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Around the NFC West: Cards ante up

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Ken Whisenhunt became the first head coach in the Cardinals' Arizona history to sign a contract extension. Somers: "Whisenhunt now is among the NFL's higher-paid head coaches, according to sources. The Cardinals did not announce financial terms of the two contracts, but Whisenhunt's deal will pay him an average of between $5.5 million and $6 million per year, according to an NFL source."

Also from Somers: The 49ers will not be taking Arizona lightly just because Kurt Warner retired.

More from Somers: The Cardinals did not use their franchise tag for kicker Neil Rackers or anyone else.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals' roster is in far better shape now than it was three years ago, according to Whisenhunt.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are paying the price for conservative drafting under former general manager Tim Ruskell. O'Neil: "Five years of playing it safe kept Seattle from making any draft-day busts that would rival quarterback Dan McGwire, but it also resulted in a roster lacking the dynamic, game-changing talents that are nonnegotiable ingredients for contending in today's NFL. That reality is the backdrop this week as new coach Pete Carroll, new general manager John Schneider and the rest of the Seahawks' football-operations staff arrive in Indianapolis for the league's annual scouting combine to evaluate more than 300 of the top prospects for April's draft." That is an interesting proposition and one I'd like to study a little more. Off the top of my head, some of the higher-risk choices Seattle made before Ruskell arrived -- Koren Robinson, Jerramy Stevens -- blew up. Some of the more conservative choices -- Shaun Alexander, Steve Hutchinson -- became stars.

Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks need to find Walter Jones' replacement.

John Morgan of Field Gulls expects Lance Laury to sign with another team, get cut, bounce around and retire after a report suggested the Seahawks will not tender Laury as a restricted free agent. This would be the second time Seattle declined to tender Laury as an RFA.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams plan to extend RFA tenders to Oshiomogho Atogwe and Alex Barron, but not Mark Setterstrom. Also, the team's football leadership recently met prospective new owner Shahid Khan in St. Louis.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams hope to re-sign James Hall and Leonard Little even though both are in their 30s.

Also from Balzer: Rams general manager Billy Devaney has good things to say following his meeting with Khan. Devaney: "It was a good meeting. You can tell he cares about the Rams. He seems like a real good guy."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says McCloughan reiterated his belief in drafting players with size because the NFL is a big man's game. Maiocco: "This is also why I have my doubts whether the 49ers would make a first-round investment in a smallish running back who might be a dynamo on special teams but might struggle in the future as an every-down back." I have also questioned whether the 49ers would use a first-round choice for Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, although I do not think McCloughan was making an across-the-board declaration that ruled out taking a smaller change-of-pace back. Most change-of-pace backs will be smaller than every-down backs.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Mike Singletary sounded more committed to Alex Smith as the team's quarterback for 2010.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers are sizing up offensive linemen at the combine.

The 49ers' Web site provides a transcript to general manager Scot McCloughan's combine news conference. McCloughan: "With the staffs that are in our division now, with the coaches and all that, it's going to get back to being tough one at some point. What we've got to do is take care of business week in and week out. I like the fact that we have been able to compete in our division and that's our first goal. But now we have to find a way to win the division and get in the playoffs."

The 49ers' Web site provides a transcript to coach Mike Singletary's combine news conference. Singletary: "I feel very good about saying that Alex Smith is our starter going into the next football season. The thing for me is I’m always going to use words like 'probably' and all those other things because I like competition. I like guys knowing that they’re always going to compete. But I feel very comfortable in saying Alex Smith is our starting quarterback going forward."