Around the NFC West

After signing LB Patrick Willis to a long-term deal, is TE Vernon Davis next on San Francisco's radar? How will the Seahawks' secondary shape up? Will the trade of Alex Barron for Bobby Carpenter boost the Rams' defense? Find out these answers and more as we go around the NFC West.


SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Before the ink had time to dry on Patrick Willis' five-year, $50 million extension, the focus switched to which 49ers star would be the next to land a long-term deal.

The question had an obvious answer. It was so obvious that tight end Vernon Davis quickly addressed the issue by posting a message on his Twitter account.

"We got plenty of time, y'all. I'll sign an extension soon I'm sure," Davis wrote. "Don't worry. I'm in 100%."

Davis, 25, is coming off a breakout season in which he tied an NFL record withFs 13 touchdown catches by a tight end. That total also tied Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald for the overall NFL lead, making Davis the first tight end of the Super Bowl era to at least share the league lead in scoring receptions.

Davis might not have the stature of Willis, who got nearly $29 million in guaranteed money. But he's the 49ers' best young player on the offensive side of the ball and the team is eager to keep him around. Davis is entering the final season of his rookie contract.

Two independent league sources told Comcast SportsNet Bay Area that the Davis camp is asking for a five-year, $40 million contract that includes $25 million in guaranteed money.

To date, the most lucrative contract given to an NFL tight end was the six-year, $36 million package for Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts, a deal reported to include as much as $20 million in guarantees. Clark was 29 at the time of that contract extension.

Davis, like Willis, appeals to the 49ers for reasons that go beyond his stat column. He emerged from a rocky start to his career by becoming "to the surprise of many" a team leader.

Davis was anointed as a team captain last season and won the 49ers annual award for inspirational play. He stays on the practice field long after the final whistle and his worked hard to improve his once-shaky reception skills. Davis has even taken on the role as a goodwill ambassador. This off-season, he served as an honorary captain for the U.S. Olympic curing team and later took a trip to Afghanistan as a show of support for the American soldiers stationed overseas.

That might seem like an unlikely career path for a player whose bad habits once inspired coach Mike Singletary to go on his infamous "I want winners!"? postgame rant. (Davis had committed a silly personal foul penalty, earning banishment to the sideline). But a more focused Davis now refers to Singletary as his "best friend"?and it's clear Singletary's tough-love approach got the best out of his tight end.

Quarterback Alex Smith, who used Davis as his go-to receiver, said: "People haven't always backed him. People haven't always been there for him. But he's continued to work hard and not let that waiver him from where he wanted to go."

The 49ers also like that Davis is willing to do the dirty work when called upon. Singletary has called him the best blocking tight end he's ever seen. And even when former offensive coordinator Mike Martz used Davis mostly as a blocker, the player only occasionally hinted at frustration at not being more involved in the offense. Mostly, he tried to take pride in becoming a better blocker.

When new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye turned him loose last year, Davis responded by re-writing the 49ers'franchise receiving marks for tight ends.

"I think it just goes to show hard work and diligence is rewarded and pays off," Raye said.

Exactly how much it pays off is yet to be determined. In the wake of Willis' deal, Singletary was vague when asked about the team's to-do list for future contract extensions.

"In all honesty, I'm just so thankful that Pat got done," Singletary said. "We'll just continue to go down the road and do what we do. I think the most important message that management sent today is that if those guys go out there and perform, we're going to take care of our guys. Pat is a tremendous example of that."

Davis had three 100-yard games last season and finished with 965 receiving yards, the most by a 49ers player since Terrell Owens had 1,102 in 2003.

NOTES

  • As using their two first-round picks on Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati demonstrated, the 49ers are intent on upgrading their offensive line. Much will hinge on the new coaches to get the rookies ready to play. Mike Solari, who spent last season with the Seattle Seahawks, replaces Chris Foerster as the O-line coach. He'll get help from an experienced voice: Ray Brown, who played in the NFL from 1986-2005. Brown, a former 49er, is back with the team as an assistant offensive line coach. "He knows he's talking about," guard David Baas said. "He can give us all sorts of coaching points and tips and we know he's right because he was able to do it for 20 years."

  • Left tackle Joe Staley noticed a change in quarterback Alex Smith during spring workouts. Now that Smith has the same playbook for a second consecutive season and has a grip on the starting job, Staley said Smith clearly felt in command. "He was telling everyone, 'This is what we're looking for as an offense.'".

