Mailbag: Tatupu for rookie of year?

Ryan from Lakeport, Calif., writes: Hi Sando, love the blog. All this talk about stripping people of their achievements -- namely Lawrence Taylor and Brian Cushing -- got me thinking. If they do make Jairus Byrd the rookie of the year, what about Lofa Tatupu? Does anyone remember how Shawne Merriman got busted for steroids? Lofa should be handed that honor. Granted, it's been five years, but this Seahawk fan wants something from 2005 to not get cheated from us.

Mike Sando: Good memory, Ryan. Merriman beat out Tatupu for defensive rookie honors after both turned in Pro Bowl rookie seasons in 2005. Merriman then served a four-game suspension during the 2006 season. If they strip Brian Cushing of top rookie honors after his positive test, why not strip Merriman? Sounds reasonable to me, although the timing of Merriman's positive test could be an important factor to consider. The San Diego Union-Tribune said the initial positive test was during 2006.

Note: This answer was updated to reflect the timing of Merriman's suspension, which was served from Weeks 8-11 of the 2006 season, not the first four games. News of the suspension broke in October 2006. As former player Eric Allen put it for ESPN.com at the time, "The Rookie of the Year award and Pro Bowl honors we all thought Merriman earned ... have now been sullied completely by his imminent suspension."

Mark from Clinton, Utah, writes: Mr. Sando, First off let me say that you coverage is something I look forward to as a Rams fan and it helps me pass through the downtime while deployed out here in Afghanistan. My question is this: I recently read a post that there hasn't been a successful lefty QB since Steve Young. While there have been 'lefty' flashes of brilliance, I do consider this to be pretty valid. The post also went on to say that this is a league for right-handers. Do you think that this is due to so much emphasis going to the left (blind) side of the line? If not, why the left-handed QB drought?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Mark. There have never been very many left-handed quarterbacks in the NFL to begin with, so the sample size is probably too small for us to make sweeping proclamations about these players' professional fates. It's possibly coincidental that some of the best ones -- Steve Young, Mark Brunell and Boomer Esiason -- played in the same general era.

Current NFC West teams found room for some of the better ones, from Young to Jim Zorn to Frankie Albert. Young is the only left-handed quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This analysis posted on the Rutgers University website includes stats for left-handed quarterbacks. Todd Marinovich and Cade McNown didn't help the cause as left-handed first-round draft picks during the 1990s.

Your initial thought could be on the right track. Football is traditionally a right-handed game. Offenses are set up to go that way. Left-handed quarterbacks could be at a disadvantage even at the lowest levels of the game, and this could influence how many of them eventually make it in the NFL. Meanwhile, baseball puts a premium on left-handed throwers, so talented lefties are probably funneled toward baseball and away from football as they come up through the ranks.

I like the subject matter. It's something I'd like to ask Matt Leinart about at some point. Anyone have any theories?

Zachary from San Francisco writes: Are the 49ers mishandling Alex Smith's contract situation? What if he has a breakout season? Even if Alex has a "breakout" season, I can't imagine the 49ers being in a position to place the franchise tag on him this offseason. Have the 49ers burned bridges with Alex? They've kept him on an awfully short leash and signed Davis Carr this offseason while telling him, 'No. It's still your job, Alex.'

Wouldn't Alex rather go and start for Minnesota in 2011? What if Kevin Kolb doesn't work out? Maybe he lands a job in Philadelphia. If Alex succeeds this season, he'll have the 49ers on a short leash.

Mike Sando: Smith made it clear he wanted to stay in San Francisco. He could have gone after more money as a free agent if he had refused to rework his rookie deal. The people most responsible for mishandling Smith early in his career no longer work for the 49ers. If Smith plays well this season, yes, the 49ers will have to step up. But they would welcome such a problem. I also think Smith will have more value to the 49ers than he will to other teams, based on his familiarity with the system.

Neil from Jackson, Miss., writes: Sando, your article on the best QB in the NFC West considered Matt Leinart but not Derek Anderson. Anderson could easily end up the Cardinal's starter and, for that matter, the best QB in the division. Not at all saying I think he will, but with the QB situation so weak across the division, he deserves to be considered a contender.

Mike Sando: You're right in that we should at least allow for the possibility. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. addressed the Anderson signing in Arizona for a recent Insider piece. He thought the Cardinals could have done better than Anderson even in looking only for a backup. I'm interested to see what happens with Charlie Whitehurst in Seattle given that Arizona was also trying to acquire him from the Chargers. Which player delivers more value -- Whitehurst or Anderson -- could impact the division this year or next.