Mailbag: Smart approach to free agency

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Mario from Seattle writes: Are the Seahawks going to have the cap room to go after Albert Haynesworth, Julius Peppers or Terrell Suggs in free agency this year? We definitely need D-line help and any of those three would be a great addition. Also, with the Seahawks having the fourth pick in the draft what are the odds that if Crabtree enters the draft that the Seahawks take him if available? Thanks and keep up the good work.

Mike Sando: Thanks. Teams can find ways to create cap room. Seattle has the flexibility to make that type of investment if the organization chooses to go that route.

The issue would be whether those players would be available, why their previous teams failed to re-sign them, what type of premium Seattle would have to pay and whether the Seahawks might be better served drafting and developing impact players instead.

The Seahawks paid a premium for Patrick Kerney and now he's coming off another surgery at age 32. If the Titans fail to re-sign Haynesworth, that tells me they aren't sure he'll continue producing at a high level after gaining long-term financial security. And no one would have a better feel for that than the Titans. If that were the case, should Seattle or another team pay a premium for him? I might have some reservations.

Some of the teams that made splashes through trades and free agency last offseason realized insufficient return on their investments. The Jets, Raiders and Browns are three of these teams. It's rare that a Michael Turner-type free agent comes available. The Chargers only let him go because they had LaDainian Tomlinson. Their hands were tied. Most free agents hitting the market come with some fine print that deserves a team's attention.

Dave from La Quinta, Calif., writes: Sandosheet - Great job this year...you get a "A+" in my ranking....Since you're the Master of all things Excel ... do you have a chart on how much under the cap each team will be next year in the NFC West. Also, what are the chances Hill is back with the Hawks as a franchise or long term contract? Thanks and keep on keepin on with the Blog!
Mike Sando: Thanks, Dave. I do not track salaries and cap figures the way I track other things. Doing so would require a time investment I'm unprepared to make given all the other things I've committed to maintaining. I will do something on cap space for NFC West teams once I'm comfortable about the information being accurate (in terms of projecting for the start of free agency in February).

I will say, however, that it's easier than ever for teams to find cap room. One, the cap has grown significantly in recent years. Two, teams can infuse existing contracts with bogus incentive clauses in order to create additional cap space the following season. Three, contract rules allow teams to structure big-money deals in ways that bypass significant camp duress early in the contract. For example, Justin Smith's deal with the 49ers counts nearly $10.6 million against the cap in 2009 after counting less than $3.1 million in 2008.

For those reasons, teams can't really use the cap as the reason for being unable to make moves.

Hola234 from Chicago writes: Your grades are a little harsh, i'm glad your not a college professor, how about an A+ for the Falcons?! A for the Eagles too..
Mike Sando: I would definitely give the Falcons an A-plus this season. What a terrific turnaround. Their success allows us to hold other teams to high standards as well. And when those teams fail to meet those standards, I think it's fair for us to grade them accordingly.

Ant from San Francisco writes: Mike, Now that the regular season has ended with the Cards at 9-7 and Niners at 7-9, I feel a bit better that S.F. giving away the Monday night game in Arizona did not cost them the division. Starting with that game (don't forget, they lead for the first 56 minutes and stopped themselves from scoring the winning TD, not AZ) they have been a better team than the Cardinals.
As most of us expect Atlanta to win come Saturday, my theoretical question to you is how much better of an opponent would S.F. be if they were representing the NFC West as division champs? Think about it: a dome team flying from Atlanta all the way to the coast on a short week to oppose a 49er team in the elements that is playing better defense and special teams that AZ, to say nothing of their playing harder and smarter. Gonna miss your daily updates once the NFC West no longer has any teams playing.

Mike Sando: Red flags pop up when I indulge that type of thinking. The Cardinals played poorly late in the season after they ran away with the division title. Had they been forced to fight til the end, perhaps they would have played with more urgency and at a higher level. Perhaps the 49ers would have buckled under the pressure had they remained in the division race longer. We can't just assume each situation exists in a vacuum.

That said, the 49ers played well enough late in the season to make us think they'll be better in 2009. However, they will also be learning a new offense, most likely. How will Shaun Hill or another starting quarterback respond to the change in offense? Will the 49ers need 10 games to hit stride in the new offense?