  • Jerry Rice selected former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo to present him during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony this summer. This marks DeBartolo's fourth time as a Hall of Fame presenter, following his ceremonies with Bill Walsh (Class of 1993), Joe Montana (2000) and Fred Dean (2008). "It's truly a great honor to present my dear friend Jerry Rice into the Hall of Fame," DeBartolo said in a statement. "No player in pro football history dominated his position the way Jerry did, and it's a privilege to be his presenter."


    SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

    Just put Josh Wilson on the field and he'll make plays. That's how the confident, fourth-year cornerback out of Maryland feels. After beating out Kelly Jennings for the starting job opposite Marcus Trufant in 2008, Wilson again had to fend off competition from veteran Ken Lucas to keep his spot in 2009.

    But no matter who the team throws out there, the 5-foot-9, 192-pound corner usually winds up on the field. He also has the versatility to slide inside to play quicker slot receivers in passing situations.

    "For me, there's always competition," Wilson said. "It seems like every time I come on the field going into my fourth year now, I'm competing. So I mean there's nothing different for me. You've just got to go out there and do your job. If you do your job and you're the better guy, you're going to be out there. So you just have to make sure you make your plays, when the plays present themselves."

    One of the faster players on the team, Wilson has been a consistent playmaker for Seattle, with six career interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. Wilson also has a kickoff return for a score to his credit, and would like to continue in that role for Seattle in 2010.

    Wilson said one of the benefits so far has been having a veteran secondary coach in Jerry Gray guiding the back of Seattle's defense.

    "That guy went to four Pro Bowls," Wilson said about Gray. "He didn't go there for any reason. He knows his stuff. So we just go ahead and soak up everything from him, and hopefully we can follow in his footsteps."

    Wilson also is excited about the prospects of rookie safety Earl Thomas, who is expected to start at free safety for Seattle.

    "He's got a lot of speed, and a lot of ability to just play the ball," Wilson said about Thomas. "It's going to be fun playing with him. Right now, of course his head is spinning a little bit. It's a lot to put on a young guy this quick, but he's going to be good. He's catching on pretty quick."

    As far as the changes with a new coaching staff, Wilson said not a lot has changed.

    "It's not really new, it's just different," Wilson said about the coaching change from Jim Mora to Pete Carroll. "Coach Carroll is really into everything defensively, just like Coach Mora was. But he's all about details and doing things right. And just making sure you're precise when you're out here, because you're not going to have very many chances, just like the game."

    NOTES

  • New linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. is pretty pleased with the talent level and overall depth of the linebacker corps heading into his first season with Seattle.

    And Norton, who coached with Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll at Southern Cal, knows a little something about the position. Norton played 13 years in the league and went to three Pro Bowls. He's been a fiery presence on the practice field so far during offseason workouts.

    Norton is particularly pleased to have a healthy Lofa Tatupu back leading the defense at his middle linebacker position.

    "Lofa has been very special," Norton said. "There's no question he's the leader of the defense and a leader on this team. And there's no question of his football IQ -- he's extremely instinctive and very competitive and he always rises up to this high standard he's set for himself.

    "He will never go below it for anything. He's not very happy about that he's been injured the last couple of years, and he's out to prove his durability and that he's the same player as he was before his injuries."

  • Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll appeared on "The Dan Patrick Show" recently, talking about the team's rookie draft class, possible sanctions at USC and former player Taylor Mays, among other subjects.

    Carroll said that Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate probably made the most plays out of all the rookies during the team's post-draft minicamp a few weeks ago.

    He talked about passing on safety Taylor Mays, who played for Carroll at Southern Cal, again reiterating that the Seahawks just could not pass up on bringing in a guy with the playmaking ability like Texas safety Earl Thomas.

    Carroll also said he was, "just disappointed as could be," in finding out about his former player Brian Cushing being suspended for four games for violating the NFL's drug policy.

    Carroll told Patrick he did not expect USC to receive a harsh penalty for its role in the Reggie Bush situation. "I'd be surprised if there are," he said.

  • Houston Texans free agent offensive guard Chester Pitts, still rehabbing from season-ending microfracture knee surgery that cut short his 2009 season, said the Seahawks are still the frontrunners for his services.

    The possibility of Pitts joining Seattle seemed to take a hit when Seattle signed veteran offensive lineman Ben Hamilton to play left guard and mentor rookie offensive tackle Russell Okung in the subtle nuisances of the zone blocking scheme.

