Around the NFC West: Harbaugh and Smith

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has been spending time with quarterback Alex Smith, on and off the field. Maiocco: "Harbaugh and Smith have met several times face-to-face. And they have even gone out together to the practice field behind the team's Santa Clara complex. ... Asked whether he used his on-field interaction with Smith as a chance to work on mechanics and fundamentals or whether it was just a way to break the ice, Harbaugh answered, 'Both.'" Smith, though without a contract for the 2011 season, remains the 49ers' best option at quarterback, and that will not change until the NFL has a new labor agreement and/or holds its draft. Harbaugh might as well figure out whether he thinks Smith is salvageable at this stage.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up Kevin Kolb and Nnamdi Asomugha in terms of how they would fit with the 49ers. Barrows on Kolb: "First, the Eagles likely will be able to leverage several quarterback-starved teams against each other. Second, the 49ers are the most quarterback-starved team in the league right now. They need to increase their options -- and it's likely that the draft will be the only vehicle to do so -- before they start looking for a trade."

Michael Crabtree of the 49ers identifies Alvin Harper as his favorite receiver growing up. Crabtree: "I liked the way he caught the football, especially the way he jumped for it."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin remains in limbo amid conflicting reports about whether teams can designate franchise players.

Kent Somers and Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic say Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton is the favorite to become the Cardinals' defensive coordinator. The team also requested permission to speak with Packers assistant Winston Moss. Somers and McManaman: "The Cardinals requested permission from the Steelers on Tuesday to interview linebackers coach Keith Butler and Horton. Butler, however, is under contract for 2011, and the Steelers denied the request. The Steelers see Butler as the heir apparent to current defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, which explains why they wouldn't allow the Cardinals to interview him. Horton, 50, is working under an expiring contract and is free to take the Cardinals job, if offered."

ESPN's Adam Schefter says Horton and the Cardinals expect to get a deal done. Schefter: "It's also expected that former Steelers defensive back Deshea Townsend will be hired as an assistant under Horton, sources said."

Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com checks in with Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto for details regarding Seto's near-hiring as UCLA defensive coordinator. One report suggested UCLA pulled back its offer after Seto posted news of his imminent hiring on Facebook. Seto: "I didn't post anything on my Facebook page. They may be talking about some people close to me maybe congratulating me. Leaving messages on my wall. But I didn't write anything. My intentions were not to get the news out. Maybe I shouldn't have told as many friends and family. I was just so excited. And we were scheduled for a press conference on Wednesday."

Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest says Seahawks general manager John Schneider's association with Packers GM Ted Thompson helps explain why Schneider makes personnel moves unapologetically. Thiel: "Both he and head coach Pete Carroll are unafraid of personal or public sentiment when it comes to talent evaluations. If they had been in Seattle in the post-Super Bowl year of 2006, it’s doubtful they would have given Alexander the contract extension that subsequently became such a burden. He had reached his expiration date at the Super Bowl, but few wanted to believe it. So, Carroll and Schneider didn’t flinch when it came to unloading T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson or Deion Branch, vets with a lot left in their tanks (as they proved elsewhere). The Seahawks had to eat parts of their burdensome contracts in a year that management privately sought to clean out big salaries in preparation for the aftermath of what seems an inevitable stoppage next month."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest sizes up Seattle's receivers.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says a work stoppage in the NFL would be particularly bad for an ascending team with clear needs. Gordon: "This impasse is especially bad for the Rams, a potential 2011 breakout team that has so much work to do between now and September. The Rams football staff can assess their players and grade the incumbents due new contracts. Executives, coaches and scouts can prepare for the NFL Draft, too, but they can’t size up the free-agent marketplace. Which players will become free agents? Right now, the Rams can only guess. Which teams will have to move big salaries to solve salary cap problems? Without a CBA in place, that is a non-issue."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Mike Karney following the fullback's release from the Rams. Karney: "It's been an open, good relationship throughout this whole thing. I have no animosity. I'm not bitter. I'm just happy that the decision's been made and both parties can move forward. They've made a decision to fit the offense towards Sam (Bradford). And I respect that. He's a great quarterback, and obviously the future of the Rams. But it was just nice of them to make the decision early."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he sizes up the Rams' competitive status. Thomas: "I think the Rams are one good offseason away from being truly playoff competitive. That is, a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. Billy Devaney hasn't hit 1.000 as a GM, but I think we can all agree that he's been considerably better than the drafts/free agency that preceded him. Last year's free agency was pretty good, by the way: Fred Robbins was a good pickup at DT; and Na'il Diggs was a solid pickup at OLB." Acquiring Mark Clayton from Baltimore also worked out well, while it lasted. Bradford and second-round left tackle Rodger Saffold combined to give the Rams a solid draft, too.