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NFC West Inside Slant - 3/27/05

In this week's Inside Slant:</br> <br>Josh McCown gets his bearings, Torry Holt takes a hit for the team, the Niners and Cards learn the concept of "Estoy muy contendo!" and the Seahawks' new President lays down the law. </br>

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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INSIDE SLANT

New Seahawks president Tim Ruskell is drawing a hard line on behavioral issues. He recently sent a letter to players outlining his expectations. He also released malcontent LB Anthony Simmons and troubled RT Chris Terry, a pair of starters.

The letter, obtained by the Tacoma News Tribune, said players need to sacrifice personal goals for the betterment of the team. Ruskell also said he expects players to be good citizens off the field. He also expressed the need for players to fully commit to the offseason conditioning program and other team functions.  

"These things alone do not guarantee success," Ruskell wrote, "but a lack of complete team-wide participation in the aforementioned areas almost always guarantees failure."

Releasing Simmons and Terry sent the message that Ruskell is serious. Both players were talented, but neither had shown an ability to exist within the team framework. WR Koren Robinson and TE Jerramy Stevens are being given what appears to be a final chance; both players have had off-field troubles. 

"We must be held accountable for our own actions, year round," Ruskell wrote in the letter. 

One passage about team values raised questions about whether RB Shaun Alexander fits into the team's plans; while the Seahawks were celebrating their first NFC West title on Jan. 2, Alexander ripped coach Mike Holmgren for failing to help him win the league rushing title.

"Putting individual goals above those of the team is the height of selfishness," Ruskell wrote. "Don't be concerned about who gets the credit, be content in the victory. If we all do that, the winning will come ... not in drops, but in waves."

At the very least, Ruskell's letter indicated a shift in the type of player the Seahawks will pursue. Getting rid of Simmons and Terry proved as much. "What it really boils down to is the allure of having a good player on your team, but he was unwilling to conform to the rules -- simple rules," Holmgren said. "Do the pluses outweigh the minuses? And most of the time, if you look at it hard, they don't.

"Sometimes you say, 'Because he's a good football player, you're willing to maybe give him one more chance.' We went through all that. We had a good year (in 2004), but I wanted a better year.

"So we said, 'You know what, let's try and establish who we are again.' "

NOTES, QUOTES

--WR Koren Robinson was allowed to play in the Seahawks' first-round playoff game after promising to seek professional help after the season, the Tacoma News Tribune reported. Robinson had served a substance-abuse suspension last season. Coach Mike Holmgren said Robinson has held up his end of the bargain, although he declined to explain the nature of Robinson's treatment. "He came through the program and did a great job," Holmgren said. Robinson's mother plans to relocate from North Carolina and live with her son this season.

The acquisition of former Tampa Bay WR Joe Jurevicius could, however, throw the depth chart into a different spin when all is said and done.

--The Seahawks claimed DE Joe Tafoya off waivers from Atlanta . The move made sense because the Seahawks' new president, Tim Ruskell, was assistant GM for the Falcons last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It just creates a real solid situation with contract negotiation and salary-cap analysis, not to mention the fact that he played a lot of football and he has good ideas about personnel as well." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on the promotion of consultant Mike Reinfeldt to vice president of football administration.

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 Chad Brown is coming off an injury-shortened season, and Seattle is light in the middle. The release of OLB Anthony Simmons made this unit even thinner.

2. Defensive line. Losing DE Chike Okeafor, and the team has to hope that former Ram Bryce Fisher can replace his production – Okeafor led the Seahawks in sacks in both 2003 and 2004. . DT Rashad Moore is coming off shoulder surgery and might take a while to get back to form. Also, 2004 first-round DT Marcus Tubbs 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; LG Chris Gray; QB Brock Huard; DE Brandon Mitchell; LB Curtis Randall (not tendered as ERFA); P Tom Rouen; C Robbie Tobeck; P Ken Walter.

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

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Kerry Carter; TE Ryan Hannam; QB Matt Hasselbeck; LT Walter Jones; TE Itula Mili; DE Ron Smith; WR Jerheme Urban; WR Jason Willis; OL Floyd Womack.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Kevin Bentley; DT Chartric Darby; DE Bryce Fisher; CB Kelly Herndon; WR Joe Jurevicius.

PLAYERS LOST: FB Heath Evans; MLB Orlando Huff; CB Ken Lucas; DE Chike Okeafor; WR Jerry Rice; S Damien Robinson; LB Anthony Simmons; OT Chris Terry.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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INSIDE SLANT

Although there are no big-time amusement parks in Arizona , quarterback Josh McCown feels as if he is riding a roller coaster.

During the past year, McCown was:
  
--Praised as a potentially great young quarterback and one of the game's best all-around athletes by Coach Dennis Green shortly after Green's hiring.

--Yanked unexpectedly literally on the eve of Game 10 when the Cardinals were 4-5 and in the playoff hunt in favor of Shaun King.

--Benched for a third successive game in favor of rookie seventh-round pick John Navarre after King went belly up in his two starts.

