Mailbag: First-round NFL draft options

Ed from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., writes: Hi Mike, I was just wondering who you think the Rams should select with their first-round draft choice.

I know everyone is pointing to a receiver such as Julio Jones, but with injured players coming back next year and Josh McDaniels taking over the offense, I would not mind them going in other directions.

A solid running back to back up Steven Jackson would be nice. A weakside linebacker to compliment James Laurinaitis, a shut-down corner and even another defensive tackle who can stuff the run and put pressure on the quarterback, since the guys we have are getting up there in age.

Mike Sando: You have a great feel for what the Rams need. They're picking late enough in the round -- 14th overall -- to affect their options quite a bit. In recent seasons, the Rams went into the draft knowing they could select the top-rated player at one of only a couple positions. That let them make up their minds more definitively.

This year, the teams picking ahead of the Rams will dictate those options to a much greater degree. Seattle held the 14th overall choice last year. The Seahawks thought Philadelphia was going to draft Earl Thomas, so they were ecstatic when Thomas remained available to them at No. 14. That made the decision easy.

Something similar could happen for the Rams this season. They could sit back at No. 14 and see which player falls further than they expected. They have enough needs to feel good about taking a best-player-available strategy into the draft.

They have the franchise quarterback. There's less urgency to target any one position early in draft.

Alex from Green Bay writes: Let's say San Francisco ends up renegotiating Nate Clements' contract in the next handful of weeks. What do you see his future as?

I see the Niners addressing the corner spot somehow in the offseason, whether it be the draft or free agency. Where does that leave Nate? He is a 31-year-old corner and clearly on the decline. Would he have any value on the trade market? If San Francisco were to try to trade for Kevin Kolb, could Clements be thrown in the mix there? Also, could he possibly move to one of the safety spots as well?

Mike Sando: The 49ers knew when they signed Clements that he would never see the end of that contract. They've reached the point where it's time to renegotiate or let him go. Clements has no real trade value because the acquiring team would be acquiring his contract, and if the 49ers didn't like that contract, why would another team like it?

Remember, too, that teams cannot trade players without a new labor agreement.

At no point have the 49ers shown any inclination they planned to move Clements to safety. They have a new coaching staff now, so it's tough to say whether the team sees that as a long-term possibility, but either way, Clements needs a new contract.

Clements holds some of the cards here. He should just wait out the 49ers, let them release him and then start fresh somewhere he's wanted -- whether that be San Francisco or elsewhere.

Elias from Dayton, Ohio writes: Mike, Gus Bradley has been the Seahawks' defensive coordinator the past for years and they've been terrible. When is this guy going to get fired? The Seahawks fired the wrong coordinator.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks have had defensive-minded head coaches the past two seasons. The responsibility on the defensive side ends with those guys. Bradley has adjusted the defense to reflect the head coaches' vision.

Is Bradley doing a bad job independent of that vision? Hard to say. But we all know the Seahawks have had personnel issues on that side of the ball.

I thought the scheming part was generally a positive this past season. The Red Bryant experiment worked while Bryant's health held up. The Chris Clemons experiment was a smashing success. If I were the Seahawks, I would keep building the personnel on that side of the ball, with Pete Carroll's vision in mind.

Roger from Peoria, Ariz., writes: What are the chances of Dick LeBeau becoming the defensive coordinator for the Cardinals? Is his contract up? He and Ken Whisenhunt are good friends.

Mike Sando: That would make no sense for the Steelers or LeBeau, in my view, regardless of what LeBeau's contract might say (and I do not have a copy on file). The expectation for now is that Whisenhunt is waiting for the Steelers' season to end so he can make a run at linebackers coach Keith Butler or secondary coach Ray Horton.

The Steelers have reportedly promised Butler the coordinating job once LeBeau retires. I suspect that will be enough to keep Butler in Pittsburgh even if the Steelers gave the Cardinals permission to speak with him.

That is another dynamic to consider. NFL rules require teams to let their assistant coaches interview for head coaching jobs. Rules do not require teams to let their assistants interview for jobs as assistants elsewhere.

Jacksonville recent denied St. Louis permission to speak with Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter regarding a lateral move. Even if Whisenhunt wants to speak with Butler or another candidate, he cannot force teams to grant permission.

Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen say LeBeau's contract is expiring. They mention Arizona as a potential option. Again, this makes no sense for Pittsburgh or LeBeau unless the assurances the Steelers made to Butler require quick promotion.