Immature teams sometimes fall into the trap of thinking they'll automatically pick up where they left off the previous season. It doesn't necessarily work that way.

John from Yucca Valley, Calif., writes: Hey Sando, In regards to your 2009 opponent breakdown: Seahawks, you mentioned that the Hawks had only one game in the Eastern Time Zone (Indy). But isn't Indianapolis in the Central Time zone, or did they move? Keep up the great work. I have really enjoyed the blog this season and I look forward to what you have in store for the offseason.
Mike Sando: Thanks, John. Indianapolis is in the Eastern Time Zone. I know because I've spent two or three months of my life covering the combine in that city.

Bill from parts unknown writes: I hate these grades, because they really don't reflect what the team has done vs expectations, only performance. So Arizona gets a B, because they made the playoffs. Teams that made the playoffs and are good get A-'s. Great, what does that tell us? I already know who made the playoffs. I predict the pats, despite doing a great job with the injuries, will get lower than a B. Which is ridiculous of course.
Mike Sando: That is why the report card went beyond the letter grades, adding several paragraphs of information and analysis. The letter grades were inserted merely to generate mailbag submissions.

Patrick from Marysville writes: You covered the Seahawks for years and that is what you print on ESPN for why their season sucked? Come on man and at least shed some ligh
t to the many fans who did not know what they had to go through injury wise ... it was unimaginable.
Mike Sando: I did mention the Seahawks' injuries, but I wasn't going to give them a free pass.

You don't hear the Patriots complaining about injuries or being wiped out at a position even though they lost the league MVP in Tom Brady and virtually all of their running backs, plus emotional leader Rodney Harrison and half their starting defense at various points.

New England went out and posted double-digit victories, beating the Seahawks in Seattle with two linebackers signed only days before the game, including one who didn't even have time to go through a full practice.

Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, Which positions to you think the Niners will target early in the draft?
Mike Sando: They have a defensive head coach and they have needs in their front seven. Perhaps this is where they find a little juice for their pass rush.

Adam from Sacramento writes: Yo Sando! I'm driving the official 2009 49ers bandwagon. Want a ride? Like you, I was surprised to see the 49ers hire Singletary so quickly. I can't say that I'm a huge skeptic, but I do agree that is was a rushed decision. You make a good point that with the annual firings, the 49ers may have ended up in a bidding war of sorts to keep him which may have cost them a lot more than $2.5 mil/yr.
I know everyone says that he doesn't have the experience of other coaches, but it makes no sense to me that teams keep giving the same coaches HC jobs when they've already proven that they can't handle it (i.e. Norv Turner, Wade Phillips, etc.) I'd rather have some fresh blood. Look at what Mike Smith and Harbaugh have done this year. Admittedly they had more experience as coordinators than Singletary, but I think he's shown that he can handle the responsibilities over the last 9 games.

As far as experienced coaches like Holmgren and Cowher, I think that coaches with that much experience don't seem to have the same fire and passion when they come back in. It's like they have a midlife crisis and want to do what they did when they were younger, but aren't quite willing to put in the same work as before. They try it for a couple years and retire, again (i.e. Parcells, Gibbs).

Not many coaches have shown the same success the second time around that they had before. BTW, I'm not trying to bash Turner too much because I'd love to see him back as the 49ers OC! Should've asked Santa for a Chargers loss Sunday. Happy New Year!

Mike Sando: Thanks. You raise a valid concern about some coaches possibly not having the same "fire" the second time around.

I think Holmgren's fire wavered this last season. He said as much during his end-of-season news conference when he admitted dreading the combine and wishing he didn't have to attend so many minicamps. Taking a year off might help him recharge, but I think he would be better suited to a front-office job where he can be more of an advisor.

Kenny from Phoenix writes: Hey sandogg! First and foremost, I would like to thank you for your coverage of the NFC West this year. It has been nothing short of spectacular.
My question is this; While the Cardinals late-season fade has been frustrating and may have drained the team of their confidence, it has its unexpected silver linings as well.

The Cardinals will enter the postseason back where they started, disrespected (and rightly so). But they have a security blanket to take to the playoffs with them. They enter as the ultimate underdog, something no other team can claim and something they are very comfortable as. They have a chance to fly under the radar, as usual.

