NFC West Inside Slant - 3/6/05

The 2005 Scouting Combine is history, and free agency is in full swing. What's going on with the Seahawks and their division opponents? Seahawks.NET's weekly Inside Slant has the answers.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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INSIDE SLANT

UPDATE: Kurt Warner and the Cardinals have agreed to a one-year deal.

  --The Cardinals are courting two-time MVP quarterback Kurt Warner and Brad Johnson, the Buccaneers starter when they thrashed Oakland in the Super Bowl. They're also interested in Jeff Garcia, who seems more interested in becoming reunited with his former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci in Detroit. "I've got no problem putting my skill up against anybody else and may the best man win," said Warner, 33. "All that being said, I want to find a situation where when a coach tells me that, I can believe it. The Cardinals have stepped up and shown interest and said all the right things. This is as good a situation as there is out there for a guy in my situation."

The Cardinals need a veteran to compete for the starting position with Josh McCown, who last week received the highest restricted free-agent tender offer of $1.43 million and apparently remains high in their plans. McCown lost the starting position nine games into his first season as a starter in 2004, but was forced back into the lineup late in the season by injuries to rookie John Navarre, who is not out of the Cardinals picture, either.

But McCown was 6-7 as the starter on a 6-10 team, is young, has all the physical attributes and still appears capable of a bright future-enough that the team has locked him up with right of first refusal on any offer sheet or a first-round pick as compensation if they don't match an offer. McCown seemed happy with the turn of events and likely won't pursue another offer.

"I think, hopefully, it means they don't want me to get away, and they appreciate what I've done so far and what I can do," McCown said. "Anytime you can triple your salary (from $380,000 in 2004), it's not a problem."

As the team pursues  Warner and Johnson, their recent failures with other former Super Bowl stars can't escape them. They reached an injury settlement last season with safety Dexter Jackson, MVP of the Super Bowl when Tampa Bay won it. He quickly fell out of favor with Dennis Green and his staff. They just traded cornerback Duane Starks, a key player in Baltimore's record-setting Super Bowl champion defense, who gave them little return on investment largely because of injuries.

The Cardinals quarterback position has been in a state of flux since Jake Plummer left for Denver as a free agent two years ago. In 2003, free agent Jeff Blake played most of the way under Coach Dave McGinnis. But Blake became one of the first players Green cut when he came in. Green touted McCown during the off-season, but gave him the hook after nine starts - when the team was 4-5.

Navarre got a start because Green, who coaches the scout team, liked what he saw there. The knock on McCown is that his playmaking instincts aren't always in tune with those of Green. That wouldn't be a problem with Warner, who mastered Mike Martz's passing schemes, or with Johnson, who not only won a Super Bowl but also had productive seasons with Green as the starter at Minnesota. "Josh McCown right now is our starting quarterback. Will that scenario change as far as the players on our team? I don't know," Green said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--One other option for adding a running back is a trade. The one mentioned most often - Cardinals T L.J. Shelton for Buffalo RB Travis Henry - seems to have cooled. The Cardinals are trying to trade L.J. Shelton and T Anthony Clement.

--The league has made Feb. 3, 2008 the date for Super Bowl XLII, to be played in the Cardinals new retractable-roof stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

--Debbie Wardrop, NFL director of special events for six years, has been named the Arizona host committee's chief executive officer.  She starts April 4 at $200,000 a year. Wardrop's first task: raising about $10 million to run the game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We hope to be a lot more aggressive than we were last year.  Last year, we were not as aggressive because we had a lot of opportunities we had to give to veteran guys coming back, and I felt strongly about that. Now this year, we're going with kind of a new direction." - Cardinals coach Dennis Green, armed with $16 million in salary-cap space, on the team's plan for free agency.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES

1. Quarterback. Josh McCown started the season, fell out of favor to be replaced first by Shaun King and then rookie seventh-round pick John Navarre. King was miserable and Navarre suffered a fractured finger, so McCown was back in the saddle at the end. Now he is a a restricted free agent. There are all sorts of names out there - Jeff Garcia, Brad Johnson and Kurt Warner. They're all aging and would be a stopgap at best, perhaps while Navarre matures or until the team identifies a young QB to groom for the long term. That QB still could be McCown, but signs point against it.

