Manning would change dynamics for 49ers' line

If the 49ers indeed become the new home for Petyon Manning, it would considerably change the dynamics of the situation for the team's developing offensive line, which allowed Alex Smith to be sacked more times than any other NFL quarterback in 2011.

There are a lot of veteran players in Denver and Nashville – and now, in San Francisco, with the quickly-emerging 49ers – anxiously awaiting the decision of Peyton Manning on where the four-time NFL most valuable player will continue his career.

Perhaps none more so than Broncos left offensive tackle Ryan Clady, who might be most indicative of the kind of trickle-down financial impact that landing Manning, who has informed Miami officials that the Dolphins are no longer a player in this game, could represent to a new teammate.

The fifth-year veteran is entering the final year of his original rookie contract, has been a real value on a five-year, $17.5 million deal, and is scheduled to earn $2.55 million in base salary in 2011. A two-time Pro Bowl player who has never missed a game, and is widely regarded as one of the premier blindside pass protectors in the league, Clady will doubtless get a new contract extension, no matter where Manning ends up.

Quality young offensive tackles, after all, almost never make it to the free agent market.

With Clady set to turn only 26 in September, an extension figures to be a monster deal. But the size of the contract likely would be helped some if the Denver offense had a quarterback such as Manning. Certainly, his presence couldn't hurt, right?

A guy who rarely takes a sack – Manning averaged only 17.7 sacks in 13 seasons, just one sack every 32.2 "dropbacks," and has been sacked more than 20 times in just four seasons – the former Indianapolis star historically has made the sum of his offensive line units better than their individual parts. And he's never played with an individual part/left tackle the caliber of Clady, a first-round pick in 2008.

Or, for that matter, the stature of Tennessee left tackle Michael Roos, who is signed through 2014. But Roos' resume, which includes one Pro Bowl invitation, could be enhanced if he's Manning's left side escort.

Or how about the tight ends on the rosters of the club's still remaining in the Manning Sweepstakes? The Niners' Vernon Davis already is an emerging start, but he likely would command a lot more ink if Manning, who helped to make Dallas Clark a star, turns up in their town.

San Francisco's young left tackle, Joe Staley, also would become more conspicuous in the NFL consciousness if he were to become the blind-side protector for Manning.

Never heard of Staley? He was a NFC starter in the Pro Bowl this last season and has become an anchor on a young San Francisco line that would be expected to step up in its protection performance should Manning become the quarterback they are protecting.

Alex Smith, San Francisco's starter in every last season, was sacked 44 times last year, the most of any NFL quarterback. The 49ers finished the season ranked 26th in the league in sacks allowed per play.

So, all of San Francisco's offensive linemen would be more on the spot should Manning join the team, and with several of them – including promising 2010 first-round draft picks Anthony Davis (right tackle) and Mike Iupati (left guard) – still on the rise in their careers, they could be making statements for future deals with the way they protect the already-legendary signal-caller.

But, for the heck of it, let's focus on Clady for now.

According to Stats, Inc., Clady didn't surrender a sack in his first 20 regular-season starts, the most since 1994 for a player at the outset of his career. Unofficially, he's permitted 10 in the 44 games since then, including five in 2011, and that was representative of a Denver unit that allowed 42 sacks last season, the most surrendered by the Broncos since 2002.

Like some of his line mates, Clady suffered in part in 2011 from the team's run-heavy option offense, and from having Tim Tebow (33 sacks, and a sack absorbed every 9.2 "dropbacks") as the starter.

Sacks are a synergistic component of the game, as Manning's past and his quick release have indicated, and playing with a quarterback like him would further boost Clady's career and profile. It might not get him much more money, because he's going to get a ton already, but the effect of having Manning playing behind him will provide Clady with one more critical bargaining chip at negotiating time.

So while officials and coaches from the three teams with which Manning considers contenders lose sleep while he ruminates over where to play in 2012 – and takes another step toward a resolution Friday, when he demonstrates his arm strength to Denver vice president John Elway and Broncos' lieutenants – guys like Clady dream about what his decision could mean for them in a more-than-ancillary way.

Around the league: Quick hits


--- As of Friday morning, 16 former first-round draft choices had been released over the past two weeks.

--- Although he has played primarily in a 3-4 front, and has just 7.5 sacks in 64 games (54 starts), Miami unrestricted free agent end Kendall Langford is meriting solid interest from some 4-3 teams. Cincinnati, St. Louis and Atlanta are among them.

--- Two thumbs-up to Miami general manager Jeff Ireland and new Chicago counterpart Phil Emery: The former for apprising the Bears of Brandon Marshall's latest alleged run-in before dumping the potentially damaged goods on Chicago for a pair of third-round picks. The latter for quickly acknowledging to the Chicago-area media that the league has already called about the incident involving the talented but troubled wide receiver.