--Brought back by default for the final four games after Navarre suffered a fractured finger on his throwing hand in his only pro start.

--Forced into an uncertain future as a restricted free agent, with Green sending signals that he was ready to go in another direction at quarterback.

--Rejuvenated and made into an instant millionaire when the club extended the high RFA tender offer, which McCown signed.

--Again cast into uncertainty when the Cardinals signed unrestricted free agent quarterback Kurt Warner, with Green saying Warner, McCown and Navarre would compete for the job.

Like any good quarterback who can manage a sudden-change situation, McCown has stayed grounded. "All you can do as an individual is work hard and let the chips fall," McCown said. "I think bringing in a guy like Kurt, who is a great individual, is exciting for our team and I'm looking forward to competing against him and I think it's going to make my game become that much better."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cardinals are expected to select a RB high in the draft, quite possibly with the eighth pick overall in the first round (they hold four first-day picks, all among the first 95 overall in the draft). Most draft experts expect them to take what's left between Auburn RB teammates Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. But don't discount their taking a CB with the No. 8 pick - possibly yet another Auburn product, Carlos Rogers. CBs Antrel Rolle of Miami and Adam Jones of West Virginia , however, may thwart Rogers ' attempt to become the first CB selected in the draft. RB and CB are the Cardinals' two most pressing needs following their wave of signings in free agency.

--The Cardinals have had only one winning record in 20 seasons and no NFL titles in a half-century, but they can claim at least one crown: They are the NFC recipient of the 2005 Pop Warner NFL Team of the Year for their commitment to the development of youth football in Arizona . The award is presented annually to a team in each conference that supports Pop Warner Little Scholars locally and nationally.

So far, no scrimmage has been scheduled against the little shavers.

--Former Cardinals S Pat Tillman was killed in combat while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan nearly a year ago but his memory lives on in numerous ways through charitable memorial events. The latest: The USO and the NFL will open the Pat Tillman USO Center in Afghanistan next week. The league donated $250,000 for construction of the center at Bagram Air Base near Kabul .

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Estoy muy contendo!" - Cardinals QB Josh McCown, upon learning that the Cardinals will play their Oct. 2 home game against San Francisco in Mexico City .

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES

1. 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.

2. 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 considerably.

3. Offensive line. If Kurt Warner does indeed start next season, the Cardinals are going to need to improve their pass blocking. Josh McCown was on the run much of last season, and at 33, Warner is one of the slower moving quarterbacks in the league. Oliver Ross was the first step.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Renaldo Hill; TE Freddie Jones; MLB Ron McKinnon; WR Nate Poole (not tendered as RFA); OG Cameron Spikes; CB Robert Tate; DE Kyle Vanden Bosch.

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

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: OT Jeremy Bridges.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Damien Anderson; RB Troy Hambrick; DT Ross Kolodziej; DE Peppi Zellner.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: S Robert Griffith; LB Orlando Huff; DE Chike Okeafor; OT Oliver Ross; QB Kurt Warner.

PLAYERS LOST: QB Shaun King; RB Emmitt Smith; CB Duane Starks; CB Michael Stone; WR Karl Williams.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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INSIDE SLANT

Guard Adam Timmerman will enter the 2005 season with a streak of 157 consecutive games played. He expected the streak to continue, but he hopes it will occur feeling a lot better than he did for most of the 2004 season. Timmerman played most of the year with two injured shoulders, and then suffered a stress fracture in his foot late in the season. Not only did he start all 16 games, but he played every snap.

Saying last season "was definitely the worst" of the 10 he's played in the NFL, Timmerman added, "In the grand scheme of things, it was all still minor stuff, nothing really major. Hopefully I can stay away from that stuff." Now, he has to deal with three surgeries that will keep from doing much in the team's offseason program that began March 21. He walks with crutches, and said, "I can do bike, I can do a lot of the lifting with the shoulder stuff, I actually can do leg extension and curls. It will be a while before I can do either running or plyometrics."

In early February, Timmerman had two screws inserted in his right foot and then had surgery on both shoulders about three weeks later. He does expect to be ready for training camp at the end of the July, but not at full bore.

"I think so," he said. "I will probably still watch it a little during training camp, but I should be back for the regular season and the last couple of preseason games for sure."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Rams WR Torry Holt restructured his contract recently to give the Rams added cap space for this season. The new contract was submitted to the NFL on March 10. Holt was scheduled to have a base salary of $2.635 million in 2005 with a cap charge of $4.52 million. In the restructuring, $2.095 million of his base salary was turned into a signing bonus, allowing that figure to be prorated over the final five years of his deal.

The move lowers Holt's cap hit this year to $2.75 million, but adds a little more than $400,000 to the cap in the years 2006-2009. The move came before the Rams were able to come to an agreement with tackle Orlando Pace on a long-term contract.

Said Jay Zygmunt, the Rams' president of football operations, "We had to be ready to strike. Because you just can't wait (in free agency). It seems that players take one visit. They just come in and sign."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Jay and I were in constant contact and communicating with each other. I believe that we put in the work and we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. All negotiations are tough, they just can't be adversarial. I felt that as long as we were communicating then it would work out." - Agent Kennard McGuire on the talks with Jay Zygmunt that resulted in a $52.9 million contract for OT Orlando Pace.