This team was playing its best ball when no one expected them to early on in the season. No one expects them to play that well in the postseason. Is this the "chip on the shoulder" the Cardinals need heading in or would it have been better for them to fare better late in the season and ride in with more confidence and probably be favored? It seems to me that they need to feel like they have to earn a place in order to play with any passion at all.

Mike Sando: You might be onto something. You have watched the Cardinals closely for a longer period than I have, so you might have a better longer-range feel. I go back and forth on that one. The lowered expectations might help them against the Falcons. But if this franchise wants to take another step, the team needs to handle success with greater skill. That could mean making some personnel changes this offseason.

Kelvin from parts unknown writes: I know Mike Vick may be out, but I would say that he is enough of a draw that he should or at least the Detroit Lions should consider him. I also believe that with the Cowboys' recent acquisitions he could make it exciting in Big D ,,, and help Jerry Jones sellout the huge dome. He is no Romo ... there are no reports that he passed in the shower in Prison.
Mike Sando: I just do not see it. Tony Romo was the highest-rated passer in fourth quarters this season, tossing nine touchdown passes with one interception. I don't think many people knew that. The Cowboys need fewer distractions, not more of them. Adding Vick would add another ring to the current circus. Imagine how Terrell Owens would react with Vick tucking the ball under his arm and running.

Jake from Grand Haven, Mich., writes: Hey sando... people are trying to tell me than shaun hill isn't the answer in SF... I say that he earned the starting role and anyone the 49ers may realisticly aquire should have to earn it from him... i know he isnt pretty on the field but isnt he like 7-3 as a starter?... 5-0 in SF?... isnt wins what really matters?... not to mention wins in an unstable enviroment on a struggling team trying to find it's identity...
i dont belive anyone in the free agaency or draft have proved themselves enough to automaticly get the start over hill... even if they look better in camp you have to give hill the job until he has proven he is incapable of handling this offense... 7-3 in his first 10 starts doesnt tell me that... maybe aquire a guy just in case but have him on reserve until he is needed.... I know you like compiling stats and breaking them down so i've looked over some of the leagues "elite qbs" and their first 10 starts are either comparable or worse than shaun hill's... anyway maybe you could do a blog arguuing a case for shaun

Mike Sando: This is a matter of timing and practicality. The 49ers have nothing to gain by naming Hill the starter nine months before the regular-season opener. Singletary hasn't even hired an offensive coordinator. Any candidate for coordinator is going to want some flexibility in identifying and naming the starting quarterback. The 49ers cannot know what opportunities might come their way in free agency or the draft.

By delaying the announcement on a starting quarterback, the 49ers leave open their options. They are not necessarily ruling out Hill. They can still make any other quarterback beat out Hill to win the job.

Dan from Olympia, Wash., writes: First, love the blog. Quick Seahawks draft question. With the amount of needs on the Seahawks team and looking at the depth in certain positions in this draft, would Seattle be better off trading down and getting an extra pick or two in the process? After all, the Seaha
wks have been able to find quality players in the late-first and second round.
Mike Sando: How many teams will be rushing into one of those top five spots? We've seen fewer teams looking to move up that high. The current economic climate might dissuade some teams from wanting to make that type of commitment. Also, the Seahawks need a high-impact player. They do not need another Lawrence Jackson or Darryl Tapp or Kelly Jennings or Maurice Morris at this point. They need someone to beat the other team's left tackle for a fumble-forcing sack on third-and-7 of a tie game.

Ryan from Denver writes: Just wanted to add to your follow up to Ant in San Fran, here in Denver we got a doubleheadeder on both networks even though the Denver game was the NBC sunday night game. It was really nice because usually we get some bizzare off brand Fox game (this is Denver why did i watch so many NFC North games this year? Does Fox charge extra for Joe and Troy's salaries?) and then the Ponies in the afternoon. Oh and as for a question, do the Rams have any hope at all of landing Rex Ryan or someone of his stature or will we get the GB linebackers coach or more Haslet instead of real change.
Mike Sando: Chip Rosenbloom told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that money is no object in the coaching search. I still question whether top candidates would consider the Rams over other possible destinations. And I question whether the organization can attract anyone who appears clearly superior to Haslett. I guess I'll believe it when I see it.

