Mailbag: Which teams can overtake Cardinals?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ant from San Francisco writes: Sando, You've done excellent work all season with info, stats, etc. It is appreciated. Perhaps you should save this comment for a time when the pain of Cards fans has dissipated. As a 49er fan, I'm quite experienced in both the high of winning a close title game as well as the huge low in losing a tough playoff game, so I feel the pain.

In looking forward to 2009, I can't ignore the history of the past decade that all but one Super Bowl loser since the 2000 season (Seattle in 2006) did not make the playoffs the following year (and one could argue that without the assistance of referees, Seattle would have been a SB winner and Pittsburgh's not making the playoffs in 2006 would keep the loser streak unbroken).

Once an accident, twice a trend ... My best guess is that raised expectations, lower draft picks and two scheduled first place conference opponents play one part. Perhaps some one-year wonder teams don't receive the same breaks with health, scheduling and general luck that they did during their one year run.

This happens moreso in a league without dynasties who know how to handle both success and playoff failure without getting full of themselves and wanting new contracts or leaving via free-agency as well as being accustomed to being a target. Looking to 2009, I could easily see the 9-7 Cardinals flipping to 7-9 or 8-8 simply by having NFC West opponents improve themselves.

What happens with Warner, Boldin and the new O.C. will also have various effects. Based on recent history, what are the odds that either San Francisco or Seattle will be a division champ next season? New coaches, better health and a good off-season could easily push one or both of these teams past AZ, as the gap in the NFC West is not large. After what AZ did this season, every NFL team will believe that anything is possible.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Ant. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Cardinals took a step backward in the standings. More than a couple recent Super Bowl losers faced significant issues at quarterback the following season.

The Cardinals could face those issues if Kurt Warner retires or if an injury sidelines him. He took lots of punishment this past season despite taking relatively few sacks. Watch the Super Bowl and count how many times the Steelers absolutely drilled him after he threw.

I was surprised Warner held up to the punishment he took this season and I would be surprised if he could hold up to similar punishment next season. And if the Cardinals drop off at quarterback, they'll drop off in the standings.

Going back over the last 10 seasons, check out how some of these Super Bowl losers have fared at the quarterback position:

  • 1999 Falcons: Three quarterbacks started games.

  • 2002 Rams: Three quarterbacks started games.

  • 2003 Raiders: Three quarterbacks started games.

  • 2004 Eagles: Donovan McNabb missed seven games.

  • 2007 Bears: Three quarterbacks started games.

  • 2008 Patriots: Tom Brady missed the final 15 games.

Instability at quarterback was the common denominator for a disproportionately high number of recent Super Bowl losers.

Arlan from Cupertino, Calif., writes: Hey mike i was wondering, with the end of the collective bargaining agreement creeping closer and closer what are your thoughts on an uncapped NFL. Would it be good for the league or would it get rid of the parity? Also if they let the current agreement expire, will we ever see a salary cap in the NFL again??

Mike Sando: My ideal scenario would be to reduce to, say, 24 teams and possibly expand rosters beyond 53 players, but that is not happening. As much as I miss watching truly great teams, I do think an arrangement similar to the current one is best for the game, particularly with so many teams. Otherwise the revenue imbalances would show up on the field too frequently, I think.

Chriss from Buckeye, Ariz., writes: Hey Mike, I caught a part of SportsCenter Sunday night where Warner was talking to James Harrison at the Pro Bowl about that interception at the end of the half. Is there any way to get a transcript of that? I'd love to hear Kurt talking x's and o's about that play.

Mike Sando: I did not find that clip online at ESPN or NFL.com. If someone knows where to find it, please let us know. Poolenium has linked to a partial transcript.

Tanner from California writes: Sando, Is it really possible that the Rams might draft Michael Crabtree at number 2? That would be horrible. I want him on the Seahawks! What do you think the percent chance is of the Rams making him the number 2 overall pick? Thank you.

Mike Sando: I do not know and the Rams probably do not know.

Victor from Avondale, Ariz., writes: Hey Sando, the offseason rolls along and I have heard that Antrel Rolle's contract is about to hit some accelerators. Can you find the details of those and is that impact already included in the Card's current cap space? I heard that it would be in the Card's best interest to re-negotiate his deal similiar to Fitzgerald's contract a year ago. Thanks Mike!

