NFL Nation: Tim Lewis

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Kurt Warner’s Cardinals and Jake Delhomme’s Panthers have gone in different directions since their playoff meeting last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Pat Yasinskas

The Arizona Cardinals did more than knock the Carolina Panthers from the 2008 postseason.

Their 33-13 victory in Charlotte delivered a knockout blow from which the Panthers' organization has yet to recover. What should be a Week 8 grudge match between playoff contenders is looking more like a mismatch.

Arizona is 4-2 and riding high following a nationally televised victory over the Giants, the Cardinals' fourth consecutive road victory dating to their divisional-round upset of Carolina. The Panthers are 2-4 and contemplating whether to bench veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has more interceptions through six games (13) than he had in 16 starts last season (12).

What happened?

NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas pick up the discussion.

Pat Yasinskas: That playoff game changed the momentum for both franchises. Going into that game, the thinking was how the Panthers would thump the Cardinals. Arizona had beaten Atlanta in the wild-card round to get its playoff victory, but the Cardinals were ultimately a 9-7 team from a weak division. They would be no match on the road against a 12-4 team. The upset vaulted the Cardinals toward the Super Bowl while absolutely crumbling the Panthers. Carolina hasn't recovered from it, starting with the quarterback and extending to the defense. The game led to changes on the coaching staff. The Panthers still could have a mental block heading into the rematch at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Mike Sando: These teams share quite a few similarities. Both re-signed older quarterbacks during the offseason. Both made significant changes to their coaching staffs. Both faced salary-cap limitations in free agency after naming franchise players. The results have been vastly different.

Fateful QB decisions

Chris Keane/Icon SMI
Jake Delhomme and the Panthers haven’t been the same since last season’s playoff loss to Arizona.
Pat Yasinskas: After the playoff game, I personally had some doubts about Delhomme, as did a lot of fans. He threw those five picks and I thought there was a chance they would at least bring in someone to compete with him -- not to replace him, but to compete with him. They did not do that. He had one year left on his deal and they signed him to a contract extension. I understand the loyalty coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney felt toward Delhomme because he has obviously done a lot for that franchise and he is a leader in the locker room. But in hindsight, that game against the Cardinals and even a few late-season games last year showed that he was declining and they should have sought out alternatives.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals had little choice but to re-sign Warner. In the back of their minds, though, they would have been entitled to wonder when Warner might hit the wall. Quite a few other quarterbacks have faded at around age 38. Would Warner be next? He made the trip to San Francisco in free agency, but there was still a sense the Cardinals were bidding against themselves. Committing $22 million to him over two seasons was a necessary risk. In the end, Arizona could not walk away from the quarterback who put them ahead in the final stages of Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals made the right move.

Coaching turnover

Pat Yasinskas: I think the playoff debacle against Arizona contributed to a rift on the Panthers' coaching staff over the direction of the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac decided he no longer wanted to be a coordinator. His departure started a near-total disbandment of the defensive staff. Line coach Sal Sunseri left for the University of Alabama. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole bolted to become defensive coordinator for the Rams. Secondary coach Tim Lewis left for the Seahawks. On the offensive side, Delhomme's longtime position coach, Mike McCoy, became offensive coordinator in Denver. Fox had passed over him for the same position on his staff a couple of years earlier. Some on the staff felt McCoy should have gotten that job.

Jason Bridge/US Presswire
Kurt Warner has thrown for 1,672 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals had a good thing going on the offensive staff when coordinator Todd Haley left to coach the Chiefs. I think Arizona is still sorting through the aftermath of that one. Haley and Warner were tight. Haley knew how to push players' buttons. He called the plays and the offense was in a rhythm. The offense is still finding its identity a little bit. On defense, Whisenhunt failed to land Keith Butler from the Steelers after firing coordinator Clancy Pendergast. He promoted linebackers coach Bill Davis instead. Either way, the defense was going to become more straightforward, with an emphasis on reducing big plays allowed. It's still too early to pass judgment on Davis, but the defense has played very well recently. Overall, Whisenhunt is certainly on the rise, whereas there's a perception Fox has possibly run his course in Carolina.

Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely, Mike. There’s a sense of that. Julius Peppers asked out after last season, shocking given that Fox is supposedly a defensive wizard. There was precedent for this. Kris Jenkins asked out for two years before Peppers did. People shrugged and said Jenkins was a flake. But when Peppers, who was born and raised in North Carolina, asked for the same, it raised some eyebrows. Fox used to build his team around the defensive line and suddenly you had the two cornerstones of that line asking to get out of there. That tells you something pretty major right there.

Salary-cap limitations

Pat Yasinskas: Franchising Peppers cost about $18 million total in cap space. The Panthers re-signed tackle Jordan Gross to a long-term deal. With those moves, they tied up their cap to a point where they could not do anything else. They did not sign any free agents. They had to let veteran cornerback Ken Lucas go. They could not even re-sign veteran snapper Jason Kyle, even though the savings for letting him go was only $600,000. That severely affected their depth across the board, which was demonstrated when defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of training camp and there were no decent replacements behind him. The Panthers have struggled on the interior of their defensive line ever since. They bragged coming into the season that they had 21 of 22 starters back, but the salary-cap issues meant they had absolutely no depth behind those starters.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals charged $9.678 million against their cap by naming Karlos Dansby their franchise player. They paid more than $10 million per year to Warner. Larry Fitzgerald was already making that kind of money. Re-signing Adrian Wilson ate up another huge chunk of cap room, although some of that seemed by design. Arizona did manage to sign cornerback Bryant McFadden from the Steelers in free agency. When defensive end Antonio Smith left in free agency for $8 million a year, the Cardinals plugged in second-year player Calais Campbell, who has played well. Again, the Cardinals' moves have simply worked out better.

Divergent outlooks

Pat Yasinskas: I think we're seeing the end of the Fox era in Carolina. The Panthers still have talent, but Delhomme appears finished. It’s time to blow up the roster and rebuild.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals are a good team with the potential to get better. The Cardinals were 4-2 at this point last season heading into their 30-24 regular-season defeat at Carolina. They should beat the Panthers this time. The rest of the schedule sets up favorably. Some of the games that once appeared toughest this season -- at Seattle, at the Giants, at Tennessee -- are either in the bank already or looking like they will be.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer cites seven mock drafts to get a feel for what the Seahawks might do with the fourth overall draft choice. Four favor Michael Crabtree. Malcolm Smith, B.J. Raji and Jason Smith comprise the other choices.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times provides a transcript of Jim Mora's interview with KJR radio in Seattle. Mora on whether Bobby Engram wants to return: "I believe that he does. I believe that Bobby at some point would like to be part of this organization. Not as a player, but a part of this organization in some capacity. And he's indicated that to me so I think that that gives you some wiggle room."

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune also did some transcribing. Mora: "I think if Matt Hasselbeck is healthy for 16 weeks this team has a chance to do some special things because he's an outstanding player. And we'd love to see that happen. And right now all indications are that he's going to be fine."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sizes up five key contract situations facing the Cardinals this offseason. He suggests the team might again use the franchise tag on Karlos Dansby.

Also from Somers: He confirms Jeff Rutledge's firing as quarterbacks coach.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains why the Cardinals might want to revisit Antrel Rolle's contract sooner rather than later.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle casts the 49ers' recent roster moves as Mike Singletary's moves. FitzGerald on Keith Lewis: "Lewis, a Sacramento native who was a sixth-round pick by the 49ers out of Oregon in 2004, couldn't displace Mark Roman in the lineup the last two years even though Roman didn't have a single interception in that time."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers have no comment on Jonas Jennings' likely release. A shoulder injury sidelined Jennings most of last season. Here's what general manager Scot McCloughan said in November: "Everybody's built different and some guys are more injury-prone than others, but there's no reason why he can't come back from this once rehab's over and play again. There's no reason, whatsoever."