Tanner from California writes: Sando! Dude, someone asked about Jim Mora bringing a 3-4 defense to Seattle and you said they didn't have the personnel to do that. What if the Seahawks drafted Aaron Curry and moved Leroy Hill to middle linebacker along with Tatupu? That would be a pretty dominant linebacker corps! And Brandon Mebane, Kerney, and Lawrence Jackson on the line. This could help our pass rushing problems... Thanks, man.
Mike Sando: I just don't see it because Mora is not a 3-4 coach. I think it's important for a staff to have its system in its blood, and particularly when that system is the 3-4. It's almost like another way of life. Perhaps my perception is outdated, but we have seen teams in this division dabble with hybrid defenses, without convincing results.

Scott from Maryland writes: I was looking at the draft and i was wondering if you see the Niners trying to get Oher, Mays or Curry. I think Mays is a freak athlete and Oher would be an amazing right tackle but both are rated low on scouts inc list. You think they may try and trade back into the first round two get two of these players? i mean they have done it in the past with Staley and Manny.
Mike Sando: Niners general manager Scot McCloughan has shown an affinity for raw athletes, whereas some personnel people tend to value instincts a little more. The Vernon Davis selection comes to mind. I think the 49ers would be better off landing one high-impact player instead of two decent players, if that is the tradeoff. How many years are we going to write about the 49ers lacking a dynamic pass rusher? They should draft one at some point.

Josh from Corona writes: Mike Love the blog i read it everyday. A couple of questions. 1. what do you think the chances of the 9ers landing Haynesworth (If not the niners where do you think he will end up)? 2. Do you think they will bring Spikes back and what do you see the niners using balmer for (DE, or DT) on D next season? 3. Do you htink S. Hill deserves the nod as the starting QB or do you agree with singletary's approach with the competition? Thanks!
Mike Sando: Thanks, Josh, and you're welcome. Singletary seemed to commit to the 3-4 down the stretch, so let's assume for now that he'll continue in that vein. If that is the case, Balmer projects at defensive end. Takeo Spikes seemed like a pretty good fit for this team if we block out visions of Leonard Weaver morphing into Jerry Rice at Candlestick Park in Singletary's first game as head coach.

The approach on Hill makes sense to me in that Singletary didn't rule out Hill as the starter. He is simply taking a practical approach, particularly while he has yet to hire a coordinator.

Gotcurlz from Philadelphia writes: im a huge 49er fan for about 23 years and i think that scot linehan would be a good fit but what about mike shanahan? i thought they should of interview him for a head coach. mike singletary is good postion coach but 9 games dont make you a dominant coach. mike singletary style of running the ball is like in the movie untouchables its the chicago way.
Shannahan style is like chess to out think the opponent. Thats what the west coast offense consists of. Dink and dunk here and there. But i think mike martz is gone now we will never know if he would of established the running game. he only had one season i would of sign him one more year to see if he would get the job done. also that secondary coaches need to go. with the most experience back there gave up the most big plays for touchdowns. the new orleans saints killed they secondary t.o did as well and they need a better d.line coach as well

Mike Sando: Mike Shanahan told Adam Schefter that he planned to wait two weeks before considering interview requests. The 49ers probably needed to make a decision before then. They liked Singletary and weren't willing to risk alienating him or losing him by letting him dangle in the wind.

Patrick from Wartenberg writes: Dear Mr. Sandro, I just read your article about the cardinals' defense and I must say I think your arguments are pretty vague. How can you say that the three games where the cardinals allowed so many points don't count, because of several reasons, but then say that the Falcons's defense is worse since they allowed so many yards against the Rams.
First of all the Rams game didn't matter to the Falcons either and in the end they even won it, which the Cardinals didn't in their "not counting" games.

Furthermore your trying to argue that the Cardinals defense is not as bad as many people say, but your not talking about their D-Line at all. Shouldn't you at least take in account that throughout the season their d-line definately didn't look like the one that can finally stop the Falcons o-line which helped Ryan to seem like the best Rookie-QB since Marino? I do take in account that some of your arguments do make sense in a certain way, but I still think that they are too vague to be persuasive. Best wishes from ole Germany Patrick Wolf

Mike Sando: I never said the games did not count. I offered viewpoints from multiple angles and then closed by stating that you should draw your own conclusion, subject to change Saturday.