--- The Steelers really want to upgrade their No. 2 tight end spot and were excited about unrestricted free agent Kellen Davis before the unrestricted free agent re-signed with Chicago for two years.

--- Things could change, and teams interested in signing restricted free agents to offer sheets typically delay until just before the deadline (April 20 this year), but there doesn't appear yet to be any club all that hot to try to pry away Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace, although the 49ers were showing plenty of initial interest.

--- The three-year extension that linebacker Russell Allen took to re-sign in Jacksonville has a "base" value of $6 million and a maximum value of $9 million. A potential value in the restricted market, Allen surprisingly got a higher tender from the Jaguars than anticipated, and the team really raised its offer to him in the last few days before his agreement.

--- The aforementioned Clady isn't the lone Denver offensive lineman who has allowed more sacks the past few years. In 2008, the last year that the immobile Jay Cutler was the Broncos' starter, the club surrendered just 12 sacks. In the past three seasons, with Orton and Tebow the starters, Denver has permitted an average of 38.7 sacks.

--- It shouldn't have been a shocker, by the way, that Dallas signed Orton to serve as Tony Romo's backup. After all, Jon Kitna is retiring, and Cowboys coaches still aren't sold on Stephen McGee as the No. 2 guy. But remember, too, that the Cowboys made a waiver claim on Orton last year when he was released, but lost out to Kansas City as a result of the two teams' records.

--- Even with a perceived frenzy of the opening days of free agency, nearly half the league's teams, 14, had yet to sign an unrestricted player from another team as of Thursday night. Six of the 14 had signed "street" free agents in the past week.

--- There continue to be rumblings that the Vikings, with the third overall choice in the first round, are serious about LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Minnesota, where the assumption has been that the Vikings will snatch USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil with their first choice, used eight different starters, and seven different starting combinations, at cornerback in '11. The team has five cornerbacks on its roster and, after the aging and increasingly brittle Antoine Winfield (158 starts), only Allen Asher (21) has more than eight regular-season starts.

--- One player who hasn't been getting a lot of public attention, and hasn't yet made any visits, but it getting solid buzz among personnel men in the league is Denver defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley.

--- There have been a lot of comparisons made between Mike Tolbert and former San Diego running back Michael Turner, who has flourished as an Atlanta starter. Although Tolbert has logged more carries in his four seasons with the Chargers than Turner did (341-228) and has a better single season yardage total (735-502), he is similarly built. But personnel people around the league, even those who like Tolbert a lot, note he doesn't have the kind of long speed Turner possessed when he was younger.

--- There is some concern in Houston, and rightly so, about the possible dismantling of an offensive line that some felt was the NFL's top unit in 2011. The Texans released right tackle Eric Winston last week because of a failed physical. Center Chris Myers and right guard Mike Brisiel have drawn interest as restricted free agents.

--- Atlanta continue to monitor the free agency interest in Green Bay center Scott Wells, in case long-time snapper Todd McClure departs.

--- Given that several of the best players were tagged with the franchise marker (Ray Rice and Matt Forte), that the position has been somewhat devalued, and that Marshawn Lynch never got to the market because of an extension just before the start of the league year, it's not all that surprising that tailback is arguably one of the weakest spots in free agency. And certainly one of the least pursued.

--- Contrary to suggestions from some local media outlets, the market for Atlanta unrestricted free agent middle linebacker Curtis Lofton hasn't quite dried up, but it is a bit softer than some might have guessed.

--- Now that Seattle has retained left end Red Bryant with a five-year, $35 million contract, a wise move that kept the unheralded but coveted four-year veteran from the free agent clutches of opposing teams like New England, it looks like it's time for the Seahawks to address the long-term future of his bookend partner. The Seahawks recently made overtures to right end Chris Clemons, who is entering the final season of his contract in 2012, about a possible extension. Clemons is 30 years old, but has played his best football later in his career, with 11 sacks in each of the past two seasons and four forced fumbles in that period. The former undrafted free agent is scheduled to earn a modest $3 million base salary in '12, but it appears now that the Seahawks want to tie him up for longer.

--- San Diego, with whom Charlie Whitehurst's pro career originated, is interested in re-acquiring the six-year veteran quarterback, a player it traded in 2010 to Seattle, where Whitehurst was a bust in his two seasons with the Seahawks. The Chargers still have Billy Volek as the primary backup to Philip Rivers, but he is 35 years old, and entering the final year of his contract, and the club is looking toward the future. An unrestricted free agent, Whitehurst has drawn only modest interest in the market. The move could be the latest in which a team perhaps shakes up its depth chart at quarterback.

--- Out of the league altogether in 2011, after being released by Seattle in favor of Steven Hauschka just before the start of the season, kicker Jeff Reed will audition for NFL scouts next week in Arizona. It's likely that representatives from as many as 20 franchises will attend the workout. Reed, 32, was released by Pittsburgh in 2010 after a disappointing performance, then caught on in San Francisco for five games the same year.


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