2. Running back. The starter in 2004, Emmitt Smith retired after just missing a 1,000-yard season. The team rushing leader in 2002-03, Marcel Shipp, is coming off a surgically repaired leg fracture and his status is unknown. So it could be argued that the team needs two backs. It definitely needs at least one. The Cardinals could be tempted by what's left in the draft among Cedric Benson of Texas, Ronnie Brown of Auburn or Cadillac Williams of Auburn. At least two of them likely will be off the board before the Cards pick at No. 8.

3. Cornerback. Duane Starks simply hasn't panned out  and was traded, while David Macklin, despite having a junkyard-dog demeanor, is limited. No. 3 corner Renaldo Hill is unrestricted and could land elsewhere. And name a team that would tell you it has enough cover corners. It would be great if the Cardinals could land a starter and make Macklin the nickel back and/or Hill the fourth corner. That turn of events would upgrade the look of a suspect secondary co  

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RB Damien Anderson (not tendered as RFA); RB Troy Hambrick; CB Renaldo Hill; TE Freddie Jones; MLB Ron McKinnon; WR Nate Poole (not tendered as RFA); OG Cameron Spikes; CB Michael Stone; CB Robert Tate; DE Kyle Vanden Bosch; DE Peppi Zellner.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Quentin Harris; DT Ross Kolodziej; QB Josh McCown.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: Currently unavailable.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Oliver Ross.

PLAYERS LOST: RB Emmitt Smith; CB Duane Starks.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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INSIDE SLANT

--Since the September firing of Carl Poston, Rams left tackle Orlando Pace had been without an agent. It was largely irrelevant during the season, but when Pace went the month of February without an agent, the Rams' frustration level increased. They had already made Pace their franchise player for the third straight year, but were hopeful of reaching agreement on a long-term contract. But as the March 15 deadline for signing franchise players approached, it appeared Pace had no interest in getting an agent. Suddenly, rumors started popping up that linked Pace to the Giants in a possible trade. The Rams were serious about investigating the possibility of dealing Pace if he wasn't signed by March 15.
  
Perhaps the thought of playing for Tom Coughlin got to Pace, because two days after the Giants' talk started, Pace quickly hired agents Kennard McGuire and Fletcher Smith to represent him. "We think it's a tremendous opportunity," McGuire said. "We're excited to get the ball rolling (with the Rams) and see where this takes us. We're looking forward to seeing this process through."

Before Pace hired his new agents, Rams coach Mike Martz had said, "We'd love to keep Orlando here. But I'm getting frustrated. This is the third year in a row that we don't have any contact with him. He doesn't return any calls. And he doesn't have an agent. So my frustration is increased. And at this point, I'm very impatient with the situation. To have him go through another offseason without any work, away from our players, come in late to camp - I just think this should get resolved real quickly. And needs to."

As for Pace having missed two seasons worth of offseason work and training camp, Martz said, "There's no question that affects his play. No question." Negotiations were reportedly taking place between the Rams and the agents, and they are expected to heat up now that the club is unlikely to pursue other free agents for the time being after signing linebackers Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne in the first two days of the signing period.

NOTES, QUOTES

--New LB Dexter Coakley was released on the afternoon of March 1 and was on a plane that evening for St. Louis before signing the next day. Coach Mike Martz and linebackers coach Joe Vitt met Coakley at the airport. Coakley was impressed that Martz made the effort considering the coach is scheduled to have back surgery later this month. "This man is in pain," Coakley said. "He came over to the complex, just to visit with me and see me."

--The Rams have interest in bringing back DE Bryce Fisher, but they apparently don't want to set the market. The club appears content to see what kind of interest Fisher attracts in the open market. Fisher led the team with 8.5 sacks in 2004, but most came down the stretch when he showed to be more effective coming off the bench then as a starter. Fisher was unavailable for visits when free agency started because he was fulfilling some obligations to the Air Force.
  
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everything happened so fast, I couldn't resist. I was impressed with what I saw, and just the direction that team and the organization is going, so it was a win-win situation for me." - LB Dexter Coakley on signing with the Rams.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
  
NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES:
  
1. Safety. Even with the switch of Pisa Tinoisamoa to strong safety and Adam Archuleta to free safety, the team can't assume it will work. Nor is it a slam dunk that Archuleta will overcome the back woes that seriously affected his 2004 performance. Depth at the position is needed.

2. Defensive end. This position appears in good shape, but that could change quickly. Bryce Fisher is an unrestricted free agent, and Leonard Little is scheduled to go to trial March 28 on drunk driving charges. The Rams like the potential of Anthony Hargrove, who was starting at the end of the season, but they have to ensure that there is quality depth there.
  
