Mailbag: Testing your personnel acumen

Kris from Indianola, Iowa, writes: Are you going to be doing the NFC West Gridiron Challenge again this year?

Mike Sando: Yes, the Gridiron Challenge is back. James Walker of the AFC North blog is also participating. Simply click here to check out the league and enter.

I'd never heard of the Gridiron Challenge format before last season, but I really like it because a general manager can start fresh with a new roster every week. You're not stuck with some underperforming quarterback, and injuries do not wipe out your team as easily.

Those who identify bargain players early can lock in those players' values at discounted levels, freeing up the $50 million cap space to spend on other players. Players' values rise as they outperform expectations, raising the price for those with less foresight.

Analyst Jim McCormick breaks down the finer points of the league, offering tips.

Alan from Shelton, Wash., writes: Any chance the Hawks would sign Tony Washington? Seattleites are a pretty forgiving crowd. They've put up with the ineptitude of the Mariners and Seahawks long enough, lol. The kid sounds like he has a lot of potential, and imagine the job Alex Gibbs could do with him. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks have not been bashful about shaking up their roster. The fact that they have not pursued Washington to this point could answer your question. Teams probably are not comfortable adding players who must register as sex offenders, even though Washington's case is quite complex.

Mike from Seattle writes: Hey Mike, I was reading your blog about the roster cuts and how they have to be to 75 by Tuesday, and I was wondering if you knew what the penalty is if a team does not reduce there team by the deadline. Thanks.

Mike Sando: Good question. I do not know the answer off the top of my head. Hit the comments section if you know the answer. I do not recall such a scenario.

Brian from Ankeny, Iowa, writes: There is one thing that no one is taking into consideration when discussing Matt Leinart. Only two people on this earth know what plays that he was given to work with. Consider the enourmous amount of pressure that he had to deal with in the first two games. The first game was because of atrocious offensive line play and the second was because of the heavy pressure that was being generated by the constant blitzing by Tennessee.

I would think that there should be some kind of determination of where the blame is to be placed. Since one of the two people that know for sure what the plays were were Whiz, good luck finding out.

Mike Sando: The entire offensive coaching staff and many offensive players know what plays were called. It's not all about how Leinart has played. It's about how Whisenhunt thinks the team is responding to Leinart. So far, he doesn't think the team has responded to Leinart in the manner he wanted.

Mike from Puyallup, Wash., writes: Wasn't Leroy Hill given $15.5 million in guaranteed money as a "signing bonus" when he signed this contract? Was he still paid that, along with his salary this year? If that is the case, $17.6 million for a 15-game season, he made out like a bandit.

Mike Sando: Nope, he never received that much money. There's so much talk about guaranteed money, but very rarely are the numbers broken out in detail. And there are circumstances that can spare a team from paying said money, which means it wasn't really guaranteed at all. These disclaimers are underrated.

Hill received a $2 million option bonus as part of his previous deal, but even a portion of that wasn't due right away. He received $5 million in salary last season and none of the $6 million he was scheduled to earn in 2010. He'll probably get close to $2.5 million this season, giving him between $7 million and $8 million over a two-year period -- roughly half the "guaranteed" money he was supposed to receive.

Gergely from Seattle, Wash., writes: Great blog Sando! Even if it were about stats, isn't Matt Leinart's yards per reception of 8.5 too low? Wouldn't it be better if he was closer to 16 of 23 for 161 yards (instead of 121 yards), so that the average completion was going for a first down? Personally, I'd like to see him get the nod, get comfortable and hopefully start taking shots downfield, too. I just see Derek Anderson turning into Jake Delhomme for the Cards.

Mike Sando: Thanks much. Leinart's yards per attempt are pretty good, but yards per attempt generally assumes a lower completion percentage, which would probably require a few bigger plays to reach the same average per attempt. Leinart has been efficient, but not all that productive. Whisenhunt has talked about wanting to see the team respond to its quarterback. An offense that responds to its quarterback probably makes some big plays.

Michael from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I'd like to ask about your perspective on Alex Smith's reputation in the league, specifically a response to John Clayton's recent quarterback article. Clayton gave Smith a zero percent chance of becoming an elite quarterback, a number I can't believe any self-respecting journalist would place on Smith assuming they did their homework.

Smith is technically a veteran of more than five years, but has never gotten out of his rookie year in any offensive system. Add in the perpetual turmoil of the Niners over his tenure and I find it hard to place an extreme chance of anything associated with Alex Smith. How would any of the so-called elite quarterbacks have done in a similar situation? Could Peyton Manning have survived a new offense five times (although that might spark a much more nebulous conversation of how many elite players have been lost to the oblivion of bad luck and dysfunctional teams).

Mike Sando: The bar is pretty high for that "elite" status. Clayton is talking about quarterbacks that can pass for 4,000 yards, complete at least 60 percent of their passes and lead their teams back from fourth-quarter deficits. I might give Smith a low percentage chance at hitting those benchmarks. Clayton said it flat-out will not happen. He is probably right, even if it came off as a little harsh from your perspective.

Chris from Columbia, S.C., writes: First of all, Mike, I love your work. I want to know what you think of LB Larry Grant. I know the Rams are short on talent, but he this year he been flying around like a mad man possessed and seems like he can become a game changer on special teams and defense.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Chris. Niners fans will remember Grant for the time he spent with San Francisco. He really has been throwing himself around out there (to the point that a shoulder has bothered him at times). I do not see him as a "game-changer" on defense, but he does look like one of the three best linebackers on the team.