David Fucillo of Niners Nation takes a look at how the 49ers' tight ends fared in 2008.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Ron Milus, the Rams' secondary coach in 2008, will take a similar job with the Panthers. The Rams already hired the Panthers' linebackers coach, Ken Flajole, as defensive coordinator. The Panthers' former secondary coach, Tim Lewis, is also in the NFC West, with Seattle.

VanRam of Turf Show Times outlines five "improvements" fans won't see at a renovated Edward Jones Dome, including "Richie Incognito's 'I can't hear you' interactive scoreboard."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Corbett of USA Today says Anquan Boldin remains unhappy with the Cardinals. Boldin: "I don't think the relationship can be repaired with the organization. It takes more than, 'Well, we did you wrong and we'll pay you this.' It's not about the money. It was always about the principle. Guys being true to their word. I guess I was expected to uphold my end of the bargain, and it wasn't reciprocated."

Bob Romantic of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals are making strides in building the depth required to survive free-agent departures.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says the Cardinals need to sign coach Ken Whisenhunt to a contract extension.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have opened contract negotiations with linebacker Karlos Dansby. Using the franchise tag on Dansby would cost $9.7 million in 2009.

The Arizona Republic pulls from FoxSports.com and the Kansas City Star in detailing Todd Haley's expected departure to the Chiefs.

VanRam of Turf Show Times links to 19 mock drafts, with an emphasis on which players the Rams might select. Tackle Andre Smith shows up repeatedly.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch clarifies the Rams' front-office structure. General manager Billy Devaney is in charge of player personnel, with input from coach Steve Spagnuolo. Kevin Demoff will negotiate contracts. Also, director of football operations Samir Suleiman is leaving the Rams after nine years with the team. He has interviewed with the Browns.

John Morgan of Field Gulls takes an in-depth look at Seahawks defensive tackle Red Bryant.

Also from Morgan: potential evidence suggesting the Seahawks might not draft a receiver early.

Florida Danny of Niners Nation puts the performance of Jimmy Raye's offenses in perspective.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Seahawks assistant head coach/defensive line coach Dan Quinn, whose ambition helped him catch Jim Mora's attention years ago.

Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks expect to have a "diverse" and "dynamic" defensive scheme after drawing concepts from people with varied backgrounds.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Tim Lewis, Quinn and receivers coach Robert Prince. Prince has ties to receiver Reggie Williams.

Also from Williams: a quick look at mock drafts as they pertain to the Seahawks.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News uses Jimmy Raye's past offenses to project how current 49ers players might fare. A similar approach told us what to expect from Mike Martz (lots of sacks, relatively few catches for the tight end).

Niners general manager Scot McCloughan says he expects the 49ers to rank among the NFL's top 10 in most salary-cap space heading into free agency.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at potential draft choices for the 49ers with the 10th overall choice. 

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers and Raiders need one another more than either might admit.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Scott Linehan's reputation will take a hit if he interviews with the Raiders after citing family reasons for turning down the 49ers' offer.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation echoes those sentiments.

Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee explains Linehan's potential interest in the Raiders. Linehan and Tom Cable played together at the University of Idaho. They also coached together at UNLV.

Niners scout Todd Brunner says college quarterbacks John Parker Wilson, Rhett Bomar and Pat White impressed him at the Senior Bowl.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers took a chance on defensive back Jimmy Williams despite the player's off-field troubles.

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic quotes Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson as calling Anquan Boldin a "stand-up guy" who probably needed time to cool off following a sideline exchange with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

The Arizona Republic's photo gallery following the NFC Championship Game is definitely worth a look. Stunning photography.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Travis LaBoy plans to play in the Super Bowl despite his injury problems.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals would miss J.J. Arrington if the running back's knee injury prevented him from playing.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com tells the stories of two fans who survived game-day heart attacks. The men visited team headquarters and met with players.

Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic says Boldin should apologize for his recent behavior.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune examines how Boldin's sideline exchange with Haley might help Haley while hurting Boldin.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says Haley conceivably could have been the Steelers' offensive coordinator if he had accepted a job offer from Pittsburgh years ago.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times recalls how Haley could have been with the Bears -- along with Kurt Warner.

Jim Corbett of USA Today looks at the emotional impact of the Cardinals' success.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has confirmed the hiring of his coordinators. Spagnuolo: "Both are very strong leaders, character people. They're exactly what I laid out (Monday) in terms of faith, character, core values, and team first. I'm looking forward to working with both of those guys." 

VanRam of Turf Show Times wonders what the Rams might do if the Lions took an offensive tackle instead of a quarterback with the No. 1 overall draft choice.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says NBC has hired Mike Holmgren to participate in its Super Bowl pregame show.

John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up potential free agent Shaun Cody and examines how he might fit in Seattle.

Gary Washburn of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson thinks the Seahawks should draft Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree. Cris Carter warns against drafting a receiver that early.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' hiring of Tim Lewis rounds out Jim Mora's coaching staff.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Something really weird is happening in Carolina. As previously reported, defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac has told the team he's leaving to pursue other options, even though the Panthers had offered him a new contract.

Now, secondary coach Tim Lewis is leaving to coach the defensive backs in Seattle. This one adds to the strangeness of everything else because Lewis would have seemed like a logical candidate to move into Trgovac's former spot.

It also comes on the heels of defensive line coach Sal Sunseri leaving to become linebackers coach at the University of Alabama. That one was particularly shocking because Sunseri has been a very close friend to head coach John Fox.

Also, linebackers coach Ken Flajole has left to become defensive coordinator at St. Louis. But that move is different and unrelated to all the others because it was a straight promotion.

So what's really going in Carolina, where All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers has said he wants to play elsewhere? Well, it's definitely not an intentional housecleaning. Lewis and Trgovac definitely were offered new contracts and it's believed Sunseri was as well. These guys are leaving by their own choice.

There are rumblings the Panthers were slow in offering contract renewals and the assistants started shopping around. But the offers were eventually made to keep them and they could have stayed. They chose not to and that's not a good sign.

In fact, it looks like people are trying to get off a sinking ship. Keep an eye on this situation because right now the way things are playing out, the events of this offseason so far make it look like the Panthers went 4-12 and not 12-4.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier appears very much in the running for the St. Louis Rams' head coaching job. The Detroit Lions'? Not so much -- meaning it's possible the Lions are wrapping up their 18-day search for a new head coach.

Frazier spoke Wednesday with Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune and said he had no second interview scheduled with the Lions, as had been previously reported. Considering the Lions have already conducted at least two second interviews, it's reasonable to assume he is not on the team's short list.

The Lions have brought Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and Miami assistant head coach/defensive backs Todd Bowles back to Detroit to meet with owner William Clay Ford. And according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Lions gave Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera a first interview Wednesday in Houston, site of the East-West Shrine game.

If the Lions have more interviews scheduled, no one has reported them. Anything could change at any time, but it's possible the Lions will choose between Schwartz and Bowles in the coming days. (Rivera would have to be brought back to Detroit if he becomes a finalist.) As John Niyo of the Detroit News points out, every passing day will make it more difficult for the Lions' next coach -- whomever he is -- to assemble a desirable coaching staff.

The clock is ticking.

With that bit of drama, let's continue an early-morning sweep around the division:

  • Frazier could learn his fate with the Rams by the end of this week. He told Zulgad: "I felt really good about the interview. I had no second guesses about, 'Maybe I should have said this or that.' I put everything out there that needed to be out there and now it's a matter of if I'm the right fit for what they're looking for."
  • Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman underwent reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder Wednesday, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Tillman played most of 2008 with injuries to both shoulders and is expected to make a full recovery in time for training camp.
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests the Packers give consideration to Carolina secondary coach Tim Lewis as their next defensive coordinator. Lewis played for the Packers from 1983-86.
  • Former Packers secondary coach Lionel Washington has been hired in the same role by Oakland, according to WBAY in Wisconsin.

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