3. Tackle. Blaine Saipaia held his own at right tackle down at the end of the season, but coaches believe he will be better as a guard. Free agency has been pricey for tackles, and the Rams don't want to wade in those expensive waters. They looked closely at the tackles at the scouting combine.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: OT Orlando Pace.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OG Darnell Alford; S Zack Bronson; TE Cam Cleeland; S Rich Coady; OG Chris Dishman; S Antuan Edwards; DE Bryce Fisher; DE Erik Flowers; OG Matt Lehr; QB Jamie Martin; OG Tom Nutten; LB Tommy Polley; S Aeneas Williams.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FB Joey Goodspeed; WR Dane Looker; LS Chris Massey.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: OT Blaine Saipaia.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: CB Dwight Anderson; LB Trev Faulk; WR Mike Furrey; RB Arlen Harris; LB Jeremy Loyd; O Kevin Stemke; OG Scott Tercero; LB Drew Wahlroos.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Chris Claiborne; LB Dexter Coakley.

PLAYERS LOST: QB Chris Chandler.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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INSIDE SLANT

--Unpopular 49ers owner John York, who has come under fire in the Bay Area for the perception he is a skinflint, appears to be taking big strides to craft a new image. York began shortly after the season when he fired general manager Terry Donahue after signing him to a four-year extension just four months previously. He also terminated coach Dennis Erickson, who served just two years of a five-year contract. He also allowed new coach Mike Nolan to bring in a new staff, though all Erickson's assistants were signed through the 2005 season.

Nolan said York, who co-owns the team with his wife, Denise, has made good on his promise during the interview process. The 49ers kicked off free agency last week by signing left tackle Jonas Jennings, previously of the Bills, to a seven-year, $36 million contract. "As I interviewed for this job, it was important that there was a commitment to winning, to doing what it took to get the good players," Nolan said. "I think this is one of the first signs that there is that commitment by John and Denise to rebuild this organization to the winning tradition that we all want. If you have an opportunity to get a good player like Jonas, that's what you do."

The move on the first day of free agency also resonated in the locker room, where veteran leader center Jeremy Newberry took notice that ownership is not going to sit idly and watch another embarrassing 2-14 season.
 
"It shows a commitment," Newberry said. "It took a little bit of money to put a whole new staff in there. A lot of people speculated ( York ) was too cheap to do that. He let Coach Nolan retain who he wanted to and it wasn't a money issue at all. Everything that has happened this offseason points in the direction that he's committed to winning."
  
NOTES, QUOTES

--The 49ers would like to retain offensive linemen Eric Heitmann and Kyle Kosier, but they did not do much to take them off the restricted free agent market. The 49ers tendered both players at the lowest levels, with one-year, $656,000 deals. The 49ers would have the rights of first refusal if either or both signed offer sheets from other clubs. Because both players were originally seventh-round draft picks, the 49ers would receive only seventh-round picks as compensation if either left for another team.

-- Jennings said he did all the necessary homework before deciding to sign as a free agent with the 49ers. As the Bills' left tackle last season, he faced every team in the NFC West. He knows what to expect in the six games he will be facing defensive ends from within the division. "We played all those guys and we beat all those guys," Jennings said. "I'm familiar with those guys and I'm really excited about our conference out here. You ask me why I chose this, you best believe I looked at everything. I've weighed it. I know who I'm playing, and I know the cost of living."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm rollin' with Nolan." -- LT Jonas Jennings, the 49ers' free-agent acquisition, during his introductory press conference with coach Mike Nolan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES

1. Quarterback. Is Tim Rattay the answer at this spot? Can he remain healthy for an entire season? Coach Mike Nolan said there will be competition for the starting QB job this year. The 49ers might use the No. 1 overall pick in the draft on Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith.

2. Defensive back. The 49ers expect CB Mike Rumph, who missed most of last season with a broken forearm, to return at full strength. They can't be too sure of CB Ahmed Plummer, who missed 10 games with a bulging disc in his neck. If the 49ers acquire a good corner, it might allow them to move Rumph to FS, where they have a need.

3. Wide receiver. The 49ers did not have any big-play threats from this position last season. Their roster is filled with mediocre NFL receivers, and they need to find somebody who can consistently get open and make plays down the field.