Mike Sando: Rolle's contract includes up to $5.7 million in escalators for the 2009 season. His base salary without escalators would be about $1.7 million, with a cap number around $3.2 million. Rolle does have a $4 million roster bonus for 2010, with an $8.1 million base salary and a $5 million escalator. The Cardinals would probably want to revisit his contract before the 2010 season then.

Hardhead from Albany writes: Do you think the Arizona Cardinals would be better if Mike Martz was their offenseive coordinator because of Kurt Warner and the receivers they have? Please tell I'm right.

Mike Sando: While I'm sure Martz could do some fantastic things with the Cardinals' offensive personnel, I would question the fit with the team's other coaches and with the team's desire for continuity.

Adam from Sacramento writes: Hey Sando! After looking around at which safeties are available, it doesn't look like the 49ers can really upgrade the position much through the draft or free agency ... with the exception of maybe Oshiomogho Otogwe from the Rams; however, I think that there will be a bidding war of sorts because of the lack of available talent.

Would the 49ers be better off concentrating on improving the pass rush to help protect the weaknesses of their DB's? Maybe bring in Peppers or Suggs if available and grab a young DE/OLB with the 10th pick? Just a thought. I dont think it's smart to overpay for a marginal player like the Raiders did for Gibril Wilson last year. Thanks!

Mike Sando: Yes, in general, I do think the 49ers would be better off upgrading the pass rush ov
er upgrading the secondary, if faced with that choice. They might need to develop Dashon Goldson as a starter, though. Lots of bad money gets spent in free agency.

Billymo from parts unknown writes: Have you had a chance to watch the game as an unbiased writer or do you still feal the need to hate on the Steelers based on your prior bias?

Mike Sando: Let me turn it around. Have you watched the game as an unbiased observer, or as a fan of the Steelers?

I have nothing against the Steelers. They have been terrific to deal with over the years. My office wall features a large sheet with the hand-written quarterback rankings of Art Rooney Jr.'s that were mailed to me last year as part of our project on all-time great quarterbacks. We leaned heavily on his contributions and on the contributions of former longtime Steelers personnel man Dick Haley.

The criticisms I have raised regarding officiating in Super Bowl XLIII had nothing to do with the Steelers. I'm on record saying great players decided a great Super Bowl.

Edward from Tempe writes: Sando ... Do you think the Cardinals have any kind of shot at bringing in T. Suggs or J. Peppers as a pass rushers to give the defense an identity it truly needs? This seems to be the area most in need this off-season. I guess the true question would be, will the Bidwells drop the cash in order to get these players and still keep the core that we have? Thanks.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals will have the salary-cap flexibility to make those types of moves. I would expect them to focus on retaining some of their own guys first. I would also think the Cardinals' cheapskate image will diminish as the team becomes more financially sound thanks to the new stadium. Ken Whisenhunt probably has the momentum to push for the moves he thinks the team needs to make.

I do not expect Suggs to become available, and I do not know how the Cardinals' defensive staff would view Peppers, given that the team does not even have a defensive coordinator.

Jim from Tucson writes: Which big-name free agents would the Cardinals most like to sign (other than the Cards' own free agents), and how likely are the Cards to sign them?

Mike Sando: Nobody knows the answers to those questions. We might have a better idea once the team names coordinators and resolves some of the ongoing issues with current Cardinals players.

Mike from Concord, Calif., writes: Mike let me first say GREAT blogging!!! I'm always looking for NFC West updates! With the 49ers having about $20-$30 million in cap room, would it make sense for the 49ers to pursue Jordan Gross or Stacy Andrews to fill the RT position and possibility Oshiomogho Atogwe to occupy the FS position that Mark Roman stunk up?

This will give the 49ers the flexibility in the draft to either pursue a DE/OLB (Orakpo or Maybin) or a playmaker at WR (Maclin) with the 10th pick overall. I'm not sold on either Sanchez or Stafford with possibility the 10th pick, especially if the 49ers are focusing on a smash mouth approach on offense. Nate Davis will fill that void with a 2nd round pick. Final note just for kicks, 49ERS PLEASE GET RID OF JONAS JENNINGS!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Mike. The 49ers have been active in free agency in recent offseasons, so I would expect them to make more moves in that vein. They still need to build through the draft. They have patched together their defense with free-agent pieces from other teams, and some of those players are the ones fans want to replace.

You probably don't have to worry about the Jonas Jennings move. I'd be surprised if he stuck around under his current contract.