    However, Pitts could still join Seattle and compete for time at right guard with second-year player Max Unger.

    Pitts said he should be ready to join a team by the end of June.

    "The knee is doing great," Pitts told Fox Sports Houston. "It's structurally sound. Because I had to be off of it for nine weeks, it's kind of a deep hole you climb in to. It takes time to get it back strong. But I'd say it's about eighty five percent right now."


    ST. LOUIS RAMS

    The Alex Barron era ended when the first-round pick was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for linebacker Bobby Carpenter.

    Said Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, "As we continue to shape our roster and address the needs of our club, we believe this trade helps improve our team. We wish Alex the best and appreciate his efforts as a member of the St. Louis Rams."

    Barron had signed his restricted free-agent tender of $2.73 million on Friday to facilitate the trade. That tender figure is correct, not the $2.621 million figure that has also been reported. The lower number is the tender for players with five accrued seasons where a first-round pick would be the compensation.

    However, the tender can be higher when it is based on 110 percent of the player's previous year's salary. Because Barron's 2009 salary was $2,482,500, the actual tender is $2,730,750.

    That procedure doesn't normally apply to restricted free agents, but there were several similar cases this year because the uncapped year resulted in players with four and five accrued seasons becoming restricted free agents. In the past, they would have been unrestricted free agents.

    Barron was the Rams' first-round pick, the 19th overall selection, in the 2005 draft. He started 74 of his 76 career games with the Rams.

    While very durable, and playing either right or left tackle, Barron was often guilty of false starts and had 34 in the last four seasons. In 2009, he had 14 penalties, of which five were holding calls.

    According to STATS Inc., Barron is the league's most penalized offensive lineman with 73.

    After the trade, Barron's agent, Roosevelt Barnes, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Alex is very excited, extremely excited. He gets a chance to go to a team that people have high expectations for this year. He's going to get an opportunity to play on the left side, which he's always felt has been his best position. And he's going to a playoff contender."

    NOTES

  • Much has been said about how much the Rams' roster has changed since the end of the 2008 season. It has often been noted that the roster went from about the third-oldest in the NFL to the third-youngest.

    The trade of tackle Alex Barron removed another player from the pre-Steve Spagnuolo days. Some of it started after general manager Billy Devaney was hired in February 2008, although he did not have final say over the roster until then-coach Scott Linehan was fired following the fourth game of that season.

    With Barron gone, there are only 10 players on the roster that were on the team when Devaney was originally hired and just four are consistent starters: running back Steven Jackson, free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, cornerback Ron Bartell and nose tackle Clifton Ryan.

    The others are guard/tackle Adam Goldberg, center/guard Mark Setterstrom, defensive ends James Hall and Victor Adeyanju, punter Donnie Jones and long snapper Chris Massey.

    Atogwe remains an unsigned restricted free agent.

  • The arrival of LB Bobby Carpenter could end up with all the team's starting linebackers being from Ohio State. Carpenter and previously added Na'il Diggs are Buckeyes, as is starting middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Backup linebacker Larry Grant is also from Ohio State.

    Said Carpenter, "That's definitely, I'd say, kind of an anomaly there in the NFL to have four guys in a position group all from the same school. I didn't really play with Na'il (Diggs) at all. He left a few years before I got in there, but I was able to spend some time with James (Laurinaitis) and Larry (Grant) when I was in school and then also back in the offseason, in the winter when I'd be back in Columbus. It'll be great to come in there and play with those guys and just being in the same room. I know James has done some great things here and Larry has come on as well. We have a talented group of linebackers, so it's going to be exciting."

  • The SportsBusiness Journal reported that Rams part-owner Stan Kroenke proposed to the league's Finance Committee that his wife buy the Rams so he would be in compliance with the league's cross-ownership rules.

    On April 12, Kroenke exercised his right of first refusal on the 60 percent of the team Illinois businessman Shahid Khan had agreed to buy from co-owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez for $450 million.

    Because Kroenke owns the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche, rules bar him from owning an NFL team in a different market.

    League officials have yet to comment on how they view Kroenke's idea.

  • The first of the team's 14 OTAs will be held next Tuesday (May 18). Rookie wide receiver Mardy Gilyard is not permitted to attend because his school, the University of Cincinnati, does not have its graduation until June 12, and final exams are June 5-10.

    Gilyard will miss at least 10 OTAs that will be conducted between May 18 and June 8. The team's minicamp is June 10-12, so he could also miss that. The final four OTAs are June 14-17.


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