4. Running back. Halfback Kevan Barlow was a disappointment last season, and it remains to be seen how he reacts to a new coaching staff. Regardless, the 49ers need to find a backup halfback who can take some of the pressure off him.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: LB Julian Peterson.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Steve Bush; WR Curtis Conway; DT Chris Cooper; OT Jerome Davis (not tendered as ERFA); QB Brandon Doman (not tendered as ERFA); C Brock Gutierrez; FS Ronnie Heard; FB Jasen Isom (not tendered as ERFA); RB Terry Jackson; DT Daleroy Stewart (not tendered as RFA); CB Jimmy Williams; WR Cedrick Wilson.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OG Eric Heitmann; OT Kyle Kosier; LB Brandon Moore; LB Saleem Rasheed.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: DL Tony Brown; S Dwaine Carpenter.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Jonas Jennings.

PLAYERS LOST: PK Todd Peterson; DE Brandon Whiting.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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INSIDE SLANT
  
--LB Anthony Simmons has played his final game with the Seahawks after being released Friday. Problems with injuries and attitude have combined to make Simmons vulnerable. A roster bonus for $500,000 due March 7 was another factor.
  
There is no denying Simmons' talent. He was a first-round draft choice from Clemson in 1998, and few linebackers possess his speed. Frequent injuries have prevented Simmons from staying on the field for long stretches, however, and his $3.25 million salary for 2005 was more than the Seahawks feel he's worth. Simmons has also had several run-ins with position coach John Marshall. The Seahawks benched Simmons in 2003 over one such incident, but the punishment proved unconvincing.
  
"I don't change," Simmons said in September 2004. "I'm the same type of person. That's just me."
  
Simmons also downplayed his verbal attacks on Marshall, some of which were delivered during practices.
  
"To me, it's not really that big of a deal," Simmons said. "Things happen. People aren't going to see things eye-to-eye and that's just how it is. That could happen every week. It was just one of those situations. It just happened. It ended that way. For me and John, it wasn't that big of a deal. For Mike (Holmgren), obviously, it was."
  
The Seahawks actually praised Simmons as a leader going into the most recent season. They named him a team captain and lauded him for stepping up his game amid injuries to LB Chad Brown and others. "Anthony is doing extremely well," defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes said going into the season. "He's a leader."
  
Rhodes was probably engaging in wishful thinking. And when Simmons missed the second half of the season with a broken wrist, he stopped making positive contributions of any kind. That's why the Seahawks decided to move on at the position.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seahawks' defense needs immediate help in the front seven, particularly at linebacker. "We have always taken the best player," coach Mike Holmgren said, "but we would like to make defense a priority."

-- Seattle's assistant coaches received contract extensions through the 2006 season.

--MLB Orlando Huff is not a high priority for Seattle to re-sign because the Seahawks need to upgrade their LB corps. Huff paid a free-agent visit to the Cardinals.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm glad it had a happy ending because for a while there I was getting nervous." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on the team's last-minute signings of QB Matt Hasselbeck and LT Walter Jones.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
  
NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES:

1. Linebacker. Teams generally don't reach too high for linebackers in the draft, but Seattle will have to consider the position early and often. OLB Anthony Simmons was released and Chad Brown is coming off injury-shortened seasons, and Seattle is light in the middle.

2. Defensive line. The status of UFA candidate Chike Okeafor will determine how badly Seattle needs to upgrade its line. DT Marcus Tubbs, a first-rounder in 2004, gave the team little as a rookie.

3. Wide receiver. The off-field troubles of 2001 first-round WR Koren Robinson have turned this position into a potential liability. Seattle needs someone to challenge WR Darrell Jackson as the No. 1 wideout, although running back could become the greater concern if Shaun Alexander doesn't return.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Shaun Alexander.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Alex Bannister; FB Heath Evans; LG Chris Gray; QB Brock Huard; MLB Orlando Huff; TE Itula Mili; DE Brandon Mitchell; DE Chike Okeafor; LB Curtis Randall (not tendered as ERFA); P Tom Rouen; C Robbie Tobeck; P Ken Walter; OL Floyd Womack.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DT Rocky Bernard; SS Terreal Bierria; TE Ryan Hannam; S Marquand Manuel; CB Kris Richard.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: Currently unavailable.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Kerry Carter; QB Matt Hasselbeck; LT Walter Jones; DE Ron Smith; WR Jerheme Urban; WR Jason Willis.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.

PLAYERS LOST: CB Ken Lucas; WR Jerry Rice; S Damien Robinson; LB Anthony Simmons.

 


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