keaton Kristick
S Chris Maragos
FB Brit Miller
DT Khalif Mitchell
CB Karl Paymah
RB Michael Robinson
DT Will Tukuafu
DT Derek Walker
C Cody Wallace
LB Matt Wilhelm

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