C from Wenatchee, Wash., writes:
Hey Mike, Just wondering if there have been any indications yet as to what the 2009 Seahawks will look like? Will be transitioning to more of a Power Run & Gun offense similar to what was run in Atlanta with TJ, Warrick Dunn, and Vick (with Seneca playing Vick, Julius playing Warrick, and TJ playing, well TJ). I may be unfairly assuming that Matt Hasselbeck will not be with us next year, but as I've stated all season I think that Seneca Wallace gives us the best chance to win with an OL that is as injury prone as ours is.
Matt Hasselbeck looked more and more like the bronze statue our great city will be sure to erect in his honor. I hope that he can regain his form from 2007 and 2005, but, and I think I speak for all Hawks fans on this, it's looking highly doubtful.

Also, you've mentioned a couple of times that you believe our biggest need is a pass rusher and that you expect us to address it through the draft. Do you think it would be wishful thinking to hope that we go after Julius Peppers should he be allowed to leave in FA?

One more thing on Mora. I was at the Hawks game against the Patriots, and I may be mistaken on this but it seemed that we ran a lot of 3-4 defense during that game.

Is that any indication of how it will be under Coach Mora? I realize that 3-4 is a philosophy and not just a package but do you think the Hawks have the personnel to pull that off? Sorry for all the questions but you have to understand that as a Hawks fan this has been a rather slow (and early) Off-season thus far. Thanks in advance! -KC

Mike Sando: No apologies necessary, KC. Jim Mora likes Matt Hasselbeck and wants to build the offense around him, even if the Seahawks become more of a power running team (which Hasselbeck would welcome). You're right in saying Hasselbeck's health will determine whether that is feasible. The Seahawks seem to think he'll be OK. Your skepticism seems warranted given the unpredictable nature of back injuries.

If the Panthers allowed Peppers to leave -- a big "if" -- the Seahawks would have to think twice before paying a premium for another veteran defensive end. They opened the vault for Kerney already, and they'll be opening the vault for the fourth overall choice in the draft.

We addressed the 3-4 question earlier in the mailbag. I think that answer probably stands.

Tanner from California writes: Sando, Leonard Weaver will be a free agent and the end of the season. Do you think his performances were good enough to be re-signed? While Weaver was injured, Owen Schmitt played pretty good. My question: Who will be the Seahawk's fullback next year, Weaver or Schmitt? Thanks man!
Mike Sando: Why not bring back both? Weaver isn't going to command a huge contract in free agency. He's a fullback, after all, and some teams do not even use fullbacks. The Seahawks figure to lose Maurice Morris this offseason. I would bring back Weaver for his ability to share carries with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett if necessary.

Who starts at fullback next season? I'll have a better feel once the dust settles on this season. Weaver's ability to carry the ball makes him valuable as insurance, but the addition of T.J. Duckett last offseason might allow Seattle to use him as the backup fullback if Weaver departs in free agency.

Mike from Chandler, Ariz., writes: I just thought I'd chime in on your Phoenix tickets/blackout discussion. I have season tickets on the 20-yard line, front row.
Like your SLC writer, I was invoiced $670+ last month. It's a tough time to come up with that kind of scratch, and I am a home-team loyalist and will be until the day I die. In the end, I paid the money. It could have gone toward a new iMac for Christmas or whatever, but back in 1998 I declined my option on playoff tickets and I spent the next 10 years wondering if I would ever get another chance.

I am not making that mistake this time. Shiny toys will always be around. Arizona Cardinals success? Hard to guess how permanent that might be. I'm surprised more people aren't realizing this and buying the tix on that basis. And who knows. If Deuce Lutui can play a flag-free game and Rod Hood manages to cover his man and prevent the big play, we might just win. Those are big "if"s, but there they are.

Mike Sando: I appreciate your honesty and dedication. Thanks for sharing.

Matt from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Have you heard any rumors about any Cardinals assistant coaches being linked to vacancies with other teams?
Mike Sando: Chris Mortensen said offensive coordinator Todd Haley could be a candidate in Oakland.