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. Some if it came with the signing of Michael Stone, but that should be just the start.

2. Defensive end. This position could be sinking fast. Bryce Fisher has signed with division rival Seattle, 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 depth is not the issue – fielding two quality DEs could be a problem in and of itself.

3. Tackle. Blaine Saipaia held his own at right tackle 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: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Zack Bronson; TE Cam Cleeland; OG Chris Dishman; S Antuan Edwards; DE Erik Flowers; QB Jamie Martin; OG Tom Nutten; LB Tommy Polley; S Aeneas Williams.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Dane Looker.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OG Darnell Alford; CB Dwight Anderson; LB Trev Faulk; WR Mike Furrey; FB Joey Goodspeed; RB Arlen Harris; LB Jeremy Loyd; LS Chris Massey; OT Orlando Pace; OT Blaine Saipaia; P Kevin Stemke; OG Scott Tercero; LB Drew Wahlroos.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Chris Claiborne; LB Dexter Coakley; S Michael Stone; TE Roland Williams.

PLAYERS LOST: QB Chris Chandler; S Rich Coady; DE Bryce Fisher; OG Matt Lehr.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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INSIDE SLANT

Aside from a quick strike in the free-agent market, the 49ers have taken things slowly this offseason. Coach Mike Nolan has preached the importance of building up the team's offensive line, which surrendered 52 sacks last season, and the 49ers signed free-agent Jonas Jennings shortly after he went on the open market.

Now, the team is working on gaining some depth along the line. The 49ers have shown interest in signing 12-year veteran Chris Gray, who has started the last 90 regular-season games for the Seahawks at right guard.

There is some uncertainty along the line because both Eric Heitmann and Kyle Kosier are restricted free agents. Heitmann started all 16 games at left guard, while Kosier started nine games at left tackle and seven at right guard. The 49ers have not started negotiating long-term contracts with either players, as they are afforded the luxury of owning the rights of first refusal if either player should sign an offer sheet with another team. The 49ers gave both players low-level tenders of $656,000.

With the 49ers showing interest in a right guard, it opens the question of what the team plans for Justin Smiley, who was chosen in the second round last season. Smiley impressed the team in training camp but struggled while starting nine games as a rookie. Some believe Smiley is better-suited to play left guard.

The 49ers already have been able to move a lineman to a position that is more of a fit. Kwame Harris, the 49ers' top pick in 2003, played nothing but left tackle his first two seasons in the NFL after playing right tackle exclusively in high school and college. But with the signing of Jennings , the 49ers were able to switch Harris to his more natural right side, where he will take the place of veteran Scott Gragg.

Gragg, who started all but two games in five seasons with the 49ers, will not participate in the team's minicamp April 1-3. The team plans to release him after June 1 for salary-cap and performance reasons. The move will save the 49ers $3 million on the 2005 cap, and supply enough cap space for the team to sign its draft picks.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The 49ers are excited about playing a regular-season road game in a neutral stadium, even if that neutral stadium is in Mexico City .

The NFL made it official last week, announcing the 49ers will play the host Cardinals on Sunday, Oct. 2. The 49ers' only two victories last season came at the Cardinals' expense.

"This organization has always embraced the opportunity to serve as ambassadors of the NFL," owner John York said. "We are excited about the prospect of playing the first regular-season game on foreign soil." The 49ers have played eight American Bowl exhibition games, including the 2002 preseason opener in Osaka , Japan .

--CB Ahmed Plummer, who missed the final 10 games last season with a bulging disc in his neck, has been cleared to participate in the team's minicamp April 1-3. However, Plummer sounds as if he is still not completely recovered from the condition that some in the organization last year believed might threaten his career.

"It feels good to be able to participate a little bit, as far as my injury," Plummer told 49ers.com. "It's the type of injury where you have good days and bad days. But I'm encouraged with the energy I feel from the locker room. It's helping to push us, to push me a little more."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is a big game against a division rival in prime time. We have all heard about the rabid sports fans in Mexico and they will fill that stadium. It's going to be an exciting environment" - 49ers coach Mike Nolan on playing the Cardinals in a regular-season game in Mexico City .

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 would 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; OT Jerome Davis (not tendered as ERFA); QB Brandon Doman (not tendered as ERFA); C Brock Gutierrez; FB Jasen Isom (not tendered as ERFA); DT Daleroy Stewart (not tendered as RFA); CB Jimmy Williams.  

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

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: CB Rayshun Reed. 

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DT Tony Brown; S Dwaine Carpenter; DT Chris Cooper; RB Terry Jackson; OG Rob Murphy; LB Julian Peterson; LB Ray Wells.  

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Jonas Jennings ; PK Joe Nedney.

PLAYERS LOST: FS Ronnie Heard; PK Todd Peterson; DE Brandon Whiting; WR Cedrick Wilson.

 


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